I was up at 4am this morning. When I am worried or stressed out, this is as long as my eyes will stay closed. It’s better for me to just get out of bed and write or pray or read, but usually I just sit and worry. Some days it’s money, other days it’s the people I serve as a priest. Today it is the ever present worry that I don’t know where I am living or what is happening to the world I thought I knew. It has taken a couple of days to process what I had hoped was a bad reality TV show, but now true reality is setting in.
Just over 15 years ago on September 12th, 2001, I woke up in New York City with a very similar feeling. The day before, men had flown planes into buildings just down the street from where I lived. This had never happened before in the country I knew. The images on TV did not make sense and when the wind blew the acrid smell of burning buildings uptown, through my window, I felt like I was living in a bad dream. That was my second day of seminary.
This week so far feels like the beginning of a dystopian novel, but as I listen to the voices of my black, brown, latino and LGBTQ friends, as I listen again to the voices of the women around me, I realize that this is the life they have always been living. Because I am a white man I had the luxury to believe in a world that was nicer and more honest than it ever actually was. Because it was nicer and more honest to me. This is why I cannot say, with an confidence to anyone that everything is going to be ok. I honestly do not know what that means anymore.
History’s arc is hard to see when you are in the middle of it. Every day I see people trying to make sense and explain what is happening. Some say let’s wait and see. Maybe we are all just overreacting, our system of checks and balances will make sure things don’t get too out of hand. Each of these statements is a way for mostly white people to get through the day and sleep through the night. It is the voice of privilege. It is the voice of those with the luxury to wait and see. By the time the damage is done for us to see it will be too late. I was once told by my wife that when people show you who they are, you should believe them. There is no need to wait and see what is going to happen, we have already been shown.
As a priest, my first instinct is to return to my faith and holy texts, but today that is hard. Millions of people in the country believe that a Christian God has ordained Donald Trump as our president. They believe that his actions will be those of a divinely appointed leader and that is terrifying. For many people of faith God only works through the winners. Make no mistake that God has found a true believer in our new president.
So rather than wallow in despair I have decided to listen to my friends who say, “I’m sorry but we don’t have time for your self-pity, your despair does your allies no good” “You are a white man in a culture that loves white men, you have work to do!” “Our lives are at stake while you sit at home believe that you can’t change anything” Lastly they say this, “Your life is a stake as well, your soul cannot be free until we are all free.”
So today I put my hope in the God of the brown, refugee savior who lived and died under imperial military occupation. I put my hope in the God of the prophets who preached to those in power and demanded their repentance when they strayed from the path of justice, mercy and peace. I put my trust in the God of the saints and martyrs who throughout history have stood up and spoken out to protect the vulnerable and those without power. I choose to see God in the immigrant and refugee, in the homeless and poor, in the widow, the orphan, the abused, the despised and the outcast, in the prisoner and in all those we hide from our eyes and try not to see. I choose to see God in the face of my enemy, but whom God loves too much to let them stay an enemy. I choose to believe in the God of reconciliation but to never be reconciled to injustice, oppression or exploitation.
A week ago today I was gathered with over 500 clergy from around the country on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. We marched and sang and listened to speakers, in solidarity with their struggle to protect their water and their land. Of all the things that were said, one particular quote stood out; “You can fake care, but you cannot fake showing up”
It’s time to show up.