Advent and the Challenge of Ferguson

The events of the last two weeks have given me a great deal to think about. Two weeks ago, the country was poised in vigil waiting the announcement from the Grand Jury in St. Louis on whether changes would be made against Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. Since that decision, there have been numerous protests of various sorts throughout the country. While some in the country are filled with rage, others are bewildered. Of course, there’s a wide mix of emotions in between.

I used to live in St. Louis. I’ve been watching the events in Ferguson unfold with great interest not just because of the window it provides to how the US is dealing with social justice but because I know the area. I’m familiar with Ferguson, ate at a great little breakfast place there and knew people who live there. A friend of mine recently drove through St. Louis and telephoned to comment on her impression of the city. It was something I knew quite well. There’s a very noticeable racial inequity in the St. Louis area.

I don’t know what events actually transpired that led a police officer to shoot a young black man. It’s a tragic situation no matter how one looks at the event. What I do know comes from having lived in several parts of the country. There was clear tension in St. Louis about race. Being part of a bi-racial couple made me aware of that tension and how the division was viscerally different from other places I’ve lived.

Watching the news coverage of demonstrations in Ferguson and throughout the country, I couldn’t help but reflect on the ways in which the country is divided today. I remember the demonstrations in the 1960’s, demonstrations for equal rights, against the war in Vietnam, and the beginnings of the gay rights movement. These demonstrations all took aim at the ways that American society wasn’t working for people. This week, I’ve felt a sense of …. well….let’s call it a feeling of déjà vu. We’ve been here before and it’s not pretty. Given all that divides the country, I fear that it could get much worse before it gets better.

As a Christian, I find myself in the first week of Advent with Ferguson in my prayer and reflections. In many Christian churches this past Sunday, a reading from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah was heard. It included these words: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

The United States today is a divided nation. Our divisions are based on race, class, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, and generational differences. Many of us wish someone would fix it and make it better. Tragically, we have leaders who, as a group, don’t lead and a system dominated by special interests while ordinary people bear a heavy burden of living in a country that seems to be characterized by rancor and discord. If only someone would do something to solve it! “Tear open the heavens and come down. Fix it!”

The tough lesson in this is that God doesn’t provide magical answers to our problems. Whether they are social problems, political crises, or the individual challenges we all face, we aren’t “saved” from the messes of life. Rather, the understanding of the Holy One in the Judeo-Christian context is of Emmanuel: God-with-us.

Many people wonder why God doesn’t save us from tragedy. That’s been true in every age. But it’s also been true that over the millennia the Judea-Christian tradition has contended that God is present with us as a source of strength and hope in the midst of life’s difficult and challenging times. God doesn’t change external circumstances, including those caused by human beings. Instead, God is a source of strength and hope in times of trouble to empower us to bring about solutions to the mess we, as a human community, have made of things.

Despite this foundational belief in the presence of God in us and around us, most of us simply aren’t aware of the Divine Presence in our lives. I think that part of our problem as people is that we live from moment to moment without a particular awareness of the sacred dimension of life. Day to day, hour to hour, our lives are caught up in ordinary things and we’re just not aware that there’s something more in our lives: another dimension, something of God’s presence, something that’s luminous.

Where do we find that luminous presence? As George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, said so eloquently: There is something of God in everyone. That Divine spark, an inner light, is at our core. When we nurture the Inner Light, we bring healing and transformation to ourselves and to others.

As we become more aware of the inner spark of the Divine within us, we must also be aware that it is in others. Consider the care one takes with things that are sacred and holy. We need to treat ourselves and each other with that same care, that same respect – recognizing that we are each the living presence of the Holy One for each other.

Lastly, our awareness of the Divine Presence in our lives and the lives of others should cause us to be mindful of our actions. You may be the only Light, the only image of God, that another person encounters. What does that mean for how we make our way day to day? Does the way we greet others, work with others, speak to others – and speak about others — reflect a belief that we are living lights for them? Or do we make the lives of others more difficult to bear?

When I think of the events of this past week, not only just in Ferguson but the many problems around the world, I know that I can’t solve them. What can I do? I’m just one person! But if I wake up and pay attention, I can better assure that all my interactions convey that Inner Light. As each of us begins to treat others with respect and reverence, the tide of social injustice will begin to be reality for those who experience marginalization. When we do what we can, rather than focusing on our lack of ability to do great things on our own to change the world – but instead really focus on doing the simple things that we can — then we begin to bring change in the world.

In this Advent season, I ask the question posed by Rhineland mystic Meister Eckhart in the 14th Century. A great preacher in his day, often at odds with the institutional church, and someone whose writings were a great inspiration to the great Reformer, Martin Luther, Meister Eckhart asked in a Christmas sermon: What does it matter to me if Mary gave birth to Jesus hundreds of years ago if I don’t give birth to Christ in my time and in my culture?

In the midst of a very troubled world, the Advent journey is to give birth to Christ today, in our time, and in our culture. The Advent journey is not about a baby born two thousand years ago. That’s already happened and done. It’s an historic reality, so there’s nothing to anticipate in a past historic event. Instead, what we watch for, what we anticipate, what we are called to give birth to is the healing and transformation of Christ’s coming in our world today. We’re the ones who can make it happen. We birth Christ in the world today by recognizing that the Divine light is within us, that we must allow that Divine light to illuminate the world, and that we must also reverence the light of God in each person we meet. That’s how the healing, restoring life of Christ will be born anew this Christmas.

© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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One Response to Advent and the Challenge of Ferguson

  1. Rev. Wilson says:

    Thank you so much! A very rich reflection, filled with substance…filled with the Holy Spirit. I would like to use your last paragraph as the Advent Prayer this Sunday with my faith community. Blessings to you as we birth the light of Christ and give life to our communities, so in need of healing.

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