And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
--3rd verse, "A Mighty Fortress is our God," Martin Luther
Some of you on this blog know that, despite my complete and utter joy in finding the Episcopal Church, there are times that the little Martin Luther that sits upon my shoulder whispers in my ear and reminds me of my Lutheran upbringing.
Well, I have to admit that when I read this post by Sarcastic Lutheran, that little Martin Luther on my shoulder started whispering in my ear, "Now don't forget--you know in your heart you love to shout down evil--and that it has value."
Now, I'm going to be up front--I really don't believe in "the devil" in terms of an evil hobgoblin hiding behind lampposts who skulks around actively trying to trip me up. Personally, I believe what Luther and many others call "the devil" is composed of the darkness between our own two ears--those little thoughts that prey upon our minds and make us feel less than a complete and beautiful created child of God.
But I do believe the individual darkness in each of us can coalesce into things such as the tragedy in Tuscon--and in that sense, that collective darkness becomes a force...the force we know as "evil."
I have been slow to respond to the main story in the news from a week ago--the gunning down of people at a political town hall meeting--simply because it takes time for me to process "darkness." Pondering darkness is not easy for me, because I hear the noise it makes as it tries to suck us into it.
Until Sarcastic Lutheran reminded me I have the tools to shout down evil, I was feeling too powerless to respond. But now, being reminded of a slice of the church of my childhood, I feel strong enough to stand up to it. Not because I, myself, am so big and strong and imposing, but because I have been reminded of the power greater than me in my own baptism.
Ultimately, that force we know as "evil" resides most prominently in those two little letters i-f. As Sarcastic Lutheran points out in her sermon, when we read the Gospel stories of Jesus being tempted, Satan throws that if word around..."If you are the Son of God, well, then, do this, that, and the other." Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, would have been just as susceptible as the rest of us in the power of that word if to cast doubt in our hearts. If, as tiny a word as it is, has the power to cut to the marrow of any of our beliefs.
The word if, I believe, is the word that leads people into becoming atheists and agnostics. I have many friends who simply don't believe in God. So many times when they explain it, their explanation is framed in terms of the broken-ness of the world..."If there really was a God, why do good people die in floods/mean people get away with things/serial killers exist/good people get cancer, etc. etc. etc."
Well, and when you come right down to it, what I hear them saying, is something very heartfelt: "This is the God of my understanding/the God that I've been taught about/the God that got crammed down my throat, and that God really disappoints me. I can't believe in a God like that. So I'd rather just not believe or not deal with it."
I've never understood why the statements of non-belief of atheists, or doubt by agnostics, gets some Christians angry to the point of being incensed. That statement above is one that Christians should feel true compassion when they hear it, because it's a statement that the word if generated. We should feel love and compassion for those statements, because they are based in a very accurate observation that a force of darkness does exist in the world.
What I've seen as a result of the Tuscon tragedy is something similar to post 9/11, but from the other end of the political spectrum...a call to once again seriously look at gun violence in this country...a call to name domestic terrorism for what it is...hard conversations. Conversations that touch all the hot-button topics in each of us.
I think these conversations are so heated and so contentious, because they underscore the deepest ways in which we show where the word if has defeated us. Ultimately, if is manifested in our desire to control something we fear. Every single hot button political issue that we feel strongly about, is about our self-defeat that the word if generated. That's human nature, and it's never going to change. Our fear-based passions will always be there.
But here's a thought--what if we re-frame the power of if? What if we do take a page out of Martin Luther's playbook? Sarcastic Lutheran's sermon tells a story of when Martin Luther felt dogged by the darkness while holed up in a castle translating the Greek Bible into German. He wandered around the castle literally yelling at the darkness, "I AM BAPTIZED."
Notice the other two letter word here--AM. Not "was."
We are not talking about an "over and done" event, here.
We are talking about a continual work in progress that can be active all the days of our lives if we choose to let it be so. A power greater than us also has the power to re-frame if.
One of the things promised at our baptism, that we re-commit to every year when we renew this covenant, is to "persevere in resisting evil," and when we "fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord."
The prayer that is said over baptismal candidates asks "that all" (not just the one being baptized at the moment) "who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection."
We need to stop saying, "I was baptized," and start saying "I am baptized." We need to stop acting like it's all over and done with, and re-align our thinking to accept we are part of a constantly moving, growing, living thing..
Baptism is not stasis. It's moving, flowing, running water. I laugh at how we all fuss about "dunking vs. sprinkling." What I love about baptism in the Episcopal Church is how the priest pours water on the person's forehead and it runs down his or her head. Moving water.
That image that we are riding along together in moving water, has the power to resist evil. We cannot do it alone, but we can do it corporately.
We have the power to re-define if. It starts with changing our attitude from "I was baptized," to "I am baptized."