The Spirituality of Resistance

Progressive Christian Social Action

The Spirituality of Resistance

Sharon Delgado’s article, The Spirituality of Resistance, appears in the May 2018 issue of Sojourners Magazine.   It is a book review of Principalities in Particular:  A Practical Theology of the Powers that Be by Bill Wylie-Kellerman.   

For decades, pastor, activist, and scholar Bill Wylie-Kellermann has kept alive and furthered a theology of the biblical “powers and principalities” (Romans 8:38; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12), in the tradition of William Stringfellow and Walter Wink. Principalities in Particular is a compilation of his essays, rooted in applied struggle and practice, on these invisible but embodied forces that shape and often dominate human life.

Through stories of engaging specific principalities over time, Wylie-Kellermann brings an abstract concept to life. He explores racism, nuclear weapons, sports, family systems, corporate globalization, slavery, the drug powers, war, the Trump presidency, the global economy, and other principalities, immersing readers in a worldview that perceives not only their outer manifestations, but their inner realities as well.  One example is the corporate-friendly system of emergency management that has replaced democracy in controlling the author’s home city of Detroit and other black-majority cities in Michigan.

Wylie-Kellermann portrays local community struggles as fighting (nonviolently) for the soul of the city. He describes a statue called “The Spirit of Detroit,” which stands near City Hall, providing a focus and gathering place for community activists. In a similar vein, he tells of an interfaith group that drafted letters to “The Angel of Detroit,” calling the city back to its better nature and true vocation in service of life.

Wylie-Kellermann claims that “half of any struggle is a spiritual battle.” What is at stake is not simply a specific desired outcome, but also human healing and liberation. “We are complicit in our own captivity. … The healing of the planet and the healing of ourselves, inside and out, are one.”  Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom.

Principalities in Particular inspires and equips readers to rise to this challenge. The author invites readers into a process of inquiry, especially related to principalities in one’s own neighborhood, and to engagement that may lead to both personal and social transformation: “The struggle before us remains necessarily two-handed or two-edged, fusing social analysis and institutional reconstruction with discernment, prayer, and worship-based action.” Such activism calls for discipline and creativity: “Prayer and fasting and public worship and singing and signs of imagination are among the tactics of any movement that knows it wrestles not merely with flesh and blood.” This book illustrates the difficulties, but also the triumphs, of such engagement.

One of Wylie-Kellermann’s insights is that we humans fall into the trap of seeking justification through the powers, rather than by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). For example, Christians may find identity and worth through their participation in and loyalty to a church. But as the author points out, the church itself is a principality, as prone as any other to seeking its own survival by enlisting human beings in its service. Consequently, churches may endorse belief systems, practices, or policies that further “the powers of empire.” On the other hand, “to be church as exemplary power in this present moment is to be freed of white supremacy, patriarchy, idolatrous patriotism, heterocentrism, mammon, militarism, consumer materialism, all the divisions and ideologies of domination.”

Particularly dangerous, warns Wylie-Kellermann, is justification offered through “the devotion of national populism,” currently exemplified by the presidency of Donald Trump. “Trump’s theology frames justification, mediated by the nation and its leader, as conferred upon ‘the patriotic people’… This justification … goes hand in hand with the unleashing of the dominating spirit. Notably, it is the offer of salvation without repentance.”

The motivation to refuse complicity and resist the powers is a spiritual effect of reading this book. Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom: “Death appears to reign. But it is undone. Live in the freedom of the resurrection. In short, dear friends: Be not awed by anything but the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

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Climate Change-What Love Requires

Progressive Christian Social Action

Climate Change-What Love Requires

This post is an excerpt from Love in a Time of Climate Change, published at the Evangelicals for Social Action website.

It was love that brought me to this jail cell. – Sandra Steingraber

When my granddaughter Nikayla was ten years old, climate change became real to her. She learned that glaciers and ice sheets are melting, endangering the habitats of Polar bears and Emperor penguins. She loves animals, as most children do, so she created a poster with pictures of hearts, the earth, and animals. The poster said:

“Save our earth! We all know our earth is at stake! We need to do something about it. Try not killing animals or grow a garden. We need our earth to live on. We need you to help save our earth. There are many endangered species of animals. Please save our animals. There is a Polar bear for instance and all of a sudden the ice melts under his feet and he sinks in. There is no land for thousands of miles so there is nothing to do. He just dies. We need to save our animals, too. Save our earth. Save our animals.”

My granddaughter empathized with the penguins and Polar bears, felt grief when she thought about their suffering, and responded by making a poster. Her feelings motivated her to action. Her response brings to mind John Wesley’s counsel to reflect on the suffering of animals as a way to “soften and enlarge our hearts.” The resulting empathy involves an experiential change: a change of attitude and an increase of love.

Studies show that in order for people to be motivated to take action on climate change, their knowledge and concern must move from the head to the heart. Those of us whose lives are still intact may not realize the grave implications of a warming world. Even if we understand climate change intellectually and accept the conclusions of climate scientists, we may not internalize the dangers if we experience relative stability in our day-to-day lives. This disconnection between our head and our heart may prevent us from responding in a way that is proportional to the dangers we face.

We have seen that scripture, tradition, and reason uphold the call for justice, but how can we internalize this knowledge so that it is confirmed at the level of our own experience? What will lift us out of denial, self-centeredness, despair, and paralysis, and motivate us to respond to the suffering of others by joining in the work for climate justice?

The answer is love. According to Michael Lodahl, “For Wesley the love of God is to be experienced, in some sense felt, deep within our beings. Wesley was not content with a purely intellectual faith, nor even with a simply volitional faith, but with a faith of conscious and experienced relation to God and neighbor.”

Wesley spoke of salvation as “deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God.” Religious faith is not simply a rational assent to a belief or doctrine, but as Wesley said, it is “no other than love, the love of God and of all mankind; the loving God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, as having first loved us…, as the fountain of all the good we have received, and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God hath made, every man on earth as our own soul. This love is the great medicine of life; the never failing remedy for all the evils of a disordered world; for all the miseries and vices of men.”

This love is real in human experience. We have explored the experience of God as revealed through creation and the experience of assurance of God’s forgiveness and love. Now we focus on the experience of God’s love within us, moving us to compassion for others. Compassion motivates us to acts of mercy and justice that witness to God’s love, embody hope, and positively influence the world. Love is the only foundation strong enough to carry us through the difficulties posed by climate change with courage, compassion, persistence, and hope.

Love is the only foundation strong enough to carry us through the difficulties posed by climate change with courage, compassion, persistence, and hope.

Some people may fear being swallowed up by pain, guilt, or the inability to cope if they open their hearts to the magnitude of suffering caused by climate change. Denial and suppression of such feelings may seem to be the only way to carry on with current responsibilities as a functional human being. But as we grow spiritually and mature in faith, our capacity for both joy and sorrow expand. As we become more fully alive and connected with others, we come to recognize the presence of love in the full range of human emotion. We move out of denial through faith and are carried by love. The climate crisis presents us with opportunities to demonstrate that love in a variety of ways, in solidarity with people on the front lines of the struggle for climate justice. As Joan Baez said, “Action is the antidote to despair….”

As people of faith, the climate crisis demands that each of us decide where we stand and what love requires. In each moment we have a choice: to follow where love leads or to relinquish our responsibility to choose. Each prayer and each action has significance. With each decision we move the world closer to climate chaos or to climate justice. In each moment we stand on the front lines of climate change.

Love brought Sandra Steingraber to a jail cell for civil disobedience. Love brought Jesus to the cross. Where will love bring you?

Sharon Delgado creatively adapts John Wesley’s theological method by using scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to explore the themes of creation and justice in her book Love in a Time of Climate Change, from which this article is excerpted with permission from Fortress Press. The premise is that love of God and neighbor requires us to honor creation and establish justice for our human family, future generations, and all creation. From the Introduction: “As we entrust our lives to God, we are enabled to join with others in the movement for climate justice and to carry a unified message of healing, love, and solidarity as we live into God’s future, offering hope amidst the climate crisis that ‘another world is possible.’ God is ever present, always with us.  Love never ends.”

See the article at http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/creation-care/24462/

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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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Cross Country by Train

 

 

As some of you know, last year I traveled cross county by train—not once, but twice.  The first time was to Washington DC, in September, to work with a team of United Methodists from around the world on updating the “Natural World” section of our denomination’s Social Principles.  The second time, I got a one-month rail pass and presented my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, at several East Coast venues.  I spent Thanksgiving with my sister in Asheville, North Carolina, where I also presented my book.

One of the benefits of traveling by train is a sense of “freedom from the bondage of time.”  There are none of the usual demands of life while going long distance by train.  I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired, visit with a fellow passenger now and then, meditate as I gaze out at the scenery, and get out for occasional “fresh air breaks” at various stations.  I settle in to the rhythm and am comforted by the sound of the train’s whistle up ahead.  I trust that I am being carried to my destination.  And in between, I write, write, write, listening for the inspiration of the Spirit.

Long-distance train trips function as writing retreats for me.  On both trips, as I was traveling with my newly-released book, I was also working on a Second Edition to Shaking the Gates of Hell, my first book.  I was working under deadline, and sure enough, I got the draft of updates and edits submitted to my publisher in mid-December, two weeks before the end-of-year deadline.

Now it’s in their hands, and eventually I’ll get their suggestions back, then typeset pages for me to proof, and finally, the book itself.  The Second Edition of Shaking the Gates of Hell is scheduled to be released later this year.

My challenge in these days is to continue living free from the bondage of time, amidst the many demands and opportunities that each day presents.  I know that especially as an activist, it’s easy to take on too much, trying to fill whatever need I see.  There have been times when I’ve taken on so much that I feel like I’m on a train that’s taking me further and further from where I want to be, so that I can hardly remember why I got on in the first place.  I end up running on automatic.  Then I crash… and I have to stop, re-evaluate, limit my commitments, and make more realistic (and humble) choices.

I understand that not everyone can cut back on activities, especially if they are supporting their families.  That’s why we all need to continue promoting justice (including a living wage), so that everyone will be able to be sustained.

I was at the demonstration today on the bridge in Nevada City, commemorating ongoing resistance to the policies of the Trump Administration.  Then I walked home, up the hill from town, enjoying the beauty of the day.   Each of us can only do so much, and I want to be a spiritually fit as possible so that I know what I need to do and will be equipped to do it.  I choose to be sustained by spiritual practice for the long haul, and I practice trusting in the same way that I trusted while I was on the train, that I am being guided and carried to my destination.

 

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Resistance for the Long Haul

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Resistance for the Long Haul

In this new year, I have been hearing people talk about how bad 2017 was (politically), and hoping that 2018 will be better. Many people who have not been active before have worked hard last year to resist the Trump Administration and the Republican agenda.  The current state of the nation and world makes it almost impossible to focus solely on one’s personal life.

That’s a good thing, because our neoliberal society would have us believe that we are separate and self-sufficient and that we can find fulfillment by escaping into our personal lives, focusing on ourselves, seeking our own comfort, and feeding our own appetites.  This enables the dominant institutional Powers to divide us and discourage us from taking communal action that could disrupt their attempts to dominate the world.  Besides, that is not the way to happiness.

There are hopeful signs.  Many people are refusing to be sidetracked, and are continuing with the struggle.  Several Republicans have been unseated due to election upsets.  This coming Saturday, there will be anniversary marches around the country, recalling the huge Inauguration Day demonstrations that took place last year.

I have a sense, though, that people are exhausted.  It’s hard not to be discouraged by the constant barrage of presidential tweets, the acceleration of harm, hate and scapegoating, surveillance and repression, and the ongoing “dismantling of the administrative state.” We face tremendous dangers, and many fear that we are descending into fascism, runaway climate change, or even nuclear war.

How can we sustain resistance for the long haul?  I have found that I need a spiritual foundation to keep going, maintain a positive attitude, and live in hope of both personal and social transformation.  In other words, resistance must have an inner, as well as an outer, dimension.  This involves spiritual and cultural awakening, remembering who we are as children of earth and Spirit, prayer as an “uprising against the disorder of the world,” resistance and contemplation, and the conscious practice of simplicity.

I have written about these themes in the context of progressive Christianity in Resistance and Contemplation, an excerpt from Chapter 17 of Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, first published in 2007.  A revised, updated, and expanded Second Edition will be released later this year.

 

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