Resistance

Resistance and Survival

The books of Luke, Acts, and 1 Peter dominate the readings this month; Peter and Paul are key players. Passages from Acts replace those from the Hebrew Bible so that the only He­brew content is the Psalms. This leaves us seemingly cut off from the prophetic tradition and the reality of Jesus and his companions as Jews. It also brings into sharp focus the struggles of the early church in the years after the crucifixion.

As Christianity spread from Palestine into other parts of the Roman Empire, the various communities swung between resistance and assimilation. In their quest to survive this hostile environment, they sought both to establish an identity and to present Christianity as nonthreatening to Roman authority and decorum. In this bid for survival, those who were least valued in the Roman patriarchal household—women and slaves—were in some sense abandoned. Unfortunately, the later church, and even modern churches, have read this compromise as a mandate.

In a talk on prophetic religion, Junaid Ahmad, a progressive Muslim, reflected on his many invitations to speak to other faith groups, with the implication that he is to show why Islam is not threatening. He counters with the challenge, “Why is your faith not a threat? In the face of a dehumanizing global economy that is an affront to the divine, why have you abandoned the prophetic call of your tradition?” Is “nonthreatening” the best people of faith can do?

Laurel A. Dykstra is a scripture and justice educator in Vancouver, British Columbia. www.laureldykstra.com

April 6

Heads, Hearts, and Bellies

Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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Revolution of the Spirit

In August 2007, in response to a massive government-mandated rise in oil and gas prices, public protests began in scattered towns around Burma. Buddhist monks took the lead in the growing number of marches for justice and freedom that, by Sept. 24, had risen to 100,000 people in the city of Yangon alone.

In mid-September, I was in Yangon facilitating a workshop about Gandhian nonviolence. After our daily discernment, one of my Burmese friends—I’ll call him Mahn—suggested that we go to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Dazzling gold, one hundred meters high, and visible for miles, Shwedagon is not only the most sacred shrine in Burma but also, for many, a symbol of Buddhist resistance to oppression. It was here on Aug. 28, 1988, in the midst of an earlier nonviolent uprising against the government’s brutal policies, that Aung San Suu Kyi addressed a crowd estimated at between 300,000 and 1 million people. The monks’ protest marches in September started with prayers at Shwedagon.

For several hours Mahn and I wandered, barefooted, over the massive grounds amid thousands of pilgrims and tourists. Often Mahn would go into a shrine, bow, kneel, and pray. Although the government-controlled press wasn’t reporting it, we knew from the grapevine that demonstrations were spreading around the country amid mounting anger at the plummeting economic situation.

Slowly the people were overcoming their fear—usually a trump card of bullies and oppressors—and publicly joining the struggle. There was nonetheless caution. At the outset of my visit I was told not to say the name Aung San Suu Kyi but only, in a soft voice, refer to “the Lady.”

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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