Signs of the Times • 28 August 2020 • No. 205
¶ Processional. Northwest Tap Connection: #Blacklivesmatter
Among my bedrock theological convictions is that biblical spirituality is always personal but never private.
In this sense—and this sense only—do I identify as an evangelical Christian. Which is to say, transformation entails a profound shift, deep within, which leverages a corresponding change in behavior and allegiance.
A disarmament of the heart (which usually does not happen all at once but typically grows incrementally) is the unfolding of faith—which, as Clarence Jordan wrote, is not “belief in spite of evidence but life lived in scorn of the consequences."
In so doing, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell, "we learn to read history from below."
Of course the actual practice of disarmed living then renews, refines, and deepens the contours of the heart. Hearts and hands form a mutual learning pact.
Such faith imitates and participates in God’s transforming initiative in the Beloved's' enfleshment (“while we were yet enemies of God”), relinquishing privilege, and then by way of Jesus' inauguration of the Reign to Come, setting in motion the disarmament of every ruthless power through the cross and resurrection. That selfsame movement—People of the Way—invites our participation even now.
This journey is not distinguished by a particular pattern of ritual observance, or precise doctrinal formulations, or set of moral strictures, or piety norms, or quality of emotional experience. The cruciform life lived inside resurrection’s promise is oriented by a beatific vision oriented to the coming Reign of God.
The work of grace is not like an emotional high, or a spa visit or an aromatherapy treatment or a mindfulness training. It is much more rigorous and robust. Grace has the power of displacing shame and fear, so that we develop the facility to living graciously, on the one hand, and fearlessly on the other, such that we receive the capacity to stand up against the threat of every malicious power.
“Freedom's just another word,” Kris Kristofferson wrote, “for having nothing left to lose.” This is our secret resurrectionary power.
Asking which comes first—disarmed hearts or disarmed hands—is a fruitless question. The one always guides and corrects and emboldens the other. These are not segregated acts but one unified exercise. Not unlike the relation between inhaling and exhaling.
The work of disarmed living—where the work of mercy mediates the demands of justice with the prerequisites of peace—is also holistic. It applies to every relational context of our lives, from the largest and most public to the most immediate and personal.
In this issue of Signs of the Times, I am offering examples from my own experience of attendance to the full range of where attention is needed: public policy, interpersonal relations, and familial kinship.
The first entails attention to the headlines, of needed public action, of attention to both the wretchedness and the hope of history’s large pallet. The second, an example of how we live with and care for friends and acquaintances. The third, how we sustain healthy relations within the intimacy of our own households (or at least with extended kin who gather for Thanksgiving meals).
The strategies we use for the work of healing in all three areas can be very different. None is more important than others. Different people give varying degrees of attention to one or another. But we all urgently need to be part of communities of conviction that nurture and encourage the work done in every level of our common life.
¶ Confession. “This old house is falling down around my ears / I'm drowning in a river of my tears / When all my will is gone you hold me sway / And I need you at the dimming of the day / You pulled me like the moon pulls on the tide / You know just where I keep my better side. —“Dimming of the Day,” Bonnie Raitt and Richard Thompson
Kindred, the news is bleak. For we live in the valley of the shadow, when:
• the stock market reaches record-breaking levels in the midst of near-record-breaking rates of unemployment;
• when 1% of US citizens control $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half is saddled with more debts than assets;
• when the median wealth of Black households is a tenth of that of whites;
• when yet another unarmed Black man is shot—in the back, seven times, while getting in his car where his children are sitting—by police;
—continue reading “Kindred, the news is bleak: Rouse yourselves to maintain custody of your heart”
¶ Hymn of assurance. “I don't feel no ways tired, / I've come too far from where I started from. / Nobody told me that the road would be easy, / I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me.” —The Voices of Light, “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired”
Watching the dual storms track through the Caribbean tonight make me remember a similar experience. Several years ago I was up late watching the course of a hurricane and remembering friends in several Caribbean countries and in South Louisiana where the storm was headed. It prompted a poem, which I dedicated to my friend and pastor, Rev. Francisco Rodés, in Cuba.
¶ Hymn of intercession. “A greeting from my heart to Beirut / kisses to the sea and to the houses. . . . / My people’s wounds have flourished / And mothers tear / You are mine, you are mine / Ah, Hug me.” —English translation of lyrics in “Li Beirut” (“To Beirut”) performed by Fairouz
Once a year in August my beloved catches up to me. For 14 weeks from late April, I maintain seniority in the house of age.
But then, in the dog days of summer, I lose my precedence. To be truthful, though, neither of us relish the accumulation of candles on our cake. . . . There have been hallelujahs and heartaches. Ecstasy in one moment, the laundry in the next.”
¶ Recessional. “The Blessing,” performed by an ensemble drawn from the churches of Aotearoa/New Zealand
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