Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Dreadful portents. Signs from heaven.
This part of the Bible, this passage from the Gospel of Luke, is called “the little apocalypse.” The word apocalypse means unveiling, uncovering, revelation, the truth exposed.
The day after the election, in the neighborhood up the hill from our house, a wall was tagged with graffiti, white spray-paint, saying, “Black lives don’t matter, nor do black votes.”
One of you told me of what happened to a Latino kid from your child’s school, as he was walking to school Wednesday morning, when a white man pulled over his truck and yelled at the boy, a fourth-grader, “We get to send you back now,” he said, and sped away.
This morning, at a church near my house, after their Spanish worship service, during their bake sale, a man showed up with a “Make America Great Again” hat on and stalked Latinas in the parking lot.
When the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan announced their plans for a rally a rally to celebrate the election of Donald Trump, their candidate of choice, the one they are hoping will restore the supremacy of whitness—when they announced their celebration on December third, they explained themselves to the public: “We are not hateful people,” they said. “We are common white people from all walks of life.”
The majority of white voters cast their ballots for Trump. Common white people, from all walks of life.
Apocalypse is an unveiling of truth about the world. And this election has exposed a truth,a truth that racial and religious minorities have known for a long time, the truth that this country is not as progressive as liberals imagined.
The truth is that our society is not tolerant—or, I should say, this society tolerates the sins of rich, white men, overlooking their abuse and bigotry, but this country lashes out when its whiteness is threatened, lashes out with police who shoot unarmed black men, lashes out with deportation policies, with anti-immigrant threats. Van Jones called this week a “white-lash.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center is tracking all the cases of intimidation and hate crimes that have been happening throughout the country since Tuesday. The three populations who have experienced the most harassment are Black people, immigrants, and Muslims. And the place where most of the harassment has taken place is in schools, kindergarten through high school—white kids, now proud in their supremacy, emboldened in their racism, telling black kids to go back to Africa, telling Latino children to pack their bags, stripping Muslim youth of their hijabs in gym class.
Schools offer a vision of our future, a prophecy of who we are, of who we will be, one nation rising against nation, one people against all the others in this country.
If you’re not white, if you’re not Christian, this week has been an earthquake, like what Jesus talks about in our Bible passage—dreadful portents, menacing signs, fury hidden for so long, in the hearts and minds of neighbors, now exposed, unveiled rage, vengeance revealed. An apocalypse.
There’s so much about this world that is awful. We have to recognize that now. We’ve seen the signs in the sky, the dreadful omens.
In our passage, after Jesus talks about the earthquakes and plagues and portents, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom—after all of that, Jesus says this: “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (Luke 21:13).
During this apocalypse, we are called to testify, to bear witness, to show the world what it means to love the vulnerable people among us, which also means to oppose the people who threaten them, to protest the policies that hurt their lives.
To stand with the vulnerable also means we stand against the people who want to hurt them—people who harm others with their words, with their hands, and with their laws, to stand against the blatant and subtle appearances of white supremacy, to set our lives against a society that threatens the bodies of women, to protest a world that crushes people who are the beloved of God.
To testify to God’s love, that’s what we do now. We love one another. We make a home together, a home where distressed souls and grieving spirits and threatened bodies can find love—a home for God’s life, the secure embrace of God’s love.[i]
“This will give you an opportunity to testify,” Jesus says. Now is when we testify, when we bear witness, when we swear our lives to God’s righteousness, God’s justice—as we await the God who, as the Psalmist says, will judge the earth, the God whose love is justice, a vision for justice that sounds like Malachi’s prophecy:
“See,” the prophet says, “See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evildoers will be stubble… the day when the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”
On Thursday I called a friend. He’s a U.S. citizen, a Pakistani Muslim. I told him that I was afraid for him, for him and his wife and child. He told me stories about his cousins, the harassment, the threats, the physical assaults—how a lot of the women aren’t wearing their hijabs anymore, because of their experience of being targeted for abuse, as Muslim women.
There was a lot of silence on our phone call, and some tears.
Before we hung up, I asked him how all of this has affected his prayer life. I don’t know anyone who prays as much as he does, his whole day is organized around prayer. “What do you say, this week, when you pray?” I asked.
He answered me with a verse from the Qur’an. “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that which it can bear.” Then he recited a prayer, on the phone: “Our Lord, burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear,” he said, “and have mercy upon us.” I told him that that’s what I would pray for him, that our society will not test him beyond what he can bear, that God will sustain him and his family.
After I hung up the phone, a few minutes later, I got a text from him, a picture on my phone: his two-year-old daughter, her face glowing: bright eyes, chubby cheeks, exuberant smile.
Her name is Ayah, which means sign from God, a word taken from a Quranic verse, from Surah An-Nahl: “And God sends down rain from the sky, giving life to the earth after its lifelessness. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who listen.”
A sign for people who listen. Rain for a lifeless earth.
That’s my prayer, today, this week, this month, this year, this decade—my prayer for as long as I share this world with little Ayah, hoping that nothing will dull the brightness of her eyes.
May Malachi’s prophecy be our prayer, a dream that becomes our work: “the day is coming when the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”
[i] I’m grateful for Melissa Florer-Bixler who let borrow this insight from her sermon: https://signonthewindow.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/love-is-here/