Jared Witt - July 4, 2019
A couple is enjoying their lunch at a sidewalk cafe. The day is clear and warm with a late June breeze coming in from the lake. It’s about a week until Independence Day
This couple and their little son are a picture of contentment, casually trading thoughts on the news of the day but without any strong emotional investment this way or that.
She says to her husband, “Do you want my avocado?”
“No thank you.”
“What? You love avocado?”
“No, I always eat yours because you hate avocado. But I’m actually on the fence.”
“No, you love avocado.”
They both laugh.
Their child of maybe 4 or 5 years old says, “Mama, can I have your avocado?”
“No, you definitely don’t like avocado.”
The parents laugh again.
At that moment a group of girls from the elementary school across the street walks by. They appear to be about 2nd grade or maybe 3rd. They’re repeating some silly joke that only a small child could find funny.
An older girl catches up with the group. “Emma” she calls out. One of the younger girls must be her little sister. “Emma you forgot your money. Here, you’ll need this to buy your breakfast. They go inside and in a couple minutes come back out giggling and sit down at a table. This must be a routine for them.
And for a moment, the world around me is exactly as it should be. The People I’m watching are happy, healthy, smiling, giggling. All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
But then, I guess because I’m Jared, rather than enjoy the revelry of that moment, I quickly got to work on ruining it. I ruined it because I started thinking.
The current events that the couple is discussing are little kids, just like their son, locked up in cages like prisoners of war.
The avocado they’re eating may very well have been picked in blistering sun by the now long separated parents of those very children in cages.
And what are those little girls at the next table eating anyway? $11 dollar paninis. $4 scones. $2 cans of Arizona Iced Tea. What’s the carbon footprint of all those scones they’re leaving uneaten? And what kind of a second grader has that kind of wherewithal at lunch time?
The school they came from is a private one. The five to a classroom, creative learning type that costs more than an average Orlando mortgage. That’s the kind of kid who spends $17 on lunch and then leaves the scone untouched.
And me, sitting there judging them all, what am I doing about any of it? I mean other than drinking my own overpriced coffee, I know not the origin.
And here is the really dastardly thing: none of us are doing anything wrong here, at least not in the most direct and obvious sense of taking an action that purposely harms someone else’s ability to thrive.
This sharp, educated couple talking current events is almost certainly not pro-putting kids in cages. And It might pain them were they able to follow with a video camera the course of their avocado from some Mexican farm to their bougie sidewalk table. It never even occurred to any of the little girls that there are other little kids who aren’t eating smoked salmon and chive crepes on a sidewalk café. No reason it should. They’re just singing the latest Taylor Swift song and not thinking about it in the least.
And maybe there was a time many millenia ago, when the world was much simpler, that you were only morally culpable for how you treated another and not all of the auxiliary side effects of your lifestyle. Or at the very least, the very first natives who slashed and burned millions of acres of ecosystem to make the land farmable for a single growing season couldn’t possibly have been expected to think of the wider ramifications of their actions.
I’m struck though, in light of my 2019 consciousness of the complexities of the world, that if the divine should walk among us, it obviously wouldn’t be as one of the established folks. Not one of the comfortable.
And I’m not just making that assessment de jure from the top down as some doctrinal ruling. In fact, it may just be that it’s impossible for the divine to take that form and still be recognized as the divine.
For all of the handwringing I can do myself, because at some level, this complex world no longer allows sinlessness as an option, there is still something deep inside me which knows at my core that a Jesus eating avocado toast at bougie sidewalk café would not be Jesus. Or, at least, no one would recognize him as such.
There is something deep inside us which knows instinctively that any would be Messiah would have no place to lay his head. the divine in our presence would choose to walk among the homeless, the locked up, and the criminally oppressed. God in this world can only be God as a separated mother picking avocados under Mexican sun. God locked up at the border. God in an overcrowded inner city school.
It’s not that God couldn’t do otherwise. It’s that a God who would do otherwise wouldn’t be our God.
Maybe that’s why the sky went black at the moment of Jesus’ death. It’s only in the dark places that we can see him for what he is.
We’re always welcome to commune with the divine in our midst, but that’s the rub: he will only be found among the vagrants and the misfits. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
And there is apparently something deeply urgent for Christ about getting to those dark cages to sit with those suffering children wherever they may be.
One person said to him, “Lord, Let me go bury my father.”
“No, burying your father is an important thing to do. But this mission I’m on is more important. This mission has to do with the living.
“This mission has to do with those living in places so dark, the light of life feels nearly extinguished.
“This mission is for those so downtrodden, cast aside and without hope, that living feels like not living.
“I’m looking for mother who knows not how to feed her children this evening, for fathers weeping over their sons shot dead in some forsaken desert, no one knows why, for kids separated from their parents and locked in cages for the crime of standing on the wrong side of a line on a map.
“I’ve come to breathe life into those who are trapped in spaces so small that they can barely breath. This mission is a mission of living and life-giving. No time to bury the dead.”
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
“No. Saying farewell to those at home is an important thing to do but my mission here is more important. This is for those so lonely that they can’t even think of whom they would say goodbye to.
“It’s for those who have no home to farewell.”
People sometimes speculate, why was Christ so firm, so unwavering about these relatively harmless requests? Why not let these people take care of business and then join up with him a bit later? What’s the harm in that?
There’s only one convincing answer.
Jesus was obsessed, fixated, lost in the suffering of others. Long after the rest of us have turned off the news and started for bed. Long after we’ve brushed our teeth and let the dog out. Long after we’ve turned down the thermostat and tucked a way underneath plush comforters on memory foam mattresses…
Jesus is still stuck in that cage with that child. He can’t let it go, the image burned into his blood vein wired retinas. How can he eat? How can he sleep? Let alone, how could he take time to say goodbye to his loved ones? There’s kids living in cages for Chrissake!
And that’s why we look at Jesus funny, like we’re seeing something divine. We see an utter incapacity for the compassion fatigue which comes so easily to the rest of us, and we say, “Surely, this was the Son of God.”
Something deep inside us knows that there is a truth in compassion, which is Truth with a capital T. Christian, Muslim, Mexican, American, believer, atheist, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t cry at the end the movie “White Fang” or “The Notebook.” Why? Because we all believe the same core truth at the end of the day.
God. Is. Love.
To love is to hurt when the beloved is in pain.
So ours is a God who pursues the hurting desperately, and there is no time to lose.
If that doesn’t happen to be you, if you’re in one of those blessed clear sky places in your life, when the sun is out, and the lakeside breeze cools your cheek, and you’re enjoying your avocado toast. Don’t be ashamed of blessings. Give thanks for them.
And then remember, it’s not just the wounded who need a healer. Those of us who sit in comfortable patio chairs with the sunshine on our faces are in need of a sort of joy and warmth that can’t come from expensive coffee and avocado toast. The truest joy can only happen when no one is missing from the table.
It does not bother me that God expends so much energy and focus on my brother or sister who is hurting more than me. It does not rob me of anything that Christ is mostly in pursuit of the poor, the broken, the lost. Why does that idea offend some people?
In that final procession up the twisting pathways of God’s Holy Mountain, I’ll be happy to take my place in line somewhere toward the back. The procession won’t be led by me.
It’ll be led by the mother I met near Mirebalais Haiti, who went hungry for the evening so that her son could have the last ear of corn.
It’ll be led by the prostitutes I saw outside Napolean House in New Orleans, one of whom took off her more comfortable shoes to give her friend as they steadied each other toward Decatur St.
It’ll be led by my cousin Justin, who was born with two outs and nobody on—cystic fibrosis—and fought for each new day of his live for 25 years with a smile on his face and a roping horse between his knees.
Why should I clamor to get some privileged place in that procession. What’s the rush? The path we’re on finally winds its way to an impossibly big banquet table. And there’s a seat and slice of avocado toast there for everyone—or whatever kind of toast, if avocados aren’t your thing.
Pie in the sky? I don’t think so. Because no one who truly believes in a future like that could possibly tolerate a present like this. Use your anger now, because there will be no place for it then.
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