Year C, Proper 28 November 13, 2016 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“…for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
What are you feeling? This week. This terrible, terrible election season, so unseemly, so degrading, so vile and violent, and in line with the whole of the past 18 months, it ended in a way that virtually no one foresaw, and much of the country, many of us here, are reeling. Unconscionable: that’s a word I have heard a couple of times this week. What are you feeling? _____
This week I have had the same feeling I had when 9-11 happened; and that scares me. I was in back in Massachusetts at Divinity School orientation, classes started on the 12th. During a breakfast reception, some planes had taken off from Logan and flew right over our heads on their way south. An hour later, the Chaplain came in to the lecture hall we were in and told us that something was happening in New York and that we should probably go home. I remember walking outside and sitting under this giant oak tree, one of those ancient, majestic Harvard oak trees with a bunch of 1st year divinity students emoting all over the place, and all I could think, over and over again, was “Nothing good will come of this. Nothing good will come of this.”
I do not mean to scare or alarm or add to the anxiety that so many across this country are feeling. That is the last thing that any of us, that our nation needs. Neither, though, am I going to try to assure anyone that it is going to be fine; that we just need to come together as a nation; that peace and unity are what we really need right now. Last night Hannah Maeve asked, “Why do you keep telling the kids to not be worried when all the grown-ups are so worried?” “Because it is the grown-ups’ job to be worried.” We don’t know if it is going to be fine. We don’t know if we can come together. We do know that it is about as un-fine for our most exposed and vulnerable neighbors as it has been in generations. If you are Latino, Black, LGBTQ, Muslim, if you are an immigrant, are different in some way, if you are female, female! Things have been said that cannot be unsaid; people have been given license by the soon to be leader of the Free World to do things that are unconscionable, and they are already happening, even here in our own fair city.
Our Gospel today… Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us the Word of God that we need. St. Luke it is trying to help make sense, make meaning, give the strength of Jesus Christ to a world after the desolating sacrilege that was the destruction of the Temple. “Not one stone will be left upon another…” They weren’t save what we now call the Wailing Wall that is lamented upon to this day,
Jesus said that bad things will happen. That is the sinful nature of the world; bad things will happen. There will be those who will try to lead us astray. “Beware…” he says, “Do not go after them.” And there will be wars and nation will rise against nation, and all sorts of terrible things will happen to the world.
Now is not the time to just try to feel better, to try to think about something else, to close our eyes and go back to our comfortable existences in our liberal bubble of South Eugene and hope for the best. That desire, the desire to make it all go away, to wish it all different, to focus on something else… that is the headwater of the banality of evil that has led far too many other good people to ruin unawares of how moral an individual can be, and how immoral our society is.
It is also not a time to blame, to rail, to shake our fists at them, the 47.4%! They are not all bigots. They are not all homophobes and Know-Nothings, and misogynists and uneducated idiots. Some are, no doubt there, but not all. And some are right here in this room and they, you are welcome here. They, a dangerous word, are not the problem. The problem is the people who have lied and frightened and hated their way into power on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society.
Throughout this week I have felt just like I did after 9-11, nothing good will come of this. Another feeling has crept in, too. Our progressive clergy group met on Wednesday to talk responses. Check out Moral Mondays in North Carolina and Chicago. That might be the direction we are taking. The Bishop and Lizzie’s brother, our Cathedral Dean, wrote a powerful letter, and then called a meeting in Portland where we gathered and talked about what we need to do as a Christian people here in Oregon. In these moments, and in late night conversations with Windy, and over dinner with friends we gathered to talk about all of this, this other feeling that I had once before has cropped up.
Back in 2003 I was very active in the protests against the 2nd Gulf War. There were the huge marches on Saturdays, tens of thousands in the streets, and pretty tense, pepper spray and taser tense like it sounds like it has been the past few nights up there. And it was decided to keep up the pressure with little marches in each of the four corners of the city throughout the week. One Tuesday after work I went to meet Windy at the march on Belmont in SE, up in the 30s. I crossed at an intersection to catch up to Windy, when out of nowhere two police officers grabbed me by the arms and pulled me away from everyone. “You were jaywalking,” they said (I wasn’t, it was a crosswalk), “give me your ID.” In that moment this feeling descended over me. I just sort of settled. I do some Chi Kung, kind of like Tai Chi, and it felt like that, sort of settling into the ground, planted, present. I was so present in that moment, and I so was not prepared, so did not want this to be happening, I was so scared. Somehow, though, I took a breath and I said, “I don’t have to show you my ID.” (I didn’t. We as Americans are not required to carry identification papers, and we can’t be detained, arrested for a ticket-able offense). But they said, “If you don’t show us your ID we’ll arrest you.” I heard myself talking, but it was like watching it from three feet above, “I guess you are going to have to arrest me.” They did. It was in my pocket, my ID. They took it out as soon as they zip-tied my hands. But they could not do that. They could not demand ID from me, that was neither right nor legal, and I just could not comply. It wasn’t me resisting in that moment; nothing heroic was going on inside of me. They scared the stuffing out of me, actually. I had rage and hate in my heart. I hadn’t done any of the things you are supposed to do to prepare for arrest; writing phone numbers on your arm, having legal support arranged, you are not supposed to get arrested alone, that can be dangerous being lone in police custody. You are not supposed to carry ID at actions like that! But this feeling descended upon me and it all just happened. “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you the words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
I don’t usually experience God so blatantly active in my life, but I am certain that Jesus Christ in that very moment gave me the words “I don’t have to show you my ID.” And I was a Unitarian at the time!
In the end it worked out really great. The National Lawyers Guild took up the case and I won a settlement for wrongful arrest that paid for a year of housing in Cambridge! It was kind of a dump, but a righteous dump! And the officer that wrongly arrested me, this settlement helped build a case so that the next year when he wrongfully killed someone, he actually was fired. (Not prosecuted, but at least he is not on the Portland Police Bureau any more).
So here we are. There is a crisis in our nation. At the very least, there is a moral crisis, utterly unacceptable rhetoric and behavior is becoming normalized by people at the highest levels of our society and government, and it might be much, much broader and more dangerous than that, we do not know. Right now we need to pray for the best and prepare for the worst. People are scared; that is undeniable and real. At the university, folks are taking to wearing safety pins to state that they are safe, safe to talk to, safe to sit next to, an ally to the people feeling persecuted for who and what they are.
So what can we do? Right now, most importantly, we need to feel what we are feeling. Do not resist the unpleasantness of that task. Maybe resist Facebook, but do not resist what you are feeling. Not-feeling , not paying attention to the totality our feelings, and the little nigglings in the dark recesses helped get us all into this mess to begin with. It is exhausting work, but allowing yourself to feel everything that you are feeling will reveal much to you. We, humans, we know right from wrong and we are exceptionally skillful at denying truth that is right before our eyes. Good people are capable of overlooking the un-overlookable. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, so trust your feelings, they will not lie to you.
Allow yourself to grieve. Many of us will go through some form of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining (that’s consciously avoiding it in hopes it might go away),then comes depression and eventually acceptance. (Not acceptance as in acquiescence, but acceptance as accepting that this is actually happening). Do not resist the grief. Feel what you feel
And listen. Listen closely. Still your heart and mind and body however you do that, prayer, reading your Bible, running, a hot bath, the Mysteries of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, whatever works for you, just be still and listen. “…for I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” Listen for Jesus Christ. You will know that it is the voice of Christ when it comes.
Most of us here are pretty secure. Most of us are citizens. Most of us are white. None of us are not alone; we are all connected in community by the nature of being here today, even for the first time, welcome to radical hospitality you are not alone. We are, most of us, relatively safe. Jesus does not promise us safety or security. Quite the opposite, actually. Our safety and security too often comes at the expense of others. One sign that it is the voice of Jesus Christ is if you are being called to let go of some of that safety and security for the sake of others. The Bishop’s letter gets into that. Another sign that it is the voice of Jesus Christ is if it calls you to take risks. Another sign could be, you know the saying “doing well while doing good,” the pinnacle of liberal aspiration, a six figure salary and a clear conscious… it might be Jesus’ voice if you feel called to do less well in order to do more good. (I hear you, Lord). It is Jesus’ voice that calls you to be more generous, more giving, more loving, more compassionate to friend and enemy, and not follow the instinct to clam up and hunker down. Fear is the mind killer. Don’t hold, give. Give money to CALC. Give money to the Civil Liberties Defense Center. Give here, I even ask you to increase your pledge if you have made one; I promise you that we will use the resources of this church to resist this growing evil in every way possible. This is not mercenary, this is real. In places the church stood up to slavery and Jim Crow and Viet Nam and for LGBTQ people and for sanctuary and for the environment and for Standing Rock and we will continue that work here. And come to church, bring friends. Go out to the vigils. Spend time with your friends and kids and grand-kids and grand-dogs. The words of Jesus Christ are spoken (or whispered, or sung, laughed, drawn in Crayon, danced) wherever life and light come into the world. “Those with ears to hear, LISTEN!”
This is exactly the sort of moment that we need to listen for the words and wisdom that Jesus says He will give us. Listen and you will hear them. And the words uttered to you might be different than those uttered to me, or uttered to her, or to the folks at the Mennonite Church or those over there with the black bandanas. Just listen! “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” AMEN