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Woensdregt: Taking Heart in Holy Anger

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

One of my favourite prayers of all time is the prayer offered by Episcopal Bishop Eugene Robinson at the first inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. The second half of the prayer expressed Robinson’s hope that God would bless Obama with wisdom and strength to lead the nation in perilous times. The opening half of the prayer seeks God’s blessing on us. Let me quote it in full:

“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

“Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

“Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

“Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

“Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

“Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

“Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

“Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.”

We need strong prayers like that in these days, as we seek to strengthen us in our faith to stand against evil. We need people who are willing to stand up to the authoritarian despot living in the White House who rules through fear, hatred and lies. We need people who speak the truth boldly, who are seized by a holy anger, who speak the truth of God’s compassion and love into a situation of inhumane action.

A quotation attributed to Edmund Burke gives us our marching orders: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” We cannot do nothing.

God bless us with anger … God bless us with discomfort … God bless us with a strong hope to motivate and energize us to speak out, to do what we can in our own situations, to uncover the lies and hold the hatred up to the light of truth and hope.

What can we do in the face of this appalling, subhuman behavior? Many have suggested routes of action.

We can speak boldly. This is what the prophets of old did as they spoke truth to power. We can do as they did to communicate the truth in whatever ways we can. This is not about conservative or liberal values. The Trump administration has stepped over the line multiple times, and he has dared to use Christian faith to legitimate his hunger for power and his greed for greater wealth.

We can connect with others, joining together with others who want to do something constructive. If we are isolated, we will become depressed about our ability to do anything at all.

We can vote. I know that this is another country … but if we fail to vote in our own jurisdiction, it can happen here as well (I am watching Ontario carefully, wondering if that’s the canary in the Canadian coal mine). It’s happening in other places … in Austria and Italy and Germany and France. We must ever be vigilant, or we could fall victim.

We can give money to organizations which are banding together to act. However much or however little we can give … give. Give to organizations who are working for justice, whether it be for immigrants and refugees, for justice for women and LGBTQ persons, for Truth and Reconciliation with our aboriginal neighbours … give.

We can protest and defend democracy. Resist the lies. Uncover the hatred. Rage against the perversion of democratic values which we see in this government.

We can live positively and compassionately. I have renewed my personal pledge to speak the truth gently and with love. I have enrolled in an online course which helps us learn to live and speak as compassionately as possible. I will work hard to build bridges, not walls. I will seek to be more inclusive and loving in the way I love.

We can take heart. The poet Renny Golden entitled one of her collections of poetry, “Struggle is a name for hope.” We are not alone in our anger. We are together, and together we can take heart.

As we do so, we join the company of ancient prophets who spoke truth to power, who helped us dream of a world of compassion, grace, truth, and love. As we engage with the lies and inhuman treatment of others, we join the company of Jesus whose central message was about the kingdom of God coming to birth amid the kingdoms of this world.

More about that next week.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook