Jesus, Resister, Part 1: Good News to the Poor

Grandparents for the future

During this season of Lent, some of my writings focus on what Jesus’ life, teachings, and death mean for us today, especially in the context of the great global challenges we face: climate change, economic distress, food and fresh water shortages, species extinctions, violence, terror, and war. If humanity is to meet these challenges, we will need the resources of the world’s great spiritual traditions, including Christianity.

Sadly, in its dominant forms, Christianity has often been used to support the ruling powers, pacify the masses, and justify the right to rule by the 1%. How ironic, since Jesus introduced his mission as bringing “good news to the poor.” He not only nonviolently resisted the ruling powers of his day, he created an alternative model for human community, one which we, who care about the future, can emulate today. As Walter Wink said, “To free people from the powers that possessed them was central to [Jesus’] struggle to undercut the domination System in all its forms, spiritual as well as physical, personal as well as political.” Continue reading

Jesus, Temptation, and Worldly Power

Jesus in the Wilderness

Jesus in the Wilderness

The temptation of Jesus.  This story comes around each year on the first Sunday of Lent- the story of Jesus’ encounter with the devil and his struggle with temptation.  I have preached on this story many times, for instance, in “Struggling in the Wilderness of Our Souls.”

This story is about identity, authenticity, discernment, resistance, and surrender.  There’s so much here:  Jesus’ struggle with what it meant to be true to his calling as one who is beloved of God;  his forty days of self-denial in the wilderness, which our journey through Lent parallels; his resistance to the temptations that seduce us into being less than who we really are.

This story also shows “the devil” (figuratively speaking) as the power behind “all the kingdoms” of the world.  We may think that our “kingdom,” the United States of America, is an exception, but it is not.  Of course, there are many good things about this country, but we fall far short of our stated ideals of democracy and justice for all.  Our government is the primary promoter of unrestrained free-market capitalism, which is causing poverty, inequity, and environmental devastation  here at home and on a global scale.  This global economic system is dominated by corporations and is enforced by militarized police forces and by the most powerful military-industrial complex the world has ever seen.  (For more on this subject read “A System of Global Domination,” an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell.)

In his book The Word Before the Powers, Charles Campbell tells the story like this:  “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 [or a drone warfare program].  All the kingdoms can be yours–if you will just use the world’s means of power:  domination and violence.”

We may not think that this applies to us, especially if we do not use domination and violence in our interpersonal relationships.  But as members of a society propped up by domination and violence, we are complicit.  Our temptation is to go along with the current state of affairs, to ignore the violence that props up our way of life, to accept the worldly benefits that come with our consent to the destructiveness of the current system.

But the cost is too high!  The cost is our ability to discern right from wrong and to take right action.   If we fall for this temptation, we become servants of the State, complicit in harming ourselves and others.  By so doing, we turn our backs on our identity as God’s beloved children and on God’s intention for our lives.

Lent, for me, is a journey with Jesus through this process of discernment.  It is a struggle with the temptation to be less than I am called to be, spiritual resistance to the patterns of thought and action that keep me bound, and surrender to the Love at the heart of the universe, the ground of our being.

Teach Us to Sit Still

Ash Wednesday, Part 2

yuba river

“Spirit of the River” (South Fork-Yuba River)

Every year on Ash Wednesday, Guari and I read T. S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” aloud.  The poem brilliantly portrays the dual Lenten focus on repentance and acceptance of our mortality. It expresses a sense of dust and ashes, of hopelessness, of powerlessness to change. These feelings resonate with many people facing the pain and challenges of the world today.  But then, in the poem, surprisingly:

The lost heart stiffens and rejoices

for the lost lilac and the lost sea voices

and the weak spirit quickens to rebel

for the bent goldenrod and the lost sea smell

quickens to recover the cry of quail

and the whirling plover.

The earth has the power to call us back to life, through the divine Spirit that moves through creation. In some mysterious way, the earth can provide us with an antidote to despair and can renew our spiritual connection with what is deepest within our souls. It is our context, our “ground of being,” through which the Spirit touches us,  reminding us of what is real and important, who we are, and with whom we are connected.

Teach us to sit still,

even among these rocks,

our peace in His will.

And even among these rocks,

Sister, Mother, and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea

Suffer me not to be separated,

And let my cry come unto Thee.

(This blog posting includes excerpts from Shaking the Gates of Hell.)

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Ash Wednesday, Part 1

ash-wednesday-300x225

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  In Christian tradition, on this day ashes are used to symbolize two things:  repentance and mortality.

In considering the destruction of the earth and the suffering of our fellow creatures, both human and nonhuman, repentance and humble acceptance of our own mortality seem appropriate. In Ash Wednesday services the imposition of ashes is a way of showing our repentance, our intention to turn away from harmful actions and to turn back toward God.  As we consider the damage to the earth we are called to repent of our own violence, greed, and over-consumption, our participation in ecological destruction and human misery. We are called to repent of our complicity in the harm caused by the institutions and systems of which we are a part.

We are also called to a humble acceptance of our place in the universe: “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Ashes symbolize our mortality, reminding us of who we are: human beings, made up of the dust of the earth. Humus, human, humility—these words all have the same root. Our bodies are made up of the same elements that make up the earth’s crust. For that matter, we are made up of the same elements that make up the stars. We are, quite literally, star dust. We participate in the great unfolding journey of the universe, and our role is to celebrate in mystery and awe.  And yet we are mortal. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

For me, this puts things in perspective.  It provides me with grounding for the spiritual journey through Lent.

(This blog posting includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell.)