What Are You
1998: Christmas Remembered
On the first Sunday of Advent we light the candle of Hope. Often there will be readings from the prophets of the Old Testament, promises to the desperate, scattered descendants of the tribes of Israel.
People, then and now, are desperate for hope. The Israelites believed that God would accomplish the restoration of Jerusalem through a special leader they called the Messiah. This chosen one would cast out the oppressors, whether they were Babylonians, Persians, Greeks or Romans. He would bring back the exiles and establish a new kingdom.
People knew exactly what they wanted. They had made God in their own image and knew just what to expect. They were waiting for the miracle which would re-establish the physical kingdom. Because they were so fixed on their idea of God's chosen one, they paid little attention to a traveling preacher with a gift of healing and a message of unconditional love. There were lots of invitations, and he sent them some, but they kept waiting for their version of the miracle to come. Those who did hope that he would be their Messiah were discouraged when he was arrested and executed. Through the centuries, the true believers continue waiting for their miracle.
If you were to look at Mohandas K. Gandhi, you would never suspect that this man would change the course of world events. Gandhi was born into a well-to-do business class Indian family and educated in Britain. If he had remained in Britain or in India, perhaps we would never have heard of him. But because he spent time living in the hostile atmosphere of South Africa, he experienced first hand racial discrimination and abuse. The realization came gradually, but Gandhi knew that he was called to "be the change" which would ignite a worldwide movement for nonviolent resistance to injustice. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Lech Walesa, and Aung San Suu Kyi are but a few of the world leaders who adopted the principles put into practice by Gandhi.
For his lifelong, ultimately successful effort to achieve independence from Britain, Gandhi has been affectionately called the "Father of India." His other familiar title, Mahatma, or "Great Soul," signifies his position as spiritual leader of millions of Hindu people.
Unfortunately, the story of Mahatma Gandhi has a conclusion which is not nonviolent. In January 1948, the 78 year old Gandhi was shot to death by Hindu radicals who were angered by his conciliatory position toward Pakistan and the Muslim people if Pakistan and India.
Is this the fate a "change agent" can anticipate? Martin Luther King, Jr. was likewise shot dead by a man who feared the changes which King's life and actions would accomplish. Those changes proceeded nevertheless, and Dr. King is honored as one of the most influential Americans of the twentieth century.
Other brave individuals pay the price for their resistance. The Dalai Lama has been unable to return to Tibet for many years. Aung San Suu Kyi is so feared by the government of Myanmar that she remains under house arrest since 1998 - a decree just renewed this month. Steven Biko, who founded the South African Students' Organization, was killed in 1977 at age 30 by South African police who were never convicted of his murder. And who knows for certain what happened to the Chinese student who single-handedly faced down the tanks in Tiananmen Square?
Closer to home, we note the personal verbal attacks on Cindy Sheehan, Congressman Murtha, and anyone brave enough to challenge the policies of the persons currently making decisions. To be outspoken may mean becoming a target.
Not every movement has worldwide effects, but it is impossible to know where changes will spread. Who would have imagined that a raid on the Stonewall Inn in the summer of 1969 would ignite the Stonewall Riots, setting in motion the formation of the Gay Liberation Front and the Pride movement, not to mention the beginning of transgender activism with Silvia Rivera?
The death of Rita Hester in Massachusetts in 1998 seemed just another violent crime against a transgender person, but it prompted Gwendolyn Ann Smith to begin a list of persons killed by anti-transgender violence. Beginning in 1999 in San Francisco, the Day of Remembrance has spread to hundreds of cities worldwide.
On November 20, 2005, at the Phoenix Day of Remembrance attended by over 120 persons, organizer Margaux Ayn Schaffer urged the audience to "Be the Change" as Gandhi advocated.
If we wait for the miracle to come from someone else, we may find ourselves in the same position five or ten years from now. The only way to be assured of change is to be the change. Can this be dangerous? You know it can. But a life designed to be free from risk is not a life which will make a difference for others in this world.
Niemoller was placed in "protective custody" by the Gestapo and held in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1939 to 1945.
What do you hope for, this Advent season? Are you waiting for a deliverer? Someone to eliminate your enemies, or someone to bring peace? Someone to lead by example? Someone willing to take the risk so you won't have to do so?
What are you waiting for?