Posted by: Renee | December 20, 2011

Disturbing the Peace To Bring Peace

by Renee Sappington

When I heard about the recent beating and arrest of a minister as he was peacefully standing in solidarity with the exploited and underpaid laborers as part of the Occupy movement in Seattle, I couldn’t help but remember how I felt as I stood before the photos on display for the Breach of Peace:  Portraits of the 1961 Freedom Riders exhibit this past June.  As I stood there I was struck by the final series of 10 to 15 mugshots  – all ministers wearing their clerical collars – and I thought to myself how seriously they took their call to follow Christ.   I also found it fitting that the day I saw the exhibit was during the MS Annual Conference of United Methodists, meeting next door at the Convention Center – during that conference I was witness to a number of faithful, courageous clergy and laity who also dared to stand in solidarity with the exploited and oppressed of society including immigrants, people of faiths other than Christianity, gay people, women with problematic pregnancies, and our very own military soldiers.

In a response to the recent police brutality he experienced in Seattle earlier this month, Rev. John Helmiere expressed the following:

I participated because I have witnessed overwhelming evidence that the economic and political systems of my country stand against those people who the God I worship stands for.  My conception of God, inadequate as it may be, is better described as the Love that generates creativity and community, than as a super-man judging us from a heavenly skybox.  Such a God cannot be exclusively claimed by a political party, a religion, or even a movement like Occupy.   Such a Love contrasts with everything that reserves power, dignity, wealth, and the status of full humanity for some while depriving it from others.  My commitment to Love requires me to challenge the increasing consolidation of all these good things in the hands of a few, and to collaborate for the creation of something that Love would recognize as kin.

Such words remind me of that sacred calling Jesus was born to fulfill, the one he claimed when reading from the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4:

   18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Ironically, those who stand with the oppressed are often charged with something like “disturbing the peace” as indicated by the Freedom Riders exhibit.  Indeed, I guess they are disturbing the peace – that of Pax Romana – the status quo, the comfort of the few in power when the rest of the population has resigned itself to “the way things are.”  As I reflect on where my joy at Christmas comes from, I realize it is based on the hope that seeps into my soul during Advent when I am once again reminded that the Light has come and penetrated the darkness and that the Herods of the world won’t have the last word.   That on that holy night long ago when the parents of Jesus found there was no room for them in the inn; that silent night when Emmanuel, God-with-us, became God-with-the-excluded-and-marginalized;  a song broke through the silence of the status quo and continues to burst forth whenever we “find those forgotten, ignored, or turned away from life’s inns, so we may welcome all.”

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