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Speaking to the Soul: The Coming Judgment

Speaking to the Soul: The Coming Judgment

Stir up your power, O God, and come to help us!

Advent lessons specialize in cosmic upheavals (levelled mountains, pushed up valleys) as prelude and portent to social upheavals.  Messiah’s coming will bring an end to the old world order.  It will mean root and branch social reform.  Well, maybe not so much ‘re-form’–that might suggest small scale tinkering. The bible tells how injustice can so infiltrate and network through a social system, that God finds nothing better to do than utterly destroy it.  The bible’s God brings Babylon and Rome and Jerusalem down to utter ruin, because they ignored repeated warnings and showed contempt for the messenger, because they resolutely continued to organize society for the benefit of the haves and thought no cost too great to impose on the have-nots.  The powers-that-were relished complacency.  They wanted to believe their society, their way of being in the world and their place in it was so secure that it could not be moved.  They ignored signs and symptoms of social decay.  When evidence of dysfunction raised its ugly head, they moved to cover it up with lies and kill the messengers.  (Remember how Jeremiah got thrown down an empty well for prophesying the first destruction of Jerusalem?  Remember how Jesus was crucified in part for predicting the second?)  They ignored God’s prophets to their peril.  They so insisted on “business as usual” that the end of all things took them by surprise.

Advent lessons warn that Messiah’s coming again in glory will create a crisis–loss, confusion, and disorientation–comparable to the fall of Babylon, Rome, Jerusalem, to the collapse of the Nazi regime in World War II.  Advent lessons mean to shock us out of our complacency by putting the fear of God into us.  They warn us to “get real,” to repent and start showing works meet for repentance, before it is too late.

Stir up your power, O God, and come to help us!

The bad news is that American society is today’s Babylon-Rome-Jerusalem.  News of ghastly injustice breaks with increasing frequency.  American society is sick with racism, is seized with the conviction that others are dangerous, that others don’t belong here, that it doesn’t matter what we do to those others because those others aren’t us and therefore don’t count.  

Most of us don’t want to believe it.  Old-timers like me grew up with the American dream, the notion that America is the land of opportunity where you have a chance with hard work to get ahead.  Martin Luther King called white America to live up to its ideology, to include African Americans, willing and unwilling immigrants of other races, too.  Many of us worked hard to extend the dream, to get the civil rights act passed, to register new voters, to promote affirmative action, to get Eggert’s crossing housing and tutoring programs established.  We want to believe “yes, we can.”  Surely, our nation is not as racist as it once was: after all, the American people elected Obama for a second term!

We want to believe that, but most of us know it isn’t so.  Racism did not cease and desist with Obama’s election.  On the contrary, Obama’s election released a torrent of racism: which do you prefer, blatant and virulent or insideous and disguised?  Living in North Carolina for four years, we watched Raleigh’s school board work overtime to re-segregate the schools.  North Carolina simply fell in with the trend, when it instituted voter ID restrictions where there was scant evidence of voter fraud.  Just in case we might miss the significance of those developments, our papers banner-headline one incident after another: black youth–Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice–get shot by white police or neighborhood watchman; Eric Garner gets choke-held to death while selling tax-free cigarettes; and the judicial system refuses to press charges against the white men who killed the African Americans.

Stir up your power, O God, and come to help us!

That should have been enough!  But this week brought the release of “The Torture Report,” detailing CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”–repeated water-boarding, week-long sleep deprivation, isolation, brutal beatings of naked and hooded prisoners–methods designed to break down the detainees’ personality, to get them to betray their deepest commitments and values.  Former CIA officials protest: they checked to make sure it was legal.  They even acknowledge that–in the early days after 9/11–“mistakes” might have been made.  They “learned” from having reduced a person to a gibbering idiot!  Congress actually seems divided over whether such practices are true to “American values.”  Critics raise the charge of war crimes and violations of international law.  We Christians know it is much worse than that: degrading another human being is a Gospel-violation!  Torture contradicts our baptismal vows to respect the dignity of every human being.

American society is sick with otherizing.  Was it because 9/11 shattered our myth of invulnerability?  Was it the 2008 crashed economy brought on when the banking industry forgot that it is supposed to be a public utility and not just a hook-or-crook profit machine?  Was it–God knows what else!  But terror has so gripped the heart of America that we feel entitled to do whatever will make us feel powerful or a little less insecure, no matter what the cost to someone else.  Apparently, it’s not enough to target enemies on the outside–Iraq, Iran, the Taliban–we more and more polarize American society on the inside.  Here’s another symptom: how many times in the last four years has the federal government been stuck in stale mate?

Stir up your power, O God, and come to help us!

Racism and otherizing are mortal sins.  When we’re honest, we have to admit: we’re all a little bit racist, because us-against-them tribalism is built into our genes.  Animal instinct inclines us not to trust people very different from us.  But baptism cuts across all human blood lines.  God is not impressed by family trees.  In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek.  Yes, we are all a little bit racist.  But our baptismal vows commit us to get up in the morning and stand against our otherizing impulses, with God’s help to keep on doing it every day of our lives!

Our current crisis is not primarily about racist individuals, however.  We do not have to believe that those white policemen and that neighborhood watchman were more racist than the communities from which they came.  What these ghastly episodes prove is that our institutions are racist, that as a society we have acquiesced in government practices that privilege some while degrading others, that cover-up for some while counting others not worth protecting.  The head of the NYC police union and the former CIA director try to get us to see the perpetrators as the real victims when they protest against “throwing” individual officers and agents “under the bus.”  They are wrong: individuals should be held accountable.  But what is also true and more chilling is that “society put them up to it.”  As government officials, they were acting on our behalf.  Yes, we should discipline individuals, and no, we can’t get rid of racism and otherizing simply by disciplining individuals.  Messiah comes to bring the revolution.  Root and branch, the system has to change!  

America is in an emergency situation.  Is it “yes, we can” or “no, we can’t”?  Are there still works meet for repentance?  Or is it already too late?

Stir up your power, O God, and come to help us!  Come, Lord Jesus, take your power and reign!

The Reverend Canon Marilyn McCord Adams


“Vézelay Portail central Tympan 220608 2” by Vassil – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons


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The Rev. Frank Young

Thank you for putting words to thoughts that have been
raging within my own head and heart of late. Well said, and well within the prophetic tradition of speaking ‘truth’.

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