Christianity and Empire

Week Forty-Two Summary and Practice, Center for Action and Contemplation

October 17 – October 22, 2021

Sunday
How can I trust that things like nonviolence, the path of descent, simplicity of life, forgiveness and healing, the preference for the poor, and radical grace itself are as important as they are, unless Jesus also said so? —Richard Rohr

Monday
I know it’s easy to be cynical, to look at the disastrous effects of Christianity’s complicity with empire and want to give up on the whole endeavor, but I also want to proclaim that the flow of grace is a truly wonderful thing.
—Richard Rohr

Tuesday
Many of us have little ability to carry our own shadow side, much less the shadow side of  our church, group, nation, or period of history. But shadowlands are good and necessary teachers. —Richard Rohr

Wednesday
We must return to the spiritual values that are the foundation of life. We must love and respect all living things, have compassion for the poor and the sick, respect and understanding for women and female life on this earth who bear the sacred gift of life. —Indigenous delegates to the Global Forum on Environment, 1990

Thursday
In the dark, enslaved people slipped away to the quiet of thick brush arbors, hollows, or river banks to pray, to sing, to experience God in their misery and obscurity. There. . . God met them and became their consolation and their joy. —M. Shawn Copeland

Friday
In Christ, we see an image of a God who is not armed with lightning bolts but with basin and towel, who spewed not threats but good news for all, who rode not a warhorse but a donkey, weeping in compassion for people who do not know the way of peace. —Brian McLaren

A Hymn of Remorse

At the end of this week’s meditations, you may find it helpful to pray a “Hymn of Remorse,” with lyrics by CAC teacher Brian McLaren:

We covered over your colorful earth with gray cement.
We cut down trees and stripped the soil wherever we went.
We scarred the hills for gold and coal,
Blind with greed inside our soul,
Our goal: to have complete control.

Lord, have mercy. Can we be restored?
Lord, have mercy.

What of the lands of tribes and nations who lived here first?
Who took the best with broken treaties, and left the worst?
By whom were slaves bought, used, sold?
Who valued humans less than gold?
Who told us racist lies until our hearts went cold?

Lord, have mercy. Can we be restored?
Lord, have mercy.

The noise of traffic is drowning out the songbird’s song.
Your voice within us is telling us that we’ve gone wrong.
You call us from our selfishness,
To be blessed—and to bless
To turn to you, to begin anew.

Lord, have mercy. Can we be restored?
Lord, have mercy.

—Brian McLaren 

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Brian McLaren, “Hymn of Remorse,” from Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, ed. Steve Heinrichs (Herald Press: 2013), 209. Used with permission. Listen to a recording of this song. 

God’s Supremacy in Love

CAC teacher and author Brian McLaren has spent years calling Christians to a practice of faith that reflects the loving, nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels instead of the conquering Jesus of colonialism and empire:

The God imaged by Jesus exerts no dominating supremacy. In Christ, we see an image of a God who is not armed with lightning bolts but with basin and towel, who spewed not threats but good news for all, who rode not a warhorse but a donkey, weeping in compassion for people who do not know the way of peace. In Christ, God is supreme, but not in the old discredited paradigm of supremacy: God is the supreme healer, the supreme friend, the supreme lover, the supreme life-giver who self-empties in gracious love for all. The king of kings and lord of lords is the servant of all and the friend of sinners. The so-called weakness and foolishness of God are greater than the so-called power and wisdom of human regimes.

In the aftermath of Jesus and his cross, we should never again define God’s sovereignty or supremacy by analogy to the kings of this world who dominate, oppress, subordinate, exploit, scapegoat and marginalize [see Luke 22:25–27]. Instead, we have migrated to an entirely new universe, or, as Paul says, “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) in which old ideas of supremacy are subverted. [1]

In his own words, Choctaw elder and retired Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston “walks two paths”: that of his Native American tradition and that of Christ. Our understanding of God is deepened by his insightful description of Jesus, who experienced his own visions from God and was called to bring healing to his people.

I have come to understand what caused the pain and death that was visited on my nation, and I know that it was not the will of a loving God. The Messiah I knew as a child, the Jesus of my ancestors, walked the long Trail with my people. He was there. He suffered with them. He is not the white man’s god, but a Native healer who made his own vision quest, not once, but four times. He went out to make his lament and he was given visions. He was not afraid of the silence. He was not afraid to speak about what he saw and heard and felt, and consequently, he changed the world.

Now you and I are called to do the same. . . .

The Jesus of the Trail of Tears, the Jesus of the Lakota and the Choctaw, the Jesus who went to a lonely hilltop and made his lament is the One who shows us the way. He found his vision, changed his name, and saved his people. He was purified. He was with his trusted friends. He made himself open to the sacred. The more we come to know him, the more we come to understand ourselves. In the end, his vision and ours are intimately connected. His path and ours are one. [2]

[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016), 92–93.

[2] Steven Charleston, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus (Morehouse Publishing: 2015), 40–41.  

Fr. Richard offers a critique of how Christianity aligned with empire and colonialism manifested specifically in the United States:

The form of Christianity that has grown in the United States and spread throughout much of the world is what we have to fairly call “slaveholder Christianity.” The founders of our nation drew on a Christian tradition that had been aligned with empire for more than a millennium. It must be said that this form of Christianity is far, far removed from the Gospel and the example of Jesus as it has failed to respect the divine image in all beings. [1]

Culture, tradition, and power can keep us from recognizing the true message of the Gospel, which is why listening to other perspectives and voices is so necessary. Historian Jemar Tisby shares the writing of Olaudah Equiano (1745–1797), a formerly enslaved man, who published his autobiography in 1789:

By the time he wrote his autobiography, Equiano had converted to Christianity. As he reflected on his life, he viewed his experiences through the lens of his faith and commented on the hypocrisy of slave traders who claimed to be Christian. . . .

On the kidnapping of unsuspecting Africans and their separation from family, Equiano asked, “O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you?” [2] Black people immediately detected the hypocrisy of American-style slavery. They knew the inconsistencies of the faith from the rank odors, the chains, the blood, and the misery that accompanied their life of bondage. Instead of abandoning Christianity, though, black people went directly to teachings of Jesus and challenged white people to demonstrate integrity. [3]

In her study on the religious experience of African Americans, Catholic theologian M. Shawn Copeland shares the “dark and hidden wisdom” of the enslaved:

In the dark, enslaved people slipped away to the quiet of thick brush arbors, hollows, or river banks to pray, to sing, to experience God in their misery and obscurity. There, as Susan Rhodes declared, God met them [4] and became their consolation and their joy. There they sang “songs what come a-gushing up from the heart.” [5] Like Spanish Carmelite mystic John of the Cross [1542–1591], they too were inflamed with “love’s urgent longings”; they too went out into the dazzling dark with “no other light or guide than the [flame] that burned in [their] hearts.” [6] The Spirit of the Lord descended, and they experienced an inflow of divine love that gushed up, uniting their hearts in prayer and song and shout that “made heaven ring.” [7] [8]

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, interview with Jen Hatmaker, “Live Yourself into a New Way of Thinking: Richard Rohr,” For the Love of Faith Groundbreakers, series 16, episode 5, audio podcast

[2] The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, ed. Werner Sollors (W. W. Norton and Company: 2001), 43.

[3] Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Zondervan: 2019), 30–31.

[4] Susan Rhodes, quoted in Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember, an Oral History, ed. James Mellon (Grove Press: 1988), 195.

[5] Carey Davenport, quoted in From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community, George P. Rawick (Greenwood Publishing: 1972), 34.

[6] John of the Cross, “The Dark Night,” stanzas 1, 3.

[7] Rawick, 40.

[8] M. Shawn Copeland, Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience (Orbis Books: 2018), 34. 

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 13 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.

Image Inspiration: Our state-sanctioned history celebrates explorers who chose separation, conquest, and domination. What if we chose differently and looked instead through our own “windshields” with humility, reverence, and awe for the diversity of God’s creation?

Prayer For Our Community

Loving God, you fill all things with a fullness and hope that we can never comprehend. Thank you for leading us into a time where more of reality is being unveiled for us all to see. We pray that you will take away our natural temptation for cynicism, denial, fear and despair. Help us have the courage to awaken to greater truth, greater humility, and greater care for one another. May we place our hope in what matters and what lasts, trusting in your eternal presence and love. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our suffering world. Please add your own intentions . . . Knowing, good God, you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God. Amen.
Listen to Father Richard pray this prayer aloud.

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 13 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.

Image Inspiration: Our state-sanctioned history celebrates explorers who chose separation, conquest, and domination. What if we chose differently and looked instead through our own “windshields” with humility, reverence, and awe for the diversity of God’s creation?

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team. 

News from the CAC

How do we transform in the midst of crisis?

How do communities experience—and collectively transform—crisis? In her recent book, Crisis Contemplation, CAC core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes offers guidance and wisdom on understanding how our communities respond to collective trauma.

Richard Rohr’s Digital Archive of Homilies

Explore the archive of Fr. Richard Rohr’s homilies from his local parish in Albuquerque, NM. Spanning from January 2012 to March 2020, this audio collection features Fr. Richard’s exploration of the Gospel and sermons to his faith community. Listen online or subscribe on iTunes. 

Story From Our Community

As a retired psychologist, I did not believe in evil. One could always provide a diagnosis and explain “bad behavior.” As I reread the words of Jesus, who commanded us to “love one another” and to help the poor, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry… then to witness my own Government take funds from the poor and give it to the rich—I knew this was evil. I look forward to learning more from these meditations.
—James M.
Share your own story with us.

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