Devotion at the Center

June 3rd, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Alternative Community

Devotion at the Center
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

As Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) observed, one of the most segregated hours in the United States still occurs on Sunday mornings when we attend church services. [1] Yet as early as the 1940s, African-American writer and mystic Howard Thurman (1899–1981) was seeking to build a worshipping community across racial differences. In 1944, along with his white co-pastor Alfred Fisk (1905–1959), Thurman co-founded the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the country’s first interracial, interfaith congregation. Reverend Thurman describes how the collective experience of God became the center of the community’s life, unifying people from many different backgrounds and cultural expressions.

Fellowship Church was a unique idea, fresh, untried. There were no precedents and no traditions to aid in structuring the present or gauging the future. Yet [my wife] Sue and I knew that all our accumulated experiences of the past had given us two crucial gifts for this undertaking: a profound conviction that meaningful and creative experiences between peoples can be more compelling than all the ideas, concepts, faiths, fears, ideologies, and prejudices that divide them; and absolute faith that if such experiences can be multiplied and sustained over a time interval of sufficient duration any barrier that separates one person from another can be undermined and eliminated. We were sure that the ground of such meaningful experiences could be provided by the widest possible associations around common interest and common concerns.

Moving out from this center of spiritual discovery many fresh avenues of involvement emerged. Art forms provided a natural expression. . . . And around all of these and other activities, one basic discovery was constantly surfacing—meaningful experiences of unity among peoples were more compelling than all that divided and separated. The sense of Presence was being manifest which in time would bring one to his or her own altar stairs leading each in [their] own way like Jacob’s ladder from earth to heaven.

Our worship became increasingly a celebration before God of life lived during the week; the daily life and the period of worship were one . . . rhythm. Increasing numbers of people who were engaged in the common life of the city of San Francisco found in the church restoration, inspiration, and courage for their work on behalf of social change in the community. The worship experience became a watering hole for this widely diverse and often disparate group of members and visitors from many walks of life.

It was not long before I realized that what I had learned and experienced as to the meaning of love had to be communicated as a witness to the God in me and in our personal conduct as a witnessing congregation.

What had I learned about love? One of the central things was that the experience of being understood by another was of primary importance. Somewhere deep within was a “place” beyond all faults and virtues that had to be confirmed before I could run the risk of opening my life up to another. To find ultimate security in an ultimate vulnerability, this is to be loved.

A New Power

June 2nd, 2020 by Dave No comments »


ANew Power

Tuesday,  June 2, 2020

In an ideal sense, a community is a safe place. By protecting and nurturing the dignity of its members, the community is sustained even when challenged by external forces. Virgilio Elizondo (1935–2016), a Catholic priest and community organizer from San Antonio, Texas, compared communities formed among the marginalized in Latin America today with the earliest Christian communities. Working together in faith, they bring new life, hope, and dignity to their individual and corporate selves. Perhaps the current civil unrest we are experiencing across the nation is a cry for the same?

What happened in . . . parts of Latin America appears to be no less miraculous . . . than the spread and consequences of early Christianity itself. When the poor, the oppressed, and the marginated become aware of who they are in the Lord and begin their struggle for humanization, then the true liberation of humanity has begun. No matter how slow and difficult it might be . . . liberation will succeed, because no human power can keep Jesus in the tomb. . . . Not with the weapons of destruction will the converted poor triumph, but with the weapons of the power of selflessness and truth in the service of love.

An important element of this new power is that it is not power for the sake of personal gain, but power for the sake of all the oppressed, ignored, forgotten, and exploited members of society. The powerless are recouping power . . . the power of the gospel, which works for the betterment and liberation of all, especially those in greatest need.

In all this, prophecy is not just being spoken about; it is being lived out in ongoing confrontations by the previously powerless of society who now dare to go to the Jerusalems of today’s society: city hall, transnational corporations, boards of education, ecclesiastical offices. Those who had before simply accepted their state of exclusion and exploitation are now coming out of their tombs of substandard housing, disease-infected neighborhoods, economically enslaving jobs, schools that strengthened illiteracy, and churches that perpetuated segregation. Those who had been dead are now coming back to life.

In this awakening . . . renewed Christians are called to exercise a prophetic role. True prophecy is based upon a prophetic lifestyle, which of itself—wordlessly—confronts an ungodly society. It is this new lifestyle—this new way of relating with persons, goods, institutions, and God—that is itself an arresting alternative to the ways of the world.

Deep bonds often form during times of crisis, loss and uncertainty; people seek solidarity in human connection. What new communities and associations are being forged right now? How will they grow in the months and years ahead? What lifestyle changes and prophetic actions are being called forth by the new realities created by Covid-19?

Community as Alternative Consciousness

June 1st, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Alternative Community

Community as Alternative Consciousness
Monday,  June 1, 2020

The goal of the spiritual journey is to discover and move toward connectedness on ever new levels. We may begin by making little connections with other people, with nature and animals, then grow into deeper connectedness with people. Finally, we can experience full connectedness as union with God. Remember, how you do anything is how you do everything. Without connectedness and communion, we don’t exist fully as our truest selves. Becoming who we really are is a matter of learning how to become more and more deeply connected.

The spiritual experience is about trusting that when you stop holding yourself, Inherent Goodness will still uphold you. Many of us call that God, but you don’t have to. It is the trusting that is important. When you fall into such Primal Love, you realize that everything is foundationally okay. Unfortunately, this confidence is often absent in our world especially under conditions of great upheaval and suffering.

Foundational love gives us hope and allows us to trust “what is” as the jumping-off point, no matter how unsteady it feels. It allows us to work together toward “what can be.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus shows us what’s fully possible. God will always bring yet more life and wholeness out of seeming chaos and death. In the words of Timothy Gorringe and Rosie Beckham, “Faith in the resurrection is the ground on which Christians hope for a different future, a transition to a society less destructive, more peaceful and more whole. Living in this hope . . . calls ekklesia [the assembly of Christians] to live as a ‘contrast community’ to society.” [1]

Building such “contrast” communities was precisely Paul’s missionary strategy. You can see it throughout the New Testament. Paul believed that small communities of Jesus’ followers would make the Gospel message believable: Jesus is Lord (rather than Caesar is Lord); sharing abundance and living in simplicity (rather than hoarding wealth); nonviolence and chosen suffering (rather than aligning with power). Paul was very practical. He taught that our faith must take actual form in a living, loving group of people. Otherwise, love is just a theory.

Paul seems to think that corporate evil can only be confronted or overcome with corporate good. He knows that a love-transformed individual can do little against what he calls “the powers and the principalities,” or what some of us call the “system.” Our collective consciousness deems such institutions “too big to fail.” We are mostly oblivious to these forces because we take them as normative and in fact absolutely necessary. Cultural blind spots can only be overcome by a group of people affirming and supporting one another in an alternative consciousness. Thankfully, we’re now seeing many people, religious and secular, from all around the world, coming together to form alternative systems for sharing resources, living simply, and imagining a sustainable future. It has been one of the spiritual gifts of the pandemic. God never misses a chance to help us grow up.

Alternative Community

Common Ground and Purpose
Sunday,  May 31, 2020
Pentecost Sunday

It’s sad to say, but for centuries the Christian vision was narrowed to what we have today—a preoccupation with private salvation. Our “personal relationship with Jesus” seems to be based on a very small notion of Christ. We’ve modeled church after a service station where members attend weekly services to “fill up” on their faith. We’ve commodified the very notion of salvation.

People want something more from church than membership. They long for a spiritual home that connects with their whole life, not just somewhere to go on Sunday morning. Church is meant to be a place that nurtures and supports individuals along their full journey toward the ultimate goal: a lived experience of the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family, the Reign of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Too often, the formal church has been unable to create any authentic practical community, especially over the last half-century. In response, we see the emergence of new faith communities seeking to return to this foundational definition of church. These may not look like our versions of traditional “church,” but they often exemplify the kinds of actual community that Jesus, Paul, and early Christians envisioned. People are gathering digitally and in person today through neighborhood associations, study groups, community gardens, social services, and volunteer groups. They’re seeking creative ways of coming together, nurturing connection, of healing and whole-making. The “invisible” church might be doing this just as much, if not more, than the visible one. The Holy Spirit is humble and seems to work best anonymously. I suspect that is why the Holy Spirit is often pictured as a simple bird or blowing wind that is here one minute and seemingly gone and then nowhere (John 3:8).

It’s all too easy to project unrealistic expectations on any community. No group can meet all our needs as individuals for emotional, mental, and physical well-being. The human psyche needs space and healthy boundaries and not co-dependent groupings. I certainly learned this lesson myself through my participation in the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati in the 1970s and 80s, and even earlier as a Franciscan brother. Almost any community can serve as an excellent school for growth, character, and conversion, even though it may not be a permanent “home” for many reasons.

So what makes a good community? The remainder of this week we’ll look at a few of the factors that contribute to healthy, whole communities. Our very survival as a faith tradition, not to mention a species, might just depend upon this. Remember, the isolated individual is fragile and largely helpless to evoke long-term change or renewal. By ourselves, we can accomplish very little. We must find common ground and common purpose to move forward. It was Jesus’ first and foundational definition of church and even divine presence—“two or three gathered together” in the right spirit (Matthew 18:20), and “I am there”—just as much as in bread or Bible!

A Movement of the Rejected

May 29th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Solidarity

A Movement of the Rejected
Friday, May 29, 2020

A powerful example of these five conversions at work is The Poor People’s Campaign, which was revived in 2018 by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. [1] Their work with and for the poor of the United States through mutual respect, dialogue, and organizing is foundationally based on their Christian faith and study of the Gospels. In these paragraphs, Theoharis offers a scriptural exploration of what the Kingdom of God implies for the poor and marginalized—a movement of solidarity.

The New Testament . . . portrays the survival struggles of the marginalized, the solidarity and mutuality among different communities, and the critique of a social, political, and economic system that oppresses the vast majority of people. . . .  Jesus’s teachings and actions around poverty, wealth, and power create a picture of him as a leader of a social, political, economic, and spiritual movement calling for a world without poverty, want, or oppression . . . what he named the Kingdom or Empire of God. . . .

The Greek word for “Kingdom of God” or “Empire of God,” basilea, has much to do with the economic order that Jesus advocated. Few would disagree that the Kingdom of God is central to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. However, many understand this kingdom as otherworldly and immaterial. But if we look at both the prevalence of the concept and the specific references to it in the New Testament, we can see that God’s kingdom is a real, material order, with a moral agenda different from and opposed to the reigning order of the day. The basilea is particularly present in the parables that describe how the reign of God functions differently from the Roman Empire: in God’s kingdom, there is no poverty or fear, and mutuality exists among all.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’s parables and stories paint a picture of a reign in which the poor and marginalized are lifted up and their needs are met, rather than being despised or ignored by those in control. . . . From these passages and others, we can see that . . . God’s followers are asked to model a community of mutuality and solidarity. . . .

Centuries of [New Testament] interpretation have attempted to spiritualize or minimize this good news for the poor, hiding the reality that the Bible is a book by, about, and for poor and marginalized people. It not only says that God blesses and loves the poor, but also that the poor are God’s agents and leaders in rejecting and dismantling kingdoms built upon oppression and inequality. . . . It is the vision of society the early Christians sought to create on earth, and that we who follow Jesus today are commanded to strive for as well.

Solidarity

May 28th, 2020 by Dave No comments »


The Fifth Conversion
Thursday,  May 28, 2020

The Fifth Conversion to solidarity is a choice to walk with the poor and oppressed, to be taught by them, and to love them as equals, each of us bearing the Divine Indwelling Spirit within.  

Although he was raised Roman Catholic and worked with many religious organizations, Paulo Freire rarely used religious language or metaphors to make his point. Yet his teaching on solidarity is fully aligned with the ministry of Jesus: “Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were.” [1]  

In his work teaching literacy skills in Brazil and Chile, Freire employed a method of dialogue that created solidarity and transformed systems of injustice. The dialogue enables the “helper” to let go any personal agenda and allows the needs of the “helped” to be fully told. Eventually a movement towards liberation is born.

Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind . . . faith in their vocation to be more fully human. . . . Founding itself upon love, humility, and faith, dialogue becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence. [2]

I hope you can see how living out the Gospel is always a process of what Freire calls humanization, [3] a movement toward greater freedom, dignity, inclusivity, and possibility. We are one, and through solidarity we more clearly identify and name the systems that separate us. We find in ourselves and in the other the true “image of God” in which we are created and connected.

The dialogue that leads to solidarity is a way that oppressors and oppressed begin to recognize each other as subjects in their full humanity, as both learn and teach in this active encounter of faith and love. Here is Freire, in his own words:

Dialogue cannot exist without humility.
How can I dialogue if I regard myself as a case apart from others—mere “its” in whom I cannot recognize other “I”s?
How can I dialogue if I consider myself . . . the owner of truth and knowledge . . .?
How can I dialogue if I am closed to—and even offended by—the contributions of others?
Self-sufficiency is incompatible with dialogue.
At the point of encounter [in dialogue] there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know. [4]

We are all on this journey together and we are all in need of liberation (which might be a better word than salvation). God’s intention is solidarity with, and universal responsibility for, the whole. As Paul taught, “If one part is hurt, all parts share in the pain. If one part is honored, all the parts share in the joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Think of Christianity as a giant act of solidarity with the marginalized, and all of creation.

The Third and Fourth Conversions

May 27th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Solidarity

The Third and Fourth Conversions
Wednesday,  May 27, 2020

We continue our conversions to greater solidarity with the marginalized.

The Third Conversion is when we idealize some of the virtues of the poor that we ourselves do not have. When the lens is cleared by our initial awakening to injustice, it is much easier to focus on people’s admirable qualities, especially those that might be lacking in our own group. This was certainly true for me. In my travels to India, the Philippines, and many Global South nations, I saw plenty of people who were happy, generous and grateful with the little they had. By contrast, I could be entitled and grumpy whenever the littlest things went wrong! It was so humbling.

Although it feels positive, staying at this conversion stage still places an unfair burden on those who are marginalized. Projecting only good qualities onto them tends to ease the burden of solidarity work from us. Layla F. Saad describes this tendency in relation to black women in her book Me and White Supremacy:

Black women are either superhumanized and put on pedestals as queens or the strong Black woman, or they are dehumanized and seen as unworthy of the same care and attention as white women. Both superhumanizing and dehumanizing are harmful because . . . they fail to capture Black women in the mess, joy, beauty, and femininity of women of other races. [1]

If it is unjust to dehumanize others, it is equally unjust to “superhumanize” them, applauding their ability to “do it all” instead of making sure they don’t have to.  

The Fourth Conversion is a deepening recognition of the impact of systemic oppression. This tends to come about as a result of disillusionment and disappointment with the poor, especially when one sees how they have been socialized to a worldview of failure and scarcity. This is internalized oppression. As Paulo Freire puts it, “so often do [the oppressed] hear that they are good for nothing, know nothing, and are incapable of learning anything . . . that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness.” [2] From the very beginning, the systems we operate in either support us or tear us down.

From my place in society, I was able to enter into a good education system, and I always had good healthcare. I was offered so many options and encouragement to become “successful.” But when we come from a social location that has put us in systems and relationships where options are limited, we are often humiliated and looked down upon at every stage of our life. Under those conditions, it is much harder to keep putting our best foot forward.

The work of solidarity is to close the distance these systems have put between us by joining and accepting others as fully human—in our struggles and gifts alike. This work requires a commitment to relational accompaniment. What is needed, according to Freire, is for us to “stop making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures, and risk an act of love.” [3]

The Second Conversion

May 26th, 2020 by Dave No comments »


The Second Conversion

Tuesday,  May 26, 2020

If the first conversion to solidarity is to befriend or experience compassion for the poor, the Second Conversion to solidarity is anger at the unjust situation that caused their poverty. Many people never reach this stage of anger at injustice, especially in the United States. Our cultural worship of individualism and “bootstrap” mentality deprives us of the capacity to empathize with people in need and recognize systemic oppression. When we are in the middle or upper tier of privilege, it is almost impossible to see the many ways the system helped us succeed. We cannot recognize or overcome this “agreed upon delusion” as isolated individuals, mostly because it is held together by the group consensus. The dominant group—in any country or context—normally cannot see its own lies. We have to pay attention to whomever is saying “I can’t breathe” to recognize the biases at work.

This often only changes when, through friendship with people of different backgrounds and life experiences, we witness mistreatment and marginalization. We get to know someone outside our immediate social circle. Our sister falls in love with someone from another race, religion, or culture. Our grandchild is transgender. We see all the ways life is more difficult for them than it needs to be. We feel their pain instead of standing apart at a safe distance.  

Anger is a necessary, appropriate, and useful response to this kind of injustice. It is the beginning of social critique and helps us protect the appropriate boundaries for ourselves and others. Yet anger can be dangerous, too. When it hangs around too long, it becomes self-defeating and egocentric. Then it distorts the message it came to offer us. We can become so intent on pointing out problems that we are never actually willing to be part of the solution. As I like to say, the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better, not more criticism! The question of true conversion and solidarity is, “how can I work through my anger and get to the other side, so I can be a life-giving presence with and for those who are most suffering?” 

For oppressed communities, however, anger can be a form of survival, a necessary stage on the path towards healing. Listening to such anger with compassionate friendship can itself be a form of solidarity. As my colleague Barbara Holmes writes:

Many spiritual traditions warn us against anger. We are told that anger provides fertile ground for seeds of discontent, anxiety, and potential harm to self and others. This is true. However, when systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival. . . Until the killing of black and brown people stops, all peaceful methods of resistance are appropriate. Right now, our anger is our truth, and our anger is a sacred part of our humanity and our faith. [1]

The Five Conversions

May 25th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Solidarity

The Five Conversions
Monday, May 25, 2020

If one of the primary markers of a Christian life is solidarity as modeled by Jesus, I am afraid that most of us still have a long way to go. It’s one of the reasons I say that Christianity is still in its infancy. We are just taking our first toddling steps towards a more mature and embodied faith. Transformed teachers like Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and countless others, both sainted and anonymous, have invited us into solidarity with the poor and oppressed. When we are comfortably centered, it is difficult to move to the margins, but that is where we must go!

About fifty years ago, a Brazilian educator named Paulo Freire (1921–1997) wrote a book titled Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire worked for literacy amongst the poor in Brazil and Chile. His work became influential among many liberation theologians and those struggling against unjust systems. This book continues to impact my thinking about what it means to be in solidarity with those on the margins. It challenges many of our preconceived ideas about Christian “charity,” “service,” and “mission.” It is some of the most humbling subject matter we cover in our Living School curriculum. Many of our selfless and goodhearted students have dedicated their lives to Christian “service.” Yet they recognize the ways those vocations, as they are currently designed, often reinforce dehumanizing systems of oppression and marginalization. That paradox is often what drives them to study with us.

This week I will introduce you to a teaching I have developed in the Living School inspired by Paulo Freire’s work that I call “The Five Conversions.” It can offer us a path toward a more authentic Christian life where we recognize our deep connections to each other and choose to live in solidarity with suffering. Solidarity begins by becoming aware of our own social location, which is our place in society. For me and most of my readers that place is a starting point of privilege within the dominant culture. Let’s begin:

The First Conversion to solidarity is to have basic compassion for the poor in general, or one poor person. Throughout this discussion, I will be using the word “poor” in a very specific way—those who are powerless, dismissed, or considered lesser in society. This is far larger than mere economic poverty. Sadly, there seems to be many Christians who don’t even have basic compassion for the poor. In the United States, we are pretty much trained to blame people who are poor, immigrants or refugees, victims, or gay, lesbian, or transgendered people. Far too many seem to think, even if to themselves, that if “those people” would simply work a little more, do things the right way, change their minds, stay hidden, or just “pray a little harder,” we’d all be better off. The first conversion is where we must begin. Our hearts must be softened, and we must experience basic sympathy, empathy, and recognition of another person’s pain.

Solidarity

Invitation to Solidarity
Sunday, May 24, 2020

Throughout human history, countless people have been poor, vulnerable, or oppressed in some way. Those holding positions of authority within systems of power secure their own privilege, comfort, and wealth—almost always at the expense of those most on the margins. Much of history has been recorded to hide this fact and instead celebrates the so-called “winners.” I call this systemic reality a form of sin, or what the apostle Paul describes as the “the world” (Ephesians 2:1–2). This type of corporate evil is often culturally agreed-upon, admired, and deemed necessary, as is normally the case when a country goes to war, spends most of its budget on armaments, admires luxuries over necessities, entertains itself to death, or pollutes its common water and air.

The hidden nature of systemic oppression makes it all the more remarkable that the revelation of God in the Bible is written from the perspective of the oppressed. The Bible reveals a liberating path of humility, compassion, and nonviolence in the face of oppression that culminates in the life, ministry, and state-sponsored execution of Jesus.

We see in the Gospels that the people who tend to follow Jesus are the ones on the margins: the lame, poor, blind, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and foreigners. He lived in close proximity to and in solidarity with the excluded ones in his society. Those on the inside and at the center of power are the ones who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers. Yet we still honor people in these latter roles and shun the ones in the former.

For the first three hundred years after Jesus’ death, Christians were the oppressed minority. But by the year 400 C.E., Christians had changed places. We moved from hiding in the catacombs to presiding in the basilicas. That is when we started reading the Bible not as subversive literature, the story of the oppressed, but as establishment literature to justify the status quo of people in power.

When Christians began to gain positions of power and privilege, they also began to ignore segments of Scriptures, especially the Sermon on the Mount. Our position in society determines what we pay attention to and what systems we are willing to “go along with.” This is what allowed “Christian” empires throughout history to brutalize and oppress others in the name of God. Sadly, this is still the case today.

But when the Bible is read through the eyes of solidarity—what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the margins”—it will always be liberating, transformative, and empowering in a completely different way. Read this way, Scripture cannot be used by those with power to oppress or impress. The question is no longer “How can I maintain my special and secure status?” It is “How can we all grow and change together?” I think the acceptance of that invitation to solidarity with the larger pain of the world is what it means to be a “Christian.”

The Possibility of Restraint

May 22nd, 2020 by Dave No comments »


Friday,  May 22, 2020

Francis rejoices in all the works of the Lord’s hands, and through their delightful display he gazes on their life-giving reason and cause. In beautiful things he discerns Beauty itself; all good things cry out to him: “The One who made us is the Best.” —Thomas of Celano

Goodness is a first principle of the universe. God declares it on the first page of the story of creation. —Barbara Holmes

Creation is the first Bible, as I (and others) like to say [1], and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written. Natural things like animals, plants, rocks, and clouds give glory to God just by being themselves, just what God created them to be. It is only we humans who have been given the free will to choose not to be what God created us to be. Surprisingly, the environmentalist and author Bill McKibben finds hope in this unique freedom. He writes:

The most curious of all . . . lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint. We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.

So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact . . . we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that. . . .

We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide. . . .

Another name for human solidarity is love, and when I think about our world in its present form, that is what overwhelms me. The human love that works to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, the love that comes together in defense of sea turtles and sea ice and of all else around us that is good. The love that lets each of us see we’re not the most important thing on earth, and makes us okay with that. . . . [2]

Over these past several months I have witnessed many examples of this restraint, which Bill McKibben calls love. While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love (and those others love as well). Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” as some are calling it, gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbors across the globe, and future generations.

Loving God by Loving the World

May 21st, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Franciscan Ecological Wisdom

Loving God by Loving the World
Thursday,  May 21, 2020

I have often wondered what might compel more Christians to take personal responsibility to mitigate climate change. With all the scientific evidence we’ve been given, it doesn’t seem to be a head issue but a heart one. Scholar Sallie McFague (1933–2019) offers both theological and ethical reasons for us to make some much needed changes at an individual level. She writes:

As St. Augustine [354–430] puts it, sin is “being curved in upon oneself” [1] rather than being open to God. In our ecological age, we now see that being open to God means being open to the other creatures upon whom we depend and who depend upon us. We do not meet God only in Jesus of Nazareth, because God is also incarnate in our world as the universal Christ. . . .

To love God by loving God’s world has meant different things to different people in different times. For us . . . it is epitomized by climate change . . . the central crisis of the twenty-first century. Put simply, climate change is the result of too many human beings using too much energy and taking up too much space on the planet. Through excessive energy use and its accompanying greenhouse-gas emissions, we are changing the planet’s climate in ways that will make it uninhabitable for ourselves and many other species. . . .

This is a strange “crisis” to face: It does not have the immediacy of a war or plague or tsunami. Rather, it has to do with how we live on a daily basis—the food we eat, the transportation we use . . . the luxuries . . . [and] long-distance air travel we permit ourselves. We are not being called to . . . fight an enemy; rather, the enemy is the very ordinary life we ourselves are leading. . . . Yet, for all its presumed innocence, this way of life lived by well-off North Americans [and prosperous people in other countries RR] is both unjust to those who cannot attain this lifestyle and destructive of the very planet that supports us all.

What, then, would be [an appropriate] ethic for twenty-first-century people and especially for well-off, religious people? One of the distinguishing characteristics of many . . . religions is some form of self-emptying. Often it takes the form of ego-lessness, the attempt to open the self so that God can enter. . . . In the Christian tradition, kenosis or self-emptying is seen as constitutive of God’s being in creation, the incarnation, and the cross. In creation, God limits the divine self, pulling in, so to speak, to allow space for others to exist. . . . In the incarnation, as Paul writes in Philippians 2:7, God “emptied the divine self, taking the form of a slave,” and in the cross God gives of the divine self without limit. Likewise, one understanding of Christian discipleship is [as] a “cruciform” life, imitating the self-giving of Christ for others. . . . Could we live and move and have our being in the universal Christ, participating in the insight and power of God incarnate in the world as we deal with . . .  the basics of existence—space and energy—so we can live in radical interdependence with all other creatures? We are not alone as we face this challenge—the universal Christ is in, with, and for the world as we struggle to deal with climate change