Saturday, March 31, 2018

They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection


by exiled Guatemalan poet Julia Esquivel, 1980

It isn't the noise in the streets
that keeps us from resting, my friend,
nor is it the shouts of the young people
coming out drunk from the "St. Pauli,"
nor is it the tumult of those who pass by excitedly
on their way to the mountains.

It is something within us that doesn't let us sleep,
that doesn't let us rest,
that won't stop pounding
deep inside,
it is the silent, warm weeping
of Indian women without their husbands,
it is the sad gaze of the children
fixed somewhere beyond memory,
precious in our eyes
which during sleep,
though closed, keep watch,
systole,
diastole,
awake.

Now six have left us,
and nine in Rabinal,
and two, plus two, plus two,
and ten, a hundred, a thousand,
a whole army
witness to our pain,
our fear,
our courage,
our hope!

What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with Resurrection!
Because every evening
though weary of killings,
an endless inventory since 1954,
yet we go on loving life
and do not accept their death!

They have threatened us with Resurrection
Because we have felt their inert bodies,
and their souls penetrated ours
doubly fortified,
because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
who carry the strength
to reach the finish line
which lies beyond death.

They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they will not be able to take away from us
their bodies,
their souls,
their strength,
their spirit,
nor even their death
and least of all their life.
Because they live
today, tomorrow, and always
in the streets baptized with their blood,
in the air that absorbed their cry,
in the jungle that hid their shadows,
in the river that gathered up their laughter,
in the ocean that holds their secrets,
in the craters of the volcanoes,
Pyramids of the New Day,
which swallowed up their ashes.

They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they are more alive than ever before,
because they transform our agonies
and fertilize our struggle,
because they pick us up when we fall,
because they loom like giants
before the crazed gorillas' fear.

They have threatened us with Resurrection,
because they do not know life (poor things!).

That is the whirlwind
which does not let us sleep,
the reason why sleeping, we keep watch,
and awake, we dream.
No, it's not the street noises,
nor the shouts from the drunks in the "St. Pauli,"
nor the noise from the fans at the ball park.

It is the internal cyclone of kaleidoscopic struggle
which will heal that wound of the quetzal
fallen in Ixcán,
it is the earthquake soon to come
that will shake the world
and put everything in its place.
No, brother,
it is not the noise in the streets
which does not let us sleep.
Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!
To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already
resurrected! 

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Washing Feet


"AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU."  Off and on over the years, I have participated in the Maundy Thursday liturgy at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Breckenridge, Colorado.  Typically, the little church is half-full and it is likely a quarter of us are out-of-towners.  No matter.  Not used to the turnings, citings and readings of formal liturgy, I fumble my way through the service.  The part in which I feel particularly connected is the foot washing. The liturgy invites us to do for another what Jesus did for his disciples that night of their last meal together.  After the pastoral team, we are invited to wash each other's feet at the front of the sanctuary.  During the foot washing, the congregation sings:

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.

HOMELESS NEIGHBORS' FEET.  The radical humiliation of washing another's feet first struck me in 1989, when a nurse asked me to help with the foot soaks and foot massages she weekly offered the homeless men who visited Horizon House.  I initially volunteered to assist, but when the hour came, I found myself strangely resistant and made excuses not to be available to wash their feet.  The next week, Nurse Anne wouldn't let me off the hook.  I found myself kneeling before the dirty, gnarly, swollen, smelly feet of a homeless man.  Still resistant but yielded, I gave myself to the task, pushing inner protests aside.  One after another, I washed and massaged feet until there were no more feet to wash.  I felt relieved and released and somehow strangely at peace.  From that point on, I have always viewed people without homes as neighbors, recognizing and accepting my connection, complicity, and challenge in their condition.

LEADING PARADIGM.  During my 2,000-mile bicycle ride through India in 2007, we were honored in Bangalore by foot washing.  The Free Methodist Bishops of India knelt down and washed each cyclist's feet in front of all their pastors, parishioners, and non-christian friends and community members who gathered to welcome us to that city. We, in turn, washed their feet. Knowing the strong sense of caste and social role that pervade the various Indian cultures, I can only begin to imagine the radical--even offensive--action of a leader washing anyone's feet.  But this is likely close to the context of Jesus' action on what we now call Maundy Thursday.  He is the servant leader and this is the primary image for Christian leadership.  The towel and basin stands alongside the cross.  Those who dismiss or stray from this central paradigm mislead.

IT'S NOT ABOUT FEET.  I have not fully identified the points of my resistance to wash either the feet of homeless neighbors in homeless center or the feet of a friend in a Holy Week foot-washing liturgy. I'm not nearly as interested in analyzing my resistance as in simply recognizing it and overcoming it. It's really not about foot washing, anyway.  It's about doing the necessary, menial, and helpful things for one another without reference to "who's who," social role, or fear. I want to continue to move in that direction in my life, breaking resistances and hesitancies and excuses with helpful actions for whomever they are needed.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Monday, March 26, 2018

HEAVY PARODY IN HOLY WEEK

Believers disbelieve--and try to counter Jesus' cross talk; disbelievers believe Jesus' power--and try to get rid of him. Go figure, writes William Stringfellow

BELIEF AND DISBELIEF. “In the drama of the redemption of the world in the Word of God, Holy Week is heavy parody,” says William Stringfellow. “If in such events the disciples exemplify not faith in Christ as Lord but doubt, and if meanwhile the public authorities, in spite of themselves, confess Christ as Lord, what are we, nowadays, to make of this?”

EXPOSING FRAUDULENT POWER. “If the authorities of this world--including the whole diverse array of principalities and powers, ecclesiastical, political, military, commercial--recognize Jesus as Christ the Lord, it is because his reign is active now and constantly disrupts and confounds their rule and exposes their power (which is no more than the sanction of death) as transient and fraudulent.”

EXPOSING NAIVE PRESUMPTIONS. “If the disciples are ambivalent, recalcitrant, incredulous toward Jesus as the Christ and toward the reality of his reign in the world, it is because they anticipate some other kingdom--one associated merely with the emancipation of Israel or one that appears immediately or miraculously: another worldly regime or an otherworldly realm--and so they are hindered in seeing the ridicule of such fragile and false hopes as when Jesus processes into the city mounted on a colt, and their Palm Sunday expectations turn into demoralization and fear.”

THE LIFE TO WHICH WE ARE CALLED. Stringfellow concludes: “The Kingdom of which Christ is Lord is not worldly but it is not otherworldly; for it is a Kingdom in this world, a historical and political reality, which both devastates and consummates the apparently prevailing order and all of its regimes and putative regimes and revolutionary causes. The life to which those in Christ are called consists of living as a society, now under the reign of the Word of God, beholden to Christ as Lord of all of life within the whole of creation, until that day when his reign is vindicated and the fullness of the power of death is exhausted, and all persons, principalities, and powers are rendered accountable, and this history ends.”


John Franklin Hay
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday and Nonviolent Living

A weaponless, army-less liberator rides into the violent polis on a colt. Is he crazy?



WATCH CLOSELY NOW. It is not likely you have ever before heard this take on Palm Sunday. Here it is: in theological and anthropological terms, I imagine Palm Sunday to be as much about ushering in nonviolence as anything. 

NAIVE SOCIAL MOMENT? Palm Sunday is at once an outwardly naïve social moment and at the same time an inwardly authentic signal of a new way of living and leading.  It is not that Jesus has not thoroughly exemplified nonviolence before now. It is that he is now allowing himself to be publicly declared Messiah in the heart of the polis and the stakes are ever so much higher. Watch him ever so closely now. Strain to observe as he faces his foes and darkest hours having completely renounced violence inside and out.

SIGNAL AND CONFIRMATION. His disarming and symbolic procession into the city on a colt amid shouts of "Hosanna!" isn't just a stunt. Renunciation of violence is heard in Jesus' voice and seen in his actions throughout his last week. The profound shift Palm Sunday signals is confirmed in what we call Holy Week. The nonviolent way of living and leadership Jesus has taught in the towns and rural areas is manifested in the city center and in the crucible of power. Even Jesus' effort to drive religious profiteers (mere pawns of a corrupt system) out of the temple should be taken as a near comical expression of the futility of violence. What does it accomplish? 

STRENGTH TO LOVE. But never mistake nonviolence for weakness. Jesus is not at all powerless as he enters Jerusalem. It becomes clear as the week advances, even as the cross is planted and the tomb is sealed, that Jesus is the controlling enigma. His chosen response to intimidation, pressure, accusations, betrayal, desertion, condemnation, suffering, violence, and even death is a nonviolent nonresistance based on love. It is not about giving in to fate or conceding anything. Instead, it is about exercising power that is nothing more or less than faith and trust in a loving God to bring meaning and life to one's existence, journey and mission.

ON AN EXCEPTIONAL PEDESTAL? When it comes to thinking of nonviolence as a way of life, it is a mistake to set Jesus on a heroic pedestal. It is a mistake to think of his actions as exemplary, exceptional, unique, and unrepeatable. It is a mistake to surmise that Jesus' pattern is not intended for our own lives or social and political behaviors. It is a mistake to sentimentally accept Jesus as personal savior and Lord, but immediately bracket and set aside the very core of his witness and pattern. It is erroneous to think of Jesus' nonviolence as limited to--and intended only for--his redemptive acts on our behalf.  How can it be that we want his forgiveness and laud his sacrificial life, but are not willing to live nonviolently, nonresistantly, lovingly, trustingly, powerfully ourselves?  Is this not, in the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer's phrase, "cheap grace?"

SAYING ONE THING, LIVING ANOTHER. For all our words, worship, songs, and altruistic actions, when it comes to the most powerful aspects of Jesus' witness, do we imitate Jesus? We say we trust God, but do we make a mockery of faith in God's name before the world? We act as if we are certain the future of the world is best left in our self-defending hands and in our calculating control--better yet, in the hands of self-serving politicians and power brokers who give lip service to Christianity but live and act by the same power sources as did the Pharisees, Herod, and Pilate. And we bless them.

CHOOSE YOUR POWER SOURCES CAREFULLY. In Jesus, particularly in his so-called triumphal entry scenario, we are challenged to continuously renounce our violence every day in every encounter. We are given opportunity to renounce the subtlest uses of threats, intimidation, controlling, fear, and shaming. We are invited to let go of the impulse to be self defensive or to coerce others for the sake of keeping the peace or promoting just causes. Whether the arena is our household or the global stage, the opportunity is the same. We are shown how to live from a different place in our soul when it comes to making decisions, facing violence, and exercising power. It is a place of strength, the strength to love. So, choose your sources of power carefully.

A ROAD LESS TRAVELED. Nonviolence is not easy. Folks try hard to be nonviolent. It takes more energy and determination than going with the flow of violence that defines our culture. It is a road less traveled. It is marching to a different drumbeat. Sometimes we can be quite militant in our vigilant commitment to nonviolence, to the point of taking on a violent spirit. I am convinced that a commitment to and actions for nonviolence are not enough. Renunciation is pointless if not for a surpassing love that transcends violence and endues us with a higher power, a life-giving source.

AN EMBRACED TRANSCENDENT LOVE. Nonviolence apart from an embraced transcendent love remains mere idealism. It is right, but only partly so. Renouncing violence is unsustainable personally and socially in merely humanistic terms. Without a spiritually inward transformation, I am not sure that as a social agenda it will work. It seems to me that nonviolence can only lead to shalom if violence is supplanted by agape love.

LOVE AND VIOLENCE. But why is it that many who claim the name and love of God never renounce violence? Why do we not include personal and institutional violence when we declare, in the great confession, that "we renounce Satan and all his works?" Why do we continue to live in reflection of a violent god? Why is the spirit and example of Jesus on Palm Sunday and Holy Week not incorporated into the pattern and practice of our lives--personally and collectively? This remains an open question for me. It puzzles me. It keeps me looking forward.


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Reflection on St. Patrick's Prayer

St. Patrick's Breastplate: freaky and intriguing



The following prayer is attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland, circa A. D. 377.  To me, it's both freaky and intriguing. Christianity is not wizardry or magic. But Patrick's use of imagination to envision God's presence in all nature and surrounding us--that's powerful stuff.

I read this prayer each year--half because there is actual historic and spiritual substance behind the now-mythic figure of Patrick and this prayer at least points us in that direction (as opposed to mindless drunken ethnic frivolity), and half because it's about the only time of the year I care to acknowledge that I am of Irish descent (via my maternal great grandfather Thomas Garrett).

This prayer, called St. Patrick's Breastplate, is fascinatingly comprehensive, even exhaustive. It mentions things I frankly never think of or even believe matter. Even so, that it reminds me of these things is instructive.

It also gives a sense of how much Patrick and early Christian forebears saw nature itself as being in concert with grace. This reflects the Psalms. "All nature sings." Talk about imagination!  Patrick's sense was that all life is bending toward or expressing Trinity at its very core.

But this thing about "summoning"--I don't get that, I don't think like that, and I do not see that as the manner of prayer or use of spirituality in the New Testament.  Christians are not wizards. Christianity is not magic.  Prayer is not incantations.  Prayer is a conversation in a relationship.  It is a communion.  When it comes to addressing temptations and evil, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples is far more simple and direct: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Interesting that Patrick's imagination envisioned Christ's perpetual, enveloping presence throughout one's day, but did not go so far as to imagine prayer as something just as intimate, simple, and direct.

It is likely that this "prayer" wasn't supposed to be prayer at all. Perhaps it is more in the genre of a pronouncement, a preaching, a teaching, a public prayer. Just goes to show that we can say some pretty weird and awesome things about God and grace and life when heads are bowed, eyes are closed, and we know people are listening attentively.

Here's the prayer:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
Amen

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com