In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless
void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the
face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
--Genesis 1:1-3 NRSV
It has been difficult for me to read the news since last week's attack on the Capitol Building. As more videos of the riot are distributed by the media, more disturbing images are revealed, such as a rioter beating a capitol police officer with an American flag even though many of the rioters claimed to be pro-police, a display honoring the great Civil Rights hero and congressman John Lewis destroyed, and rioters chanting "Hang Pence!" The most disturbing images are the people who declare they are breaking into the Capitol building as a part of their Christian duty. What is this madness which has overtaken these people?
This morning in the midst of my feelings of outrage, denial and sadness, I have felt like God has been trying to tell me something. I encountered three things which together have offered me hope. I'm passing them on to you in hopes they do the same for you.
1. A quotation from Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is no stranger to contemplating dystopian societies sprouting up in the United States. After all, she wrote The Handmaid's Tale and its sequel The Testaments. I tried reading her ecological disaster Oryx and Crake trilogy and made it all the way to halfway through the third book, but I had to stop reading just because it was such a miserable view of the future that it sent my existing anxiety over climate change skyrocketing.
This morning, I came across a quotation from the author which seemed to speak about our current political crisis: "Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, 'It can't happen here.' Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances." Many declared upon seeing the riot in the Capitol Building that it seemed like something that only happened in developing countries and they never thought it would happen here. Well, it
has happened here, and it will continue to happen here unless our culture can reject violent extremists who operate out of a mixture of white supremacy, absolutist religion and delusional conspiracy theories. Simply shrugging and ignoring the potential danger of our times is not enough, but how do we find hope to do more than that in the face of such destructive insanity?
2. A Sermon from Rev. Holly McKissick
Even though I am serving at Park Hill Christina Church, I am a member of Peace Christian Church in Kansas City. I don't get to worship with them, but I watch their services each week. In Sunday's sermon, Holly preached from Genesis 1 and spoke about what God did at Creation according to the original Hebrew text. The English NRSV translation says before God created the heavens and the earth, "the earth was a formless void." The words "formless void" are better translated to mean "wild and wasteful" or perhaps "chaos and waste." God isn't pictured as creating from nothing but rather as creating order from chaos. God continues to create-to bring order from chaos, and this is good news indeed as we wrestle with the images of chaos we have witnessed since last Wednesday.
3. A quotation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Just before I heard Holly McKissick's sermon, I happened to read a quotation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu who heroically worked to overturn the racist apartheid government in South Africa. In his book God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, he writes the following:
"Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now-in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally... Indeed, God is transforming the world now-through us-because God loves us."
Perhaps you can see why I felt God was trying to offer me some hope when you connect the words of Desmond Tutu with Holly McKisseck's sermon. Together they form a positive response to Margaret Atwood's warning.
These are fearful times that ask a greater response from us than apathetic shrugs or merely posting angry comments on social media. We must mend the torn fabric of our culture and to renew a vision of the common good that includes people of all races, religions, political views, sexual orientations, gender identities, nationalities and economic classes. We have to work for a civic culture that embraces the inherent worth of each person rather than the few who manipulate our political and economic systems to advance their own hubris. But how do we do it?
The answer, for Christians at least, should be trusting that God is still creating out of chaos. Creation was not a one-time event but an ongoing process. We join in that process wherever we find it in our lives. A clue for where to look lies in searching for people who humbly go about bringing order out of chaos.
In her sermon Sunday, Holly McKissick concluded by saying she wanted to know the names of people in the videos of the Capital Building last Wednesday-not the names of the rioters, but the names of the janitors and other staff at the Capitol who cleaned up the mess left behind. (Perhaps you saw the pictures and video of Rep. Andrew Kim, the son of immigrants to the U.S., who stayed late into the night to clean up the Capitol along with the custodial staff.) These humble and unknown workers went about cleaning up the awful mess left behind by the rioters. Many of them who picked up racist banners and emblems are African American-I can't imagine what they must have thought. I can't think of a better image of God's creation-work than these unsung workers.
Margaret Atwood is correct; chaos can erupt anywhere under the right circumstances. When it does, we must respond by becoming a part of God's ongoing creation -work.
Grace and Peace,
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851