You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Those Who Dream… keep awake, HERE.
This morning we heard the story of Daniel in the lions’ den and… well… doesn’t this seem like an odd way to begin the Advent season? We should be making time to lean into the pausing. The waiting. Wondering. Maybe even taking a slow deep breath. Not giving in to the hustle and bustle. It is comforting to listen to familiar stories and imagine once again what might be…
Peace on earth.
Apparently, we are not there… yet. Instead of a tale about angels and messengers of God appearing to Mary, or Joseph, or Elizabeth; Instead of repeated calls to “keep awake” (Matt. 24:42, 25:31; Mark 13:35), we get this ancient story from the book of Daniel. What is up with that? Why is it here? At the start of Advent?
‘Tis supposed to be the season of singing carols, having fun putting up lights and decorations, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, and not worrying. Deep down inside, as followers of Jesus we know—we know—that once again, no matter how bad things are, how end-of-the-world(ish) everything around us is, God is going to be Born-With-Us one again on Christmas morning. This is our hope and our belief.
But instead, we get this unsettling story of Daniel, Darius, and the great conspiracy. This is a story which doesn’t let us breathe easily. It is an explicitly political text. Dangers we know are out there trapping those who are marginalized in a den of terror.
If we look closely, Daniel’s plight is not a bad parallel to today’s world. A time in which conspiracy theories run deep. The pandemic is a hoax. The election was fraudulent. Fake news. Scripture says, “The conspirators came…” (Dan. 6:11, NRSV). They came to find a way to get rid of this person. This outsider. A Jew. His existence was upsetting “the way things are.”
And Daniel’s response? A nonviolent action. Turning towards Jerusalem three times a day to pray was an act of civil disobedience. Daniel knew the new law had been signed (Dan. 6:10). It was in this political environment, hostile to Daniel’s faith convictions, that the ongoing prayer of the Jewish people in Babylon became a form of non-violent resistance.
Taking a narrative turn to King Darius, I am obviously not a lot like him. I do not have ultimate political power. However, as someone who is white in the United States, I find myself immersed in a culture more akin to the “ministers and nobles” who “conspired together” to keep things the same (Daniel 6:6). I do have the signet ring of white privilege which keeps people who are Black, brown, and/or Native American in places where danger lurks and lairs are sealed.
Over the past 15 years or so, I have slowly been realizing how my life, my understanding of the world around me, the way things are, traps my siblings who are Black, people of color, and Native American, in nearly impenetrable dens of oppression and death. Yes, Daniel survived the dangers lurking in the lions’ den, but we know so many millions of others have not.
And so, on this first Sunday of Advent in which we wait—we wait for justice, we wait for mercy, and as a faith community we wait for Love to reach out in ever-widening circles, I want to share with you a part of my life story. A confession. My own awakening of sorts. My still-evolving process of being alert… and pushing back on a sense of normalcy. Of thinking “everything is OK now.” I do this because God dreams… I dream… and together we as a faith community must stay awake.
Once upon a time, I was a staff person at a historically white congregation within the United Church of Christ. Stored in the church’s basement were Pilgrim costumes, for both kids and adults. In the not-so-distant past, they used to “reenact” the Pilgrims’ landing in worship. Each year I worked there, at least one person would inevitably say, “I wish we still did the Pilgrim play on Thanksgiving…”
This experience has led me to reflect on my own upbringing. I grew up in southwestern Wisconsin. Not far from here. The town is still 97.5% white.
What I share with you today comes from a place of deep love and gratitude. These places have had encouraged me to fully live into the person God has created me to be.
Yet in my growing understanding of the cultural milieu of white privilege in which I have been immersed my entire life, I am also humbled by my ignorance. As a youth, the United Church of Christ congregation in which I was confirmed was named “Plymouth.” The church camp I went to and still love to attend is “Pilgrim.” There are so many stories which are near and dear to my heart from each of these places. Wonderful memories that have shaped who I am and played important roles in my faith journey.
Thus, I stand (well… OK… during worship on Zoom I sit…) before you this morning as someone who is still learning. Still listening. Still making mistakes. Yet also realizing I wear an invisible signet ring which seals others, my friends and neighbors who are Native American, into lairs of hate and the false ideology of white supremacy.
I am grateful that as a faith community, we at Memorial UCC have taken the risk to learn about the Doctrine of Discovery, and can explore together how privilege has benefitted those of us who are white. I commit this day to continue listening and naming where I am… and where we are… on this path. Together there is still a lot to learn—and unlearn.
Here, I want to recognize I live on land, and our church building is on land, which has been home to, cared by, and sacred to the peoples of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Sauk, Ho-Chunk, Miami and Sioux.
Acknowledging these realities is one step, a small step, in beginning to break the seal of colonization which continues to grip these nations.
I pray that just like King Darius, I become… and remain… disturbed by the injustices I see. I realize I am simplifying the text and leaving out some important theological problems it raises, but I today am drawn to Darius’ anguish over the role he played in Daniel’s entrapment. I feel Darius’ fasting is akin to my own learning. His sleeplessness, corresponds to my shame and guilt.
In our own time we who are white have played a role in sealing the lair of systemic injustices. Keeping racial disparities alive and well. The stone which must now be rolled away looms large. Yet we know it is there, on the other side that God sits—in the den of despair—with those who have been trapped by the snares of our country’s history of genocide and slavery, Jim Crow laws, and now mass incarceration and economic disparities. For all too long, I had been lulled into not seeing.
But I can change that. I can change my response. I cannot do it alone, but together we can play an active part in rolling away the inequities. As racial disparities in our community continue to grow and the pandemic disproportionally impacts the health and economic realities of our neighbors who are black, Hispanic, and Native American, the Spirit is moving at Memorial UCC.
Twelve members and friends of our congregation have been meeting since June, forming a Social Justice Task-Force. They have been prayerfully reflecting on the long history of injustices our educational, healthcare, employment, and criminal justice systems have placed on people of color. I invite you to watch… wait… keep awake… for an announcement from them in the near future. They are developing an action plan we as Church can do that will change lives. It is an exciting and challenging, breaking of the seals of injustice call to action. Love reaching out in ever-widening circles.
Together, we can take an active role in shattering that den of despair.
Together, we can dream God’s dream.
Support those who have new visions for the world.
And keep awake.
Because God IS being born again.
Reflection on Daniel 6:6-27 offered November 29, 2020
 “Dodgeville, WI,” Data USA, accessed November 27, 2020, https://datausa.io/profile/geo/dodgeville-wi.