This past week, I devoted a few hours to reading a Year-in-Review special magazine edition. I tend to love end of the year things, but this time the evidence of oppression in 2013 seemed to shout at me from the page: chemical warfare in Syria, the Boston Marathon bombing, three women imprisoned in a suburban house for a decade, a boy in a hoodie shot and killed as if it were his destiny, the high rate of sexual assault in the military, a song dripping with unapologetic misogyny being the big hit of the summer. The bad news in one day is fairly easy to dismiss, most of the time, especially because we’re so used to it. The bad news of a year, though? That makes everything go quiet in my head; makes hope seem utterly ridiculous.
Nelson Mandela died, and it seemed fitting for someone who chased after wild dreams, moving far beyond expectation, to pass on during a season of hope. The first anniversary of the shootings at Newtown fell during this season; it too seemed fitting. I drove around town with my two younger children buckled into their seats, listening to the remembrances on the radio, weeping for little Avielle, Ana Grace, and Dylan, for the unknown stories, for their brave parents. The world is still waiting, still groaning under a heavy weight.
Yesterday we sang a hymn called Canticle of the Turning; one of many that I’ve never heard before. I’m most familiar with the hymns that speak of longing for heaven, and they are beautiful. But there’s a whole other kind of hymn: the kind that longs for justice in the here and now. This kind you sing with a shaky voice, if you can stand to sing the words at all:
From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, every mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp
This saving word that our forbears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.
When you press your ear to the ground, you hear all sorts of things.
Shane Claiborne speaks of the prophets who “invited people to dream of the world as it could be and not just accept the world as it is.” He turns guns into farm tools, even though there’s nothing much more valuable to self-protection than a gun; even though there is nothing much less valuable to immediacy than planting seeds. He imagines a different kingdom.
Greg Boyd does, too. He contrasts the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church. It’s an uncomfortable book, to say the least, even though I agree with most of what he says, because to believe these things and to act like I do are two different things. He writes:
The kingdom of the world is intrinsically tribal in nature, and is heavily invested in defending, if not advancing, one’s own people-group, one’s nation, one’s ethnicity, one’s state, one’s religion, one’s ideologies, or one’s political agendas. That is why it is a kingdom characterized by perpetual conflict. The kingdom of God, however, is intrinsically universal, for it is centered on simply loving as God loves. It is centered on people living for the sole purpose of replicating the love of Jesus Christ to all people at all times in all places without condition. (p. 47, Kindle edition.)
Some days this feels like nothing but imagination. Some days I have to face that it might just be. Then I hear Ana Grace’s mother Nelba speak of how she lit 28 candles to remember the dead (not 26, not even 27) and how she refuses to use words like monster to describe Adam Lanza, instead extending humanity to him. I think of how Nadia Bolz-Weber’s husband said to her that “every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”
There is unfathomable light, in the here and now. Maybe it’s true; maybe God is turning the world around. I don’t always see it, but I hope it’s true.