A New Second City... With Some Help From the Biblical Prophet Jeremiah

As a priest I've been thinking a lot about a failed city. A corrupt city. A city where wealth and power are worshipped and the poor are shuttled to the side and ignored. A place of chaos, violence and segregation. Rulers hanging on: Making deals and plying bargains. A failed city. A corrupt city.

Thus it was said of Jerusalem in 587, as the prophet Jeremiah predicted its fall, foretold its coming destruction.

I wonder when the people of faith in Jerusalem looked around and said, "This is not as it should be." Was it when the biblical prophet Jeremiah first spoke, or was it more likely when the Babylonians made it through the breach in the walls and began to pour through the streets?

For years Jerusalem had been hanging on--living in a netherworld between the Assyrians, the Egyptians and then the Babylonians. For years the prophets have been saying to the leaders of Jerusalem: you are corrupt change your ways. Or else...

Ages ago, far away, different time, different place. And yet I wonder what the prophets, Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah would have to say to us these days in Chicago, this second city of ours.

Much has been said, some has been heard, and even a bit understood of the systematic, institutional racism of the business as usual in Chicago. I feel no need to repeat what any one of us can read on every third post of our FB feeds. My question for us, given all that has happened in our city and country this past year is: Will the egregious murder of Laquan McDonald be what finally shoves the silent, complacent majority of this city (among which I count myself) into a prolonged, profound, movement for change? Will this be the event that propels us into active solidarity with our black and brown sisters and brothers who are demanding change?

Or will we, the silent majority, once again allow ourselves to tread water in a Jello-bath of ineptness claiming that we are just overwhelmed?

I wonder if that might be somewhat like how the ancients of Judah and Jerusalem must have felt in exile: overwhelmed with the sin of their complicity and despair at anything ever changing.

But then the prophet Jeremiah, who had spent most of his life telling the people of the ways that they have failed to honor God and their covenant with the Holy, it is then when Jeremiah offers seeds of hope. A promise and a vision of what could be. Jeremiah ceases to tear down and pluck out and instead begins to plant and sow something new.

He offers to them a vision of a new Jerusalem, of righteousness in leadership and governance.

Jeremiah says to the people, there is something more to come.

The difference between people of faith and people of despair is that people of faith have hope.

People of faith have hope in something more.
Their actions reveal their belief in something more.

God through Jeremiah is promising the ancient people of Jerusalem something more. God through Jeremiah is promising us the same.

It is our choice whether we act on or ignore that offered hope.

As biblical theologian Walter Brueggemann says,

The people who stay close to God's promises are very odd people, who will never be 'subsumed' either under the false promises of empires or under the large despairs of a failed city. After the failed city and the false promises of the empire, there persist these promises, the God who makes them, and the people to whom they are made.
The promises, the God, and the people constitute an always new possibility in history, a possibility undaunted by the... empire. (P 269 A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming 1998.)

It is tremendously difficult to create and live into transformation if we have no visual image of what that might be.
What would be a concrete vision of change and transformation?
What would it look like in our own city, in our own lives?

Perhaps: a silent majority who finally hear and heed the prophets marching rather than shopping on Michigan Avenue;
a centralized registry for complaints against police officers;
an Independent Police Review Board that acts upon complaints;
an educated citizenry that demands transparency and accountability of our elected officials...

Be it small steps or lofty goals we must begin now, or risk losing this second city of ours.

To start this process of transformation I suggest that there are some of us, such as myself, who must start first with a confession of sin.

I offer the following statement, constructed by a group in our congregation working on confronting systemic racism, to frame some of our personal and institutional sins of racism:

The blood of the dead is calling us to repent for our sins of racism.

We confess that when we do nothing, we permit the neglect, abuse, and murder of our black and brown sisters and brothers.

God yearns for us to care, to act, for all to be set free.

Longing for justice, learning from history, listing to voices of truth, we vow, with God's help, to claim our responsibilities to overturn, step-by-step, systems of racial inequality.

And so we build the beloved community of God.

So that all may live.

May we now, today, begin to live into a new city,
a new way,
so that all may live.

Silent no more.

Copyright Bonnie A. Perry December 2015