Jerusalem Window in St. John's Episcopal Church's Carter Chapel.
We are finishing out the First Week in Advent, and I can say this has been a week like no other Advent that I can remember in recent years. Past Advents have felt introspective and--how to say this--a little more private in their impact. But given our current state of affairs in the world with this particular administration and Congress in Washington, D.C., this season with its emphasis on patient waiting, self-reflection and examination, repentance, turning around and preparing for the return of Jesus Christ into the midst of our human condition, the words in the daily office spoken by the prophet Amos are echoing loudly.
A phrase repeated in one of the Amos readings this week has stuck with me for a couple of days. Amos is listing out calamity upon calamity that have befallen the people of God. Prophets do that sort of thing and in the past, I might have heard these words and shrugged them off as what we always hear from the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures to make their point. But as I listened to the lector going through one natural disaster after another as God's "punishment" for Israel's transgressions, there was the repeated mantra:
"Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord."
Tears began to well up in my eyes as I stared at the Jerusalem window in the chapel. So many truly terrible things are happening now because we have a president who is a liar, thief, and abusive man. Our Congress is run by even smaller tyrants operating out of a place of greed and shamelessness. And the height of all that is wrong from my perspective could be seen staring into that window depicting the landscape of the Holy City, and knowing that it was destined to be a scene of bloodshed and terror once more after our feckless leader announced that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel only. Our president, and Vice President, are catering to the extremists of Christianity who believe that the events foretold in the Book of Revelation can only happen if all the Jews return to Jerusalem, while also pandering to the crazed Zionists who oppose the presence of Palestine. This, of course, has led the Palestinians to rebel, and will egg on extemists in Islam who want to kill all the Jews and have hated the United States for our attempts over the decades to broker a peace that includes Israel, not to mention the corporate dealings we've had that have polluted water ways or backed oppressive regimes around the world. Attacks will happen, people will die...Muslims, Jews, and likely Christians, too..."yet you did not return to me, says the Lord."
I contemplated the new sexual ethic we are living in where, after centuries of ignoring the voices of women when they say they have been harassed, abused, or raped, we now say "We believe you." As a woman, I am happy that there seems to be a recognition of the wrongs that have been done to us. Seems to be a recognition. What seems more like the reality of this new found belief is that we only seem to care if it is politically expedient to care. U.S. Senator Al Franken, who had been a very effective leader for the Democrats and was showing signs that he might be a potential presidential candidate, has been drummed out by his own party because of allegations that he sexually harassed women. Long-time Detroit U.S. Representative John Conyers, also a Democrat, was similarly forced out of office for having paid off claims of sexual harassment. Many praise these moves as "the right thing to do." Because we seem to care about women now. In fact, we care so much, that the Republican National Committee is funneling money to support the campaign of a man running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama who has been banned from the Gadsden Mall in that state because he was a child sexual predator. We have a justice serving on the U.S. Supreme Court who we learned from Anita Hill during his confirmation hearing is a porn-addicted sexual harasser. And then there is the president who bragged about grabbing women by their private parts, admitted that those comments were wrong, but we were told by his wife that it was all "boy talk." Twenty women...with names...have come forward to say that the man who is now president acted inappropriately with them. "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord."
I prayed for all those in Southern California surrounded by a ring of wildfires, for the people in Puerto Rico who are stuck on island that still has less than 50-percent of the population with electricity after a hurricane, for all of us here on the mainland who are bracing for what type of future we'll have if the tax bill that was so hastily pushed through gets to the president's desk for his signature. Among the many purported problems with the legislation, losses due to natural disasters such as a wildfire will not be counted as a tax deduction. Graduate students will see their tuition waivers taxed as "income." And already the talk of how to pay for all of this comes back around to more cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Those programs, by the way, are often all a family has to work with when their parents become too frail or become otherwise so dependent that they must be moved into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Without those, families would be out thousands of dollars a month. "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord."
Indeed, this First Week of Advent is bringing home to me more and more the chaos and the desperation of the world we now live in here in the United States. The warnings of the prophets of old are sounding more current than they ever have before. So the question is: will we repent and return to the Lord? What does that mean?
For me, it means what it has always meant: we take care of the planet. We tend to those that are dependent on us, be they animals, children, elderly, people with special needs for assistance. We treat everyone with dignity and respect in the same way that we wish to be treated. We honor one another. "Returning to the Lord" is about restoring relationships and recognizing that we are not the center of the universe.
When will we return to that?