04 December 2014

Christmas and Ferguson II

Komsomolskaya Pravda: "Ferguson repeats itself in New York...." Screenshot from kp.ru's story.
Last Sunday at Reedwood Friends Church, Judy and I spoke about our Western Christian Advent and its similarities and differences with the 40-day Nativity Fast of the Eastern Orthodox Church. But whether we emphasize anticipation of the coming of Christ (as in the West) or the worthy celebration of Incarnation (East), I ended by saying that neither the glitter and glamour nor the piety of our celebrations should obscure the earthy reality of Christmas--birth, vulnerability, death.

I referred to Anthony Bloom's words about the Russian Orthodox Good Friday service:
We confess faith in Christ, but we've reduced everything to symbols. So, for example, I'm always struck by our Good Friday service: instead of the cross on which a living young Man dies, we have a wonderful service that can move us but that actually stands between us and that rude and ghastly tragedy. In place of the cross we've substituted an icon of the cross. In place of the crucifixion, we've substituted an image. In place of a retelling of the actual horror of what happened, we substitute a poetic/musical reworking of the story.

Of course that reworking does reach us, but we so easily begin to get a taste for that horror, even deeply experiencing it, being shaken and then regaining our calm, whereas the vision of a living person who is murdered is something quite different. That remains as a wound in the soul, you don't forget it; having seen it, you'll never again be the same as you were. And that is what dismays me. In some sense, the beauty and depth of our worship must break it open, and must lead every believer through that opening to the terrible and majestic secret of what is actually happening.
(From a longer passage that I quoted here.)

By analogy, I asked our meeting to remember the risky reality of Christmas. In the biblical account, Jesus was celebrated first by a viscerally poignant signal from the baby who would become John the Baptist, leaping inside Elizabeth's womb when pregnant Mary walked into Elizabeth's home. Jesus's birth, in inauspicious surroundings, was followed by Herod's political repressions, and the civil disobedience of the wise foreigners bearing gifts.

Now we are celebrating Advent or the Nativity Fast in the midst of the ripples of Ferguson and Ferguson II, the incomprehensible utter failure of our vaunted "due process" to process the deaths of two unarmed men ... whose tragic stories stand for countless others who remain unknown at least to the white majority in the USA.

If we remember the actual Gospel story, the Ferguson eruptions are not a scandalous interruption in the Christmas celebrations, they are a breaking-in of human reality. Either the Gospel directly relates to this reality or it doesn't; dear Church, which is it? Have the people in shadow really seen a great Light? In that Light can we find the courage to look directly at racism and its satanic grip on people and institutions? And is there any arena other than church where people of all races, incomes, cultures, classes, and alleged sophistication could experience that Light together?

There are two specific aspects that I would us to have the freedom to examine together:

First, instead of being trapped by defensiveness, can we please compare perceptions? In my experience, white people (at least those not in the activist subculture) focus on individual cases and are perennially inclined to conclude, "It's sad, but I can understand why the police officer acted the way he did." In fact, that's exactly what one dear weighty (white) Friend said to me last Sunday. But people who don't have the systemic advantages of white skin also know the cumulative cost of racism. The tired denials of people invested in things-as-they-are don't persuade them. Why do things unfold so often in these tragic ways? Is it really all coincidence? When will we begin to trust the perceptions of people whose experiences are not like ours?

By the way, activists should not be exempt from this exercise. What deep listening will help them (us) connect with those who are now judged to be less enlightened?

Second, what's the connection between racially charged violence, anger over immigration policy, and the increased militarization of the USA? Is our state of permanent warfare (see today's TomDispatch) degrading our culture and our humanity?

This year, at this very moment, may Advent Light restore and increase our capacity to see without flinching, and to act in love rather than in fear or defensiveness.

(From last August) Pastor Brenda Salter McNeil on "Four Practical Tips for Preaching on Ferguson."

"Right-brained apologetics": David Heim interviews Francis Spufford, whose book Red Plenty I recommended last month.
There's a particular danger, just at the moment, of falling in with the atheist polemicists' endless, tedious, monopolistic concentration on whether God exists. OK, God's existence is logically prior to the possibility of our faith in him, but it isn't biographically prior, it doesn't come first in terms of the life of faith. God's love gets us there, God's mercy. His mere existence is probably God's most boring quality. [Masculine pronouns in original.]
"Jehovah's Witnesses go underground in Samara."

"Taking the Fight Against Heretic Xenophobic Christianity."

"Russia's Largest Social Network [vk.com] Now More Popular Among Young People Than Any Website or TV Channel." And it's one of the main ways I stay in touch with my students while we're away.

Two versions of "This Little Light of Mine" (why choose?!) ... Don't miss Mavis Staples' homily at the end of her version.

The Lower Lights // This Little Light of Mine from The Lower Lights on Vimeo.


Craig Dove said...

Thank you for this! These events of Ferguson (and too many other places) have been weighing on me; I haven't viewed them as "interruptions," but I also have struggled to connect what's happening with the Gospel. It's never neat, it's never easy, but it needs to be done.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Craig.