God on our Streets: 2018
As I wrote in my last blog entry, I believe that the Spirit of God is active in social movements in our times, as has been the case throughout history. It requires a discerning social consciousness for all serious Christians. Holiness is not simply a personal interior quest for greater perfection. God is active and inviting us in the larger social arenas of our lives.
The passage referenced here from John’s gospel appeared in the liturgy during the fifth week of Lent. It is in a section of the gospel in which Jesus is engaged in several conflicts with the Jews in Jerusalem. This passage begins with the Jews picking up rocks to stone him because he has said, “My God is in me and I am in God.” They interpreted that statement as blasphemy, as “making himself God.”
Jesus replied, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and Scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom God has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not perform my God’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that God is in me and I am in God.”
In the past I had interpreted this passage as a confusion of language [“God” and “gods” certainly aren’t on a par], an equivocation, whether deliberate or unconscious. This time reading this passage, however, it struck me that this may be an intriguing revelation of Jesus’s sense of the Divine. He sees God, he sees the Divine, wherever he sees the Word of God and the Works of God manifested in life. As he said about himself, God is in them and they are in God.
In that context, 3 contemporary events herald this presence of the Divine and demand our serious religious attention.
- The March for Our Lives, organized by students across the U.S. calling for an end to gun violence and for safety in our schools, is taking place in Washington D.C. and cities and towns across the country as I write on March 24th. It is the young standing up for life, for nonviolence, for security. It is a social act of love in response to the violence tearing the nation apart. As a major organized demand for peace, justice for all, and love in our communities, it is what Jesus would have recognized as a work of God and a sign of the coming of God’s Reign among us. As he said about himself, God is in these young people and they are in God.
- In the last few days, an ecumenical group of Christian leaders from across the country issued “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.” It is a response to the current state of the country and an effort “to renew our theology of public discipleship and witness.” “When politics undermines our theology, we must examine that politics…. It is often the duty of Christian leaders, especially elders, to speak the truth in love to our churches and to name and warn against temptations, racial and cultural captivities, also doctrines, and political idolatries – and even our complicity in them.”
The Confessional statement came from an Ash Wednesday retreat and is offered to Christian communities for prayer and reflection leading up to an action phase to be launched on Pentecost, the anniversary of the birth of the Church through the empowerment and missioning of the Holy Spirit of God. The document features six expressions of shared faith, each followed by a rejection of “practices and policies by political leaders which dangerously corrode the soul of the nation and deeply threaten the public integrity of our faith.” In brief summary:
- WE BELIEVE each person is made in God’s image and likeness with dignity and worth. THEREFORE, WE REJECT white nationalism, racism, and all forms of racial bigotry.
- WE BELIEVE we are one body and that in Christ there is to be no oppression.
THEREFORE WE REJECT sexism, misogyny, mistreatment, abuse, sexual harassment and assault.
- WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick and prisoner is how we treat Christ.
THEREFORE WE REJECT language and policies that debase and abandon the most vulnerable. We confess our national sin of putting the rich over the poor.
- WE BELIEVE truth is morally central to personal and public lives and will set us free. THEREFORE WE REJECT the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our lives.
- WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. THEREFORE WE REJECT the political idolatry of autocratic or authoritarian rule.
- WE BELIEVE Jesus sent us to all nations, making us members of the international community whose interests surpass national boundaries.
THEREFORE WE REJECT “America First” as a theological heresy for Christians.
God is in these Christian ecumenical leaders, elders among us, calling us to greater unity and they are in God.
- A gathering entitled Revolutionary Love: Complete the Dream is scheduled for the weekend of April 6-8 in New York City. It is an interfaith gathering marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Its focus: “How do we harness love to dismantle racism, poverty, militarism and sexism today?” Its goal: to build a broad interfaith movement nationally to address the crises of today. It will be available by livestream for those unable to attend. As Jesus said about himself, God is in these interfaith leaders calling us to greater unity and they are in God.
The young, elders of the Christian ecumenical community, and leaders in the interfaith community are all moving right now to draw our nation back to basic shared religious values of truth, justice, love and respect for all in the greater unity of the human family in the family of creation.
Something sacred, something Divine is moving among us inviting us….
James E. Hug, S.J.
March 24, 2018
The Holy Spirit has a new organizing tool. The hashtag.
#MeToo #TimesUp #EnoughIsEnough #NeverAgain #MarchForOurLives.
The list can go on. There is no better recent example than the way #MeToo created a sense of solidarity and protection that gave victims around the world, people who had been threatened into silence about the sexual harassment and assault they had suffered at the hands of people more powerful than they, the courage to step forward and speak up. The result is widely recognized as an unprecedented historic shift underway in acceptable social behavior and in the newly established credibility of victims. Its value as a way for the weak and victimized to stand together in safe solidarity is surely a part of its power.
The hashtags emerging in relation to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are another powerful example. They are facilitating the organizing of students across the nation and enabling them to stand together and amplify their voices. Their courage and common voice appear to be making a significant difference in shifting the national debate on guns and gun violence. The political positions on the issue have been frozen into immovable blocs for decades and through the slaughter of thousands of innocent children, women, and men. May the voices of these children arouse us and lead us toward solutions to this constantly recurring tragedy!
The power of hashtags to convene, coordinate, and encourage responses to evil and injustice in our society makes them a new and promising instrument in the work of faith-inspired justice. But developing and choosing appropriate hashtags is an art, a skill that requires serious discernment.
#BlackLivesMatter, for example, has been an important rallying cry, but its power has been undercut by the launch of misleading and divisive counterpoints like #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter, the latter being especially dangerous because of its appeal to religious people who are not always attentive to or conscious of the deep-seated racism and racial violence in our society. The crafting of insightful hashtags that can rally millions of people without being easily susceptible to sabotage is a social justice talent worth careful consideration and development.
It is, I insist again, a new organizing tool for the Holy Spirit.
I have been conscious for many years that we do not hear much talk of the activity of the Holy Spirit in social movements. Spirit-life or spirituality is too often treated as a matter of individual interior movements and responses, and a great deal of attention appropriately goes into discerning their significance and guidance. But the Jewish and Christian scriptures are filled with accounts of God active in the social-political world – liberating a motley group of slaves from Egypt, speaking constantly through prophets with guidance for the social life of the nation, arranging the defeat and exile of a disloyal nation and then arranging its return and reestablishment, moving a Jewish reform movement of Jesus followers into a new community with gentiles that would become a major world religion, and on and on.
Maybe with our cultural focus on individual interiority as the realm of spirituality, it would help to imagine it this way: when the Holy Spirit moves in the interior of many, many people, moving them in the same direction in the service of social love and justice, it is just as real and more significant for the human family. And when a good hashtag facilitates that, I am positive the Spirit is at work.
James E. Hug, S.J.
This blog post can also be found on the Opinion page on National Catholic Reporter online.
The first Preface for Lent in the Catholic liturgy begins by thanking God for giving us “this joyful season.” That’s not the way I grew up thinking of and experiencing Lent! It was more about giving things up [often candy as a kid. Oh how we looked forward to noon on Holy Saturday when the candy ban expired!], fasting, doing penance, generally working to purify ourselves of our sins. It was a yearly renewal retreat on a large scale, one we were glad to finish each Easter.
While there are still some elements of that perspective alive among us, there is a renewed theological foundation that makes it possible to talk about Lent as a joyful season. It is not joyful so much because our renewal efforts and repentance will please God who will judge whether we get to go to heaven after our deaths. It is more because we have come to realize that the “repentance” that Jesus calls us to is, as he always said, good news for our lives here and now. God is here at hand. “Repent” means “rethink,” rethink your values and your ways of living. And believe the good news that there are better ways of living, better because they bring greater freedom and joy, richer experiences, greater, more mature inner growth, love and peace, and healthier, more vibrant communities.
It is obvious from experience that some ways of living are more successful, rewarding, and enriching than others. It doesn’t take most of us any time to acknowledge the difference between being a victim of trafficking or racial discrimination and being a member of a loving, secure, and free family – or to hesitate a moment in indicating which we would prefer for ourselves and our loved ones.
So Lent can be seen as a time to respond to the invitation from God to come more fully alive! To shed some of the patterns and habits that harm us and weigh us down personally, that keep us from being as free and loving and alive as we could be. That keep us from achieving what we want or feel called to achieve. And that foster destructive and painful relationships in our communities.
So when Jesus opens his public life in Mark’s account [1:12-15], his message can be translated,
“This is a time of great opportunity!
Things are coming together and God is here in it.
Rethink your values and your lives and believe in the good news.”
What does that message say to us this year? It is certainly true that this is a time of great turmoil, change, and opportunity – for good and for ill. Jesus’s message would certainly be that we should not be afraid, that God is here and at work in it all. I’m confident that the rest of his message holds true for us today too: if we rethink our values and our lives and choose to believe in and live by the good news, we will become freer, more fully alive. To redeem a phrase, we can become more truly great.
What is that good news? That Way to fuller life? We will be reminded of the key elements of it as we move through the Lenten liturgical season. But we can summarize it pretty succinctly here. At the heart of it all is love. Jesus was clear: we can boil the guidelines for fuller life down to “Love God with all you are and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus spelled out the love of neighbor in many places and ways, but the best summary remains his parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew’s gospel [Matt. 25:31-46]. He says that it will be good news and we will become more fully alive when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger [the “other,” the migrant, the refugee], clothe the naked and shelter the poor, visit and care for the sick and the imprisoned. And most stunning of all: he identifies with them and will experience it as done to himself.
If you are paying attention to what’s going on in the country at all these days, you can’t help but realize that this is indeed “a time of fulfillment,” a time of opportunity and a time in which we are in the process of rethinking our values and our lives together. How we will respond as a nation to pretty much all of the areas Jesus called attention to is being debated right now in our public arena in the form of budget proposals and appropriations. As we attend to them, we need to be consciously asking ourselves, How would God’s good news require us to rethink our values and ways of living to become more fully alive in responding to this situation?
Feed Christ in the hungry? One of the prominent budget proposals would cut 30% or $213 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] for poor people, extending tighter limits and restrictions on access to the program, cutting assistance to working families, the elderly and disabled, and imposing work requirements on food recipients. How would God’s good news require us to rethink our values and ways of living to become more fully alive by feeding Christ in the hungry?
Provide drink for Christ in the thirsty? 63 million people in the U.S. were exposed to unsafe water more than once in the last decade according to Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] records – about 1 in every 5 people in the country. In Michigan we are painfully aware of what a statistic like that really means when we listen to the families and walk among the children poisoned by lead in the water in Flint, MI. Aging infrastructure across the nation guarantees that the same thing is going on in many more places than have yet been discovered. Still, one budget proposal currently being debated would cut the EPA budget $2.5 billion [23%]. How would God’s good news require us to rethink our values and ways of living to become more fully alive by providing for Christ in the thirsty?
Welcome Christ in the stranger? The immigration debate in this country is hotly debated and deeply divisive right now. Even some solution for Dreamers/DACA recipients is starting to seem out of reach. How would God’s good news require us to rethink our values and ways of living to become more fully alive by welcoming Christ in the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee?
Clothe Christ in the naked poor? The budget proposal under debate now calls for cuts to food assistance, housing assistance for renters and low income families, TANF/welfare spending, Supplemental Security Income [SSI] for the elderly, blind, disabled and poor. How would God’s good news require us to rethink our values and ways of living to become more fully alive in responding to Christ in the poor?
Care for Christ in the sick? That same budget proposal currently before national leaders includes $763 billion in cuts to Medicaid and increased obstacles to access. How would God’s good news require us to rethink our values and ways of living to become more fully alive by caring for Christ in the sick?
This is indeed a “Time of Fulfillment,” a time of great opportunity. It is a time of sharpened choices and stark differences in values. People will disagree about specific tactics in different contexts – and that could be enriching. But at present there is far too little respectful engagement, honest research and discussion, careful and compassionate listening and commitment to truth in the nation. The bitter divisions, name-calling, hatred and violence are clear evidence that we need to find effective ways to rethink our values and ways of living to become more fully alive in responding to this situation.
The good news is that there are clearly better ways to live, ways that will heal and enrich us all – as individuals, families, communities, nations. We need to believe God’s good news that respectful encounter, truth, love, compassion and service are what truly bring forth fuller Life for all. Then we can together rethink the ways we are living and find the Way to fuller Life in joy.
James E. Hug, S.J.
IN THE FACE OF RACIST LEADERS …
What truth can wrap around the following events in mid-January, straining to bend them toward justice? What events?
- Thursday, January 11thin a meeting with lawmakers on DACA and immigration protections for people from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration agreement, President Trump reportedly wanted to know why we should have “all these people from s***hole countries come here” rather than people from Europe.
- Friday, January 12th, was the 8thanniversary of devastating earthquake that struck the most populated region of Haiti, killing more than 300,000 people, injuring more than 300,000 more, and leaving 1.5 million people homeless. They are here because they have suffered so terribly and lost so much.
- Global condemnation of the blatant racism as “abhorrent” was rapid and intense: the UN Human Rights Council, African Union, Haiti, Latin American and European nations…. Members of the president’s political party largely remained silent or tried to defend him.
- That same Friday morning, the White House issued a statement saying the president would hold a public signing ceremony late that morning making Monday, January 15th, the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday. [Note: it has been a federal holiday for 35 years since Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing it in 1983.] The president claimed to celebrate Dr. King for standing up for “ the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear: No matter the color of our skin, or the place of our birth, we are ALL created equal by God.” His statement pledged “to fight for his dream of equality, freedom, justice and peace.” Read the president’s remarks hereand try to feel some of the pain that ceremony caused people who fought for civil rights, freedom, justice and dignity with Dr. King. It must have felt like a public, hypocritical desecration of the man who has become a sacred icon of their struggle.
- Saturday, January 13th, a false alarm of an incoming ballistic missile sent to residents across Hawaii brought us to the edge of the kind of devastating miscalculation that even a stable political leader not prejudiced against people of color could make in the heat of uncertainty.
How can we absorb these events contemplatively and have a worthy Word to speak for the growth of God’s justice? The liturgical readings for Sunday, January 14th, the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, carry two clear messages for our situation, probably the best available to us.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that our bodies [whatever their color!] are members of Christ. “Do you not know,” he writes, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…?” This is the undeniable foundation of Christian belief in the sacred dignity of every human being of whatever race, nation or way of life.
The other two readings, 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19 and John 1:35-42, describe the call to discipleship and service, a call given to the young and to ordinary people. That call is our call, coming from the Holy Spirit who lives within each of us and within all our brothers and sisters so demeaned by the scenario that played out these few days. The call is to us to stand up and speak the truth that demands true justice.
How will we live the truth of who we are as the body of Christ to bring justice to our nation?
James E. Hug, S.J.
TRUTH THAT DOES JUSTICE
“President Trump has made more that 2,000 false or misleading claims over 355 days.” Headline, The Washington Post, January 10, 2018
Truth, such a treasured focus and value in Dominican spirituality, has had a very tough couple years.
So I was especially pleased when Karen Rossman, OP, the Program Director for the Dominican Center: Spirituality for Mission, invited me to write a regular blog for the Center’s website. This is a time of desperate need for effective reaffirmation of the crucial importance of Truth for healthy human exchange and life-giving relationships in our communities and the whole human family. The headline from The Washington Post above is just one of a steady flow of headlines, articles and reports in the major responsible news media of the country casting light on the untruth and deceit that have become a centerpiece of public life in the U.S.
Why a Jesuit writing for the Dominican Center: Spirituality for Mission? I do have some Dominican credentials: my Sinsinawa Dominican aunt was teaching me my phonics at age 3 on the front porch swing of my Grandma’s house when my parents brought my newborn sister home from the hospital. She never stopped working on me until she died more than 65 years later. And may still be!
Professionally I worked closely on social justice issues with an Adrian Dominican for more than 30 years and through her I have worked with other Dominicans in mission in various parts of the world. And now I have been part-time sacramental minister at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse for a little over 4 years and have been reading and absorbing elements of Dominican spirituality. I trust some of its spirit has rubbed off on me through those experiences.
The general title I chose for this blog may not be clear to everyone. It brings the Dominican charism’s focus on Truth together with the focus on Justice that has become central to Catholic spirituality since the Second Vatican Council. The Council’s support for the return to scripture, begun in the Catholic community under Pope Pius XII in the early 1940s, fueled a rapid awakening of social consciousness that found expression in an explosion of social justice teaching documents from the Vatican and from bishops’ conferences around the world in the last 50 years.
The Society of Jesus embraced that commitment to social justice as a central element of its identity in the 1960s and 70s such that a contemporary expression of the Jesuit charism is generally accepted to be “A Faith that does Justice.” So the title also blends the Jesuit and Dominican elements of my life at this time in what I hope will be a fruitful dialogue, one that we badly need.
Because without truth, there will not be justice. Anyone alert to what is happening in our country and the larger world right now has way too much evidence that lies, misleading innuendo, modern day heresies, and untruth in its many forms are serving economic, social, political, and ecological injustice in ways that endanger the future of the community of creation as we know it.
What will I focus on in this blog? That will have to emerge over time. But I can say this in general. I do not want to just denounce what is wrong – although denouncing evil is an essential prophetic challenge. I do not want to get mired in statistics and dry principles and rules. I am interested in spirituality, in exploring the elements of a contemporary spirituality alert to, responsive to, and embodying the kind of truth that will help create a more just and life-giving world community. Some truth is factual, but irrelevant, manipulative, or distracting; some is solely personal. I hope to be exploring truth that will feed the type of Christian spirituality needed for this time in history, truth that is social, even global or cosmic in perspective, rooted in prayer, discerned in honest and respectful dialogue, and offering a vision oriented to creating the justice of God’s reign.
I hope you will join in this exploration and enter the dialogue. I have committed to writing every two weeks. If I am inspired more often, I will post more often. We’re working on a way to let you know when new posts go up. More when that is in place. In the meantime, please keep this effort in your prayer. Thank you.
James E. Hug, SJ has a PhD in Theology with a focus on social ethics.
Jim worked on national and international social justice issues in Washington, D.C. for 33 years, 24 years as president-director of the Center of Concern. His work connected him with social justice organizations and networks on six continents. Jim is now a chaplain in residence at a Dominican Motherhouse