November 28, 2023- Holy Disruption

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It is upsetting, enraging, and demoralizing to learn of the shooting of three Palestinian American students in Burlington over the weekend. It has disrupted a whole community’s sense of safety and belonging, permanently altering the lives of these young men and their families. It reminds us yet again that Vermont is not always the safe haven we believe it to be, that hatred and violence are here (no matter how many yard signs we put up), and that there is deep work that needs doing.

In the coverage of the event, Rich Price, the uncle of student Hisham Awartani, spoke of the contrast between life here and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where his sister lives. He said that people ask him all the time whether he is concerned for his family’s safety, and he said, “the reality is, as difficult as their life is, they are surrounded by an incredible sense of community.” He also expressed gratitude for the community locally that has rallied around them, even as they reel from the “tragic irony” that this violence would happen here.

Violence anywhere is tragic. We can and must do better across a wide range of activities (gun policy, mental health services, cross-cultural education and communication, civil discourse) to ensure better prevention. And, events like this, when they happen so close to home, should rightfully stir some localized questions. What are we saying or not saying, doing or not doing, in our own circles of family and friends that makes or leaves room for violence? Where do we need to push the boundaries of community to extend a sense of belonging and safety more broadly? 

In the season that is upon us—both the holidays and the colder weather—it is tempting to draw inward, to hunker down among one’s own, enjoying the cozy comforts, timeless traditions, and familiar patterns that see us through the longest nights of the year. The gospel challenge is to do the opposite. We are to keep watch and stay alert for signs of what’s to come.

During Advent, many of our scripture texts are apocalyptic. While we often take that to mean cataclysmic, the root of apocalypse is simply to uncover or reveal. When the world reveals to us some hard truths, we have a choice to deny or confront them. Confrontation seems an unpleasant route, especially when gathered around the holiday table, but ignoring them does little to move us forward. After all, preparing our hearts for a coming reign of peace must certainly mean more than waiting around. 

As we enter this season, it is my prayer that we might find some “holy disruption,” stirring us to live, speak, and act a bit differently. More than ever, the world needs not just messages of peace, but witnesses to how that peace (and hope, joy, and love) are made real. May God the potter make us into such vessels. 

Pastor Jen