St. Francis of Assisi once said, “preach the Gospel at all times, and sometimes use words.”
Would you pray with me?
God as we struggle with our divisive culture, we thank you for the gifts of the saints who came before us and the words of your scripture which guide us on the blessed path of our Christ Jesus who is our rock and may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts glorify, bless and connect us to you, God.
Two years ago, I went to bed with hope – hope for a future where people were accepted on their own merit regardless of gender, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of any identity structure. Two years ago, I thought our world was not just getting better; but, I saw a world on the verge of a second enlightenment. I went to bed that night feeling like humankind was finally evolving.
When I woke up and realized who had won the presidential election,
It felt like we had gone to war… though President Trump’s victory was the catalyst, the reason for this feeling of war was due to the reaction of everyone around me.
It felt like the days and months following the horrors of 9/11 when I witnessed anti-muslim sentiment in every walk of life. It felt like the sticky fear which poured all over us during the days of Desert Storm. It felt like we were being recruited to some political war and the battles were being waged on the news, on twitter, and on Facebook. Sadly, two years later, it still feels like we are being recruited as pawns in this divisive political war which has torn our world apart.
To explain the horror that I am seeing in our society -let us speak of Ford and Kavanaugh. In those three words of Ford and Kavanaugh lie a full spectrum of emotions and I invite you to hear them now. Listen to the emotions filling yourself ——————————-now ask the question why, why do you feel the way you do. Are you angry, hurt, ready to fight or are you wanting to distance yourself, remain silent, avoid the discussion?
I ask you to take this step because I found that I was personally forgetting to reflect on my own emotions and listen for God while being hit by these barrages of sticky fear and political maneuvering. Over the last two years, I relied on what Walter Bradford Cannon described as the fight or flight response. I would either stand up and fight for what I thought was right or I would shut up and remain silent afraid of the repercussions. The problem is when I fought I hurt others and when I remained silent I hurt myself. In both of these ways, I was no longer able to be my authentic self as one connected through God to other human beings, to animals, to all of creation. I could not be connected because I was not being authentic and real. I was standing behind banners of political agendas where sides are drawn, and people are minimized or silenced.
To further explain, I ask you to think once more about Ford and Kavanaugh. When you think of the way our society speaks of the issue. What are people saying? Are they talking about justice, that all people have the right over their own body or are they attacking Kavanaugh because he is male or Ford because she is female? Are people discussing justice for victims of sexual assault or are they using this as a weapon to keep him out of a political office or minimizing the sexual assault issue to put him into office? Are people looking for the truth in the issue or are people attacking Ford and calling her a liar because they believe Kavanaugh or are people saying Kavanaugh is a liar because they believe Ford. Are we as individuals in this society judging the situation or are we judging the people involved.
If you are only judging the situations, the issues, the systems then much of this message may not be for you. However, if there is even one person you have classified as evil, as the other, as the adversary maybe there is something I can still share. Because this concept is what I am speaking of – people are turning our fellow human beings into others and adversaries which are then targets to be defeated and beaten. This Othering is a weapon used to shame, to cajole, to force opposing viewpoints to change position. I have seen this form of othering expressed as ageism and sexism when terms like old white guys are used to describe the patriarchy structure; as hateful fallacies when a person is accused of prejudice / racism / or ignorance because of how they voted, as religious discrimination when everyone who is an evangelist is minimized as bad or that our interdenominational Christian church does not include that type of Christian. So, when we talk about the issues, the real question is: what are we saying? Are we using words as weapons to wage a war for political parties or are we really trying to fix the problems and the issues? Are we preaching a gospel of hate or the Gospel of Christ?
Now, this is not to say anyone here is bad or wrong and I ask you to take my words not as an attack but as an invitation into self-reflection because I think there is a third way to act, a third way to engage and a third way to embrace the world. One that is no longer a war or a fight, but it is a discussion, one that is not the silencing death of our own morals but an expression of our morality in everything we do.
This third way is revealed in the quote by St. Francis who began the Franciscan order in the Roman Catholic Church. This person is venerated as the first person who received the Stigmata, or the wounds of Christ. He is seen as the patron saint of animals and ecology who believed in peace, justice, and care for all of Creation. This person suggests we each preach the Gospel at all times and sometimes use words.
It is important to note, St Francis saw the Gospel of Christ as an active living of his faith and morality. He did not believe in sitting idly by or fleeing from the controversies of his time. He also did not attack people with accusations but provided them another way, a third way by embodying the faith; thereby, he taught people through witness of the Gospel of Christ in action.
This said, let us turn to scripture and see how language can be used in this third way. In the passage from Joshua, we are provided a discussion where Joshua who is the leader of all the Israelites convinces the people to follow God and God alone. This passage is where the Jewish faith and our ancestors fully choose to become monotheistic and the covenant is re-established. Before this moment, the ancient Hebrews kept icons to gods in their homes as we have discovered archeologically. In this passage, Joshua reveals that these house gods were the gods from across the river, the gods of the Egyptians and the gods of the Amorites. This issue of polytheism is the moral point of Joshua’s discussion and the passion of his argument tells us this is a critical issue for him, much like equality is for me or animals and ecology is for St. Francis.
However, Joshua does not berate or attack “the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel” for worshipping other gods. Furthermore, Joshua does not keep silent but expresses how he feels about worshipping other gods when he says, “put away the gods that your ancestors served.” Instead, Joshua provides a third way, a way of connection to each other through God. He offers a discussion, a non-violent argument to convince the leaders that monotheism to God is the right moral choice and to re-confirm their covenant. Joshua begins by re-counting the historical relationship and then explains the requirement for loyalty with God. By this point Joshua has made his decision he says, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Yet, the argument does continue by depicting witnesses, documentation, and consequences in the following verses. All of this is done to establish God as a suzerain, or the powerful party in the covenantal relationship according to the scholar Gordon McConville. The point is that Joshua uses language to promote his moral beliefs of a covenantal monotheism without using violent words or accusations. Thus, we see St. Francis’s third way revealed in a time before the New Testament, in a time before Jesus, in a time when the war of conquest was finally over, and Joshua ruled the Israelites.
Yet, Joshua was the ruler of the people so one may ask: why didn’t he just force submission, force people into monotheism, force people into the covenant. Throughout this book of the Hebrew Bible, we see Joshua as a conqueror so forcing another person to do his will would not be an unreasonable expectation. In truth, when Joshua turns here from violent and forceful language it seems odd. Odd enough that it begs the question: why? Why does he turn to this third way, why does he turn away from violence yet is still promoting his morality?
Although we may never know, I suspect it is so he may connect with all of these people he just conquered. I believe he realized that there was a disconnect and that all of these tribes needed to remember God and see God in each other. For, by doing so they would no longer see each other as the adversary as the other as the opponent to be beaten. At the same time, Joshua’s voice and the voices of all the leaders could be heard without condemnation and silence.
This third way is the good news and it binds us far greater than many would like to admit. Looking at interfaith dialogue, I would point out that professor Mark Heim of Andover Newton at Yale once suggested that each religion is its own mountain and this metaphor is meant to validate the beauty of each faith. However, if this is the case then how do we truly connect with human beings who are climbing other mountains?
St. Francis pointed out the importance of nature, animals, and ecology. Yet, how can we connect with animals who do not communicate with words?
For that matter, in our divisive broken world which is trying to draw us into a war of political parties by using the moral issues we truly care about as weapons. How can we connect to the republican or democrat who stands for things we oppose morally?
There is only one approach and it is the reason why Joshua changes in this moment from being a conqueror and a promoter of the fight response to a leader and proponent of this third way of engaging, embracing, connecting to our world.
This approach is also revealed in the Gospel according to Matthew. Here Jesus is taken to the top of a very high mountain by Satan, or the enemy and the adversary. This place is where revelations happen throughout said Gospel, according to J.R.C. Cousland. Then, Jesus is offered all the kingdoms of the world; but, he refuses. He refuses to rule the kingdoms because to do so would mean he would have to turn away from God. Now, this understanding is in line with our traditional belief of the temptation.
Yet, I would offer to take this one step further and let us think of this through connection. If Jesus had accepted Satan’s or the adversary’s offer of rulership how could he have been connected to creation, animals and people. How could he rule without that connection which is offered through God in divine creation? To put it plainly, I do not believe Jesus could connect to anything or anyone if he followed the adversary and opposed everything and everyone. Just like, I do not believe we can connect to people, to animals, to creation if we see them as adversaries, as others, as opponents to be defeated and beaten. When we see people as mere things to oppose in some political war, we are following the adversary and not God.
Still, it is a fine line; for, I feel compelled to speak out for issues and move against the systemic problems of our day. However, I choose to discern what those systems are actually saying in a thoughtful loving way. I choose to embody the gospel of Christ and let this embodiment shape my actions, shape my inactions and shape my words. Thereby, I can oppose the amoral structures without attacking people, without Othering, without harm. In following this third way which St. Francis reveals I choose to listen with love for the concerns of people, hear their views, and have a discussion. All the while, I hold true to my understanding of morality revealed through our loving God.
This third way is what I invite you to hear and listen for as you move throughout the world. When you hear a conflict, take a moment and discern the truth of God in these issues of our world. Listen for the agendas in the political war which is raging on twitter and Facebook and discern the systemic issues which are separating humankind and creation. In this awareness, we can remember everyone is a child of God and we can come back together through God; because, I believe this connection can only be reached in the loving embrace which God offers in creation.