In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

Progressive Christian Social Action

In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

For the past several weeks, I have been going to Sacramento on Mondays to join in the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations at the California State Capitol. Similar demonstrations are taking place across the country at over thirty state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The campaign’s website summarizes its goal and purpose: “The Poor People’s Campaign:  A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.” By uniting these interrelated issues, this campaign is helping to create the diverse and broad coalition that we will need to transform the system that underlies them all.

Last Monday’s action at the California State Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign was about human health (including a call for health care for all) and the health of the environment (including air, land, water, climate justice). It included strong leadership from Indigenous brothers and sisters, some from Standing Rock. They covered the statue in the capitol rotunda (of Queen Isabella giving Columbus the world) with a parachute that said, “All Nations, One Fight.” After the police took the parachute, thirteen people surrounded the statue and were finally arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. There was lots of singing, a strong spirit of unity and people power, and great diversity. Next Monday the focus will be on economic justice.  I will be there.

During this forty-day kick-off, hundreds have already been arrested for nonviolent direct action, including in Sacramento.  These “moral witnesses” have been willing to put their bodies on the line to call attention to the violence and injustice of today’s Domination System, the interlocking network of political, economic, military, police, and ideological institutional “Powers” that rule the world today.   This coming Monday it will be my turn.  Some of my grandchildren will be with me.  I want them to know in their bones that their grandmother loved them enough to take whatever (nonviolent) action that might be necessary to bring about systemic change and to secure their future.

I have been preaching, speaking, writing, organizing, and taking action for peace, justice, and environmental sanity for years.  I have been arrested many times.  I practice prayer and other spiritual disciplines to stay physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fit so that I will be ready and “awake” when the time comes for me to act.  I seek the Spirit’s guidance in discerning not just what needs to be done but what I am called to do.  I especially look for those instances where there is an outbreak of Spirit, those times when there is an uprising of people power, those historical moments “when the impossible becomes possible.”  Now is such a time.

 

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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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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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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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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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