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Witnessing to the level of the soul

April 12 marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. On one level it was a conflict over sharp regional differences. On a deeper level it was a bitter four year battle for the national soul. Differences between the Northern and Southern culture and economies could be honored -- and even worked through; but differences would not be tolerated if it meant that an economic engine was powered by slavery. Last week, the Congress and the President averted a government shutdown by reaching a compromise on the federal budget. On one level, it has been a battle between Republicans and Democrats about the economy: how much we can prudently spend; how much debt we can safely carry; how much we have mortgaged our economic future. But on a deeper level it feels to me like another battle for the national soul. Buried in the numbers are the livelihoods of millions of people -- many of them faceless and voiceless. No, they are not enslaved; but they are not entirely free either. More and more people are held hostage by an economic system that has cut them off or shut them out. And the result is a system that commits violence by withholding or withdrawing support. It may not be intentional, but it is still violence. We can endlessly debate economic strategy. We can -- and will, take political sides on the federal budget issue. Fine. But as Christians, we are required to go beyond economics and politics to the level of the soul. And if a system is committing violence by cutting people off, or abandoning them to fend for themselves (which is another way of saying “get lost”), we had better say and do something about it. The economics of it all are confounding and complicated. And I admit that the political dynamics are, in fact, hard to understand. There are those who say the short term budgetary violence is necessary to avoid the greater violence of a financial meltdown. There are tough choices to make. All the more reason to witness to the level of the soul. When we live our lives at the soul level, we cannot escape the honor -- and responsibility, of being brothers and sisters to one another. Next week we will observe Holy Week, which I have always found to be a strange title for such a violent time. Between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, Jesus was the recipient of every form of violence that human beings can inflict on one person -- including betrayal and abandonment. It doesn’t feel all that holy to me. It sounds more like a living hell. Jesus didn’t survive the violence -- at least not during that span of five days. He died. But through it all he stood up to the violence -- with nonviolence; and with the faith that new life would emerge. And it did. And it does. In the mist of all the rhetoric, and the verbal violence that often accompanies it -- lobbed in from both sides, we are called to witness to the level of the soul. In the hope -- and trust, that new life will emerge.

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