Lent: A Call to Resist

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent:  A Call to Resist

This post was published at the beginning of Lent last year, 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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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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Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

Progressive Christian Social Action

Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

I have a collection of children’s books about creation that I read to my grandchildren and to the Sunday school children in my church. Some of the books present the seven-day sequence from Genesis 1, with colorful pictures showing the emergence of light and dark, heavenly bodies, plants, sea life and birds, and finally animals and human beings. Some books are based on the story of Adam and Eve. Jane Ray’s Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, on the other hand, tells the creation story, which has a completely different order of creation, by saying: “At the very beginning of the world the earth was a dry and dusty place, where nothing could live and nothing could grow. So God made a mist which watered the ground all over. Then with his great hands, he formed the first man of the clay of the newly watered earth.”

Other picture books on creation are more loosely based on scripture. And God Created Squash by Martha Whitmore Hickman portrays God as an old man with long white hair and a beard, thinking up things to create. He puts his ear to the ground and says, “I’d like to hear something growing.” As he creates he walks around smelling flowers, tasting food, and enjoying the abundance of life. At the end he says, “I’ll be around. You may not see me. But I’ll be here—and there—wherever you are, whenever you need me. Even in the middle of the night.” Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root presents a feminine image of God: “When Big Momma made the world, she didn’t mess around… she rolled up her sleeves and went to it.” Big Momma, with a playful baby on her hip, takes mud and knits it together to create the world and everything in it, culminating in a huge ball of mud out of which emerge people of every race, size, and shape. They are, apparently, naked, to the delight of the children.

Each of these books is a creative contemporary expression of Judeo-Christian traditional teachings on creation. Each has its own unique twist based on the theological interpretation of the author. Christian tradition is not static. It develops in an ongoing way.

A Christian understanding of creation doesn’t rule out respect for science. I also read the children a science-based book about the origins of the universe called Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton, author of children’s classics such as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. Life Story begins with the birth of the Sun, “one of the millions and billions of stars that make up our galaxy.” It proceeds with a fascinating walk through geological time and the evolution of life on earth right up to the present. “And now it is your Life Story… The stage is set, the time is now, and the place wherever you are.”

I have never felt there was a conflict between reading the traditional storybooks that talk about God creating the world and children’s books based on science. These accounts of creation complement each other. The children aren’t confused. They know the Bible stories, they know about Jesus, and they know God’s love. They also know about stars, black holes, dinosaurs, and fossils.  . The scientific story of creation doesn’t negate an understanding of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the world.

This blog post is an excerpt from Sharon’s new book,  Love in a Time of Climate Change

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Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Progressive Christian Social Action

“Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” that is, environmentalism.

Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Note:  This article includes excerpts from my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, to be released by Fortress Press in July. 

Like many of you, I am appalled by many things that Donald Trump has said and done in the first months of his presidency, including his announcement that he’s pulling the United States out of the (largely symbolic) Paris Climate Agreement.  But we must look beyond the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration to see what’s really going on.  Now that Republicans dominate Congress, they are quietly working to enact regressive policies that have been in the works for decades, policies that target the poor, people who are sick, people of color, immigrants, women, our young and aged, and yes, the environment.

Donald Trump didn’t get elected in a vacuum.  He has lots of backers, including the Religious Right.  This primarily Christian constituency is aligned with conservative social, political, and economic interests and is a powerful and organized force in the Republican Party.  The cruel policies supported by those who espouse right-wing Christian beliefs are the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings about loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Religious Right also exerts a strong influence on the debate about climate change in the United States.  This conservative religious lobby’s talking points and policy proposals on energy and climate are largely indistinguishable from those of the fossil fuel industry. Recent initiatives have focused on Academic Freedom legislation, designed to “teach the controversy” about climate change in public schools. Legislation to this effect has been drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative secular organization that brings corporate leaders together with conservative lawmakers to draft model legislation on various issues to be presented in state legislatures. Teach the controversy legislation has also been supported by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and the Discovery Institute—a creationist think tank. This uninformed and deliberately confusing approach to climate change was reflected by then-candidate Donald Trump in a 2016 New York Times interview, when he said, “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind…. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

Right-wing Christian groups deny climate science and evolutionary science on the basis that they are unbiblical. The Cornwall Alliance’s website hosts a sign-on declaration, “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” stating that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” The Cornwall Alliance also offers a DVD called “Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” which outlines the dangers of the new and false “religion” of environmentalism. Not surprisingly, the organization also works to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Although political and economic interests help fund and influence the Christian Right’s opposition to climate science, there are also theological factors at work. An analysis of anti-environmental sentiment within the Religious Right reveals that some are convinced that concern for the environment is based on the worship of nature. Others, who believe in apocalyptic prophesies about the coming end times, feel that it is pointless to worry about climate change. What they hold in common, however, is their insistence that the creation stories in the book of Genesis must be taken literally.

Creationism, the belief that the creation stories of Genesis are scientific fact, is widespread among conservative Christians, who seek to introduce this doctrine even in public schools. This sets the creation stories in scripture in opposition to the scientific story of the origins and nature of the universe. Was the universe created in fifteen billion years or in seven days? In pre-scientific times, most believers did take the creation stories in Genesis literally, but times have changed. Scientific discoveries have revealed aspects of the universe unknown in ancient times.

One form of denial at work in these and other conversations about climate change is people’s refusal to consider facts or evidence that contradicts their worldview. Science is continually revealing new information about the natural world, its origins and interconnectedness, and the causes and impacts of planetary warming. Reason enables us to weigh the evidence, reflect on its implications, form rational conclusions, and make informed decisions as we consider how to respond to the earth’s changing climate in a reasonable way. But in the words of Naomi Klein, “it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered…”

The debate about climate change is political, not scientific, and confusion need not hold us back. Faith in the One who brought creation into being enables us to overcome denial, fear, and confusion as we seek truth about these issues.  Jesus insisted that the most important measure of human life is loving God above all and our earthly neighbors as ourselves.  In this time of climate change, love of God and neighbor requires honoring creation and working to establish justice for our human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, for our young and future generations, and for all creation.


Sharon’s new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, describes some of the ways that the Religious Right has impacted US climate policy, and explores the topic of climate change in a way that takes climate science seriously and is grounded in Jesus’ teachings and example. 

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For more information and an analysis on the Religious Right’s backing of Donald Trump’s policies on climate change, see “Politics, culture, or theology?  Why evangelicals back Trump on global warming,” by David Gibson. 

Sharon’s other blog postings about climate change can be found here.