In 2006 my daughter and I flew to Spain to attend a Buddhist Retreat in Pego. I learned that while we were in Pego Pablo Picasso’s famous painting Guernica would be on display at a museum in Madrid for the first time in more that 20 years. One of Picasso’s best-known works, Guernica is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history. Painted in 1937 it was representative of the Spanish Civil War which took place between 1936 – 1939. The painting has come to symbolize the clash between the ideologies of liberalism, socialism and communism versus conservatism, traditionalism and fascism. Spain at the dawn of the 20th Century was caught in a crisis of identity and purpose.
Here we are in the 21st Century, and we as a nation seem to be at a similar turning point, a crisis of identity and purpose with similar ideologies at play. Politics defined as the art of compromise; now the seedbed for further splintering and acrimony. The role of government continuously debated through insult. Good ideas and necessary legislation tossed in the trash. No institution seems exempt from mayhem, even the church. Christianity has been hijacked and used for political ends contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of separation of church and state, religion is being used to mandate and fund a particular point of view. What seemed so secure a few generations ago is no longer. It is easy to feel unmoored, exasperated by the anger and vindictiveness coming at us from all directions. I know I feel a bone-weary sadness. Maybe you do too.
Even here in the church the angst of it all can cast a pall over us. As much as we would like church to be a place “out of the world,” the world remains. Sorrow, sadness, even anger is wearying. In this place where the expectation/assumption is that we all get along and agree with one another on everything, we face the challenge of learning how to be in community with our differences. We have different histories. We have different political parties. We even have different theologies. In short, we have differing ideas on a range of topics. Church too is at a turning point. Who are we? What are we about? How do we as Christians deal with the atmosphere outside the doors; the volatility? In the words of the poet Wordsworth: “The world is too much with us; late and soon.”
Given this cascading of thoughts, I want to share with you writings that have crossed my desk that have relevance to the turning point and the coming season of Lent. These writing are from The Reclaiming Jesus Movement led by Christian Elders from many traditions and the Rev. Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, (from the Evangelical branch of the Christian family)
Rev. Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners (from the Evangelical branch of the Christian family) and author of several books including God’s Politics, writes:
Lent. 2020. The upcoming liturgical season and this momentous political year. How do these two things connect? “Spiritual disciplines are always timeless, but they also can be powerfully timely in our personal and public lives. Many of us would say that the 2020 presidential election may be the most important in any of our lifetimes for the future of the country, a sign of whether genuine and inclusive democracy in the United States even has a future. At the same time, calls for prayer, fasting, and repentance are centuries old — they continually demand that Christians go deeper in preparation to worship the risen Christ.”
From the Elders of the Reclaiming Jesus Movement:
We can no longer pretend otherwise: The United States is in the midst of a struggle for its very soul. Are we merely collections of self-interest and partisan identities or are we “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?”
This is a moment of spiritual peril and decision. Nothing less than the soul of our nation is at stake.
On one level, the outward and visible form of the divisions and tensions among us as a nation are political, social, and even ideological. Yet, the deeper and invisible causes are spiritual and moral. When selfishness is exalted above sacrifice for the good of each other, the soul of a nation is at stake. When falsehood is exalted and truth is slain in the public square, the soul of the nation is at stake. When toxic politics manipulates public faith, the soul of the nation is at stake. When fear, hate, and violence shape our politics and anger governs our speech, the soul of the nation is at stake.
In another time of national spiritual crisis, President Abraham Lincoln issued an appeal to leaders and people of the nation to summon “the better angels of our nature.” As elders in the churches, we believe that we are in a spiritual battle between our better angels and worst demons.
Now is not a time for playing the superficial politics of the right or the left. Now is a time for the deeper spiritual engagement with the realities that are beneath our conflicts in order that God might help and heal the “soul of the nation and the integrity of our faith,” as our Reclaiming Jesus declaration called for.
The season of Lent is traditionally a time for deeper soul searching, reflection, and repentance that leads to renewed commitment and action to living out the teachings and the way of Jesus of Nazareth.
As elders who have called the church to reclaim Jesus, we now issue “Lent 2020: A Call for Prayer, Fasting, and Repentance that Leads to Action.”
We invite individuals, clergy, national churches, and local congregations into a Lenten season of prayer, fasting, and repentance built around practices of daily prayer, weekly fasting, and reflection with spiritual discernment that can lead to more faithful action.
We covenant together to repent from both our personal and social sins, to pray for our nation and all nations, and to fast as a reminder to discipline self-interest, idolatry, and division for the good of living God’s love in the world.
Prayer calls us to give up control.
We pray to return to God’s two commandments on which hang all the law — to love God and love our neighbor.
“Love God with your whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind” — which means to repent and remove any national, racial, or political ideologies and idolatries that have replaced loving God with our whole selves.
“And love your neighbor as yourself” — which means to love all our neighbors that we have forgotten to love (no exceptions), including those who are different from us, who disagree with us and, especially, those of another race or nationality whom we are directly instructed to love by the words and example of Jesus.
And we should also reach out, in particular, to those who are different from us or disagree with us politically, even in our same congregations and local communities.
Fasting calls us to re-direct our attention.
We will fast in ways commensurate with our health, situation, and communities on one day per week — on Wednesdays beginning with Ash Wednesday.
Fasting weekly can help us to stop, pay attention, wake up, interrupt our schedules, go deeper, and listen for God and the Holy Spirit in new ways that might lead us to new places in our hearts and minds. This weekly fast will begin in Lent and could continue until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Repentance calls us to change our hearts.
Repentance in all of our traditions means much more than shame or guilt and feeling sorry; it means to stop, turn around, and go in a whole new direction. These spiritual disciplines could help take us all out of our strategies and control, by admitting that we don’t have all the answers, and to go deeper together to hear the voice of God that needs to be heard, often in the still, small whispers of the Spirit — leading us to better places that we cannot conceive now.
These spiritual practices can help us to answer questions like: What are we called from and what are we called to? Who are we called from and who are we called to? Spiritual disciplines can even be targeted: Who and what are we praying and fasting for, and what might our praying and fasting open us to do?
We confess that as church elders who have often engaged in action, we are not fully sure what to do in the growing national crisis in which we now find ourselves. We therefore hope that the disciplines of daily prayer and weekly fasting will clarify and draw all of us to the decisive, prophetic, and reconciling actions required in this time of great crisis. Because, as the New Testament teaches us, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).
Through praying and fasting together, particularly with people who disagree politically, we hope to find actions that might bring more people together — even across the margins of previous voting blocs — so that we can find and pursue what is best for the country.
Regular spiritual disciplines can deepen our faith, inform our citizenship decisions, and lead us to find the courage to stand up for the most vulnerable and if need be to protect our very democracy.
We see this Lenten call to fast, pray, and repent as a time of purification for ourselves and as a time of preparation and expectation for the kinds of action that can lead us forward instead of backward. How can we anchor ourselves in the kind of love that is not safe, but saving?
Going to God
Going to God means tuning out the constant tumult crowding our heads in order to tune our hearts to quieter voices revealing God’s holy intentions for this time.
As U.S. church elders, we confess that we don’t consult with God seriously and frequently enough. This Lenten call and these spiritual disciplines are meant to take us to God with regularity during this time of national and faith crisis. Regular conversation with God can be transforming in any culture and especially those in crisis — and it can lead to better conversation with each other. And we must go to God with choices and decisions that are political, social, racial, and economic — these are not just personal decisions.
In a time of moral, political, and theological crisis, let us go to God.
Bishop Carroll Baltimore Bishop Global Alliance Interfaith Networks
Dr. Amos Brown, Chair, Social Justice Commission, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary
Rev. Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
Marie Dennis, Senior Advisor/Co-President (2007-2019), Pax Christi International
Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rev. Dr. Richard Hamm, Retired General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Dr. Otis Moss Jr., Pastor Emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation
Dr. Ron Sider, President Emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action
Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder, Sojourners
Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Minister, Bethany Memorial Church (Disciples of Christ)
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network
Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, Co-Founder, Red Letter Christians
Dr. Will Willimon, Professor, Duke Divinity School and Bishop (retired), United Methodist Church
Rev. Dr. James Forbes, President & Founder, Healing of the Nations Foundation and Preaching Professor, Union Theological Seminary
With you on the journey,