I must admit I can get overwhelmed and somewhat despondent thinking of all the ways that our culture has departed from what is good for the flourishing of human life. But if I am honest, what is most shocking and horrifying to me is the blatant racism and hate that has been unleashed in our country and yes, even in our own local communities. In Shoreline, Washington, I have witnessed firsthand vitriolic language posted on my daughter’s friend’s Instagram page. Her only crime being African American. A parent shouting “Go home!” across the Shorewood high school parking lot at a woman wearing a hijab. A meeting just this morning at City Hall to talk about the concern of hate incidents in our community. Whaaaat? How did we get here?
I am shocked. Horrified. And admittedly, it is because I am white. It is my privilege to be “shocked.” As I have talked with my non-white friends, they are not shocked. No, this is not news to them. Blatant or hidden, they are all too familiar with the deep-seated racism in our culture. This is the air they breathe, the water they swim in. At the same time, the fear is palpable. The anxiety growing.
“Are we safe?” “Will we be separated from our families?” These are the questions that many of our students at Turning Point are asking. Turning Point is our neighborhood nonprofit where we run an afterschool tutoring program and provide weekend food packs to chronically hungry kids. Many of our families are immigrant families. Many of them living at poverty.
This last Sunday at The Practicing Church, we celebrated advent and lit the candle of Peace. And our nonprofit director, Lynn talked about what peace looks like at Turning Point. A crazy, chaotic day unveiled the anxiety churning right beneath the surface. It was the day after the election and the kids were beside themselves. What would this mean for them? Would they be okay? Would they no longer be welcome in their own country, in their own neighborhoods, in their own schools? So her subversive act of peace was to assure them, you are welcome here. You are seen, you are valued and you are safe.
We must not underestimate the power we have to speak Peace to this world. To say that we will not tolerate hate, bigotry, classism or misogyny. That we will be people of acceptance, welcome and hospitality for all, especially those most vulnerable in our communities. That we will fight for equality and justice for all. Regardless of skin color, culture, sexuality, gender, citizenship or economic status. The story of Advent is the story of Jesus coming into a world torn apart by inequality and oppression to bring peace to all of humanity - slave and free, men and women, Jew and Gentile.
And so what does it mean to speak Peace into the anxiety -- to be part of a quiet revolution of love and justice in a climate of fear and hate? What does it mean to cross culture, race and socioeconomic divides to cultivate friendship? Every month, we gather with Turning Point students and families, tutors and neighbors to share a meal. And I always look forward to the wonderful home-cooked dishes, the samosas, rice, wat and injera. But more than that, it is the richness of community. I believe it is just a tiny taste of heaven to sit around the table with my neighbors from Pakistan, Iran, Vietnam, Eritrea and Mexico. This is the stuff of reformation. It certainly is not flashy. No, it won’t make the headlines or trend on Instagram. But this is the practice of peace. This is the hope in our despair, the light in our darkness. So this advent, may we demonstrate and declare Peace on earth and good will to every man, woman and child in the neighborhood.
By Jessica Ketola