I stood in front of the governor’s mansion in Saint Paul last night, its face lit up by thousands of glowing lights. My apartment isn’t all that far from the guv’s place, and I needed a walk after a long day inside, and suddenly, there I was.
The lights are gorgeous, both the governor’s and a number of nearby homes. No question about that. But last night, those lights did not light up my countenance, at least not in the way they are probably intended to do. Not in times like this. Not after yet two more mass shootings this week; not amidst the recent violence of Chicago and Colorado Springs, Syria and Nairobi, Beirut and Paris. and what continues in north Minneapolis. Not after a day-long barrage of social media opinions IN ALL CAPS — and the predictable defensive responses to those solutions, not to mention the downright nasty ones.
As I walked away from the governor’s house back into the dark of night, I found myself thinking about the advice a guy named Howard Beale had for people in times that seemed remarkably similar to today.
“I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’ So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Howard Beale was, of course, the fictional deranged former-television anchor played by Peter Finch in the 1976 movie “Network,” that wildly cynical film from and for a battered time period in our history. His rant is legendary; the last line is considered one of the 20 most memorable movie quotes of all time.
But last night, I found myself wondering if Howard Beale’s colorful and so- oft-quoted last line has affected, and infected, us today in ways that have obscured another message from the movie, one more powerful but far less memorable: I’m a human being; my life has value!
Yes, we ought to get mad about what’s going on in the world today. Yes, the biblical call to justice requires us to raise our own voices to stand with the oppressed and challenge the powers of our world. But yesterday, as my social media feeds piled up, one-after-another, what struck me as self-righteous, power- coveting, fear-inducing I’m-not-going-to-take-this-anymore rants, all talk and no listen, I couldn’t help but wonder about the other part, too: the part about all being human. God’s own. And acting as if we believe it.
Advent begins in the shadows, where people are longing to see a great light. The prophets speak into a world much like our own, “where justice has gone missing and there is no safety in the city. The people are oppressed … the weak are trampled … the covenant with God is broken … there’s no peace in the land … nation rises up against nation … the future looks bleak. In other words, a world not all that different in many respects from our own, (that) seems to have come unhinged, to have lost its moral bearings. The prophet looks out on that world, caught up in war and violence and fear, desperately following ways that do not make for peace, and says, with confidence, The days are surely coming … ” (Thanks, Tim Hart-Andersen, for words that both describe and inspire.)
And so I’ve decided my Advent discipline can be this: to walk to the governor’s house every night I can for the duration of the season, not so the glittering lights might lift me out of the darkness of the season, but so they might remind me to listen more intently for the voice of light in the darkness; to ask intentionally how I might also act with the conviction of the prophet. It’s not enough, I know; not nearly enough. But it’s a start, and it starts here:
I’m a human being; my life has value.
Jeff Japinga, Transitional Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, published today, December 3, 2015, in the Presbytery’s online newsletter. Links have been added to the original text by Views from the Edge.