Hope for Transformation


As 2013 ends and 2014 begins, I carry hope in my heart for transformation, not just personal, but social.  The phrase “another world is possible” is, for me, a matter of faith.

There are many children in my life.  I have grandchildren and great grandchildren who live nearby.  I teach Sunday School.  What will the world look like when these beautiful children grow up?  I am invested in their future.

What do we tell our children about the great environmental dangers and social injustices that we face–about climate change, about war and violence, about foreclosures and unemployment and lack of health insurance, about cutbacks to services for the poor and tax cuts for the rich, about corporate domination of the political process?  How do we explain our inability to create a society that sustains life?  How do we equip them for the great challenges they will face?  Not by putting our heads in the sand, or focusing solely on our personal lives, or pretending that there is nothing we can do.  Rather, we can cultivate hope and set an example by taking part in actions that are transformative, both personally and socially.

This is a spiritual issue, for the ruling powers dominate through money and violence, and none of us are immune.  To the degree that we internalize the values of our culture and bow to the system of domination, we further the sickness of our age.  As we awaken to the extremity of our situation and realize that the system of domination itself needs transforming, we either succumb to futility and despair or find the inner resources that enable us to cultivate hope.

This is, in itself, an opportunity for personal transformation.  As we are transformed, we become agents of transformation, joining with others to create beautiful and compassionate alternatives that demonstrate the better world that is possible.  By taking hopeful actions, we become more hopeful, and make the world a more hopeful place.

For the sake of the children.  For the sake of the future.

Seasonal Antidotes to Consumer Culture

IMG_4555 (1)On Sunday the children of our church performed a Christmas pageant, complete with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise ones, sheep, and a talking donkey.  The children sang Christmas carols and at times the congregation sang along.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus, the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy have political and even revolutionary significance.  They are stories about a man and his unwed pregnant fiancé, forced by the State to travel a long distance to register for the census in Bethlehem.  The couple spends the night in a stable because that is the only place offered to them, and the young woman gives birth there.    Lowly shepherds see visions of angels and celebrate the birth of the baby, whose only bed is a feeding trough.  Later, foreign astrologers or “wise ones” spot a significant star and follow it, in search of the Christ child.

Our pageant ends with all the children singing “Joy to the World.”  They don’t act out the painful parts of the story:  how the wise ones go to Jerusalem, talk to King Herod, raise his suspicions and outsmart him, while setting into motion a chain of events that leads to a massacre of innocent children (sound familiar?) and the flight of the holy family into Egypt, where, homeless, they struggle to survive as political refugees.

But these painful parts of the story are there, and the kids learn them soon enough.  And whether you understand the story as history or as legend, it is a reminder of the hope that “another world is possible,” the hope of “peace on earth, good will to all people.” It is also a reminder that the Ruling Powers of this world are directly at odds with the incarnation of peace, love, hope, and joy.  This is just as true now as it was in Jesus’ day.

Take, for instance, this Toys R Us ad, which deliberately attempts to lure children away from their natural love of creation and to seduce them into a corporate-constructed “world” of greed and consumption.  This ad and others that target our children seek to instill in them a sense of entitlement, self-centeredness, greed, and lust for things, values which bring not joy but spiritual harm.  In fact these negative values, which underlie our consumer-oriented culture, contribute to poverty, inequity, and ecological damage that threatens life and the future.

Christmas pageants and other non-materialistic holiday and seasonal celebrations provide an antidote to the seductions and demands of consumer culture.  They teach spiritual values such as humility, gratitude, generosity, community, peace, love, and joy.  They “incarnate” the reality of God with us.  They point to light in the midst of the darkness and to life in the midst of death.

The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus

Christmas Pageant 2012

Christmas Pageant 2012

This page includes an Excerpt from Chapter 15, “The Triumph of God Over the Powers” in Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.

During Advent and Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth in pageants and liturgies. Literalists insist that these stories must be taken as historical fact, especially the story of Jesus’ divine conception by the Holy Spirit and subsequent birth to a virgin. In other words, they believe that Jesus is the Son of God biologically.  Some see the literal understanding of this story as a crucial test of faith.

Though Jesus used the intimate term Abba when addressing God, he never claimed the exclusive title “Son of God” for himself.  He usually referred to himself as “the Son of man,” literally “the son of the man,” better translated as “the human being.”  According to Walter Wink:  ‘The son of the man’ is the expression Jesus almost exclusively used to describe himself.  In Hebrew the phrase simply means ‘a human being.’  The implication seems to be that Jesus intentionally avoided honorific titles, and preferred to be known simply as “the man,” or “the human being.” Apparently he saw his task as helping people become more truly human.”

A literal belief that Jesus’ mother was a virgin is not crucial in understanding who Jesus was.  What the birth stories symbolize, however, is the incarnation of the divine in human life.  Matthew Fox expands the concept of incarnation to include all life:  “God has become incarnate—made flesh—not just in the historical Jesus and certainly not just in the two-legged creatures but in all of us.  All of us are incarnations—home and dwelling-places for the Divine—all people, the poor no less than the comfortable.  All races, all religions, all sexes, all sexual orientations, and all beings—four-legged, the winged, the rock people and tree people and cloud peoples—all are dwelling places of the Divine.”  God is present in matter, indwelling all creation.

According to Walter Wink, the question for us is: “Before he was worshiped as God incarnate, how did Jesus struggle to incarnate God?”  We might also ask: What can Jesus show us about how human life can be lived fully and deeply in the light and presence of God?

The stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy are important because they shed light on how the Gospel writers understood the significance of Jesus. Some of these stories are overtly political, and provide compelling evidence that the authors understood the revolutionary significance of Jesus’ life.

According to the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke,  Jesus was born to a poor, young, unwed mother under extremely difficult circumstances.  When Mary was well along in her pregnancy (so the story goes), the Roman Empire issued an edict forcing all Jews to register for the census in their own hometowns, so that they could be taxed and conscripted into the Roman Army.  Mary and Joseph traveled a long distance from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, where Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable (Luke 2:1-7).

Mary and Joseph were poor.  When they traveled to Jerusalem for their purification, to present their firstborn son to God, instead of offering the standard sacrifice they offered the poor peoples’ alternative: “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24).  Mary and Joseph later fled with their infant son into Egypt as political refugees to escape King Herod’s genocidal attempts to hold onto his throne (Matt. 2:13-15).

During her pregnancy, Mary proclaimed the remarkable words of hope for the poor and oppressed that has come to be called the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-47, 51-53, based on Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10)):

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.”

Mary’s words could hardly have been more political, or threatening to the Powers.

The stories of Baby Jesus have revolutionary significance that should not be watered down.  For those of us who observe Advent and celebrate Christmas this year, let’s keep in mind that human individuals, cultures, economies, and governments need revolutionary transformation today more than ever.  Faith gives us freedom to participate in that transformation.  “Do not be conformed to this world (this world’s systems) but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  May you find freedom, joy, and transformation during this holy season.

To read more on these themes, go to “Jesus, Resister:  Part One:  Good News to the Poor” and “Jesus, Resister, Part Two:  Betrayal and Death.”


Gratitude and Cultural Resistance

So much to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving Day. So much to be grateful for.

Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon,” because if you do, your motives and loyalties will be divided.  You will be torn between 1) following the divine will and 2) acquiring money, wealth, worldly possessions, “stuff.”    I write in detail about “Market Fundamentalism:  The Religion of Mammon” in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell.

The desire to acquire and consume, which is so pervasive in our consumer culture, is especially strong during the holidays.  The lure of buying “stuff” becomes almost irresistible, tied up as it is with wanting to show loved ones how precious they are.  Global corporations create hype around their Black Friday and now Black Thursday sales, so that people can desperately rush out and buy their products.  It is a form of cultural possession, a group insanity that leaves many feeling drained, depressed, and over-extended by the end of the season.

The focus on consumption during this season also leaves many people starkly aware of how little they have.  These numbers are growing as the rich become richer, the poor become poorer, and the middle class fades away.    Meanwhile, our precious mother earth suffers as the gifts of creation are turned into yet more “stuff.”  If you want some incentive to help you resist the avarice of the season, go to The Story of Stuff and watch their 20-minute film by that title or some of their other resources.  I’ll be mentioning other resources in the coming weeks.

Cultivating gratitude is one form of resistance to the god of Mammon.  Gratitude is an antidote to avarice.  There is no room for greed or desperate seeking after stuff when acknowledging the gifts of creation, the gifts of relationship, the gift of awareness of the God of Love.

I close this blog with a Thanksgiving poem written by my husband and love, Guari:

Giving Thanks

We are grateful for what and who we are on this wondrous round earth.
We are grateful for the opportunity to be human and have part in creation,
and for the little things we might not see which make life possible,
for each loving, kind and compassionate person we meet,
for everyone giving thanks to Creator in their own way.

We thank Creator for children, parents, families, friends and companions,
for ancestors and descendants, the past and the future and all the relations.
We thank you great mystery for light and love awakened and anointed.
We thank you, Beloved, for blessings on this journey
and a sense of your perfecting love guiding the way.

You can find more of Guari’s poems at his Mostly Poetry blog.

Speaking Out Against Drone Attacks

drone victim child

Nabila Rehman, injured in a U.S. drone strike that killed her grandmother.

I was moved the other day when my daughter posted to FaceBook and commented on the story of the drone strike in Pakistan that killed a grandmother, Mamana Bibi, and injured several of her grandchildren while they were working in the family garden.  My daughter wrote:  “Imagine a 68 year old woman picking vegetables with her grandchildren… killed by a drone while they watched.”  Imagine!  I knew she was thinking of her children, their cousins, and me.

I’m an involved grandmother, very close to my grandkids.  One thing we love to do is garden together.  The children especially love digging potatoes and making them into French Fries.  Life is so precious.  Family ties are such a blessing.  Perhaps Mamana Bibi was thinking the very same thing before she was blown to bits by a U.S. drone.

There is so much that is hard to face in this story.  First, how can we accept that human beings are so vulnerable, and that disaster can strike at any time?  Here in the United States we don’t have to worry about deadly drone strikes–not yet.  But there’s still the risk of random violence, accident, or “natural disaster,” made more likely and more severe by climate change.  We can come to terms with this reality by facing our human condition, acknowledging our dependence on God and our interdependence with all parts of creation, drawing deep from the wells of Spirit (revealed in so many ways), facing death, and living for the well-being of all.

Second, how can we face our complicity in systems of evil that leave injury, suffering, death, and environmental devastation in their wake?  Our tax dollars bought the drone that killed Mamana Bibi and wounded her grandchildren.  Our silence is complicity.  It implies a “go ahead” to our lawmakers that allows these policies to continue.

Yesterday Mamana Bibi’s son, Rafiq ur Rahman, and two of his children Nabila and Zubair, who were injured in the drone attack, testified on Capitol Hill during a historic Congressional hearing on U.S. drone strikes.  They traveled all the way from Pakistan to give lawmakers a first-hand account of the attack.

Only five members of Congress showed up to listen. Popular Resistance.org, incorporates several accounts of this hearing in its report:  “Congress Disgraces United States– Fails to Show for Drone Hearing.”  This low turnout is a disgrace, and shows the bankruptcy of our current system of government.  What does our lawmakers’ lack of interest and empathy say to the victims of our drone attacks and to rest of the world?

This will change only when “we the people” refuse to be complicit.  We can make clear to our lawmakers and to the world that we do have interest, empathy, and concern for the victims.  We can demand that our lawmakers take action to stop these illegal attacks.  We can engage is sustained actions of nonviolent resistance.  One way to resist is to begin speaking out, standing in solidarity with the victims of our policies, sharing their stories, putting ourselves in their place (Imagine!), and making clear that there has to be a better way, a way of peace.  Keep sharing these stories.

Thank you, my daughter, for speaking out.

Find Sharon’s previous blog postings on drones here.