From Rebuke to Repentance

If y’all read last week’s blog, you know I was in a mood. A bad mood. Justice Kennedy’s mic drop after contributing to one terrible decision after another is disheartening, so I ended my introduction to our series on the Minor Prophets by noting that no one ever listens to them. Israel never repents. My fear and my lament is that we won’t either.

Fortunately, our low view of pastoral authority has its perks. I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to pretend I’m feeling hopeful when I’m not. On our best Sundays, I come away transformed by the gathered body. That’s how it happened this Sunday.

Many great comments were made, but our seasoned activist in residence, David Marquis, focused our attention on a few things.

It started with rage. A lot of us are angry. As David pointed out, anger can be energizing, but it has to be managed and leveraged toward productive outcomes. If we allow ourselves to get caught up in a cycle of outrage and catharsis, we’re not accomplishing anything. That becomes a recipe for despair. After a few cycles, we find we are right where we started and begin to lose hope.

It is also important not to rage alone. I’ve never been much of a protest person. Walking around with signs didn’t feel like it would accomplish anything. Probably anyone who cares what your sign says is out there with their own sign. But protests aren’t just an exercise in mutual back-patting. Tyrants want to isolate people, to make any resister feel like they are the only one feeling that way, the only one committed to change. Being in a large group of people who have focused their anger lifts us out of that isolation and despair. But it can’t stop there.

After the march is over, you have to get to work. David reminded us that change is always brought about by small groups of committed people. Not only do we sustain one another’s energy, but we magnify one another’s impact. And for all of social media’s faults, it is great at bringing efforts for change into the public consciousness and directing resources toward those efforts.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the viral campaign started by Charlotte and Dave Willner when the family separations began. Their initial goal was to raise $1500. They raised $20 million in less than a week. It’s an extraordinary example, but we don’t need to be that ambitious. Small actions are just as important.

Because people from Church in the Cliff showed up at the Families Belong Together March, we heard one speaker talk about the Humanitarian Respite Center, a program of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She explained that, after a person seeking asylum has their preliminary hearing, they are dropped off at the bus station with no money and only the clothes on their backs. Sister Norma at Catholic Charities takes them, gives them fresh clothes, some food, a shower, and tries to help them on their way to family. Hollis and Courtney were already headed to Houston this week, so they decided to extend their trip to McAllen to drop off some supplies. In just a couple of days, they raised $660, which is certainly far less than $20 million, but also much more than what an asylum-seeker has. This is what hope looks like.

This conversation highlighted to me why I was feeling hopeless. The prophets are raging against the machine. A solitary individual knocks on the door of the hall of power and calls on leaders to repent. By and large, the leaders don’t. But Jesus took a different approach. He used realpolitik – meeting the material needs of the people – to organize. He didn’t just show up in Jerusalem on his own; he had thousands by his side. The leaders were so scared they killed him, but they didn’t kill the movement. We often plant gardens whose fruit we will not eat.

The prophets are our guides. They help us recalibrate our moral compass. It has to start there. Someone has to speak out against evil. God echoes the cries of those who suffer and when “God speaks, who can refuse to prophesy?” We seem to have lost the idea of the common good. We’ve ceded virtue to the invisible hand of the market, though Amos tells us that the market is where our faith is tested. As liberals, we have allowed those in a conserving stance to define what it means to be a family or a patriot. We must speak out. But that can’t be the end. If we want to turn our rebuke into repentance, we need a chorus of prophets and a chosen people to walk hand in hand with the marginalized. We need to stand on the claim that justice is not just Christian, but American for as long as she lasts.

In the time of the prophets, nations rose and fell. Leadership changed. Policy changed. Always, the prophets spoke of justice. America as we know it may fall to tyranny and fascism – some say it already has. But if it does, we will keep speaking. We will keep working. We will continue to pursue justice and peace. How can we refuse?

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