Hopeful or hopeless?
As 2014 ended, “I can’t breathe” was the mantra for many who demonstrated across the United States in the wake of the death of Eric Garner. It feels like our nation, and our world, can’t breathe.
The onslaught of injustice, violence and fear is suffocating. Terrorism, the plight of immigrants, racial profiling, economic hardship and social injustice have become everyday realities. I awake many mornings hoping not to hear about another murder or unjust act. But that doesn’t happen.
Like the secular world, the religious community is enmeshed in thorny and divisive issues, including gun control, militarism and health care for marginalized people. These concerns have not evaded Mennonite Church USA.
But the question of denominational survival has become a real concern. Focus has been on theological positions that keep us apart rather than on God’s preferred future for humanity. These divisions have diverted our attention from societal problems that create violence and cause suffering.
Many are waiting for MC USA’s July convention in Kansas City for answers. Waiting most often causes stagnation.
We pray for answers. But we also need to act. Micah, speaking on behalf of God, says God has already shown us what to do. We are to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). To fulfill that mandate, we must eliminate the things that lead to violence and the destruction of humanity. God is waiting for us to respond.
There is hope. Many in faith communities are saying “Enough already!” Some Mennonites have joined vigils and demonstrations. Some have begun conversations with neighbors to address inequality in their communities.
Four years ago, people of color in MC USA initiated conversations centered on hope for the denomination’s future. They held another gathering Jan. 23-25, with the theme, “Believe, See and Act.” Sisters and brothers representing racial and ethnic groups continued to imagine the future together in the church. The task seems daunting. But participants have taken steps toward righting relationships.
Can this commitment extend to spheres of our lives outside the church? I believe so.
If you have made resolutions for this year, I ask you to add another: Be an instrument of justice and reconciliation. Begin in your family and community. Live God’s story of restoration. Engage in relationships that set things right. Refocus your sights on how you relate to the world around you. Listen and respond to the hearts of the dispossessed.
Now, act! Lobby for the passage of resolutions that promote justice and nonviolence at local, regional and national conferences, both secular and religious. Take concrete steps to implement positive change that the resolutions espouse. Welcome and advocate welcoming the stranger into your life and community.
If a stranger came to you and said, “Tell me what I need to do to stop this madness,” what would you say or do? Your response will set the tone for building trust and hope for the future.
Our communities need healing, even redemption. Can we stop the bleeding?
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.
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