Early this morning, my Twitter friend, poet, educator and actvist with Collected Young Minds, Zakiya Naema Jackson posted her poem “Weep with Me” on her blog :
I can feel the ancestors hoping
dripping with blood fervor anticipation
Who will weep with me
as the recoil of mixed up emotions
wrestle in my bones
in the marrow of my life
who will weep with me
who will weep with me
for the rebirth of our nation
for restorative justice
for all forms of jim crow terror
who will terrorize patriarchy from the pews
who will target white supremacy
as it deals death to all
red and yellow, black and white
all are oppressed in it’s sight
Beloved, who will weep with me
Zakiya joins the ancient biblical prophets in the tradition of lament, offering words that fling open the door of collective grief and cast a vision with a prophetic call to action. I am grateful for her words because while some among us may have celebrated, I have wept this week. Perhaps you have too.
While many have been able to weep with family members, with colleagues, with neighbors, others have had to weep in the darkness, hiding their tears, because friends and family members don’t understand, because neighbors believe the path we are on is the right path for our shared future.
After weeping, or more accurately – in the midst of it, I was rehearsing for The Messiah, listening to “Let us break their bonds asunder” and grasping for any path through the shock, I thought – this is what we need. We need freedom for everyone. So with great hope, I opened to Psalm 2 and was met with the anger and vitriolic words of a psalmist calling the wrath of God down on the enemy nations. Though not precisely the text of freedom I’d hoped, it had a powerful effect on me. Oh how I wanted God’s mocking laughter to be heard in the offices where transitional power brokers that are even now wheeling and dealing with the lives of already oppressed people across our country. How I wanted – want – God’s wrath to smash “them” to pieces. I came to a new understanding of the anger of the protesters and recognized that same rage is in me, too. The powerful Messiah who comes to destroy – the one described by the psalmist – is the Messiah I longed for on Wednesday.
But like Israel of old, we, too, need to understand that lament and anger are just the beginning of God’s work on us and in us. While Psalm 2 lays out a vision of God’s anointed one as a powerful military leader, ready to conquer nations with God’s help, the picture the psalmist paints is the antithesis of the Messiah God sends.
There is a powerful contrast between the Messiah envisioned in Psalm 2 – one who rises through the ranks of accepted political norms, and the Messiah that Christians understand Jesus to be.
Not only does Jesus refuse to be tempted by political power, over and over again he chooses the path of resistance. He openly broke laws that oppressed people in his community, caring for women and lepers. He stood firm as he defied social norms that excluded and denied access, healing demon-possessed people, offering help to foreigners, Romans included. He stood toe to toe with those who not only enforced those laws in the Temple and in the community, but who also could and did use their state-given power to execute anyone who resisted.
This is the Messiah we are called to follow. This is the Messiah we invite others to join. And it’s a good thing because on Wednesday afternoon, when I gathered with a small group of clergy at Allen Temple Baptist Church, we begin what will surely be a longer conversation about mobilizing our congregations to follow Christ into a future that seems, at a minimum, less than hopeful. As we do whenever we gather we began with a check-in.But this wasn’t the usual convivial sharing of ministry and family updates. Around the table, we shared our concerns about the aftermath of the election which shocked everyone – supporters and opponents alike. Then one by one, the pastors began to tell stories of happenings across the country in the prior 24 hours.
- One pastor told of her sister’s commute into Raleigh, NC on Wednesday morning where fully cloaked and hooded Klan members stood on freeway overpasses as a visible symbol and in preparation for what was later a Klan celebration march.
- Another shared that the wall outside a Muslim prayer room at New York University’s school of Engineering was defaced just before noon prayers.
- I shared what a congregation member had told me – that her friend’s niece had her hijab torn from her head in Las Vegas and was told: “Trump is coming to get you.”
Since Wednesday, my own friends have begun to share what they’ve seen and experienced. My friend Patrick, the Dean of the Music School at the University of Alabama-Birmingham posted two notes one of which begins:
“Dear Father Homos…”
and continues with language I cannot repeat here. Those notes weren’t dropped on a porch in Alabama – they were placed on the windshield and on the doorstep of his dear friends in Wilmington, Delaware.
Each of you will have your own stories to share. In the news and through social media, we all have been inundated with such stories since the election was declared late Tuesday. No matter how we might feel about the person elected to office, as a congregation, we need to think deeply and seriously about what we are called to do and be in the next several weeks, the next few months, the next four years because the truth is, as people of faith, as the hands and feet and living body of Christ, we cannot stand idly by.
This is not the first time we’ve talked about these things. We’ve spoken together about them five years ago when the Session made the decision to offer marriage to same gender loving couples before our denomination allowed it. We’ve talked about them when Trayvon Martin was murdered in his own neighborhood, when Mike Brown was killed by police, when sisters and brothers in Christ were shot in their own church in South Carolina, when queer club-goers were mass murdered in Orlando. We’ve stood together at West County Detention Center in support of immigrant detainees with Rev. Deborah Lee and other Bay Area faithful. Some of you have even marched in the streets of Oakland with me. As a congregation, we have tried to turn around Dr. King’s damning conclusion in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail,
“the Negro’s greatest stumbling block in his strike toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
Though it scares us to step outside our comfort zone and join a movement that will hold up hope for those who are threatened, our work is not only a biblical mandate, it is an offering of thanksgiving to God for bringing us thus far. Though it may feel next to impossible when many of us are still reeling from the shock. The truth that for Muslims, for LGBTQ people, for People of Color in our country, this has always been the reality of their experience. For these communities, none of this is new. None of it.
And though it is tough to find energy, to find strength, to find time to sustain the work of justice which now seems all the more important, we can remember the encouragement Paul gave to his community – the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
We can trust that God’s kingdom will come. But we cannot look to Washington DC to show us the kingdom path. We cannot put our trust in legislators that work from Sacramento. We cannot place our hopes in those elected to lead from City Hall. We have to look to Christ. In truth, as people who wear his name, who are part of his body, we must do more than look TO Christ, we must look LIKE Christ. We must do everything in our power and with the help of the Holy Spirit, shape our lives like the one who turned away from the traditional expectations people had for a savior. We have model our way of being after the one who refused to surrender his vision of love and mercy to the powers that were and instead used his power in humble servanthood and self-sacrifice.
We follow the one who rejected the path of power and might in order to create a different kind of kingdom – a kingdom built on concern for the poor, justice for the oppressed, love for friends AND enemies. We follow the one who was crucified. And who, by God’s power was raised from the dead and who, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, lives to keep fighting as we, with our hands and feet and bodies, make the powerful love and justice of Christ known in this hurting and unjust world. May it be so for us and may God help us all!
One thought on “Following a Different Messiah”
In some ways, this has always been the experience of all of us. It’s two sides (the dark side or the favorable side) of the same experience. This is why many of us have to learn how to resist from those who are already shaped in their resistance. Perhaps our choice will give courage to those who have stood so long only to get beaten down again.