We need better imaginations for our social justice movements

Advent is coming

It’s Advent Eve, Eve (this year Advent starts on November 29, four sundays before Christmas Day). I find myself more ready than ever to enter into the yearly practice of communal waiting. I need time to ponder and space to consider. This year turns up all the questions and the tension is killing me except when I let Jesus raise me form the dead. Many of my notions are dropping like flies. In one sense this is wonderful — I’m learning more about who I am and who we are meant to be in Christ; in another sense this is awful — the disorientation of Jesus’ different ways is so frustrating and confusing at times. Once again, Advent welcomes us into the paradox of God-with -us. A King of Kings who comes to serve — an almighty God who is born with a skull you could crush in the palm of your hand (Francis Schaeffer).

Isaiah long expected this surprising Savior.

Isaiah 42:1-9
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
The baby Jesus, King of Kings, is a wonderfully strange paradox to consider. “Born Thy people to deliver,/ Born a child and yet a King” as Charles Wesley put it in his poem made song (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus). Isaiah’s imagination captures this paradox long before the Word became flesh. How does someone bring justice without crying out in the streets? What does the gentleness in Isaiah 42 have to do with establishing anything in this messy world?
The Servant who is also King is a grand reversal, a challenge to all our political strategies. Some might take this passage as a call towards quietism. Jesus saying, “My kingdom is not of this world” could be received as a prohibition against political involvement of any kind, and some of our faith cousins, even some within Circle of Hope, believe this to be the right interpretation. But if you are called to speak up for justice—to take up the mantle of the prophets as a compassionate response to the unjust world we live in –to love your neighbor as yourself–what do you do? The Servant and King, Jesus, gives us a clue.

The temptation to overcome evil with evil

Otherizing the opposition is a sure fire way to galvanize a movement. The easiest way to organize a group of people is to unite them against a common enemy. Other people who do evil in our eyes are the natural enemies for a movement, but Jesus’ enemy-loving message transcends all notions of “other”, “stranger” and “enemy.” He manages to convict the wrong-doer by imagining a future for them. He tends the smoldering wick in case it might be kindled back to flame. He compassionately sees people in their tenderness and strengthens their will for transformation. He sees the wounds we all have and offers us healing.
The Baby King babies us without infantilizing us. He calls us to who we are meant to be while giving us the strength and courage to actually change who we are. We who follow in his way bring that gentleness to our creative action to care for the poor and the oppressed. Elected officials ought to covet our moral message and the love with which we doggedly profess it. Our best advocacy is our alternative community. It is the ground from which we prophesy to those who might be convicted by the truth, even those empowered enough to do great harm to the people we love. If our imagination for their transformation is part of our vision for the future, we are on the right track.

Take action with Mennonite Central Committee (They need it)

Mennonite Central Committee is Circle of Hope’s most global expression of compassion (but our Compassion Teams ain’t nothing to sneeze at). We share money with MCC through our thrifts stores (when they can be open enough to share — Lord, hear our prayer) and through a portion of our Common Fund (this has not changed in the pandemic year). Our pastors serve on boards of the organization as well. Joining with MCC is one way we lift our voice together in a creative, transformational ways. Go to mcc.org and sign up for action alerts from the Washington Office, or learn something about what they’re doing on their website. Pray for the problems you encounter, for alleviation of suffering and for creative responses from ourselves and all who follow our Servant King. One specific thing to pray for: that they can get in to the places where they are needed. The whole world is gummed up. It’s hard to move people or supplies anywhere to meet the needs of the partners we work with all around the world. Give them a little extra if you have it because their funding is seriously hindered by the pandemic.

Bring it, Advent

Happy Advent y’all! Let us start the lamentation! The world is not as it should be. We are not as we should be. But let us not descend to shame. The world is not yet what it WILL be. We are not yet who we WILL be.

The world will be.

We will be.

And Jesus will make it so, even as he has begun to do so in us. The desire for transformation of the world and for ourselves that we are feeling right now is evidence of the hope we have in Jesus. Let us trust that hope and trust the Author of Hope to bring our desires to completion.

2 responses to “We need better imaginations for our social justice movements”

  1. Thanks, Ben. I appreciate that you’ve been imagining and building that beloved community basically your whole life. I’ll add that for the social justice movements that are about black and brown lives, much of the needed imagination, and correction from “otherizing”, will come from listening to black and brown visionary leaders.


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