Growing the Light: Advent Reflections on Farmworker Justice: Week 1

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This Advent, join unwavering allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Rev. Brian McLaren, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in preparing to grow the light of farmworker justice throughout the new year. The season of Advent draws us into a time of anticipation and preparation with all who long for release from oppression. Through the Fair Food Program (FFP), the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, together with student and faith allies, kindles the flame of justice for farmworkers in the tomato fields of Immokalee and now on farms across seven states.

The New Generation of Humanity by Brian McLaren

Rev. Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, public theologian and longtime supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Rev. Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, public theologian and longtime supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Luke 21:25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.  For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Signs of the times … Jesus’ words about a coming time of tribulation have been used by any number of prognosticators to warn people to “repent, for the end is near.” The message they have typically given is to give up on this world and prepare to be “beamed up” to heaven.

But these prognosticators miss the point for at least two reasons.

First, more and more biblical scholars agree that the end Jesus was warning his fellow citizens about was not a distant end of the universe, but an immanent “end of the world as they knew it,” a world centered in religious institutions and political compromise with oppressors.

Jesus saw the tide of anger, fear, and desperation growing among his contemporaries, and he knew where that would lead: to outbreaks of violence. That’s exactly what happened just over 30 years later when his nation rebelled against the Roman occupiers and then, after three years, were brutally crushed. Those who lived by the sword of violent revolution ended up dying by the sword of violent domination.

Second, the point of Jesus’ warnings was not to increase people’s anger, fear, and desperation, but rather, to give them hope, wakefulness, and resilience. The worse things get, he was saying, the closer they are to changing, because “the Son of Man” will come “with power and great glory.”

But what does that pregnant phrase “son of man” mean? The term “son of” means “new generation of,” and “man” means “humanity.” So here, I think, is the promise: As things get worse and worse, as anguish and turbulence intensify, as terror and instability shake the status quo, at that very moment look for signs of the emergence of a new humanity.

The term, rooted in the visionary poetry of Daniel 7, describes an individual, but ultimately refers to a community (“the saints of the most high”).

To apply these words to our contemporary context, we could say this: as racists increase their virulence, a new generation of humanity is emerging, humanity that doesn’t fear difference but sees it as a sign of strength. As we witness a morally repulsive resurgence of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, we also witness a new generation of humanity that is building a movement of multi-faith solidarity. As resentful and frightened people use immigrants as a scapegoat, a new generation of humanity is emerging that cares about immigrants and works to protect them from further abuse. And as the wealthy and powerful hoard more wealth and power, a new generation of humanity is being activated to care for the poor and too-often forgotten, including farm workers, whose labor is so often devalued.

In fact, one of the best ways to identify "the new generation of humanity" is to see who is showing up for the excluded and exploited. That has been my experience with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Alliance for Fair Food. This amazing partnership between farmworkers and their allies always inspires me: here are people working together to build a better world for all. Whenever I am part of a public action with CIW - maybe marching in front of a Publix or Wendy's, urging them to join the Fair Food Program, we chant, "Down, down with exploitation. Up, up with the Fair Food Nation!" And that phrase - Fair Food Nation - suggests to me one important dimension of what a new generation of humanity will look like: people working together to make exploitation of farmworkers history and fair food the new norm.

This new generation of humanity, wherever it appears, is fragile. It is nonviolent, so it doesn’t use violent words or weapons and therefore isn’t taken seriously by those who only see violent force as significant. But like the infant in a manger, this small and vulnerable beginning shouldn’t be underestimated, because, in the words of an old saying, “Little is much when God is in it.”

During Advent, we dare to believe that this new generation of humanity, embodied in a tiny vulnerable baby, will not be defeated. We dare to believe that the worst of times can be a seedbed for the best of humanity, and that the poor and marginalized and their allies, armed only with a heart for justice, compassion, and truth, will continue to rise like dawn, even during dark times.

Prayer - Living God, as we ponder your presence and promise embodied in a poor woman and her vulnerable child, help us not to be overwhelmed by times of turbulence and terror, perplexity and apprehension. Help each of us to be a vital part of that new generation of humanity, a cell contributing to a larger body, a candle joining other candles to push back darkness.

An Advent Call to Action:

 Act in hope with the new generation of humanity: add your name to the Petition to Boycott Wendy’s, so Wendy’s decision-makers can see the number grow. Invite friends, family, co-workers, congregants to do the same!

About the Author:

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is a passionate advocate for "a new kind of Christianity" - just, generous, and working with people of all faiths for the common good. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow and a leader in the Convergence Network, and works closely with the Center for Progressive Renewal/Convergence, the Wild Goose Festival and the Fair Food Program's Faith Working Group. His most recent writing project is an illustrated children's book (for all ages) called Cory and the Seventh Story.