Monday, January 18, 2010
We Shall Overcome: The Spiritual Art of Resistance and Celebration
There are those that are more local or centralized - wars and rumors of wars of human fashion as well as those disasters of and in nature: earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes.
There are also interpersonal struggles and battles on the very human scale - racism, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia, classism, abelism, to name a few. They harden the human heart and become the cornerstones of systems of oppression in agencies, organizations and governments.
An argument could be made that, on some level, all of the above struggles are part of a global struggle. It's what Howard Thurman called "the tragic fact of life."
Sooner or later you and I are visited by "the tragic fact" - individually, as a neighborhood, a nation or a global community.
"The tragic fact" causes suffering, and suffering is part of the human condition. Our ancient forebears tried to understand it and explained "the tragic fact" with a story about The Garden of Eden.
The moral of that ancient story is that if there is suffering in the world or in our lives, it must be because we have "angered the gods" - or, at least "God." It must be "divine retribution" for a misdeed or serious act, even if it is "the sins of the fathers" which are visited upon us.
The theology of Atonement is built, in great part, as an answer to the question of suffering. Somebody (might as well have been Adam and Eve) did something (might as well have been to have eaten an apple) somewhere (might as well have been Eden) and thus, we needed God to rescue us from our wretched selves.
It's a simple theory and, at a very basic level, it does contain its own logic. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of life were that simple?
Problem is, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus did not put an end to human suffering. His saving grace seems to end at "natural disasters." Doesn't seem to extend to stop prejudice and bigotry and the violence that arises from it. People and nations continue to go to war over the absolute conviction that God is on their side.
Ah yes, you say, but there's 'eternal life'. That's the real gift of Jesus. That's what Jesus redeemed for us. Now, we have a chance to get 'back to Eden' where we'll be in Paradise once again. No more pain and suffering. No more weeping and mourning. There are no "tragic facts" of life in life eternal.
But, what to do about the here and the now? What to do about 'the tragic fact' of the human enterprise?
Well, there are lots of ways to respond to that question. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s response, based on the work of M. Gandhi, was to resist oppression and all oppressive forces. In doing so, he developed a spiritual grounding for the local and global work of active resistance and passive non-violence.
Resistance - refusing to participate or contribute to "the tragic fact" of our own suffering or that of another - is not only a political strategy, it is "good medicine" for the soul.
So is celebrating. Even small victories. And so it was that a small victory of huge proportion was celebrated last night.
Pictured above is Ms. Conroy and our dear friend Pam. Ms. Conroy lost all of her hair due to an hereditary condition known as alopecia universalis. Pam lost all of her hair as a side effect of the chemotherapy she's been taking after she was diagnosed with breast cancer this past summer.
Before the Chemo, however, was the surgery. Two of them, in fact. Then, a third to put in the catheter through which these many long weeks of chemotherapy could be administered.
It's been a rough go. A really, really rough go. If you've ever known anyone who has gone through Chemo, you know what I'm talking about.
Pam has had a week's reprieve from the end of the Chemo and before she begins the next few weeks and months of radiation. She will get daily radiation treatments, Monday through Friday, until March 4.
This . . . this radiation . . . the doctor warned her at the beginning, is reportedly going to make her feel exhausted - especially as the treatment progresses. It's going to "kick her butt," the doctor has said. I don't know how else to describe what the Chemo did.
Here's the thing - Pam, and everyone who loves her, refuses to participate in 'the tragic fact' of cancer or the ugly side effects of Chemo or radiation. It's King's spiritual strategy of resistance practiced on a very deeply, personal level.
This is not some Pollyanna, fiddle-dee-dee fantasy of wishing all the bad stuff away, or simply thinking "positive thoughts" of sunshine, lollipops and roses.
This is hard work. This is active, non-violent resistance against being overwhelmed by a very formidable foe called Cancer and the struggle to kick its butt, thank you very much, if not completely rid her body of its presence.
This is a global struggle being waged on the cellular level which requires the same stamina, the same courage, the same focus of energy as does any other battle.
So, last night, we had an "After the Chemo, Before the Radiation Celebration Party" at the Rectory. Just a few friends from the church for a couple hours, snacking on cheese and stuff and sipping wine.
Then, we toasted Pam with some champagne. She is a s/hero, of this there is no doubt. There is also no doubt - especially in Pam's mind - that she would not be able to wage this spiritual and physical warfare without the support of her community of family, friends and faith.
Somewhere in each of our souls, we understand that every time we bring over a casserole or make a random phone call or send an email or offer to watch the kids or make an entry on her FaceBook Support Page, or remember that she had "a treatment" today - or the other day and might be feeling poorly right now - and shoot over an arrow prayer, we are participating in a radical, revolutionary act.
All of it, all of it, is prayer. All of it, all of it, is how common, everyday, ordinary s/heroes are made.
So, here's to you, Pam, and here's to us and The Spiritual Act of Resistance and Celebration. We need both - resistance and celebration - in our lives, if we are going to triumph over "the tragic fact" of life.
It make take a village to raise a child, but I am convinced that it takes an entire community to beat Cancer.
We shall overcome, my dear friend. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome, one fine day in the not too distant future.
We shall overcome.
We'll just keep resisting. And, celebrating. Every step of the way.