[NOTE: During my 2022 Study Leave, I am considering various aspects of wisdom and the role of integration as discovered in tools such as the Enneagram and Spiral Dynamics. Blog posts during this time are intended to fold into the greater learning around this theme. Additionally, this post was being written when the world learned of another tragic school shooting … this one in Uvalde, Texas. This, along with recent unfolding violence around the globe, has added new hues and texture to this blog post.]
Fr. Richard Rohr, when he established the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987, had spent a great deal of his ministry and teaching focused, at various times, on both reflection and contemplation and then on transformative social action. As he tells the story, he put a great deal of thought into the name because he believed that contemplation and action were both part of one larger, integrated whole. I have heard him share on more than one occasion that the reason he lists “action” first is that he believes that action precedes contemplation, which, in turn, fosters greater action.
When I was doing my doctoral work around themes of brokenness among the clergy, I had been fully exposed to a theology that came from Central America known as Liberation Theology. It had been closely tied to human rights abuses in that part of the world. It was a theology that insisted that God was not a passive God living above the clouds; rather, the God of Jesus is a God who is actively living among us … upsetting institutions (including governments and churches) that are hierarchical in nature … and reminding us that the God of Jesus is a God first of the poor and powerless. Needless to say, this theology was rejected quickly by theologians and clergy whose job was defending the institutions they served.
What I discovered, however, was that key to Liberation Theology was the same truth that I would discover in the Center for Action and Contemplation. There is a direct link and cyclical nature between action and reflection/contemplation, and it rings hollow to think of theology or spiritual practice that is not fully connected with justice and mercy.
Today I heard with the rest of the world of the devastating school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and 2 adults lost their lives to an 18-year-old gunman, who also died. As I began to reflect on where this blog post was going (even considering simply abandoning this for the time being), I realized that perhaps this is exactly where I need to maintain focus.
Many people quote Micah 6:8 as it relates to the need to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God,” but I think we miss the mark if we do not read its larger context. I think it helps to expand the text to Micah 6:6-8, which reads:
“With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?
When we speak of thoughts and prayers for those who suffer unspeakable, yet very preventable tragedy, yet we take no action, our faith is hollow and meaningless. Like Micah, I think it is high time to name our problem, which is the use of the name Christian to provide a cloak around those who refuse to enact legislation or otherwise take a stand that will help protect our most vulnerable. It is time to call out clergy and others who are afraid to speak out on the matters around gun control for fear that we will have people oppose us in our churches or communities and perhaps not keep our jobs or get the next largest church. It is time to talk about what it means to worship a God who demands acts of justice and mercy from us.
Friends, it is time to see our God not as a mighty warrior king, but as a crucified God. This is to see the crucifixion as an act of ultimate solidarity with the poor and not as a sacrifice that simply wipes the slate clean so we can go on with our systems of injustice as though it never happened. When we fail to see the power of a corrupt theology, we will continually sacrifice our children and the most vulnerable among us on the altar of the for-profit gun lobby and big business.
As so many have pointed out, the word atonement is best broken down into three parts: “at-one-ment.” The truest image of incarnation is a God who is born into human likeness, who suffers along with the least of these, and who dies along with the poor and powerless … including the children and teachers in one of the poorer parts of our state.
Like so many churches, the people of Wellspring will gather for a prayer vigil within hours after this blog post is published. It will be a time to lift up the victims of the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School. It will be a time to share our grief and acknowledge the fear that atrocities like this stir up in us. While I am absent from my congregation, I will be in prayer with them and for them.
My greatest prayer is that we will take the narratives that continue to unfold before us and reflect more deeply on where God is in the midst of the suffering. My further prayer will then be that we take that deeper understanding of God into acts of justice and mercy as we seek to bring God’s kingdom here “on earth as it is in heaven.”