Hearts and Ashes

Progressive Christian Social Action

Hearts and Ashes

Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  I usually observe both.  My mother Ruth’s birthday was on February 14, so I’ll be carrying her with me all day (as I often do). This evening, I’ll go with two of my granddaughters while they hand out hand-made valentines at a residence for seniors.  Then tonight, Guari and I will celebrate our love by going out Salsa dancing, for the first time in a long while.

Ash Wednesday is a whole different kind of observation.  I’ll jog to town for the noon service, which includes the imposition of ashes, and I’ll hear again the biblical call to repentance and the reminder of our mortality: “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I am grateful for the love that blesses my life and for the divine love which surrounds and enlivens us.  At the same time, I grieve for the ways that I participate in and am complicit in institutions and systems that cause harm.  The “Powers that be” are corrupted by money, dominated by corporations, supported by hierarchical religions and ideologies, and enforced by violence, with the ultimate sanction being death. Current harm includes: immigration policies that scapegoat our young (the Dreamers) and  separate families, a tax bill that gives tax breaks to the wealthy and to  corporations while cutting benefits for poor and working class people, a proposal to cut SNAP (food stamps) benefits, the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and the locking in of a future of ever-accelerating climate change, using the shock of Hurricane Maria to privatize Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, developing more useable nuclear weapons along with a doctrine that makes them more likely to be used, destroying cities in Iraq in the fight against ISIS while refusing to rebuild or give aid to repair the damage because “We’re not in the business of nation-building,” and the current popularity of a form of Christianity that seems to be the antithesis of what Jesus lived and taught.  These are just a few.  The list goes on.

Ash Wednesday and the whole forty days of Lent give me an opportunity to repent for my participation, to resist the dehumanizing influence of the Powers, to renounce their bribes, to rebuke them by calling them to repentance, and to recall the Love in which we “live and move and have our being.”

Love is what motivates me to observe this day and this season. My understanding of the “good news” proclaimed and demonstrated by Jesus is that “God is love.”  This means to me that love is the ultimate Reality, the power that brought the universe into being, the Ground of Being, the Source and End of all things.  If this is true (and I stake my life on it), then living out of that love is the purpose and meaning of life.  And, as Jesus demonstrated, this means acting in solidarity with those who are marginalized, nonviolently resisting the Powers that threaten us (or those who are most vulnerable), and creating an alternative community of inclusion, based on love.

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Follow the Light

Today at church we celebrated Epiphany, remembering the story of the wise ones who followed a star, traveling a great distance to bring gifts to honor the Christ Child.  The “star” that they followed is a symbol for the light of Christ that can help us find our way through the violence, confusion, and distractions of our age.

T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi,  uses this story as a symbol of the spiritual journey, which can be so difficult and even seem counter-intuitive at times.  I especially like the last stanza, which makes clear that the birth of new ways of being can entail a “hard and bitter agony, like death, our death” as we let go of old ways of being and perceiving.

As we move into this new year, which holds tremendous challenges, I pray that each of us may be willing to die to old ways of being and live into the new ways that love requires.  The transformation of our world requires people who are willing to undergo an inner transformation as well.

The Journey Of The Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

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Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Progressive Christian Social Action

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Poppies in our yard.

 

This Easter season has been filled with paradox.  How can we understand and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus when ignorant or ideologically-driven men in high places dominate public policy and endanger the world?  In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, who was supported overwhelmingly by white Evangelicals, the question for socially-concerned Christians is:  How can the story of Jesus and the lived experience of the Risen Christ be relevant in this context?  Today I point to the reality of the Risen Christ as an antidote to despair and paralysis, and as a spiritual motivation for the ongoing struggle for peace, justice, and the healing of the world.

The presence of the Risen Christ is the basis for Christian life.  One way this presence is expressed is through the concept of the Mind of Christ (1Cor. 2:16). The mind of Christ is a lived experience, an awareness of the presence of God, a tangible sense of the Holy Spirit.  This experience itself is resurrection: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…”(Galatians 2:20).  In words attributed to Martin Luther:  “My head has been raised, my Head is Christ.  My heart has been raised, my heart is with Christ.  My tardy body will follow.”

Reflecting on the Mind of Christ also provides a safeguard against the faulty idea of a violent God.  For those of us who believe that the personality and love of God are revealed in Jesus, our understanding of God must be consistent with the biblical view of the life and teachings of the nonviolent Jesus.  Biblical literalism has no place here, but the overall “tenor and scope” of scripture, especially the stories of Jesus, point to a God of mercy and love.

What does this understanding have to do with the way we live our lives? Opening ourselves to the awareness of the Mind of Christ means living into the ongoing consciousness of God.  It means living in a way that reflects the life of Jesus and his way of fostering inclusive community, even if it comes at great cost.

It’s important to remember that Jesus died in a way that was consistent with how he lived his life.  After demonstrating compassion and confronting the Ruling Powers nonviolently throughout his ministry, he refused to back down when those Powers threatened him with death. In this way, he “gave his life” for others, for the the sake of the greater good, trusting that somehow, in some way, God could bring life even out of death.

Others have followed his example.  Archbishop Oscar Romero, after being converted to the side of the poor in the US-backed war against the Sandinistas, said, “If you kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.”  This, too, is resurrection.

Living a resurrected life means joining in solidarity with all who seek justice, especially those who are most vulnerable, challenging injustice and oppression, and courageously following Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a better world.  I, for one, plan to keep my eyes open for those outbreaks of spirit, those moments of social breakthrough, when people of many faiths and philosophies rise up together in resistance to oppression, with hope and determination.  By courageously acting for justice, we participate in resurrection, working for a world that reflects the love that brought us into being, the love that can’t be extinguished by any empire, the love at the heart of the universe.  In the words of the great hymn by Martin Luther, updated for our time:

Let goods and kindred go

This mortal life also

The body they may kill

Love’s truth abideth still

God’s kin-dom is forever.

This post is the culmination of my Lenten series, A Lenten Call to Resist.  I began by writing Resisting Cultural Possession.  I wrote later about The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified and about Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth.  In Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of This Age, I pointed to the ideology that rationalizes and the systems that justify such harm.  I also wrote about The Subversive Jesus, putting into perspective why he was killed by the ruling powers of his day.  I challenged the view of God promoted by the Religious Right in Rejecting Theological Sadism and in Jesus Was Not Born to Die, and presented an alternative in God’s Restorative Justice.  Finally, right before Easter Sunday, I wrote about prayer and action in Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance and Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus.  This final post is about Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ.

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God Bless the Grass


I’ve been singing two songs lately that use images of the earth to carry a message of hope in the face of despair.  The first song is “Now the Green Blade Rises,” a traditional Easter hymn.  The second song, “God Bless the Grass,” is by singer-songwriter and social justice activist Malvina Reynolds.  Both songs present the key message of Easter:  love overcomes violence, life overcomes death.

Listen to this version of “Now the Green Blade Rises” by the Smoke Fairies.  

Now the Green Blade Rises

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom we had slain,
Thinking that He’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Up He sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

(John M.C. Crum, 1928, 15th Century French Melody)

I also hear the message of life conquering death in this wonderful song by Malvina Reynolds.  You can hear her sing it here:  God Bless the Grass .

 God Bless the Grass

God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass, which demonstrates the power of life to overcome death, and to bring about both personal and social transformation.  May we all have renewed confidence, courage, and hope during this Easter season.

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This post is re-posted from April, 2013.

Holy Saturday: Following Jesus

On this Holy Saturday, the last day of Lent, we continue to reflect on the death of Jesus and on what it means to follow him, as we wait for the dawn of resurrection. What does it mean to follow Jesus in this time of ascending evil, destruction, scapegoating, and death?  First, what it does not mean:  Following Jesus does not mean submitting to oppression or choosing to suffer.  Jesus raised up women, children, outcasts, and others who were despised and oppressed, and showed that they were worthy children of God.  Surely we are called to do the same.

Nor did Jesus seek suffering for himself—nothing in the gospel accounts point to that.  Rather, he was true to his mission as he had declared it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  By his preaching, teaching, healing, community building, and actions that challenged the ruling Powers, he incurred their wrath.  As a result, they plotted against him and had him executed.  Jesus’ death was the result of the way he lived his life.

The story of Jesus and his “passion” was not something he had wanted for himself, nor was it the plan of an angry God.  Rather, in full integrity and freedom of choice, he refused to back down and betray himself, his mission, the people he loved, or his God.  Further, in the agony of Jesus, the suffering God endured the full impact of human sin and evil, and continues to suffer at our hands as God’s beloved children and creation itself are crucified today.

The question arises:  Why would we want to follow Jesus, who experienced such a horrendous death, or a God who undergoes suffering?  Why not instead focus on something positive, or find a faith that enables us to transcend the world’s suffering, or point to a God who looks on from a distance and sees only harmony?  Or, why not interpret the message of Christianity as being based on the God-ordained sacrifice of a beloved son who came to die to set things right?  Then all we have to do is say “yes” to this story, accept this (ahistorical) Jesus into our hearts, and worship him.  This at least allows us to accept the supposedly predetermined status quo.

But Jesus did not call on his friends to worship him, but to follow him:  to reject the cultural values of wealth and worldly power and to practice and promote the values of tolerance, justice, peace, and love.  This requires an “ethic of risk,” because it places us at odds with the dominant institutions of our day, just as it placed Jesus at odds with those of his day.  And we see clearly not only what human-constructed systems did to Jesus, but what they do to those “surplus populations” that threaten the order of global corporate-dominated capitalism today.

Still, even on Holy Saturday, as we remember the death of Jesus and so many unjust deaths throughout history until today, we anticipate and live into the reality of Easter.  The light of the Risen Christ is with us, making it possible to face the evil, pain, and darkness of our time and to celebrate compassion, beauty, and love.  His Living Spirit is with us, making it possible to set out on the path of following Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a better world.

Previous blog post:  Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance

This is the final post in Sharon’s series, A Lenten Call to Resist.

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