Every year I forget to buy candles for our advent wreath. Every. Year. The last two years I’ve been lucky enough to serve on a church staff with a very with it lady who always had all the advent supplies we needed free for the taking. This year, no such luck.
So I went into a Hallmark for the first time in probably 10 years searching for three purple and one pink advent candle. And of course I stumbled on Christmas cards and since we’re so far away from most folks this year I figured I should actually buy some cards, and send them. I picked up a box with a medieval nativity painting and read the back, meh. I tried another, and another, I worked my way through the whole religious cards section getting more and more discouraged as I did so.
They talked about the blessing of Christmas, the gift of Jesus, they wished everyone peace and joy. Peace and happiness. Peace, and blessing. Over and over again until I realized why I couldn’t take a single one of those boxes to the counter, why I couldn’t make myself buy a single one. I stood in a sparkling Hallmark store, perhaps the beacon of white, middle class consumption. Not a single thing in that whole store is necessary. Everything they sell, fluff. I stood in my warm coat, in the middle of my very peaceful and very homogeneous city of wealthy, white people and I found the words in those cards stuck in my throat like bile.
I bought my advent candles and left the sappy religious cards on the shelf.
Churches all over this country have been praying for “peace” in Ferguson, and elsewhere. But it has become increasingly clear to anyone paying attention what that does and doesn’t mean. The protests have spread far beyond Ferguson, and it has become about far more than the death of one unarmed black man. It is about kids like Tamir, 12 years old and dead for carrying a toy gun (in an open carry state); while white men not far away carry AR-15s openly in Walmart. It is about the staggering disparity in the number of people of color pulled over, arrested, searched, detained, harassed, and shot by police.
When a group of NFL football players walked out onto the field with their hands in the air in the gesture of “hands up, don’t shoot” that has become synonymous with Ferguson protests across the country the overwhelming response from football fans was that they should shut up and play. On the field those black football players are gold for their team, on the street, in civilian clothes? They become the ‘intimidating black man’ who is so likely to be shot.
The thing is, when white America says we’re praying for “peace,” what that’s meant for the last 150 years is the absence of visible conflict, not the presence of justice. Oh, you won’t hear that openly. But it is happening, as it always has. The powerful oppress and grind down, and when the oppressed dare to make any noise they are called “animals,” they are told that to be listened to they must be peaceful, quiet, reasonable. It’s all code for: go away and shut up, you are making me uncomfortable.
You think your uncomfortable my fellow WASPS? Imagine being a POC (Person of color) in this country. Imagine living in a place like Ferguson, MO where if you are a POC you are twice as likely to be stopped and searched by police, despite the fact that percentage of whites carrying contraband is much higher. That’s racism. It isn’t over, it hasn’t gone away, and being polite and asking for those in power to please bring about justice hasn’t worked! It hasn’t worked since the first European set foot on this continent and began the systematic irradiation of its native population (who just happened to be people of color, shocking!). It didn’t work for slaves. It didn’t work after the 14th amendment, it didn’t work after the Civil Rights Act of 1866, it didn’t work after thousands of lynchings, it didn’t work after the civil rights movement of the 60s, asking those in power to please give up some of their power and give it to the very people they’ve been using their power to abase and oppress has been a damn failure.
Not a single prophet would be surprised. Not Isaiah, or Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Micah, or the rest. Even Jonah would get it (and Jonah was a little thick). God’s peace is not the absence of conflict, God’s peace comes with the fiery sword Jesus promised. If you are one of the people with power and privilege (and if you share my European descent then no matter what else you’ve got against you, you’ve got white privilege working for you), God’s peace isn’t very peaceful, in fact its uncomfortable as hell.
I’m not sending Christmas cards this year wishing everyone peace and goodwill. Because we’ve forgotten what those words mean. We’ve substituted our own comfort for the world shaking power of a God who is always on the side of the oppressed, who is always ready to utterly destroy the oppressor, who is always asking we who have the power of Cain: “Where is your brother?”
“Where is your brother?”
One is being born in a stable. Homeless, and dark skinned and beautiful; and destined to die. He (or she) has been born to die for two thousand years now. Let there be no peace on this Earth, until he (and she) are born to live.