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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It’s a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon

I pulled out this old “historic” poster and put it up on our refrigerator today, after the false alarm went out to Hawaiians that an incoming (presumably nuclear) missile was on its way.  My grown children will recognize the poster, because it was on our refrigerator for years.  I began my career as an activist in 1979, when I realized the extent of the very real danger of nuclear war. I was engaged in the peace and anti-nuclear movement the whole time they were growing up.  They remember carrying candles and walking from Pioneer Park to the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City each year on August 6, Hiroshima Day.  During the election year of 1984, I was a paid organizer for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Freeze Voter ’84, which I worked on here in Nevada County.  (Read here about  The Nuclear Freeze and its Impact.)

One morning, I was at home by myself, cleaning house while I listened to a tape of Helen Caldicott talking about the psychological effects of nuclear war on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha. Listening to their stories about what they had suffered over the years, I imagined my own family going through what they had gone through and I began to weep.

Suddenly, I was struck with the thought: How must God feel about all this? How must God feel about what we human beings have done to each other, and about what we intend to do, as we stockpile nuclear weapons? I fell to my knees, praying for forgiveness, overcome with a sense of the depth of pain that God must bear because of the horrors we human beings create for each other. To this day, I believe that God weeps for the harm we do and prepare for each other.

When the Cold War finally ended, people around the world heaved a sigh of relief, believing that it signaled the end of the nuclear arms race and the possibility of world peace. Instead, the danger of nuclear war, while less visible in the public eye than during the Cold War, continues to threaten humanity.  In recent years, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the time on its “Doomsday Clock” closer and closer to midnight, that is, “doomsday.”  They warn of a “Second Nuclear Age,”with increasing vulnerability to global catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and other harmful emerging technologies.  In January 2017, soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Scientists moved the time on the Doomsday Clock to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight.  In addition to unchecked climate change, growing disputes among nuclear-armed nations, nuclear weapons modernization programs, and lack of serious arms-control negotiations, they cited Donald Trump’s statements about using nuclear weapons and about doubting the scientific consensus on climate change.

Now the Trump Administration is planning to take actions that will make the world even more vulnerable to nuclear war.  The Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review includes plans to develop new, more usable nuclear weapons and to “expand the circumstances in which the U.S. might use its nuclear arsenal,” even in response to a non-nuclear attack.  (See Rising Concerns about Nuclear War as Trump Prepares to Loosen Constraints on Weapons.) This plan heightens global tensions and raises the dangers of a deliberate or accidental nuclear war.

Donald Trump, however, did not bring us to this pass.  The United States has never pledged to refrain from launching a nuclear first strike, and it is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons against another nation.  Although President Obama spoke early in his presidency about eventually ridding the world of the nuclear threat, his administration initiated a trillion-dollar program to upgrade and modernize the US nuclear arsenal.  The plan called for creating modernized nuclear weapons that will be smaller, stealthy, maneuverable, and highly accurate.  These features will make them more likely to be used, but there is no coherent strategy for avoiding escalation if they are launched.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has been the only remaining superpower.  Why, then, has this country not led a major diplomatic effort toward disarmament, peacemaking, and sustainable development in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere? Would this not create a far more secure world? Why do we continue developing increasingly accurate and usable first-strike nuclear weapons, and why are our nuclear weapons still on high alert? Why are we selling advanced war-fighting weapons on the open market and opposing treaties that limit the global arms trade? Why are we launching drone attacks that kill civilians, fuel hatred, and provide a recruiting tool for terrorists?  Why not instead institute a Global Marshall Plan to alleviate suffering and create international goodwill?  Such a policy would go a long way toward creating security for the United States and for the world.

It’s time for a renewal of the peace movement!  I hope that the many people who are actively resisting the harms caused by the Trump Administration will include the challenging work of peacemaking as a priority.  This is certainly a practical issue, for the sake of the world, but it is also a spiritual issue.  I am complicit if I don’t speak out and take action to resist the violent, unjust, and yes, sinful actions of my government.  God weeps at the harm we do and prepare for each other.  “It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon.”  Another world is possible.


This post includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.   An updated Second Edition will be released by Fortress Press in the fall of 2018.

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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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People of Faith in Support of Standing Rock

14940070_953475381423258_5373093476486501858_oHow can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was and is being destroyed?”                                       Wendell Berry

Christian interpretations of scripture that support domination of the earth solely for human profit and hierarchical views that place some human beings above others have caused immeasurable harm.  Not only has much of modern Christianity solemnly folded its hands while creation is degraded and destroyed, but also while our brothers and sisters are exploited and abused.

Fortunately, there are other strands of Christianity that are focused on justice, peace, and the healing of creation.  There are also a growing number of denominations that are taking actions of repentance for past harm, making amends, and taking seriously the call to act as responsible members of the interrelated and interconnected community of life.

I’m leaving this morning for Standing Rock.  I’ll post again soon.  First I want to catch up with what’s going on related to people of faith acting in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota.  The tribe is trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would cross under the Missouri River, threatening the water of millions of people.  Thousands of people have travelled to Standing Rock, including members of over 500 tribes. Many are camping there.  Hundreds of people have been arrested trying to stop the pipeline, and solidarity actions have been taking place around the world.

Last Wednesday, November 2, I was among several faith leaders who responded to an invitation to attend a demonstration in Auburn, California, in support of the water protectors in Standing Rock.  It included song, drums, spoken word, and a sending-off ceremony for people who were on their way to Standing Rock.  At the time, I knew I’d be going but I didn’t know when.  As the elder called down a blessing on me and on the people I would leave behind as I travelled, I felt clarity that it was time.  By that evening, I had announced I would go with my friends, who are leaving today.  I’m leaving with them.

Last Thursday, November 3, over 500 clergy travelled to Standing Rock, in response to an invitation from the tribe, to stand in solidarity with the people there.  I shed tears when I learned that one of their actions was to burn a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, a doctrine through which the Roman Catholic Church gave Christian explorers the right to claim for their monarchs any lands that they “discovered.” Indigenous peoples inhabiting the lands might be spared if they converted to Christianity; otherwise they could be driven off the land, enslaved, or killed. Missionaries were complicit in this colonization project. In 1823, the Doctrine of Discovery was adopted into U.S. law. It was referenced in a Supreme Court ruling as recently as 2005.

Several denominations, including my own, have held services acknowledging and repenting for Christianity’s past complicity in colonization, forced conversions, assimilation, and genocide of Indigenous peoples.  If we who are Christian intend to make amends and be reconciled with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, a big step forward is to support them in their current struggles to protect their treaty rights and the rights of the earth, and to learn from them about the value and interconnectedness of all parts of creation. By doing so, we honor creation and work for justice in our time.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.  

 More about Standing Rock: 

 Official website and place to donate to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  

 Facebook page:  Standing Rock Sioux Facebook page.  

 Democracy Now is covering this action on a daily basis. 

 More about the Dakota Access Pipeline

 The United Nations statement.


There’s Still Time


Winter Garden

It’s a beautiful day, with a light rain following last night’s storm.  The winter veggies and daffodils are happy, the fruit trees are happy, the birds, squirrels, and frogs are delighted.  Sunny days will return soon, and it looks like we’ll have a glorious spring after the first real winter in years.

I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for any weather, really, and for life itself.  I’m glad there’s still time—time for us as humans, even here in the United States, to come back to ourselves, to remember what it means to be human, dependent upon the Spirit for life, breath, and all things and interdependent with the rest of the natural world.  There’s still time for us to interrupt the insanity that has possessed us as a culture, that has led us to believe that current conditions are “normal,” even though all the warning (and warming) signs of economic, social, and environmental collapse are plain to anyone who has eyes to see.

How then shall we live?  I hope to play a small part in the hope for a “great turning,” for a transition to the other peaceful, just, and life-sustaining world that I know is possible.

It’s not time to give up.  It’s not time to simply provide hospice for the earth—that time could come, but it’s not now.  It’s not time to escape into our own private, personal worlds.  It’s time to awaken.  It will take many people from many different life experiences and ways of seeing the world, awakening 1) to what is at stake, 2) to what our responsibility is to the earth and the future, 3) what the alternatives are to the current path we are on, and 4) what we can do together about it.  Each of us can go deep within ourselves and cultivate courage in resisting the harm of the dominant institutions and systems of our day and to practice persistence in working for global transformation.

As I enjoy the rain and look toward spring, I know that God is alive and magic is afoot.  I am confident that there is still time for the change that needs to come.  I, for one, pray and act for “God’s kin-dom to come and God’s (loving) will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.