Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Psalm 80:3-7, 17-19, NRSV
“One never knows when conditions may give rise to a conjuncture such as the current one that rapidly shifts popular consciousness and suddenly allows us to move in the direction of radical change.”
Dr. Angela Davis, Interview with Democracy Now, June 12
Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what’s theirs
Tracy Chapman, “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” pre-election special on Late Night with Seth Meyer
Three months ago – or, three years ago in pandemic time – Dr. Angela Davis, philosopher, author and professor emerita at UC Santa Cruz, spoke on the convergence of COVID-19 and protests following the May 25th death of George Floyd. Davis is an expert of liberating the oppressed: a scholar of class, feminism, race, and the American prison system, and has been an activist for over half a century. We, the abolitionist students at her feet, are just beginning to catch up.
It’s taken a global pandemic for the privileged to be ripped from complacency: 250,000 dead Americans for us to begin to realize just how rooted the systems of oppression are in our culture, economy, and daily lives. Don’t believe me? Just ask the essential-yet-low-wage workers disproportionately affected by COVID through exposure, layoffs, and lack of health care equity. Coronavirus has unveiled exactly how the invisible, implicit systems of oppression impact communities of color and those with low socio-economic standing.
But Davis, like all wise teachers, views the confluence of chaos that is 2020 as a learning moment: She emphasizes the both the urgent and long-term trajectory of this year’s lessons: “If one does not engage in the ongoing work when such a moment arises, we cannot take advantage of the opportunities to change. And, of course, this moment will pass. The intensity of the current demonstrations cannot be sustained over time, but we will have to be ready to shift gears and address these issues in different arenas, including, of course, the electoral arena.”
Davis has been at the helm of liberating the oppressed through abolishing micro and macro systems for over half and century. She gives a proverbial nod to precisely where we find ourselves this Advent: a country divided, “fed by the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure” (Psalm 80:5). We are “the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves” (Psalm 80:6). But Davis doesn’t balk at tears and scorn. She is an abolitionist – called to name the harmful confluence of pandemic and violent policing that effect action toward a public awakening: “But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself” (Psalm 80:17).
How do we liberate the oppressed in our corner of the world? What harmful systems and actions are we called to dismantle this Advent? What, then, are we–personally and communally–called to abolish this Advent? Apathy, disdain, biases, and hopelessness–junk food that nourishes white privilege, keeping us comfortable in our own skin while feeding the bread of tears to our neighbors. What are we called to cancel this Advent? The comfort of implicit racism and the convenience of capitalism. What are we called to revolutionize this Advent? The cozyness of classism and consolation of fragility.
Might the upheaval of 2020 evoke the long-term abolition of implicit oppression? Might it herald systemic reform? Then, and only the, may we “never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name” (Psalm 80:18).
Davis teaches us that 2020 has offered us one of many historical fulcrums to effect long-term oppression. But it will require abolition and advocacy: our willingness to expend Advent energy to ameliorate the “bread of tears” and “scorn” we have built of our own making. When we’ve done the work, then and only then may we make this plea: “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:19).
J. Dana Trent is an ordained Baptist minister, author, and professor of world religions and critical thinking. She hosts a religious diversity podcast called Array of Faith. Dana’s fourth book, Dessert First: Preparing for Death While Savoring Life, chronicles her work as an end-of-life care chaplain and grief expert.