Thich Nhat Hanh and Radical Discipleship

By Ric Hudgens

In the past six weeks, our community has lost bell hooks (December 15) and Jim Forest (Jan 13). Then earlier this week, on January 22, the great teacher of engaged Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, passed. All three were linked. bell hooks wrote a foreword to The Raft Is Not the Shore, which are the transcribed dialogues between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. The final book that Jim Forest published was entitled Eyes of Compassion: Living with Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thich Nhat Hanh also had a connection with Dr. Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton. This places him as a surprisingly central figure in the history of our community. Because I already was finding these intersections fascinating, I was and was not surprised to discover an encounter between Thich Nhat Hanh and the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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In Spite Of

By Ric Hudgens, a sermon for North Suburban Mennonite Church in Libertyville, Illinois

During this quarantine, I’ve been listening to music from an earlier period of my life. I’ve been going through my music collection and replaying songs from a time that was not bound by seclusion, confinement, vulnerability. My daughter observed that it’s been good medicine for me.

Last night I was listening to an old album by the Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn with the line “got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.” This is an image of Easter “in spite of.”

When a martial artist wants to break a board, they envision punching through the board. The target is not the board itself but a spot just past the board. If you target the board you will pull your punch. To break the board, you have to punch through the board.

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We Are Seeds

By Ric Hudgens

I am thinking about people who live their lives as if they were seed.

The Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos (1931-2020) wrote in 1978: “what didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.” (translated by Nicholas Kostis).

Young Mexican activists started a movement using a similar phrase in 2013 after 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Mexico: “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.” (see the blog entry with the same title, An Xio, Hyperallergic, July 3, 2018).

Even Jesus of Nazareth had said something similar 2,000 years ago: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).

We often think in metaphors about human life and the living of our own lives. Kirstie Pursie offers seven that are common: climbing a mountain, taking a journey, tending a garden, building a house, a race, a battle, a prison. (Kirstie Pursie, “7 Metaphors for Life: Which One Better Describes You and What Does It Mean”, Learning Mind, March 20, 2019). All of these are illuminating. There is probably a metaphor (or several) hidden in your life.

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A Deeper Lent

By Ric Hudgens (right), a reflection from the Ash Wednesday service at North Suburban Mennonite (2/17/2021)

It feels as if we’ve been observing Lent all year. Always Lent and never Easter.

Almost a year ago we started wearing masks, separating from family and friends, working from home, moving to remote worship services, learning to sublimate desire on a daily basis. As the poet Anne Sexton wrote: “Your courage was a small coal that you kept swallowing.” 

I’m tired of swallowing coal.

Under normal circumstances (remember those?) I anticipate and savor the season of Lent. I savor how it focuses on our finitude, the certainty of our death, and our organic connection to the earth. The imposition of ashes and the declaration “dust thou art, to dust thou returneth” is a clarifying reassurance in the midst of much that is uncertain and confusing.

Although these elements are not the entirety of the Christian message, they have always seemed to me fundamental and necessary.

I love this season for its potential earthiness. Lent’s ability to ground us in the physical realities of our bodies and of our daily lives. I appreciate that recurring discovery that an annual confrontation with death can be a life-giving experience.

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The Liberating Spirituality of Vincent Harding

By Ric Hudgens

PC: Ryan Rodrick Beiler

In homage to Black History Month, I’m reposting this essay about one of my heroes Dr. Vincent Harding (1932-2014). This is slightly edited from the original which was written for “The Movement Makes Us Human”, Rock! Paper! Scissors!, Vol 1, No 1, edited by Joanna Shenk, 2018. A bit out of the beaten path of these essays, but revealing the roots of my own journey through this time.


We knew how blessed we were by the gifts of Vincent Harding as a historian, educator, and “veteran of hope.” Less known is the contribution Harding made to the development of the first generation of black theology. 

Theologian Dwight Hopkins writes that Harding “has had a profound effect on the development of contemporary black theology in the United States, particularly the young black theology of the 1960s and early 1970s.” Harding’s essays in the mid-1960s preceded James Cone’s writings and described a religious spirit rooted in the beauty, horror, and creativity of the black experience. But Harding disavowed any formal interest in black liberation theology. “I’m much more interested,” Harding told Hopkins, “in the liberation of spirituality.” It’s the contribution of Vincent Harding to liberation spirituality that interests me here. [See Dwight Hopkins, Black Theology USA and South Africa: Politics, Culture, and Liberation, “Vincent Harding,” Wipf & Stock, 2005, pages 81-84].

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By Ric Hudgens (Quarentine Essay #89)

The violence that conservative Christianity embraces is not its only problem. “Guns, God, and Guts” may be their cry, but their reality is also linked to white body supremacy. Violence, racism, and religion, that unholy trinity, are as American as apple pie.

Throughout these essays, I’ve addressed the abiding racial injustice underlying and pervading this crisis. Our health inequalities mirror our socio-economic inequalities, and all of them rest upon a foundation of institutional white racism. Racism is America’s original sin, and white supremacy is woven into the warp and woof of our national fabric. 

The events of January 6, 2021, will become one of those moments we look back on (like the 1965 march in Selma) when America’s racist reality was stripped bare for everyone to see. The battle cry from the Capitol steps to “take back our country” is an anguished cry. It is the cry of White Christian Americans fearful of their freedom to remain dominant over all other Americans who are neither White nor Christian.