This is the second reflection in a devotional series I’ve made for Advent 2020 called No Going Back. You can read more about this devotional and download a PDF copy here.
It doesn’t take much to imagine that John the Baptist was probably a “controversial” figure. He did, after all, live in the desert, eat bugs, and call the religious authorities of his day a “brood of vipers” (Mt 3:7) to their faces. But it was more so because he told people the Kingdom of God was coming and they needed to change their ways – and it was for this reason that he was ultimately beheaded. We’re told in the Gospel of Luke that crowds of people came to John while he was alive to be baptized – but we can assume that just as many crowds saw John, didn’t like what he had to say or the way he looked, and ignored him. Jesus was treated in much the same way. He was maligned by the religious and political authorities of his day so much that he had nowhere to truly lay his head.
There is this common trope in disaster TV and movies of an anxious scientist trying to warn public officials of an impending catastrophe, such a volcano that’s going to blow or an asteroid hurtling toward earth. Sadly their warnings are ignored until it’s too late. You might see that storyline and think, “Politicians would never do that!” Yet in 2020 many elected officials, particularly in the highest levels of the United States government, said that COVID-19 was a hoax or asserted that it wasn’t that much of a threat to public health while hundreds of thousands of Americans have died – and continue to die – from the virus. And before the pandemic, they said the same things about climate change despite the fact that scientists have been warning us about it for decades.
The reason why Jesus, or prophets like John, or scientists and doctors in our country are ignored or outright attacked as ‘liars’ is the fact that their warnings challenge people’s worldviews; they threaten to disrupt the way we’ve always done things. Jesus’ whole adult life was centered on turning the status quo upside down – he healed those considered untouchable and disposable, he told the rich to give away their possessions to the poor, he spoke openly to women and included them in his ministry. Above all, he preached love, forgiveness, and compassion, especially for “the least of these” – the most marginalized. These teachings are still sorely needed, and they still fly in the face of the status quo today.
St. Paul tells us, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor 3:19) The ‘wisdom’ of this world suggests that the elderly should sacrifice themselves for the economy, while Jesus says the rich should give away their wealth and take care of the most vulnerable among us. The ‘wisdom’ of this world is that companies should not pay their workers adequately for the sake of preserving their profits – but God says do not steal, give your employees their due. The ‘wisdom’ of this world proclaims, “Time is money!”, but God says, “Honor the Sabbath.”
When I think about who is doing the holy work of disruption today, one person who immediately comes to mind is Tricia Hersey (aka the “Nap Bishop”), creator of The Nap Ministry. Tricia is an activist, artist, and theologian who, through social media, workshops, and “napping experiences” beckons all of us to (re)discover the power of rest. Her posts on social media remind me that taking time for rest is not only sacred and vital, but it also makes room for me, and all of us, to picture the world differently: “If you cannot imagine or envision a way for you to rest for 15 to 30 min a day, how will you be able to imagine or envision a world without police terror and equality for all? Our lack of imagination is intimately tied to our liberation. Our DreamSpace must be cultivated.” This centering of rest and self-care is a rebuke of capitalist “grind culture”, and it also gives me space to think deeply about what life would be like if I didn’t live paycheck to paycheck – what if had more time to spend with my loved ones, more resources to take care of both my and my community’s needs, more energy for leisure and creative pursuits? What if we all had those things, not simply the rich and privileged few?
The ideologies that hold our world up – individualism, productivity at all costs, profit over people, nationalism and fear of our neighbors – are so firmly entrenched in our minds and ways of life. The pandemic has exposed this in very visceral ways: people’s refusal to wear masks, companies not paying workers hazard pay, racist attacks and remarks directed at Chinese folks because of where the virus was first reported. We must listen to, and also share the work of, disruptors – folks who are telling us there is another, much better world to live in if we are willing to dream.
Some questions for you:
What are some of the ways your worldview has changed this year?
Are there internalized, toxic messages in your mind that need to be disrupted?
A prayer for this second week of Advent:
God of mystery, your prophet Elijah found you
not in strong winds, nor earthquakes, nor fires,
but in a still, small voice:
attune us to discern your words
amid the noise of this life.
Help us to be present,
that we may hear the soft cries of your newborn Son
and the choirs of angels announcing his coming.