And Still We Wait: Christmas in the Water Wonderland

adventThe candles encircling the wreath burn down to their nubs as we approach the final hours of this advent season – an appropriate metaphor for life here in a state that was once proudly known as the Water Wonderland.

Today, that moniker mocks the good people of Michigan who have had their water shut off and poisoned as part of the trajectory toward privatization.

The flame of all that is good, decent, and humane is flickering and tenuous after an era of union busting, emergency managers, and brutal austerity measures designed to break the backs of working and poor people in this beleaguered state.

Yes, advent is nearly over.

And still we wait.

A group of us dubbed the “Homrich Nine” have been waiting for our day in court for over sixteen months after having been charged with disorderly conduct for a nonviolent action that for seven hours blocked private contractors from shutting off water on residents. The action was taken only a day after the Registered Nurses of America designated Detroit a public health emergency zone and only weeks after the United Nations declared that denying water to those unable to pay is a human rights violation.

We are being tried for disorderly conduct, but the real disorder, of course, is shutting off water on babies, senior citizens, and families throughout the city.  The disorder caused by a despotic governor and his minions whose gilded seats in the precincts of power insulate them from the cries of the poor whose voices cannot be heard above the din of the party going on downtown.

This strange new world of craft beer bars with kitschy names and high-end condos that is a universe away from neighborhoods like the one where 66-year-old Fayette Coleman has survived without water for two years by gathering rain water in an outside garbage can in order to flush her toilet.

It doesn’t take a wise man to see that the spirit of Herod is alive and well and incarnate here in Michigan where our own innocents are denied water and served lead for the sake of more money, more power, more corporate control.

As the story in coming days will remind us, there are powers that will go to any length necessary to keep love, justice, light from coming into the world – even if it means surveilling their citizens, devising nefarious plots against their people, and destroying their little ones, whether those babies live in Detroit, Flint, Highland Park, or the suburbs.

This is what we in Michigan are up against.

This is why we stood in front of the trucks on that warm July day.

The labyrinthine machinations that the city’s attorneys have employed for almost a year and a half now to delay our trial from going forward have been expensive, time-consuming, and maddening.

Most of the advent season was spent in court where two of the defendants were allowed to proceed to jury trial while the rest of us, holding out for a necessity defense, hang in limbo. After almost two weeks of testimony, the city stopped the trial in its tracks just minutes before the jury was headed off to deliberate by maneuvering a higher court to accept a motion for a mistrial.  While more motions are filed and the process plays out, the shutoffs continue.

And that is the real story in these waning hours of advent.

water 1Waiting for this trial has been nothing in comparison to the waiting practiced by those living without water.

While frustrating, our waiting has been a mere inconvenience. A simple advent discipline. A sliver of solidarity with those who will awaken on Christmas morning without the requisite water to make a bowl of oatmeal, brew a cup of coffee, wash a baby’s face, or flush a toilet.

During this season of mothers and infants, we need to personally connect with the many holy families struggling to keep their candles lit during this cold and cruel season. Their stories are sacred because their lives and the lives of their beautiful children matter deeply, yet their stories of strength and resiliency and dignity cannot be freely shared because of a system that penalizes those who live in poverty with children under their roof.

Fayette Coleman’s story was shared and the response suggests that we live in an age of miracles, which is a way of saying there are still good folks who recognize the truth that we are one and are willing to act on that belief. After her story appeared in the Detroit News last week,  many of the people of this state stepped forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ms. Coleman who has waited long enough for water. Long enough for justice.

And this is what the season is all about.

It is worth remembering that over two thousand years ago Love was born in a cold and forgotten place far away from the din of downtown. Love borne of a young mother who spoke of pulling the powerful down from their thrones, and feeding the hungry, and sending the rich away empty. Love that scared kings and tyrants.  Love that grew up to overturn tables in defense of the poor.

Love that knew thirst.

Love that demanded justice.

Advent is almost over.

And still we wait.

Christ of the Breadline by Fritz Eichenberg