Our friends over at Radical Discipleship are hosting a Lenten journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech. Last autumn I was asked to make a contribution and it was posted yesterday.
Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent
By Rose Marie Berger, a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine
Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.–Martin Luther King Jr
Between the first and second sentence of this paragraph, Brother Martin fully entered into his “vocation of agony.”
Between these two–the first, where he holds America accountable to the ideals of her founding and the second, where he begins his sharpest theological critique to date–King “sets his face like flint” (Luke 9:51; Isaiah 50:7) toward the center of military empire: Washington, D.C.
The Riverside speech launches the next phase of King’s ministry. Now he will address the mechanism of empire–not just its bitter fruits. Now he will hold America accountable not only to her founding ideals but to God.
In that space between “the present war” and “America’s soul,” an assassin snicked his soft-nosed bullet into a 30-06 rifle.
King names America as “Hope-Destroyer;” Vietnam is what the Prophet Jeremiah calls a “high place of Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt-offerings” (19:5). … [read the rest at Radical Discipleship]
Lenten reflections from Benedictine Abbot Philip in New Mexico:
…[I]n Lent we can become focused almost exclusively on sin rather than on virtue. We are struggling to overcome our sinfulness and yet that does not mean to focus on sin. Rather it should mean to focus on living for God and that means to focus on virtue. It is also good to remember that the least offensive of the capital sins is lust, excessive sexual appetites. Often Christians tend to think of such sexual appetites and the worst of the sins. Instead, the worst of the capital sins is pride. From the least to the greatest of these sins, the order would be: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Lots of us have different orders in our own minds, but this would be the classical order. The corresponding virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness and humility.
For us monks, humility is often pointed out to us by Saint Benedict in his Rule for Monks. Saint Benedict has a very long chapter on the degrees of humility. Many people today do not take the time to read that chapter well because some of the ways in which Saint Benedict expresses himself go against our modern sensibilities. For instance, Saint Benedict tells us that we must not only think of ourselves as worse than others but believe it in the depths of our hearts. For many people today, who already have low self-esteem, this can be a fatal recipe. It was C. S. Lewis who stated in one of his books that the problem today for many people is not pride but lack of self-esteem.This does not call us to abandon humility, however, but to understand it more profoundly so that we do not confuse humility with a lack of self-esteem. Instead of trying to reinvent humility, we must simply rediscover its reality so that we can live it more completely in our lives. Continue reading “Abbot Philip: Virtues and Vices in Lenten Practice”
The midpoint of Mark’s narrative poses two questions, aimed both at the disciples in, and the readers of, the story:
“Do you not yet understand?” (Mk 8:21).
“Who do you say that I am?” (8:29a).
The latter provokes what I call the “confessional crisis” (8:30-33), which this Sunday’s reading inexplicably jumps into the middle of (we get the whole text on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 13th). This is followed by Jesus’ second call to discipleship (8:34ff), deepening the journey begun in 1:16-20.
These difficult episodes together represent the fulcrum upon which the whole gospel balances. Mark’s thesis is most clearly revealed here: Discipleship is not about theological orthodoxy but about the Way of the cross. It would seem that our churches do “not yet understand” this!
We pick up the thread in the first of three “portents,” in which Jesus speaks of his impending arrest, trial and execution by the authorities (8:31; see 9:31 and 10:33f). This “reality check” has been provoked by Peter’s identification of Jesus as “Messiah” (8:29). To our chagrin, it is immediately silenced by Jesus (8:30), as if Peter were just another demon trying to “name” Jesus (see 1:25; 3:12)! Then, with the phrase “Jesus began to teach them that it was necessary that the Human One must suffer,” the story departs in a new and troubling direction (8:31).
By “necessity” Mark means that those who pursue Jubilary justice will inevitably clash with the Powers. Jesus is serving notice that he will not enter Jerusalem as a triumphant military leader, but instead be executed by the authorities. This subverts the expected “Messianic script,” replacing it with what we might call a “prophetic script.” At key points in the second half of the gospel Mark will appeal to this script: John followed it, so will Jesus (9:12f), and so must faithful disciples (13:9-13).
“The life of a monk ought always to be a Lenten observance. However, since such virtue is that of few, we advise that during these days of Lent he guard his life with all purity and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the shortcomings of other times. This will then be worthily done, if we restrain ourselves from all vices. Let us devote ourselves to tearful prayers, to reading and compunction of heart, and to abstinence.
During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God “with the joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thes 1:6), of his own accord, something above his prescribed measure; namely, let him withdraw from his body somewhat of food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the gladness of spiritual desire await holy Easter.” — The Rule of St. Benedict
Lent is a time for unbinding ourselves from the culture of death. Like Lazarus, we lay dead in a tomb beyond which we cannot see. We are bound in stinking grave clothes. But through the pilgrimage of Lent we are gently unwrapped, until the day we hear that powerful voice saying “Come out!”
Here’s a reflection by British theologian James Allison from his book On Being Liked (2004):
“When we are baptized, we, or our Godparents on our behalf, renounce Satan and all his vain pomps and empty works. And here we were, sorely tempted at least to find ourselves being sucked up into believing in just such an empty work and pomp. A huge and splendid show giving the impression of something creative of meaning, but in fact, a snare and an illusion, meaning nothing at all, but leaving us prey to revenge and violence, our judgments clouded by satanic righteousness.
When I say satanic, I mean this in two senses, for we can only accurately describe the satanic in two senses. The first sense is the sense I have just described: the fantastic pomp and work of sacrificial violence leading to an impression of unanimity, the same lie from the one who was a murderer and liar from the beginning [John 8:44], the same lie behind all human sacrifices, all attempts to create social order and meaning out of a sacred space of victimization.
But the second sense is more important: the satanic is a lie that has been undone. It has been undone by Jesus’s going to death, exploding from within the whole world of sacrifice, of religion and culture based on death, and showing it has no transcendence at all. Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel (and it is the title of Rene Girard’s book) “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” This is the solemn declaration of the definitive loss of transcendence of the satanic show: we no longer have to believe it, we no longer have to act driven by its compulsions. It has no power other than the power we give it. The pomp has nothing to do with heaven. It has nothing to do with God.”–James Allison
Thank you to Vasu who sent this beautiful meditation from the writings of the 19th century Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahai faith. Vasu serves as the “Asia regional director” for a democratic empowerment training organization. The excerpt offers Christians another way into Lenten “detachment” so necessary before we can more deeply embrace the gospel:
“When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances, and will, led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude. Therein he will discern the wonders of His ancient wisdom, and will perceive all the hidden teachings from the rustling leaves of the Tree — which flourisheth in that City. With both his inner and his outer ear he will hear from its dust the hymns of glory and praise ascending unto the Lord of Lords, and with his inner eye will he discover the mysteries of “return” and “revival.” How unspeakably glorious are the signs, the tokens, the revelations, and splendours which He Who is the King of names and attributes hath destined for that City!
The attainment of this City quencheth thirst without water, and kindleth the love of God without fire. Within every blade of grass are enshrined the mysteries of an inscrutable wisdom, and upon every rose-bush a myriad nightingales pour out, in blissful rapture, their melody. Its wondrous tulips unfold the mystery of the undying Fire in the Burning Bush, and its sweet savours of holiness breathe the perfume of the Messianic Spirit. It bestoweth wealth without gold, and conferreth immortality without death. In every leaf ineffable delights are treasured, and within every chamber unnumbered mysteries lie hidden.”–Bahá’u’lláh
“The Child Christ lives on from generation to generation in the poets, very often the frailest of [mortals], but [mortals] whose frailty is redeemed by a child’s unworldliness, by a child’s delight in loveliness, by the spirit of wonder.
Christ was a poet, and all through his life the Child remains perfect in him. It was the poet, the unworldly poet, who was king of the invisible kingdom; the priests and rulers could not understand that. The poets understand it, and they, too, are kings of the invisible kingdom, vassal kings of the Lord of Love, and their crowns are crowns of thorns indeed.”–Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God
“[Prayer’s] only art is to call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the possessed, to open prison cells, to free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm.
All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look up to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.
What more need be said on this duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honor and power for ever and ever. Amen.” — Tertullian (3rd century), from “On Prayer” (Chapter 29)