The Santa Ana winds are picking up today in a quasi-poetic irony. It’s the kind of disguised solace that offers no real respite, much like the words I see on social media: “God is in control.” “We will be okay.” “We just have to get through these four years.”
Nice sentiment, but please, I implore you to examine your privilege. Chances are you have little-to-no reason to fear. Chances are you can safely shut your eyes and wait out these four years.
Others of us don’t have that privilege.
Others of us weep as our bully, our assailant takes hold of the highest office in the world.
Others of us are buying hats because it’s too dangerous to wear a hijab in public.
Others of us bear hate crimes as the rhetoric of our president-elect has emboldened racists and white supremacists.
Others of us fear entering a bar and getting cornered into a situation we never asked for because a man viewed us as something to take hold of.
Others of us have to think twice about the clothes we put on each day because it just might invite the sort of "locker room talk" that seems to be acceptable now.
Others of us will keep quiet when we are taken advantage of because we are probably lying, or we were probably asking for it.
Others of us wait with bated breath to see if we will lose access to affordable healthcare and lifesaving medication.
Others of us fear seeing our hard-won rights unravel before our very eyes.
Others of us are terrified our families will be ripped apart by deportation.
Others of us send our kids off to school each day aware of the insults that will so carelessly be swung because kids are sponges and they repeat what they hear.
You say God is in control. You say we will be okay. But that’s not enough. It’s too easy to mutter and it leaves too much space for apathy, for passivity, for throwing our hands up in the air and saying, “que sera, sera—what will be, will be.”
Yes, God is absolutely in control. But he also asks us to fight. For the orphans and widows. For the marginalized and oppressed.
I spent a good amount of time the morning after the election in the New Testament. You know, just to make sure my fellow Christians and I were reading the same Bible. And time and time again I saw Jesus on the margins, extending grace and mercy toward the downtrodden. (Writer and pastor Khristi L. Adams reminds us: “He broke bread with enemies, befriended the outcast, resisted patriarchy, touched the untouchable, conversed with the rejected, spoke up on behalf of the judged, intervened, stood up, stood for and on behalf of.”)
We see in the Book of James that these hollow sentiments—the “God is in control” ones, the ones with an “All Lives Matter” ring to it—fall short if not met with compassionate action.
“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (James 2:14-17)
Resigning these four years as something to “get through” dismisses our very call as Christians to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with [our] God.”
In the days before the election I read a Facebook post from a prominent pastor of a huge evangelical church in California explaining his reasons for voting for Trump.
“I was told if I voted for Trump I needed to open my bible to find out why it was morally wrong. So I did, and this is what I found…”
He goes on:
“I found that compassion for aliens (visitors to a nation) is vital, but here again the responsibility to provide safety for its citizens comes first.”
I’m sorry, but I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that calls us to protect our own at the expense of the well-being of the “other."
Did we learn nothing from Jesus? The priests acted out of this same kind of safe-guarding desire to protect themselves from threats to their religious institutions. Jesus challenges this way of thinking when he is asked why he sits with the tax-collectors and sinners:
“But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Mercy triumphs over judgment, every time. Mercy knows no bounds. Mercy isn't safe. Mercy asks that we risk our own well-being to pursue those on the margins.
In a brilliant discourse on the election, author Jonathan Martin says this:
“In the Old Testament, a handful of prophets came up from the margins to declare God’s truth. Michael Hardin has observed, brilliantly, that much of the Old Testament is actually a debate between priests and prophets. The priests often embody a kind of institutional self-preservation that prophets are always challenging. When Jesus comes on to the scene, he repeatedly affirms the stance of the prophets in such conflicts, he consistently validates and embodies the prophetic critique. Though as I recall Chris Green telling me once, it is not so much that Jesus validates the prophets against the priests so much as he re-interprets the priestly tradition in a prophetic way.”
If we look to the Beautitudes we see that perhaps this self-preservation of our “great nation” is in vain.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This may come as a shock to you, but the United States is actually few of these things that Jesus deems blessed. Especially now. Where are the meek, the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers? Because I’m having a hard time finding them, in our government and many of our churches. Where are the poor, the hungry, the mourning, the persecuted? Because that's where I want to be. So help me God I will spend these four years (and then some) pursuing them. Hearing them. Championing for them. Learning from them.
Folks, Jesus is on the margins and that’s where we too should be.