Here’s the outcome of the sermon I wrote about here.
On Friday, I shared this sermon with the good folks of the Friday afternoon worship service at First Baptist Highland Avenue. For those of you who don’t know, First Baptist Highland Avenue is a predominantly African-American congregation in East Winston. We turned it into a dialogical sermon, and I’m bringing back to you their thoughts.
Daughters Who Prophecy and Dreamy Old Men, preached December 4, 2016
I wrote an Advent devotional this week that suggested reading oppressed voices, rather than the white, cisgender, male voices that our media is so full of. I took my own advice to heart, but not without noticing that so many of the liberal voices I’ve been reading are still so down and depressed… Down. Sad. Angry. Even hopeless.
So taking it to heart, I read some other voices.
Like African American pastor Rev. Otis Moss, III, who wrote, “There is no strict line of demarcation between the existential weariness of a disenfranchised person of color and the sacred disciplines of prayer, worship, and service to humanity.”
Like trans activist, Kate Bornstein, who said, “People who are reactionary try to keep the world from changing rather than do the hard, but ultimately more realistic, work of changing themselves. People who don’t see any way of changing themselves or the world spend a lot of time wishing they were dead.”
And Cornel West, who said, many long years ago, “…we must delve into the depths where neither liberals nor conservatives dare to tread, namely, into the murky waters of despair and dread that now flood the streets of black America. To talk about the depressing statistics of unemployment, infant mortality, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, and violent crime is one thing. But to face up to the monumental eclipse of hope, the unprecedented collapse of meaning, the incredible disregard for human (especially black) life and property in much of black America is something else.”
Are you hearing a thread?
And then, finally, a line from an African-American woman sociologist, Tressie McMillan Cottom, one who has spent her life among “professionally smart people” who wrote, “The America many professionally smart people woke up to last week is the America many of us have already lived in for at least as long as this memory shut up in my bones.”
Tressie tells of an America where Black people are told, “You have to be hopeful.” But they are not. She speaks of an indelible hopelessness, not-quite-nihilism-but-so-close, that people of color live in. She expresses that liberal voters are afraid of “reversing Roe v. Wade and police surveillance to mob rule in public discourse and delegitimized claims to citizenship” but that people of color have been experiencing these a long time.
So that feeling you’ve had for 25 or so days since the election? What we must do is “Multiply that by a whole life.” That is the lived experience of our African-American brothers and sisters. That is the lived experience of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people in our country. That is the lived experience of Asians, Muslims, Jews, Latinos, and so many more people in our country.
Here I asked First Baptist, Highland Avenue folks, “Is this your experience?” They nodded their heads. And then they spoke.
They spoke of the not-surprising-but-painful results of the election.
They spoke of the historical baggage of oppression. They spoke of the loss of hope that they will ever be accepted in American society.
They spoke of the terror they were feeling with white supremacists in power, at least two in Trump’s cabinet.
One gentleman said that the only time he felt accepted by White men was when he was in the jungles of Vietnam.
One woman expressed that Black people have always had to settle as they’re told to accept their situation and unite under White agendas.
They said White people voted because they wanted their specific needs and wants met, but they didn’t care about the needs of others.
Our text is from Joel today. Make you no nevermind. Joel, too, lived with that hopelessness… In fact, Joel is a difficult book to date—there are so many moments in the life of Israel that could have been so hopeless. The hopelessness that the people feel in the midst of awful things, that’s what Joel is answering.
One Bible version translates it like this:
Then in those days I will pour My Spirit to all humanity;
your children will boldly and prophetically speak the word of God.
Your elders will dream dreams;
your young warriors will see visions.
No one will be left out.
In those days I will offer My spirit
to all servants, both male and female.
God’s goal: No one will be left out. Now… How do we make it happen?
One of my dearest friends called me on Thanksgiving Day. She’s a Rabbi, and her husband is a Rabbi, too. She asked, “Is this the apocalypse?”
As we talked about the election, and the anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, anti-LGBTQ, anti-woman, anti-Black, anti-Latino rhetoric of the last months, and the very present acts of racism, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-woman that have happened in these short weeks, she told me a story.
The day after the election, a church just outside of Madison, WI, where my Rabbi friends live, delivered flowers to their synagogue. Alongside was a note that said, “Please know that you are loved and cherished. You are not alone.”
The following day, the synagogue delivered flowers to other congregations in their midst—to African-American, Muslim and Latino congregations in their city.
The prophet Joel tell us, “No one will be left out.” Some may believe that Joel is describing the coming times. I choose to see it as a commandment.
No one will be left out.
TODAY’S ADVENT INACTION: I hope you’re enjoying a Sabbath today. If you haven’t made it this far, try for just a few minutes.