Stay Woke

Cleaning the front yard at Manna House, picking up a few stray coffee cups, I came across the latest issue of “Awake!”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses distribute “Awake!” I do not know how this issue arrived at Manna House. We have had a Jehovah Witness or two occasionally come by to pass out their tracts. Or maybe a guest brought it. Either way, it was now abandoned on a picnic table in the front yard.

I thumbed through it. I am always curious about things religious. The articles (including one trying to debunk evolution) all pointed to a triumph of Christianity. Funny, I thought, how a magazine called “Awake!” was nearly putting me to sleep. Maybe that was also why it had been discarded. But the title stuck with me, “Awake!”

I thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. who once gave a talk, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He said, ““One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

Jesus said something similar to his disciples, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:33-37)

Black Lives Matter has a saying, “Stay Woke.” The hashtag #StayWoke has been a way to urge people to remain vigilant about social issues, especially those related to police violence and white supremacy. It might be another way to update the old school Public Enemy, “Don’t believe the hype.”

I thought about the morning at Manna House. An hour or so earlier a few men in bright fluorescent orange vests had come down the street. They were picking up trash. Following them were two men in a white Shelby County truck. The two men picking up trash were prisoners supervised by the men in the truck. A guest said, “The chain gang returns.”

A guest before had told me about his pending appointment with his probation officer.

“I’ll be heading there soon. If I don’t go, I get fined or go back to jail. I had a job for today, but I can’t go to work because I have to see my probation officer. It’s a catch 22.”

A Memphis police car went by at one point in the morning. “The occupation force” a guest said.

A Shelby County Sheriff’s car went by at another time. “They’re out serving warrants” a guest said.

A long time guest, who we had not seen for quite a while, had come into the house about half way through the morning. “I’ve been in jail,” he said. “A year of jail. Now I’m looking for work. Probably won’t find any, but I’m looking. Can I get some gloves and a hat?”

There’s a deadly system at work running through these events of the morning. There’s an education to be had if you pay attention and listen to the guests. Things are not as they might seem. William Stringfellow wrote, “In the face of death, live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst Babel, speak the truth. Confront noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency of the Word of God.”

“Awake!” “Stay awake.” “Keep awake.” “Stay woke.” “Don’t believe the hype.”


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