Field Guide to Trump’s Authoritarianism

Hiking-Compass-font-b-Field-b-font-Military-Marching-Army-Outdoor-Camping-Survival-Climbing-Biking-Lensaticby Rose Marie Berger

The United States has democratically elected an authoritarian leader who supports a new nationalism centered on white people.

Mr. Trump’s promised White Nationalist agenda is antithetical the confession of Christ. As the new Vatican ambassador to the U.S. said recently of Mr. Trump’s election, the church needs to “assume a prophetic role.”

Mr. Trump’s white nationalist rhetoric and refusal to remove white nationalist advisors is already impacting  our communities. In response, we must form circles of protection around those who are most vulnerable–both legislatively and in our communities.

Rising nationalist rhetoric centered on white people is generally accompanied by a rise of anti-Semitism and attacks on other vulnerable communities (LGBT, prostitutes, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and political dissidents). This is already occurring.

Take a moment to read 20 Things Americans Can Learn From Countries Who Lost Their Democracy by historian Timothy Snyder. The situation we are in is not normal. It’s important to not act like it is.

In setting priorities we should ask ourselves three things: What things can Mr. Trump do easily and quickly, with the stroke of a pen? What actions by him will have high-consequence impact? What actions by him will be irreversible? Ask what are low-difficulty for Mr. Trump and have high or irreversible consequences? Use this to prioritize your response. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Since the election, I’ve been asking these questions among strategists, organizers, and government officials. Here is a prioritized timeline.

November 9 – January 20: Love Your Neighbors

  1. Strengthen immigrant protections: Mr. Trump can overturn executive actions protecting immigrant youth and DREAMers with a signature.  This will be a high-consequence action with irreversible consequences for those affected. Ask President Obama to extend a presidential pardon to everyone currently covered by DACA/DAPA. (See the letter sent to President Obama on 17 November from members of Congress.) This would create an additional protection for DACA/DAPA recipients. This would be similar to President Carter’s 1971 pardon for Vietnam draft resisters. (Read more here and here.)

Initiate emergency response protocols for immigrant communities – especially mixed status communities. Establish a teams trained in “What to do if Immigration comes to your School (or Church).” Make this widely available at churches and schools. Reach out to your local immigration services group for the most current best practices on assisting immigrants in getting all their paperwork updated. Consider setting up a non-government ID card program for members of your church–including immigrants. (See the FaithAction ID Initiative for more information.)

  1. Initiate “emergency sanctuary teams” in all houses of worship.

Prepare for work-site raids, silent raids, and massive job loss (when DACA/DAPA protections are removed and E-verify is fully enacted). Learn the mechanisms of making your house a worship a “sanctuary church.” There is an excellent toolkit for congregations at Sanctuary Movement. (Read history of D.C. Sanctuary Churches and the national Sanctuary Movement and learn more at New Sanctuary Movement.) Hang a “Welcome Your Neighbor” banner on your place of worship and put a “Welcome Your Neighbor” yard sign out front.

  1. Initiate conflict-reduction teams in all houses of worship.

IniWhite supremacist groups who are emboldened by the results of this election need to be identified, isolated, and prosecuted.  Host trainings in active bystander response, conflict de-escalation and intervention, nonviolent communication, trauma response, and civilian unarmed protection. Every church needs a team trained to defuse, intervene, and respond to hate speech and hate crimes and violent conflict. My Catholic Church is hosting three Peace Circle trainings in Advent. Contact Pace e Bene training, DC Meta Peace Team, the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s STAR program, or Training for Change. These teams can also lead nonviolence trainings when it becomes necessary to initiate civil disobedience.

  1. Initiate police liaison teams.

Bring together a team that will monitor, expose, and oppose racial profiling in policing in your community. If the Justice Department and the White House no longer hold police departments accountable to obey the law in relationship to people of color, we all must take on that role in our religious communities. Local ecumenical and interfaith clergy councils should meet with sheriffs and police chiefs in local communities for an open dialogue with them. Ask how you can work together to understand and implement the Presidential Commission on 21st Century Policing. Make it clear that local faith communities promise to watch and monitor the relationship of our police to our communities.

  1. Initiate environment and climate policy monitoring team.

Mr. Trump can overturn executive actions aimed at limiting carbon pollution and inhibiting climate change. He will likely a) sign the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, 2) dismantle the Clean Power Act, 3) withdraw from the Paris Accords. Each of these will be a high-consequence actions with irreversible consequences. Our climate window is too narrow to go backward now.

Prepare to respond to the Keystone XL permit by a) supporting the state-level fight to refuse TransCanada the local permits it needs to begin construction. (Follow the lead of Jane Kleeb at Bold Nebraska and the Dallas Goldtooth at Indigenous Environmental Network) and b) prepare to send teams and support teams who will camp along the proposed construction route. This is also an opportunity to reweave the urban-rural social fabric that was so glaringly revealed as torn in the recent election.

The Clean Power Plan is a series of regulatory actions. This is slightly harder for Mr. Trump to dismantle immediately, even if he guts the Environmental Protection Agency. Each state has a carbon-reduction target under the Clean Power Plan. Organize at the state level to make sure state’s implement their commitments.

The COP 21 Paris climate accords have a 4-year withdrawal process. However, Mr. Trump can simply refuse to advance or implement the accords. This is where renewable energy businesses need to step in and take action on their own, without government subsidy, to move the U.S. into a competitive renewable energy economy. But let’s be clear, the Paris Accords and other legislation to cap emissions only slow disastrous carbon increases, they don’t actually drive carbon decreases. But what will really drive decarbonization is market forces (which requires innovative renewable energy and market pressures on fossilized carbon fuel corporations to make the switch).

  1. Initiate inter-denominational and inter-religious outreach and competency teams.

Establish open lines of communication between local houses of worship. Mosques, synagogues, and multilingual churches/places of worship are most vulnerable right now. Put their phone numbers in your phone. Christian churches should reach out to each other across denominational lines and to local imams, rabbis, and leaders of Sikh gurdwaras. As an inter-religious group, open lines of communication with the hate-crimes officer of your local police. Ask the police liaison to address the group on how you can prevent, respond, and recover from a hate crime. Coordinate trainings. See Ten Ways To Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide.

  1. Publish the Ten Commandments for Americans.

Publish them in your bulletin,  on your web site, and through your social media (adapt them as you see fit). Encourage your community members to prayerfully consider how they can participate in enacting these Ten Commandments. (This is based on the Ten Commandments for all Danes developed by the Danish Resistance in the 1940s. Read more here.) Also consider printing Sojourners’ Ten Commitments of Resistance in the Trump Era.

  1. Preach.

It was the pulpit’s silence that allowed white Christians to vote for Mr. Trump as an ethnic bloc. Preach in your church against white nationalism. Make clear that a new nationalism centered on white people is antithetical to the confession of Christ. Publish your sermons. Covert them to Letters to the Editor. Invite your congregations to send “pledge of resistance” letters (see the sample provided here) to Mr. Trump (c/o Trump Tower / 725 – 5th Avenue / New York, NY 10022), Senate majority leader Mr. Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House Mr. Paul Ryan. The body text would include:

If you pursue the policies you embodied during your campaign, the supremacy of white people over people of color, the literal and figurative creation of walls of division and hostility between people and nations, your misogynistic attitude and practice toward women, your disdain for the poor, disabled and marginalized, your disregard for and ignorance about the environment and your encouragement of the use of violence toward those who disagree with you, if your policies as President continue down that path, I make this pledge of resistance to you today.”

Jan. 20 – Opt-Out of Inauguration Day

Make this inauguration win the prize for lowest attendance in American history. Join the national public workers “Sick Out” by calling in sick to work on Friday, Jan 20. Organize a walkout at your school. No work, no school, no shopping, no housework. #DisruptJ20. Participate in a nonviolence/active bystander training on Jan. 20. Prepare. Host “Swamp Revolt” parties.

Mr. Trump (and many politicians before him) have rallied around the phrase to “drain the swamp” of big government. But the phrase originally referred to ridding America of the mosquitoes of financial speculators and undue corporate influence by “draining the swamp” that fostered their influence.

Jan. 21 – National Defense of Democracy Day — Wear Pink

Pink has perhaps become the color of the U.S. movement to resist the white nationalist, anti-democratic, authoritarian rule presented by Mr. Trump. Republicans, Democrats, Green Party, third party, and Independents committed to holding Mr. Trump accountable will be in the streets on Jan. 21 in purple. Encourage creative displays of pink  (lights, banner drops, flocking, fly pink flags, etc). This will be the first wide-scale demonstration to defend our democracy and resist a new nationalism centered on white people. Wear pink. In D.C. and in all 50 states there will be demonstrations by women and allies against Mr. Trump’s egregious dehumanization of women and girls.  There will also be gatherings at State Capitols and federal buildings across the country. The “Women’s March on Washington” name is a definite nod to the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and organizers say they are committed to the six principles of Kingian nonviolence.

The First Hundred Days

The first hundred days will be when massive public civil disobedience will be needed. It will also be when federal workers will engage in work slow downs. There will be public resignations for reasons of conscience (amplify these whenever they occur). There will be document leaks revealing corruption and illegal activity. There will be legal interventions to slow the effects of disastrous decisions. There will be dissension in the military about how to respond to orders by the commander-in-chief. There will be unruly actions by police in response to civil unrest, which will spark increased violence. Local police may call in private security companies to quell protest (as is currently the case in North Dakota at Standing Rock and is the case in most urban centers that use “special police”). It is important that we show the rest of the world that Americans know that the election of Mr. Trump is #not normal.

Over the first 100 days is when Mr. Trump’s ratings will go up as he initiates a series of extreme actions that appeal to his base and then his ratings will plummet as it becomes obvious that he cannot deliver on his promises. In mid-May we will begin to move out of the defensive posture and see opportunities to push for positive change.

Wise as Serpents and Gentle as Doves

Spiritually, we must be clear-eyed about the level of threat and the ability for it to be carried out. We must not succumb to lethargy or “normalizing.” We must also pray for a spirit of tenderness in our own hearts so that we refuse to allow hate or fear to take root. Pray continually for the conversion of Mr. Trump and our own conversion as well. Practice self-care. Be overt in your social hospitality. Tend to the young people who are experiencing all this for the first time.

Do not be distracted by Mr. Trump’s media flash-bombs. Stay focused. He creates chaos by pitting groups against each other and then walking away with what he wants in the confusion. For example, naming “Reince” Priebus as chief of staff and Steven Bannon as chief strategist is not a nod toward compromise. It’s a strategy for “divide and conquer.”

Beware of the classic inside-outside strategy used by authoritarian leaders. For example, there are things that Mr. Trump cannot do easily such as “ban all Muslims,” but the inflammatory White Nationalist rhetoric encourages the rise of religious, race, and gender-based hate at the local level, which is then an excuse for further repression.

For example, the media echo chamber and “fake news”/propaganda is used to bounce around an intentionally inflammatory comment such as “ban all Muslims.” Then the authoritarian leaders says “That’s not what we meant because that would be against our Constitution.” The outside collaborator, in this case Carl Higbie, uses the media to echo the inflammatory statement and take it even farther (eg we’ll not only ban Muslims but we’ll round them up and put them in detention camps). The authoritarian leader does not deny or denounce this.

The goal of this strategy is to provoke violence as an excuse for taking extraordinary security measures. This echo chamber emboldens “brown shirts”/paramilitaries/hate groups to greater violence and hate speech. It also raises the likelihood that someone in the threatened community will snap and retaliate or that a situation will be manufactured to look like that’s what happened.

When this occurs, the authoritarian leader can step in and say that while he didn’t originally intend to “ban all Muslims” now, with this current incident, it seems more extreme measures are warranted.

This is a very dangerous dynamic.

“But authoritarian figures have an Achilles’ heel,” writes Maria Stephan, co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works. “To stay in power, they depend on the obedience and cooperation of ordinary people. If and when large numbers of people from key sectors of society (workers, bureaucrats, students, business leaders, police) stop giving their skills and resources to the ruler, he or she can no longer rule.”

Stay woke. Stay alert. Take one small action each day. This will be a marathon, not a sprint.

Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine in Washington, D.C.

Morning Messages

dawn-city

“Children, let us love not in word
or speech but in deed and truth.”
—1 John 3

“In whatever you do, remember
That Christ is calling you, in one
Way or another, to the service of
Love: the love of God and of your
Neighbor. Real love is demanding.”
—John Paul II

These are days of hard and demanding work for me. Dawn struggles to make it up over the skyline of row houses in D.C. The writer of John’s letter and the old sainted pope send a sustaining message.

Merry Christmas!

 

Bureij refugee camp, Gaza

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”John 1:1-5

It was 1999. There were 1,500 Kosovar refugees in this camp on the dusty outskirts of Sarajevo. They had come by bus, car, and on foot. First held in the expansive bottling rooms at the Coca Cola factory, the refugees now lived in an old cattle barn, in tents, and on an open field.

We were invited into the barn’s converted milking room and given the best of the plastic seats around a plywood table. Forty families live here in 6-by-8 foot cubicles separated by curtains. The men tell us that Serb soldiers (self-proclaimed Christians) herded them out of their homes. One asks us to find information about his brother, who he presumed was dead in Kosovo. Adem, the oldest man in the camp at 80, wears a blue wool beret and his weather-worn face glistens with tears. Thirty members of his family were killed by Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo.

The women stand around the ring of conversation holding children on their hips. They serve us coffee in chipped red cups. Harija, in her mid-30s, shot her words at us like fire. “How can I live with this pain that my neighbor—my husband shoveled snow from her walk before he even cleared our own—stood in our yard while I was hanging laundry and spoke aloud how she was going to kill me and my children because we are Muslim? She was trying to decide between mortar or sniper.” Harija looked at us. “Did you come here just to stir up pain, or are you going to help us?” she said. Then she wept.

There was no doctor in this camp. The outhouses were overflowing. The only food available was bread and canned vegetables. The graffiti on the wall showed a young man with a gun to his head. We delivered watermelons to a few of the families. One man led me down a shoe-strewn hall. He opened the curtain and there, on the bunk bed, lay a 2-day-old baby boy wrapped in clean linens and a rough gray army blanket. The mother looked worn but happy in her torn T-shirt and dusty skirt.

I pray over the child, making the sign of the cross on his forehead. No one seems to mind the mix of religious symbols. For Christ to come at all, he must be born in the lowliest of places.

Christu natus est! Blessed Christmas!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

Video: ‘I Am the Land’ by Ethelbert Miller with music by Richard Clark

E. Ethelbert Miller, D.C.’s poet-troubadour, worked with composer Richard J. Clark to produce this stunning rendition of Miller’s poem “I Am the Land,” a tribute to Salvadoran martyr and archbishop Oscar Romero.

I offer it here as a Christmas blessing to you all in these days.

Christmas Eve: ‘O Holy Night’

Henry Ossawa Tanner "Virgin and Child"

“Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name.”—Placide Cappeau

“‘And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.’”Luke 1:76-79

Welcome, my friend, to the fruition of our Advent pilgrimage. We have peregrinated the sacred wheel of time. We have endured the refiner’s fire. We have rested at the caravanserai of the candles of Christ.

Tonight is the Great Night. O Holy Night! An English custom says that a loaf of bread baked this night will cure the sick and heal the broken-hearted. It is believed that on this night at the crossing hour animals are given the power of speech as a gift for their service at the manger in Bethlehem. It is said that on Christmas Eve at midnight honeybees hum the 100th psalm (“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come into the Presence with singing.”)

“It is a strange thing to come home,” wrote Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlof. “While on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.” Tonight we creep into that sacred darkness. It is a strange place. One, perhaps, where we never thought we’d find ourselves. Yet, like dreamers, we have been drawn to the Light. There is no present that we can wrap. There is no money we can offer. There is no sin that should hold us back. As the Talmud says, “God wants only one thing: the heart.”

“O come, O come Emmanuel, come our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!”

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Christmas Eve.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

Fourth Friday in Advent

glassblowing-jpg
“Now I am sending my messenger—he will prepare the way before me; And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire—see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand firm when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire, like fullers’ lye.”–Malachi 3:1-2

Excerpt from “The Refinery” by Robert Pinsky (1940)

… The great Refinery–impossible city of lights,
A million bulbs tracing its turreted
Boulevards and mazes. The castle of a person
Pronounced alive, the Corporation: a fictional
Lord real in law.

Barbicans and torches
Along the siding where the engine slows
At the central tanks, a ward
Of steel palisades, valved and chandeliered.

The muttering gods
Greedily penetrate those bright pavilions–
Libation of Benzene, Naphthalene, Asphalt,
Gasoline, Tar: syllables
Fractioned and cracked from unarticulated

Crude, the smeared keep of life that fed
On itself in pitchy darkness when the gods
Were new–inedible, volatile
And sublimated afresh to sting
Our tongues who use it, refined from oil of stone. …

Fourth Thursday in Advent

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“I like to imagine that it was on a night like tonight, at his mother Mary’s breast, that Jesus first heard the words, ‘Take and eat, this is my body and I give it for you.'”Alexie Torres-Fleming

“Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.”Luke 1:56

Mary is a variant of Miriam. Miriam was one of the three primary leaders of the exodus, along with Aaron and her brother Moses. She was a prophet. Both Mary and Miriam’s names carry the echoes of the word “bitter” (see Ruth 1:20) for the bitterness that was pressed down on the people in the time of Pharaoh and in the time of the Roman occupation of Israel and destruction of the Temple. In some translations Mary or Maryam’s name is “sea of bitterness.”

The story of Maryam, in Luke’s narrative, mirrors the crisis that caused Moses to flee Egypt. In Exodus 2:12, Moses murders an Egyptian soldier. It’s premeditated, and it’s an act of treason against Pharaoh. He “flees” (2:15) from his death sentence to the land of Midian.

Maryam also “flees” (Luke 1:39). Not because she has committed murder but because she is “untimely pregnant,” as Richard W. Swanson notes in his excellent article “Magnificat and Crucifixion.” Not only is she pregnant outside the clan arrangement, but it’s very possible that she belongs to a priestly family. This pregnancy, an affront to the social and religious order, is a crime that may be punished by death—either by stoning, strangling, or burning (according to the ancient legal tractates).

Maryam doesn’t wait to be dragged into the streets as part of an honor killing, as Swanson frames it. Instead, she heads for the hills of Judah—perhaps to the “castles and towers” (2 Chronicles 27:4) built there by King Jotham—where her kinswoman Elizabeth (or “Elisheva”) would offer her protection. Elisheva was a descendant of Aaron (Luke 1:5) and thus a powerful priestly leader in her own right, as well as with her husband, Zechariah.

What happens when Maryam approaches Elisheva’s gates? The baby in Elisheva’s womb leaps and dances in response to Maryam’s greeting—as David did before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:16). And Elisheva leads the gathered community in a loud song of rejoicing. She pours out her blessing on Maryam and on her baby—a sign of Maryam’s bravery and radical prophetic hope. Who am I, asks Elisheva—she of the priestly lineage whose family business it was to study the prophecies of God and believe they would be fulfilled—that I should welcome the one who truly believed that the promises of God would be kept?

Maryam, like her foremothers Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and Judith (13:18), sings the responsive canticle: With all my heart I make great the faithfulness of God. My whole soul claps with gladness that our Rescuer-God has come. Why? Because God has “taken note” (Exodus 3:16) of us in our oppression and desolation. And not just us, but generations to come will receive this blessing, for God has made me great with possibility and posterity. The Mighty Deliverer has liberated us. The God of Israel is God alone and has chosen me, though I have done nothing to deserve it but lifted my eyes and acknowledged God’s name. God’s strength has winnowed out the ones who will not lift up their heads and will not say God’s perfect name. Instead, God has fouled their perfect plans. Power-mongers are yanked off their high horses and the put-upon are raised up. The hungry, God will overflow with goodness. The stuffed, God sends out to the road to beg. The suffering servant Israel, God takes up in her arms to remind us how much we are cherished. Just as God promised to our forebears, and Abraham, and the children of Abraham and Sarah, for all time.

The rabbis tell us that “In every generation one is obligated to see oneself as having personally gone out from Egypt.” Using our sanctified imagination, can we—as disciples of the coming Christ Child—see ourselves also as Maryam, the one who bears God to the world through a “sea of bitterness”? How will we sing her canticle today?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

(A version of this first appeared in Sojourners magazine, January 2008.)

Fourth Wednesday in Advent

2015-05-13-15-41-30-1When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”–Luke 1:57-60

Mary is a variant of Miriam. Miriam was one of the three primary leaders of the exodus, along with Aaron and her brother Moses. She was a prophet. Both Mary and Miriam’s names carry the echoes of the word “bitter” (see Ruth 1:20) for the bitterness that was pressed down on the people in the time of Pharaoh and in the time of the Roman occupation of Israel and destruction of the Temple. In some translations Mary or Maryam’s name is “sea of bitterness.”

The story of Maryam, in Luke’s narrative, mirrors the crisis that caused Moses to flee Egypt. In Exodus 2:12, Moses murders an Egyptian soldier. It’s premeditated, and it’s an act of treason against Pharaoh. He “flees” (2:15) from his death sentence to the land of Midian.

Maryam also “flees” (Luke 1:39). Not because she has committed murder but because she is “untimely pregnant,” as Richard W. Swanson notes in his excellent article “Magnificat and Crucifixion.” Not only is she pregnant outside the clan arrangement, but it’s very possible that she belongs to a priestly family. This pregnancy, an affront to the social and religious order, is a crime that may be punished by death—either by stoning, strangling, or burning (according to the ancient legal tractates).

Maryam doesn’t wait to be dragged into the streets as part of an honor killing, as Swanson frames it. Instead, she heads for the hills of Judah—perhaps to the “castles and towers” (2 Chronicles 27:4) built there by King Jotham—where her kinswoman Elizabeth (or “Elisheva”) would offer her protection. Elisheva was a descendant of Aaron (Luke 1:5) and thus a powerful priestly leader in her own right, as well as with her husband, Zechariah.

What happens when Maryam approaches Elisheva’s gates? The baby in Elisheva’s womb leaps and dances in response to Maryam’s greeting—as David did before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:16). And Elisheva leads the gathered community in a loud song of rejoicing. She pours out her blessing on Maryam and on her baby—a sign of Maryam’s bravery and radical prophetic hope. Who am I, asks Elisheva—she of the priestly lineage whose family business it was to study the prophecies of God and believe they would be fulfilled—that I should welcome the one who truly believed that the promises of God would be kept?

What promises of God do you believe will be kept?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Sojourners where this reflection first appeared in print.

Fourth Tuesday in Advent

The Story Teller by Joel Klepac www.joelklepac.com
“The Story Teller: I Could Not Save Them” by Joel Klepac www.joelklepac.com

“Zechariah asked for a tablet and wrote, ‘John is his name,’ and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.”—Luke 1: 63-64

Zechariah’s muteness may not have been a punishment doubting the angel Gabriel’s rather outlandish promise that Elizabeth was pregnant. Rather, Zechariah’s muteness could have been a psychosomatic response to trauma. Sometimes it’s called “hysterical muteness.”

In the 1980s in Los Angeles, there was an epidemic of blindness among Cambodian women in their 40s. “Each of these recent immigrants had been a victim of the Khmer Rouge revolution and the violent regime that followed. The women struck with blindness,” scientists reported, “had all lived amidst the horrors of genocide. More specifically, each woman had witnessed the murder of a family member. Four years later, 200 such refugees went blind.”

“The blind are often unable to visualize images in their Mind’s Eye. Hence, they can no longer be plagued by images from traumatic memories,” said a neuroopthalmologist.

Zechariah had dedicated his entire life to God and to the temple. There is no evidence that he had ever had a mystical experience of the presence of God. What a shock it must have been! First, an angel appears to him. Second, the angel in effect tells him that the Messiah is coming. Third, that Zechariah will be the father of the “forerunner,” the reappearance of Elijah. (The fact that Elizabeth is well beyond childbearing years hardly seems to matter.) The fourth and final trauma is that Zechariah is confronted with his own words of doubt after a lifetime of outspoken faithfulness.

He fell silent.

“So now here we stand,” writes theologian Karl Barth, “simultaneously deaf and mute like Zechariah…. In spite of his unbelief, he was still a herald of Advent, one who waited for God.”

“O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Cornerstone, that makest of two one, come to save us mortals, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

Video: Will We Go Fast Alone or Far Together? by Nontando Hadebe

Catholic African theologian (and former Sojourners intern) Nontando Hadebe gives a 6-minute sermon on the fourth Sunday of Advent at Catholic Women Preach. She examines the readings through the lens of the African proverb “If you will go fast, go alone. If you will go far, go with others.”