The Advent of Discontent

The Advent of Discontent December 15, 2014

It was less than two weeks ago that I turned to my husband and said, “I’m bored with Christmas.” I know that some people wait all year for this season but it takes me time to warm up. In early December, Christmas is a huge hassle. In addition to the obligations and expectations of my family and home, I am a pastor and there are obligations and expectations at work as well. Obligations and expectations are not my best work environment. I prefer to be inspired and invited. A statement of privilege if there ever was one. Enter Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and nationwide marches and an early morning text from a colleague with the bright idea that clergy take the lead on marching in our small city where less than 1% of the residents are black. We floated the idea to other clergy in town and found ourselves with nine others willing to join. We announced it at church on December 7 and prepared an op-ed for the local paper. Our intention began and remained the same throughout the week. We wanted to say that we are listening and that we see the wound of racism in this nation. We wanted to say that we are willing, as much as we can, to acknowledge our privilege and lay aside the neutrality that it affords us. We wanted to follow the lead of black church leaders who asked us to not turn away. Not Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson but people doing on-the-ground work who feel the white church abandons them when it really matters. They are our leaders right now. Throughout the week, it became apparent that all those desires would be misconstrued by others. We were seen as being anti-police. We were warned that buses of looters would come from Portland to hijack our good but “naïve” intentions. The challenge of making a clear statement in the false dichotomies of our national political conversation and 24 hour news cycles felt insurmountable. I did not sleep well. The pit in my stomach grew as I fielded fear from others, and regrettably, allowed it to settle in me. I wanted to backtrack a hundred times. And. I worshipped in a way that I maybe haven’t since my days as a college student at an evangelical Christian university. I sang carols with pleading:

“O Come Thou Day Spring come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.”

I soaked in every word of the Advent texts:

“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!” (Isaiah 40) “God has lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” (Mary’s words in Luke 1)

I revisited writings that got me into this job in the first place:

“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.); “It is given to men to lift up the fallen and to free the imprisoned. Not merely to wait, not merely to look on! Man is to work for the redemption of the world.” (Martin Buber)

I rehearsed my ordination vows to work for the reconciliation of the world:

Will you work for the reconciliation of the world?

Yes, this is what I vowed. This is what I will do. I feared (and still do) that I would lose friends and family who disagree. At the same time, I was so unmasked and vulnerable that I discovered deeper levels of friendship. The support and kindness of friends old and new shot straight to my soul. Most importantly, I was able to look into the eyes of my black brothers and sisters and say, “I am here with you.” And on a bright and cold Saturday morning, about 300 people in a town of 80,000 showed up to march together in a long line from the Presbyterian church to the Methodist church. It was peaceful and powerful. We sang and prayed. We heard stories about what it means to grow up as a person of color and what it’s like to parent a black son. We were seeing and listening together. 10418446_10205122568760310_4601016294087607678_n I’m not bored with Christmas anymore. In fact, I confess my boredom in the first place. Who was I to think that Christmas was about my happiness? It is about a light that the darkness cannot overcome. And if I’m willing, I can reflect that light. With Mary, my heart proclaims: “Let it be to me as You have said.”

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