November 13, 2016

Psalm 146
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

 

Still I Rise Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Luke 24:5
‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Bernard Brandon Scott, The Trouble With Resurrection, pp. 241-2
Martin Luther King was a prophet. He was vilified, persecuted; he was a martyr, just as much as any prophet of ancient Israel or martyr of the early church. He deserves his place over the west door of Westminster Cathedral with three other modern martyrs: Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Achbishop Oscar Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Just as much as Jesus, King was a martyr. But God raised Jesus from the dead and not Martin Luther King. But is that right?

God did raise Martin Luther King from the dead. King’s prophetic words and martyrdom helped raise up a nation to a new standard of God’s justice, helped it live up to its creed…..Once we see that resurrection is not literal language but a metaphor used to explain the experience of God vindicating the martyr, then we can see that King stands fully in the tradition inaugurated in Jesus….

Martin Luther King’s speeches help us to appreciate, even experience again the power of resurrection, of being raised up from the dead, of being taken up into heaven. To listen to King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” to hear that last triumphal shout, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last” is to be drawn into the kingdom of God, to be raised from the dead, if only for the moment. That is the transcendent moment.

Mark Lewis Taylor, The Beloved Community Vs. Today’s Clintonian Neo-Liberalism
King’s vision of a just and beloved community starts with… love for the “radically unloved” in society. In other words, beloved community proceeds from, with and for those in socially-imposed suffering, but also in resistance as the dispossessed peoples of our time. Being transformed with and by those dispossessed by the neoliberal regimes today is the way we build beloved community…. The “radically unloved” mark the suffering of the beloved community but also bring the power of resistance and liberating change that all society needs.

******************

So what now?

Now that two words that seemed inconceivable not long ago have become reality, what now?

Those two words are, President Trump.

What now?

What now for America?
What now for Earth?
What now for you, me, Southminster?
What now for the “radically unloved?”

I heard the phrase “radically unloved” from my theology professor at Princeton Seminary who still is teaching there. His name is Mark Taylor. He talked about the “radically unloved” in a conversation he had with me about the beloved community.

He said that

“[Martin Luther] King’s vision of a just and beloved community starts with…love for the ‘radically’ unloved in society. In other words, beloved community proceeds from, with and for those in socially-imposed suffering, but also in resistance as the dispossessed peoples of our time. Being transformed with and by those dispossessed by the neoliberal regimes today is the way we build beloved community….The ‘radically unloved’ mark the suffering of the beloved community but also bring the power of resistance and liberating change that all society needs.”

That is the “what now.”

To be with and for the ‘radically unloved.’

The phrase “neo-liberal” appeared in that quote. Much could be said about what neo-liberal means, but Taylor defined it this way:

“It is a word that has come to stand for corrosive U.S.-led capitalism. This capitalism is not only exploitative in the ways it often is for the sake of profit for a few. It also is an international system, in which economic arrangements are set up between the U.S. and other countries to the benefit of the United States. These arrangements are then buttressed by global military power.

Exploitative development projects are also part of capitalism’s reach within the U.S. The gentrification projects in many urban communities are examples of such projects. And again, because these projects are often resisted as harmful to those communities, force has to be wielded. Domestically, the US police and other security and surveillance forces play the roles that the US military does abroad.

“Neoliberalism,” in brief, we might say here is militarily-buttressed U.S. capitalist exploitation. At home it is police-backed capitalist exploitation of our own working poor and middle classes. The element of force here is often ruthless.”

Taylor goes on to say,

“But then also neoliberalism clothes these military and police actions of brutality with nice language. Note the “liberalism” term within the name, neoliberalism. It deploys democracy-speak, freedom language, talk of “humane development,” which leads many in the U.S. to think the global economy works as a kind of nonviolent “free market.” There is really no free market globally.

The global economy is managed, brutally, either by powerful transnational elites, or in local regions increasingly, by paramilitary thugs – in drug trafficking regions they are called “cartels” – that often work in tandem with global elites.

So without saying that Trump and Clinton are identical I have been trying to make the point – and it is a difficult one to get lodged in the public mind – that Trump’s authoritarianism, so shocking to liberals, is actually a close partner with the very liberal economic ideology that most U.S. Americans accommodate themselves to. Trumpian authoritarianism and Clintonian neoliberalism are, again, co-partners in this joint system of US imperial rule.”

Mark Taylor often made me uncomfortable in his class. He made me think about things I did not want to think about. He made me look deeper.

We opened today’s worship service with Psalm 146. This is the same Psalm that was read at our election eve service. It is a Psalm that addresses the question, “so what now?”

“Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
On that very day their plans perish.”

To render that in modern idiom, I was thinking of this…

“Do not put your trust in electoral politics,
The person you elect as president will neither save you nor destroy you.
When their term ends, they return to the golf course;
Their grand plans to make the country great perish.”

So in whom do we put our trust?

The psalmist writes:

“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord their God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them…”

I have heard preachers preach on this text and on this theme before, and you have as well I am sure. Put your trust in God they say and then they speak of God as some kind of supernatural and superstitious invisible being.

That isn’t what the Psalmist is saying. There is a specificity to this “God of Jacob.” Jesus articulated this specificity in his earthy parables about “the kingdom of God.”
It is not a heavenly realm above it all or in some fantastic future. “The kingdom of the God of Jacob” becomes real as it is enacted in our lives. It is the embodiment of transformative justice with and for the radically unloved.

Listen to how the psalmist describes this God of Jacob:

“who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
The Lord upholds the orphan and the widow,
But the way of the wicked the Lord brings to ruin.”

Who is the Lord? Who is the God of Jacob? The God is seen, is revealed, in these actions. Justice for the oppressed. That is justice for the “radically unloved.”

There is a scene in the gospels, early in Jesus’ ministry, where John The Baptist sends one of his flunkies to ask Jesus if he is the real thing, the messiah. Jesus doesn’t answer directly as Jesus was prone to do. Instead Jesus says,

‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

Of course, the Jesus story didn’t end with the lynching of Jesus. Resurrection and Easter are symbolic representations of that kingdom continuing to the present day, often underground, often out of site, but nonetheless present.

Where is God? The answer is that God is seen in these actions led by the dispossessed. God, you might say, is a verb. God is the opening of eyes, the lifting up of those bowed down, the protection of the stranger, the upholding of the most vulnerable such as the orphan and the widow, and justice for those oppressed. We put our trust in God, we participate in God to the extent that we participate in these actions for the ‘radically unloved.’

The point of the psalmist is that we put our trust not in the figurehead, the ruler, the leader, the president, but in the actions for justice on behalf of and led by the radically unloved.

That action does not change regardless of who is the ruler of the day. The strategies will change. We may not be clear what those strategies are now. They would have taken a different form under Clinton than now under Trump.

What I am trying to articulate here is that the beloved community is not either Clinton or Trump. In fact, if there is any silver lining to the election of this boorish misogynistic, narcissistic bully, it is that the contrast between his rhetoric and actions and those of the beloved community are easy to see. Under Clinton and Obama, the difference between their neoliberalism and the beloved community is often hidden under a more genteel façade.

Under Trump, there will be and is new energy to resist him. It is important that this energy be channeled toward concrete actions of solidarity and activism for those who are now vulnerable because of Trump’s rise. Now is a time to recommit ourselves to the welfare of the radically unloved in the United States and around the world. This commitment is expressed in the quote on the bulletin from a Presbyterian elder, Emmie Brown:

“If you are gay, trans, poor, black, Latino, Muslim, a woman, a mother, have special needs, or have mental illness, or are alienated and cast aside…
I will fight for you.
I will never stop.
And I will love you with every ounce of my soul through it all.”

So what now? How might “we love with every ounce of our souls” specifically?

That is an open question I leave with you.

For my part, I have been thinking of joining and participating with the Portland chapter of the NAACP. I think that will be an important place for me to connect and perhaps help Southminster reach out beyond racial barriers.

We also need to examine globally what have been our policies and ask how we can stand with the radically unloved who have suffered under U.S. domination. In a sense, with Trump’s election, the chickens have come home to roost. In the face of Trump we see what America looks like around the world under the previous façade of Obama’s and Clinton’s neoliberal policies. That awareness may open up for us more avenues for activism.

A final response to the question, “So what now?”

This may be the most crucial action we can take now. It is also in the form of a question, “Why don’t we listen better?”

Our pastor emeritus, Jim Petersen, recently published his second edition of a book about listening, Why Don’t We Listen Better?  (My interview with him).  Deep listening is perhaps the best gift we can give others and ourselves at this time. I urge you to read that book if you haven’t and I am going to bring some of the ideas and practices in this book to our Tuesday evening forums on “So what now” that begin this coming Tuesday, even after worship today.

Listening does not mean agreeing. Listening does not mean fixing. Listening does not mean silencing ourselves or betraying ourselves. Listening means becoming spacious so that another has the opportunity for self-discovery. Transformation comes from listening. We are transformed by listening to the radically unloved.

Those who voted for Donald Trump did so because they believe doing so was in the best interests of the country. Those who voted for Trump also represented the suffering and the radically unloved. Unless we recognize that we won’t get very far in our shared work and our work can and must be shared.

Theologian Matthew Fox said that if there is common ground between the divisions in our country it is that we share deep grief. We have experienced loss and alienation and are grieving and hurting. Not to engage in a lot of psychology here, but the feeling of grief, fear, sadness, and vulnerability is not something we like to display, so we usually cover it with anger and blame.

Deep listening can connect us at the depth of our common humanity.

We talk and we listen. We listen and we speak.

The transformation may be the transformation within ourselves as well as within others.

Thus may the beloved community flourish.

Amen.