Dreams & Nightmares

Last November, I wrote about my hope that we would have 20/20 vision for and in the new year. That we’d be able to see in sharp focus what’s up close, and to discern what’s far away –– to perceive “the signs of the times” (as in Matthew 16:3).

But few of us could have imagined the pandemic that would follow. Or the deep wounds of systemic racism that would be ripped open by the murder of George Floyd. Or the peaceful protests. Or the intermittent vandalism and looting that accompanies them. Or the ongoing mind-boggling reality of what seem like two justice systems –– one for whites and one for blacks –– because if looting ought not be a part of protesting, neither should murder be part of being arrested. Or the economic downturn which has affected so many across the nation –– including some of us at Two Churches. Or the startling reality of breaking laws and disregarding precedents that’s coming out of Washington.

In some significant ways, the American Dream has become the Christian nightmare. Conspicuous consumption has taken precedence over the needs of the many. We act as though we can have community without accountability. We are vexed, trying to reconcile capitalism with communion. We are stymied, trying to categorize what’s mine with what’s God’s. As biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has said: “The Gospel has become entangled, in a white, western, sense of entitlement.”

Yet there’s nothing in the Gospel that shouts “capitalism.” There’s nothing in Genesis about how being stewards of God’s creation empowers humanity to strip earth’s resources bare. We have the technology to leave our dependence of fossil fuels behind and develop more than enough energy from wind and solar, so why aren’t we doing it? We have more than enough land to grow more than enough food for every hungry mouth in this country, so why aren’t we doing it? We have the resources to have prevented most of the 180,000 deaths from COVID-19, so why didn’t it happen?

If the bible is God’s Living Word, then our understanding of it must live too. It must move and breathe –– but also get rid of that which no longer serves it well –– instead of trying to force old realties into new paradigms. Like square pegs into round holes.

My name may not be Jeremiah, or Amos, or Isaiah, or Micah; but I can see what’s going on around me. What’s going on around us. There’s a quote falsely attributed to Winston Churchill, but which conveys some wisdom nonetheless: “I no longer listen to what people say. I just watch what they do. Behavior never lies.” And when our leaders insist on the need for law and order, I expect them to follow the law themselves. Yet Washington offers up instance after instance of excusing itself from that to which it holds others accountable. For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a memo in December 2019, which says that agency employees cannot “engage in political activity in concert with a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group.” The memo specifically bars high-level State Department officials from participating in a convention. Further, the memo, which was released on August 24 by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) clarifies that “Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event.” Yet Pompeo broadcast an RNC speech while he was in Jerusalem. I’m not a lawyer, and perception may not be everything, but it sure is a lot.

The 20/20 vision I hoped for last November has further revealed that the signs of our times are not in line with the Gospel. And the Gospel is not partisan –– it transcends political party. It even transcends religion. It does not undo environmental safeguards. It does not separate children from their parents. It does not take health care away from those in need. But it does lift up the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:34-36 when he said “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Eight months after I wrote those words, we can see more clearly. We may not be seeing that for which we’d hoped. But we can see more clearly the work that is set before us. God has given us the power to do it. All we need, is the will. Holy God, make it so.

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family. He relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the ELCA N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and in July 2020, he finished a two-year practicum to become a Spiritual Director.