Saturday, December 10, 2016

the challenge of Christ's love in this present darkness - part one...

We in the once "main line" but now "side lined" churches have been given a challenge none of
us wanted with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the USA.  We must now boldly and consistently articulate a compassionate and just alternative to the proto-fascist plans of the new Trump administration. For this regime requires that we put our bodies on the line in ways that heretofore have been unimaginable. 

Previously, many of us commented on social issues in the manner of aloof academics. We spoke and wrote our concerns in random forums - including Sunday sermons, cocktail parties and letters to the editors - in an undisciplined way. We operated from the legacy of privilege. We tended to react to the latest "issue" before quickly moving on to the next pressing concern. We became addicted to the so-called news cycles of popular culture. Our commentaries, while heartfelt, have too often been intellectually shallow and strategically disorganized. Our responses to social injustices remain disconnected from allies, devoid of costly discipleship, and essentially "feel good" messages that changed nothing. We are masters of too many words that remain disembodied. We have not trained our congregations in the way of sacrificial living nor have we honored Christ's call to renew our minds and bodies through the non-conformist practices of radical faith, hope and love.

Consequently, because we are so embedded in the bourgeois values of our consumerist culture, many middle-class Christians are floundering in confusion and despair. Pankaj Mishra, writing in The Guardian, articulates the challenge before us with stunning clarity::

The Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman admitted on the night of Trump’s victory that “people like me – and probably like most readers of the New York Times – truly didn’t understand the country we live in”. Since the twin shocks of Brexit and the US election, we have argued ineffectually about their causes, while watching aghast as the new representatives of the downtrodden and the “left-behind” – Trump and Nigel Farage, posing in a gold-plated lift – strut across a bewilderingly expanded theatre of political absurdism. But we cannot understand this crisis because our dominant intellectual concepts and categories seem unable to process an explosion of uncontrolled forces.

It is unclear whether the in-coming Trump administration will make the personal bullying and authoritarianism of Mr. Trump policy. It could be that he will empower his command-style generals and corporate elites to implement his broad goals while he vacillates between weird Tweets and staying the course. What is already obvious, however, is that many of his angry and fearful followers now feel empowered to act out against innocent individuals with violence, racial slurs and Nazi graffiti. Sickening parallels between the rise of fascism in Germany, Spain and Italy in the 1930s are gaining traction throughout the United States. And our churches are left sputtering because, as Bob Dylan sang in "Ballad of a Thin Man,": "something's going on all around you but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?"

An enormous pent-up anger – which had first become visible in the mass acclaim in Russia and Turkey for pitiless despots and the electoral triumph of bloody strongmen in India and the Philippines. The insurgencies of our time, including Brexit and the rise of the European far right, have many local causes – but it is not an accident that demagoguery appears to be rising around the world. Savage violence has erupted in recent years across a broad swath of territory: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, insurgencies from Yemen to Thailand, terrorism and counter-terrorism, economic and cyberwar. The conflicts, not confined to fixed battlefields, feel endemic and uncontrollable. Hate-mongering against immigrants and minorities has gone mainstream; figures foaming at the mouth with loathing and malice are ubiquitous on old and new media alike.

My mind turns to the wisdom of the German Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, who noted that
"reality is the will of God - it can always be better - but we must start with what is real." Could it be that God is now calling out to us from within this reality to abandon our disconnected and disorganized way of being the church for a season of social solidarity, resistance and radically creative acts of beauty and compassion?  I have been haunted by the words of an artist who lost her home when the Ghost Ship of Oakland went up in flames.

For the tormented queer, the bullied punk, the beaten trans, the spat-upon white trash, the disenfranchised immigrants and young people of color, these spaces are a haven of understanding in a world that doesn’t understand.

Is it even imaginable that our faith communities might become one of these safe havens in the increasingly dangerous culture currently growing stronger?  In the days to come, I will be writing about a few of the ways I am being called to respond to this present darkness.  Both head and heart look to Bonhoeffer at this moment in time who said: "A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol. The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children. One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons."  He came from privilege but engaged in what Dorothee Soelle called "class, race and gender suicide" to live in solidarity with the vulnerable.  He taught - and embodied - that Christian love is counter-cultural especially in opposition to fear, hatred and violence.

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.

It is not at all clear to me that our congregations can rise to the challenge none of us wanted - or are currently prepared to engage. But that is the quest for this generation who call Christ our Lord and Savior.  

(note:  the three icons in this post suggest visually what a Christianity of solidarity might include. The artists are: a) Robert Lentz, b) Mark Dukes, and c) Parker Fitzgerald.)

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