A New Second City...?
A failed city. A corrupt city. A city where wealth and power are worshipped and the poor are shuttled to the side and ignored. A place of chaos, violence and segregation. Rulers hanging on: Making deals and plying bargains. A failed city. A corrupt city. Thus it was said of Jerusalem in 587, as the prophet Jeremiah predicted its fall, foretold of its coming destruction.
I wonder when the people of faith in Jerusalem looked around and said, "This is not as it should be." Was it when Jeremiah first spoke, or was it more likely when the Babylonians made it through the breach in the walls and began to pour through the streets?
For years Jerusalem had been hanging on—living in a netherworld between the Assyrians, the Egyptians and now the Babylonians. For years the prophets have been saying to the leaders of Jerusalem you are corrupt change your ways. Or else...
Ages ago, far away, different time, different place. And yet I wonder what the prophets, Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah would have to say to us these days in Chicago, this second city of ours.
Much has been said, some has been heard, and even a bit understood about the systematic, institutional racism of the usual business of our city. I feel no need to repeat what anyone of us can read on every third post of our FB feed. My question for us given all that has happened in our city and country this past year is: Will the egregious murder of Laquan McDonald be what finally shoves the silent, complacent majority of this city (of which I count myself) into a prolonged, profound, movement for change? Will this be the event that propels us into active solidarity with our black and brown sisters and brothers who are demanding change?
Yes, this congregation has been working. We've done more to begin educating ourselves about systemic racism in the past year than we've done in the past 25 years put together. That is however, frankly, something of a low bar. But yes, we have not been ignoring the world.
But, as I watch things unfold in the city and across the country I find myself wondering if what we are doing is way too little, way too late. Then a tide of gelatinous hopelessness rises over me. I am left feeling inept and marooned. I wonder if that might be something like how the ancients of Judah and Jerusalem must have felt. Exiled, overwhelmed with the sin of their complicity and despair at anything ever changing.
That then is when the prophet Jeremiah, who has spent chapter and verse telling the people of the ways that they have failed to honor God and their covenant with the Holy, it is then when Jeremiah offers seeds of hope. A promise and a vision of what could be. Jeremiah ceases to tear down and pluck out and instead begins to plant and sew seeds of hope.
He says, "There are days surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promises I made to the House of Israel and House of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David...Judah will be saved, Jerusalem will live in safety."
A vision of a new Jerusalem.
Jeremiah says to the people, there is something more to come. The difference between people of faith and people of despair is that people of faith have hope. People of faith have hope in something more. Their actions reveal their belief in something more. God through Jeremiah is promising the ancient people of Jerusalem something more. God through Jeremiah is promising us the same. It is our choice whether we act on or ignore that hope.
As biblical theologian Walter Brueggemann says, The people who stay close to God's promises are very odd people, who will never be 'subsumed' either under the false promises of empires or under the large despairs of a failed city. After the failed city and the false promises of the empire, there persist these promises, the God who makes them, and the people to whom they are made. The promises, the God, and the people constitute an always new possibility in history, a possibility undaunted by the... empire. (P 269 A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming 1998.)
It is tremendously difficult to create and live into transformation if we have no visual image of what that might be. What my friends would be a concrete vision of change and transformation look like in our own city, in our own lives?
To start this process of transformation I suggest that there are some of us, such as myself, who must begin first with a confession of sin.
To frame some of our personal and institutional sins of racism I offer the following statement constructed by a group in our congregation working on confronting systemic racism:
The blood of the dead is calling us to repent for our sins of racism.
We confess that when we do nothing, we permit the neglect, abuse, and murder of our black and brown sisters and brothers.
God yearns for us to care, to act, for all to be set free.
Longing for justice, learning from history, listening to voices of truth, we vow, with God's help, to claim our responsibilities to overturn, step-by-step, systems of racial inequality.
And so we build the beloved community of God.
So that all may live.
May we this day, begin to live into a new city, a new way, so that all may live.
Silent no more.
Copyright Bonnie A. Perry December 2015