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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Guest Post: UMC: Stop Investing in the Merchants of Doubt and Death!

Progressive Christian Social Action Blog

Guest Post from Mark Davies:  “United Methodist Church and Westpath, Stop Investing in the Merchants of Doubt and Death!”


Today my blog features a guest post from Mark Y.A. Davies, the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University.  I met Mark a year ago in St. Louis at a United Methodist Women training for Climate Justice Leaders. This post makes the case for the United Methodist Church, especially the company that manages the denomination’s pension fund (Westpath), to divest from fossil fuels. As one of people who has been working with Fossil Free UMC for the past several years on this issue, I appreciate Mark’s clear and persuasive practical and moral arguments.  Although only one-third of delegates at our 2016 General Conference voted to divest, the struggle goes on.  I am convinced that with the clarity and determination of the people I have been working with, including Mark, and with the support of peoples’ prayers from around the world, the United Methodist Church will join other denominations, universities, nonprofits, and even corporations in acting on this basic principle:  “It is wrong to profit from wrecking the planet.”

United Methodist Church and Westpath, Stop Investing in the Merchants of Doubt and Death!  By Mark Y.A. Davies

Thanks to Mark for agreeing to let me post this article.   Find Mark’s original post here

If we think it is morally problematic to invest in alcohol, tobacco, and gambling because of their negative effects on persons and society; but we think it is not morally problematic to invest in fossil fuel companies, then that it is a deeply flawed view of moral and social responsibility.

Only one of the above mentioned industries threatens the very future of human civilization on earth, and that industry, the fossil fuel industry, has spent billions of dollars to spread demonstrably false information about climate change and to influence politicians to keep allowing them to continue harming people and the planet.

My church, the United Methodist Church, and the company that manages its pension and benefits investments, Wespath, continue to make this grievous error in the name of keeping a seat at the table to influence the oil and gas companies. It is not working.

These same fossil fuel corporations are the ones working behind the scenes to keep us from making gains for climate justice and to keep us from moving towards clean and renewable energy. These same companies are investing in an infrastructure of pipelines and technology that will keep us dependent on fossil fuel for another generation while climate scientists are telling us that the vast majority of oil and gas must stay in the ground. Despite their public claims to the contrary, these same companies have helped bring people like Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt to power, and now they have removed the USA from the Paris Climate Agreement. By continuing to invest in these fossil fuel companies, the United Methodist Church is complicit with the very entities most responsible for creating an unlivable climate for human civilization.

Time and time again the United Methodist Church’s investments in fossil fuel companies undercut our prophetic witness for the care of creation. We United Methodists stood side by side with the people of Standing Rock and wrote statements of support for the water protectors there, only to have our witness tainted by the news that our church was financially invested in the very companies that were building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Talk about an example of not putting our money where our mouth was!

Recently, Wespath has touted the fact that our engagement with Occidental and Exxon Mobil helped sway stockholder votes to make these companies take into consideration and report to the stockholders about the impact of climate change and climate change mitigation on the activities and financial value of these companies. Days later the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord based on the false science that these companies have been supporting for decades. The stockholder resolutions that Westpath is so proud of will have negligible impact, if any, on the actual extraction practices of these companies, while the United States federal government’s decision to withdraw from global cooperative action on climate change will likely bring devastating consequences to all life on earth.

What good are returns on our pension and benefits investments if we do not have a livable climate for human civilization? What good is a seat at the table of the planet destroyers if they keep on destroying the planet? While they may occasionally give us some crumbs that fall off the table to keep us satisfied that we are doing some good, they continue funding the merchants of doubt and the merchants of death that will lead to unspeakable suffering for all life on earth. It is time to stop taking seats at the tables we should be turning over and fully engage the prophetic witness for climate justice that is needed in fiercely urgent times like these.

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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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Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of this Age

The wisdom of God

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.”  1Corinthians 2:6

In this Lenten series I continue refuting the Christian Right’s view of the meaning of the cross and pointing to a different understanding of the death of Jesus.  In my two previous posts, The Suffering God and Creation Crucified, I wrote about where God is present in the injustice and suffering of our world today.

The extreme harm being done to humanity and to creation is not taking place in a vacuum, nor is it inevitable.  Rather, it is the direct and predictable result of a human-constructed global system that has grown beyond human control and has taken on a life of its own.  Its institutions and operating systems function efficiently as designed, to enslave humans in their service and devour the gifts of the earth to bring profit, prestige, and power to the elite few.  It is justified by assumptions and beliefs that represent “the wisdom of this age,” that is, the values, logic, and ideologies that people take for granted as simply the way things are.

The prevailing wisdom of our time requires one to be “realistic” within the dominant milieu, that is, to not think outside of the box of what is possible within the assumptions inherent in our current situation.  The wisdom of our age assumes:   1) social hierarchy among human beings and human domination of the natural world, 2) the Market as the key organizing principle for society, and 3) the efficacy of domination and violence in ordering society and conquering evil.  These precepts uphold the dominant global system and express the dominant milieu of our age.

As I wrote in the The Subversive Jesus, Jesus was executed because his message and the community he created presented a direct threat to the interlocking network of institutions that made up the domination system of his day and to the values upon which it was built.  Today’s dominant institutions differ from those of Jesus’ day, but they are built upon the same “worldly” values:  status, wealth, and worldly (including police and military) power.  The global system of advanced free market capitalism has progressed far beyond what Jesus could have foreseen, but his critique and the direction he points are still valid, or even more valid, today.

Ultimately, these powers are “doomed to perish”—today’s dominant global system contains the seeds of its own destruction, and we see signs of system fail all around, especially in the United States, the promoter, exporter, and enforcer of global capitalism.  In the meantime, those of us who follow Jesus and join with others to seek peace, justice, and healing can expect the ruling powers to respond to us as they did to him, because that is how the “demonic powers” (embodied as institutions) treat the God of Love.  Still, we are also offered great gifts of the Spirit, which Jesus said include “words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15).  May it be so, as we move from personal and societal bondage into freedom.

 Previous blog post:  Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

Next Post: God’s Restorative Justice

This post is part of Sharon’s series, A Lenten Call to Resist.

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