This Autumn has been tremendously heavy on my heart. I usually enjoy this time of year. I love how the days get shorter; darker; deeper. Spiritually, it’s a thin time for me. Like an event horizon, my soul cannot escape from being stretched by this time and space to consider its internal workings. However, this year there has been no time to be slow and gentle and contemplative. There has been nowhere to hide. There has been too much work to do.
When the terror attacks happened in Paris, all I could do was stay away from my newsfeed. It seemed like the tragedy in Paris wasn’t about lives lost but by how to use it to further a political agenda. It was hard to find people talking about how to further peace and justice in our world; more so was the reaction to “buy more guns” and “launch more missiles” and “mobilize more ground troops” and “blame the refugees” and “close our borders.” All I could do was just pray for peace and keep working for justice and remember to say hello to the people who attend the mosque down the street from my house. Did you know that when they greet each other, they say “peace be with you?” I wonder what it would be like to do that to everyone I meet, and mean it?
On Black Friday, I joined the #BlackLivesMatter movement in downtown Seattle. The theme: Black Lives Matter, Not Black Friday. This consumer high holy day is an orgy of capitalism. And yet, capitalism has not found a way to empower those people who live on the margins; the poor, the migrant, the homeless. Capitalists have told them all: “God helps those who help themselves.” And many of them have worked their souls raw with this promise. Yet the only pockets lined were the shareholders and CEOs saying “It will trickle down. Trust us.” And God seemingly remains silent, no matter how hard a black mother works; no matter how many job applications a homeless man puts in; no matter how many cherries a migrant worker picks.
I came out because to me, black lives are more important than Black Friday. Period.
So I joined people at Westlake Center to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with the people of my community. The scene was decorated as a Christmas wonderland village. They had a merry-go-round and a performance stage and Christmas decorations. And as protestors gathered, organizers began the hymns: “Who’s lives matter? Black lives matter!” “Black lives matter, not Black Friday!” “We want our liberation! Fuck your assimilation!” “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
Then the organizers began a litany of names. Every name of a black life taken since Trayvon Martin. Then the music from the stage began to get louder. Westlake Center was trying to drown out the voices of the organizers; the voices of people calling out for justice; for peace. And I will probably never forget the joyful carol of Frosty the Snowman as it was used as a weapon to protect the status quo. I turned to my friend Patrick and said, “This is the most surreal thing I’ve ever witnessed.” And I marched.
Then there was the mass shooting in San Bernardino. Once information was released about what happened the pundits began to use Islam and Muslims and terrorism to try and distract me from the issue of our culture of violence. And then a few days later as I attended a meeting at my church, gunshots rang out just outside of our windows. It was the first day of Hanukkah; there was a white supremacist rally scheduled in the city; we have a Jewish temple next door to our church; we had children in our building.
And my coworkers and I locked down our church. It breaks my heart even more not just because we, a church community, have a plan to respond to gun violence but that we had to use it. And for what seemed like forever we didn’t know what was going on, until we were told by police that it was a high speed car chase coming to a violent conclusion outside of our church doors. We told ourselves “it could have been so much worse” and yet everything up to that point had us believing that it was. Still, we all were able to go home safe; yet I cannot shake the feeling that so many people do not have that privilege. And why is that a privilege?
This Autumn has been too heavy; some of its issues too close. I cannot take refuge in the carols of my childhood. There have been gunshots in the spaces I call sacred. I have been in the streets with people crying out, “no more killing!” And I remember that of all times in the year, that this is one that has proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) It makes me wonder then, is God pleased with me? I look around and think that, with so many choices toward violence and anger and war and hatred, that if I were this God I would not be pleased either. And like this God, I look at my own son and wonder, “can he make this world a better place? Will this world let him?” And I hold out a ridiculous hope that it will, even knowing how powers and principalities have answered in the past.
My heart and spirit are so heavy right now. All I want is to just relax into this season and enjoy it like I used to. But there is too much work to do. God helps those who help themselves, right? I’m helping God; I really am. So where are you?