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.

Introduction

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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INSURRECTION AND ITS ALLIES: A CHRISTIAN REFLECTION / PART TWO

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.

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INSURRECTION AND ITS ALLIES: A CHRISTIAN REFLECTION

By Ric Hudgens (Quarantine Essay #88 )

Wednesday morning, January 6, I was elated with the results from Georgia. Two Democratic Senate seats won and a chance for the Biden administration to make some real progress in repairing the past four years’ destruction. I began to write an essay focused on Van Jones’s CNN comments on “Black joy won over White rage in Georgia” (still a recommended listen). The proven impact of both grassroots organizing and the extension of voting rights gave me a glimpse of hope for the American future. Maybe 2021 would not be as bleak as 2020.

But the mob activity in Washington, DC that afternoon, plus the subsequent investigation that revealed some of the intentions of those invaders, left me in agreement with Elaine Godfrey in The Atlantic – “It Was Supposed To Be So Much Worse” (The Atlantic, January 9, 2021).

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Seeing 2020

By Ric Hudgens (right)

This is the year that reveals every “new” year
for the empty symbol it is. Useful for keeping
records, filing documents or measuring our
annual rate of growth, twelve months merely
marks another planetary lap around the sun.
That is all it means. So make some whoopie
if you want, but something has to finish before
the new begins. It’s still not over. The lying
doesn’t end here, but neither does the truth.
Thousands more, someone you never expected,
will die, things hidden will be revealed, and,
dependably, we will learn of goodness abiding
despite. Hold your friends close (we know who
they are now), and keep your enemies
in view. Our tumult continues, and justice
requires a longer arc. I am stuck in the middle
with you. 2020 disappears in the small print.
Our vision may never be so clear again.