Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Photo NBC NEWS
I got to attend the March for our Lives in DC yesterday. To say that it was a powerful time would be an understatement. There are many wise and insightful reflections on the march which have already been published. I would like to particularly highlight this piece by Megan Garber at the Atlantic and this photo reflection by my friend Benjamin. My thoughts this weekend have been circling around the ideas of poetry, prophecy, and silence.
Today is Palm Sunday and that seems, to me, relevant. On Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. It is, in Christian tradition, one of the more mysterious of our celebrations. The celebration comes just days before Good Friday, when Jesus is killed by sinful humanity acting through a violent colonial empire. The celebration itself is understood to have been indelibly marked by plans to murder the very king it celebrated. The religious establishment and the secular government shook with fear and fury as children celebrated the Prince of Peace, the God-man who chose to ride to his final confrontation on the back of a mule rather than on a war horse. On Palm Sunday, Christians celebrate the one who defeated death by embracing his own pain and death.
I hope that the parallels are obvious.
Children, students, should never have had to lead the movement against gun violence. Children should never have had to lead the celebration of the one who delivers humanity from death. Children should never have had to, but children did have to. They had to because of the silence of those to whom the task was given. Two thousand years ago, in the face of adult silence, children sang. Yesterday, in the face of adult silence, children sang.
I don't know all of the reasons for our silence, and I don't know all of the reasons for their song. Some of us have been silent because we have given up hope—their hope is not exhausted and they share it with us. Some of us believe that the message of peace is too good to be true, we have chosen to accept the inevitability of violence—they still believe that peace is stronger. Some of us do not want peace, some of us have never wanted peace, our power comes from violence—they have chosen peace. Some of us want a King who will kill our enemies for us—they have embraced peace. Some of us were just too tired—they could not keep silent.
|Alex King and D'Angelo McDade photo The Star|
They could not keep silent.
They could not keep silent.
They could not keep silent.
But neither were they afraid of our silence. Christians believe that, in dying, Jesus overcame death—that Jesus turned the agent of his destruction and of ours against itself. In the words of John Donne
Death, thou shalt die.Yesterday I saw the students who, a month ago, looked at death, at a man whose ability to kill had been preserved by our silence, and turned silence against itself. Yes, they called out our silence about gun violence; they called out a nation's weary quiet—the deadly stillness that invariably returned weeks, months, or years after Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, and Pulse. But more than calling out our silence, they used silence against itself. I saw it in two ways yesterday.
Yesterday, teenagers were given the attention of a nation. They took that attention, they waited till we were all listening to them, and they told us to listen to someone else. Their own pain had driven them to hear the voices of communities of color, the voices that we have ignored, and they reminded us that those voices have been shouting the whole time. They stood back and silenced themselves so that we would be forced to hear from D.C. and Chicago ("see, the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone"). One of the most powerful voices of the day was the voice of eleven year old Naomi Wadler who condemned us with:
I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news, I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.
They gave time on the stage to students from Newtown and they reminded us of Columbine.
And then there was Emma González. She has become, with good reason, a particular celebrity among the Parkland students who are speaking out on this subject. Her speech just days after the shooting was powerful and impassioned. One politician has already had to drop out of his race after he attacked her on twitter. When he went after her he was running unopposed, within days he had an opponent, and shortly thereafter he suspended his campaign. She owns her identity as a bisexual Cuban-American woman with pride and grace and has already learned the strength of what others might call her vulnerabilities. Yesterday, we all wanted to hear Emma González speak. We all wanted to hear the sort of impassioned power which has been so central to all that is happening. We showed marched yesterday because we care, we marched because this matters, we marched because we are learning to listen again, but I know that a part of me marched yesterday because I wanted a show. I wanted to see what would happen, I wanted all of these students and especially this student to perform for my encouragement and I know that I was not alone. The world was watching and asking her for a show.
González rebuked us with a poem and with silence.
The woman everyone wanted to hear, read a poem about others and then stood in silence—weeping, defiant, and powerful—and forced us to listen to the silence of 17 graves.
And if the task of prophecy is to empower people to engage in history, then it means evoking cries that expect answers, learning to address them where they will be taken seriously, and ceasing to look to the numbed and dull empire that never intended to answer in the first place.
-Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination