24 September 2015: “Or else.“

That sounds a lot like an ultimatum. Maybe even a threat. Something the class bully would say. Give me your lunch money, or else. Something a lobbyist would say. Support this legislation, or else. Something a parent would say. Clean up your room, or else. 

What if, instead of a call to arms, it is a call to reality? I suppose it depends on what the “or else” is. Clean your room or else you’ll quite possibly get sick from whatever germs are growing under that bed. Give me your lunch money, or else I’ll have to go hungry. Support this wage legislation or else a very worthy constituency will face another payday unable to care for their families. Or else. 

In a couple of weeks, there is to be an anniversary gathering in Washington DC marking 20 years since the Million Man March. Black leaders are organizing across the country and on Oct 10 will gather more than a million, to bring the message to Congress and the White House that “justice delayed” has gone on far too long. 

So, the theme of the gathering, as I learned at OSA this week is “Justice or Else.” I commented that, as the theme of a black gathering, Justice or Else may be heard as something fairly unsavory by a large swath of America. And I got reminded that “else” may just as well be a natural result, a consequence and not a deliberate act of retaliation. Justice or else. Or else the world community will continue to disintegrate. Or else the people at the margins will continue to look for belonging and life and wealth in the so often unhealthy places that are available to them. Or else the American dream will continue to crumble, continue to be shown a lie, continue to be reserved only for the wealthy, the white, the well-connected. 

“Justice or else” is not a threat. Be assured. But it surely packs a bit of a rhetorical punch. A reminder that we are not on a well-planned journey to the common good, but a poorly conceived downward spiral toward God knows what. 

The thing is, ‘justice or else’ is the core of the biblical story. Justice is precisely what the church is supposed to be doing, teaching, living. Justice — enough for all, care for the most vulnerable, sharing the world, welcoming strangers — is THE agenda, which we are supposed to declare in God’s name. 

Last weekend, Woodside’s Board of Directors spent 48 hours together up north (thanks, Dave Hoyt), claiming and clarifying who we are and imagining what our future holds. We came up with some pretty great stuff, and we’ll be sharing more over the next several weeks. As prep for the weekend, we read together a book called “Spiritual Defiance: building a beloved community of resistance.” The words resistance and defiance kept coming up over and over again in our deliberations, as we considered the ways the church just falls in line, doing the bidding of the empire, letting it get away with its self-absorbed madness. 

“Defiance” and “resistance” are also regularly heard as threatening words. We grapple with that, certainly. But we’re supposed to be different. Supposed to a light, a beacon, a vision of a different way, and a regular irritant to the old way. We’re supposed to be a positive “else” in a world that doesn’t get a lot of good news. “Justice or else” seems to me a rallying cry, but also a recognition that all is not well. There is an “else” that will befall us if we continue on the path. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Over the next weeks, in this space, we’ll be pondering defiance and resistance. In other ways, we’ll be learning to live it. Our church festival, with Osagyefo Sekou and a panel of community activists, will help us bravely call out the lies; we’ll be represented in Washington at the anniversary march and await reports from that front; we’re trying to confirm yet another October guest, someone schooled in life at the margins. We’ll keep reading, keep imagining, I’ll keep preaching, we’ll keep singing. 

And we’ll pray weekly “thy reign come,” a mantra of resistance all its own. 

With you on the journey, pastor deb