Do not worry about what you will say: Images of soul and power

In summer the preaching schedule becomes a little more freewheeling. Not tied to any lectionary or planned series we typically get to choose something we are simply interested in. This Sunday I wanted to reflect on the ‘soul’; that something necessarily tied to the body but that also creates difference or excess in bodily experience or relations. So I was with a topic in search of a text as the preachers say. I finally landed on Matthew 10:39,

Those who find their soul will lose it, and those who lose their soul for my sake will find it.

A significant portion of the sermon went to unpacking the chapter leading up to that statement. Matthew 10 offers the first clear commissioning of the disciples by Jesus. What gets little attention in the notion of commissioning or of the disciples’ ‘mission’ is how the whole section gets initially framed.

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

This is the commission, to go out in authority over that which torments (unclean spirits) and destroys (sickness and disease). The rest of the chapter is basically an unpacking of how this will get you into a lot of trouble. There is trouble because this is a question of authority, this is NOT about individual acts of charity or miracles. This is a mission to engage the powers that torment and destroy. This commission takes very seriously the social nature of torment and destruction; it is to stand with those who are cast out and against those who create stability through the expelling. Those with personal or professional experience working in areas of disability, mental health, race or gender violence, and poverty know all too well the powers that need to marginalize in order to stabilize their control.

What I was not prepared for was how clearly this commissioning would parallel some of the events happening here in Winnipeg as well as Ferguson, Missouri. Here are a couple of excerpts from the sermon,

We are often praised for individual acts of charity but when we begin to name and stand against the powers that inflict the body and the spirits that torment souls we are likely to get some pushback. Jesus encourages the people not to be worried about what they will say when you are confronted. There is a good chance there will be no reasoning in these situations anyway. When we are confronted with the reality that our attitudes or behaviours are directly connected to expressions that are demeaning or hurtful of others we tend to become defensive, we suddenly become unable to hear for ourselves what we could see clearly in others. Jesus, it seems, knows this. Don’t worry about defending yourself. So long as you are addressing the things that deteriorate the body and soul then no defense is necessary you need only stand by and hold out the reality you are trying to draw attention to.

It is hard to acknowledge the powers at work in these debilitating and tormenting spirits. Our prime minister Stephen Harper denies that there are social powers at work in the pervasive violence against indigenous women in Canada. He sees them as isolated crimes. There is a group camped out on the lawn in front of the legislative building in downtown Winnipeg. They are calling on the government to acknowledge and investigate the powers that are tormenting this community. I went down to the camp last week to offer a small gift and word of support and encouragement. I spoke briefly with a woman who was helping to organize this call. At one point she said, humbly, that she trusted that at the right time the right words and the right teaching would be given.

Jesus said,

do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit . . . speaking through you.

These are not lawyers, politicians, and professionals (to be sure there are those within this movement as well). These are people trying to claim authority over the tormenting spirits that plague them. They are speaking from that place in that moment.

This led me to the further thought that NOT worrying about what to say was also a way of resisting the temptation and tendency to be recuperated back into the discourse of the powers, to play into their rules and set of values.

And again,

In the U.S. the ongoing conflict in Ferguson Missouri lays bare the hypocrisy of American culture and how it treats people of colour. The rapper J. Cole released a song in honour of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and in tribute to the ongoing struggle of black people in America against racism.

A line from the song,

“I’m just letting you know / their ain’t no gun they can make that can kill my soul.”

Jesus said,

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

This imagery of body and soul is a reality for people forced to or willing to stand against the powers that torment and destroy. It is a source of embodiment that can be drawn on for strength against these powers.

I have no interest in appropriating these movements and expressions for the Christian agenda (or that Christian theology can *best* understand it) but rather I want to point the church beyond itself to see the ways in which the ongoing struggle of taking authority over the powers that torment and destroy remains active and how we might hear and see and follow the Good News as it occurs today.

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