In the midst of this Lenten season, there is a painful awakening going on, a long overdue recognition of America’s brutal past as it is played out in the present, and a surprising-for-many, but not for most realization that the characteristics which are representative of Jesus like hope, love, mercy, truth, justice, humility, self-control, equality and unity are willfully absent from the systems of these “yet to be United States.” It is during this season that we remember Jesus’ crucifixion and anticipate his resurrection, that we reflect on his life as Emmanuel–God with us–the Light of the world, Who announces the reign of the Kingdom of God and leads those who are willing and obedient into a new way of being–a higher level of consciousness. So, think it not strange that the civil unrest in the face of legalized racism, xenophobia, acts of treason, corruption, state sanctioned murder, mass incarceration, Jim Crow Esquire laws, etc. has risen to a new level under #45 as president. After all, America is a nation founded on a white supremacist ideology with a patriarchal bent that has widened the net of marginalization beyond the legalized discrimination against and murder of Black and Brown people that has been acceptable since slavery, and indeed since America’s inception.
Actually, I think the timing of these events during the Lenten season presents an opportunity for us to de-sanitize the story of Jesus’ birth, and recognize what was really going on in His context and how relevant it is for what is going on in our present day unrest. Jesus was born into a hostile situation, a situation of unrest. He was born in a stable surrounded by stinky animals to a teenage mother and a father that wanted to secretly divorce his mother, because he wasn’t the “daddy.” Jesus would already have enough to unravel as He grew up, but to add insult to injury, there was a legalized genocide going on, and Jesus was at the top of the list. Herod had given his “police force” the legal authority to use unmitigated deadly force against unarmed boys of a certain ethnicity in Bethlehem. If that is not a parallel to what we are currently facing in this country, I don’t know what is, but I do know that God in Jesus Christ chose to be born among the oppressed, and lived under the threat of death from his very birth.
Jesus knows the pain of Black and Brown people who are living under a set of laws that were designed to kill them physically, spiritually, economically, psychologically, and emotionally. Jesus knows the pain of being arrested on “trumped up” charges, and being held without due process. Jesus knows the pain of being treated as less than human, of being assumed a threat without any provocation, of being unjustly convicted and brutally murdered. Jesus knows this pain, because Jesus lived it under a Roman system that sought to kill him from birth, that legalized the killing of boys of His ethnicity, that continually saw Him as a threat, and that eventually executed Him—capital punishment style. It is this Jesus, Who paid the price not just through death on a cross, but through life in a hostile system that I hope we recognize and reconcile with our history that we may find a way forward.
During this season of Lent, may we come to know the de-sanitized Jesus, Who was born into a hostile situation to bring us into the reign of God, of Light, of Truth, and of Oneness, and may we get educated on our history so that we can move beyond it together as one. However, as we anticipate this long overdue reconciliation, we must come to terms with the reality that authentic reconciliation only manifests in the presence of truth, which will require us to honestly examine our history and quit white-washing it, quit white-splaining it, and quit justifying it. We must be willing to come to terms with our past like the African Sankofa bird who looks back to learn and grow from the past in order to walk forward into a brighter future. We must take on the consciousness that Jesus came to bring into the world, the truth that we are one as affirmed by the African principle of Ubuntu, which states, “because you are, I am, and I am, because you are.” This represents the love, hope, oneness, interconnectedness, unity, and “shalom” or wholeness that is the Kingdom of God, which Jesus ushered in to confront Herod’s mindset of separation, fear, control, scarcity, and competition.
So, let us welcome the gifts of consciousness and awakening that come in the midst of a hostile situation this Lenten season–the kind of hostility and pain that Jesus is not unfamiliar with. As we do so, it is absolutely essential to recognize that America did not suddenly arrive at this point, but has been on this trajectory since inception, and the widening of the net of marginalization is only possible because many have been asleep or indifferent. In the words of Martin Niemoller:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Whatever hostile context you were born into by virtue of your race, religion, immigration status, sexuality, gender, or so forth, Jesus is familiar with that pain and knows the power of your potential! You are in good company not simply because of your pain but because of the purpose and possibilities for you to transform the hostility directed at you into healing radiating from you!
RECOMMENDED JOURNAL EXERCISE: Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions and write your answer to each in your journal. Take about 5 minutes for each question.
- What “strikes a nerve” for you about the way the context is articulated in this post?
- What “resonates” with you about the way the context is articulated in this post?
- What are you willing to learn and grow from in order to walk into a future of oneness?
- Slavery By Another Name details the 80 years after slavery when many of the unjust laws, policies, practices, biases, and prejudices were legalized to unjustly imprison and execute free Black men to perpetuate the system of forced labor after the Emancipation Proclamation.
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander shines a light on the mass incarceration of people of color that began during the 80 years after slavery largely as a Southern phenomenon, but eventually spread to all other states giving way to today’s prison industrial complex, cradle to prison pipeline, and crisis of mass incarceration.
Ava DuVernay’s 13th Reframes American History is an article in The Atlantic that discusses Ava DuVernay’s documentary entitled 13th which unmasks how the intentional manipulation of words led to mass incarceration. The documentary is available for viewing on Netflix.
***This post was updated from an Advent blog I posted on December 5, 2014.***
Tara LaShawn Seabrook is a self-proclaimed “free spirit,” a public, practical, and prophetic theologian; a spiritual and social justice activist; a creative and cultural artist; and a prolific teacher, speaker, and writer. Currently, she resides in Guatemala where she is finishing up a 2-year volunteer in mission commitment with a non-governmental organization before returning to her native Charleston, SC in the spring of 2017. Her book based on her original poem, “I Am She: The Anthology” will be released later this year.