Shaking Our Reality at Advent
I went to Africa for the first time this year. When I settled in at the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, Kenya, I heard various guests sharing accounts of their experiences with law enforcement while leaving the airport.
Some claimed that armed guards hopped into their vehicle and demanded bribes. Others claimed to be taken by airport security and scrutinized. All chalked it up to a vastly corrupt law enforcement system against white Westerners.
I quickly became attentive to the way I saw law enforcement, the citizens of Nairobi, power abuse and coercion to reap benefits from foreigners. For the first time in my life, as a white American male, I felt the weight of being vulnerable and exposed in social settings due to my race.
I came home exclaiming how corrupt the Nairobi law enforcement system was and how unsettling it was to be subjected to that corruption. It might not be perfect, I thought, but at least here in America we seem to have law and order.
Then, the news reports came of African American teenagers and young adults being attacked or killed by police officers in American cities and towns. All my thoughts of being “watched” by law enforcement in Nairobi hit me like a freight train and I realized that to my white, male perspective in America, the system that had seemed so just and orderly was, in fact, filled with the same prejudice and corruption when it came to interacting with minority communities.
I realized that the African American community has a much different experience when it comes to encountering police officers in this country. It was a shock to my system when I realized that my experience in Nairobi was the same experience of minorities on our soil.
A mystic once claimed that human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion (desire) and the ass of prejudice (fear); animals that take up a lot of room and which, I suppose, most of us are quietly feeding. It is in their very manger that Christ must be laid and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Two thousand years later, it’s almost like they’re still grubbing down food right from the palms of our hands.
Alfred Delp was a German Jesuit priest who was captured for plotting to overthrow Hitler, thrown into a Nazi prison, and executed in 1945. While in shackles, he wrote on the “shaking” reality of Advent. Does knowing that on the fringes of society, the word made flesh became history, solidarity, weakness shake us to the very core of our being?
We’re not even through the first week of Advent and I find myself in a place of utter disbelief and confusion, disoriented and troubled. I just watched the video of the death of Eric Garner, whose murderer was not indicted by a grand jury in New York. I watched the video of his execution with disbelief and horror and in a brief moment I came to a physiological realization. I. Can’t. Breathe. Where is Christ pushing out our ox and ass? Are they really falling to their knees before him?
Advent reminds us that incarnation is about shaking. Not only should we be shaken by it, like Alfred Delp suggests, but it also shakes the earth off of the very axis it spins on. The entire history of the world and humanity was never the same after such an event. And with things like the death of Eric Garner, I feel like humanity needs another shaking. If we are really shaken to our core, if our passions and prejudices truly bend their knees to this baby king, then things like this would not happen. The lion would indeed lay with the lamb.
Throughout the Bible, we see God always pushing people forward, going into places they clearly don’t want to go, giving them gifts they don’t want to receive, or even turning them into the people they don’t intend to be. This Advent, God is calling me to stop identifying my faith from a place of anger, disdain with the way I see people being treated, frustration at corporations exploiting the earth and communities for profitable gain, people who wield power and control by force and violence. I find myself shouting too much at apathetic people while the world around burns to the ground.
Eric Garner’s hollowed, pleading voice, expressing his inability to gasp for air, is completely haunting. As I strive to turn my anger into passion, I find joy in the midst of it all. My reality needs shaking in order to see that God is working in our world. There are places where the ox and the ass are bowing down before him. In my desire for a loving and joyous expression of faith, I realize that the first thing that needs to kneel down is my own passion and prejudice. They did in Nairobi, and I pray they do over and over again.