Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

One of the last Golden toads of Costa Rica, now extinct.

During Lent, Christians remember and grieve Jesus’ death at the hands of a murderous system that included official representatives, religious collaborators, a public that could be manipulated, and friends who betrayed, denied, or abandoned him.  We remember and grieve the countless others who have been executed over the years by similar systems of worldly power.  Meanwhile, creation is being crucified as surely as Jesus was crucified on the cross.

This understanding has profound implications when we consider the harm being done to creation.  Even though many of us as individuals try to treat the earth with the respect it deserves, the institutions and systems in which we participate are plundering the earth and leaving it despoiled and desecrated.  This does not bode well for humans or the other life forms with whom we are interrelated and interconnected on this earth.  The institutions and operating systems that support industrial civilization are destroying the ecosystems upon which all life depends!  The insatiable appetite of the global system of wealth-driven corporate capitalism continues to devour the gifts of the earth, destroying the goodness of creation, destroying our non-human companions, destroying prospects for future generations, destroying our humanity.

Now the Trump Administration’s federal budget proposal includes cuts of 31% to the Environmental Protection Agency, which was formed in 1970 as the result of grassroots activism and widespread public concern.   The very agency charged with protecting the environment is being cut more deeply than any other program.

The destruction continues and accelerates.  Several climate change feedback loops have kicked in, making runaway climate change more likely each day.  The Sixth Great Extinction is well underway, as the atmosphere and oceans heat up, as toxins become ubiquitous, and as diverse ecosystems are paved over, “developed,” or converted into monoculture crops.  Humans suffer as air, land, and water are overused or contaminated, and as food prices rise.  Fukishima continues spewing radioactive waste into the oceans as more nuclear power plants are built.  Powerful nations wage resource wars and attempt to dominate the earth in an endless cycle of violence, employing drones and other high-tech weapons that kill civilians, obliterate communities, and create toxic wastelands.

No one on earth will be left untouched by the current system of death, for it is destroying life itself.  The web of life is being unraveled.  The air, water, land, and stable climate necessary for sustaining life are being destroyed by the institutional imperatives of today’s global corporate empire.  The earth is dying—signs of death are all around.  Creation itself is being crucified.

In this dying of Earth’s life systems, her children, both human and non-human, suffer.  Songs of praise become cries of pain and lament, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”  “God help us!  Has God forsaken us?  Where is God?”

But it is not God who has forsaken us, it is we who have forsaken God.  God is right here in the midst of the persecuted and tortured earth, suffering in and with Earth’s creatures, including but not limited to humanity, experiencing forsakenness.  God weeps for the harm done, because God experiences it all from the inside—the terror of the Polar Bear who discovers she cannot swim the distance to the next ice floe, the confusion of the Monarch butterfly whose migratory home has been destroyed, the loneliness of the last Golden Toad who croaks unceasingly for a mate.  God experiences the alarm of people in island nations that are being subsumed by rising seas and the panic and grief of families whose crops fail and children die because of increasing drought.  God experiences the “great loneliness of spirit” of the child who realizes that species are dying, and who wants a future of abundant life.

Where is there hope for new life?  I see signs of resurrection in the rising up of people who are no longer willing to consent to the current global system of death and are rising up in nonviolent resistance and creative action.  Surely God is on the side of those who love life and are willing to give themselves fully to the struggle out of love, as Jesus did. The compassion and passion that motivated Jesus may save us yet, as his risen Spirit lives and loves through us.  If we are willing, God will breathe new life into us, inspire us, empower us, and work through us to bring about healing and new life for all creation.

Previous blog post:  The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified
Next Post:  Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of this World

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” Sharon’s Facebook Page.

The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified

Syrian Refugees

“Jesus continues to die before our eyes; his death has not ended.  He suffers wherever people are tormented…. Insofar as we forget the continued dying of Jesus in the present we deny the passion itself.”                                                                           Dorothee Soelle

When we consider the growing inequity, grave injustices, and unspeakable violence in our world today, the question arises:  Where is God?  Is God looking on from a distance, impassive and unconcerned?  Worse yet, are these things God’s will?  Does God inflict poverty and oppression on some because they are less deserving than others?  Does God side with those who dominate through wealth, status, or military might?

Not at all.  The symbol of the cross belies the common assumption that God is at the apex of the established order looking down on us from heaven and that everyone gets what they deserve.  When we consider Jesus crucified and hanging on the cross, those who love him see God there.

In Night, the late Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel described a scene he witnessed in Auschwitz where a child was executed by hanging.  The suffering went on and on, and the other prisoners were forced to watch.  Wiesel wrote:  “Behind me, I heard [a man] asking:  ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’  And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…’” It is God who suffers the torments of human injustice, the God who is Love.

In Experiences of God, theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote about how he became aware of this God who was with him in suffering as a 19-year old German prisoner of war in an Allied Prison camp. He endured not only physical suffering and deprivation, but loss of meaning, since he had become aware of the evils of the Nazi regime.  Despairing and alone, while reading a copy of the New Testament and Psalms that had been provided to him, he came to experience the presence of “the crucified God” who was with him in his suffering.  He came to understand that the crucified Christ not only represents God’s forgiveness and love for sinners, but also God’s solidarity with all who suffer.  Suffering does not mean punishment or abandonment by God.  In Christ, we can come to know the presence and love of “God with us” even in the midst of our pain.  Moltmann wrote, “I am a Christian for Christ’s sake.  I found my desolation in him, and I found God in my desolation.”

The idea that God suffers is “foolishness” (1 Corinth. 1:25) to those who equate divinity with the values of the dominant culture and worldly systems of power.  The foolish idea that God could suffer is and always has been shocking, leading Martin Luther to speak of “the scandal of the cross.”  But for those who believe that “God was in Christ” (2 Corinth. 5:19, KJV), divine suffering is part of reality.  God was in Christ, experiencing oppression, judgment, torture, and execution at the hands of the Powers.  God was in Christ, even when Jesus felt abandoned and forsaken by God.  God was in Christ, loving and forgiving anyway, praying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Christ is crucified wherever people suffer violence, injustice, or oppression.  According to conventional wisdom, it would be foolish to point to refugees or hungry children or homeless families or immigrants being deported or black men being targeted or Indigenous people stripped of their rights or people losing their healthcare or victims of killer drones or people incarcerated in Super-Max prisons or Guantanamo and say “God is there.”  But that kind of empathy for and identification with those who are “least, last, and lost” according to the dominant culture is precisely what Jesus’ life and teachings were all about.  This alternative view, in itself, undercuts the authority of today’s ruling Powers.  It exposes their cruel and unjust tactics, their desperate attempts to dominate the world, and their blatant and violent opposition to the God who is Love.

Still, in the story of Jesus, suffering and death are not the end.  The ruling Powers do not have the last word.  People who follow Jesus are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to join with others to work for an inclusive and compassionate world and to live in opposition to the Powers.  We can even point toward the hoped-for healing, reconciliation, and mutual liberation of both oppressor and oppressed.  By trusting in the hope of resurrection, we are emboldened to walk with victims of injustice, even if it leads towards the cross.  As Moltmann said, “Every theology of the cross must end in a theology of resurrection.”

We will return to the theme of resurrection during the Easter Season.

Previous blog post:  “The Subversive Jesus

Upcoming blog post:  “Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth”

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” Sharon’s Facebook Page.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rejecting Theological Sadism

The bumper sticker on my car.

The country is moving toward fascism.  We see the current administration dismantling beneficial social and environmental programs while expanding repressive police and military functions of government.  Resistance is our only hope, for what we tolerate is what we get.  Besides, standing up to institutional Powers that would destroy life is the right thing to do.  “In times of tyranny, the only way to maintain our humanity is to resist.”

One form of resistance is to expose the ideologies that provide a foundation for tyranny.  Today I critique the theology of the Religious Right, which wields tremendous power in the Republican Party and was able to influence so many white Evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump.  My primary purpose today is to refute the “theological sadism” that tolerates and furthers suffering while explaining it away in religious terms.  As theologian Dorothy Solle said, “That explanation of suffering that looks away from the victim and identifies itself with a righteousness that is supposed to stand behind the suffering has already taken a step in the direction of theological sadism, which wants to understand God as the torturer.”

Religious justifications that support cruelty, abuse, exclusion, and hierarchical domination are based on a faulty understanding of who God is and why Jesus died.   Did God send Jesus to die on the cross?  Was this God’s original plan to save people who believe in this story from going to hell?  Is the suffering of Jesus on the cross a pattern that we are to follow by accepting our lot in life?  I say NO, as do most feminist and other liberation theologians.

The idea that human beings need to be reconciled through blood sacrifice to a wrathful God is basic to conservative Christianity and is reflected in popular culture.  A scene from the movie The Apostle illustrates this view.  At the high point of the movie, the main character, a preacher played by Robert Duvall, holds up a baby in front of the congregation and says, “Could I ever drive a nail through the hand of this precious baby?  I couldn’t, but God could.  That’s what God did for you and me.”

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, criticized for its gratuitous violence and anti-Semitism, portrays a similar message through its unrelenting scenes of the sadistic torture of a passive and miserable Jesus.  The point?  That Jesus went through all this suffering (yes, it was God’s plan) in order to save you and me.

But this view substitutes a dogma about Jesus for the reality of Jesus’ life and teachings, and the events that led to his death.  It makes the death of Jesus acceptable, and takes away the “scandal of the cross.”

If I stand by, approving the execution of Jesus as a human sacrifice given in my place to a judgmental God, I stand with the High Priest Caiaphas, who argued that it was “expedient for one man to die for the people.”  If I applaud the crucifixion of Jesus as a good plan, even God’s plan, I place God on the side of the Roman Empire, which crucified subversives, including Jesus, as a matter of course, just as governments execute subversives today.  If I collaborate with those who put Jesus to death by justifying his murder on religious grounds, with theories of why blood needed to be spilt, I put myself on the side of the blood-thirsty mobs who called for Jesus to be crucified and who have engaged in atrocities throughout history.  If I ignore the political context and accept the execution of Jesus as a predetermined event that happened just as God intended, the symbol of the cross becomes a sign of God’s approval of the status quo rather than a symbol of hope for transformation of the world.

Previous post:  Rejecting Theological Sadism.  Next post: Jesus Was Not Born to Die

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” Sharon’s Facebook Page.   

A Lenten Call to Resist

 

 

IMG_3265

We enter the season of Lent at a time of peril in our nation and world.  People are rising up, some emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump and the ascendancy of the alt-right, and some determined to stand in the way of injustice and oppression in all its forms.  Christians have a particular responsibility, since without the high turnout of white Evangelical voters Trump would probably not be president today.

As Christians, where we stand politically has a lot to do with how we understand the meaning of Jesus’ death.  “The word of the cross” is at the heart of Christian faith.  We might prefer going from the glory of Transfiguration Sunday to the joy of Easter without reflecting on the drama that leads to Jesus’ suffering and death.  But as Dorothee Solle said,

“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.”

The execution of Jesus was not a one-time thing.  Christ continues to be crucified as today’s ruling Powers enlist human beings in their service, subject the most vulnerable to abuse and oppression, wreak violence around the world, and plunder the earth for their own gain.  Our goal during Lent is to remember the path Jesus walked and accompany him on his way to the cross, to fully surrender to God as he did, and to act in solidarity with those who are being crucified on the cross of Empire today, as he was so long ago.

My blog postings during this season will focus on how people who seek to follow Jesus can throw off despair and complacency, expose disempowering and hate-filled teachings that claim to be Christian, and reclaim the gospel (good news) as a force for peace, justice, and the healing of the earth.  If you follow this blog, please post your comments.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Beale with crosses

Good Friday at Beale, 2015

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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dust and Ashes

1656184_10202276511806714_56230047_n

On this Ash Wednesday, I share with you an excerpt from my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:

It’s this radical humility that is absolutely essential to our time.Brian Swimme

As we consider the destruction of the earth and the suffering of our fellow creatures, both human and nonhuman, two primary responses seem appropriate: repentance and humble acceptance of our own mortality. In Christianity ashes are used to symbolize these two themes on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In Ash Wednesday services the imposition of ashes is a way of showing our repentance, our intention to turn away from harmful actions and to turn back toward God. As we consider the damage to the earth we are called to repent of our own violence, greed, and over-consumption, our participation in ecological destruction and human misery. We are called to repent of our complicity in the harm caused by the institutions and systems of which we are a part.

We are also called to a humble acceptance of our place in the universe: “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Ashes symbolize our mortality, reminding us of who we are: human beings, made up of the dust of the earth. Humus, human, humility—these words all have the same root. Our bodies are made up of the same elements that make up the earth’s crust. For that matter, we are made up of the same elements that make up the stars. We are, quite literally, star dust (as Joni Mitchell wrote in her song “Woodstock”). We participate in the great unfolding journey of the universe, and our role is to celebrate in mystery and awe. And yet we are mortal. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” brilliantly portrays the dual Lenten focus on repentance and acceptance of our mortality. It expresses a sense of dust and ashes, of hopelessness, of powerlessness to change. These feelings resonate with many people facing the pain and challenges of the world today. But then, in the poem, surprisingly:

The lost heart quickens and rejoices

for the lost lilac and the lost sea voices

and the weak spirit quickens to rebel

for the bent goldenrod and the lost sea smell

quickens to recover the cry of quail

and the whirling plover.

The earth has the power to call us back to life, through the divine Spirit that moves through creation. In some mysterious way, the earth can provide us with an antidote to despair and can renew our spiritual connection with what is deepest within our souls. It is our context, our “ground of being,” through which the Spirit touches us, reminding us of what is real and important, who we are, and with whom we are connected.

Teach us to sit still,

even among these rocks,

our peace in His will.

And even among these rocks,

Sister, Mother, and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea

Suffer me not to be separated,

And let my cry come unto Thee.

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.