January 24, 2016
+A few months, you might remember, I shared a poem by the German poet and theologian, Dorothee Soelle. It was a poem called “Credo,” and it received quite a bit of positive feedback.
Here it is again:
by Dorothee Soelle
(adapted by Jamie Parsley)
I believe in a God
who created earth
as something to be molded
who rules not by laws
written in stone
with no real consequences
nor with distinction between those
who have and those who have not
experts or idiots
those who dominate and those who are dominated
I believe in a God
who demands that creation
protests and questions God,
and who works to change
the failures of creation
by any means.
I believe in Jesus
who, as “someone who could do nothing”
as we all are
worked to change every injustice
against God and humanity.
In him, I can now see
how limited we are,
how ignorant we can be,
how uncreative we have been,
how everything attempted
when we do not do as he did.
There is not a day
in which I do not fear
he died for nothing.
Nothing sickens me more
than the thought
that he lies at this moment
dead and buried
in our ornate churches,
that we have failed him
and his revolution
because we feared instead
those self-absorbed authorities
who dominate and oppress.
I believe in a Christ
who is not dead
but who lives
and is resurrected in us
and in the flame of freedom
that burns away
prejudice and presumption,
crippling fear and destroying hatred.
I believe in his ongoing revolution
and the reign of peace and justice that will follow.
I believe in a Spirit
who came to us with Jesus,
and with all those
with whom we share
this place of tears
this city of God—
I believe in peace
which can only be created
with the hands of justice.
I believe in a life of meaning and purpose
for all creation.
And I believe
beyond all doubt
in God’s future world
of love and peace.
One of the things I did not mention about Soellee was what KIND of theology it was she followed.
Dorothee Soelle was a Liberation Theologian. And when I first read her back when I was a teenager, Liberation Theology was not only being widely discussed, it was also quite controversial. (Which is why I liked it, of course). Soellee’s books and poems were very important to me back then. And they still are.
And so is Liberation Theology. Liberation Theology jarred me out of my old way of thinking about the Gospels and forced me to look at the message of Jesus as truly a proclamation of liberation to the poor and the disenfranchised. Liberation Theology, which originally focused on the poor in Latin America, is now much more than it was back in those early days. Liberation Theology has spread and been defined and redefined many times. It now encompasses liberation theology for women, for GLBT people, black people, for Asian people, for African people. It’s an important theological expression. The current Pope, Francis, is no doubt a child of this movement, although he is very careful not to associate it with per se.
Back in those early days, Liberation Theology and Marxism were often used together and, as a result, Liberation Theology was seen being ultra-radical. Whatever the case, Liberation Theology is important.
In our Gospel reading for today, we find this seed for all liberation theology. I’ll get into that in a second. First of all, I want to stress that my view of liberation theology has not been political, per se. I know that it’s easy to let this message of Jesus become a political statement.
I once even heard a pastor preach on the fact that Jesus died as a political prisoner, not a religious one—that ultimately the message of Jesus was not religious at all but political. As someone who daily ponders the message of Jesus, who wrestles with it, meditates on it, and who tries, more often not failing in my attempt, to live out the message of Jesus, I am solidly convinced that Jesus’ message was and remains purely religious. It’s all about our relationship with God and with one another. That doesn’t mean that this religious understanding of care for the poor and oppressed shouldn’t fire our political understanding, but I remain firmly convinced that it is ultimately religious.
So, back to our Gospel for today. By Jesus standing and proclaiming who is and what he has come to do, he really sets the standard for us as well.
We too should proclaim our faith in God in the same way. Now, as I say that I don’t mean we should be obnoxious and fundamentalist in our views. I think too many Christians proclaim themselves as Christian with their lips, but don’t live it out in their lives and by example (and I am guilty of this myself).
As the great theologian Richard Rohr famously says, “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.”
Because the Spirit of God was upon Jesus, and because he was appointed to bring good news to the poor, that truly becomes our mission as well because we follow Jesus. Because Jesus breathes God’s Spirit upon us, that same mission that the Spirit worked in Jesus is working in us as well. And we should, like Jesus, stand up and proclaim that mission to others. We, like Jesus, should breathe God’s Spirit on others. That is our mission as followers of Jesus.
How do we do that? Jesus has empowered us to do what he says in today’s Gospel: We are to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of the sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Well, that sounds great. But…how do I do that in my life? It’s easy for priests and poets to do that, you might say. But how do I do that in my own life? What does that mean to us—to us who are here, in this place?
This is what it means: It means that we are not to go about with blinders on regarding those with whom we live and work. It means that we are surrounded by a whole range of captives—people who are captive to their own prisons of depression and alcohol and drugs and conforming to society or whatever. Our job in the face of that captivity it to help them in any way we can to be released.
It means that we are not to go about blind and not to ignore those who are blinded by their own selfishness and self-centeredness. I am still so amazed by how many people (especially in the Church, amazingly enough) who are so caught up in themselves. (I, like all of us, have been guilty of this) I really think self-centeredness is a kind of blindness.
One of the greatest sins in the Church today is not all the things Bishops and church leaders say is dividing the Church. The greatest sin in the Church today:
Self-centeredness. Selfishness. That “Jesus and Me” attitudes that essentially throws everyone else to wayside. Hubris causes us to look so strongly at ourselves (and at a false projection of ourselves) that we see nothing else but ourselves.
By reaching out others, by becoming aware of what others are dealing with, by helping others, we truly open our eyes and see beyond ourselves. When we do these things, we are essentially letting the oppressed go free. And I would add here that our job isn’t only to do this for others. It’s also to do this for ourselves. Just as people become self-centered, so conversely I think some people also deny themselves so completely that they slowly and systematically destroy themselves. They neglect themselves. Which anyone who does ministry on a regularly basis knows we simply cannot do. We cannot help others if we are not taking care of ourselves to some extent. This liberation from oppression, blindness and captivity is just as clearly proclaimed to ourselves as it is to others.
It’s all about balance.
Finally, we are called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This is simply the icing on the cake. Once we have proclaimed liberation, we must then proclaim God’s blessings on us. God favors a liberated people. God does so , because God can only effectively work through a people who have been liberated from captivity, blindness and oppression.
This to me is where the heart of true liberation theology lies. Although I still believe that liberation theology needs to speak to the poor and oppressed of the world, I also have realized quite acutely that the poor and oppressed of our world—here and now—are not only those who are poor financially. The poor and oppressed of our world are those who are morally, spiritually and emotionally poor, as well.
The oppressed are still women and Gay and Lesbian and bisexual and transgender and asexual people and those who don’t fit the social structures of our society. They are the elderly and the lonely. They are the criminals and those who are leading quietly desperate lives in our very midst. We, as followers of Jesus, are to proclaim freedom to all those people who are on the margins of our lives both personally and collectively. And often those poor oppressed people we need to be proclaiming this year of the Lord’s Favor to might be our own very selves.
This is the year of the Lord’s favor. I am not talking this particular Year of Our Lord. I am talking about this moment and all moments in which we, anointed and filled with God’s Spirit, go out to share the Good News of Jesus by word and example.
This moment we have been given is holy. And it is our job is to proclaim the holiness of this moment. When we do so, we are making that year of the Lord’s favor a reality again and again.
So, let us proclaim the good news. Let us bring sight to the blind, and hope to those who are oppressed and hopeless. Let us be liberation theologians in our deeds to those who are crying out (in various ways) for liberation which only Jesus and his followers can bring. And when we do, we will find the message of Jesus being fulfilled in our very midst.