“Strike the rock, and water will come out of it,
so that the people may drink.”
Awful journey. Barren place.
Deep thirst. Despair, looking back.
Imagining this is where the journey ends.
Dry rock. Hard place.
Yes, and this: there’s no water in it—yet.
But there will be, if you strike the rock.
You don’t have to believe. Just swing. It’s not
the rock. It’s God’s grace and your willingness:
not knowing, foolish as can be,
only trusting. Courage.
There will be water.
Strike the rock.
Unfolding Light, September 25, 2020
This poem by Steve Garnaas-Holmes spoke to me today. It wasn’t the staff, or the rock, but Moses’ belief in God’s provision that God imbued with power.
Years ago, I had the privilege to spend a few hours in that Israel wilderness, among those rocks. Our guide said that with the extremely limited rainfall, the bedrock absorbs the moisture and stores it. It was no less a miracle that God led Moses to the exact place of stored water (and I suspect some loaves-and-fishes multiplication was happening to provide enough water for all those people.)
In America right now, it feels like there is a dearth of faith, hope and love. My friends at Vote Common Good are striking rocks this month in the last leg of the bus tour they began in January. Today, as I listened to Vanessa Ryerse’s passionate speech (#votelikeamother), I was reminded that God has pockets of water in the bedrock throughout this nation. These people don’t make a lot of headlines, but they have a fierce belief. They love with all that is in them. They proclaim hope for us all because they trust that God’s promises are based on His character, not our behavior.
Hope might seem foolish right now, in the midst of grief, civil chaos, entrenched hatred. But now is when we need hope. Not a tenuous “I wish things were better.” Not a denial or avoidance of problems. We need the solid hope Jesus provides. The hope that sees things clearly, without hype or agenda.
A friend recently remarked how surprised she has been to see the depth of hatred expressed by people she has known for years to be pleasant and polite. The permission, modeled by our president, to mock and ridicule others has unleashed public ugliness. “Has it always been there?” my friend wondered aloud. “That much animosity?”
I can remember eye-rolling comments about “political correctness” from my conservative friends in the past twenty years. They felt frustrated to not be able to say in public what they thought because it could be considered offensive.
Faith, hope and love are touchstones God has provided for us. In such a time as this, we can base our actions and words on these criteria. No human is perfect; we all have darkness within. But God has provided us all with the will to choose how to behave. In every moment, we can choose.
As a country, will we choose four more years of ugliness? I think this presidential election will reveal the heart of our country. It is no longer about just wanting change. That is no longer a valid excuse; we know what to expect from this president. It is not about stacking a conservative Supreme Court to overturn Roe. Despite what some evangelical leaders are saying, it is certainly not about choosing God’s side. Jesus is not honored by this man.
A Trump election, at its heart, is about protecting a system of exclusive power. Historically, Americans have divided themselves into separate classes using false constructs of race or ethnicity, affluence, etc.. Correction: the ones with the most power (usually rich white men) did the dividing. The others knew the divisions were false, knew their inherent worth, knew that all people are created equal (even if the person writing that Declaration didn’t really believe it) because all carry God’s image.
The Lie started in colonial America because of greed (any surprise there?) Because we didn’t learn from Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant. In 1600’s America, persecuted Puritans and defeated royalists, still resentful from their own mistreatment, subsequently mistreated others. Africans, captured from their villages, sold and stolen and sold again into an unknown world, didn’t know to insist on contracts like the white indentured servants from England. The first indentured Africans worked frantically to buy out their freedom as they saw their human rights gradually, inexorably disintegrating. It began with Africans being given harsher sentences than their fellow white servants for the same offense. (sound familiar?) Female Africans (but not white females) had to pay a tithe (tax) to the government that declared their children property.
African workers were in high demand for farming tobacco because, unlike the impoverished English city-bred immigrants, the Africans had field experience and a strong work ethic. Plantation owners calculated with greed the advantage of lifetime indenture, soon turning the African ignorance of contract negotiation into slavery laws. Interracial marriage was banned, couples separated or driven from the colonies if they were already free. The Lies – that Africans are less than human and that whites are created to rule over them – wormed their way into our legislation, our churches, our families, our entire social structure.
From the beginning of American slavery, God’s name was invoked by the very people who cheated, abused and legislated to continue the abuse. God’s name was proclaimed, even used as a twisted missionary justification for enslavement. It is a testament to the actual Truth of Jesus that Christianity could flourish in black culture given its introduction.
I am mortified when I hear Christian evangelists proclaim God’s judgement on America for its abortion practices and then stand silent or condemning of social justice issues. Do they really believe God hears the cries of the unborn and does not hear 400 years of tears from black men, women and children? Do they think God, who created beautiful Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery, did not hear their cries for help when they were being hunted down on suburban streets? If the blood of Cain’s brother cried out from the ground, how can the blood spilled on American streets fail to move our Father?
White American Christians — we who stand silently as families are separated, confused women are sterilized, black and brown lives are repeatedly abused and protesters are prosecuted while people who threaten deadly force are hailed as heroes — our silence is the rope we have taken to hang ourselves. The hypocrisy is our own. If we don’t repent now, when it is all so obvious, what excuse can we offer in a time of judgement?
We’d all like to believe we wouldn’t have participated in the egregious actions during colonial slavery or Nazi Germany. Some of those slave owners or German citizens wholeheartedly perpetrated those horrors, but I believe most were people like us. People who suspected, perhaps even acknowledged, the wrong in their hearts but didn’t speak up. Perhaps they didn’t want to encounter the censure of their neighbors; they didn’t want to become a target themselves. Perhaps they felt powerless against the wave of certainty being proclaimed. Perhaps they wanted to believe their pastors and leaders who assured them it was God’s righteousness being manifested.
I can’t imagine Jesus wielding a whip across a slave’s back. I can’t imagine Jesus raising his fist to hail Hitler. And I can’t imagine Jesus waving a flag at a Trump rally.
I write this with tears in my eyes because I don’t want to offend anyone, least of all my friends or family. I don’t want to damage our relationship. But I cannot stay silent.
As a nation, we are in transition. It is painful. There is fear. The fear mongering is stoked by a nationalist agenda, by alarmists claiming we must protect what we have or it will be torn from us. Some white Americans panic at the thought of no longer being the majority, believing the stories that hoards of brown people are teeming outside our borders, scheming to overtake our country. These stories have been designed to agitate and they accomplish their purpose. In reality, the truth is the divisions between races and ethnicities are finally beginning to relax. Biracial and multiracial families are developing from once-separated Americans who have lived here for generations. The statistics of a surpassed white majority are simply reflecting those choices. All the white grandparents I know who dote on their little brown grandbabies do not fear those grandchildren. They do fear what might happen to them in their own grandparents’ neighborhood.
As a nation, our saving grace has been a policy of welcoming refugees (even if we do take advantage of their labor when they get here.) This year I discovered my Angolan (many greats-) grandmother had been in Virginia for almost 20 years when she welcomed my Cornish (many greats-) grandfather in 1637. They met when he was indentured on the plantation where she worked. The African woman and blonde, blue-eyed Englishman lived on the property she had earned with her freedom from extended indenture. They continued working on the plantation to earn their children’s freedom as well. I got the blonde hair and blue eyes and until this year, never hesitated to check “white” on survey boxes. Today I wonder about my relatives who retained more melanin in their skin. After 400 years, there must be a lot of us. And I have a pretty good idea of how our lives have diverged.
Learning this history has helped my perspective this year. I stand a little taller, knowing I’m as American as it gets. Before the Mayflower, my grandmother was here. Black, white and native American, my tri-racial ancestors have fought for our freedom in every American conflict from the American Revolution to Vietnam. One grandfather fought under Washington, was at Valley Forge that winter. All this history has reminded me that although the battles between men continue, Jesus has won the real war. Jesus has defeated death. Jesus has defeated fear and hatred through faith, hope and love.
Jesus has bedrock people across this nation. People who have not been swayed by Fox News, by Russian subversion; people who may just be beginning to question The Lies. Some people are turning to Him in the midst of the current chaos and comparing what Jesus says to what others in their churches may be saying. Some people have been fighting these battles for years; they are weary and can use some encouragement today.
This morning, Jesus let me taste some of that rock water. I was feeling discouraged, grieving death and personal loss. I was also feeling deeply the sadness of having people I love clinging to the lies we all used to share, not yet recognizing them as lies. The mental gymnastics necessary to justify mistreatment of asylum seekers reminds me of the twisted missionary approach to slavery.
But today, I listened to others coming out of the desert. I listened to people who are experiencing relief in their discovery that being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to vote Republican all down the ballot. People who admit to that disconnect in their spirit every time Trump speaks.
Today, Jesus reminded me He has bedrock people everywhere and no election results will change that. Truth stands, whether it’s among slaves on a plantation or in a nation that has abandoned its call to kindness. Truth stands with Jesus. It is not the property of any political party or any church. Truth can be twisted, counterfeited, even crucified, but it will get back up and stand with Jesus.
That, my friends, is hope. That is solid rock water.