Resisting Cultural Possession

The “Golden Bull” at Occupy Wall Street in New York

All of the kingdoms can be yours,” the devil tells Jesus, “if you will just lord your power over others and take up the sword of the nations. Take charge of the biological weapons, deploy some troops, command the implementation of a ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system. All the kingdoms can be yours—if you will just use the world’s means of power: domination and violence.”       Charles Campbell

There is a call in life to come to terms with who we are in relation to the universe, to give ourselves to something ultimate, to live in right relationship with the Ground of Being, to fulfill our destiny, to enter into the Great Mystery.  But we hear other voices as well, voices that we have internalized from our families and cultures, which we hear as our own.  These voices tempt us.  They present us with a choice:  to be true to ourselves and live as free human beings or to be ensnared by desires that reflect the values of our culture and end up being possessed by them.

Jesus, too, experienced this conflict.  After John baptized him in the Jordan River, Jesus saw a vision in which the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove and heard God saying to him, “This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).  This revelation led him to a time of testing in the wilderness, during which a spiritually strong but very human Jesus strove to find clarity about his identity and calling (Matthew 4:1-11).  He especially struggled with what it meant to be “son of God.” This was a well-known designation in the ancient world.  The term “Son of God” was applied to the Roman Emperor, who possessed status, wealth, and worldly power.  Jews who awaited the Messiah were hoping for the coming of a king like David who would embody these characteristics.  Not surprisingly, these were the very things that tempted Jesus.

“If you are the Son of God,” said the voice of temptation (the “devil” or “tempter”) to Jesus, testing him.  If you are the son of God, then prove it… by refusing to be bound by human limitations, by ignoring the laws of nature, by choosing a path that will lead to fame, fortune, and power over others.  But each time Jesus refused, choosing instead to be faithful and to entrust himself to the will of God.  We are called and empowered by grace to do the same.

Theologian Walter Wink demythologizes “the devil” or “Satan,” relating these concepts to the “interiority” of a culture at a particular time in history:  “Satan is the real interiority of a society that idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good. Satan is the spirituality of an epoch, the peculiar constellation of alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy that characterizes a specific period of history as a consequence of human decisions to tolerate and even further such a state of affairs.”

These words were true of the time in which Jesus lived, when the “Roman Peace” was imposed and enforced throughout the Empire, but they are also true today.  Clearly, the United States is a society that “idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good.”   The present culture of unrestrained corporate capitalism, enforced by mass incarceration and endless war, exalts nationalism, pays tribute to wealth, promotes consumption, bows to worldly success, glorifies violence, and vilifies people who have not attained these things.  The “alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy” that characterize this time in our history are made possible by the personal decisions of many individuals to tolerate or even further this state of affairs.

The temptation of Jesus set the stage for the events that led to his death.  By choosing a path of deep integrity instead of adopting the cultural values of his time, Jesus set himself against the religious, political, economic, and military rulers of his day.  It’s no wonder that the religious elite, who benefited from the Roman occupation, collaborated with the Roman authorities in targeting him, plotting against him, and finally putting him to death.

And it’s no wonder that those of us who live here in the United States are often tempted to submit to cultural expectations.  Today’s ruling Powers have a million ways to reward and punish based on whether or not we comply.  But there is a deeper way to live, which offers immeasurably greater rewards.

There is always temptation, especially in our consumer culture.  It might be easier to come to terms with who we are and who we are called to be if we could go out into the wilderness.  That is what the season of Lent is about—a season that involves taking time out to reflect on what is ultimate and to accept the responsibility and privilege to make a conscious choice.

We do have a choice.  We do not have to surrender to the Powers or be driven by desires to conform and excel in their service, at the expense of other people and the earth itself.  We can refuse to submit to social pressures, resist cultural possession, and live in freedom as fully human beings, as beloved children of God.

There are many paths to freedom, and divine love is universal, offered to all people and all creation.  I choose to follow and live in the Spirit of the one who calls me, Jesus Christ.

Previous post:  A Lenten Call to Resist.     Next post:  Rejecting Theological Sadism.  

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We Are Everywhere

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Sharon leading a climate Justice workshop at Roseville United Methodist Church.

Here I am, coming up from the depths of prayer, meditation, study, and writing.  These past months I’ve been focused primarily on writing my new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, which is almost ready to send to the publisher.

Then in August, I spent three weekends leading workshops in Merced, San Rafael, and Roseville on “Climate Justice” for the United Methodist Women’s program of transformational learning, Mission U.  I had helped write the book for the class, and last Spring I had traveled by train to St. Louis for the leadership training.  The workshops I led emphasized that working for climate justice includes, but is not limited to, making simple lifestyle changes.  It also requires us to respond to the demands for justice from those who are living and working on the front lines of climate change, and whose lands and waters are threatened with pollution by extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction, transport, and refining.  It also means working to change the system that perpetuates climate change and so many other forms of injustice.  That’s why banners at climate justice demonstrations often say “System Change Not Climate Change.”

Just today, I had to add a few words to my book about the growing protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.  This, too, is climate justice action.  It is also history in the making!  The camp now includes 150 tribes and over 1,000 people.  A call for solidarity actions has gone out, and I plan to participate. Here is more information and a list of actions planned so far.

The courageous, Spirit-filled actions at Standing Rock give me hope.  I believe that the Spirit is active wherever people are taking a stand for people, for the earth, and for future generations.  And such actions are not just taking place in isolation.  As the title of a popular book on this topic says, “We Are Everywhere.”

 

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Support the Indigenous led movement to Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

#NoDAPL Solidarity             https://nodaplsolidarity.org/

 

 

 

Grateful for the Giver

The woods near my home.

The woods near my home.

As we head into Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the cultural and historical context in which we observe the holidays.  So much is wrong with the world, so many people are suffering, enough for Pope Francis to call the celebration of Christmas a “charade.” As for Thanksgiving, I cannot celebrate the narrative of the Pilgrims and Indians at peace together, considering the story’s historical outcome (still awaiting repentance and reconciliation).  And while I am grateful for the abundance in my life, I feel pain and a sense of responsibility because I am aware of the widespread suffering of our time.

Still, I am grateful for my life, for creation and all its gifts, and especially for the Giver.  This became clear to me years ago:

“Part of my spiritual practice is to spend time in the wild. It is also my joy. Each day is an adventure. I often see deer, sometimes a fox or bobcat. Once I saw a Great Horned Owl and stood looking up at it in awe for over an hour.

“One morning in the spring of 1988 I went jogging down the dirt paths in the woods behind my home toward Deer Creek, as I did almost every morning. I was reflecting on what I had read earlier in the morning in Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, specifically advice from John Wesley about fasting: “‘Let our fasting be done unto the Lord, with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father who is in heaven.’ That is the only way we will be saved from loving the blessings more than the Blesser.”   I had fasted and practiced other spiritual disciplines, but I had never thought about fasting in this way. Wesley’s words were a mystery to me.

“On my way back up the path, I stopped in my favorite sacred grove. The dogwood and manzanita were exultant, showing off their blooms. The pines, firs, and cedars seemed to raise their branches in praise, creating a beautiful canopy of varied greens sparkling with the rays of the morning sun. Birds of all kinds sang their own unique songs, joining together in an amazing chorus of joy. The soft mat of pine needles invited me to stop again and pray, to open my eyes, ears, and heart to the splendor and magnificence of God’s creation, of which I felt so gratefully now a part.

“As I rose and started toward home I reached a spot where the sun was breaking through the trees. It seemed at that moment like heaven itself was shining down, illuminating the earth. In the beaming, radiant light I felt a God of infinite love showering me with all the blessings of creation.

“Standing in this light I suddenly remembered Wesley’s words about loving the blessings more than the Blesser and it dawned on me: I had been like a child at Christmas opening present after present, saying “thank you” and then looking around to see what was next. I had been “grateful” and had prayed my thanks. But I had forgotten or had never really known what I only now remember: the Giver, the God of Creation, the Spirit of Love at the heart of the universe, loves each of us deeply, desires the best for us, wants life to flourish and blossom, and through the creation showers us with evidence of self-giving love.”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude and all the blessings of God.

This blog post includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado (Fortress Press).  Order from local bookstores or find it online. 

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Writer’s Retreat

coffee shop

I’m here at my favorite Santa Cruz coffee shop, at the end of five days of work and play.  I’ve been traveling by Amtrak (bus, train, bus) to my varied destinations, writing as I go.

My first stop was Berkeley, where I spent most of the day in the Graduate Theological Union Library, perusing dozens of books related to my work.  I’ve kept my library card since seminary, so I checked out several books that most attracted my interest.  From Berkeley I headed by train to Merced, where I led a workshop for forty United Methodist Women on “Climate Justice and System Change.”  It gave me the opportunity to share some cutting edge ideas with concerned people of faith.  I had considered presenting a slide show, but decided an interactive workshop would be livelier.  It was!

After the workshop I traveled five hours from Merced to Santa Cruz.  I don’t mind the time it takes to travel by train and bus.  It cuts down on my carbon footprint and instead of driving I have time to read, write, rest, and pray.

Arriving in Santa Cruz on Saturday night was a kick—so much wild energy, so much going on.  And I have such a peaceful, beautiful place to stay—my friend’s guest room, just a 10-minute walk from downtown.  She and I got together for a walk and dinner Sunday evening, and she joined me for Salsa dancing on the beach, but most of the time when I’m in Santa Cruz I just come and go on my own, wandering and doing my own thing.  I visited places I used to enjoy when I lived here:  West Cliff Drive, favorite beaches, the Santa Cruz Public Library (yes, I still have my library card and yes, I checked out a book).  Oh, and Lulu Carpenters coffee shop, where I spent many hours writing among the UCSC students and their laptops.  Writing retreat headquarters.

It seems that I need plenty of free time in order for the creative process to kick in.  Here in Santa Cruz I take that time, watching the dolphins at play, watching the waves come and go, following my thoughts and watching them dissipate as the waves disperse on the shore.

Now I’m ready to go home.

I’m grateful that the God I know is not the kind to order me around, because I’m really not the obedient type.  I don’t like hierarchy and I don’t like following orders.  I like the “mother hen” metaphor for God that Jesus used when he said, “How often I have longed to gather you as a mother hen gathers her flock, but you were not willing.”  I’m often like a baby chick running around after whatever attracts my fancy.  Even so, God can work with me.   I experience God as inviting me, drawing me, attracting me, even wooing me (as process theologians say) through concrete situations in my wanderings through life.

Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

The nearby trail I'll be walking on again as soon as my knee heals.

The nearby trail I’ll be walking on  again with Guari as soon as my knee heals.

A glorious day- sunny, cold, beautiful.  Guari and I are here enjoying the fire, enjoying this first day of the New Year.  I’m grateful that I didn’t wake up with a hangover—from alcohol, excess food, or emotional or relationship distress.  I am at peace.  It is well with my soul.

It hasn’t always been like this, and I don’t take it for granted.  I’ve hit many “bottoms” in my life, usually because I talk myself into thinking that I’m on the right path, then I run into a dead end.  Fortunately, I know where to find help.  I have friends who lovingly help to orient me, stand me up on my feet, remind me who I am, and point me in the direction of healing and wholeness.  Ultimately that means letting go of behaviors and patterns that interfere with my well-being or with the well-being of others.  This I have never been able to do on my own strength alone.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because the ongoing transformation that I seek doesn’t always happen the way I think it should, and it’s not the result of me trying to establish control.  I’ve never been able to just whip myself (or others) into shape.  Oh, I’ve given it a good try—that used to be my solution to life’s problems—but now I have a humbler and more realistic view of my powers.  I know now that only by listening and waiting for the movement of the Spirit will I find the inner resources to enable me to change old patterns and to be deeply transformed.

I can also set my intention and pray for the willingness and the power to be able to live into the fullness of who I am and who I am called to be.  This works best for me if I renew my intention one day at a time.  This coming year I intend to enjoy my family and friends, and do what I can to make this world a more loving place.  I have lots of projects waiting.  But I have to take time to “watch and pray” so that I’m not thrown back into old, self-defeating patterns.

I’m so grateful to have shared a path of recovery with my mother, Ruth, for many years before her death.   I set my intention today by starting this day and this year with one of her favorite prayers, which I have shared in a previous post, Thoughts that Bless:

 “Morning Prayer” by Ella Syfers Schenck:

Lord, in the quiet of this morning hour

I come to Thee for peace, for wisdom, power

To view the world today through love-filled eyes;

Be patient, understanding, gentle, wise:

To see beyond what seems to be, and know

Thy children as Thou knowest them; and so

Naught but the good in anyone behold;

Make deaf my ears to slander that is told;

Silence my tongue to aught that is unkind;

Let only thoughts that bless dwell in my mind.

Let me so kindly be, so full of cheer,

That all I meet may feel Thy presence near.

O clothe me in Thy beauty, this I pray,

Let me reveal Thee, Lord, through all the day.

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