I never in a million years dreamt that I would begin a sermon by quoting not the scriptures but Alice in Wonderland, but…“The time has come” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships—and sealing wax—of cabbages and kings”
To say that the last couple of years have been unusual, would be an understatement of epic proportions. These days, it is as if we are all following Alice in Wonderland and together the world has gone through the looking glass and we find ourselves in a strange new world, were up is down and down is up, facts no longer matter, the way forward has a strange orange hue about it, and I can’t quite see a path through to reality. Everywhere I look the darkness appears deeper and darker than I ever imagined possible. Just when I think I have seen a glimmer of light to guide me, the orange hue blinds me with its outrageous, narcissistic, bellicose, outpourings of hubris, designed to lead us all up the garden path. For days, I’ve felt strangely uneasy. I don’t know where to turn, how to feel, or what to do and there is nowhere, I mean nowhere, I can flee to; nowhere to escape the darkness of this strange new world.
As my stomach churns at each outrageous upheaval of basic human decency, and I feel in every fiber of my being the impending dangers, as we all bear witness to the abandonment of common sense, as the Mad Hatter tweets his demands that we all believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” It is true dear friends, the leader of the so-called free world is a mad hatter who is going to make America great again. Welcome to wonderland, a strange world where a man in a read baseball hat, a thrice bankrupt, reality tv celebrity, comb-over, lives in a world oblivious to reality and we all now live in a wonderland not of our choosing but rather in his peculiar dream; a nightmare in which, just like Alice’s Wonderland we find ourselves falling, spiraling downward into the rabbit hole to a world where, “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be wat it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
My memories of the story of Alice’s boat ride down the river are distant and vague, I can’t for the life of me remember how when, or how she emerged from her voyage. These past couple of days, I’ve tried to imagine Jesus walking along the shore calling me to abandon my own small boat. I can just about hear Jesus calling me, “Come follow me.” But I can’t quite seem to imagine where Jesus will lead us. I want to abandon my small boat, but today even the shore looks treacherous.
So, bobbing up and down, my queasiness increases as I struggle to hold down the bile that keeps rising up in me. I thought I was doomed to ceaselessly bobbing up and down in this upside down wonderland, and then I through the light of my own white hot anger, I began to see beyond the topsey-turvey madness that threatens to become our new normal. My anger was inspired by a sermon I did not hear but was directed to by a colleague whose anger was whiter and hotter than my own. It was a sermon delivered on Friday morning by the Reverend Robert Jeffress at a very special worship service attended by the mad-hatter himself. It was the sermon that the orange, self-aggrandizing, braggart, heard immediately before taking the oath of office that would give him the football; I’m talking about “the football” the one that launches not a game but the horrendous destruction of all that we hold dear upon this planet; the nuclear codes were in his possession when the mad hatter was treated to a sermon the likes of which cause me to tremble, tremble, tremble….
According to the Washington Post and I quote:
“The sermon was delivered by Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, who compared Trump to the story of the biblical leader Nehemiah who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls after the people of Judah had been exiled from the land of Israel.
Israel had been in bondage for decades, Jeffress explained, and the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God did not choose a politician or a priest but chose a builder instead.
The first step of rebuilding the nation, Jeffress said, was the building of a wall around Jerusalem to protect its citizens from enemy attack.
“You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress said in his sermon at St. John’s Episcopal Church in D.C.
Nehemiah, according to the biblical account, completed the project in 52 days. Why was Nehemiah so successful in building the wall and rebuilding the nation?
Jeffress said that Nehemiah refused to allow his critics to distract him, noting how some people still don’t believe Trump will succeed in his agenda.
Nehemiah, Jeffress said, had two antagonists named Sanballat and Tobiah. “They were the mainstream media of their day,” he said.
“They continued to hound and heckle Nehemiah and spread false rumors while he and the Israelites were building the wall.”
He noted that Nehemiah answered his critics by saying: “I’m doing a great work. . . . Why should I stop the work and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). Trump’s work, he said, “is a work far too important to stop and answer your critics.”
Nehemiah faced setbacks, Jeffress noted, including an economic recession, terrorist attacks from enemies and discouragement among the citizens.
“The true measure of a leader is what it takes to stop him,” he said.
“And knowing you, I believe it’s going to take a lot to stop you.”
Jeffress said Trump has assembled an “unbelievably talented group of advisers” and has Vice President-elect Mike Pence by his side, “a great and godly man.”
“Mr. President-elect, I don’t believe we have ever had a president with as many natural gifts as you,” he said.
But, Jeffress said, “we need God’s supernatural power.”
He said Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resonated with Americans and that “Psalm 33:12 gives us the starting point for making that happen: ‘Blessed — great — is the nation whose God is the Lord.’” Unquote.
JEEZZZES H CHRIST!!! Suddenly, the bile rose in me, only now, I refuse to stifle it. I am angry. I am angry that the scriptures have been transformed into succor for a narcissistic, megalomaniac, whose dreams and visions threaten all that I hold dear. Now I know that there are those among you who might counsel me to calm down. Well that’s just not going to happen. Living in the land of the shadow of death, the light has dawned and I happen to believe that anger, I’m talking about hot, vivid, piercing, anger is the only light that people who are living in darkness have available to them at this moment in time. I ain’t about to calm down. In fact I hope that I can provoke or tap into some of the anger that’s gotta be rising in so many of you right about now. You see, I can hear Jesus call us, and I hope that you too can hear Jesus calling us from the shore to abandon our small boat and follow him.
I know it may be difficult for some of us to imagine leaving the safety and security of this particular boat; a boat where we have found safety and comfort among like-minded people…a boat where even though the seas are threatening to get rough, we know we are all safe here among friends. But friends, Jesus is on the shore calling us to follow him. If you are having trouble jumping into that cold water, or you’re worried that the quagmire you will have to wade through might just suck you under, or you’d rather not get involved in the angry rhetoric, or the boisterous crowds that are out there where Jesus might lead us, well then take a few moments to contemplate what is happening and what is yet to come, and let the anger well up in you.
I know, I know, we’ve all been trained to be good little Christians. We’ve been suckled on the milk of human kindness, and butter wouldn’t melt in our mouths. No not us. We are not the angry types because we are followers of Jesus; you know the Jesus who is meek, and mild; the Jesus of our Sunday School images who preached nothing but peace, love, and happiness, the Jesus who tip-toes through fields of flowers, with lambs frolicking and children playing, Jesus who positively glows with positivity and placidly goes to his death on a cross, while angelic chorus sing, Just a Closer Walk with Thee. You know the Jesus I’m talking about; the Jesus who demands so little of us.
Well, let me tell you about the Jesus who is calling us to get ourselves wet. I want you to remember the Jesus whose guts churned with anger, that’s right, according to the Greek, Jesus guts had occasion to churn with anger and let me tell you Jesus paid attention to his anger, and Jesus acted out of anger. Injustice provoked Jesus to such anger that he dared to enter the Temple in Jerusalem and turn over tables and drive out some folks who were abusing people in the name of God.
The trouble is we’ve been raised on a kind of Christianity that refuses to follow Jesus; a kind of Christianity that teaches us to ignore or overcome our anger and be nice, good, little citizens. All too often, we have chastised people for their anger even when we agree with their reasons for being angry. Well, let me tell you about a way of being Christian that I believe more closely follows the fella who is calling to us from the shore.
In her famous essay “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love”, feminist theologian Beverly Harrison writes this:
“Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a felling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mod of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring… To grasp this point—that anger signals something amiss in relationship – is a critical first step in understanding the power of anger in the work of love. Where anger rises, there the energy to act is present…
To be sure, anger-no more than any other set of feelings—does not lead automatically to wise or humane action…We must never lose touch with the fact that all serious human moral activity, especially action for social change takes its bearings from the rising power of human anger.”
I love Harrison’s brilliant articulation of the power of anger in the work of love. For too long Christian piety has tended to frown upon the expression of anger. However, if we are to seek justice, Christians must find ways to express our anger. Harrison writes: “We need to recognize that where the evasion of feeling is widespread, anger does not go away or disappear. Rather, in interpersonal life it masks itself as boredom, ennui, low energy, or self-righteousness, and blaming. Anger denied subverts community. Anger expressed directly is a mode of taking the other seriously, or caring. The important point is that were feeling is evaded, where anger is hidden or goes unattended, masking itself, there the power of love, the power to act, to deepen relations, atrophies and dies.”
I would add, if we are serious about loving our neighbour we must be prepared to live with our anger. We must be prepared to express our anger in ways that facilitate the in-breaking of what Jesus called the basileia of God, the household of God’s peace; shalom. We must be prepared for the reality that our actions will provoke anger in others.
But as Harrision reminds us, “Like Jesus, we are called to a radical activity of love, to a way of being in the world that deepens relations, embodies and extends community, passes on the gift of life. Like Jesus, we must live out this calling in a place and time where the distortions of loveless power stand in conflict with the power of love. We are called to confront, as Jesus did, that which thwarts the power of human personal and communal becoming, that which twists relationship, which denies human well-being, community, and human solidarity to so many in our world. To confront these things, and to stay on the path of confrontation, to break through the lies, secrets, silences, that mask the prevailing distortions and manipulations in relationship and the power of relations is the vocation of those who are Jesus’ followers.”
I agree with Harrison that recognizing and tapping into our anger is a difficult task, I can’t help believer that she is correct when she hears Jesus calling us to do just that. I also believe that those of us on floating in this small boat, may need to abandon the safety we have found here. You see out there in the world the peddlers of a perverse Christianity, that is no Christianity are being heard loudly and clearly. You and I are uniquely placed to confront the false prophets whose way of being in the world threatens all that we hold dear.
We, I mean you and I, have heard Jesus calling us to a way of being in the world that does not rely on an Alice in Wonderland fantasy that abandons truth, where facts don’t matter, where might makes right, where popularity is measured in followers willing to retweet madness. We are not afraid follower where-ever our studies might lead us. We have seen beauty and truth in what science has taught us. We are capable of appreciating the mythopoetic wisdom of the scriptures without abandoning what our own intelligence tells us of the nature of reality. We have our own celebrity, reality tv star, wanna-be leader being groomed in the sidelines right here in Canada. Our neighbours need to hear from us about all that we have learned about following Jesus.
Polite Canadian responses will not suffice. Progressive Christians cannot be nice. Need I remind you of the etymology of the word “nice” – from the Latin for “not to know” or “ignorant”, and the French and Middle English for “stupid”.
Creation needs us to be disturbed about the environment that has nourished and fed us for generations and now more than ever is threatened by ignorance and abuse. Refugees are drowning because bombs continue to relentlessly fall. Justice is denied to far too many who cry out for freedom from poverty, disease and hunger. Threats have been made to refugees. Racism is rising again. Muslim sisters and brothers in the GTA have been threatened and attacked. Greed is celebrated as that which separates the winners from the losers. And idiots are using the faith we hold dear to twist Christianity into a perverse cheerleader for building walls instead of relationships.
The world needs us. And so, I hope that you can hear Jesus calling you to follow so that together we can put the power of our anger to good use as together we join with those who are about the work of love.
It is time to wade into the water children, and follow Jesus and make more than a little noise, cause there are some money-changers who have become far too comfortable in the halls of power, and we have more than a few tables to overturn.
We need to be about the work of love in the world, and Jesus dream of justice and peace for all is a promise far beyond anything we can even begin to imagine. The dream of our God who is LOVE is ours to live into. Let it be so! Amen!
I am a strong supporter of Pastor Dawn Hutching’s many contributions to forwarding the cause of the Gospel and Progressive Christianity. I also appreciate the quotations from theologian Beverly Harrison’s essay “The Power of Anger In the Work of Love”But, I don’t think generalizations such as “we have all been trained to be good little Christians” are helpful or assist the cause of Gospel-values living. Ever heard of “Nonviolence” or “Martin Luther King Jr.” or “Gandhi”? Of course, we all have! In my opinion their words and actions set the tone and provide the examples for “the way forward” in this terrible age of “Trumpism”. Yes, we are all called to be active in this day and age of Trumpism. But let us be careful what we say and how we say it. “Generalizations” are not helpful.
Pastor Jon Fogleman
Well said Jon!!! Generalizations like the one I used as a rhetorical tool are dangerous! You caught me being lazy. However, I think you would agree with Dr. King’s many exhortations to find an outlet for our anger. Anger can so easily turn to hatred and hatred leads to violence. I recall Rev. William Barber’s channeling of his anger toward Tennessee Governor using rhetoric far more skillfully than my attempt. NPR has done an excellent series on anger. One episode we could all learn from looks at the way King dealt with his own anger…His letter from the Birmingham Jail was spurred by his anger…you can listen to it here: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/02/20/691298594/the-power-of-martin-luther-king-jr-s-anger
For Dr. King – anger is part of the process which leads to forgiveness. Learning the contours of our anger rather than suppressing anger or “making nice” is key to this redemptive journey.