Mike, in his early 20s, was one of the 13 young people who staged a fast in downtown Los Angeles for three days in early December on behalf of their fellow Dreamers — the cohort of 800,000 who arrived in the U.S. as children with their immigrant worker parents. Eight out of ten Americans agree with President Obama that the Dreamers deserve to stay. It’s just a matter of getting the attention of a handful of politicians.
The evening of the day their fast began, when I dropped by to offer support, the young people were sharing stories. Mike told the group about visiting the Museum of Natural History with his mom one day when he was still a boy. They didn’t get many such outings, since she raised Mike by herself, working long hours cleaning people’s houses so he would have a chance for a better life.
The American dream hasn’t come true for everyone, but Mike’s mother believed it would for him.
Politicians don’t always listen to the people they’re elected to serve, but the 13 hungry Dreamers (supported by our diocesan Sacred Resistance ministry) were shivering on a sidewalk on East Temple Street because they believed that eventually the arc of history, although temporarily bowed in the wrong direction, would bend back toward justice.
People have always had hope, kindled by the divine. Throughout history the prophets have pointed the way to God’s vision of an abundant, just, love-embodying world. But it’s in our nature as modern people, living (most but by no means all of us) in privilege, to expect that things are bound to get better in our earthly lives, and soon. Captives are freed. Economies grow. Governments eventually listen, systems and institutions become more equitable, and justice rolls down like waters.
Call it our expectation bias. It didn’t afflict those who first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. He promised the abundance of the kingdom of God to a society of subsistence — unprivileged, oppressed people with no expectation of upward mobility, working hard to give their children a leg up, or persuading their rulers to do the right thing. Suffering tempered their faith, Resurrection refined it, and persecution emboldened it. The world letting Jesus down enabled Christ to rise. If Christianity had depended on improving social conditions, it wouldn’t have survived the first century. But afflicted with our modern expectation bias, we may be prone to episodes of spiritual crisis in the face of setback. When we lose our job, or someone we love gets sick. When we realize we haven’t made as much progress as we thought securing equity for all God’s people. When we behold an election outcome or congressional vote and think we may have heard the arc of history being snapped in two.
If we need to pause for a moment to mourn, then we do. If we’re worried, well, who isn’t these days? But our Lord can’t use us if we’re discouraged, cynical, or pessimistic about the circumstances of our lives or condition of our world. We can’t do a world-saving gospel work of mission and ministry in that frame of mind.
Our season of expectation, Advent is a good time to recognize and adjust for our expectation bias. Imagine hearing the promise of Christ’s return in glorious majesty as oppressed, faithful people have heard it all across the centuries — as a powers and principalities-defying, world-transforming, death-destroying, justice- and love-drenched inevitability. Thus have the saints always equipped themselves for whatever work awaits.