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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

A Spirituality of Resistance
distributed 4/9/04 - ©2004

I will cry this afternoon. It has become a Good Friday tradition for me.

My Holy Week tears will be born out of a passionate and spiritual connection with the death of Jesus, but not in any abstract, purely historical way. This afternoon, I will feel the reality of Christ's suffering and death, up close and personal.

This afternoon, for the 10th consecutive year, my home church is leading a "Good Friday Vigil Against Gun Violence." In a ritual that draws on the traditional Stations of the Cross, members of several Denver-area churches will travel to numerous sites in our metropolitan area where people have been killed by guns.

One of the recurring sayings from our vigil is, "Jesus is crucified again every time someone is killed with a gun." That is not said lightly, for it recalls the words of Jesus, "As often as you do it to the least of these, you do it to me."

On Good Friday afternoon, through the three hours when Christians traditionally reflect on the agony of crucifixion, we place ourselves in at the sites of brutal, bloody death. We encounter death that has names, faces, places and times that are vividly real.

Each year, we stand in front of the homes, businesses, school yards, fields and parking lots where humans have been shot to death in the previous months. We recall the details of those violent deaths. We read scripture. We sing and pray. And we witness to our grief and our anger at this pervasive, ongoing violence in our midst.

We've been to sites that are notorious; the details of those killings are in the headlines month after month. We've also been to sites where we haven't known the name of the victim, and where the murder was never even reported in the news.

We've been to places where people died in stupid accidents, in drunken brawls, in premeditated murder, in robberies, in police shootings, in suicides, in gang conflicts, and in the randomness of drive-by shootings.

In our prayer, we think of the killers, and the emotions that motivated their actions -- fear, anger, indifference, pride, despair, confusion, bigotry, and even love and responsibility.

And we remember their victims -- female and male, children and the elderly, upstanding members of the community and despicable scum, from all across the spectrum of race and income.

There are two unifying characteristics that tie together the hundred or so people that we have witnessed to in the last decade. All of them were killed by guns, an instrument designed and created for the express purpose of killing. And all of them -- shooters and victims alike -- were beloved children of God.

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Philosopher Roger Gottlieb has written profoundly about a spirituality of resistance, "a spirituality in which evil is not avoided, wished away, or neutralized by a metaphysics that promises that it will be All Right in the End. In this spiritual realm," he says, "we can fully experience the deepest of joys because we engage directly with unjust suffering by opposing it."

In that sense, our annual vigil is a spiritual statement of resistance, a public and passionate cry of "NO!" in the face of murder and violent death. It is resistance against an entire culture of violence -- one that turns too easily to war, one that celebrates cinematic bloodshed as "entertainment," one that finds it possible to see murder as routine.

The vigil is an act of resistance, an announcement that we don't find violence acceptable. By taking to the streets, we insist that those who shoot will not silence us. We will not live in fear, and we will not abandon our deeply-held values of justice and peace.

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I will cry again on Easter morning.

When we enter the church on Sunday, the Good Friday drapings of black cloth will still adorn the sanctuary. Our protest signs from the Good Friday vigil will surround the communion table. The world -- with all of its pain, suffering and death -- is the starting point for Easter. We come as people in touch with grief -- our own, and the world's.

Only from that beginning do we hear the joyous proclamation of the resurrection, and sing the opening hymn of celebration. Only then are the trappings of sorrow stripped away, so that light, lilies, and vibrant color can fill the worship space.

I am always profoundly moved when the proclamation of Easter hope is made in the face of the worst that the world can offer. Even as we acknowledge the continuing presence of gun violence -- and all of the other trauma of the whole creation -- we rejoice in, and commit ourselves to, the loving and transformational power of God.

The resurrection of Jesus is God's act of resistance. In the midst of a violent, selfish and sinful world, God will not be silenced or defeated. God says "NO!" to the worst that the world can do, and "YES!" to the holy vision of shalom -- peace, justice and harmony for all of the creation.

On Easter, and on every occasion when we celebrate the resurrection, we, too, are taking a spiritual stand of resistance. In the midst of this perverse, seductive and destructive society, we announce that we are siding with God. We are claiming life and love as the core of our lives, and our society. We are taking a stand in the face of violence to name a different way of living in this world.

Easter as resistance does not call us to deny the travail of the whole creation. It does empower us to stand firm in our deepest convictions. And that is good news.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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