I am thankful for the witness of my classmates as we attempted to understand what has happened in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland
Although this is Advent, we as seminarians are struggling not just with the end of the year
and not with just the weariness of the winter coming
but with the reality that many of us are not seen as an essential part of humanity
I’ll say it: I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted because the last several days have been full of action—and I’m not talking about class work and papers for the end of the semester.
The Monday afternoon when it was announced the Ferguson grand jury had reached a decision, I could do nothing more but sit in front of the TV, nervously watching the news and obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed for any breaking information. Finally, I had had enough waiting and decided I had to go out and be where the people were. An assembly was gathering at Chicago police headquarters for a vigil, so that’s where I went.
When I got there, there was a crowd of maybe two hundred, all peacefully standing, watching, waiting. I ran into my friend, a student at one of our sister seminaries in Chicagoland, who was with her roommates passing out hot coffee in the cold. I also met a Unitarian pastor, who noticed my collar, and we talked for a bit. But mostly there was a lot of waiting.
Then the crowd began to shift across the plaza in front of the police station and gathered around a radio that was broadcasting the results of the grand jury decision. To say that that moment was tense would be an understatement. While a part of me held out hope for an indictment, another part knew that it probably wouldn’t happen—and so I feared for the crowd’s reaction. But watching the news later that night, I was pleasantly surprised at how peaceful it was. People marching, probably more than a few praying, but all showing up in the wake of injustice.
Our mass #HandsUpWalkOut this week underscored for me the power of showing up. As we stood at the corner of 51st and Greenwood, I saw a great cloud of witnesses—students across all classes, faculty, staff, and our sisters and brothers from other Hyde Park seminaries. Looking at a picture of the walk-out later that day, I couldn’t help but think of another walk-out forty years ago. In 1974, a group of students and professors in dramatic exodus processed out of Concordia Seminary in St Louis, in solidarity with one another, to protest the injustice of their situation. Now in 2014, here we were—the descendants of Seminex—protesting our own day’s injustice, keeping alive a tradition of rabble-rousing and truth-telling.
In the aftermath of Ferguson, I was especially proud to see so many clergy and church leaders who showed up to offer sanctuary, to decry injustice, and to witness to the Gospel. One article I read said something to the effect of, “If the Gospel we preach has nothing to say to Ferguson, then the Gospel has nothing to say at all.”
The Gospel we preach has everything to do with Ferguson, and our bearing witness to it is the heart of public church. We can learn all the theology and history and Greek and Hebrew we want in the classroom, but all that studying is useless unless we actually put it into action—putting feet to our prayers and our preaching, as some have called it.
Such is what happened that Monday night at police headquarters, and what we did this week in Hyde Park, and what likeminded, justice-seeking, righteously angry people all over the country have been doing these last several days.
The fact that we still have to do this—that we still have injustices to protest—reminds us, to paraphrase King, the moral arc of the universe is long and difficult and tiresome and far from over, but I still believe it does bend toward justice. And so we must keep showing up. As people of faith and leaders in the church, we are called to follow the example of Jesus who was constantly going to the places with the people society preferred to ignore, for our God is a God of the oppressed. We are called to be present with “the least of these,” to go to where the pain and suffering is, to name it for what it is, and to say “no more!” Like the ancient Israelites, we need to keep marching around the walls of Jericho until no stone is left upon another.
In the season of Advent, we watch and we wait and we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
But if we expect a Deus ex machina, a God who will just come and make everything right all by God’s lonesome, then our expectations are misguided. We have just as much of a role to play in transforming the world as it is to the world as God intends. It’s “God’s work, our hands,” as those ubiquitous yellow t-shirts remind us.
Luther also reminds us that our being justified by faith alone is not an isolated reality but compels us to look after our neighbor:
“This is a truly Christian life. Here faith is truly active through love, that is, it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a person willingly serves another without hope of reward… Although the Christian is thus free from all works, we ought in this liberty to empty ourselves, take upon ourselves the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of humankind, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with our neighbor as we see that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with us.” (The Freedom of a Christian)
Such is our calling: faith active in love. Faith active in love shows up, decries injustice, and bears witness to the life-giving Gospel.
Sometimes that also means waiting. As the dark awaits the dawn, the Advent hymn begins, the people of God boldly proclaim that there is a Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot and will not overcome it. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.