Yesterday morning I received an email alert from a newly formed activist group in Milwaukee with a long list of things we simply have to do in the next several days to resist Trump else we are surely doomed. Why is it that I felt obligated and exhausted rather than energized and called by God? Don Burton offered this response: “The Lutheran answer to your question is life in the world is life under the law. It makes us ‘feel obligated and exhausted.'”
So how do we discern some means of living out the Gospel, rather than the Law, through justice ministry and public engagement? Perhaps through relationships, prayer, contemplation and a bit of humor? We’ll see. I hope the upcoming Just Elders retreat will offer some light and wisdom. None of us needs more frenetic activity under the guise of “resistance.” Then Trumpdom will have been victorious in claiming our souls which is, of course, the fantasy of all empires.
In this spirit, here is one of my favorite quotes from my dear friend and mentor (I so miss him!) Daniel Berrigan: “There is a cult, an idolatry of action. There is an idolatry, a cult of prayer. The first is a mad escape, the second a consumer item, a narcotic. . . Each taken alone, activism, passivism, without the other, is hardly recognizable as a human activity; the activists grow sour, violence-prone; the meditators dwell on the moon, lunar. The question is not merely one of integrating these two. The question is how to recover each of these two, shapeless, defamed and lost: meaningless action, pointless prayer.”
And, as a warning against my own tendencies towards self-protection and security, this admonition which I received in a letter from Philip Berrigan sent to me from prison in March of 1998 where he was serving time for Christian witness against warfare: “In so much of human experience we are forced to distinguish among the victims, the victimizers, and the bystanders. The bystanders are the most curious; they are the ordinary human article who stay home – safe enough if compliant enough. They can’t be charged with taking part in any evil act; they watch as evil proceeds. They create the norm, define what is common. When a whole population takes on the status of bystander, the victims are without allies.”