This originally appeared at the Daily Sip, a ministry of St John’s Cathedral in Denver, CO
by Charles LaFond
Look up. Your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28
Domination and earthly powers both require eyes and heads down. Look down. Keep your head down. Fifty Shades of Grey has shown our culture a new, adjusted boundary for entertainment. It is at the top of viewing charts and is now a product line they say.
I’ve not seen it, but I get the gist. Many powerful people enjoy or even crave being dominated, and some powerful people also enjoy dominating weak people because it so supports the inflamed ego – that adolescent kid running amuck in the world from deep inside our psyche – basically, all of us. I know some people who say that they have no such inner adolescent. I find they are usually right. I also find they are usually sociopaths. Especially those who are leaders. Meanwhile, weak people, and especially weak systems (like churches for example) – weak systems and people sort of like domination consciously or subconsciously. It forms a structure in which they can abdicate responsibility and enjoy choosing to play the sad role of martyr rather than the more productive, healthy role of creator. Well, some do at least.
We have seen domination on TV and even in our lives. Battered women keep their heads down. Abused workers keep their heads down. Dominated seminarians keep their heads down. Slaves in transport keep their heads down. Jews dismounting box cars keep their heads down. Children with angry parents keep their heads down. Addicts in the slumber of their minor intoxications – food, sex, shopping, workaholism, keep there heads down, even if only to see their porn, their food, their shopping cart or their iPhone-master telling them what “needs” to be done next and next and next and next. “Let my people go” indeed. Moses would see this and recognize technology and a new Pharaoh but without the fabulous hat.
Satan is brilliant. “Don’t abuse them, just keep them distracted …looking down at their phones and computers.” I can hear him say in his class “Evil 101. Room 201, M T F, Billings Hall, Hell.” Brilliant Satan! No need to get us to do much sinning when getting us to simply do too much does the job of distraction from Glory and never implicates you. You, Satan are brilliant You avoid any paper-trail! Well done, evil one. Happy Advent to you – chief-among-the-ones-who-inspire-looking-down – to our imagined hells. After all, I am pretty sure Hell is just an eternity of getting what we thought we wanted.
So advent is a time to look up and to grow up. Just as I used to have a child’s view of Satan (Santa seems a terribly close spelling by the way – always has.) I used to have a child’s view of God. When I was a child, I though of God as at an old, grey, hemorrhoidal forgetful, bored teacher coming into a classroom of evil, sharp—filed-toothed little hellions, eyes in dark circles and running ‘round with scissors, screaming and jumping from desks onto weak, smaller (equally evil) children to disastrous effect. But as I grow old, and I feel very old indeed, I see now that God feels more to me like the doctor entering the plague ward or the detox clinic or the prison (a door which I must open since the lock is on my side.) Less like Dumbledore and more like House.
When I am sick or sad, my head drops. I look down, too tired to keep it up and bright-eyed. I curl up. I wrap in a quilt made for me by my first parish for my ordination and I sip strong, home-made chicken broth. I know I am sick, and I want to be well. Sort of. Usually. Except when I want to be 13 again and get my way with everything.
Advent is a time to lift our heads. Look up. Attend to the majesty which draws near – perilous to our addictions and to those people or activities or systems which dominate or isolate us (usually, in my experience, both.) To welcome Glory into our hands, we must drop some things.
And when we look up we see people, we see icons, we even see saints and their writings.
In different seasons, we like to choose different foods, different house decorations, different liturgical colors. Similarly, I think, we like to choose different theologians and different saints. I have always only chosen one saint – one theologian – for Advent, and that is Detrich Bonhoeffer. His Advent meditations were written in prison and what more appropriate place to inspire Advent writing. He held his ground against Hitler even when his church caved in and followed the Third Reich in enthusiastic lock-step. Naughty, not nice. And he wrote a lot. I get it.
He tried to preach on the radio but in the middle of his sermon the microphone was turned off. Soon he was imprisoned and in prison he wrote letters to his beloved fianceé and waded through Advent. Listening in on those letters – in prison, head down – I see a man who loved Jesus, who loved people and who wanted justice in a corrupt church and a lost culture.
Bonhoeffer points to Luke’s call that we look up. Lift up our heads. Notice that we are guilty and need a Savior, and then notice that One is coming. We must, we must, we must put down our iPhones and lift up our heads. We must, we must, we must resist oppression in any form (even our oppression of ourselves) and lift up our heads.
If ever there was a time to light a candle in the darkness, and lift up our heavy heads, it is now. Right now. Doing so will inflame the anger of oppressors, inspire action in dominators, and send demons into dark corners to sharpen their sticks and gather their stones. But lift our heads we must.
Like John the Baptist and like Detrich Bonhoeffer, we will suffer for the impertinence. The guard will be doubled. The lashes of our dominators and/or our addictions (especially the minor ones we refuse to name) will inflame and multiply. Our demons will point their sticks and stones. But if we look up, we will see Glory careening towards us. And real Glory will topple domination and make peace on the earth.