Listening to the news—-???? It just doesn?t feel like Advent or?Does It?
I am assuming that all of you are full participants in our society and world.? I appreciate the completeness of your thoughts and reflections on a regular basis.? And, with all of you, I?ve had to spend the past several days listening to a procession of all white men?some of them, like former Vice President Dick Chaney, defiant, others obviously nervous, many righteously angry like Senator John McCann, saying, ?I told you, it didn?t work when it happened to me in Viet Nam and it wasn?t working when we did it to those we called our enemies.?? So many people have been seeking to grimly defend the indefensible.
After 9/11/2001, we, the people, created an extensive and cold-blooded program designed to inflict severe pain on prisoners in order to psychologically and physically break them, to get them to talk.? That?s torture.? It always has been and even a child can tell you how wrong it is.? Senator McCain, who is not my favorite, but even he, a Viet Nam era prisoner of war who was tortured, has stood for decades telling us how ineffective torture is.
We inflicted severe pain and deprivation of sleep on others, and did really bizarre and extreme things to people.? Moderate pain and deprivation would not work, would it??? And taking care not to leave permanent marks doesn?t mean it?s not torture, it just means we didn?t want to get caught.? And to add even more fuel to the fire, we paid two academically trained psychologists who had the foresight and the connections to accept a government contract for $81 million, though they had no experience in the field, to create the program and evaluate its efficacy.
We each paid a small percentage of those $81 million ?.we the people.? I was beaten and tortured as a child, as were several people in this sanctuary this morning.? It makes us a little sensitive to be sure.? It only heaps insult onto injury that we paid $81 million to do something that happens all too often in our society for free.
It is exhausting to me and I trust to many of you also.? State-sanctioned torture of prisoners is beyond the pale for a civilized country, to say nothing about it being horrible, indeed, criminal parenting. ?I know that as a people many were scared and I also know that fear was the context for mounting a military response and a huge spending spree that led us, along with so many other things we were not paying full attention to, into a huge world-wide economic recession.? But, we the people are full players in this mess.
In the midst of this unrest and despair and uncovering of dark CIA secrets, our Gospel reading repeats that ages old verse which says,? ?Prepare the way of the Lord, make God?s ways straight.? ?I realize that this Scripture is not very gay.? Surely, what it calls us to do is to make God?s ways so apparent and obvious and to commit ourselves as a people to say, ?It happened, we were sincerely wrong for doing it, we apologize,? and then reinforce out apologies with laws that seek to guarantee it should never happen again.? And perhaps we can even encourage, as the UN is suggesting, that we allow the prosecution of those who gave permission for such heinous and callous acts.
Nadia Bolz Weber writes, ?Here we are in the midst of Advent and it feels like we are definitely waking up. But we are not waking up to a Normal Rockwell, snow covered candy cane and log fire delusion, that?s for sure, we are waking up to the inequality and racism and violence and distrust in America. Just doesn?t feel that Advent-y.
It feels troubling.?
But this week I realized that if we can peel our eyes away from Hallmark Channel Christmas specials and the 24-hour news cycle long enough, we might realize that maybe the turmoil in our world couldn?t be more Advent-y.
Because if we think about it, the Christ child on whom we wait, would be born in a land controlled by an empire that he was not a member of. He would be born in the midst of a system where the protections received from the powers that be were enjoyed by some citizens but not by not others. Certainly not by his mom, a homeless unwed pregnant teenager. And when Jesus was born it was such a threat to those powers, that Herod slaughtered the children two and under in the entire region just to try and wipe out the Prince of Peace. Those not protected by the system lost their babies. Not for nothing, but the infant mortality rate for African American children is 2 ? times higher than for white babies. ?All of that is to say, we ARE living in an Advent-y time. Because when God came to us in Emmanuel ? God became more fully known in a time as violent and faithless as our own. Jesus came to save right smack in the middle of the mess they?d made of things?, that we are making of things.
You and I are acutely aware that the world out there is already nearly done with Christmas.? Our society does Christmas mainly for the two months before December 25th and by the 26th it is over and all that is left is standing in line to make our returns.
But, in that larger picture that is our spirituality, where we know Christmas is not about what?s under our tree, we know that Christmas is really about focusing on the new birth of the Spirit of the Christ into our whole beings.? And Advent, these weeks leading up to Christmas?though it is never much fun, spiritually, it is about repentance.? Prepare the way of the Lord and Repent!? There can?t be new birth without appropriately bringing to an end the old stuff that has not and is not working in the way we are living our lives, personally and as a society.
One of the things that is so beautiful about the book The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is our recognition that although he stole absolutely everything in Whovllle down to the last crumb that the mice would eat (you?re a mean one Mr. Grinch!), still, he could not steal Christmas.
I would like to suggest that any number of us reach Christmas and the day after and are simply glad that it is over.? Though I stand as one of those, historically, I cannot help but wonder if those of us so given have not become Mr. or Ms. Grinch and successfully stolen Christmas from ourselves, because we have not given ourselves over to what is required to have new birth, which, quite simpl, is to repent from aspects of who we have been, from what we have participated in doing, and from what we have not done that we full well know we should have been doing.
I have a tendency to drive faster than the speed limit.? I confess that many times I am purposefully driving faster than the limit.? It is not that I am lost in a haze of spiritually significant thoughts?I am in a hurry to get to where I am going.
I have been traveling with some regularity up to Indianapolis to visit the Petranoffs.? They were moved by their family to a facility up in Indy to receive care for their advanced dementia and to be closer to a daughter who lives in Carmel.? I take 37 to Martinsville over to 67 and then on up on 465 on the west side of Indy to 86th street where their facility is.? I?m not the only one who is speeding, mind you, but more often than not when I pass someone who is going, God forbid, the speed limit, I notice that they are often people of darker colored skin than my pale whiteness.? People with darker skin get stopped and ticketed by much higher rates than whites, so they can?t afford to speed like I do, because they stick out from the majority color.? I don?t.? I have been stopped a couple of times (well, perhaps more), and I have never been given a ticket.? White privilege, perhaps?? I hate to complain.? I don?t want a ticket.? But it is not fair, my white privilege.? Blacks, Asians and Latinos do not benefit as I do and the only reason is because of racism, skin color and majority bias and 999 times out of 1000 I just take my white privilege and count myself lucky; ?I don?t bother to think about it, I just enjoy my good fortune.
When it comes to any number of more serious encounters with the law, white privilege continues to extend itself.? In our society blacks and Latinos are stopped and put at risk of physical harm and jail time at a much higher rate than whites, for no other reason that skin color.? The bias, the pure racial ugliness of our society, as you all know, extends into education, finance and who goes to which church.? I confess, I repent, that I live with racism and enjoy the fruits of my white privilege much more than I should.
Many of you don?t know this but in our church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, we were heavily involved in refugee resettlement.? We settled into our country Kosovars, Serbians, and folks from South Sudan.? Interestingly we also re-settled two families from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.? I mention this because in addition to just learning from and being exposed to wide cultural diversity, I had at one point to teach an extremely black man from Sudan about American racism and white privilege.? I was his best friend in America and I am to this day embarrassed at what I had to tell him, teach him, in order that he might merely live relatively safely.
I had to tell him with a passion that he would believe that he would be treated with ill respect by police officers, compared to the way I treated him, and it would be purely because of his color.? This was a man who loved America and who loved our 99.9% white church that reached across the ocean to bring him and his family to some very wealthy living compared to what he was accustomed to.
Two days after Christmas we had an early morning snow and ice event.? He was working in a hotel by O?Hare airport.? He had never experienced snow before.? As one who taught him to drive, I can tell you he didn?t know about stop signs either.? He had never driven before and he was 29 years old.? He was and is a smart man who was and is driven to work and be successful.? He leaves home in near zero temps and going around a curve near the airport slides off the road and goes over a newly planted tree.? He can?t get out of the ditch so he walks on to work.? He didn?t want to be late.? He calls the police to report his problem.? I wish he had called me first.? They came to his place of work and arrested him, handcuffed him, and took him to jail for leaving the scene of an accident that they would never have come to investigate if he had not called, and certainly not arrested him had he been me, a balding white guy.
I tell you this story because the black and brown skinned people of our country have been so abused not a hundred times over but literally hundreds of millions of times over and over, so much worse to the degree that we, the people, hold a hugely disproportionate number of minorities in jail for no other reason than that they are people of different color than pinkish white.? The folks of black and brown colors know by vast experience and by good studies that they are treated unfairly more often than not and that we white folks don?t care.? We just continue to let it happen.
Briefly, that is why the facts of what happened before the unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri do not matter much to protestors.? The larger facts they know all too well?the legal system leans not toward justice but white privilege.? If you by chance find this offensive and perhaps over-stated, please find some folks of darker pigments and sincerely listen to them.
So you know who all those people were who came to be baptized by John? They were the ones who knew they needed it. In came streams of racists, and soldiers with a guilty conscience, and addicts, and liars, and those who emotionally manipulate others to get what they want, in came all the greedy stockholders and activists and criminals and cops and every single person who knows they need forgiveness.
To be an Advent people is to be those for whom an opportunity to lay down our privilege is heard as good news. Because the repentance that John preaches is not about feeling bad. Feeling bad is easy. Repentance is about change.
Yes, we need systemic change. We need legislative change, institutional change, and governmental change.
But were I to be completely honest, I?m troubled that I wasn?t more troubled before. Troubled that I have more self-determination than others. Troubled at how much the powers that be protect me but not others. Troubled by how totally easy it is for me to take a break from all of it?to decide to just focus on something else, entertain or shop myself into oblivion when I am tired of caring about it. I?m troubled by how easy it is for me to just take a breather any time I choose, when Eric Garner couldn?t breath at all.
So if you are anything like me, then maybe it?s a relief that the way in which John the Baptist prepared people for what God was about to do was by repentance, confession and forgiveness. If you are anything like me, you?re also running to the shores of the Jordon with all the other sinners desperate to be changed. We need repentance. Because, Church, we can?t remain the same and expect to make an impact on this broken world.
So for the time being, I say we forget about all the other things that Advent is supposed to be about or how we think we are supposed to be experiencing it and let?s go old school with a little repentance, confession and forgiveness.
Let us repent and lay down what troubles you, us, what is troubling others that we live with, and know that having done so there is absolutely no chance that God will leave you unchanged. And the world needs that. Amen.