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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Each year on Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday, Community Renewal Society organizes a Faith in Action Assembly.  This year, the event will feature a mayoral candidate forum as well as calls to action to challenge the criminal (in)justice system in Cook County.  The event will be held at Liberty Baptist Church, 4849 S. King Dr.  If you would like to participate, please contact the church.  For more information about the event, see the flyer.

Faith in Action 2015

In the spirit of Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) describing the impact of God’s arrival in the world through the baby forming within her, Pastor Ray wrote his own version of the Magnificat, describing what he hopes the world will look like when the Kingdom of God comes in fullness.

This is Advent—not a sad event.

It’s time to reflect—time to believe.

So don’t be anxious; do not grieve.

God is with us; the world is changed.

Everything is being rearranged.

Politicians with grand aspirations

are subject to the Lord of the nations.

The Judge of judges decides the fate

Of those who torture and incarcerate.

Guns and drones are null and void;

Generals are among the unemployed.

The filthy rich are sent to the shower;

The poor have equal earning power.

Living wages are the law of the land.

No more accounting slight of hand;

The 1 Percent have to pay.

Finally, the rest of us have time to play.

Titans of industry intent on profit

No longer control the economic market

Oil barons, fracking gas,

Are brought to their knees and kicked in the ass.

I hear the sigh of all creation

celebrating the end of subjugation.

The powerful are dissed;

The classes are dismissed.

Every color is embraced;

Every difference equally graced.

Glass ceilings are shattered;

no women and children battered;

Violence is rejected,

the vulnerable protected.

There is shouting in the streets,

and dancing to the beats

Hands are raised, but not in fear.

The kingdom reign of Christ is near!

Hands up! Praise the Lord!

Stand Up! Spread the word!

Sing the chorus;

God is for us!

Laugh and move your feet and say:

This is the beginning of God’s new day.

I’ve been reading the laments of Scripture–expressions of grief over  how the wicked flourish and act with impunity, how the poor are crushed, how the world is broken down.  One weary lament has resonated with me during this season:  “How long, O Lord?  How long?”  Advent is a time of preparation for the arrival of the kingdom of heaven.  It is a season of waiting and wanting.  We long for and (in the words of Charles Wesley) pine for the day when our exile will be over and God will intervene to make all things new.  When I hear the news of war, when I watch the clashes on our streets, while I feel the sting of death, I want to cry out, “How long, O Lord?  How long?”

I have also found myself praying the Lord’s prayer frequently.  According to the early church discipleship manual, the Didache, believers were expected to repeat this prayer three times daily.  I’m already up to four times and it is only 11:00 am.  I keep repeating the phrases, “Your kingdom come; your will be on on earth as in heaven” and “deliver us from evil.”  Yesterday, we prayed in the middle of Fullerton Avenue as we marched: “Your kingdom come; your will be done in the 14th Police District, throughout Chicago, throughout the suburbs, in Ferguson, MO, in New York City, on earth as in heaven.”  We prayed: “Deliver us from evil ‘cuz black lives matter, latino lives matter, all lives matter.”  We cried out in the midst of our wilderness.

I find great hope in God’s word to Moses at the burning bush, “I have seen the misery of my people; I have heard their crying out; I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them.”  God sees; God hears; God rescues!  God sent a deliverer–Jesus.  And Jesus sends us.  “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  So we cry out–not in despair, but in great hope and deep faith and persevering love–“The Kingdom of heaven is coming!”

O God, Yours is the kingdom.  Yours is the power.  Yours is the glory, forever and ever!  Amen!

And so begins Charles Dickens’ tale, A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I have a confession to make.  I’ve seen the play and I’ve watched the 1951 Alistair Sim movie version and (dare I say) the Mr. Magoo cartoon version, but I’ve never read the book.  Until this year. I understand why the beloved story of transformation has become such an embedded part of the Christmas tradition.  However, during my reading, I realized that our depictions of Scrooge’s transformation from a hard-hearted, greedy miser to a joyful, generous philanthropist on Christmas morning are quite shallow.  By keeping the story safely contained in the nostalgia of the Christmas season, we can keep it from truly confronting our own hard-hearted greed.

The parallels between Dickens’ 1840’s London and our own time are striking.  Scrooge was a part of the 1% of his day.  While the few at the top thrived, everyone else just barely survived.  The wealthy elite viewed the unproductive as “surplus population” that needed to be decreased–if by disease or disaster, so be it.  The poor, the jobless and the homeless were a drain on resources.  The solution?  Criminalize and incarcerate.  Sound familiar?

The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge is profound.  He wakes up on Christmas morning not merely happy that he is alive nor with some vague resolution to be nicer to others in the new year.  Through his encounter with the three spirits, he understands the ways in which his classism and narcissism–and the structures of social order–have brought great harm to others.  His transformation is not about becoming more kind, but about becoming more just.  His actions go beyond merely giving a goose to a poor family for Christmas dinner or giving his employee a small Christmas bonus.  His actions are radical.  He gives Bob Cratchet a living wage.  He arranges for family healthcare.  He redistributes his wealth.  He seeks the common good.  We see more than just an attitude adjustment; we see true repentance.  Now humbled, we watch a liberated Scrooge actively participate in the creation of a new community where everyone’s needs are met and everyone shares in the abundance–not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.

I suspect that Dickens wanted to challenge the status quo and suggest that Christmas has the power to transform us–a process which begins with honest reflection and repentance and ends with our becoming a Beloved Community.  This is the transformation we need.  This season, I pray, “Come, Holy Christmas Spirit, and confront us all with who we are and what we will become apart from being filled anew with love for our neighbor–a love that does justice, loves mercy and walks humbly.”

Thoughts from Bruce Ray, Pastor