In the midst of polarized communities and nations, religious leaders across the theological spectrum are seeking help with how to respond and lead in troubled times. The need for courage to speak out and act is ever-present, because every generation faces a new set of fears and troubles.
Author Ginger Gaines-Cirelli pastors a church in the heart of Washington DC, adjacent to the White House, which actively works to bring justice and help for marginalized communities, refugees and immigrants, and the endangered earth. She inspires and leads this work through preaching and by organizing and developing strong leaders, deeply rooted in a well-developed theological understanding. Pastoral warmth and compassion characterize the recommended practices.
Sacred Resistance addresses these questions, among others:
• When Christians see that something is wrong in our nation or community, how and when should we respond?
• When we see multiple instances of 'wrong', how do we choose which ones to address?
• How can pastors and other leaders faithfully take risks without violating relationships with the congregation or denomination?
• What historical, biblical, and theological safety nets can be relied on?
• How can we take care of ourselves and one another, so that our ministries and lives are sustained?
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SACRED RESISTANCE: CONTOURS AND COMMITMENTS
Sacred resistance is a way of being and acting in the world that is engaged with and for the world God loves.
Sacred resistance is fueled and guided by a loving God who is the source and sustainer of all life, a God who is always working for good in the world, a God who has been revealed as God-with-us, a God who invites us to share the divine life of creative, mending, saving love.
Sacred resistance is anything — any word, deed, or stance — that actively counters the forces of hatred, cruelty, selfishness, greed, dehumanization, desolation, and disintegration in God's beloved world.
Sacred resistance is nonviolent and seeks the common good.
Sacred resistance "reads the signs of the times" through the lens of biblically and relationally grounded faith to discern how to be actively engaged with the world and to be vigilant against whatever threatens the world's life.
Sacred resistance takes shape in personal attitudes and in communal protest, in spiritual practices and in political advocacy, in how we spend our time and for whom we will risk our safety.
Sacred resistance will look different in different contexts because its practitioners will engage the specific situation or reality present at any given time.
Sacred resistance is the domain of no one human sect, faction, party, race, class, or even creed but is primarily the domain of a radically free God who calls us to cross boundaries to share and care for life with and for others.
Sacred resistance is what is needed for the living of these days. And "these days" are whatever days we find ourselves living.
Light and Love
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your [God] in heaven."
We are light in the world, called to be a shining reflection of the God in whose image we are created. In days when violence and injustice threaten to overwhelm, when the onslaught of terror and grief leaves scant room in our newsfeed for anything else, when we are painfully aware of our smallness and how much we don't know, when what we learn reveals seemingly insurmountable challenges stretching out before us, it is easy to feel that our little light makes little difference. We might experience the flame of our faith, hope, and even love grow weak and dim, challenged as it is by so deep a shadow. This is understandable. Negative voices and energies easily hitch a ride on the shadows of grief, rage, injury, vulnerability, and disappointment.
But in the midst of the shadow, the words of Jesus resound all the more: "You are the light of the world!" Heeding these words of Jesus is an act of sacred resistance. In so doing, you resist the temptation to give in to cynicism or to self-protective wall-building or to violent retaliation. To claim that you are light in the world is to receive the good news that you are made to shine, that you have a place and a purpose in the world and for the world, and that your light matters. It is an affirmation that you are a beloved part of God's family, enfolded into God's life and activity. Jesus himself is described as the light of the world, his life "the light of all people" (John 1:4). We are recipients of that light. We are made in the image of Christ. We are to be light for others in the way Christ is a light for others.
Now if that all seems a bit too lofty for a life like yours, then your first exercise in sacred resistance is to take Isaiah 43:1-7 into your daily prayer for at least a week (a month would be even better). Hear these words as God's voice speaking directly to you. Listen for what God wants to say to you. Then after at least a week with Isaiah, do the same with Matthew 5:14-16. Hear the voice of Christ speaking these words to you. If you are so led, listen to what God wants to say to you in the longer passage contained in Matthew 5:1-16.
Among the personal messages you will receive, this part of the text is clear: you are precious, beloved, formed and made by God for glory. You are created to share in the life and light of Christ!
There will be those who will reject the notion that sacred resistance begins in prayer or in one person's journey to acknowledge and accept the love of God. What do those things have to do with the heart-rending realities of brutality, hatred, and injustice in our communities and world? What possible difference do they make?
I suggest that sacred resistance begins in the heart of God. It is, in fact, God's consistent stance toward the world. Out of an overflowing love desiring to be shared, God creates the world and all that is. Out of love, God seeks relationship with humankind. Out of love, God provides everything we need to live in peace, joy, and wholeness. And when we, God's children, turn away and our love fails, God's love remains steadfast. God resists abandoning us!
God could have chosen to let us go. Across the ages, God's prophets are rejected, ignored, or killed. God's people make promise after promise, only to get distracted and wander off into the emptiness of self-made idols and the conflict inevitably resulting as the fruit of injustice. God loves us and wants to be close to us. We pay lip service to God and want to be close to our stuff. It's an old story that gets repeated through the ages. But the twist in the tale every time? God consistently resists leaving us alone! God chooses to stay with us, to never give up on us, to keep calling us to live into the image that is our birthright. God loves us with an everlasting, stubborn love. That love is the model and the fuel for sacred resistance.
It is one thing to believe that God loves the world. It is quite another to allow God's love to penetrate our own heart and life such that it grounds our thoughts, perceptions, and actions.
When you are able to stay connected to the love of God who holds you, calls you by name, forgives you, and empowers you to shine, you will be better equipped to act in the world with sacred resistance. Because you will know firsthand what sacred resistance is really about: it's about love, love that looks upon each person with a desire for their well-being, love that looks upon human community with a desire for healing and peace with justice, love that looks into all creation with a desire for mending and reverence, love that is compassionate and merciful, love that is stubborn and sacrificial. This is how God loves the world. This is how God loves you. This is how God created you to love.
"You are the light of the world," Jesus says. As long as you take those words seriously, even when you feel dimmed by weariness and worn down with grief, God's love will continue to shine, lighting the way not only for you to keep going but also for others to see you and to follow.
Twitter is a fascinating phenomenon on the social media landscape. It's amazing how much can be communicated in such a limited number of characters. Perhaps it is the terse nature of the medium that creates opportunity for the pointed and piercing attacks between people that so often appear on my Twitter feed. My strategy has been to pick up news and follow the general trend of social energy on that platform but to avoid getting into "conversations" on Twitter. The few times I broke that rule, it didn't end well. However, one exchange was interesting. This is how it went:
Me: Jesus didn't come 2 disturb the peace of a peaceful world. He came 2 disturb the injustice of an unjust world. #Sanctuary #Black-LivesMatter
Unknown Tweeter: Jesus should really stop the violence.
Me: That's our part of the deal. As Teresa of Avila says: Christ has no body now but yours ...
Unknown Tweeter: Can one man tackle the problems of this cruel and evil world?
Me: No. It's the work of the whole body — every member of the human family. Not all accept that work. But we who long 4 love & justice do our part.
Unknown Tweeter: Touché
You are the light of the world. I am the light of the world. All are created to be light, to embody love in action. As the brief Twitter exchange above reveals, there is a strong tendency these days to perceive everything through the lens of the individual (can one person tackle all the problems?). But our faith is clear: we do not shine alone.
Sacred resistance is about relationship from start to finish. It begins in relationship with God and is given shape through God's love for each one of us. It is lived out most fully in relationship with and for others. Jesus has no body on earth but the body of people who seek to live according to God's wisdom and way, who seek to make God's love incarnate. The sixteenth-century nun and mystic Teresa of Avila, wrote:
Christ has no body but yours,
This doesn't mean that each of us is to do all the work of Christ on our own. The "yours" of which Teresa speaks is a collective. The body of Christ is not one person but is, rather, the whole people of God. When each one of us does our part, shining our light as God has guided us to do, we participate in the ongoing work of Christ in the world. We undertake the work of sacred resistance with God and with other people.
This is profoundly good news as we look and see the depth and breadth of suffering and injustice in this beautiful, broken world. It is not up to us to save the world! Salvation is God's work, and we participate with many others to share the divine work of mending. In our society, folks struggle to get by — to find sufficient economic, physical, and emotional resources to care for themselves and their families. Sacred resistance is not something "piled on" to an already overburdened life but instead an invitation to participate with others in both giving and receiving support and encouragement. As theologian Douglas John Hall writes: "The importance of the corporate nature of the Christian life — the 'body' — lies not only in its meaning for the individuals who are part of it, but in the promise that it provides for their shared work of world-mending."
Thanks to the window of Facebook, I have a view of friends who are not connected to a faith community. Many long for connection to others with whom to process what is happening in society or in their lives. Recently, one of those friends put out a call for people who meet together and discuss "what is going on and what we can do." I thought to myself, "That already exists in churches and synagogues all over the city!" I invited my friend to check out what was happening at the church I serve. One of the great gifts of our faith is that we are blessed with the gift of community, a community that can not only share the work but also expand our perspective through real, honest relationships — and all undergirded by the love and grace of God.
What Others Are We With?
As members of the body of Christ, we are given eyes to see that there really is no "us and them." There is only "we." Jesus came to save not one part of the world but the whole world. The life together into which Christ calls us is not a vision of an exclusive, separatist club. Rather, the church is a living example and practice ground for how radically diverse humans can journey together in mutual care and friendship as we share God's life of creative, mending, saving love. The church is with its members and with those all around them in their local community and world. Those who seek to follow Jesus and those of other creeds and cultures are "in this thing together." And if the church is truly trying to follow Jesus, we/it will understand that God's creative, mending, saving love is extended to the whole world. In this context, it makes sense that those in the human family who are struggling or experiencing pain or injustice will receive particular attention and care. Even a cursory review of the gospel accounts of Jesus's life reveals that he spent most of his energy in the margins, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, confronting injustice, restoring life and dignity to those for whom these gifts had been denied.
Even so, I have had conversations with church folk who are uncomfortable with the idea that God has a "preferential option for the poor." They feel such a statement is exclusive and limits God's care. I've heard things like, "Don't the rich need God's love and grace, too?" This reaction is akin to the "all lives matter" response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The common factor here is the notion that a focused commitment to one group will diminish the dignity, worth, or care assigned to those outside that group. Such a perspective betrays the belief that there is a limited supply of dignity, worth, or care available. This is not true. God's love and grace are eternal and unlimited. There is more than enough to go around. There is not a limited supply of human dignity or freedom. But the truth is that some people and groups have been denied what is abundantly available out of greed, fear, control, hatred, ignorance, complacency, selfishness, rationalization, and all other manner of human sin.
A perspective that rejects the practice of an intentional and focused solidarity with the poor and oppressed can only thrive in a radically disintegrated context — that is, a context in which our fundamental interdependence is ignored or denied. Such a perspective is maintained at our peril. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us again and again, we are part of one family, intricately connected and ultimately responsible for what happens to one another. God made the world this way, made us this way, so that until you are whole, I cannot be whole, and vice versa.
This biblically grounded perspective (e.g., 1 Cor 12) is critically important for the work of sacred resistance. At one and the same time, it affirms the wholeness of the human family and acknowledges that the experience of one affects the lives of all. In his first letter to the Corinthian churches, Paul described life together saying, "Just as the body is one and has many members ... so it is with Christ. ... If one member suffers, all suffer together with it" (1 Cor 12:12, 26b). I'll never forget the moment many years ago when the deep truth of these words pierced my heart. The preacher said simply, "The body of Christ has AIDS." It struck me as never before: my body has AIDS because the bodies of others suffer from this disease. What affects one, affects all. This brings another layer of meaning to that central law to "love your neighbor as yourself."
As followers of Jesus, we turn toward the places of pain and suffering because that is what Jesus did and because it is the way of lovingly mending the broken creation of which we are a part. It is the truly human thing to do. Even as we focus our attention on the causes of pain and injustice, take responsibility for our own part in those causes, and seek to care for and be in solidarity with those who suffer, our faith always reminds us that God's saving love is for the whole world. Our repentance in word and deed and our solidarity with the poor and oppressed not only serve to alleviate the suffering of our siblings but also serve the good of all. Our call is to work for the common good.
Keeping the Good "Common"
At the most basic level, any impulse or decision to focus on the needs or suffering of others is a form of sacred resistance. Our culture, on the one hand, wants us to believe the universe revolves around our own feelings, needs, or comfort. God, on the other hand, creates and calls us to live with and for others, to love our neighbors as ourselves. My guess is that most readers of this book are already committed to the work of solidarity and service. Therefore, the task then becomes trying to engage that work faithfully.
One challenge in our current climate is that with so many groups crying out for long-denied justice, it becomes difficult to keep "the common good" in view. A focus on the common good is not a ploy to deny or minimize the specific, urgent human crises that call for attention. It is, rather, to hold those crises in proper perspective. There seems to be a burgeoning emphasis on discrete "social issues" or specific human "rights" instead of consistent emphasis on a more holistic vision of a common good. Add to that the nature of our sound-bite culture with its tendency to boil things down to their lowest common denominator, and the stage is well set for polarized "for" or "against" ways of thinking even among those seeking to forward the cause of justice.
The primary struggle is not between one group or another, but it is a struggle to achieve what is good for all, namely, the Judeo-Christian prophetic vision of a world committed to peace with justice and guided by love of God and love of neighbor.
Excerpted from "Sacred Resistance"
Copyright © 2018 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Sacred Resistance: Contours and Commitments,
2. Caring for the Good of All,
3. Sacred Resistance: A Way of Life for the Church,
4. Prophetic Guidance for the Living of These Days,
5. Stop Speaking "Smooth Things",
6. What Do We Do?,
7. Fueling the Resistance: Guarding against Burnout,