In my ongoing effort to establish a base for my ability to face hard times, I keep coming back to two assertions of faith that provide a foundation onto which I can confidently place my faith and hope.
I am first of all - somewhat surprisingly - deeply appreciative anew of the Christian story that I all too often simply take for granted or, perhaps worse, ignore because it was so narrowly interpreted and misused (in my opinion) that I found it more of an impediment than a support. But what would my life be like if I hadn’t been introduced to the inspiration and model the Christian gospel? It’s a powerful story, much of it born out of times of repression and subjugation, about how the ultimate power of love liberates not only individuals but the whole world. The story as told begins with the unlikely origin of Jesus born in deep poverty, to an unwed, homeless refugee of sorts, in a time of oppressive taxation and cruelty, even to a decree that all children born during his birth season were ordered to be slaughtered. So much for the domesticated version of adoring animals and wisemen and twinkling guiding stars - as much as I also love these sweet and homey parts of the story as well!
The birth story that we so superficially celebrate at Christmas, even within the church, is an intro to a dangerous, radical life and teaching that upsets the power structure. It is a message of the power of love and nonviolence to overcome the indifference and oppression of those in political power and privilege and replace it with a culture of inclusiveness that affirms the value of “the least of these” that would include many concerned about their safety today. The Christian story or Gospel, then, provides a prophetic, historical assurance that a morality of love ultimately overcomes the immediate culture of greed and oppression. It is a matter of faith to make that proclamation, especially when the oppression is brutal and based on values so contradictory to the values of compassion and empathy. We will need a deep faith in the power of love and nonviolence to counter those powerful and contradictory values in the days ahead. And we will need the humility to recognize our own value contradictions as we are tempted to resort to levels of verbal and physical violence and oppression that we try to oppose.
Which leads me always to the second foundational structure that will hold my faith and hope. And that is community. Not just “pot luck” community as important as it is. But community united in the deep, deep love of the land, love of each other - especially those most difficult to love - and a quintessential love of life itself - the miracle of it all that is intrinsically sacred like water, birth and death. To love the land, each other, and life itself so deeply one is willing to risk one’s life to protect it is the essence of nonviolent direct action. It is what motivated Gandhi in his dangerous, sacrificial nonviolent movement to liberate India. It is what motivated MLK to oppose Jim Crow. It is this level of love that motivates and inspires the now world-wide movement to protect the water, the land, the sacred spaces at Standing Rock. Much of this love comes out of religious practices, myths, stories, and rituals as it did for Gandhi and King and the prayer life of the tribal communities. Each of us has - or perhaps needs - our own story - for me it is the Jesus story - whether it is part of a tradition or simply our own profound experience with life. But whatever its story of origin - profound love is always based in something beyond each of these human constructs and is part of the deep Mystery itself. We will need to call upon this level of love in the days and weeks ahead if we are to face down a story based on other powerful motivations that are so decidedly counter to the ethic of love.
What is your story? What grounds your deep love of the land, love for others different than you, for life itself? How might you - and all of us, perhaps together - learn to build a common story that transcends our individual or tribal stories that indeed is needed if we are to create a planetary revolution capable of facing down the destructive powers of greed and power and replace it with a beloved community based on sustainability and love? Let’s find the common spaces for sharing our stories, our hopes, our commitments, and let us meet each other there in trust, resolve, and love.
Peace and blessed times of family, reflection, and community in this holiday season,