Home » Essays » Commentary

Category: Commentary

A Day for True Love May (Still) Be More Than You Think

THE COURTLY MONTH OF FEBRUARY makes for the saintly match of charmed lovers and gusty blizzards. It sets forth the marriage of fire and ice.

When I was once-upon-a-time a lad in elementary school, I exchanged with all my classmates a batch of little red Valentine cards laced with white cutouts and presented with tiny pink, heart-shaped candies, soliciting “Be My Valentine.” That was long before it crossed my mind to ask a newly found heartthrob to accompany me to the mid-winter dance on my very first date.

Vintage Valentine (Creative Commons)
Vintage Valentine
Creative Commons

To put it succinctly, she was short and I was tall. When the school photographer ambled about taking impromptu snapshots for the yearbook, he merrily captured from behind my back a stunning photo revealing the presence of my charming dance partner, but disclosing nothing more than her gloved hand resting upon my slender shoulder. Her greater loveliness remained hidden from view of the camera.

Much to my chagrin, minutes later some churlish smart aleck suddenly brushed by the two of us as we danced the fox trot, and cruelly inquired, “Where did you find her? Did you pull her out of a hat?” He swiftly catapulted into the safety of the swirling crowd like the surly “fox” that he was. I distinctly remember being so utterly mortified by his outrageously rude rebuff that I swore to myself never again to speak to him. Despite the eruption of that persecutory moment in the midst of our youthful ecstasy, my lovely Valentine and I, only briefly deterred from our fancied world of bliss, danced on into the night with enchanted eyes fixed upon one another.

Little did I know at the time just how it was that Saint Valentine’s Day came to be. You might say that at its inception it was born of the order of a lover’s “blizzard.” For, as legend has it, Saint Valentine, a third century Christian priest, selflessly ministered to his fellow Christians during the blizzard of persecution instigated by the Roman emperor Claudius. He did so by deliberately defying the emperor’s summons for more soldiers to fight his wars. Saint Valentine, brooking no enamorment of imperial power, proceeded to marry young lovers so that the newly wed husbands could remain home with their wives instead of marching off to battle.

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, Dublin, Ireland (Wikimedia Commons)
Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, Dublin, Ireland
Wikimedia Commons

As the legend goes, the gracious and lovingly kind Valentine was met by the wrath of the emperor’s henchmen who ceremoniously beheaded the priest on the 14th of February. From this act of ultimate sacrifice, Valentine became known as the revered patron saint of lovers far and wide. During the subsequent annual commemorations of his holy feast day, it was said that the birds of the air joyfully sang their songs of seasonal mating. Thus “The Day of Wine and Roses,” now dedicated to the romancing of the hearts of lovers, was granted its nativity in the fire and ice of martyrdom.

As the liturgical season of Lent ushers in its deep consciousness of human sin and suffering, with Ash Wednesday’s imposition of ashes culminating in Good Friday’s draping of the cross in black, the Christian calendar traces yet another straight line back through time, from the unsaintly decapitation of Saint Valentine to the gruesome cruciform hanging of Jesus of Nazareth. The secular mind, if it notices at all, may deem these two events to possess little more than remote likeness, a confluence of historical similarity by now having morphed unrecognizably into the marketable flavor of Godiva chocolates presented with a glass of Champaign wine and a dozen red roses, all very sweet to the scent and taste of postmodern love.

Yet, for the cognizant Christian, with respect to the ancient martyrdom that first took place as a solemn oblation before God—commemorated as Valentine’s Day—such an inauspicious “Saint’s Day” was not to be the unexpected consequence of the bloody sacrifice that preceded it on Good Friday. In both instances human slaughter was exacted at the brutal behest of imperial power. It was concerning just such things that Jesus called his followers to a different way of life: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you.”*

This is not to say that February’s “Day of Wine and Roses” should consist of anything less than the most amorous of glorious celebrations, with rosebuds in hand and grapes of affection adorning the lips. But it is to say that a Hallmark card does not begin to tell the whole story. February the 14th, as we have come to know it, is little more than a gloved hand resting upon a slender shoulder, in contrast to the heavy hand laid upon the head of Saint Valentine, which for the average lover is still hidden from view of the camera.

So, how would it be if we who are Christian were to commemorate February the 14th as a day for true love in the same spirit that Saint Valentine celebrated his defiance of Emperor Claudius in front of the lovers who stood before him, consummated as a martyr’s marriage of fire and ice? What if true lovers everywhere were to join hands and hearts in resistance to imperial edicts that make not for love but for tyranny and war?

Relic of St. Valentine in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome
Wikimedia Commons

How might this change the picture on little red Valentine cards laced with white cutouts presented with tiny pink, heart-shaped candies, soliciting “Be My Valentine”? The reliquary remains at the Shrine of Saint Valentine offer a sobering clue.

When self-absorbed autocrats induce the flame and smoke of repression and war, then the taste of profoundly sacrificial love, which is true to God’s love rather than Caesar’s hunger for power and conquest, is anything but sweet bliss. And when this is so, Caesar invariably takes note.

True love always defies the unjust and unloving ways of bullies and tyrants who by their flagrant abuses of power prey upon the lives and liberties of common folk whose love for one another makes them the true saints.

*Mark 10: 42-43, NRSV

Charles Daivdson

Charles Davidson is a retired Presbyterian minister, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling. He is the author of Bone Dead, and Rising; Vincent van Gogh and the Self Before God (Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock Publishers)

 

©2017 Charles Davidson – An adaptation of the original published in The Presbyterian Outlook, February 11, 2002

 

A Call to Action – Christians in Response to Donald Trump

martin-luther-king-preaching-and-donald-trump

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., declared in a speech exactly one year before his death: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late . . . Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”1

As a nation we are barely beyond the morning after the longest and darkest night in recent history when we witnessed the dawn of the unthinkable: Donald Trump elected as president of the United States. Now we Americans of this beloved land are facing an outcome that far too many welcomed and far too few sought to dispel.

A self-infatuated, heedless, reckless, unstable, and impulsive authoritarian has become captain of the ship of state, surrounded by what may be the most regressive and repressive coterie of advisors and administrators ever to be put in charge of federal agencies.

In view of this ominous development, multitudes of socially conscientious Christians, who are also earnest and committed patriots, are asking the most solemn of moral and ethical questions. What are our Christian communities of faith and our Christian leaders preparing to do right now in response to a potential national and international calamity, before it is too late?

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C.

Dr. King also said: “A time comes when silence is betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”2

Given that a prolonged silence becomes a protracted betrayal, what are Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, and Orthodox clergy, who are first and foremost accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the gospel of God’s Kingdom, openly proposing to their congregations?

In addition to the importance of reassuring words of providential sovereignty (“God is still God despite Donald Trump”) and offerings of healing solace amid appeals for calm in the midst of the storm (“fear not, faithful ones, for God is present in the tempest”), what specific calls to action must emerge from pulpits, ecclesiastical boards and agencies, and ecumenical bodies across this country? Are we Christians effectively organizing for a potential nightmare in the worst-case scenario that events turn dismally dark under the aegis of President Trump and Vice President Pence?

Among the most pressing concerns collectively before us as Christians are these:

(1) The vulnerability of Muslims, Jews, Latinos, African Americans, LGBTQs, and women as the most likely populations to experience private and public intimidation and the imposition by the Trump administration of repressive measures—

Are we Christians and our churches prepared to stand in solidarity with such persons whenever they are the objects of social disparagement or political recrimination?

(2) Mr. Trump’s threat to institute a national registry of American Muslims, in effect placing them under government surveillance as they practice their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of assembly and religion, and as they live their lives peaceably with the same rights to equal protection under the law as the rest of Americans—

Are we Christians and our churches prepared to close ranks with American Muslims for their defense and protection, doing so as the mutual children of Abraham, with Jesus as our prophet-in-common?

(3) Mr. Trump’s slander of Mexicans as “rapists and criminals,” and his repeated threats to deport potentially millions of undocumented persons and workers, most of them being of Latino origin—

Are we Christians and our churches prepared to act in solidarity with such undocumented persons and, if necessary, embark upon movements of massive resistance in the event even small numbers of them are subjected to draconian methods of arrest, detainment, and deportation?

(4) The increased incidents of social vilification and defamation of Jews by virtue of their being Jewish, subjected to disdainful words and repugnant acts of anti-Semitism as a consequence of the election of Mr. Trump as president—

Are we Christians and our churches prepared to act in spiritual solidarity with Jews for their defense and protection, doing so in the name of the One God whose life-giving love and justice we share in common?

In consideration of these concerns, and for the simple reason that we are Christians and Christian communities, it behooves us to raise among ourselves the matter of our willingness to join with those Christian churches that have already opened their doors as sanctuary congregations. And, to do so by offering safe harbor for men, women, and children, including secular and religious minorities, people of color, and LGBTQs whose safety and wellbeing may be at risk due to unjust governmental intrusion upon their lives.

Thus as pastors, preachers, lay leaders, and members of congregations, being aware of the inherent dangers posed to us by such actions, it nonetheless behooves us to declare openly before civilian, military, and police authorities who may be commandeered by Mr. Trump, his administration, the governors of states, or local officials, stating to them boldly: If you attempt to arrest or remove from our presence any of these our beloved sisters and brothers, youth and children, to whom we give Christ’s shelter, then you must also take us with them as fellow captives of your unjust dealings; for we, unlike you, will not abandon them.

WE DECLARE that if President Trump, Vice President Pence, their administration, congressional legislators, or state and local authorities set about to decree and carry out various and sundry laws and directives to alienate, isolate, incarcerate, or extradite unjustly targeted persons and communities under the guise of “national security” or for the pretense of “making America great again,” then in the name of the universal God of love, justice, and mercy, and in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we American Christians and Christian communities, given all our God-given human capacities, stretching from coast to coast, unite our hearts, minds, voices, souls, and bodies as shields and protectors of those sisters and brothers among us who are exposed to imminent peril or harm due to ill-begotten, inhumane, or merciless schemes and actions instituted and undertaken by federal or state governmental authorities, so help us God.

Let it not be said of us by future generations that as American Christians we were among those who waited until it was too late.

Rather, let it be said of us that we solemnly sought to be faithful servants who heard and obeyed the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”3 “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”4 “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”5

Taking Dr. King’s words to heart, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”

It is time to act.

1 “A Time to Break Silence” in I have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World, James M. Washington, ed. (Harper San Francisco, 1992), 151.
2 A likely conflation of elements of several speeches.
3 John 14:15, NRSV.
4 Matthew 25:40, NRSV.
5 John 15:13, NRSV.

This essay was published January 22, 2017 on Vox Populi (A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry) – Click Here for Link

© Copyright 2017, Charles Davidson – All Rights Reserved


Charles Davidson is a retired Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling. He is the author of Bone Dead and Rising: Vincent van Gogh and the Self Before God. He may be contacted through charlesndavidson.com.

 

 

 

Quiet, Please! While The Fox Is Passing!

AMONG THE PURPORTED BLESSINGS OF LIFE in the countryside is nature’s primordial gift of tranquility. This is reason enough to take the wilderness trail that rambles toward Eden.

To a human actor too long accustomed to the raucous rattle of the internal combustion engine in its endless procession over miles of concrete freeways, the world-stage of woods and stream with its hushed panorama of starlit nights and morning mists on the distant mountain is welcome respite to a pilgrim seeking solace for the soul.

This is not to say that nature is well endowed with silence as it once was in that time-before-time when the Earth was a prehistoric habitat, minus creation’s crowning achievement known as homo sapiens (the “wise guy”) whose penchant for disrupting the reigning tranquility with all manner of congestion and noise is among the least admirable of his achievements. The presence of the human actor, on any stage, changes the disposition of the blue bird and the outlook of the fox, to say nothing of the godly lay of the land.

Believe it or not, but here in Campbell County, Va., those who have “generationed” among these rolling hills and farmlands are quite accustomed to the still-to-be-reckoned-with sound of the yelping foxhound driven by a drove of hungry hunters trotting around on horseback. Eager packs of dogs with their noses to the ground, numbering in the dozens, chase passionately through field and forest in unyielding pursuit of the forever sly but increasingly helpless old fox.

Chicken (Domestic)The sputter of the four-wheeled tractor and the screech of the earth-moving bulldozer have long since disturbed the fox’s peace as routinely as any natural four-legged enemy ever did in the wild. Thus the fox by day, which once preyed upon the chicken as sport by night, can hardly find a lively henhouse anywhere that does not belong to the game of agribusiness, which in the free market system has virtually eliminated the free reign of the chicken. In such diminished rural splendor, with beer can and wine bottle flung into nearly every roadside ditch, there is nevertheless, if but for a time, ample supply of the foxhound. It keeps the fox dizzily on the run from the hunter at its back, while losing the battle against urban sprawl at its front.

My yellow Lab, Buddy, and I were on our early morning walk the other day in witness to the spring sunrise that was breaking over the horizon when we spotted the sleek gray form of a fox heading south down the tarmac road in front of us. Its head was turned back, glaring at us, and with little wonder. It was checking to see whether its symptomatic paranoia and depression were sufficient to warrant the fox doctor’s diagnosis of a clinical disorder.Gray_fox_animal_urocyon_cinereoargenteus

If I were the fox instead of the therapist, I would have prayed that the man and his dog keep the Prozac to themselves. Heaven forbid the day when pharmaceuticals find their way into the drinking water! For the last thing a fox needs is to be drugged into a state of euphoria in which all lingering anxiety about the devastating wiles of the human family system into which the fox has been endlessly hounded and gunned down should suddenly dissipate. It is bad enough that the fox’s collective unconscious is no longer able to remember a primordial age that was decidedly pre-human. It will be even worse when the fox’s best defense against extinction, its capacity to produce a birth rate higher than its death rate, no longer works in its favor. To be sure, utter disaster will prevail when the residual effect of “the morning after pill” in the drinking water puts an end to the fox’s survival forever. No wonder the old fellow instinctively turns its head over its shoulder to see what is coming at it from behind. Yesterday it was the foxhound, today polluted rivers and streams.

Likewise, within the greater scheme of nature’s changing state of tranquility, the rumble of the logging truck comes thudding and blundering round the bend in the road where I live, destined for chopping up and spitting out what’s left of a pulp and paper economy in which the fast-growing pine supplants the slow-growing oak and maple. The driver of the Big Mack, with its friction decibels increasing in loud crescendo, careens his way down the same road that the fox takes in search of a safe crossing to the obscurity of shrubs and trees in which to hide its anxiety.

Subsequent to the Fall, the road from Eden was first a fox alley, then a Native footpath, then a horse-and-buggy mud track, then a trail blazed in gravel for the Model-T, and then, at last, a drag-strip for the after-school racings of Generation Y in its red sports car going nowhere faster than it can go everywhere, which is halfway across the world via television and the Internet to every other place of like kind that is short on tranquility and high on discharging energy.

Yes, I thank God for every vestige of quiet that prevails here within this oasis of “New Concord.” At the moment there is nothing stirring other than a gentle breeze fanning the white pedals of the dogwood and the rustling leaf of the magnolia. Neither a cow moans in the distance, nor a cloud billows with lightning and thunder over the mountain. There is deep silence….

Steeple 1 Watermarked
New Concord Presbyterian Church Spire, Concord, Virginia

Well, I should say, there was deep silence. For the carillon inside the white clapboard tower beneath the church steeple is abruptly blasting forth a hymn of glory. Its bells are ripping through the silence like a rocket taking off into outer space. Dog Buddy, his nose to the sky, is howling for all he’s worth, in tune with the mighty Glory. “Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee!” Though like the wanderer, The sun gone down, Darkness be over me, My rest a stone: Yet in my dreams I’d be Nearer, my God, to Thee… wrote Sarah Adams in 1841, six years after this faithful congregation was founded.

“Nearer, my God, to Thee”? We pray Thee all, yes, may it be so.

And if so, then like the fox and the bluebird, who for the most part maintain their silence through all that is spinning around them, we draw our silence before God in the midst of the tumult by standing apart from it. For this is how God draws near to us, first apart, then close at hand.

Wherever we are on this rambling wilderness trail in our return to Eden, given as we are but a fleeting acquaintance with the primordial gift of tranquility, when we pause long enough to listen — to listen deeply — we hear below the surface-noise a holy silence that is solace for the soul.

The secret is in the vigil of watching and listening — listening to what is stirring down under, not only in nature, but at the very heart of nature, that is to say, to what is rousing from the depths of every living creature whom God knows by name and calls by name. Even the fox on the run that falls to the hunter, and the bluebird on the fly that does not return to the nest, and the generations of the human species who fling their anxieties like empty beer cans and broken wine bottles into the far ditch as though there were no tomorrow over which to fret.

We know that we too will observe our silence in due time, when the Spirit is right, when at last the eye is able to see and the ear is able to hear – O, Holy Silence.


Charles Davidson is a retired Presbyterian minister, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling. He is the author of Bone Dead, and Rising: Vincent van Gogh and the Self Before God (Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock Publishers).

© 2017 Charles Davidson —  All Rights Reserved — Originally Published in The Presbyterian Outlook, June 10, 2002