And then last month, 49 LGBTQ people of color were shot in a night club in Orlando.
Then on Sunday, 250 people, most if not all Muslim, were killed in an ISIS bombing in Baghdad.
And just last night, Alton Sterling, a black man and father of five, was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge.
Meanwhile, schools in our backyard struggle with low test scores and children who are hungry and traumatized by living in poverty, and there seems to be no way out. Forsyth County is among the worst in the nation in terms of children in poor families being able to rise to another income level.
As I looked at all of that and more, I thought, well, it sure doesn’t look like there is room at the table for everyone. Whenever we fear or exclude or attack based on race, class, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion, we are saying, there is not room at the table. And there seems to be an awful lot of that going around these days.
It is hard for me not to let my heart be hardened, to say there’s nothing to be done, to give up on humanity and even wonder if God has done the same. It is hard for me, in times like these, to hope. Which is kind of a problem for someone whose job it is to preach good news and proclaim things like resurrection and eternal life.
But I stumbled on two things this past week that are helping me, and perhaps they will help you, too. The first was about hope. In her book Out of Sorts, writer Sarah Bessey says that hope is not about wearing rose-colored glasses. Instead, “Hope is subversive precisely because it dares to admit that all is not as it should be.”
Of course. When the book of Hebrews talks about faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” it’s not just using flowery words that look nice on a throw pillow. It’s a reality that is on the one hand obvious—if you could see something, you wouldn’t need faith; if something were already in front of you, you would not need to hope for it.
On the other hand, it tells us something concrete: that what we do see is not what we put our faith in or where we place our hope. Hope does not pretend that everything is fine; hope says, what we see is not as it should be; what should be is one of those things not seen, yet we press toward it nonetheless.
The second thing that helped me this week was an interview that Krista Tippett did with civil rights hero John Lewis. Tippett asked him about how he and the other freedom fighters were able to press on in the face of such resistance, how he was able to keep the dream of the beloved community alive in the midst of oppression, racism, and violence.
John Lewis said this: “I discovered that you have to have this sense of faith that what you’re moving toward is already done.” He said that you have to live as if the beloved community is already here. You have to embody the true reality until everyone else can see it.
This might sound like denial, like the fluffy hope that pretends everything is all right. But it isn’t, because it involves actively resisting what is happening around us; it means calling out the way things are and saying “no.” It means acknowledging that in this world it is dangerous to be gay or middle eastern or black or poor and naming that as a clear sign that all is not as it should be, while showing the world a better way.
We make room at the table when we name the pain and suffering and injustice of the world, but we don’t stop there. We get up from our little tables of race, class, religion, ideology, whatever we use to separate ourselves out from one another, and we sit at the big table of the beloved community. We invite others to sit with us, even and especially when doing so crosses boundaries. We subvert, and we live as if.
In a moment, we are going to invite you to sing along with another one of Carrie Newcomer’s songs. It is so appropriate to our time, because it asks a simple question: “If not now, tell me when?” There is no better time to be the beloved community than the moments when we seem the most fragmented and bewildered. Now more than ever, we need to subvert, to live as if, to make room at the table.
May we be people of subversive hope and courageous faith, in this moment, in this place and time, now when it is most needed.
Sarah S. Howell