You’re reading from MY book!

Featured

Six trumpeter swan cygnets (babies) have joined their parents on the pond next to the cabin by the wetland. Their family is intact. It’s as beautiful to behold as separating children is ugly. The swans are lucky. So am I.

IMG_9456The cabin by the wetland is a place of privilege. There are no other humans here. But the news has a way of following me to this natural sanctuary that invites a deeper silence. The world doesn’t need another political honker, I tell myself. But my head hurts keeping inside me the need to cry out against cruelty, dishonesty, and bad religion in the nation’s capitol.

I respond to Attorney General Sessions’ twisting of the Bible (Romans 13) the way Jewish comedian Lewis Black responded to Christian televangelists who pretend to know the Jewish Bible: “You’re reading from MY book! If you want to know about MY book, ask a Jew, and he will tell you! You Christians don’t see one of my guys reading YOUR book (i.e. the New Testament) and telling you what it means. Do you?”

Like Lewis Black, I’m not big on televangelists who misuse the Hebrew Bible. I’m even less fond of institutional powers and authorities that use MY book, the New Testament, to justify a policy that is beyond justification.

Romans 13 commends to its first century C.E. readers a proper respect for the civil order represented by the office of the emperor. But it is respect for the office, not its occupant, and not an endorsement of illegitimate uses of the office, nor of unjust laws promulgated by the civil authorities. To presume otherwise, as Mr. Sessions does, ignores the location from which the Letter to the Romans was written and why its author was there. Paul was in jail. Paul was a prisoner of conscience.

The current U.S. Administration’s abuse of Holy Scripture hurts my ears, even on the wetland. If you’re going to use Romans 13, continue to read beyond what you claim supports your argument. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves the neighbor has fulfilled the law. … The commandments … are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13: 8-10). A thoughtful reader of the letter penned from a Roman jail cell might conclude that it was Saul of Tarsus (Paul), who gave Cornel West his definition of justice: “Justice is love made public”.

Love made public does not separate children from their parents. Love doesn’t do it anywhere in any century. Cruelty does. Fascism does. Hypocrisy does. White privilege does. National idolatry does. Willful religious ignorance does.

Before you site MY book as your authorization for cruelty, zoom in on the scene of Jesus’ rebuke of his mistaken disciples:

“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Gospel of Mark 10:14-16).

jesus-weptImagine Jesus taking the children on his knee again — the loving, crucified Jesus —in an ICE detention center on the Mexican border. Or buy yourself a ticket to the Minnesota wetland to spend a day with the trumpeter swans who do better than we at caring for children.

—  Gordon C. Stewart with the trumpeter swans on the wetland beyond our boundaries, June 20, 2018.

 

One day tells its tale to another

Featured

It’s quiet this morning. The only sounds are from the birds.

IMG_9456

The wetland by the wilderness cabin

Redwing blackbirds feed on the cat-n-nine tails. Woodpeckers peck the trees. Canadian geese honk to stake their claim to what remains of the beaver lodge. Trumpeter swans blow their trumpets to shoo away the geese. The loons warble a primordial language, an echo of a time we cannot remember but dare not forget. The first sounds from a primordial Silence.

At daybreak at the edge of the wetland, I read from The Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

“One day tells its tale to another

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,

and their voices not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands,

and their message to the ends of the world.”

[Psalm 19:2-4]

The Good, Good Earth: Our Island Home

The pale blue dot — our island home

I come to the wetland on this “pale blue dot” (Carl Sagan) in a vast universe to hear the primordial echo away from the human crowing, honking, and pecking that hurt my ears back home. Barclay, the ever faithful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel companion, lives by his own natural rhythm at home as well as here at the cabin, but his wagging tail and constant smile here tell me he prefers this place where the only sounds come from the air and the wetlands.

Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling on way to the cabin

Barclay professes no particular creed, yet he seems to know better what my faith tradition, ducks, geese, swans, and loons know:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament God’s handiwork” [Psalm 19:1] and “the whole Earth is the Theater of the God’s glory” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion]. With the help of The Book of Common Prayer, hearing aids, and binoculars, I sense it too.

Glorify the [Primordial Silence], O springs of waters, seas, and streams,

O whales, and all that move in the waters,

All birds of the air, glorify the [Primordial Silence],

Glorify God and praise God forever. 

[“Song of Creation” excerpt, Morning Prayer, BCP, p.89, amended by GCS]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, The Pea Pod, Northern Minnesota, May 6, 2018.

Elijah’s Resuscitating Smile

Featured

IMG_2632

Elijah’s smile resuscitates the child in Grandpa

“The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into [Grandpa] again, and [Grandpa] revived.” – First Kings 17:22, NRSV.

ElijahByLouisHersent

Elijah returning resuscitated child to his mother,Louis Hersent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Elijah does for me what the biblical Elijah did for the widow of Zarephath. Just when I think I’m an old has-been without a future, he brings the child in me back to life.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 26, 2018.

 

 

 

Silence on Palm Sunday

Featured

Centuries after the original Palm Sunday parade, the silence has been broken again.

Some [of the critics] said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’” – Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 19:39-41.

Yesterday, the students spoke. The NRA was silenced.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Palm Sunday, 2018

 

 

Epiphany 2018

One day in advance of Epiphany, we bring you a reading from an unauthorized revision of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Gospel according to Matthew 2:13-23, which some call the GCS Translation:

Now after the wise men from Iran had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to José in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then José got up, took the child and his mother, Maria, by night, and went to Canada, and remained there until the impeachment of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Canada I have called my son.”

The Round-Up of the Infants

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men from Iran, he was infuriated, and he sent orders to round up all the children in and around Charlottesville who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Canada

After Herod had been impeached, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to José in Canada and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the U.S.A., for those who were seeking the child’s life are no more. Then José got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the U.S.A. 

But when José heard that Pence was ruling in place of Herod, he was afraid to go there.

Nazareth TX statue of liberty

Statue of Liberty in Nazareth, Texas

And after being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the high plains of the Llano Estacado of Castro County in the State of Texas. There José made his home in a town called Nazareth (pop. 311), so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

 — GCS, Chaska, MN, January 5 (the Eve of the Epiphany), 2018.

 

Our Dwelling Place and the Wrath of God

Six old friends have arrived from Indiana, Minnesota, and Illinois for New Year’s Eve in the Dempsey’s living room. A seventh unbidden visitor — pancreatic cancer managed by chemotherapy — makes us freshly aware of our mortality.

d593c79180a244b638efd9900ecf7e44--himalayan-moonlight

We read aloud Psalm 90 (NRSV), pausing to reflect on each section.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

The great theologian Paul Tillich called this dwelling place “Being-Itself” or “the Ground of Being.”

You turn us back to dust,
    and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are like yesterday when it is past,
    or like a watch in the night.

We are increasingly aware that we are dust. We are mortals. Our yesterdays far outnumber any tomorrows. But the friend threatened by the cancer that almost always kills is quietly at peace with being turned back to dust. He has always known we are dust.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

Like our late friend Steve, whose life ended with pancreatic cancer, his faith is in something greater than himself, not because he is certain of what will happen when he takes his last breath, but because he is thankful for the days he has been given and trusts that whatever his place may be now, or then, it lies within the Dwelling Place. It is as it should and will be.

For we are consumed by your anger;
    by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    our years come to an end  like a sigh.

ImageGen.ashx

We are unaccustomed to talk of the the wrath of God or the fear of it. We talk of the love of God. We are not of the religion right.

But California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent use of the word springs to the center of the conversation. After a year of a public cancer — lies, name-calling, climate change denial, Charlotteseville, the alt-Right, obscene wealth, greed, and narcissistic grandiosity of little boys with toys threatening nuclear holocaust while eating away the healthy institutional cells on which a democratic republic depends — we have a fresh sense of wrath.

“I don’t think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility,” said Jerry Brown in a ’60 Minutes’ interview. “And this is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed.”

The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger?
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
So teach us to count our days
    that we may gain a wise heart.

We are students of aging, learning to count our days, aware of the dust to which we turned a blind eye in younger years while establishing ourselves as adults, raising children, and making names for ourselves. In our late 60s and mid-70s life is less a matter of the mind than it is of the heart. We are more aware of the Dwelling Place. Counting our days — and giving thanks for this one day — is the new arithmetic of the wisdom of the heart.

Turn, O Lord! How long?
    Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and prosper for us the work of our hands—
    O prosper the work of our hands!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, January 1, 2018.

The End of Neutrality

Today’s FCC vote to end net neutrality is but the latest act in the tsunami of greed that is eliminating all things neutral.

Neutral in the case of the internet means non-favoring, as in protecting a fair playing field that does not favor large providers while dis-favoring others and looking out for the interests of the general public that uses the internet.

net neutrality 722

But it’s not just in the internet debate that neutrality is in trouble in America. Our traditional allies in Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, among others scratch their heads and wonder what’s happened to America.

In Washington, D.C. the President and Congress are “reforming” the American tax code by lowering the taxes for corporations and America’s wealthiest individuals who are already reaping record profits on the pretext of lowering taxes on the middle class. The tax reform is anything but neutral. It’s greedy. It continues to widen the divide between the well-to-do and those who aren’t doing so well.

While a tax system that is anything but neutral moves forward, Congress and the President strategically malign the integrity of the independent counsel assigned the odious task of investigating foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. election. The attack on Robert Mueller’s neutrality is undertaken in the name of neutrality, portraying the former FBI Director most everyone once respected as part of a partisan Democrat plot to embarrass and unseat the President.

There is, of course, no such thing as neutrality. Never has been and never will be. But the attempt to be neutral, the attempt to put our biases and vested self-interests behind us for the sake of the greater good is a bedrock principal of a civil society and of a democratic republic.

In the American thesaurus, neutrality and fairness are kissing cousins. So are power and abuse. American history is being re-written as we speak.

jeffersonbible2Thomas Jefferson took a razor to the Bible and cut out texts from the New Testament that seemed unreasonable according to the canons of the Enlightenment — things like miracles. But he never cut the teachings of Jesus — the Beatitudes of Matthew and Luke — “Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers” — the Golden Rule  –“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — or “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” or the commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Today in America those in power are cutting these most sacred texts from the Jefferson Bible in the name of God and country. Any semblance of neutrality, fairness, or compassion are being erased. But one text from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Job will yet have the last word beyond the scissors of greed that scorn even the slightest attempts toward neutrality.

If you have understanding, hear this;
    listen to what I say.
Shall one who hates justice govern?
    Will you condemn one who is righteous and mighty,
 who says to a king, ‘You scoundrel!’
    and to princes, ‘You wicked men!’;
 who shows no partiality to nobles,
    nor regards the rich more than the poor,
    for they are all the work of his hands?
  – Book of Job 34:16-19, NRSV.

 

May we all live to see the day.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 14, 2017.

The beginning of the good news of …

I need a bath. Wait! Wait! Stay with me!

“The good news according to Caesar, the Son of God” was the beginning of imperial announcements by Caesar throughout the Roman Empire.

Into this imperial world comes “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God ” (Gospel of Mark 1:1). For the First Century hearers, the irony was clear. This was a counter-narrative to the narrative of empire — a rebuke of it, and a revolutionary alternative to it. But the announcement was also only the beginning of the good news.

Unlike the imperial messengers dressed in official garb, the announcer of this good news in Mark’s Gospel (in the time it was written the term “gospel” had not yet been used to describe a book such as we know today: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) wears no royal clothing. He wears camel hair and eats locusts and honey. He appears in the wilderness, far from the centers of religious authority in Jerusalem and policial-economic power in Rome. There is no advance warning of his appearance. He appears suddenly, without explanations, and without trumpets.

7faaa32d3ba7f7ba7995c76b934af737

John the Baptizer

“Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.”  John is one odd duck! Not the kind of figure one expects to win friends and influence people. Unless the people were ready for his message: the overthrow of the reign of Caesar, the “Son of God” according to the imperial cult.

Flash forward to 2017.

“It’s okay to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again, says the President of the United States, as if restoring Christianity as the established religion of the United States of America and everywhere else in the world that is part of Pax Americana. Strange how a gospel whose beginnings offered a counter-narrative to Caesar and the empire’s divine claims of national exceptionalism would be used to scorn the original beginning of the good news in Mark’s revolutionary Gospel.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

27-donald-trump-roy-moore.w710.h473.2x

President Donald J. Trump and Senate candidate Roy Moore

In the First Century of the Common Era, a ritual bath represented a cleansing from sin and the act of repentance, embarking on a new way. Twenty centuries after the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” I’m baptized. So are the president and a senatorial candidate from Alabama. It’s confounding. I feel dirty all over.

I need a bath!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 11, 2017.

 

 

 

Two Birds of the Secret Heart

59476eb9d98ab50256137e216d23f129--scripture-art-psalms

“Create in me a clean heart, O God…” is a well-known prayer from the Psalms.  It’s context — its back-story — is not so familiar.

Psalm 51 is a prayer attributed to David. It is not a quiet prayer. It is a wrenching, sobbing prayer, the words tumbling from David’s mouth in halting phrases and stammers with tears that flood his eyes and stream down his face.

“Behold, You seek truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Psalm 51:6)

Is the secret heart the deepest place in us, the place where God is: the equivalent or synonym for “the inward being” – a poetic parallelism of Hebrew poetry? Or is it, perhaps, the secret place where we hide from God: the hiding place where we go off to a different heart than the Divine heart? Or could it be both at the same time?

David’s secret heart is dirty and he knows it. He cannot wash the stain of blood from his hands. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” he cries out, “and cleanse from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” It is a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“Out, damn spot! OUT, I say…. all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!”

The Hebrew Psalms are like that. They are not sanitized. They plunge the reader into the conflict between the reader’s own inmost being, the true secret heart, you might say – the heart that pumps life into us – and the secret heart of our own flight from truth and goodness, the heart of deception and self-deception.

Why is David crying out? What has he done? What is the sin that is ever before him, the blood he can’t wash from his own hands?

Psalm 51 comes in response to an accusation that has exposed the bloody behavior his secretive heart has produced. It is Nathan, David’s commander on the battlefront, who confronts David with the truth.

Nathan has just returned from the front to tell David that Uriah, the King’s next door neighbor, a man of impeccable loyalty valor, Bathsheba’s husband, whom David’s scheming heart has sent off to war, is dead! His blood is on David! Nathan has spoken the truth to power.

There is no wisdom in David’s secret heart. There is treachery there.

“Purge me!” cries David. Imagine Richard Burton at his most dramatic. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow!” (Ps. 51:7)

Hyssop, the foliage of an aromatic plant named in the Passover story (Exodus 12:21-27), was used in the cleansing of a leper (Leviticus 4:51).

The rite of cleansing centers on two small birds. One bird is killed. The other bird is washed in the blood of the other under the flow of water and the sweetness of hyssop. The one bird dies. The second bird lives.

“Thus he (the priest) shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedarwood and hyssop and the scarlet stuff; and he shall let the living bird go out of the city into the open field; so he shall make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.” (Lev. 14:52-53)

“Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation” cries Uriah’s killer curled up in a ball, hoping against all hope, “and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance.” (Ps. 51:14)

David is both birds. He is the one who deserves to die. He is also the one who is living. He lives not because of the secretive heart that had conspired against Uriah, betraying his own inward being – “Against You only have I sinned…” (Ps. 51:4). He lives on because there is more mercy in God (the inward being) than there is sin in him.

“The sacrifice acceptable to God,” he concludes with tears, is “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” His body quivers as he imagines himself as the bird released into the open field by mercy alone, “according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy.” (Ps. 51:1)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 27, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Heart in Heartless Times

1Nessan

Rev. Dr. Craig L. Nessen

by Craig L. Nessan

Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dubuque, Iowa

“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take heart; I have conquered the world!” John 16:33

We live in unprecedented times. Polarizing discourse, red versus blue, the failure of public reasoning, name calling, and denial of facts are the order of the day. The post-modern yields to the post-truth era. Some political leaders simply make it up as they go along.

There is a public heartlessness evident about the needs of others, especially the most vulnerable, that concludes with repeated assertions of privileged self-interest. Public discourse is diverted daily from focusing on the needs of those in harm’s way, including the well-being of creation. In the church many contend that it is useless even to try and engage in civil conversation about what makes for the common good.

All this unfolds in a world of enormous and increasing disparity in wealth between an economic elite and those struggling to make ends meet. This economic disparity is visible everywhere, in every state and local community. Moreover, it is the secret in plain sight behind the movement of people across borders, the unprecedented numbers of displaced persons and refugees.

The need for political advocacy is urgent. Yet it is extremely hard to know where to begin. There appear a dozen new issues or tweets each day against which to react. It becomes crucial to search out reliable information, as from church based advocacy organizations, to help us discern wisely in this political moment. In my own analysis I seek to distinguish between what might be considered the “substantive agenda” of the current administration, which primarily has to do with executive orders and legislative initiatives intended to increase private profit for a few, and the symbolic agenda, especially designed to daze, distract, and confuse us.

To make this distinction is not, however, to minimize the harmful effects of the symbolic agenda, grounded in a white male identity politics that operates in binary categories to incite fear, anger, and hatred against all categories of difference, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, or religion, especially against Muslims. By contrast to this white male identity politics, we seek to articulate and enact a neighbor politics, embracing of all, especially the marginalized.

In these heartless times we are called actively to participate in spiritual disciplines, in order to reduce our reactivity and seek to remain oriented to the mind and character of Jesus Christ. How does one remain centered and grounded in these heartless times? How does one remain rooted in the peace of Jesus Christ, taking heart and courage amid the whirlwind?

The mystical and political always belong together. Consider the witness of Mahatma Gandhi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., Gustavo Gutiérrez and Elsa Tamez, Walter Brueggemann and Elizabeth Johnson. As with Jesus, prayer and praxis belong together. Retreat for prayer leads to prophetic engagement: acts of healing, feeding, exorcizing, welcoming, sharing, and publicly demonstrating. The rhythm of the Christian life is both inward and outward.

“Radix,” the origin of “radical” means going to the root of the matter in a twofold movement—the mystical as inward movement and the political as outward movement. Both movements are needful. Counter-intuitively, a heartless political climate makes the inward mystical movement even more needful.

The Mystical

How do we move ever more deeply into relationship with God?

Spiritual practices draw us into the depths of classical disciplines. Personal practices include prayer, meditation, walking, breathing. Communal practices encompass worship, study, dwelling in the Word. Practices that involve colleagues lend us encouragement and accountability in life-giving relationships

Spiritual practices and worship contribute to a mysticism of the ordinary, by which we detect the holy in what is right in front of us, even in what may appear chaotic in these heartless times. We need to attune the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Hearing the Word of Christ in Scripture stories and participating in sacraments at worship provide the lens for recognizing divine presence in the everyday. Liturgy entails formation in life practices: truth telling, peacemaking, listening, confessing, interceding, offering thanks, welcoming, feeding, and blessing. At worship we participate in the divine economy where all are welcome and there is enough for all. All of this provides the means for us to perceive the shalom of God in the commonplace, even in heartless times like these.

The Political

The mystical movement toward God always turns us inexorably toward political movement for the sake of our neighbors. In the Great Commandment the vertical and horizontal dimensions are inextricable. Should we persist in efforts to provoke change from above? Yes, advocacy at the national and state levels remains essential. Following the guidance of trusted organizations—denominational advocacy organizations, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Bread for the World, 350.org, Amnesty International, and many others—remains imperative.

Even more in heartless times, however, we need to redouble efforts at change through organizing at the grassroots in local communities. Not only by making financial donations or sending advocacy letters, this means engaging people in one’s community. For all their limitations, congregations remain the most intact neighbor-directed communities on the local level, faith communities such as already exist in every locale across the country. We need to become very intentional and proactive in building coalitions with others in local communities—through one on one conversations, writing personal viewpoints for social media or in newspapers, and engaging in symbolic actions. When asked by a reporter whether he really thought that he could change the world by lighting a candle in a demonstration, A.J. Muste replied: “Oh, you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not doing this to change the country. I do it so the country won’t change me.”

The theory and practices of active nonviolent resistance are still in their infancy in human history, but these offer our best hope for lasting change in establishing the foundations for democracy and building up an equitable civil society. In this regard the research of Erica Chenowith and Maria Stephan published in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, needs to become widely known.

I encourage us not to underestimate the ripples of difference our efforts can make, as we remain spiritually centered and especially as we join together in ecumenical and interfaith groups, as well as with all those ethically engaged but not religiously affiliated people who are committed to common good, reaching out to one neighbor at a time. We are called to create safe places and spaces of trust where people can be together, listen to each other, and learn from one other.

Taking Heart

While through the mystical movement we put on the mind and character of Christ—which is peacemaking, social justice, eco-justice, and respect for the inalienable dignity of each person—in the political movement we engage through reasoned and persuasive arguments that are not overburdened by religious jargon. In our public articulation we remain deeply grounded in faith, as strategically we may choose to express our political convictions in categories not freighted with explicit religious references. We do so to communicate effectively in the public square and to transcend the off-putting rhetoric of the religious right.

There are times and occasions for making explicit theological claims, as did Dr. King. Yet in this heartless time of excessively hyperbolic discourse, including that by religious people, we are called to communicate clearly through reasoned, publicly accessible language. In this polarized climate, where Christians are assumed to take regressive political stances, it is of even more value for Christians to make compelling arguments that are understandable to those who may not share our theological categories. This helps us move beyond the religious identity politics of the religious right to an expansive neighbor politics. This honors too what Bonhoeffer meant by the nonreligious interpretation of biblical concepts.

Finally, we are on this journey for life. We may not now see many signs of effectiveness, yet we take heart in even small signs of the kingdom’s appearance. As our bottom line we seek to live by integrity, searching to align our lives with the things of God in Christ, especially in times like these when we cannot see that it makes a difference. We trust that the things that make for peace, like generosity, a healthy creation, and human respect, are the things that last forever. In the words of Carrie Newcomer, in the end, only kindness matters.

 “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:24-25

  • Rev. Dr. Craig L. Nessan is Academic Dean & Professor of Contextual Theology and Ethics, The William D. Streng Professor for the Education and Renewal of the Church at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Views from the Edge is pleased to have the honor of being the first to publish “Taking Heart in Heartless Times” with the author’s permission.