04/6/17 9:36 pm
The 2017 political climate has ushered in a new era of protest. It seems like the ’60s are here again. Marches, rallies, signs, protest songs and petitions are at everyone’s doorstep. ‘Relentless Resistance!’ is the battlecry. In a recent text an American friend declared, “Rise up! Rise up!” Horrific budgets, repressive executive orders and political craziness provide lots of reasons to do so. To say the least, the powers do not seem focused on fostering the common good.
But for every calm protester, it seems there are ten more who are bearing the same furious faces and rhetoric of the very oppressors they are marching against. Angry words are hurled like missiles. The same friend who texted “Rise up!” also swore he’d be the first to yell, “Lock her up!” if a certain White House aide came to his home town. I know my friend to be wise and peace-loving, and was surprised by his future chant which echoed vindictive pre-election sentiment.
This vitriol is virtually everywhere. Speaking the day after the inauguration, an angry Madonna (who said she’d thought about wanting to blow up the White House) had strong words to say to anyone opposing the Women’s March. “F*** you!” she screamed. Equally alarming was seeing the crowd, swept away by the power of being right, cheering with abandon. Her fury is understandable, but its expression seemed to mirror the very leader she opposes, fueling anything but peace.
If we’re honest, it’s easy to become what we hate when the ‘I’m right’ drug sets in. To protest is easy, but to do so with peace and even love for the oppressor seems almost impossible. The Dalai Lama’s words, “Do not let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace,” are easy to live out until someone really gets under your skin. As the peacemaker Ghandi famously said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
As this age of protest unfolded in 2016, our Watershed community was studying Philippians, a letter in the New Testament written by someone familiar with political oppression. Paul the Apostle had every reason to be livid. The injustices inflicted on him from the powers that be were many: he was beaten, stoned and left for dead, threatened, imprisoned, put under house arrest, thrown out of towns and ultimately executed.
His response in jail? He began to sing. He declared that he’d learned the secret of being content in every circumstance, whether he was brought low or had everything he needed.
Instead of being fixated on the enemy, his protest was marked by joy.
For 2000 years, people have not stopped writing, talking, wrestling with and preaching about his response and it left us too with a riddle. We were feeling gutted by election results that seemed to spell doom, yet our anger was confronted by Paul’s response to bad news. How was he able to sing? How was he able to be content? Just how were we supposed to learn this when the “worst” possible news was flooding the media? And what’s more, we weren’t exactly strangers to personal affliction. Among our group was someone with a recent cancer diagnosis, another with chronic, long-term suffering and yet another grieving the loss of a loved one. There’s not a soul alive who is a stranger to suffering. Contentment in dire times seems like a cruel joke, or just for those more saintly than we were feeling.
Responses like Paul’s seem as scarce as gold dust. In 1648, Jeremiah Burroughs knew this when he penned the title of his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. “No matter what befalls me,” he wrote, “I can be content through the grace of God in my heart.” Such well-being in adversity is rare indeed. The book became so popular that it is still being reprinted to this day.
Being diligent students, we decided to try Paul’s words out. As the days of dissent were dawning, it became clear just how timely our study would be. Whether the darkness was in outer or inner circumstances, Paul could help us with a question every protester would do well to ask when things go wrong. What’s at the center of our lives?
Welcome to the Blog
If you are pondering the riddle of how to be joyful in troubling times, then we’d invite you to join our study of this rich and encouraging book. Maybe, along with us, your imagination will be transformed by a Story that can leave you singing in the most difficult circumstances.
Video introduction to Philippians
This 9-minute video from the folks at The Bible Project is an excellent introduction to Paul’s letter. It’s well worth your time.
Question of the Week
Feel free to answer each week’s question in the comment section below to further reflect on the blogpost. We’d love to hear from you!
This week’s question: Share an example from the news, your community or personal life, of someone who embodies “joyful protest”. Someone who seems paradoxically content in adversity?