“Do your best to come before winter.” 2 Tim 4:21
You may be wondering why, just days before the summer solstice, I’m thinking about winter.
In my hometown church growing up in Monticello, Arkansas, every year our pastor would preach his “Come Before Winter” sermon. I was little, going to worship between age 5 and 9, and I don’t remember the content so much as that every year, we got a “Come Before Winter” sermon. The phrase, “Come Before Winter” entered my family’s vocabulary, meaning “show up or do the thing that needs doing before it’s too late.” Just recently, I asked my mother for the address of a family friend, elders to me, and she emailed it back with one note: “Come before winter.”
Ironically, I was sweating in the heat doing yardwork when the phrase came to me a few days ago, as I was prepping yard waste for compost in new beds that will grow the medicine we need for these days. These last days, when the world is ending all around us, in every way.
Come before winter.
Whoever wrote 2 Timothy knew something about Paul, how threatening his message was to the Roman Empire (he’s in a Roman jail), how upset he got when people followed Roman ways instead of God’s way, how he loved the people that he worked with. There’s distress in this letter about people teaching Roman ways (it’s coded, but it’s there), the magicians of Pharaoh (let’s also read that as code, for Caesar) casting lies, everything going “from bad to worse.” Distressing times, these last days.
And Paul, so the letter says, is in jail. In a Roman jail, for preaching a message that challenged every aspect of Make Rome Great Again propaganda, for building up multi-everything communities faithful not to Rome and Caesar, but to God and the way of Jesus. Chained in jail. And “at my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me.”
Come before winter.
What he means is, show up before it’s too late. Show up before I die. Show up before Rome kills me.
We are in an historic moment, a last days moment, when it often feels like everything, literally everything, is going from bad to worse. It’s an apocalypse, an unveiling of how things actually function in this white supremacist country.
Black, indigenous, and other people of color, immigrants, poor and working class folks, disabled folks, queer and trans Black and people of color, they have all been telling us white people for generations, this is how it is here. Come before winter. This is how violent the US is, how disposable anyone non-white and non-wealthy is, how little these systems care for the well-being and thriving of the whole community. Come before winter.
They have been telling us, white supremacy and racial capitalism are killing us. Come before winter.
Too many times they have told us, and “no one came to my support, but all deserted me.” Too many times, white folks, like me, have deserted the ones chained by Rome for speaking the truth and embodying a different way. In board meetings, at the ballot box, from the pulpit, in our neighborhoods. We didn’t show up for the fight to get free.
But the invitation still stands. Paul is still asking us. Come before winter!
Yes, this historic moment we are living feels terrifying. So much loss and uncertainty, such a violent state response to pandemic and uprising.
And! We have an extraordinary opportunity to shape a whole new future out of these last days. The strikes for worker’s rights, the building of mutual aid networks, the uprisings defending Black life, all of this is creating space for liberation we might never have thought possible; we are winning what we only imagined and longed for. Now is the moment to add our hands to the freedom plow and do our part to shape a new, better future of economic and racial justice, free from violence and fear.
Juneteenth is a day that honors Black freedom & Black resistance. This Juneteenth weekend, The Movement for Black Lives is calling for a weekend of mobilizations to demand all levels of government defund the police, invest in Black communities, and force Trump to resign. This #SixNineteen, they are asking everyone, including white people, to show up in defense of Black lives and a better future for all.
Showing Up for Racial Justice’s Faith Program has created a toolkit for predominantly white faith communities who want to join an action or hold your own. Check it out for ways your congregation can break white silence and join the good fight for a better world.
Get your friends and bring them with you, for they are useful in the work (4:11). And do your best to come before winter.
Rev. Anne Dunlap is a pastor, activist/organizer, and herbal warrior; the Faith Coordinator for Showing Up for Racial Justice; and UCC Community Minister who lives on Haudenosaunee land currently called Buffalo, NY. She is committed to fierce love and collective liberation, working in freedom movements with folks across race, gender, and class lines for over 30 years. Follow her on Twitter/Insta @fiercerev. Her website is fiercerevremedies.com.
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