Shh… Listen closely.
Can you hear it? The heavy, faint but steady beat of the kettledrum as it rips a hole in the universe wide wide to allow the triumphant herald of the bugles?
You strain your ears, for there is an accompanying lively tune, chanted by sweaty humans gyrating in the streets of cities like New York and Philadelphia.
Is it, “Let freedom ring?”
No...it is something more...something about freedom for all, and justice long-forgotten, resurrected.
It’s more of a chant, really, a plea or, a command, even.
We are seen, we are heard, justice, justice will be served.
Quips and quotes you heard in the past, make a smidgen more sense than they used to:
And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
Behind it all, though, dark shadows loom.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. Systemic injustice. Systemic oppression.
We watched Biden’s and Kamala’s acceptance speeches the night after they first aired so that our kids could watch with us.
As the speech came to an end and the fireworks began, declaring Biden the new president elect, my husband burst into tears. My own eyes misted.
“It’s just been so dark. And I didn’t even realize it,” my husband said.
He is right. Our country has felt heavy and hopeless, especially this past year.
Watching our black neighbors being murdered by cops, watching those cops NOT be held accountable, was horrifying.
Listening to the President’s words, seeing his “law and order” reaction to protestors, has filled us with equal measures of sorrow and helpless anger.
Wending its way through everything, too, is this global pandemic, now spreading more quickly and virulently than ever, touching some softly, ignoring others and devouring the vulnerable with vigor.
And there has been no one to say, “Hey everyone, this is bad, but we’re going to make it through, we’re going to handle this together and here’s how.”
To make matters worse, people have quibbled over the best way to stop the spread of the disease.
Then on Saturday, we American’s heard these words from a leader:
It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again ... we have to stop treating our opponents like enemies…
On Monday, I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisors to help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint that will start on January 20th, 2021...
Spread the faith, God love you all, may God bless America and may God protect our troops.
And for the first time in years, we felt seen. We felt hope.
If just a few words from a politician can fill us with such joy and hope, imagine how sad and empty we’ve been feeling, indeed?
Behind this ray of hope, though, there looms a cloud of darkness.
Conspiracy theories. QAnon. A president refusing to concede, dragging the country through pointless legal battles in the face of a pandemic. White supremacists offering threatening statements. Christians claiming political sides as God's truth.
And now, friend, I am going to tell you a fantastical story, a story about birds and captivity and acceptance and love and justice. I'm not sure who you are in the story, but I can tell you I have played the role of many of the birds mentioned.
If you hang in there till the end, I'm willing to bet you'll figure out where bird-me lives now, and I'd venture to guess you live there too.
Imagine being a beautiful macaw raised in an aviary that had been constructed right on the edge of the rainforest.
The aviary was nice overall.
You had caregivers who provided for all your needs. You had trees to roost in and a handful of other birds to play with.
You really didn’t notice there was a glass cage surrounding you, in fact.
You didn’t see the beautiful macaws gliding high above your home, gilded in sunlight; you were too busy worrying about how soon your aviary would be cleaned out or when someone would come to feed you.
One day, when everything was unusually quiet, you happened to glance up at the sky as you fluffed your wings and you wondered for a fleeting instant, what would it be like to fly up there?
Another bird noticed your gaze and warned you, “Oh, you don’t want to go down that road. It may look great, but if you go out there, you will have to deal with predators and find your own food. It’s best not to look out there too often. If you start thinking life out there will be better, you are deceived.”
When no one was looking, you would find yourself gazing out the window, a great sense of loneliness and a mysterious sensation of loss filling your heart.
I spent most of my life living like you, macaw, in a glass cage.
I had a few chosen friends, who also lived in the glass cage.
We talked often about things pertaining to glass cages, like how clean we were or which feeder was our favorite.
I lived in relative safety, unaware of the dangers those distant soaring birds of the rainforest faced.
One day, I heard two older birds gossiping. They were talking about how dirty those outdoor rainforest birds were. I couldn’t help but notice the disgust in their voices.
Didn’t we all originally come from out in the rainforest too, I wondered?
What made us indoor birds better?
One day when I was hanging out on a limb with a new friend, joking and preening, three elder birds surrounded us and began interrogating my friend.
Where do you come from?
Let us see your claws. Is that a scratch on your beak? Why are you missing tail feathers?
“This is my friend,” I said. “I know him. He’s wonderful, he loves this aviary; in fact, I’ve seen him give up his roost for you many times.”
In the end, my pleas mattered not.
The elders whispered loudly amongst themselves, “He’s been in fights. He’s been injured. He’s weak. He’s going to destroy our haven. Get him out. He must leave. Out. Now.”
And just like that, my friend was gone.
I went to the elders, full of anger and questions. They tried to convince me he was other, that he didn’t belong, that he’d harm me and lead the little ones astray.
But didn’t he come here to the aviary to rest? To escape all those fights? To heal? What’s an aviary for, if not to rescue? I wondered.
There were other young birds questioning too.
We organized ourselves and flew over everyone’s heads in squads, squawking our protest to the ejection of a friend seeking safe haven.
Instead of listening, the elder birds responded by closing off our roosts and rationing our food. They felt we needed to be taught. We needed to listen to their wisdom. They had lived longer than us, after all. And didn’t we know the stories of old? Stories of aviary birds suffering because of who they’d welcomed into their midst?
One day, when a bird keeper opened the door, a group of us young un’s flew out.
Out, out, into the sun; up, up, into the sky.
We flew away, away, deeper and deeper into the rainforest. There were beautiful birds there, with beautiful feathers and musical warbles.
There were dangers out there, yes, but the birds looked out for one amother, cawing and chirping when danger was near.
That sense of loneliness and loss I had felt in the aviary began to fade as I embraced my oneness with all things rainforest, happy to be part of the larger bird-family.
For so long, friends, I was like the aviary bird, safe because of my church and my family and my skin color. I had everything I needed.
When I noticed people who were less fortunate than I, I was warned not to be too compassionate or sensitive, because eternity was all that mattered, because if people were poor or suffering, there must have been something they had done to deserve it.
I was also warned about people who weren’t the “norm”. I'm really not sure why...apparently, these people wanted to do things like, destroy society or destroy my marriage.
I was defined by what I wasn’t, by what I did and didn’t, rather than by how much or how well I loved.
I was told no one else knew the truth, that if I left the safety of the aviary or asked too many questions, I would suffer greatly, losing everything I loved.
In short, I grew up in the safety of a carefully constructed aviary.
And in the past few years, I was the bird who questioned the exclusionary nature of it.
The aviary is anything that excludes and seeks to protect more than to love.
Both my country and my church have been my aviary, time to time.
When I have cared more about protecting myself or my wealth than about extending justice and kindness to others, I have found myself within its confines.
When I flew out into the rainforest, I discovered, most of the birds were actually looking out for one another. I became one member of a much larger community, a community where even one little bird’s suffering mattered, because that little bird was a bird just like the rest of us.
In the last year, I have decided to speak up about the aviary, to raise my voice in protest.
So when Biden won the Presidential election against a president who was seeking to protect and exclude, and people in the major cities took to the streets to party, I felt at one with the wider world of love and goodness and kindness and justice for the first time.
I suddenly realized I had broken out of the aviary and was flying as one with all birds, and we were going to protect each other because we were each other— birds one and all.
I don’t always understand Jesus.
But one thing I know is that Jesus spent time with the ones society shunned and rejected, not with the powerful and wealthy.
He spent time with women, with the poor, with the “unclean”, and with people who were racial enemies of his people.
I don’t always "get" the Bible either.
But Israel’s central narrative was one of promise and rescue from oppression.
And so many other stories in the Bible point to promise and rescue.
So if you want to be near the heart of God, friend, you will have to leave the aviary and consort with the rejects. You will need to march to protect the week, and seek justice for the oppressed.
Always, a dark shadow of evil will loom. And the more you fight it, the darker it will become; evil doesn't want to be eradicated, after all.
So open your eyes. Gird your loins. Fight evil with good, fight hate with love, seek justice and love mercy.
Go on. Fly away free. It’s a real jungle out there.
“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”(Lord of the Rings)