Good Trouble in the Land
by: John Powell
My mother was a ‘no non-sense’ kind of person. So, when I would her saying loudly, “John Hayes, you git in here now!”, I knew I was in trouble!
During my civil rights activity years, I was sure that I would get summoned before her again. But I never did. She later told me that she knew I was getting in trouble; but, it was alright because it was for a good cause. It was good white and black folks alike!
My parents chose to get into trouble for justice in their own way. The fought the system as much as they could. They taught me to be a protector for my community. So, it wasn’t a surprise when mom didn’t scold me for getting in to trouble. In a way, it was expected.
The 1960’s were turbulent times. Racial segregation and unrest upended the south while racial discrimination existed in the north. As far as most people were concerned, things were well.
Now all of us, together, are at a crossroads. Headline of various news outlets carry a version of this news flash: ‘A Black Man Shot In The Back, A teenage Shooting Suspect and our Cities in Flame’. Division and unrest are stoked across racial, cultural and religious lines. Political lines are drawn in the sand clearing marking their territory. And , we are battling this in the midst of a pandemic.
How do we respond?
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to stand up, to speak up and speak out, and get in the way, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”
These are the words of Civil Rights icon, John Lewis. They have energized folks to take to the streets in protest against violence, murder and denial of equality. These protest, like the 1960s, demonstrate that many folks are willing to get into trouble because they understands that the offender will resort to any means necessary to remain in control.
As followers of Jesus, we look at his actions to instruct us. If we are going to get into trouble, we want it to be trouble for the right reason and cause.
Jesus was a problem! He was a problem to the wealthy and the political and religious leaders of his day. He was even a problem those who were fighting for their freedom. I suspect that some of his followers were afraid of losing their life just by being seen with him.
Jesus didn’t aligned himself with political leaders. Nor did he belong to a left or right leaning group. Rather, he aligned himself with outcast, the poor, the lame, He was partisan in a highly political arena. He did unorthodox things like healing on the Sabbath and challenging the authorities while teaching the good news of God’s reign.
But in the midst of issues he faced, he got into trouble for doing the work of God creating an environment that guarded each person’s dignity and gave and advocated for life giving actions.
Let’s quickly look at one of Jesus’ act of troublemaking.
Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey, a symbol of his identification with common folks. (The mighty or military ruler would have ridden a beautiful stallion). Not Jesus. It’s festival time … a time that marks Israel’s liberation from bondage. The time is filled with tension because of political and religious oppression. The oppressed wants freedom and Barabbas heads a band to lead them to freedom.
Jesus has already fanned the flames by, some people’s thinking, suggesting not paying taxes to the government (Mark12:13-17) and other acts that upends the status quo. A merger of church and state has occurred. Now, he stages a protest in the temple by overturning the tables.
The powers had to find a way to rid themselves of this troublesome priest.
After his arrest, Pontius Pilate asked the crowd assembled before him, “What shall I do Jesus who is called Christ?” or “What shall I do with this troublesome priest?” You see, Jesus was a political problem too. His actions aroused hope in the people who were marginalized. The government had no good response to him because he had not broken any Roman law . . . maybe suggesting that people shouldn’t pay taxes. But he had said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 112:17/Matthew 22:21/Luke 20:25). He was just a pest to them . . . but a pest that would eventually cause a revolution that would dismantle Roman authority.
After getting rid of this troublesome priest, Jesus’ disciples scattered. The religious and political authorities assumed that the end of trouble was over. They were proven wrong as his actions resonated in places where his followers resided. That trouble lasted and ignited a passion to usher in God’s preferred future.
And . . . the question of what to do with Jesus has been an issue throughout history.
In my musing, I sometime think about past events that influence our troublemaking. Two stories come to mind.
I’m reminded of the interaction between close friends Thomas Beckett and King Henry II. In order to control the church, King Henry made Thomas Beckett Archbishop of Canterbury who quickly changed his loyalty from the King to the church which cause the King to exclaim, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” Choosing the church over the state led to Thomas’s demise.
The story of the beginning of Israel’s plight out of bondage begins with Israel’s midwives lying to the King so that baby boys wouldn’t be killed. They took a risk that most people in their community didn’t.
Now comes the most interesting “good trouble’ incident of this saga. The King’s sister discovers Moses floating in the river. She knows that he is an Israelite; but, she saves him, unknowingly gives him to his mother to raise initially. Later, Moses is adopted by the King’s sister and becomes a royal member of the household.
I’m sure that this created tension in the family. But, she was steadfast in her love and commitment to Moses and his people. Her actions was a key to the emancipation of the slaves.
Good Trouble? You better believe it!
You see, like many who chose righteousness over unrighteousness, Thomas and the Pharaoh’s sister chose to get into trouble . . . good trouble.
Getting into Good Trouble exposes the injustice suffered at the hands of those who would maintain the status quo in spite of how it affects all. Engaging in Good Trouble aim to usher in God’s beloved Community.
When our actions are good and get in trouble, we aren’t doing it just to create disturbance. We do it because of our care for humanity. We do it so that the enemy might see what God’s love is like.
Jesus had much to say about how to engage in Good Trouble. His example of going the second mile, or offering the other cheek, turns the table on oppressive actions. Getting in Good Trouble does not seek revenge, but offers the opportunity for reconciliation.
As we look around us, there’s plenty opportunities to get into good trouble. Underneath the coat of perceived civility lies injustice and racism. Many of us a working in hopes that the upcoming election will provide an opportunity to do something about it . . . and it will. So, let’s find some ways to get into good trouble to make it happen.
It is a place to start but it’s not the answer we are waiting on. Political operatives are a microcosm of the cultural desires of the people. They have some influence; however, they will not change the moral issues we face.
After the election, the issues remain . . . probably more imbedded in our lives and communities than before. The healing will happen when good people get in good trouble after the election.
We understand that there is a battle for the soul of our communities. While we can begin the healing in the voting booth, the battle continues after the election.
Shalom, what do we do?
What do we do with this man call the Christ? Do we use him as a shield to protect what we perceive as our own or do we allow him to be a guide for us to become persons who get into good trouble for the good of all humanity?
What do we do when our laws conflict with the laws of our Creator? Do we sit idly by and forget that God‘s law requires us to get into good trouble? Or… do we challenge the status quo and put ourselves in harm’s way for the sake of all humanity?
We are instruments of our Creator’s redemptive work and we participate in that redemptive work by getting into good trouble for healing the racial, economic and social divide among us. We become the moral compass that leads to redemption and healing. Our actions might lead those in power to say, Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”
WHAT DO WE DO?????
I finish with the words of the Prophet Micah, who says to us, “Listen here, mortal. God has already made abundantly clear what “good” is, and what YHWH needs from you: Simply do justice, love kindness and humbly walk with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV).
This is what our hurting communities’ needs. Do it and get in good trouble, for God’s sake!