Lent and Unrelenting Brutality

A Reflection and Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Artwork by Steven Smith

“Emergency” is the right word for the brutality that borders so much of our manageable, even comfortable lives. Today, a friend recalls the prophet Joel’s call: “Rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:13).

Lent calls us to see more of the wilderness around us, to remove a little more of it from inside us, and resist the temptations to put ourselves in service to evil powers, for whatever seeming gain.

This Lent I feel more brutality and pray for sustenance from those ravens, visible and invisible, that kept Elijah and John the Baptist and Jesus sustained in the desert. They kept up their strength to spot the demonic, to call it out, and to cast it out. May we have some of that divine power that inhabits every truthful and compassionate word and act.

The bullying spirit that infuses the policies on our land border with Mexico and re-traumatizes Central American families and children is deliberately brutal, intending to keep people away. This does not strengthen the United States: children in cages being violated in many ways. That wounding is far more grievous than any grievance of hurt feelings or fears.

We feel ashamed by excuse-making for tyrants like Kim Jong Un, Mohammed Bin Salman, Vladimir Putin, and, yes, Benjamin Netanyahu—for the shootings along the Gaza border and what our General Assembly has called a “brutal occupation”. Forgive us for our inevitably selective outrage. Only a principled commitment to human rights for all can withstand bigotry and racism. Only “honest patriotism,” able to confess national misdeeds, can resist corrupting nationalism.

In Congress this week, one of two Muslim representatives may be attacked for speaking out for the Palestinians: wolf pack behavior. Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. The Spirit of the Hebrew prophets lives! And that Spirit—God’s Spirit—blows where it wills. Does it also reveal our own hardness of heart toward the Muslims in Afghanistan, the terrorized Rohinga from Burma, the ISIS remnant in Syria whose end we—US Americans and allies– seek?

The brutality that worships weapons, from handguns to massive military budgets, stealing from a global green future, perverting science and technology, making war on nature itself; can we stand our Earth’s ground, with the water-protectors, in healthy cities and recovered hollows?

And when we look to the church, which Christ calls to be “one” with Him in the face of all that would hurt or divide, we pray for our Methodist friends, still in the wilderness, fighting demons of homophobia, and experiencing an ironic blowback from our colonial past. The power of sexuality lends itself to so much projection and confusion, sexism and repression.

From the rage that brutality creates, let us unbatter all hearts with that mind of redemption, seen in the one who humbled himself in human vulnerability. As Jesus set his face to the Jerusalem of his day, let us set ours toward a new Jerusalem of peace.



Author Bio: Chris Iosso, Unbound’s senior editor, is working with several study teams approved by the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, including one that is seeking sermons that venture to speak about Jerusalem.

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