Lent and COVID 19

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent and Covid 19

This Lenten season is unlike any other I have lived through, with the threat of serious illness and death all around, businesses shuttered, people losing their jobs, the stock market crashing, social isolation, and responsibilities that people don’t know how they can meet. So many of us are staying home in order to “flatten the curve” to keep the virus from spreading so quickly that it overwhelms the health care system, while health care workers and others courageously carry on for our well-being, risking exposure every day.

This is the context of Lent this year.  The story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, his forty days in the wilderness, his betrayal by the Powers that be, and his journey to the cross resonate for those of us who see these events from his life long ago as an ongoing dynamic that continues in the world today. As theologian Dorothee Solle said, “In the midst of reality stands the cross.”

So far, I have it easier than many. I’m staying home. I’m experiencing a sense of spaciousness and appreciating the gift of time—more time for prayer (which we so badly need) and for other spiritual practices that foster a deeper relationship with God. I am also finding ways to contribute to family, community, and world from where I am, via telephone, by becoming more versed in Zoom, by catching up with work on our nonprofit, and by working to create a mutual aid group among our neighbors. There is plenty to keep me occupied.

But as always, this pandemic will disproportionately impact those who are most vulnerable. Yes, elders (like me) are most vulnerable to dying of the virus, but others are seriously impacted even now, and will be as the weeks go on.  I think of the children whose lives have been changed so completely, who are cut off from school and friends; parents who work but have to stay home to care for their children; families who don’t have health insurance, people who are sick, disabled, or without permanent shelter, people who are already confined and socially isolated, elders without support. Surely emergency laws to protect our vulnerable neighbors should be a priority, not just during this pandemic, but always.

Countering these impacts will require us to not only to reach out in compassion to individuals, but also to work for justice. This means advocating for policies that protect the well-being of the most vulnerable and working to transform the current system, which is not designed for people or planet but for multiplying wealth for the people at the top. Although the actors have changed, the Domination System goes on, and the ruling Powers even today are often blind to what compassion and justice require. “None of the rulers of this [or any] age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8.

I will continue to stay home and immerse myself in God, but I will also be available to reach out to others in compassion and to work for justice, prioritizing the most vulnerable. I close with these words that Martin Luther wrote during a plague in 1527, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” After the plague he lived another nineteen years.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

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Lent: Going Deeper

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent:  Going Deeper

This post was published at the beginning of Lent in 2017 as “A Lenten Call to Resist.”  It is the first post of a Lenten series that offers a progressive Christian understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and post-death appearances.   The links to the other posts in the series are below.

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 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.

This series, A Lenten Call to Resist, includes the following posts:

Resisting Cultural Possession

Rejecting Theological Sadism

Jesus Was Not Born to Die

The Subversive Jesus

The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified

Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of This Age

God’s Restorative Justice

Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance

Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Beale with crosses

Good Friday at Beale, 2015

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Area United Methodist Clergy Speak Out in Support of LGBTQIA People

Progressive Christian Social Action

Area United Methodist Clergy Speak Out in Support of LGBTQIA People

 

(This statement is in the Grass Valley Union newspaper on March 13, 2019:  https://www.theunion.com/opinion/columns/other-voices-western-nevada-countys-united-methodist-clergy-speak-out-in-support-of-lgbtqia/.  It was drafted and signed by 15 Nevada County clergy, including me.)

We, the undersigned, are ordained clergy members of the United Methodist Church.  We are either currently appointed as pastors in Nevada County churches or are retired clergy now residing here. The official legislative body governing our global church is the General Conference, comprised of officially elected clergy and lay persons from around the world.

The issue of homosexuality has long been a matter of conflict within the United Methodist Church, particularly as to whether persons who openly identify themselves as LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) can be ordained as clergy and whether United Methodist clergy can preside at wedding services for persons so identified. Given this division, a special General Conference was convened from February 23-26 in St. Louis to address this controversy and determine “a way forward” for the denomination.  More than two-thirds of delegates from the United States voted for a more inclusive plan, but the United Methodist Church is a global church, made up of people from varied cultures, and is diverse theologically. After much debate, a plan was adopted by a slim margin to strengthen prohibitions on ordination and marriage ceremonies as mentioned above and to add severe penalties for any violations.

We deplore this decision, which toughens prohibitions against LGBTQIA clergy and all clergy who officiate at same-sex weddings.  We are concerned on many levels:

  • This decision is heartbreaking and painful to our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers. This is contrary to Wesleyan theology as we know and practice it, especially to do no harm.  It gives support to those who would bully, reject or harm these beloved children of God.
  • This decision damages the church, both laity and clergy, by setting up retributive sanctions without due process. It also increases the forces of division among members of the same congregations, members of the same regional areas, and members of the Body of Christ.
  • This decision is based on a position that has already been ruled unconstitutional by the United Methodist Judicial Council. It will set in motion continued acrimony rather than offer an opportunity to celebrate diversity.  It does not resolve the conflicts among us, nor move us forward toward reconciliation.
  • This decision throws the entire denomination into upheaval as Annual Conferences (regional bodies), local churches, and individuals are forced to face the unhealthy prospects of schism. Attention and energy that could be put to the pressing issues of our day will be spent on institutional preservation and/or separation.

For these reasons we pledge the following:

  • We will continue to support and serve as allies to our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers, to affirm the sacred worth of every individual as a beloved child of God.
  • We will continue to baptize all who come seeking to live in the grace of Jesus Christ.
  • We will continue to perform wedding ceremonies for all who seek a service of Christian marriage.
  • We will pursue a path within the institution that ensures full equality of participation and leadership for our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers at every level of church life.
  • We will lead our congregations, with God’s grace, toward a whole and just world.

We affirm the leadership of the bishops of our Western Jurisdiction, comprised of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Hawaii and Alaska, who articulate and defend our traditional Wesleyan values in support of a diverse and inclusive church.***

With sadness, yet in hope of a church made new, we sign below in affirmation that what God creates and calls good cannot be denied or voted away.  We shall not back down but will stand for what is right and good in God’s embracing love through Jesus Christ.  We do not stand alone, but with people around the world who desire to be part of an inclusive Christian fellowship that honors and loves them as does God. We will work for an outcome that includes justice, mercy and inclusion for all.

Rev. Don Baldwin (retired)

Rev. George Carter (retired)

Rev. Terry Deland (retired)

Rev. Sharon Delgado (retired)

Rev. Ron Dunn (retired)

Rev. Judson Gears (retired)

Rev. Rebecca Goodwin (active)

Rev. Susan Kemper (retired)

Rev. Don Lee (retired)

Rev. David Leeper-Moss (retired)

Rev. Tana McDonald (retired)

Rev. Joan Pell (active)

Rev. Kristin Sachen (active)

Rev. Barbara Smith (retired)

Rev. Jerry Smith (retired)

Rev. Patricia Spooner-Walther (retired)

Rev. Harold “Bud” Tillinghast (retired)

***See the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops’ statement here:

http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/western-jurisdiction-umc-bishops-video-statement-script/

#MeToo–I Didn’t Tell Either

Progressive Christian Social Action

#MeToo—I Didn’t Tell Either.

No one wants to tell about their own sexual assault, but I feel compelled to do so in solidarity with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who is being viciously maligned for speaking out about being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh so many years ago.

These years of Donald Trump’s presidency will go down as a dark and shameful period in our nation’s history.  A known sexual predator holds the highest office in the land. (We’ve all heard the Access Hollywood tape.)  Now he has nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and he continues to stand by Kavanaugh while insinuating that Dr. Ford is lying because she waited so long to tell her story, saying, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents…” This same theme is being reiterated by other Republicans and across the internet: the implication that she is lying because she didn’t tell years ago.

This most recent incident has convinced me that I, too, need to go public with the story of my rape as a 16-year old, and why I didn’t tell.  The perpetrator was 18.  He was the son of my divorced mother’s boyfriend, a man whom I loved and trusted and who taught me how to drive.

I began dating this man’s son. One night he (the son) raped me in the back of his van. I struggled. I fought. I said “no” and “stop,” but he didn’t stop. He hurt me. What I didn’t do was scream or call for help. Why? Shame, shock, embarrassment, disorientation, bewilderment? I’ve asked myself many times.  I was stunned, and I had no mental or emotional category that could help me make sense of the experience. Because I did not call for help, I thought I had “let it happen.”  I felt guilt, shame, and self-hatred. I blamed myself.  I didn’t even call it “rape” in my own mind, until years later, when I learned more about what rape means.

This was not my first experience of sexual assault or harassment, nor would it be my last. But Dr. Ford’s story has reminded me of how traumatic for a teenager a sexual assault can be and how hard it can be to come forward. It took a lot of courage for her to come forward recently when she heard that Brett Kavanaugh had been nominated to the Supreme Court.

As a pastor and as one who seeks to live in the way and Spirit of Jesus, I am especially distressed that many white Evangelical Christians, over 80 percent of whom helped elect Donald Trump and continue to stand by him, support the GOP’s efforts to push through an immediate up or down vote on Kavanaugh, without an FBI investigation or other witnesses.  Reverend Franklin Graham, an Evangelical leader, said, “It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record–that somebody can bring something up that he did as a teenager close to 40 years ago. That’s not relevant.”  Or as another Kavanaugh supporter said, “What boy hasn’t done this in high school?”

Unconditional support for Trump and his nominee has descended into hateful and hellish attacks on Dr. Ford, maligning her character and motives and threatening her family and her life.  If she had known the extent of the hate that would be directed toward her, she may have chosen to not tell her story or to remain anonymous, as she had hoped to do.

I am horrified to know that my grandsons are hearing people say that assault and attempted rape is normal behavior for teenage boys. God forbid!  The teenage boys I have known understand that violence against women, including sexual violence, is always wrong. It’s not normal, and there’s no way to justify it.  I’m also horrified that my granddaughters are hearing it.  As one college freshman said, “Girls my age are watching, reading, and hearing these conversations. And it’s making us scared.

Women have come a long way since the years of my childhood, but violence against women and children is still pervasive.  The #MeToo movement and the broad challenge to Kavanaugh’s fitness to be on the high court because of this (and now other) sexual assault allegations are moving us forward.  But we still have a long way to go to end the culture of misogyny and rape.

#MeToo                                   #IBelieveHer

Read the Grass Valley Union article about our local demonstration.

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Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit

Progressive Christian Social Action

Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit

I’ve been back from San Francisco for a week now, and I’m still processing all that I learned and experienced at the Soil Not Oil Conference, faith-based workshops on climate change at Grace Cathedral, affinity group and spokes council meetings, and three demonstrations focused on the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), a global gathering hosted by California governor Jerry Brown.  Many consider California, under Brown’s leadership, to be leading the way toward a renewable-energy future, especially when contrasted with the Trump Administration’s intransigence on climate change.

The conference itself celebrated Brown’s leadership and California’s progressive climate policies, reflected in the state’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” (AB 32). Big Green environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council help develop and promote California’s “market-based policies that reduce energy use and cut pollution.” Just days before the conference, the California legislature passed a bill setting California on the path toward a 100 percent carbon-free electricity grid by 2045 (this could include non-renewable nuclear power).  Brown also signed an executive order “committing California to total, economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.” However, this does not mean that California would cease to emit greenhouse gases, but that connection with a global carbon market and the trading of permits to pollute (“cap and trade”) would, in theory, neutralize California’s emissions. (Cap and trade is the centerpiece of AB 32.) Still, it sounds pretty good, right?  At least California is attempting to lead the way in responding to climate change.

Yet there were major protests, both inside and outside the GCAS.  When former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was interrupted by protesters shouting, “the air is not for sale,” Bloomberg ridiculed them, saying, “Only in America could you have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.”  What’s going on? Evidently there are widely divergent views on what constitutes a positive response to climate change.

People who were inside and outside the conference all agreed on the fact that climate change is real.  Their disagreement was and continues to be how to respond.  I have previously written about opposing worldviews related to climate change:

“There are two opposing worldviews at work in these conflicts over [climate change and] the use of traditionally shared forests, lands, waters, and other common resources. One is based on the dominant economic and development model, which promotes exports and turns the gifts of the earth into for-profit commodities to be incorporated into the global marketplace. The other is based on the worldview of Indigenous peoples who have lived sustainably on the earth for centuries, and who honor all the interrelated parts of creation as essential.” (From Love in a Time of Climate Change.)

I was not on the inside at the official conference.  Instead, I had the opportunity to listen, learn from, and stand in solidarity with a broad coalition of groups led by Indigenous and other frontline communities that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change, the extraction and processing of oil and gas, and climate policies such as cap and trade.  Their perspectives strongly diverge from those that dominated the official conference. Activists from these communities point out that during Brown’s eight-year tenure as governor, he approved over 20,000 new oil and gas wells, 77 percent of which were in low-income communities and communities of color.  California is a major oil producer, extracting approximately 200 million barrels of oil per year, most of it among the dirtiest crude in the world. Permits for new oil and gas (including fracking) wells are still being approved, creating infrastructure that will perpetuate oil and gas production for decades.  (See Brown’s Last Chance.) No wonder impacted communities are protesting!

Although some people inside the GCAS spoke in favor of a “just transition,” many of the “solutions” discussed  were high-tech, corporate-friendly, market-based policies that put a price not only on carbon pollution, but also on the forests and other ecosystems that could be incorporated into a global carbon trading scheme.  Outside, demonstrators, most of whom live in impacted communities of color (including Indigenous communities), joined with allies to demand “racial and economic justice, an end to fossil fuel production, and a just transition to 100% renewable energy that supports workers and communities.” People whose neighborhoods are near oil and gas operations, including fracking, don’t want their communities to continue being treated as sacrifice zones for the fossil fuel industry. At the same time, Indigenous communities don’t want their traditional lands monetized and set aside to provide carbon credits that will enable oil and gas companies to continue polluting their brothers and sisters in vulnerable communities in the United States. Together, supported by allies from a variety of environmental and climate justice organizations, they demand real and immediate solutions to the climate crisis, such as phasing out the extraction of oil and gas (“keep it in the ground”), creating buffer zones to protect schools and neighborhoods, restoring forests and other ecosystems (which sequester carbon), transforming our carbon-intensive global food system to support widespread agro-ecological ways of farming (drawing on local and traditional knowledge) and ending the injustices that cause hunger, and protecting the land rights of Indigenous and other traditional communities that have stewarded the land for generations.  Go to the Indigenous Environmental Network to find out more, to download a booklet on “Carbon Pricing,” and to read the “Open Letter from the Indigenous Peoples of the World,” delivered in person to the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force on Monday, September 10, after a powerful demonstration calling on the Task Force to “let them in.”

Pope Francis, in Laudito Si, said that “it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and value.” The pope adds that while Indigenous peoples around the world are being pressured to leave their homelands, “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best.” (page 91)

I was happy to participate in direct actions that amplified the voices of the people who are being harmed by climate change, exposure to toxins related to fossil fuel extraction, and false solutions to the climate crisis.  Again, from Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Today, many people in the climate justice movement are looking to Indigenous communities as leaders in struggles to protect the land, air, and water and as mentors in the search for creation-honoring worldviews with power to motivate action for systemic change. Most people in the industrialized world, however, are steeped in a worldview based on the dominant economic and development model. But as impacts of the earth’s changing weather patterns become ever more frequent and extreme, people may start questioning the conventional wisdom. Will technological innovation solve the problem of climate change? Will free-market capitalism and economic growth finally bring about the common good? Even for people who accept the reality of global warming, our worldview informs our response…

“Indigenous worldviews provide something important that is missing in the mainstream climate debate. New understandings that we are gaining from science uphold ancient Indigenous wisdom about the inherent value and intricate interrelatedness of all parts of creation. Our challenge is to learn from and incorporate this wisdom, which is based in a deep understanding of creation. All things really are connected.”

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Watch “Climate Capitalism is Killing Our Communities” on the September 14 edition of Democracy Now! The show includes a debate about cap and trade that demonstrates the opposing viewpoints described here.

If you have Facebook, you can see video from the livestream on opening day, September 13, of the GCAS demonstrations in San Francisco. The sound starts out rough but gets better. At exactly one hour in there is a good interview with Bill McKibben about the purpose and effect of these demonstrations, and more. Note that this is not primarily older white environmentalists wishing that young people and people of color would “join us”. These impacted communities are leading the way… and we are acting in solidarity. Also, If you go into the video at 2:29, you’ll hear a young man from Kern County speaking very articulately about the impacts of drilling in his community. Then you’ll see our affinity group, “We’re Not Dead Yet,” in action with others from the Thousand Grandmothers, until about 2:35. 

If you have Facebook, you can also see me here with my affinity group, blocking the intersection to create space for the indigenous and other frontline communities who were leading this demonstration, calling on Jerry Brown to protect communities rather than corporations by stopping the issuing of oil and gas permits, creating setbacks to protect indigenous and other impacted communities from oil and gas drilling, and keeping the oil and gas in the ground rather than using the market “cap and trade” mechanism to keep carbon pollution going. They claim that “green capitalism” is a new form of colonialism that gives CO2 polluters the right to pollute.  Our goal was to follow their lead and amplify their voices.