I feel like God gave me a gift this week. As I walked the four blocks from my house to my office, I lamented that the horse stables are recently all gone and now there is a big hole. I don’t even know what’s going in there, but likely some kind of expensive new housing. With so much of that going on, it kind of irritates me. My mind easily goes towards the character of our neighborhood being under threat by capitalists as well as friends and neighbors facing spiking rents and taxes moving them toward forced displacement. And I feel some kind of way about it. I’d rather step on a Lego then be stuck in midst of the ugly parts of gentrification.
That much wasn’t the gift. Maybe my “default setting” tends to be pessimistic or I have a healthy hunger and thirst for justice & righteousness – but I feel the brokenness of Shalom. When I walked this time, I felt astounded by how much good stuff Circle of Hope has been generating or helping generate right here in the thick of it for over a decade. There are loads of people who are choosing to do more with their lives than make personal profit paramount – so many that I felt free to not condemn or damn the stuff that didn’t make it through my personal righteousness filter that day. I felt genuine gratitude.
Since Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness serves as our central story of why to do Lent, it’s is a good time to go back to Isaiah 40 or John 1 –
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
I have let Jesus transcend two of my bad instincts about this little prophecy about John the Baptist and the coming of the LORD. First – Isaiah talking highway doesn’t mean anything remotely like my conception of highway. Making the path for God did not mean putting up a toll road, a Cracker Barrel, Walmarts, oil derricks, or destroying the wilderness. It’s closer to the opposite. God is coming into the wilderness and we are preparing more for ourselves to participate (does God need a highway??) in the wasteland. The inside-out, upside down, and sdrawkcab way of God’s fullness gets realized in and through Jesus. Advent prepares us for His coming, Lent gets us into the wilderness with him.
Putting too much of a highway takes over the wilderness. My other bad instinct was to think that the coming of the LORD meant the wilderness is gone because of the stuff about mountains and valleys and plains. Maybe that would mean Jesus coming meant injustice was over or that I don’t have to suffer anymore. It’s the injustice and suffering that are the precise location for where Jesus comes to save and erode. My preparation does not mean it no longer hurts – but I have hope in the rising tide of Christ’s redemption project.
The US War of Terror reached a dubious milestone – over 1 million dead in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. We talked about some of the havoc that drugs (legal and other wise) wreak the other night at Doing Theology. God gave me this gift like a lovely wave – one that I could ride if I concentrated on it. It’s like surfing in Atlantic City. I can think about the pollution, predatory poverty profiteers, or grandmas chained to slot machines. That wouldn’t be bad – but then there’s this wave. I can ride it – but I’m going to need to focus. And it’s fun. And I still want to work for justice. And I’m grateful for this gift today.