This benediction below was offered by Nadia Bolz-Weber at the funeral liturgy for Rachel Held Evans on Saturday, 1 June, 2019. Thank you to all who were present in body in Chattanooga. Many many more were present in spirit.–Rose
Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude—God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.
Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story.
I met with Nancy Wright in 2018 and was so impressed by the serious and dedicated way she approached congregational watershed discipleship practices. These two new watershed discipleship manuals are the result of her hands-on work in her watershed in Vermont.
Water holds a special place in Christian imagination and sacramental expression. We know from science of the essential nature of water to life. Our relationship with water is both spiritual and physiological and therefore demands a level of care that mirrors a sacredness for life.
We live in a watershed moment for the planet and for religious congregations. The threatening planetary water crisis demands a strong response. Congregations who engage in water-focused activities, education, and worship respond faithfully to the need to care for Earth and its waters, and they become engaged community leaders. They promote awareness and actions to care for local watersheds and thus play a part in ameliorating worldwide water justice issues. All religions value and promote awareness of water. Congregation members deepen in their faith by becoming leaders in watershed care.
Vermont churches are leading the way on congregational watershed discipleship models with the release of two manuals—one tailored for Christian congregations and the other for inter-religious communities. In 2018, Vermont Interfaith Power and Light (VTIPL) joined with local organizations to create a model for watershed stewardship, based on the experience of Ascension Lutheran Church in South Burlington, Vermont. The Reverend Dr. Nancy Wright, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, and Richard Butz, a member of the church, are co-authors of the manuals.
These are very hand-on tools for pastors who are ready to take positive action in the midst of climate crisis. The manuals provide direction on: How to grow leadership in your congregation while becoming watershed stewards; spiritual basis for water awareness; how to create waterside worship events; how to learn while having fun on the water; step-by-step instructions to become water quality monitors; and how to take positive political action.
These inspiring and practical 40-page manuals are available at www.vow4climate/store. By connecting your congregation with the water that flows in, under, and above your local landscape—your watershed—you can become part of the solution to achieve clean water for humanity and healthier ecosystems.
(an excerpt from her “Editor’s Note” in the May 1999 issue of The Witness magazine, organized around the theme “Aging: Learning to be an Elder.”) Check out Radical Discipleship blog.
by Jeannie Wylie-Kellermann
Elders usually must let go of their expectations to be power brokers, but they are also often positioned in a way that allows them greater freedom to act politically. Recently my partner Bill and I were at an Ash Wednesday vigil at the local manufacturer of cruise missile engines. Except for a few college students, we were probably the youngest people there–which isn’t saying much since we are in our 40s. On one level, that gave us an opportunity to beat ourselves up for our demographics–Why is the peace movement so white, so middle class and now so elderly? But in thinking about it, where would we prefer that elders be? What better task, could they adopt than to witness against fire power that can carry nuclear payload, but now is used in first-strike attacks against countries like Iraq or the former Yugoslavia? The conviction of these older ones is a gift to us. (I remember during a civil disobedience campaign against this same manufacturer in the early 1980s hearing a senior citizen say to a young mother who was agonizing about whether to do the action, “You take care of your babies. I’ll do this in your name and, before long, you can do this in the name of another mother.”)
I find myself increasingly willing to listen. I hope that the elders in my life will be willing to speak and that my generation (You remember us? We’re the ones who said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”) will step up to the need when our turn comes. I guess we’ll have to believe that we’ve learned something and trust that it can be communicated. Of course, no one has ever complained that the baby boomers were reluctant to speak their minds or under-confident in their opinions. We’ll manage.
Some mysterious tension lies in the balance between the humility that elders learn as they relinquish power in the workplace and, perhaps, succumb to physical challenges or illnesses, and the breadth of perspective they gain as elders. They can teach us that some things won’t be changed, that some things deserve to be protested even if they are unlikely to change, that life is short and that younger people generally take it too seriously, chasing their tails when they could be giving thanks. Perhaps our elders can help us learn to relax, to take delight, to notice creation as well as to step up to challenges as we see fit and feel called. Perhaps they will remind us that the One who set this whole thing, often quite messy, in motion is a loving God.–Radical Discipleship
My June spirituality column for Sojourners reflects on my money practices. One practice I’m working to incorporate into my life is paying Native organizations an “entrance fee” when I enter their sovereign territory. This is part of what community economics leader Chuck Matthei called my “social mortgage” (or reparations) to offset my unearned economic privilege. I do this because I’m a Christian.
When I traveled from D.C. to Norfolk, Va, a few weeks ago to celebrate Rev. Dr. Yvonne V. Delk’s birthday and new anointing to ministry, I did a little research on the Indigenous community there: the Nansemond Indian Nation. I made a modest $25 donation. It took about 3 minutes.
I got a note back: “Thank you so much for visiting Norfolk and for remembering us. Your support is greatly appreciated and a wonderful reminder that there are visitors who care about our ancestors and tradition. We wish you and your family blessings and hope that you will visit us again soon!”
This practice provides me with a chance to learn a little bit more about the people whose homeland I’m entering:
Nansemond, are the indigenous people of the Nansemond River, a 20-mile long tributary of the James River in Virginia. Our tribe was part of the Tsenacomoco (or Powhatan paramount chiefdom) which was a coalition of approximately 30 Algonquian Indian tribes distributed throughout the northern, southern, and western lands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Our people lived in settlements on both sides of the Nansemond River where we fished (with the name “Nansemond” meaning “fishing point”), harvested oysters, hunted, and farmed in fertile soil. …
The nation recently received federal recognition through the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017,” signed into law by President Donald Trump in January 2018, The bill granted federal recognition to six Indian tribes in Virginia, including the Nansemonds. This allows the tribe to have legal standing with the U.S. government and access to educational scholarships, health care services, and other benefits. This federal recognition took generations of pressure, conviction, and organizing from tribal members.
I just finished reading a new Vatican document on religious freedom. (You were warned.) I didn’t understand most of it. But there were a couple of sections (from the very poor English translation) that I want to ponder at greater depth.
Here’s what I like: it invites a new models of relationship between religious freedom and civil democracy; reminds of the primacy of individual conscience with God; frames Christianity as an alternative to the religious cults of empires; links forced migration to an opportunity for greater religious freedom and respect; a “living faith” sometimes requires conscientious objection; the gospel can unmask even the evil embedded in the Church; any religious violence in word or deed should cause us to rethink our understanding of our own religion; and the Christian response to targeted violence is supreme nonviolence, even to persecution or martyrdom.
“The imposing season of migrations of entire peoples, whose lands are now rendered hostile to life and coexistence, above all due to an endemic settlement of poverty and a permanent state of war, are creating, within the West, structurally interreligious, intercultural, inter-ethnic societies. Would it not be time to discuss, beyond the emergency, the fact that history seems to impose the true invention of a new future for the construction of models of the relationship between religious freedom and civil democracy?” (#9)
40. This truth of the human condition appeals to the person through moral conscience, that is, the “judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is about to put, is performing or has accomplished”  . The person must never act against the judgment of his conscience – which must be properly formed, with responsibility and with all the necessary aid. On his part, it would allow him to act against what he believes to be the need for good and, therefore, ultimately, God’s will  . Because it is God who speaks to us in that “most secret and sacred shrine of man, where he is alone with God” . And, to the moral duty of never acting against the judgment of one’s conscience – even when it is invincibly erroneous – corresponds the right of the person to never be forced by anyone to act against his conscience, especially in religious matters. The civil authorities have a correlative duty to respect and enforce this fundamental right within the right limits of the common good. (#40)
There is no lack, to be in the context of the Roman Empire, of attesting to Christian resistance in the face of the persecutory interpretations of religio civilis and the imposition of the cult of the emperor  . The emperor’s religious cult appears as a true alternative religion to the Christological faith – which represents the only authentic incarnation of the lordship of God – imposed by violence by political power  . (#59)
A “state theocracy”, as well as a “state atheism”, which claim, in different ways, to impose an ideology of replacing the power of God with power of the State, respectively produce a distortion of religion and a perversion of politics. (#61)
In fact, one of the most striking data, regarding the conflicts that are now the main concern, is the fact that the ruptures and horrors that ignite the outbreaks of a world war “in pieces” , they devastate with sudden fury peaceful cohabitations long experimented and settled over time, and leave behind an endless line of suffering for people and peoples  . In today’s troubled context we cannot ignore the concrete effects that migration due to political conflicts or precarious economic conditions entail for the just exercise of religious freedom in the world because migrants move with their religion  . (#67)
72. A free and conscious conscience allows us to respect every individual, to encourage the fulfillment of man and to reject a behavior that damages the individual or the common good. The Church expects its members to be able to live their faith freely and for the rights of their conscience to be protected where they respect the rights of others. Living the faith can sometimes require conscientious objection. In fact, civil laws do not oblige in conscience when they contradict natural ethics and therefore the state must recognize people’s right to conscientious objection . (#72)
The Church must examine herself in order to rediscover with ever renewed enthusiasm the way of true adoration of God “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23) and of love “before” (Rev 2: 4). It must open, through this continuous conversion, the access of the Gospel to the intimacy of the human heart, in that point where it seeks – secretly and even unknowingly – the recognition of the true God and of true religion. The Gospel is really capable of unmasking religious manipulation, which produces effects of exclusion, debasement, abandonment and separation among men. (#75)
77. Inter-religious dialogue is fostered by religious freedom, in the search for the common good together with the representatives of other religions. It is a dimension inherent in the mission of the Church  . It is not as such the goal of evangelization, but contributes greatly to it; it should therefore not be understood or implemented as an alternative or in contradiction with the mission ad gentes  . Dialogue illumines, already in its good disposition to respect and cooperation, that relational form of evangelical love which finds its ineffable principle in the Trinitarian mystery of the life of God . At the same time, the Church recognizes the particular capacity of the spirit of dialogue to intercept – and to nourish – a particularly felt need in the context of today’s democratic civilization  . The willingness to dialogue and the promotion of peace are in fact closely linked. Dialogue helps us to orient ourselves in the new complexity of opinions, knowledge and cultures: also, and above all, in matters of religion. (#77)
When, on the other hand, religion becomes a threat to the religious freedom of other men, both in words and in deeds, even reaching violence in the name of God, we cross a border that recalls the energetic denunciation first of all by part of the religious men themselves  . Regarding Christianity, its “irrevocable dismissal” from the ambiguity of religious violence can be considered a kairòs in favor of a rethinking of the theme in all religions  . (#79)
81. The “martyrdom”, as the supreme non-violent testimony of one’s fidelity to the faith, made the object of specific hatred, intimidation and persecution, is the limit-case of the Christian response to targeted violence towards the evangelical confession of truth and the love of God, introduced in history – mundane and religious – in the name of Jesus Christ. Martyrdom thus becomes the extreme symbol of the freedom to oppose love to violence and peace to conflict. In many cases, the personal determination of the martyr of faith in accepting death has become a seed of religious and human liberation for a multitude of men and women, to the point of obtaining liberation from violence and overcoming hatred. The history of Christian evangelization attests it, also through the initiation of processes and social changes of universal scope. These witnesses to the faith are just cause for admiration and following from the believers, but also of respect on the part of all men and women who care about freedom, dignity and peace among peoples. The martyrs resisted the pressure of retaliation, annulling the spirit of revenge and violence with the power of forgiveness, love and brotherhood  . In this way, they have made evident for all the greatness of religious freedom as the seed of a culture of freedom and justice. (#81)
82. Sometimes, people are not killed in the name of their religious practice and yet they must suffer profoundly offensive attitudes, which keep them on the margins of social life: exclusion from public offices, indiscriminate prohibition of their religious symbols, exclusion from certain economic benefits and social …, in what is called “white martyrdom” as an example of confession of faith . This testimony still provides proof of itself in many parts of the world: it must not be attenuated, as if it were a simple side effect of conflicts for ethnic supremacy or for the conquest of power. The splendor of this testimony must be well understood and well interpreted. It instructs us on the authentic good of religious freedom in the clearest and most effective way. Christian martyrdom shows everyone what happens when the religious freedom of the innocent is opposed and killed: martyrdom is the testimony of a faith that remains faithful to itself by refusing to revenge itself and kill itself to the last. In this sense the martyr of the Christian faith has nothing to do with the suicidal-homicide in the name of God. (#82)
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 defendants received word Friday evening that Magistrate Cheesbro of the Southern District Court of Georgia, recommended that their motions to dismiss the charges including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act argument be denied.
The seven defendants, all Catholics, had testified with expert witnesses during their November 2018 evidentiary hearings and have waited fourteen weeks for the decision. There is still no trial date set but it is expected to be in two or three months in Brunswick, GA.
Their statement follows:
“On April 4, 2018, we went onto the Kings Bay naval base, the largest nuclear submarine base in the world, to make real the prophet Isaiah’s command to beat swords into plowshares. We were charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor which carry a maximum penalty of over 20 years in prison.
We immediately filed motions to dismiss the charges. We argued in detail that all nuclear weapons are both immoral and illegal. The commandment Thou Shall Not Kill applies to us individually and to our government.
On April 26, 2019, U.S. Magistrate Benjamin Cheesbro issued an 80 page report recommending our motions to dismiss be denied. We now have 30 days to appeal his decision to US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood.
In response to our use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense, the court found our cause is a legitimately religious one and that our faith is sincere. Magistrate Cheesbro concluded, however, that imprisoning us for up to 20 years is not a coercive response to our faith-based actions, but that even if it is, such imprisonment is the government’s least coercive response. Obviously all of us and thousands more have been praying and protesting outside of military bases. We think when the government is prepared to launch weapons which can destroy all life on earth, we must do more.
We are already working on our appeal and look forward to appearing before Judge Wood.
We realize the struggle to rid the world of nuclear weapons is an uphill one. We look forward to continuing to live our lives in a quest for peace and justice.”
This is the night … The fire is blessed. The paschal candle is lit (despite gusts of wind and an overzealous candle snuffer). The ancient story of beginnings, enslavement, freedom, death, and resurrection has been told. In the dark night of the Easter Vigil, George from Pittsburgh said to me in old Church Slavonic: Hristos voskrese! (“Christ is risen”). The proper response is: Voistina voskrese (“He is risen, indeed!”).
There nothing quite like the Easter vigil. Happy Easter.