Susan Baller-Shepard: Welcome Home! Amidst Torture and 'Man's Inhumanity to Man'



He Qi, Nativity, 1998. Ink and gouache on rice paper.

My friend Lisa gets off the plane in Illinois from Portland, Oregon, and immediately her phone buzzes with texts saying, "Welcome Home!" She's here for a couple days, to meet with farmers about old family farmland. I smile because central Illinois has not been her home for thirty years, yet I know this sentiment. Often, home is where the land is. I tell my Major World Religion students this, that religious wars have been fought for thousands of years over religious beliefs, yes, but also over land.

As someone raised on American soil, this week's long awaited Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the C.I.A.'s use of torture, has me pausing, trying to digest the information. I find it very disturbing, my mind boggles over the descriptions of torture.

It reminds me of a stanza in Robert Burns 1784 poem, "Man Was Made to Mourn: A Dirge"

...Many and sharp the num'rous ills 

Inwoven with our frame! 

More pointed still we make ourselves, 

Regret, remorse, and shame! 

And man, whose heav'n-erected face 

The smiles of love adorn, - 

Man's inhumanity to man 

Makes countless thousands mourn!

I've told my Major World Religion students that any time in history, when one human tries to make less of another human being, treats another human being as less than human, beware, they are dangerous times. We did this in America with massacres of Native peoples, then again we ripped Africans away from their homes and brought them to this country as slaves. The Third Reich did it during World War II. The Civil Rights movement saw plenty of cruelties, and racial injustices are still alive and well today, along with human trafficking in the U.S.. A perpetrator of such an offense becomes inhumane, loses his or herself in the process of breaking the victim. Severe damage is done to both. Always.

As Christians, celebrating the season of Advent, the glory of humanity, and the horror of the human condition come into view.

This week Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."

Last weekend, at the hands of another, a girl named Jessica Chambers was burned to death in Courtland, Mississippi.

The God born in the Christ child becomes the God we as human beings are capable of torturing unto death. These are not unrelated stories.

How, then, in Advent, do we remember this welcoming of God into the world so long ago? How, then, approach this season where everyday Good News is bombarded by bad news?

Jesus said,

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name. 

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors. 

And do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one.

Many Christian traditions, when praying, end this "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen."

Advent reminds us we once welcomed Jesus home to earth, and it didn't go so well. Humanity messed up. We're still messing up. To become human is to risk two things: to risk being inhumane to others, or to risk being treated inhumanely.

Advent reminds us there is good news, amidst the bad. God-enters-the-Mayhem, God-with-us.**

Welcome home, Christ. Welcome here, Christ.

We've got work to do, to make it on earth as it is in heaven, but we hold on to hope.


*Matthew 6:9-13 NRSV

**Matthew 1:23 NRSV

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words... " --Romans 8:22-26 NRSV

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