From ‘Yes, but’ to ‘Yes, believe’

Mary Magdala Community

1st Sunday of Lent,  2021  — Combined Eucharist of Inclusive Catholics, Melbourne and Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community, Wisconsin

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div.,Ph.D.

January 6 will become in the United States, I’m afraid, a National Day of Shame, just as November 22 is a Day of Loss.  To this day the assassination of President Kennedy rallies us to the strength that is born of tragedy.  The January 6 assault on our Capitol reveals, and will for years to come, the fragile nature of democracy.  For the sake of keeping a self-styled strong man in office some of our fellow citizens have shown themselves ready to bypass all the values of self-governance and only listen to the Big Lie.  They have spoken and violently acted upon a “yes, but” view of raw nationalism.

“Yes,”  these citizens say, “we sing patriotic songs and carry national flags and spout words about the greatness of America.  But, what we really want is the white race to cling to power at all cost.”  ‘Yes, but’ – that is their view of America.  We pronounce and sing our Yes to our country, but only so that we may strong-arm our way into power and keep it in the name of white might making right.

Maybe you agree with me that, for the foreseeable future, America’s attempts to lecture other nations that struggle with democracy will also be met with ‘yes, but.’  Those other nations will respond to such hollow speeches, “Yes, but get your own values straight, get your own house in order.”

“Yes, but” is a strategy used by authoritarian institutions that make claims on always being right.  Here in America, and I would guess in Australia and other countries, the Roman Catholic Church has just such a “yes, but” policy toward any number of groups.  I’ll only mention here the divorced and remarried Catholics.  The institution puts marketing dollars into Welcome Home Campaigns.  The message of this marketing appears to be saying, “Yes, you may have slipped away from the Church, but we want you back.  Come back to church.”  You’ll pardon my slightly cynical response to this message – particularly when divorced and remarried people, who see this as an honest invitation, are told upon their return that they cannot receive the sacraments.  Yes, come back, but you are not worthy – not one of us.  How many other groups have been treated the same.

Turns out there’s a whole pile of books and a whole lot of time has been spent on negotiating through these “Yes, but” strategies.  The goal is to guide people from “Yes, but” to mutual agreement.  I’m guessing we all have had our own times of trying to figure out what it means to wind up in “win-win” situations.  I’m not a parent so my negotiating skills with teenagers have never been developed, but I have been a clergyperson in the Western world’s longest running religious institution.  I am familiar, and perhaps you are too, with this version of “Yes, but.”  There is no getting to win-win with them.  Their goal is not mutual agreement, but dominance.

The Season of Lent provides us with the challenge to move from “Yes, but” with its denial of the yes by carrying out the but, of making light of or even dismissing fundamental values in order to bully through with gross power.  We can in this Season of penitence return to “Yes, believe.”  We can move from exclusion and dominance to inclusion and welcome.  Which gets us to the passage we just heard from the Gospel of Mark.  “Reform your lives and believe in the Good News.”  Say “yes, and believe.” No ifs, and, or buts.

If those who believe in the Big Lie spoke the Yes of believing in the Golden Rule as Jesus teaches it, no one would have died on Capitol Hill on Januray 6.  If those who believe that the white race is under assault really practiced the Christianity they profess there would be a revolution of Christ-bearers who would be nonviolent in their actions.

We’re told that those who stormed the Capitol are true-believers.  Yes, they believe.  But, let’s be clear.  What they believe is not Gospel, not the Good News.  There is no connection, Evangelical or otherwise, with those who have replaced their theology, their faith with right-wing politics and violence.  These are folks who love to carry their guns into church.

We are starting another Lent, one more opportunity to believe in the Good News.

So, I ask, what part of the Good News will you believe in this Lent?  What is your Yes?

A  Prayer

In the depths of life we find you

     At the heart of this moment

     At the center of our soul

Deep in Earth and its eternal stirrings.

You are Ground of all being,

     Well-spring of time,

     Womb of Earth,

     Seed-force of stars.

At the opening of day and the waning of evening

     We wait

Not for blessings from afar

      But for you – here and now –

                The very Soil of our soul

                Early freshness of morning

                Late ripeness of evening

                     First Breath of day

                     Restful Breath of evening.

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