Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Real Waiting -- Eric Garner and Advent

One of the things that amazes me
about the world we live in today
is just how ably and instantly
we are to communicate with each other.
And not just with the people we know,
but to share what we’re thinking,
what we’ve experienced
with people all over the world.

On Thursday night, for instance,
I read there were 100 million tweets
about NBC’s live broadcast of Peter Pan.
One hundred million. It’s astonishing.
(There were some hilarious ones, too, like:
“There have been better staged fights on the Real Housewives.” 
“I love this trailer for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie.”
“When kids clapped to save Tinkerbell, she was getting better healthcare than any Walmart employee.”
Or my personal favorite –
“That crocodile don’t, that crocodile don’t, that crocodile don’t want none unless you’ve got a hook, son.”

Just 12 hours earlier,
that same day on Twitter,
African Americans from all over the country
frustrated and enraged by the Eric Garner decision,
the situation in Ferguson
and so much more
began to post thousands of stories
about their own experiences
of prejudice, violence and discrimination,
under the hashtag “Alive While Black.”

“Crossing the grocery story parking lot. Cops stopped to ask me what I was doing there. I was holding grocery bags.” 

“Hit over the head with a flashlight because I didn’t RESPOND quickly enough when asked a question. I was 13 at the time.”

“was robbed at knifepoint in Charlotte. When the police came, told them what was taken, they asked ‘Why wld u have a pager’.”

“Patted down on the hood of a cop car at 9 yrs old.”

“was pulled over by a white cop for missing tags; he came to my door with his gun drawn, finger on trigger.”

“Pulled over w/ my mom. People think she’s white, she was driving. Cops asked for my ID and license ‘for her protection’.”

“Was working in retail & picked up a shift at another store. security guard profiled me over the walkie when i walked in.”

“In HS. Cops accuse my fam of stealing a lady’s purse at JCPenney—threaten my mom-purse was in bottom of lady’s stroller.”

“I didn’t return ‘free lunch’ form because my dad made too much money. Teacher said loudly: “Oh, so you know him?”

“they tried to charge my mom with disorderly conduct because she was pissed i got accused of stealing a bike she bought.”

And finally: “My father was pulled over for speeding while he was on his way to the ER...The cop didn’t believe he was a doctor.”


What’s it gonna take in this country?
What is it going to take? 
Our country’s problems with race,
it’s like our issue with guns:
Two years ago 20 children were gunned down in Newtown,  
and two years later we still haven’t gotten any sort of gun control. 
If not that, what’s it going to take?
Eric Garner, Ferguson –
these are not isolated incidents either.
They’re part of a long long history
of violence perpetrated and then overlooked.
And God forbid, but wait a week,
and we’ll probably see some more.   
We know this.
And today we’ve got an African American president.
And still, nothing changes.

And at some point this week I realized social outrage –
that is sitting at home, reading tweets,
posting online how upset I am--
that’s easy.
Action—step by step, pushing this boulder uphill,
like Martin did--that’s what’s hard. 

Now these sorts of themes and issues
might seem out of place at Advent.
This is more the talk of Lent, right?
Struggle, persecution, sacrifice.
But that’s only because our society
has so commercialized Christmas.
We think of this as a season of colored lights and trees and presents.
But that’s not the scriptural or liturgical sense of it.

Advent is a season of waiting—real waiting.
Real waiting isn’t about
waiting to get all the presents you put on your Christmas list.
It’s about not knowing whether you can make it
through one more day, one more hardship,
and putting our hands out, clutching for something,
something good, something new to get us through. 
It’s not about light.
It’s about being in darkness.

And hope, real hope?
It’s not some children’s story about believing
if we clap hard enough Tinkerbell will live.  
Real hope is trying to believe
when there is no grounds to.
It’s desperate and doubting.
It’s like the candle’s flame –
we burn with our aching, with our yearning for release.

To wait, to hope –
we paper these ideas over with Christmas wrapping.
It’s Jesus in the manger surrounded by animals and friendly faces.
But Jesus was born into a dangerous, divided world of occupation.
In the Gospel of Matthew
Herod had all the young boys around Bethlehem executed.
Jesus and his family were forced to become refugees. 
This is not a Christmas wrapping paper world.

Real hope, real waiting is not about pretty songs and Santa Claus.
It’s about being in the darkness and crying out.
Crying out to society, demanding justice,
And crying out to the Lord --
Crying out with anger,
fierce, hot tears in our eyes,
Rage and shame at the way we’ve been treated;
crying out in sorrow and in pain,
grief-stricken by our losses
and by our vulnerability.

In our first reading today we hear that
“Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.”
But today we cannot help but ask

Every Sunday we come to this table, the altar,
and we reenact the Last Supper,
when Jesus offered the Passover bread and wine,
called it his body and his blood
and said it would be our salvation.
We don’t do that each week just for us;
this isn’t just some sort of memory exercise.
No, we do it to remind God – yes, God--
to do what he did there again,
to save us.

“Make holy these gifts we bring to you,
that they might become for us your body and your blood.”
And not only that—Finish it! Bring it all to completion.
“Remember your Church, spread throughout the world.
Bring her to the fullness of charity.”

That’s what we are called to do in this world of pain and injustice,
in this dark, dark season of waiting.
To cry out with all the pain in our hearts—
to scream, to let it burn, to let it hurt,
and in this way, in this way
to wait, in this darkness,
for salvation.
For light.

You brought us to this place, Lord.
You promised us a future.
Finish what you’ve started.
Save us. Do it again.

--Delivered in abridged form at Transfiguration Parish, Leimert Park, Los Angeles, CA, 12/7/14