Following our Moral Compass

A PBS story about Rachel Carson, new information about my father’s participation in WWII, and a comment about evangelical Christians in Sojourner came together in a “perfect storm” in my mind.  Here is the result.

Rachel CPHOTO: Rachel Carsonarson (1907-1964) combined her love for nature and biological research with a gift of lyrical writing. Embedded within all of her writing was the view that human beings were but one part of nature distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some cases irreversibly. Disturbed by the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II, Carson felt called to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides. She published her research and counsel  in the book Silent Spring (1962). The book challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, calling for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world. As word of her research spread, she fought two simultaneous and courageous battles:  one against the breast cancer which took her life in 1964 and one against the attacks by the chemical industry and some in government, who called her an alarmist and tried mightily to discredit her research.  This tiny woman with a brave voice was one of the first to sound an alarm and remind us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural world subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem – and the ecosystem must be saved if we are to be saved. She changed the way we look at the world.

My father, the Rev. Rowland Koskamp (1916 – 1945), left the church in Raritan, N.J. that he had served for two years to volunteer as an Army chaplain during WWII. He was attached to a medical unit. Twice (that we know about) during his nearly three years of service he refused to leave the wounded he was serving. The first time was after the fight for St. Lo, when the Germans “threw everything they had at us with good effect.”  He writes that “a lot of men needed to brought out of the woods for treatment” but that the woods were considered too “hot” to go after them.  He persuaded an ambulance driver to bring him and some litter-bearers into the woods and “[we] “went about our business.” He received the Bronze Star for this action.

Three weeks later during the Battle of the Bulge, he, two of his aides, and some wounded men they were treating hid in a schoolhouse in an area that was supposed to be free of the Germans. They were caught off guard when a German tank repeatedly attacked the house, destroying it. My father came up out of the basement and negotiated a surrender with a German officer, rather than risking the deaths of all in the house. The group was put in boxcars with 3,000 other captured soldiers, 60 men in a car (half the size of American boxcars). The train eventually attracted American bombers. The German guards ran away. Some men locked in the boxcars were killed. My father escaped this friendly fire, but after several months in a POW camp, he was killed by another American bombing raid on a train as he and other liberated American prisoners were walking to freedom. Two weeks later the war ended.  

I thought about these two stories, similar only in their display of bravery and moral fortitude in the face of brutal attack, when I read the following statement by Lisa Sharon Harper in the March, 2017 issue of Sojourner:

“I hail from a theological tradition that places the highest value on epistemology, the study of how we think about God, yet invests little energy on ethics, the study of how we are called to interact in the world  . . . .  Here is the question that  haunts me: Has the Trump presidency revealed evidence of a truth we [white evangelicals] have not wanted to see?  That the one who said “I am the way?” (ethics), “the truth” (epistemology), and the
life” (shalom) is increasingly irrelevant in evangelical America.”

This week I heard the moderator of a political talk show ask, “Has America lost its moral compass?” In the era of “America First,” racial, religious, and cultural bashing, and seemingly unrepentant lying from our highest officials (a model of behavior demonstrated by the president himself) what is our anchor?  I think the debate about our moral compass should top the list of sermon topics, become the focus Bible study groups, and find its way onto the agendas of all American churches.

Jesus Christ gave a clear moral compass and a soul – stirring model for his disciples to follow. Do we know what he taught? Do we remember how he interacted with his world? Do we care? Do we have the moral courage to stand up for others the way that Rachel Carson and Rowland Koskamp (and many others) have done? What would that look like for each of us?  When the chaos and the lying and the mudslinging get us down, the only thing we can do is stand up and be counted. 

_____

For more information about my father, Rowland Koskamp, go to this earlier post.

 

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Feeling Special

This blog now contains nearly 600 posts.  The following post is from July 7, 2014.  I am sharing it again because its message on the old sin of “vainglory” is much-needed in today’s political atmosphere.

A few months ago, my pastor mentioned during a worship service that this blog is the only one he reads regularly.  The people around me turned, smiled, and gave a thumbs up; of coursepride-2, I felt warm all over.

As the service went on, I kept returning to the compliment. Soon I realized that being pleased about having my blog mentioned was quickly turning into vainglory, “the need to have others think well of us in order to feel worthy” (p.143 in The Good and Beautiful Life). As I left the sanctuary that day, a good friend congratulated me and said she loved the blog, too. I saw others headed my way. I nearly ran out the door to my car. All this praise was feeding my addiction to one of my strongest false narratives:  “I need the approval of others to feel loved – and really special.”

I’ve had conversations with others about this incident.  Most people have said that I have a right to feel proud if the pastor likes my blog. Maybe so. But I knew in my heart that I was about to fall into the trap of believing that if others say we are good, then we are.  As James Bryan Smith says, “The need for love is temporarily assuaged by admiration; it is the only substitute we can find. Unfortunately admiration based on our looks or performance is fickle and fleeting.  We are only as good as our next performance” (p. 139).

A friend of mine shares my weakness for vainglory.  He has memorized a lengthy scripture passage, and the worship leader asked him to share the passage during worship. He agreed and spoke the passage beautifully. Later when I mentioned how well it had gone, he ruefully said, “Yes, but while I was waiting to ‘go on,’ I was scanning the congregation to see who was there. I was disappointed because some people I looked for weren’t there, and they wouldn’t see me deliver this long passage of the Bible.  Obviously I have not resolved the issue of vainglory!”

Mixed Motives

James Bryan Smith says, vainglory is the bane of the pious” and “a subtle trap for religious people.” After all in order to be proud, we have to have something to be proud about. In order to be tempted by vainglory, I had to have a decent blog for people to praise. In order to be praised for his memory of scripture, my friend had to do the memorizing.  The teaching of vainglory  challenges us to examine how pure our motives are when we practice our faith. Edward P. Sri, writing on the Catholic Education Resource Center web-site asks these important questions:

Do we worship God and serve the Church purely out of selfless love for God or is there a part of us selfishly seeking to receive attention and praise from men? Often, our motives are quite mixed. We may give time and money to the [church] or parish, but is there something within us hoping that others will notice our generosity? We may take time for prayer because we love the Lord, but is there a part of us also hoping our friends, our spiritual director, or the people we serve will notice and think better of us? 

Vainglory leads to a cluster of other means of self-promotion which help us gain attention: name dropping (I must be somebody special if I sat next to Richard Foster at dinner); boasting (my pastor says my blog is the only one he reads!);  gossiping (I’m in the center, if I know the latest scoop);hypocrisy (I pretend to be someone I’m not). Our attitude should be instead: “I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’’s breath moves through—listen to this music (by Hafiz quoted on Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for July 6).

So what’s the cure for vainglory? Here’s a beautiful paragraph from The Good and Beautiful Life:

You are valuable to God.  God loves you no matter what.  Your worth is not dependent on your performance or on what others think of you. Your worth is found in the loving eyes of God. If you win, God loves you. If you lose, God loves you. If you fast and pray and give your money to the church, God loves you. If you are sinful and selfish, God loves you. He is a covenant God, and his love never changes You are precious and worth dying for – just as you are (p. 147-148).

It all comes down to the beautiful truth that “I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights.” We are special to God. We can bask in the warmth and brightness of that love instead of the manipulated pleasure that vainglory brings.

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Psalm 23 for People with Cancer

PSALM 23 (KJV)*

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Please be my shepherd! I know if I follow you patiently, I will have everything I need.

 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

You bring me visions of leafy places and grassy greens: emerald and jade and lime and chartreuse; I rest in them. You hand me memories of calm waters after dawn on the shore of Lake Michigan and a tranquil pond near a walking trail. My feverish eyes are refreshed.

 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

You walk beside me while my bones ache and my body shivers and sweats.  Since you never leave, I know I will be restored to peace. When I am anxious, you put a “clean heart” and a “new and right spirit in me” (Psalm 51:10). 

 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

“The Lord will save me and [I] will sing to stringed instruments all the days of my life” (Isaiah 38:20).  You are a “shield around me” (Psalm 3:3). “I am sustained on my sick bed” (Psalm 41:3).  “You will comfort me once again”(Psalm 71: 21 b).

 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

My disease is my enemy.  It tries to bring me down and make me weak. I am blessed by your presence, you give me what I need to stay strong. Your grace overflows every day and I learn from my feebleness. 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I never doubt your compassion and healing power; you will be with me in the good days and in the dark nights.  I am safe in your kingdom now and forever.

_____

* For all who live with a chronic disease. Written at 2:00 AM on the day after chemotherapy.

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Going Deeper with God – Hearts on Fire! (Luke 24: 13 – 32)

In Eat this Book, Eugene El Shaddi bannersPeterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. This passage tells the story of two disciples of Jesus who walked for miles with him without recognizing him.

LUKE 24: 13 – 17, 28-32 (CEB) –  HEARTS ON FIRE!

On that same day [the day of Christ’s resurrection], two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened.  While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.  He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast. . . .

 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead.  But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.  After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.  They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

CHEW

Cleopas and a friend are walking the 7 miles from Jerusalem to their home. (Some commentators posit that this duo could be Clopas and Mary, a married couple mentioned in John 19:25).  They had waited with other disciples for the return of Christ in three days. When he did not appear, they headed for home. They are despondent, deeply disappointed, and confused.

They are joined by a traveler they do not recognize. When he asks what they are talking about, they pour out their hearts, describing Jesus’ death three days ago and the puzzling experience of the women who found the tomb empty.emmaus They, probably bitterly, say, “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.” Jesus then calls them “foolish people” with “dull minds.” He proceeds to interpret all the scripture passages that speak about him. His teaching must have been powerful because after he disappears, they remember that their hearts were “on fire” as he talked. 

Here is a story about the power of the presence of Jesus, both when he is recognized and when he is not. It also speaks to the blessing of offering hospitality to strangers and to the fellowship of breaking bread together. It isn’t until they share a meal (and their lives) that they recognize this stranger to be their Lord.  

It is interesting to note that Jesus didn’t immediately remove his fellow travelers’ bad feelings. He walks with them through their broken dreams and “the broken hearts become hearts that burn” (Murray Andrew Pura in the Spiritual Formation Bible).

DIGEST

♥   These disciples had loved Jesus and believed in a future with him. But now he is gone. Their dreams are dead and their hopes are cold. Then Jesus catches up to them and walks with them. But he remains hidden as they suffer. This is a common human experience. We lose our passion, mistrust our own experiences with Jesus, and go cold – even though we may continue to read Scripture and pray. It feels as if Jesus is hidden. Why don’t we recognize him?  Have you had an experience like that? What did it feel like?  How did you get past it?  Do you remember feeling your “heart on fire” when you finally recognized Jesus walking next to you?

♥   Who do you know  whose hearts are broken?  Who do you need  “break bread” with so they can see Jesus?  What can you give?  How can you care?  What gift has God given with you to share with people who are so downtrodden or alienated (emotionally, physically or spiritually) that they can’t see Jesus.

♥   Cleopas and his companion do a lot of talking on their way home, sharing their misery. We also seem to talk endlessly in the church about theological differences and the necessity of our rules and traditions.  We also talk about other people. We also share constantly through social media. At times our talking does not lift our sadness or bring light or joy to the world.  Is it time for you to stop talking and listen, as the travelers on the road to Emmaus did?  Is it time to use different words – words not of judgment and condemnation but of possibility and hope?

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

“‘Were not our hearts on fire?’ the two disciples of Jesus are reported by Luke to have said to each other as they hurried back to Jesus to relate to their friends what had happened to them in the village of Emmaus. What the disciples told their companions about their experience and what they in turn heard from their friends from their own encounters with the resurrected Jesus deepened their faith and enabled them to carry on with renewed energy and hope. Those who ponder Scripture know that what these disciples experienced can happen to any Christian who searches for a closer relationship with the Lord. When a person explores his or her deepest desires or questions – and talks about them with someone else who is on a similar journey – each person in the conversation receives new understanding, new insight” (Michael Harter SJ in Hearts on Fire, Praying with Jesus).

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

“It is God’s way to come cloaked, and for his greatest promises to become cloaked.  It is his way to come when the storm is peaking or fear deepest or when hope is almost gone, or, if we are honest, utterly gone. It has always been his way. No resurrection without Golgotha. No freedom without Gethsemane. No Christmas Eve without a Good Friday.  . . . Our task is not to figure everything out or to imagine every angle God might come at us from, but to stay on the roads of our years, plodding on, encouraging one another with the voices and the mysteries of heaven.  It is only that.  To stay on the road until God in disguise joins us and eventually comes to sit at our table. Or we at his” (Murray Andrew Pura in the Spiritual Formation Bible.)

 

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What is “White Privilege?”

In the recent film, Hidden Figures, Katharine (played by Octavia Spencehidden-figures-4r), a black woman who is in informally in charge of the “black computer group,” has been repeatedly denied promotion to supervisor by her white boss, Vivian. In my favorite scene in the movie, Katharine encounters her boss in the public restroom, which has been recently been desegregated. After an awkward pause, Vivian says, “Despite what you think, I don’t have anything against y’all.” In response, Dorothy fixes Vivian with an unforgettable gaze and delivers one of  the film’s most stirring lines: “I know you probably believe that.” 

In a scene from my life, a group has come in to give our staff “sensitivity training.” After nearly an hour of discussion about racial inequality in the work force, a staff member who has been looking puzzled finally says, “I really don’t understand what you are talking about. I just don’t see color.”  Several others smile and nod their heads.

With a huge sigh, the leader says, “That’s just the problem. We need to see color.  We need to see and accept differences.” Now I’m nodding my head.  For more than 25 years, I have been married to a black man. Before we began sharing life, I would have said the same thing:  “I don’t see color.” To say we don’t “see color” sounds inclusive and accepting. It implies: “I don’t treat people differently because of their color.” But to a person of color it says: “I don’t see you.” And, unfortunately, it means that white people do treat people of color differently.

I have learned from living in a black/white world, that I, a white American, have an attitude of privilege. White privilege means that being white is the ideal. “People of color,” a young black man recently mourned on the PBS News Hour, “are all trying to achieve whiteness. White is the default race.” As my husband  says, “‘If you’re white, you’re right. If you’re black, get back.’ For example, if you are white and you are going to an interview, all you have to do is put on good clothes.  If you are black, you have to change your color.”

 The term white privilege refers to the way white people subconsciously assume the world to be – assumptions that are not part of the life of people of color, Activist and author, Jim Wallis says, “Whether we or our families or our ancestors had anything to do with the racial sins of America’s establishment, all white people have benefited from them. No matter who you are, where you live, how you have acted – and even if you have fought hard against racism, you can never escape white privileged America if you are white” (American’s Original Sin, p.35). 

As “educated” as I was about the world I lived in, my white privilege was so ingrained that I didn’t see it until it was brought to my attention by my loving but often impatient husband who frequently said, “You just don’t understand!!”

My White Privilege

Here is some of what I learned about my white privilege:

♦  My family assumed that I would receive a good public school education and graduate from college. I expected the same thing for my children. My husband Fred’s family taught him to find a job (with General Motors, if possible) and keep it all his life! “That is all that a black man can expect,” was their message. “Don’t even try to go to college.”

♦ My parents taught me to call a policeman when I am in trouble. The last thing my husband would do is call a cop! He, and all blacks – especially males – have been taught, “If you see a cop, hide!”

♦ I assume that I can drive down any street in any city with no harassment.  My husband has been stopped by police more times than I can count – for no other reason than he is black. I have been in the car with him some of those times. Some of those times, he has been searched for no reason.

♦ I assume that I may live wherever I want, as long as I can afford it. When we were first married, we learned about an apartment complex in a small town and went to look at it. As we turned off the highway to enter the city, Fred noticed that a police car which had been going west turned at a crossover and followed us into town. He said, “That cop’s following us.”

I said, “You’re crazy.  Why would he follow us? You weren’t speeding.” (White privilege rears its ugly head!)

The cop followed us to the apartment we had planned to look at and parked across the street while we debated going in.  Finally Fred said, “I’m not going to live anywhere where the cops follow me when I drive by.”  We left the town and headed toward the highway, followed by the cop.  When we turned onto the highway, he went in the opposite direction. I learned that we would have to go separately to check out rental properties; after one of us signed on the dotted line, the other could look at the property. Fred wasn’t wanted in the suburbs, and I wasn’t wanted in the segregated downtown. As a bi-racial couple, we weren’t wanted in either place together. 

♦ I assume that when I am interviewed on the phone, offered a job, and told when to report, that I would have the job. Fred was offered a job at 5:00 by phone and told to come in at 9:00 the next day.  I went with him because I was familiar with the town, and it was a long drive.  When he gave his name to the receptionist, there was a loooong pause. She said, “I’ll go get the boss.” After a loooong time, she came back. “The boss said that you are not what we expected after all. I’m sorry, we’ve hired someone else for that position.”  My husband just turned and left, tears rolling down his face.

♦ I assume that I will be waited on when it is my turn at a retail store counter. Fred is often ignored until I come up and stand next to him  . . .  and then I am waited on. The first time this happened, we had been shopping separately, and I wondered what was taking him so long. I finally went to find him. The sales woman turned to me and said “May I help you?”  I said, “No, but you can wait on my husband who has been standing here totally overlooked.”  (At least she had the grace to look embarrassed).

♦I assume that I will be welcome in church. When we moved to the town  where I had been raised, I proudly brought Fred to my former church. After the service, a woman came up to him and said, “You must attend the seminary here.”  Fred looked at me in confusion and said that he didn’t attend the seminary.  “Then you must be a visitor from Africa.” He turned to me again and then said, “No I live here.”  Now she looked confused. “Then why are here at this church?”  He said, “I’m with my wife.” She quickly turned and walked away.  A minute or two later, a man came and shook hands with Fred. “Welcome!” he said.  I smiled at him. Then he offered, “Did you know we have a second service?  Most people like you prefer that service.”

The next time you hear an interview with someone from Black Lives Matter or with a civil rights protester or with a mother of color complaining about her child’s poor education, stop and listen to what they are saying. Can you see that your assumptions about life are based on your white privilege? Can you understand why others are upset when they are denied the fulfillment of those same assumptions? And the next time you see a person of color, really see them.  Maybe even strike up a conversation and find out who this person really is.  We are all different, but we are all the same in God’s eyes.

_____

For a more complete treatment of the idea of white privilege, read America’s Original Sin, Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis. Better yet, gather a group of people and study it together.

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From My Reading

“In his tequoteaching and preaching, Jesus was forever calling our attention to the seemingly trivial, the small, and the insignificant—like lost children, lost coins, lost sheep, a mustard seed. The Kingdom involves the ability to see God within those people and experiences [that] the world regards as little and of no account, ordinary” (Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon in Resident Aliens).

 ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

People, even more than things. have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone” (Audrey Hepburn).

And here is a comment on this quote from a friend:  “I know I need these things in my life – I wear out, am over-loaded, and become frazzled. May we do these things for ourselves and one another – help restore and renew the weary; revive and reclaim those trampled on by injustice and dishonesty; bring respect and honor to each individual; reclaim others as equals and work with God to redeem the floundering and the lost, showing them their incredible value, worth, and ability” (Kathleen Meyer – Van Dyke).

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will.

But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight” (Martin Luther King, Jr. in A Knock at Midnight, June 11, 1967).

 ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Life, contrary to popular theory, is not sometimes very, very good, nearly perfect, and at other times really, really bad. I hear gospel preachers say we are now experiencing a dawning of hope as the new administration takes office, while others say this political change represents the most perilous time in our history. Is one story completely right and the other completely wrong? Does any man or woman have the capacity to alter the nature of our inner and outer worlds and change who we are? Rather than blaming or crediting another for a world we see as either wonderful or perilous, perhaps we need to learn to accept responsibility for a world that is both of these at once. . . . No matter what dire situations you see as monopolizing the world, the greater truth is that a light has already dawned in the regions of death. Announce it. Invite others to live in it with you. All is not lost. Now go prove it” (Kayla McClurg, Season and Scripture: Epiphany Year A, Matthew).

 

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Editing Life

editing

As a writer and a former re-write editor, I have learned the value of editing. I am on the lookout for mistakes in grammar and punctuation as well as the “how-did-that-get-there?!” typos. I ruthlessly eliminate unnecessary words. I aim to replace dull and common place language with specific nouns, energetic verbs, and sparkling adjectives. I admit to editing each post in this blog up to a dozen times, trying to create efficient, effective, and even elegant writing.  

The other day it occurred to me that editing our lives is even more important than editing our writing. What would happen if we put on our editor’s hat, sharpened our pencils, and began observing and curating (as in sifting and sorting) our lives?  Here is how that process might proceed:

  • what habits or attitudes would we eliminate?
  • what false narratives (stories we have created about our own lives, about the dynamics of our relationships,, and about the character of God)  would we examine?
  • what apologies and amends would we make?
  • what busyness would we eliminate?
  • what new and creative activities would we investigate to take the place of boredom?
  • what would we organize differently – our homes, our time, our priorities?
  •  what and how would we simplify – our  relationships, our attitudes, our closets, our activities?
  •  what would we add to our day – devotional time, play, “togetherness”  laughter, study and investigation, naps, reading, exercise, service to others?

No doubt you can think of many other alterations that could make your life more authentic, resilient – and Christlike.

Editing our lives does not mean being overly critical of ourselves or others.  The aim is not perfection. The aim is to create a life that is purposeful, meaningful, and pleasing to God. 

 

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To Act Justly – We will Protest

The Ten Cmicah-6-8-1ommitments of Resistance in the Trump Era by Wallis, editor of the social justice journal Sojourners, was written to help Christians deal positively with the election of Donald Trump and the principles of his presidency. No matter whatever your politics, these commitments are important; they speak to values that all Christians of any party should stand behind. In this series of occasional blogs, I hope to bring my perspective as a Christ-follower to the commitments Wallis suggests, as I try to live like an apprentice of Jesus.

COMMITMENT 9:  WE WILL PROTEST WITH OUR BEST VALUES

“We will protest with our best values.We will defend constitutional values and workplace fairness, and fight for climate justice and environmental protection as we serve as stewards of our land. Whether in our streets, our schools or our workplaces — we will provide resources and opportunities to protest with dignity, discipline, and non-violence, not with hate for hate. We will respect the Constitution and our democratic processes and expect the same from this new administration. But if those procedures are violated, we must not be silent” (from “The Ten Commitments of Resistance in the Trump Era,” by Jim Wallis of Sojourners ).

The year-long remembrance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation has begun. We celebrate the fact that Martin Luther was a protester. The Reformation produced the Protestant Church. Protestants were conceived in protest.

The Bible is full of stories of protest. Moses led a protest march out of Egypt. Early prophets protested the behavior of the Israelite kings (Samuel to Saul, Nathan to David) Later prophets spoke ringing words of truth to their Hebrew brothers and to rulers of other nations.

Jesus himself was  revolutionary, the model for Peter’s call for us to be “a peculiar people” (I Peter 2:9).  He was not the revolutionary  Messiah the Zealots expected,  but his life and words challenged the religious and governmental establishments of his time. His days were full of seemingly intentional moments of protest (healing on the Sabbath, meeting with the woman at the well, a Samaritan, no less) as well as sermons and miracles that protested the religious and cultural world view (such as “the first shall be last” and ministering to the “least of these”).

The disciples and early Christians, each in his or her own way led lives of protest; the book of Revelation, written by a disciple who was in exile, is all about resisting the culture and trusting God for the future and ultimate victory.

Christian Protest

Some in the Church are uncomfortable with Christians protesting. In fact, I read a line in a recent post that urged: “Don’t post, picket, or pout … live like Jesus!” I  believe that civil protest is living like Jesus. We have the examples in Scripture as well as that of the Christian brothers and sisters who lived lives of protest before us; Sojourner Truth (slavery), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Nazi Germany), Mother Teresa (poverty and care for the dying), Martin Luther King (civil rights), and Chuck Colson (prison conditions) come immediately to mind. Christians who are being “spiritually formed” train themselves to recognize their fear and anger and deal with it appropriately. And then they follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit’s leading can lead to action!

For me it is not enough to say that God is in charge; we should just rest in our faith. Of course, we live in the available and coming kingdom and will see the ultimate victory over evil. But while we are on earth we need not only to run to God but to run back out into the world to battle ignorance and judgmentalism and injustice. We need to take the cross into the war against evil systems and evil people.

In what has become my favorite quotes for the time we live in, C.S. Lewis (who was speaking to the turmoil of World War II and a culture that was being revolutionized by Nazi Germany) reminds us: “Enemy-occupied territory — that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” (Mere Christianity).

In How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson says, ” . . . when the church is faithful to its calling, it always leads to a reformation of culture. When the church is truly the church, a community living in biblical obedience and contending for faith in every area of life, it will surely revive the surrounding culture or create a new one” (page 37).

As apprentices of Jesus living in an age of political chaos and wrong turns, we must feel free to “participate in a great campaign of sabotage” and “contend for faith” through the use of civil protest which is in keeping with our Christian values. Protesting is giving feet to our prayers.  Our love of God and for others can be offered through and demonstrated by protest.

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

For an inspiring and challenging discussion on how American Christians should interact with our political systems, listen or read the transcript of Krista Tippett’s 2008 interview with Chuck Colson, Gregg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne.

For a view of Jesus as a “disrupter,” see my  earlier post Being a Disrupter.

For more information on “being a peculiar people,” check out chapter 1 in The Good and Beautiful Community  by James Bryan Smith.

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