by Francisco Garcia
“Nonviolent resistance avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. In struggling for human dignity the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate campaigns. To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
Tomorrow we will observe Joy Sunday. I could spend a good amount of time engaging theologically with the great joy that we should feel for the coming of Christ into the world. But as I (and we) grapple with the growing crisis of systemic racism and violence against black lives that is rocking our nation, I find joy hard to come by at this moment. I have been struggling to find the joy and the peace of the season. I’ve also been reflecting on world events during my lifetime, and perhaps I’m holding on too much to the weightiness of it all. I feel the incredible charge and responsibility of proclaiming the good news — and of raising my kids — in a troubled world. I’m in my mid-thirties, and I cannot recall a time when there hasn’t been some kind of military aggression taking place in the world. In grade school a beloved teacher left his post to serve in the Persian Gulf War; in junior high my uncle went to Bosnia; later one of my closest cousins was shipped off to Iraq during the height of the Abu Ghraib prison and torture abuse scandal. With the recent release of the torture report, we’re only beginning to confirm the horrific atrocities committed in our name, in the supposed interest of our national security. My entire adult life has existed in a post-9/11 world. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that we’re successfully living out peace at home and abroad. I’m feeling the words of the prophet Jeremiah (6:14) when he says that “they have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” We seem to have only superficially dealt with the wounds of racism, poverty, violence, and injustice.
Just this week, I was feeling all this weight. And then on Friday morning, during a brief moment of prayer and quiet reflection, I felt graced and surrounded by God’s cosmic love and presence. It was sudden and unexplainable, and it completely lifted my burden and shifted my perspective. I felt joy, and I felt ready to express that joy for one more day. During these troubling times, I find that I can only bring myself to a place of joy and peace when I let the limitless and love-filled premise and promise of Advent, to seep into my life. And I need daily doses of it to keep going, to get outside of my head and into the world in which God has placed me. To welcome Christ in the world is to experience and express a steady, divine love that seeks to transform — to rid ourselves of the individual burdens of racial injustice and oppression, and realize that Christ walks with us in love, and equips us with what we need to change hearts and minds, systems and institutions. This is a long-haul battle, and sometimes I get antsy when I feel the pace of social change to be too slow, or even regressive. But I believe that we can permeate our nation and world’s soul with this incredible, revolutionary force of love through our own loving presence and prayerful, prophetic action. The birth of Christ is joyful because it is God’s manifestation of a steady and unexplainable love and justice–that holds close and also transcends the state of the world.