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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 newfound 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, writer and editor, 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

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, writer, and editor, 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.

 

 

 

When Darkness Descends

WHEN DARKNESS DESCENDS UPON A NATION at the hands of its leaders who “lord it over them,” the people will rise up in righteous indignation and their prophets lead the way. The tides of massive resistance will amass across the land rather than cower before the ploys of pernicious politics.

Those who value truth, justice, and compassion above the exploits of the powerful who deal in falsehood, injustice, and coercion will exhibit solid spine in counteraction to the capitulations of spineless politicians. For in the pursuit of goodness it is undaunted courage that displaces fear, and resilient love seeking righteousness that shines light to cast out the shadows of evil deeds.

We must remember that already President-elect Donald Trump has sufficiently demonstrated that he intends to be a bully president. Psychologically he is an autocrat whose emotional development was arrested in adolescence when his bully-identity solidified. He gains a sense of personal empowerment by willfully attacking and threatening others. Revenge, as he has admitted, is his weapon of choice. He will delegate his henchmen to extend the scope and chilling effect of his dirty work. Addicted to his own will-to-power, his anti-social behaviors will be prone to multiply as he assumes the reins of power.

The test of America’s strength from its legislatures to its courts and state houses, to all its diverse communities of citizens throughout the land, will be measured by our collective ability to withstand Mr. Trump’s onslaughts to the very integrity of our life together in this democracy.

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia
Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia

Americans must respond to Mr. Trump as the authoritarian that he is, prepared to meet him on the battlefield of moral and political discourse and decision-making, armed with the scepter of truth and the sword of justice. We can expect Trumpian witch hunts and possibly even worse, and we must be prepared to meet them head-on and to protect the vulnerable and defend the defenseless. It is our moral obligation to do so as American citizens. For those of us who are Christians it is imperative. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” For if we do not remain vigilant, we shall be in grave danger of losing our freedom.

The picture becomes clearer with every passing day. Mr. Trump’s strong-arm tactics are quickly taking root through his transition team, as in the case of the lengthy questionnaire presented to the U.S. Department of Energy, designed to single out those who had attended events and conferences pertaining to the science of global warming, which included questions such as these:

# 1 – “Can you provide a list of all boards, councils, commissions, working groups, and FACAs [Federal Advisory Committees] currently active at the Department? For each, can you please provide members, meeting schedules, and authority (statutory or otherwise) under which they were created?”

# 27 – “Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings? Can you provide a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, EPSA emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings?”

# 29 – “Which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan?”

# 40 – “Can you provide a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in the last five years?”

# 71 – “Can you provide a list of current professional society memberships of lab staff?”

# 72 – “Can you provide a list of publications by lab staff for the past three years?”

# 73 – “Can you provide a list of all websites maintained by or contributed to by laboratory staff during work hours for the past three years?”

Thus we have an example of the repressive measures by which totalitarian tyrannies can quickly arise and impose themselves upon government institutions and beyond. The effect is to establish an atmosphere of intimidation, fear, and suspicion, to turn employees against employees, to make Americans distrust fellow Americans, and to set the stage for black lists and purges. It is a stratagem that comes straight out of a dictator’s playbook.

Again, Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

iniemol001p1
Martin Niemöller

We should heed the warning of the late German pastor, Martin Niemöller, who spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps for his opposition to Adolf Hitler:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

 

© 2017 Charles Davidson — All Rights Reserved

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Charles DaivdsonCharles Davidson, writer and editor, 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).