stories of revolution by love of neighbor

I had a recent conversation with the owner of my apartment. I live in Colombia, so we were speaking in Spanish, and on this particular occasion we were talking about Spanish. He told me stories of his time spent in the US and how he would occasionally have confusing moments where he only knew one translation for a word which stands for multiple ideas in Spanish, but its translation only means one of them.

A particularly funny case was with the word “cita,” which basically means anything you could put on your calendar, from appointment to date. He only knew the translation “date,” so needless to say he had some hilarious mishaps with trying to set up appointments with coworkers and the like. (Imagine “what time is our date?” being the question in place of “what time is our appointment?” and you’ll get the picture.)

All hilarious language-related mishaps aside, it got me thinking…what other Spanish words have multiple meanings? One that came to mind was the verb “esperar,” which means either “to hope” or “to wait.” Since a lot of recent events in my life have much to do with hope and some to do with waiting, this really got me thinking about the two concepts.

I am reminded of Liberation Theology’s understanding of the Easter narrative in considering the dissonance between hoping and waiting. Living in Latin America and having a strong interest in Liberation Theology, particularly regarding its understanding of the Easter narrative, I took notice while I was visiting Medellin on Good Friday that there were many (many) processionals, via cruces – the way of the cross.

It reminded me that Liberation Theology explains that in Latin America, Good Friday is celebrated more strongly than Easter. I am sure this might seem strange for those Christians from the US who are reading this, because the idea of the resurrection is surely something to celebrate. However, among the people of Latin America, who face conflict, poverty, social and political exclusion, and a whole variety of other injustices, oppressions, and exclusions, the resurrection, a victory of life over the forces of death is not something which they can identify with.

What they can identify with, though, is the suffering of Good Friday. It can be seen as an act of solidarity by Christ with the poor, the marginalized, the suffering, and the oppressed. Many cannot identify with the risen Christ, because they have not yet experienced that resurrection from the circumstances in which they live.

They are in the Good Friday period, walking alongside the suffering Christ. They live Saturday, waiting, hoping, wishing for something to change, but still living in a context of death and uncertainty. But there is hope. Sunday brings the resurrection, the change that has been hoped and waited for all along. However, Friday and Saturday are almost necessarily part of the process. So hope has this dynamic of waiting sometimes, whether we like it or not.

Being a “rose-colored glasses” optimist, I tend to have many hopes. I see the possibility and hope in many aspects of life where pessimists might see risk and the chance for failure, and where realists might see both the pros and cons, both opportunity and risk. I want to believe that the things that I hope for can become a reality, because otherwise, I wonder, to what end do I do the work that I do? I sometimes wonder how someone could be willing to do any social change work without being particularly optimistic.

Much of my social change work in the past few months have been heavy on what I see as the dissonance between hoping and waiting. I hope for many changes to happen, but given the context in which they need to happen, I don’t have that much pull on whether or not they ultimately come through, so while I can exercise my agency in hopes of helping to sway some of the people who can affect the official changes, I still have to wait for those changes to be accepted by those who control them.

Take, for instance, my recent work at General Conference for the full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in The UMC. As much as I hoped for the full inclusion of LGBTQ folks and was willing to work for it, I didn’t have a vote, and so my voice was limited to the extent to which delegates with vote were willing to listen to it. Though I’ve hoped, worked, and waited for years for this change to happen, the waiting aspect of “esperar” persists.

I hope for change; I see possibility of change; my activist self is not willing to sit around and wait for change. While I still see the overall value of systemic change, I wonder if it really makes all that much difference. Sure, The UMC could make a decision to affirm the full inclusion; sure, laws could be passed changing a whole plethora of issues in our society and world that need fixing, but if they aren’t enacted on the ground, they ultimately mean nothing.

We cannot simply call a victory the end of our work. Likewise, we cannot give up hope because of an apparent defeat. No matter the systemic change or lack thereof, we must always be working for grassroots change. With or without the laws and policies in place which officially bring change, it is really the grassroots changes which make the difference in the day-to-day reality of those suffering from injustice, oppression, and exclusion.

We must continue fighting in our local communities to end poverty on the ground. We must encourage churches and communities to welcome and embrace the stranger (immigrants, new families, and many more to whom we might not otherwise reach out). We must practice at every level of the church and in every facet of our lives the slogan of The UMC – “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” We must stand in solidarity with the the oppressed and the marginalized on “Good Friday,” mourn with them and let that mourning lead us to action on Saturday, and celebrate the liberation and resurrection on Sunday.

We must never give up the fight at the grassroots level, because that is truly where changes make a difference in people’s lives, regardless of what happens at the institutional level. It is there where there is always hope for change, even if we must still “wait” for change.

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