Somewhere in history, the stories and myths about St. Nicholas depicting him as a man who prevented famine by feeding the hungry were replaced with whimsy and cartoonish ideas that a magical guy can bring you what you need if you follow the rules.
Now that Christmas has come and gone, our country has missed another opportunity to revive St. Nicholas’ legacy by saving the lives of people innocently accused of crimes, thwarting the deaths of children and enabling impoverished women to have the resources and opportunities they need to strive for a better life.
If you missed it a few weeks ago, I hope you will seize the opportunity today. For some, the process of reflecting on the past year and coming up with new visions for how to live during the next trip around the sun is summed up in a toast, a kiss or a resolution to be happy and healthier in the new year. Some of you might have already broken those resolutions and given up hope that 2013 will provide anything different or inspiring.
I say, forget the things your brain may have told you about why you’re not able to become all the things you’ve known you are capable of. Forget the fad diets that media outlets tout to get you to work on your love handles and make love more tangible in the world. Instead of resolutions, let’s give ourselves a second chance at Lent by focusing on the ways we can be better, serve the poor, walk ever closer to God and, if only for today, do the things that bug us and our neighbors a little bit less.
A long time ago, two teenagers got into trouble in a garden because they spent more time looking in a mirror and getting so hung up on the flaps and folds they wished weren’t there that they forgot to take care of the garden and enjoy the gifts God had given them.
In 2012, a group of motley youth, hippies and homeless folk banded together to build tent cities, get maced and marched all over the country. The Occupy movement was dismissed as “unorganized” and “without a platform,” but their voices transformed those in the most powerful offices of our country so completely that they began believing it was their idea to ask those who make the most to pitch in more to help those with the least.
You don’t have to live in a tent, get maced or march, just as you should not upset religious and political leaders so much that they hang you on a cross. But, if there is anything that we can learn from the life of Jesus and the Occupy movement, it ought to be that it takes forward thinking and sometimes a bit of drama to shake the world enough to truly move us closer to the justice, peace and hospitality that God calls us to bring into the world.
In the midst of some of our most contentious Lutheran vs. Lutheran fights, we have always come together to fight domestic and global poverty, homelessness, Malaria, HIV and AIDS, the victimization of women and undocumented individuals and to proclaim that all people are not only worthy of God’s love, but also shoes, water, food and shelter.
I have a bit of a reputation as a rabble-rousing pastor. The truth is that I have often been at the right place at the right time when a photo was taken. I have walked on deeply rutted trails, which were carved out by generations upon generations of faithful Lutherans who yearned together for justice and peace.
In moments when others were looking, I had the courage to be myself and put the thoughts that fill my head when I look in the mirror on hold. Other times when no one was looking, I let my piercings, funny hair and sometimes even a bullhorn bring attention to the needs of those who are the most vulnerable.
I’m not saying this to be put on a pedestal; I’m saying it so we can all stand on a plateau together. I wish God would have told those pesky teenagers in the garden that all the things that bug them in the mirror are their greatest assets. All the ways that they stick out and are different from others in the garden help them to be a part of the beautiful world around them.
Our brains work differently, if only so there is always someone who can help us find the things we’ve lost. We all love differently, if only so that we can be loved in the unique ways that help us feel safe in this unendingly chaotic world.
We all have a different part to play in ending the suffering we experience in this world. Some write checks, others bake bread, others speak truth to power, others tuck those with blistered feet from marching in at night and care for them when they are sick and still others write letters and prayers.
If you are confidently doing all you can, thank you! If you’re not: Talk to your pastor, check out the ELCA’s opportunities for responding to poverty or contact me via the comment section below, Facebook or in a letter.
Let’s do more than look forward to this coming year. Let’s move, shake and demand forward progress on peace, justice and economic equality.
Megan Rohrer is an ELCA pastor who serves as the executive director of Welcome — a communal response to poverty — in San Francisco.