Sunday, April 25, 2010

From Fear to Life (4/25/2010)

From Fear to Life
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 25, 2010

Acts 9:36-43
John 10:22-30

What lay on the road was no mere handful of snake. It was the copperhead at last, golden under the street lamp. I hope to see everything in this world before I die. I knelt on the road and stared. Its head was wedge-shaped and fell back to the unexpected slimness of neck. The body itself was thick, tense, electric. Clearly this wasn't black snake looking down from the limbs of a tree, or green snake, or the garter, whizzing over the rocks. Where these had, oh, such shyness, this one had none. When I moved a little, it turned and clamped its eyes on mine; then it jerked toward me. I jumped back and watched as it flowed on across the road and down into the dark. My heart was pounding. I stood a while, listening to the small sounds of the woods and looking at the stars. After excitement we are so restful. When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.
--Mary Oliver, "May"

C.S. Lewis in his book A Grief Observed writes about his own grief. After the death of his wife he wrote an honest account of his feelings. It is a powerful work and one I recommend. It is an emotional struggle. It is a spiritual struggle.

He makes the connection between grief and fear. He is surprised by the connection. He writes:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me . . .

An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m afraid of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t . . .

And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness . . .
It is helpful to hear others talk about their grief. It is also good to read articulate writers describe their own experiences. One of the reasons it is helpful is that when we experience grief (not if but when) we can know that we are not alone. We will still have the feelings, such as in Lewis' case, grief that feels like fear. But we can know that we aren't going crazy.

We can have doubts. Huge doubts. We can feel angry, alone, exhausted, self-absorbed, and realize that others are as well. It is grief. And it feels like fear. And what of God? Grief shatters all illusions and idols. According to C.S. Lewis:
... Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing [God], so happy that you are tempted to feel [God's] claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to [God] with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to [God] when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is [God] so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?
That is good, honest writing.

A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.
C.S. Lewis tells the truth. You wonder when you are grieving why no one has prepared you for that. Those who attempt to comfort in the name of or on behalf of God are well-meaning. They are caring, compassionate people who want you to feel better. But it seems as though they have never grieved themselves or have forgotten. The platitudes are so shallow. You want to say,

"just be with me but don't speak."
But you don't say that because you don't want to be rude and you still hope that maybe one of your friends will have an answer that is truthful. You don't want them to abandon you as God has done. But no answer is truthful. The door to God is double bolted from the inside.

Grief is more than mourning the loss of that which we have cherished. Grief touches the very core of our existence. When we are grieving we are grieving not only the loss of our loved one or whatever the loss may be, we are grieving the death of God. Technically, I don't mean the death of God. I mean the death of the concept of God. But it is more than an intellectual concept. We grieve the loss--the death--of the very thing that has held us together.

Everything we valued, everything we thought was true, everything we hoped for and gave us joy, has been ripped away. And no one else seems to get it. No one seems to understand. No one has fallen into that abyss except you. It is scary. Grief is like fear.

If you discover that others have entered into that abyss, then it is as though there is a conspiracy of silence. Don't tell the others. We cannot talk about this death. Even with others we are alone.

I think the scriptures, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the scriptures that centered around Jesus, are stories of grief. They are stories of people who experienced incredible loss. Loss that is so real that only stories about God can touch it. They are stories about the death of God. These are stories of the death of that which held them together.

The words placed on the lips of Jesus from Psalm 22 before Jesus breathes his last tell the truth of grief:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
That is why I still go back to this old book. Like Walter Wink, I wrestle with it. It tells the truth about grief and loss. It talks about the death of God. At a deeper level than the stories themselves, are human beings writing in their own idiom about their own grief and fear.

It is to this experience, the experience of the silent God that John writes about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

"My sheep hear my voice."
That is unbelievable to me until I can be sure that the voice once was mute.

When the author of Acts writes about Peter raising the widow from death, I know it is a fictional story. But I trust the author is writing about the experiences of a struggling people who have lost everything, including God. Then they found themselves awakening to a new sense of God.

When we hear stories of death and rebirth or death and resurrection, if we are not tone deaf, we are hearing stories of awakening. This is near the end of A Grief ObservedC.S. Lewis writes:
... Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. For one thing, I suppose I am recovering physically from a good deal of mere exhaustion. ... And suddenly, at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best. Indeed, it was something (almost) better than memory; an instantaneous, unanswerable impression. To say it was like a meeting would be going too far. Yet there was that in it which tempts one to use those words. It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.
Those acquainted with grief know that it is not a straight line. It is not a series of steps to climb, or hurdles to jump as quickly as possible as if we are racing around a track. It is messy. It is up and down. Yet there comes a time when the door to God is no longer closed and bolted. Lewis speaks of God:

And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually come to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can't give it: you are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.
When the sorrow lifts a new sense of God (or of meaning if you prefer) emerges. It isn't the same as before. Less naïve. Less tame. Less familiar. More complex. Deeper. Wilder. Grief is the great killer of God. But what happens is that in time God is reborn. God is more alive. So are we.

When we experience grief and survive it we are ourselves reborn. I do like that last line from Mary Oliver's poem "May":
When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.
That is the sense of these stories from scripture as well. Because they are honest about death, I can also resonate with their stories of rebirth. This is the via transformativa or the way of compassion. The stories in Acts are stories of people who having experienced grief that feels like fear are no longer overcome by fear.

If you want to start a movement for compassion and justice, find people who are in awe of life, who know the depths of grief and have experienced dark nights of the soul and the very death of their God, and then have found God reborn. You need to find folks who aren't afraid to be a little blasphemous, because those who mouth platitudes won't be strong enough.

As Walter Wink writes in his book Engaging the Powers, you need folks who will rattle God's cage. This is what he writes about prayer:

Prayer is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God’s hands and the manacles off God’s feet and washing the caked sweat from God’s eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes.
If you want a movement for justice and peace, you need folks who aren't afraid to set God free. If grief is the death of God, recovery is God reborn within.

God is in you.

Wake her up.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Of Deities and Deeds (4/18/2010)

Of Deities and Deeds
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 18, 2010

Acts 9:1-6
John 21:1-19

Was Saul riding a horse on the way to Damascus? Or was he on foot?

How many of you picture the story of Saul falling off of his horse when he is confronted by the light of the Risen Christ?

How many of you picture the story as Saul walking and falling down when blinded by the light?

You can use that little test to see if someone was raised Roman Catholic or Protestant. The story in Acts doesn't mention a horse. It doesn't mention Paul's mode of travel at all. Yet a number of paintings particularly from the 15th and 16th centuries portray Saul falling from his horse.

Those who learned the story in churches that have these icons and artwork generally have in their mind's eye Saul falling off of a horse. Those who learned the story from just hearing or reading it from the Bible picture Saul walking.

I had never heard of the horse option until seminary. On Fridays our church history professor showed us iconography. Growing up a Protestant iconography was not part of my experience. I have to say I felt a bit deprived. Why don't we get the cool stuff like paintings?

Today's stories from scripture invite us to think about religious experience.

Last week at the Presbyterian Student Fellowship at the campus house at ETSU, the students invited Mormon missionaries to talk about their church. Four young adults, two men and two women whose ages were between 18-21 talked to us. At one point each of them felt compelled to give us his or her testimony. Each of them told what was to them very real experiences. Each told of a time he or she prayed to "Father." The result of this prayer and this experience was a reassurance that the 
Book of the Mormon and the teachings of the church were true.

I heard testimonies in my Southern Baptist Church. The person giving the testimony told of an experience that was real to them. Each experience had common elements, usually an experience of forgiveness from sin upon acceptance of Christ.

We use the language, symbols, images, story forms, and rituals that are familiar to us when we speak of life-changing experiences. How could we do otherwise? We are human beings shaped by language.

If I have heard stories of people being comforted by the Virgin Mary and if I go to church and see statues of the Virgin Mary and if I pray to the Virgin Mary in worship or privately, it is likely that when the time comes to have a life-changing experience it will have something to do with the Virgin Mary.

These religious experiences feel real. They are real. They are often life-changing. Through these experiences the Story comes alive. We internalize what we have practiced.

These experiences can take different forms. The Saul to Paul story has Saul being confronted by the god of the people he is persecuting. That story itself has been the meme for the dramatic conversion.

A form of this is the intellectual who is out to disprove God and something happens to cause him to believe in the God he is trying to disprove. That is a common conversion experience in evangelical circles.

I am not saying these experiences are not real. They are very real. They can be real in positive and in negative ways. You don't gather a bunch of guns and prepare to fight the anti-Christ and his socialist minions unless you have had a religious experience. You don't strap a bomb to yourself and walk into a café filled with infidels without religion.

On the other hand, you don't risk your livelihood or your health engaging in potentially dangerous human rights activities without some kind of experience that defines you.

Do these experiences require "God" or gods? Perhaps they used to. Daniel Dennett in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon hypothesizes that gods developed from the unique human capacity to give agency to inanimate things. Human infants can do this. Higher primates cannot. We have this carryover when we try to coax our car into starting or get angry at the car for not starting.

This ability to give agency to things or animals or the sun or to spirits of the dead or to gods and eventually to complex theological systems has had a role in human evolution. I think there is exciting work regarding studying the evolution of religion. How has the concept of God evolved and how does religious experience fit into that?

The purpose from my perspective is not to get rid of religion or to show that religious experiences are not real. The purpose from my perspective is to understand religion and its role and to make religion become a conscious force for good.

The religious feeling of warmth, comfort, joy, belonging, purpose, and meaning can come to us without a belief in God or in gods. Lloyd Geering calls these folks secular mystics. Geering is a Presbyterian clergyperson and professor from New Zealand. His latest book is Coming Back to Earth: From gods, to God, to Gaia. He writes:

Humans show themselves to be religious whenever and wherever they take the questions of human existence seriously, and then create a common response to whatever they find to be of ultimate value to them. The only truly non-religious person is one who treats human existence as trivial or meaningless, for ultimately the religious phenomenon arises out of human experience as we reflect on the fundamental nature of human existence. With but rare exceptions, people everywhere and at all times have made some kind of response to the demands of human existence. They have tried to make something of life. They have looked for meaning and purpose. They have hoped for some kind of fulfillment. For such reasons humankind has in the past been universally religious, and there is no good reason to suspect that in the future people will cease to be religious. And this is true even though an increasing number have grown dissatisfied with the religious forms of the past, having found them to be irrelevant in the new cultural age we have entered. pp. 151-2

Many of us are not satisfied with the religious language we have inherited. My guess is that is why many folks are in this congregation. Yet at the same time, we are looking for a way to express our longings for meaning, for community, and for those things that religion has provided. Whatever mojo was given to Saul on the road to Damascus and to Peter who was told by Jesus to feed his sheep and to Arjuna who was encouraged by Krishna to do his duty, we want. We want the mojo.

We don't want it in that old way. We cannot give up our minds for it. We cannot become pre-modern people. We are not interested in being saved from or saving others from hell in the afterlife. We are not interested in converting people to our religion or to proving that our book is of divine origin. When I say "we" I don't mean everyone in this room. I am just saying many of us. Perhaps you resonate.

Many of us are looking for a religion that is Earthy. This is how Lloyd Geering talks about spirituality. It includes:

* An attitude of awe towards this self-evolving universe.
* An appreciation of the living ecosphere of this planet.
* An appreciation of the capacity of the earth to regenerate itself.
* The value to be found in life, in all of its diversity.
* An appreciation of the total cultural legacy we have received from our human forbears.
* Responsibility for the care of one another.
* Responsibility for the kind of planet we pass on to our descendants.

He goes on to say:

Such a spirituality could be called secular mysticism. It is not entirely new, for it is reflected in many insights from the past....In developing a spirituality for today's secular world we must not be primarily concerned with saving our individual selves, with self-improvement, with introspection, and least of all with any form of navel-gazing. Rather we must be primarily concerned for the welfare of one another, for the future of the human species, and for the health of the planet. pp. 200-1

Is it possible to develop the fervor of a Mormon missionary in service to the "welfare of one another, future of the human species, and the health of the planet?"

I think the answer is yes.

What is exciting is that this is happening. There is an explosion of creativity from all over. We are learning the story of what it means to be human. Science is teaching us our evolutionary story and our cosmic story. We are starting to tell this story in a religious setting.
  • Our evolutionary and cosmic history is slowly has become our new scripture.
  • Earth is our sanctuary.
  • Rivers, streams, oceans, and rainwater are the waters of baptism.
  • All music that comes from the heart is worthy of being called a sacred hymn.
  • Every meal shared is Holy Communion.
  • Listening to and embracing one another is prayer.
All that is missing is a testimony.

We can testify by telling one another our religious experiences, how we discovered the Sacred...

...from a walk in the woods or cleaning the stream for Earth Day
...from serving a meal at Food for the Multitude
...from connecting with a family at the Appalachia Service Project
...from hearing, playing, and singing songs that make us smile and cry,
...from dancing to prescribed movements or free form like no one is watching,
...from standing with those who struggle for freedom and dignity,
...from the permission granted by yourself to let go of a punitive and angry god.

Saul becomes Paul. Peter eats fish with Jesus. Arjuna converses with Krishna. They have nothing on us. Whatever their mojo, we have it as well. There is no more religious experience there than anything we can experience every day. Those stories are symbols and pointers to the Sacred that is available to each of us. Life is sacred. Life is precious. Life is here and real.

One of my new favorite songs is “Holy Now” by Peter Mayer. I will close with this stanza.

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
Cause everything’s a miracle


Sunday, April 4, 2010

So He Rose from the Dead...Now What? (4/4/2010 Easter)

So He Rose from the Dead…Now What?
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 4th, 2010
Easter Sunday

Isaiah 65:17-25
Luke 24:1-12

I have been thinking about bullies recently.

Now it is Easter Sunday and you may be thinking, “Well that is odd. Did he say ‘bullies’ or did he say ‘bunnies?’”


This is actually a good Sunday to think about bullies.

It being Easter and all, you might think it would be a good Sunday to talk about Eternal Life. We could talk about life after death in heaven and whether or not we’ll see granny there. We may wonder about what kind of body granny will be wearing in heaven. Will she look like granny or will she put on her twenty year old body and not look like a granny at all?

Maybe granny will just be a speck of light. Perhaps granny will be a dancing bodiless photon the weight of an immortal soul. We could certainly speculate on those matters.

We could talk about Jesus’ body. We could chew on that old chestnut of whether or not Jesus got his body back. We could ask whether the gospels were reporting on an event that happened. Dead body on Friday. Live body popping through walls and eating fish on Sunday.

Did Jesus really get his groove on or was it all in the minds of the disciples? We could go round and round as to whether the resurrection of Jesus was an objective event or a subjective experience and whether or not the gospels were historical reportage or symbolic narratives. We never seem to tire of that debate.

Or we could just talk about Spring. Actually that would be easier. Flowers and bunnies. Have you noticed how everything came alive this week? The buds are popping. I have to say Spring is awesome in Southern Appalachia. The seasons match the holidays. Easter works with what is happening outside. Where I come from up north we put on our parkas and snow boots for the Easter egg hunt. Just look for the colored snow, kids!

None of that this morning. Not flowers. Not bunnies.


I looked up bullies on the internet. The first website was all I needed. It was called Kids Health dot org. “Dealing With Bullies.” Here is what it said:
Bullying is a big problem. It can make kids feel hurt, scared, sick, lonely, embarrassed and sad. Bullies might hit, kick, or push to hurt people, or use words to call names, threaten, tease, or scare them. A bully might say mean things about someone, grab a kid's stuff, make fun of someone, or leave a kid out of the group on purpose. Some bullies threaten people or try to make them do things they don't want to do.

Bullying is a big problem that affects lots of kids. Three-quarters of all kids say they have been bullied or teased. Being bullied can make kids feel really bad. The stress of dealing with bullies can make kids feel sick.

Bullying can make kids not want to play outside or go to school. It's hard to keep your mind on schoolwork when you're worried about how you're going to deal with the bully near your locker. Bullying bothers everyone — and not just the kids who are getting picked on. Bullying can make school a place of fear and can lead to more violence and more stress for everyone.
I was surprised at the number. Three-quarters of all kids say they have been bullied or teased. Maybe you remember being bullied in school. I do. Some people are bullies their whole lives. The next section answered the question, “Why do bullies act that way?”
Some bullies are looking for attention. They might think bullying is a way to be popular or to get what they want. Most bullies are trying to make themselves feel more important. When they pick on someone else, it can make them feel big and powerful.

Some bullies come from families where everyone is angry and shouting all the time. They may think that being angry, calling names, and pushing people around is a normal way to act. Some bullies are copying what they've seen someone else do. Some have been bullied themselves.

Sometimes bullies know that what they are doing or saying hurts other people. But other bullies may not really know how hurtful their actions can be. Most bullies don't understand or care about the feelings of others.

Bullies often pick on someone they think they can have power over. They might pick on kids who get upset easily or who have trouble sticking up for themselves. Getting a big reaction out of someone can make bullies feel like they have the power they want. Sometimes bullies pick on someone who is smarter than they are or different from them in some way. Sometimes bullies just pick on a kid for no reason at all.
Who knows what deep psychological issues drive a bully’s behavior? The important question is, how do we stop it? The website offers advice:
As much as you can, avoid the bully. You can't go into hiding or skip class, of course. But if you can take a different route and avoid him or her, do so.

Ignore the bully. If you can, try your best to ignore the bully's threats. Pretend you don't hear them and walk away quickly to a place of safety. Bullies want a big reaction to their teasing and meanness. Acting as if you don't notice and don't care is like giving no reaction at all, and this just might stop a bully's behavior.

Stand up for yourself. Pretend to feel really brave and confident. Tell the bully "No! Stop it!" in a loud voice. Then walk away, or run if you have to. Kids also can stand up for each other by telling a bully to stop teasing or scaring someone else, and then walk away together. If a bully wants you to do something that you don't want to do — say "no!" and walk away. If you do what a bully says to do, they will likely keep bullying you. Bullies tend to bully kids who don't stick up for themselves.

Get a buddy (and be a buddy). Two is better than one if you're trying to avoid being bullied. Make a plan to walk with a friend or two on the way to school or recess or lunch or wherever you think you might meet the bully. Offer to do the same if a friend is having bully trouble. Get involved if you see bullying going on in your school — tell an adult, stick up for the kid being bullied, and tell the bully to stop.

If you are being bullied, it's very important to tell an adult. Find someone you trust and go and tell them what is happening to you. Teachers, principals, parents, and lunchroom helpers at school can all help to stop bullying. Sometimes bullies stop as soon as a teacher finds out because they're afraid that they will be punished by parents. This is not tattling on someone who has done something small — bullying is wrong and it helps if everyone who gets bullied or sees someone being bullied speaks up.
That is good advice for kids and important information for adults to take responsibility for the safety of our children. The best way to stop bullying is to get everyone involved.

I ask this question of all of us today, because this is everyone’s problem. Do we have adequate anti-bullying programs in our schools? Don't just answer "Yes." It is serious business. I want to thank teachers, counselors, administration, staff, and parents who are aware and doing what they can to raise awareness.

Bullying has made the national news with the suicide death of Phoebe Prince. This 15 year old girl was a recent immigrant from Ireland. She moved with her family to South Hadley, Massachusetts. According to the news story, she was found hanged in her home
“after enduring weeks of torment from bullies on Facebook and in the halls of South Hadley High School.”
According to the district attorney her
“death on Jan. 14 followed a torturous day for her, in which she was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse.”

The DA added South Hadley High School officials knew of the bullying of Prince. "It was common knowledge," said the DA. adding the girl’s mother spoke to at least two school staff members.
Do read Phoebe Prince’s story.

You might still be wondering, but what is the Easter connection?

Here is the punch line.

Jesus didn’t die of old age. He didn’t die of cancer. He didn’t get trampled accidentally by a runaway horse. Jesus was bullied to death. Not only Jesus, but thousands of people were tortured and executed methodically in a spectacle of brutality and control. We have covered over this story with so much theological gobbledy-gook that we miss the main plot. Jesus was a victim of imperial terrorism.

The Easter acclamation, “Christ is Risen!” meant what? I think it meant that they, the people, those who told and wrote the stories about Jesus had had enough. They had had enough of Rome’s bullying. They said,

“Every time we gather for a meal of bread and wine we will remember. We are Christ's body. Christ is alive with us. We will continue to remember and to resist. We will show hospitality to those who are victims of imperial bullying, to the outcast, to the slave, to the stranger. We will lean on and support each other. We will remember and tell the stories of the victims. And we will dream, hope, and work for the day in which the kingdom of God, the empire of God, the empire of justice and peace will be realized on Earth.”
Obviously, Christianity evolved and moved in all kinds of directions and embraced many different mythologies and interpretations, and some of them quite good and helpful. But it is important not to lose sight of our roots. The earliest interpretation of the death and resurrection of Jesus is this:

In Christ, Empire’s brutality is overcome by God’s justice.

I wear this cross around my neck to remind me whose side I need to be on.

As we all know, bullying doesn’t only happen in school. It happens in the workplace. It happens in the family. It happens in the church. It happens in our government. It happens at the hands of corporations.

To say ‘Christ is risen’ means we stand with those who are bullied.
  • We find our courage. Courage is not feeling brave. It is pretending to be brave even when we don’t feel it.
  • We stand together. We don’t suffer in silence. We don’t suffer alone. We find our strength in each other.
  • We use our voices. We name those institutions that exert power over others or are complicit in their silence.
One person who I think represents Easter is Vandana Shiva. The announcement about her is in today’s bulletin. She will be at ETSU Monday evening. Talk about someone who is taking on the world. She is taking on global bullies--those who in her words have hijacked the global food supply. She advocates sustainable, biologically diverse farms.

She using her voice to remind all of us that we are not using the Earth justly, but we can. The crises of climate, energy, and food insecurity are not addressed in the board rooms of global corporations. These corporations are the problem and “are responsible for crimes against nature and humanity.” She writes:
Industrialization of food and agriculture has put the human species on a slippery slope of self-destruction and self-annihilation. The movement for biodiverse, ecological, and local food systems simultaneously addresses the crises of climate, energy, and food. Above all, it brings people back into agriculture and reclaims food as nourishment and the most basic source of energy. New ways of thinking and acting, of being and doing, are evolving from the creative alternatives being employed in small communities, on farms, and in cities.” P. 144 Soil Not Oil
Her work reminds me of the alternative communities that sprouted up in the name of the Risen Christ in those early centuries to resist Roman oppression and to show hospitality and welcome to those left out of Rome's plutocracy. 

In Christ, Empire’s brutality is overcome by God’s justice.

I titled the sermon, So He Rose from the Dead: Now What? to make a statement. Regardless of how you interpret the resurrection, we need to answer this next question. You certainly don't have to see it the way I do, still the next question is: OK, he rose from the dead (figuratively, literally, whatever) -- Now what?

Christ is risen is an invitation to live differently. It is the via transformativa -- the way of justice making. This is the spiritual path of compassionate action. This is where we find the voice of the prophet with in each of us.

It isn’t just standing up to those bad guys—those bullies. It is transformation within as well. It is the path of aligning ourselves with compassion and justice. It is recognizing our own privilege.

Mel White is another Easter person. Mel White was the ghost writer for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and some other big name evangelical leaders. Finally, after years and thousands of dollars in an attempt to "cure" himself of his homosexuality (because the church bullied him into thinking he had to change) he accepted himself.

He realized he had a mission. He and his partner, Gary Nixon, started an organization called Soulforce. It works for the transformation of churches so that they will stop their spiritual violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Stop the bullying.

He realized that transformation is not just outer work. It is also inner work. To engage in relentless non-violent resistance, we have to continue do important inner work so that we don’t become what we hate. The work of non-violence requires of us to see the truth about ourselves as well as others, to work ultimately for reconciliation.

In Christ, Empire’s brutality is overcome by God’s justice.

Vendana Shiva and Mel White are just two examples of Easter people.

As I look around this congregation I see all kinds of Easter people.

We do important work here.

It is good to be in the company of such a great cloud of witnesses.

Christ is risen, indeed!