We Who Believe in Freedom Shall Not Rest

Reinette and Sharon at Occupy Wall Street

Reinette and Sharon at Occupy Wall Street

I have been horrified by recent shootings of police officers, and my prayers go out to their families and colleagues.  At first I was concerned that the strict nonviolence practiced by the Black Lives Matter movement had been compromised, so I was relieved to hear that the gunmen were not part of the movement.  Because, you see, I support Black Lives Matter (BLM).  Of course I know that all lives matter, but black lives seem not to matter when police so frequently kill black people and are not prosecuted.  BLM has raised awareness of the racial bias of policing in certain areas of this country and has intensified demands for racial justice.

There is also a backlash against the movement, which seems apparent in the outrage expressed over Nevada City Council member Reinette Senem’s Facebook comments.  She has since apologized for her generalizations and clarified that she supports the local police and values her relationship with them.  I hope she stays the course and refuses to be shamed or intimidated into resigning her position.

I am glad to hear that she and others believe that our law enforcement officials are respectful and have a good relationship with the public.  That has been my experience as well. But racism is a reality in this mostly white community.  I have witnessed it.  I suspect that there are racial overtones to the recent debate.

I believe that the organized attempt to force Reinette out of office is a red herring, that is, “something that distracts attention from the real issue.”  The real conflict locally seems to be between those who support BLM’s calls for police accountability and those who do not, between those who are appalled by ongoing police killings of black human beings and those who want the public to fully support and trust the police.

The “blue wall of silence,” which prevents ethical police officers from calling out unethical colleagues, does not serve the interests of anyone.  Rather, it endangers all police officers as well as the public.  Yet it seemed like some of the speakers at the recent public forum wanted to extend the blue wall of silence to public officials and to put the public on notice that we, too, should support law enforcement without question.

One speaker quoted a Bible passage from Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!”  Reading this passage in the context of the public forum implied that all police and all authorities are just.  That is simply not true.  Many of the other speakers made the same case—that we should support the police no matter what.

This demonstrates the rational distortions that result from taking selective Bible passages literally.  Jesus disobeyed the rulers of his time, as did the apostle Peter who said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).  Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown in jail.  The Roman Empire put Jesus, Peter, and Paul to death.  Some people may truly believe that if you do what is good you will receive the approval of police or other authorities.  But that’s not always how it plays out.

Racial discrimination is well-documented in the US criminal justice system.  This statement is not an attack on police officers who do their best to protect people and uphold the law.  But the truth is that people of color are at a disadvantage in interactions with police and in our courts, jails, and prisons.  Read The New Jim Crow or Lockdown America or Just Mercy to find out more.

This conflict is not new.  It is historic, with roots in the system of slavery, followed by segregation, voter suppression, “stop and frisk,” and zero-tolerance policing.  Police killings of black people have been happening all along, but BLM is bringing these killings to light.  In the words of a civil rights song:  “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons…we who believe in freedom shall not rest, we who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes.”

 

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.  

 

 

The Moral Argument to Divest from Fossil Fuels

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Jenny Phillips, Coordinator of Fossil Free UMC, with Bill McKibben, a United Methodist Sunday School teacher and Coordinator of 350.org

My prayers are with my friends and colleagues who will be at the upcoming United Methodist General Conference, working to pass legislation to screen fossil fuels out of United Methodist investment portfolios.  There are both economic and moral reasons to do so.

The economic argument is that investors in fossil fuels face “stranded assets” and the resulting financial loss as coal, oil, and gas companies are unable to extract and burn all the reserves upon which their projected profits and stock values are based.  United Methodists advocate for strong environmental regulations and a widespread switch to renewable energy sources, but if these changes take place, many of the reserves will be unavailable.  Furthermore, as we have seen with the bankruptcy of Peabody Coal and the recent downgrading of Exxon Mobil stock, it is quite clear that market forces related to fossil fuels are volatile.

Still, the moral argument is strongest:  it is wrong to profit from wrecking the planet.  Ending our addiction to fossil fuels should override arguments based on economic self-interest or the economic interests of our denomination.

As United Methodists and as followers of Christ, we should have no part in investments in fossil fuels, which pollute the atmosphere with the persistent greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, bringing disaster upon people, harming creation, and foreclosing the future.  Rather, we should be investing ourselves and our money in renewable, life-sustaining, and regenerative enterprises.  By doing so, we step away from institutional complicity in destroying creation, affirm our deepest values, and offer a vision of hope for a transformed world.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.  

 Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.   Order Sharon’s CD– Climate Change:  What Do We Know?  What Can We Do? or download a free MP3 version. 

 

Resistance: A Way to Live Humanly

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Today, Good Friday, I am publishing two excerpts from my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, about the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and continuing presence.  You can order it from a local bookstore, order signed or bulk copies directly from me, or find it online.  Here is the first excerpt:

 

How can we live humanly, as free and responsible human beings, enmeshed as we are in a global system that is diverting the life-force of human beings and siphoning off the gifts of God’s creation for idolatrous and unjust purposes that threaten the future? This question brings us around again to resistance for, as William Stringfellow said, in times of great tyranny, “resistance [becomes] the only human way to live.”[i]

For the topic of personal transformation to be relevant here, it must address these issues. In other words, How does the message and Way of Jesus Christ help us to become free of idolatry and injustice? How do they help us to become free, fully human, faithful to God, more completely the people God created us to be?

First, it is essential not to lift the story of Jesus’ death on the cross out of the context of his life, teachings, and ministry or out of the time, place, and political situation in which he lived. In the words of Charles Campbell: “The cross cannot be plopped down out of the blue as a magical transaction between God and individual sinners. Rather, Jesus’ resistance to the powers of the world leads to his crucifixion and gives the cross its distinctive meaning.”[ii] Jesus’ death was a continuation of the way he lived his life. It was also the consequence of living in faithfulness to God and in resistance to the Powers.

Second, those who would follow Jesus can expect the same. There is no promise of safety, no corner of ease or complacency in which to hide. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[iii]

Third, Jesus makes us a wonderful promise that will be fulfilled, if we are willing: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). Jesus promises that if we follow him without reservation we will be given back our lives, our humanity, ourselves.

But how? Following Jesus isn’t easy. In fact, it is impossible without divine aid. Fortunately, this is just what is offered. For those who would follow Christ, this aid comes through an ongoing relationship with the Creator, through the tangible activity of the Holy Spirit, and through the presence of the Christ within and among us. Christian faith does not just offer us an example to follow, but a “Way.” And ironically, the cross, an instrument of torture and oppression, has become a symbol of the Way of Jesus Christ, which transforms human life.

[i]. William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco: Word Books, 1974), 119; italics in original.

[ii]. Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 47.

[iii]. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 99.

Table Turning Monday and Fossil Fuel Divestment

My friend Jenny Phillips, coordinator of Fossil Free UMC.

The following guest blog post is from my friend and colleague, the Reverend Jenny Phillips from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and Coordinator of Fossil Free UMC, the movement within the United Methodist Church to screen out fossil fuels from its investment portfolios as a response to climate change. This issue will be voted on this coming May in Portland at our General Conference, held every four years.  In her post, Jenny links this strong and growing movement to Jesus’ nonviolent direct action in the Temple, when he overturned the tables of the money changes in the temple.

 

The Holy Day Week We Can’t Afford to Ignore

You’re basking in the glow of a glorious Palm Sunday. Your plans are ready for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But how are you commemorating Table-Turning Monday?

Table-Turning Monday marks the day after Jesus enters Jerusalem—the day when he overturns the tables of the money changers in the Temple. This critique of the ways in which religious, political and economic powers collude to oppress common people set the course for Jesus’ journey to the cross. “Jesus wasn’t crucified just because he said he was the Son of God,” says Rev. John Helmiere of Valley and Mountain Fellowship in Seattle. “He was crucified because he took a public stand against political and religious corruption that hurt the poor.”

So today is a good day to reflect on how Jesus might be calling United Methodists to critique one of the ways in which The United Methodist Church participates in the fossil fuel economy. The United Methodist pension board invests more than half a billion dollars in more than 100 fossil fuel companies—companies whose products are causing unprecedented climate change. Thanks to the recent climate talks in Paris, there is now a global commitment to target a planetary warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this goal, we’ll have to stop emitting greenhouse gases by 2060. That’s just around the corner…

Go to the Fossil Free UMC blog to read Jenny’s complete article:  The Holy Week Day We Can’t Afford to Ignore.

 

  Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.  

 

Jesus’ Death was not God’s Need

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Palm/Passion Sunday, 2016

 “Naturally one can develop a theology that no longer has the somber cross at its center.  Such an attempt deserves criticism not because it bids farewell to Christianity as it has been, but because it turns aside from reality, in the midst of which stands the cross.” Dorothee Solle

 Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, the first day of Holy Week.  This week before Easter offers those of us who seek to follow Jesus the opportunity to reflect on the events of the last week of his life:  Jesus weeping over Jerusalem as he travels toward the city; the palm procession and the people proclaiming him king; the direct action of overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple; the cruel plot against him by the authorities; the Last Supper; his prayerful struggle with God; his arrest, abandonment, betrayal, torture, crucifixion, death; the grief of his mother, followers, and friends; the sadness and seeming futility of it all; the shadow of death.

But why would we want to go there?  Why focus on the story of the cross?  Why not go directly from joy to joy, from Palm Sunday (minus the passion) to Easter?   Wouldn’t it be healthier to simply use positive thinking to realize our human potential, to try (once again) to do whatever we want to do and be whatever we want to be?

That may work for some people, but not for me.  I have found that facing the pain of life is necessary in order to find both joy and personal transformation.  I’m not saying that Christianity is the only way to find God or to find meaning in life.  There are an infinite number of ways to experience the divine.  But for Christians the story of the cross is central.

This story has often been interpreted in a way that makes God responsible for Jesus’ death, as if God needed Jesus to die in order to set things right.  According to this “sacrificial model” of the atonement, human sin has thrown the universe out of balance, and that the only way to balance out God’s judgment with God’s love was by the sacrifice of Jesus.  In other words, God needed Jesus to die in order to forgive individual sinners and save them from hell.  This is a popular form of Christian belief, especially among conservatives.  But it’s not mine.

Here are two verses of a hymn from my colleague and friend, Dan Damon that offers a different view of the atonement:

Jesus’ death was not God’s need,

but to offer grace;

anger did not make him bleed for the human race.

Jesus’ life and what he taught

more than any creed,

this the gift God’s joy has brought;

this love’s only need…

 

Bless the stones that cry aloud

as the prince rides by;

bless the humble and the proud who return to cry.

Jesus was not born to die

but to show the way;

Christ invites us each to try

living what we pray.

For me, the story of Jesus’ suffering and death in some way sums up the suffering and injustice of our world, in ancient times but also today.  The Powers that rule the world today still target “subversives” who seek to transform the world in the direction of compassion and justice for the marginalized, as Jesus did.  But the ruling Powers do not have the last word.  I continue to trust in “the One who, by the power at work within us, is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or even imagine.”(Ephesians 3:20)  In the profound suffering and widespread dying of our world today, I continue to live in the hope of resurrection and the transformation of our world.

See the video of a previous Palm/Passion Sunday reflection by Sharon here:  Speaking Peace on Palm/Passion Sunday.     Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.   Go to  Dan Damon’s website to see or order his hymns.