As Advent begins, we focus on hope.
But first, a sampling of the official beginning of the holiday shopping season: Black Friday at Walmart:
And then, a sampling from last Monday night in Ferguson, Missouri (be sure to click on the X in the upper right-hand corner of each annoying box that appears):
A couple points right up front: (1) I don’t know what it’s like to be African American, and much more so in a racially charged, largely segregated, urban/suburban environment; (2) I also don’t know what it’s like to be a policeman (or to be a close family member of a police officer), and much more so in that same racially charged, largely segregated, urban/suburban environment.
I do know what it’s like to feel as if American society is slipping ever-so-steadily into an era in which there is no hope, no understanding, no compassion, and no peace. And I hate feeling that way. But whether I’m watching Black Friday shoppers (or is “warriors” a better term?) battle it out in Wal-Mart and Best Buy and Target or residents of Ferguson, Missouri (or, for that matter, a whole lot of other American suburban/urban/exurban locales) battle with riot-gear-wearing police and National Guardsmen, it occurs to me that we just can’t keep doing this.
Now, I don’t think I’m either naive or stupid. I also don’t have any grand solution in mind for the situations in the videos I’ve offered. I don’t think those two “battles” are entirely unrelated, though. Obviously, much work lies ahead as our society–and all the various communities within it–seeks to establish a more just order in which human beings are valued as God’s “children” and as brothers and sisters of a common family.
The only step I can suggest is to start small and local.
I offer the following not in any way to extol my own efforts. It’s just what I know.
Every Wednesday morning I volunteer with Kansas City’s food bank, Harvesters, delivering food for participants in their nutrition classes. Over the past four years this has taken me to an interesting variety of urban, suburban, and rural sites: senior centers, YMCAs, schools, churches, community centers, and housing projects. These folks are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, old, middle-aged, and young. In one way or another they face issues of poverty, hunger, or perhaps just a string of bad luck. What they have in common is that they don’t want to be hungry, they don’t want to be poor, they don’t want to be marginalized by the larger society in some way. Some probably have given up hope of a better life and simply look to meeting immediate needs.
I know I’m not going to change the world by driving a white Chevy van loaded with food all over the city, its suburbs, and nearby rural areas. Yet for the people who take a sack of groceries home from the weekly nutrition class, well, at least perhaps there’s a little bit of hope along with the canned goods and fresh produce. I don’t know if their tomorrow definitely will be better, but at least their today will be. That’s a start.
We simply have to change a number of big things in the way we order our society, and that can begin by changing some little ones. It never hurts to pause every now and then to turn to scripture and listen to ancient prophets share ultimate truths:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—-as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—-to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. –Isaiah 64:1-9 NRSV
This Hebrew prophet, whom many scholars have named Third Isaiah, was well-acquainted with an exiled and marginalized people. Their hope for better and more peaceful, fulfilling days post-exile had been dashed. This prophet called on God to remember that “we are all your people.”
It’s not an easy thing to be “God’s people” in Ferguson, Missouri, or in Wal-Mart on Black Friday morning or in a million other places and situations. But that’s who we are.