(You can listen to a recording of this sermon here)
It all started with Don Fox’s sermon in July on the need to resist the malevolence of the current administration in Washington. Don reminded us that one of the questions in the Personal Vows portion of the Baptismal Covenant that we repeat every time we witness to a baptism (like we did last Sunday for young Sebastian in the 8:00 service)--or when we renew our vows four times a year (Baptism of the Lord, the Easter Vigil/Easter Day, Pentecost and All Saints Sunday—which is next Sunday!)--is question number two. Well, first there are the three questions about the Holy Trinity based on the Apostles’ Creed (“Do you believe…Do you believe…Do you believe…?) and then comes the vow about conforming to the lifestyle of the first Christians as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?”). And then comes this question,
“Will you persevere in resisting evil…?”
Bang. There it was. A direct question.
Now, I have taken great pride in our new Baptismal Covenant, because I believe the decision to add certain questions to it in the Prayer Book of 1979 are part of the reason the Episcopal Church turned toward greater inclusiveness and social justice in the 70s. and 80s. But what I have pointed to when I have shared my pride in the Episcopal Church with friends (“Hi, I’m an Episcopalian—you know, the church that is in trouble for all the right reasons!”) are the other new Baptismal Questions,
‘Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?’
But, frankly, I have paid little attention to this first Question about resistance to evil. I thought it was a throw-back to traditional piety about personal sin, because the second half of the sentence is
...and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I thought it was about my sin, not evil in the world! (Hmm…maybe we have talked about sin so much because that makes it all about us?)
But there it is,
“Gary (I heard), will you resist evil…?”
Perhaps I never thought evil would come in the shape of presidential malfeasance. But since the morning of November 9, 2016, I have felt increasingly oppressed by the feeling that something bad is happening in our country and it’s getting worse.
The second thing that happened, after my eyes were opened, was that I had an automatic negative reaction to the very idea of joining the resistance movement.
Fortunately, I have a meditation practice where I look at a lot of my reactivities—those spontaneous reactions to things we either like very much or dislike very much—and I recognized that my reaction didn’t mean I shouldn’t do it, but probably that I was about to learn something new, maybe something big. For, as I am beginning to learn, things and people that evoke a reaction in my body and mind are probably my most important teachers.
So, the third thing that happened was I decided to dedicate the summer to meditating on what comes up for me when I react negatively to the idea of joining the Resistance. Rather than resist looking at it, I decided to look at my resistance to The Resistance.
And I began to notice some very interesting things.
I noticed that I crave comfort, security and ease more than challenge, being on the edge and change.
Secondly, I noticed that I take everything personally, and when I looked closer I saw that what was beneath that was my attachment to the stories I tell about myself. So, challenges to how I am and act feel like attacks on my very identity…*
I noticed that I would rather do just about anything than confront somebody (a problem I’ve been working on with my spiritual director for years!) And I saw that what was beneath that was attachment to the story that I am not one of those people who get in trouble for breaking the law. But, really, it’s more complicated than that, for I saw that sometimes my self-righteousness is really a compensation for not feeling like one of the good guys. Oy.
But I also noticed that although I am my worst critic (I’m not special in that…almost all of us are), I have made some progress in following one of the instructions in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which is, “Whatever’s going on (in here) / look clearly, be gentle, and keep going on.”
So, along with noticing myself more gently, I have begun to have some deep learnings.
For example, I have seen that on what may be a cellular level, I carry trauma from the time my German family lived in South Russia. As though we are still under the Czar, I am afraid of the authorities coming knocking! I’d even say there’s a possibility this fear is shared by all my extended family descended from the five or six villages who left the South Ukraine for North Dakota in 1897. For I remember being told how our people would huddle in fear and say to each other, “The Cossacks are coming! The Cossacks are coming! The Cossacks are coming!” At a deep level in my very body, I have a fear Trump’s men will be coming after me.
But then I noticed something even deeper. The most honest thing I have to confess about my neuroses is that I am attached to the story, “If I displease them, they’ll leave me and it will feel like I’m going to die!” And “they” is all the people I have ever loved! Which means, on a deep level, I don’t trust that if I do something bad enough, or foolish enough, or cowardly enough, they won’t leave me. In fact, on some level, I believe it’s only a matter of time before I will let them down. Better to keep my nose clean, not rock any boats, and keep everybody happy! And I even saw that “they” includes the God of Love I have said I have been following since I was twelve!
So here’s what I have concluded after a summer of thinking on these things:
In the face of all that, I must resist.
But what I mean is not just that I’m ready to fight. Well, I have already taken some tentative steps. I accepted Michael Moore’s invitation to download the “Five Calls” app and let it coach me on what issues to call my congress people about, and although I don’t call every day, I have called several times when crucial votes were coming up in Congress.
I have also started posting pointed articles on my Facebook page—with some very interesting results. For example, I am engaged in conversations with two of my most conservative high school friends…we’re being respectful but not avoiding hard talk.
And I will have my first lesson on how to support immigrants when I attend a young man’s deportation hearing this Thursday. Through the Faith in Action community, to whom Cameron introduced us, I may take training on how further to “accompany” Hispanic families who are going through nightmares of arrest and deportation. And—hardest of all, because this will be the most confrontational action I have ever participated in—I am considering receiving training to be a witness at ICE raids, being available for early morning calls to show up at peoples’ homes when ICE officers arrive to arrest some of them. We won’t talk. We won’t push. But we will witness, and record, to make sure due process is observed.
I don’t know what the details of my involvement in the Resistance will be. I’m not suggesting anything for anybody else. All I know is, I need, for my sanity, and for the expression of the compassion I have for the human race, to wade in and try to communicate the message that is mine to express. You must discern what is yours to do.
And I believe everybody needs to be involved with looking at their relationship to resisting. Which means committing to a whole process…to look at our resistance to resisting while we seek what it is we must do. I find very helpful the three questions Buddhists ask to discern what they must do: Is the proposed action skillful (no pushing)? Is it beneficent (does some good and does no harm)? Is it wholesome (it’s done with a clear conscience and promotes wholeness, even holiness)?
Engaging in the endeavor to resist the evil in our society will inevitably be humbling. Hmm…Like what St. Paul invited us to embrace for a Christian lifetime when he said, in Philippians, chapter two, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, who humbled himself”…who expressed by his life the message of the Lovingkindness that is at the heart of everything (I’m paraphrasing), who acted as though empathizing with the suffering of all those to whom violence is done is a divine attribute, who gave the Benchmark example of how skillfully to challenge the violence among humans by turning the other cheek…but to do it the way he did, emptying himself of his self, so that turning the other cheek became a political act, a confrontation: “Are you sure you want to strike a child of God a second time?!” Jesus had something to say about resisting the evil in the world, and he said it, with his Person.
Now I need to find my voice, too. And perhaps you do, too. And perhaps St. Aidan’s as a parish does, too.
If, for example, we decide to become a sanctuary parish, it will be a learning experience, a growth curve. We will make mistakes. We may use our stand to make us feel like heroes, even heroes entitled to feeling better about ourselves than other people. So, we’ll have to get over that.
But rather than be attached to our stories about being either winners or losers, we could keep asking, “What is the right thing to do now?” Maybe ask the three questions again.
I invite you—us—to join the resistance!
Only, let me make this clear, when I say “Join the resistance,” I really mean, "Engage the resistance," process your own resistance, begin truly to commun-I-cate (“acknowledge our commonness”) with others. And whatever missteps we make, “see clearly, be gentle and keep moving on.”
You will yearn for comfort and security over uncertaintly and fear. Well, retreating to a safe place is OK. Sit down and put your feet flat on the ground as though this is your spot. Meditate mindfully. Try repeating a mantra, if that helps, perhaps using tonglen, a Tibetan practice I particularly love, where you breathe in your negative reactivity, completely owning it, then breathe out the Truth for You, e.g., (Breathe in) "I crave comfort, security and ease / (Breathe out) I want to see clearly, be gentle and keep moving on.”
If you choose even to resist your resistance, congratulations, you’re a resister!
And you’re in good company! It turns out today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, observed by our friends the Lutherans as Reformation Sunday. The common understanding of “protestant” is somebody who protests about something--historically, abuses of churchly power and the amnesia the Church suffered in the High Middle Ages about what the Gospel was really about. (“It’s about the love, stupid!”)
But I was taught, when I joined the Protestant Episcopal Church—which is what it was called at that time—that the word “protestant” means “standing for” something. Pro- testare. Before the Protestant Reformation turned into a battle with the Catholic Counter-reformation, the protestants stood up for some important things. Martin Luther resurrected the teaching at the end of the Epistle lesson this morning: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for…those who are ‘righteous’ are those who live by trusting—trusting God, trusting others, trusting self !’” (faith)
And here’s something else I only recently discovered. The words have gone through spelling changes, but the ‘-sist” in “resist “ is from the same Indo-European stem as the “”stant” in “protestant.” “Stant- and -sist- (<si-st) are different forms of the root that became in English, “stand.” A resister “stands up to” things that are wrong in the same way a “protestant” stands up for things that are right. Protestants and resisters belong to the same tribe, the tribe of people who peacefully engage. When we say we are invited to join the resistance, it means we are invited to become spiritual warriors who make a difference like Jesus, Gandhi and the Buddha.
If you choose to treat resisting as part of your baptismal vow, then God bless you and God bless St. Aidan’s!
And here’s a prayer of St. Francis that Third Order Franciscans, a gentle group of trouble-makers, pray once a week, every Tuesday:
O God, you resist the proud and give grace to the humble: help us not to think proudly, but to serve you with humility that pleases you, so we may walk in the steps of your servant Francis and receive the gift of your grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.