As you know by now, the Michigan vote recount was canceled by the courts, who apparently thought only a losing candidate has a stake in the integrity of a election. It’s way more than just “a pity,” but our energy is waning. We’re feeling a little worn. Which is, I fear, what the far right is counting on.

In other news, the Michigan House has passed one bill that makes it harder to vote without i.d. and another bill that imposes high fines on people and organizations participating in illegal demonstrations.

A while ago, along with hundreds of others over a period of months, I was arrested for demonstrating against apartheid too close to the South African embassy in Washington DC. Had we stayed outside some diplomatic perimeter, there would have been no violation, but perhaps nothing would have changed. As it was, the system of apartheid finally fell. Would I and others have demonstrated in the same manner under this proposed revision to Michigan law? I was a seminary student, and $1,000 would have been more than I could bear for that day. My seminary may not have been able — or inclined —  to pay the $10,000-per-day fine the bill would be billed to a sponsoring organization. Apartheid may have remained in affect for years. Decades.

Demonstration is a righteous thing. It changes things. Which is why “empire” tries really hard to make it illegal. With this action by the Michigan House, I wonder if we have simply become too far removed from the rebels and revolutionaries who wrote our national founding documents.

There is a seasonal banner making the church news feeds, a depiction of Mary and Joseph on the donkey, on the way to Bethlehem, the story we hear again at Christmas.

But we are certainly too far removed from those days. We look at the image and mostly see tired, sweet M & J, on their way to a peaceful manger, where they will be visited by angels, star-struck shepherds (really children in bathrobes from the saint-somebody church basement) and some wise men. “Wise Men Still Seek Him,” we hear it said.

Thus, we sugarcoat the journey and the “reason for the season.” They went because of a government requirement for tax or census or some other nonsense. It’s all about empire, about controlling people. Making life generally inconvenient, and stealing all the discretionary time that could be used for family care, earning a living or re-invigorating the common good. Wearing us out.

The banner, with its typical Christmas image, tries to remind us that the story is really about oppressed people forced to travel to a place where they would find no welcome. This is what the banner says: “immigrants and refugees welcome.”

The banner is resistance. The Christmas story, the Christmas legacy, is resistance. Maybe it’s just a story, lore and not recorded history; but it is something more than mythology. Faith stories give us hope, give us courage, give us direction.

So, I’m thinking.

For no reason I can imagine, I woke up this morning with Gulliver’s Travels on my mind. Swift wrote this 290 years ago, a critique of the British monarchy, a critique of humankind generally. Completely apart from whatever Swift was thinking when he wrote it, if I’m holding in my mind just the image of Gulliver waking up on a grassy knoll to find himself tied down with a bazillion tiny threads, I find myself pondering two things.

One, we are Gulliver, bound by a thousand things, any one of which we might fairly easily overcome. If we were only fighting for income equality, if only for marriage, if only for reproductive rights or voting rights, if only for black lives or trans dignity or native lands or flint water, if only, we might all work together and prevail in short order. We are bound by a thousand things; the strategy of empire is to overwhelm us with assaults and insults. The battles are many. As fast as we can cut one string, a dozen more are cast.

But, there is this, the reversal: if we are the little people, if Gulliver is “the system,” then we have way more power than we think over the large and overshadowing empire. We can subdue the beast, not with one large action, but with so very many small ones. The wins are small, hard to see, but sometimes we win. Standing Rock is the most recent reminder. Another is the new law here requiring compensation to those unjustly imprisoned. Sometimes we win.

Advent and Christmas are about resistance and reversals. (We’ll hear Mary sing it loud this Sunday.) So, yesterday I got a Christmas letter. It reminded me how often we are too far removed, from one another, from righteous a vision. It reminded me that “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us,” is just a theological word for divine solidarity. Solidarity, at its most godly, involves getting down into the dirt, because“human” means “of the dirt.” We are at our most human – and our most divine – when we are in the dirt together.

Lately, I’m trying to give to you what I find I need most – the encouragement and hope that things can get better, the hope for reversal. We are up against one hell of a beast, that’s for certain, and perhaps armed with only tiny bows and arrows. But we have those. And we have each other. Plus, God is with us.

(First published in Woodside World, the newsletter of Woodside Church of Flint, MI.)

About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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