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Chaos or community: Which way?

Advent commentary on grand jury findings

Ken Sehested. Posted 5 December 2014, commemorating Rosa Parks' historic bus ride.

Chaotic and kairotic are rhyming words that come to mind in these heavy laden days. The latter’s root word, kairos, means “opportune moment,” a pregnant occasion, with life promised but also danger lurking, an opening for truth amid founded fears of catastrophe—as in “apocalypse.”  But in the root word for apocalypse, the emphasis is on “uncovering” or “revealing” what has been hidden. Truth amid the rubble.

These surely are chaotic times, and we cringe at the destructive backlash threatening to rain down on urban and suburban streets. Within a week, police killings of unarmed black men are dismissed by grand juries in a St. Louis suburb and New York City—the latter case, of Eric Garner, by fatal chokehold caught on camera and ruled a homicide by the coroner.

Jon Stewart’s Daily Show opening comments on these cases were as sober as I’ve seen. “If comedy is tragedy plus time,” Stewart said, “I need more f•••king time.”

But, you say, the victims were criminals, having stolen tens of dollars’ worth of tobacco products. And deserved to die? we ask.

What then should have been the criminal justice response to the 2008 financial meltdown in the US, when by criminally negligent recklessness and outright fraud (the January 2011 “Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission” report used variants of the word “fraud” 157 times) millions of citizens were thrown to their fiscal knees and trillions—that’s trillions—of dollars were disappeared by the rapacious greed of banking and finance executives. The nation is fleeced and the only consequence is a few chump-change fines.

For the few, privatized gains, socialized costs. By the logic of current US military doctrine, drone strikes should have rained on Wall Street.

These are certainly chaotic times, with angry burn-it-down emotions.  It was Thomas Jefferson, on the cusp of slavery’s enshrinement in the US Constitution, who said: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” For that matter, it was also Jefferson, barely a few decades into the new Republic’s life, who complained: “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

The signs of our times admit both to an uncovering—a revealing, a kairos moment, with its possibilities for metanoia, for repentance—and to a conflagration, a Terminator kind of apocalypse.

But then, that’s just Advent. There’s a reason the first words out of the mouth of those angels speaking to Joseph, then to Zechariah, then Mary, and finally to the shepherds was “fear not.” Adventential hope is oriented to the mandates of fear not, stand firm, be still, be of good cheer, even, dare we say, rejoice! Such is the nonviolent war cry of the People of God who practice these disciplines not above and beyond and extracted from the chaos, from the apocalyptic edge, but in the midst of the streets of rage against the privilege of power. Rachel, says the Evangelist, still weeping for her children (Matthew 2:18). Along with the Michael Brown family, and Garner’s family. And the list goes on.

We mark even now the anniversary of another chaotic kairos moment when Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat on a bus that drove our nation’s history on the days and decades after 5 December 1955. A few years later, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

That dangerous question still stands.

Ken Sehested is the author and editor of prayer&politiks <prayerandpolitiks.org>, “at the edge of spiritual formation and prophetic action.” Permission requests to [email protected]