Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann on Elders


(an excerpt from her “Editor’s Note” in the May 1999 issue of The Witness magazine, organized around the theme “Aging: Learning to be an Elder.”) Check out Radical Discipleship blog.

by Jeannie Wylie-Kellermann

Elders usually must let go of their expectations to be power brokers, but they are also often positioned in a way that allows them greater freedom to act politically. Recently my partner Bill and I were at an Ash Wednesday vigil at the local manufacturer of cruise missile engines. Except for a few college students, we were probably the youngest people there–which isn’t saying much since we are in our 40s. On one level, that gave us an opportunity to beat ourselves up for our demographics–Why is the peace movement so white, so middle class and now so elderly? But in thinking about it, where would we prefer that elders be? What better task, could they adopt than to witness against fire power that can carry nuclear payload, but now is used in first-strike attacks against countries like Iraq or the former Yugoslavia? The conviction of these older ones is a gift to us. (I remember during a civil disobedience campaign against this same manufacturer in the early 1980s hearing a senior citizen say to a young mother who was agonizing about whether to do the action, “You take care of your babies. I’ll do this in your name and, before long, you can do this in the name of another mother.”)

I find myself increasingly willing to listen. I hope that the elders in my life will be willing to speak and that my generation (You remember us? We’re the ones who said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”) will step up to the need when our turn comes. I guess we’ll have to believe that we’ve learned something and trust that it can be communicated. Of course, no one has ever complained that the baby boomers were reluctant to speak their minds or under-confident in their opinions. We’ll manage.

Some mysterious tension lies in the balance between the humility that elders learn as they relinquish power in the workplace and, perhaps, succumb to physical challenges or illnesses, and the breadth of perspective they gain as elders. They can teach us that some things won’t be changed, that some things deserve to be protested even if they are unlikely to change, that life is short and that younger people generally take it too seriously, chasing their tails when they could be giving thanks. Perhaps our elders can help us learn to relax, to take delight, to notice creation as well as to step up to challenges as we see fit and feel called. Perhaps they will remind us that the One who set this whole thing, often quite messy, in motion is a loving God.–Radical Discipleship

Nansemond Nation in Virginia

2016 Nansemond Nation powwow in southern Virginia

My June spirituality column for Sojourners reflects on my money practices. One practice I’m working to incorporate into my life is paying Native organizations an “entrance fee” when I enter their sovereign territory. This is part of what community economics leader Chuck Matthei called my “social mortgage” (or reparations) to offset my unearned economic privilege. I do this because I’m a Christian.

When I traveled from D.C. to Norfolk, Va, a few weeks ago to celebrate Rev. Dr. Yvonne V. Delk’s birthday and new anointing to ministry, I did a little research on the Indigenous community there: the Nansemond Indian Nation. I made a modest $25 donation. It took about 3 minutes.

I got a note back: “Thank you so much for visiting Norfolk and for remembering us. Your support is greatly appreciated and a wonderful reminder that there are visitors who care about our ancestors and tradition. We wish you and your family blessings and hope that you will visit us again soon!”

This practice provides me with a chance to learn a little bit more about the people whose homeland I’m entering:

Nansemond, are the indigenous people of the Nansemond River, a 20-mile long tributary of the James River in Virginia. Our tribe was part of the Tsenacomoco (or Powhatan paramount chiefdom) which was a coalition of approximately 30 Algonquian Indian tribes distributed throughout the northern, southern, and western lands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Our people lived in settlements on both sides of the Nansemond River where we fished (with the name “Nansemond” meaning “fishing point”), harvested oysters, hunted, and farmed in fertile soil. …

The nation recently received federal recognition through the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017,” signed into law by President Donald Trump in January 2018, The bill granted federal recognition to six Indian tribes in Virginia, including the Nansemonds. This allows the tribe to have legal standing with the U.S. government and access to educational scholarships, health care services, and other benefits. This federal recognition took generations of pressure, conviction, and organizing from tribal members.

What I learned about religious freedom

I just finished reading a new Vatican document on religious freedom. (You were warned.) I didn’t understand most of it. But there were a couple of sections (from the very poor English translation) that I want to ponder at greater depth.

Here’s what I like: it invites a new models of relationship between religious freedom and civil democracy; reminds of the primacy of individual conscience with God; frames Christianity as an alternative to the religious cults of empires; links forced migration to an opportunity for greater religious freedom and respect; a “living faith” sometimes requires conscientious objection; the gospel can unmask even the evil embedded in the Church; any religious violence in word or deed should cause us to rethink our understanding of our own religion; and the Christian response to targeted violence is supreme nonviolence, even to persecution or martyrdom.

Excerpts from RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOR THE GOOD OF EVERYONE (International Theological Commission, Vatican, 2019).

“The imposing season of migrations of entire peoples, whose lands are now rendered hostile to life and coexistence, above all due to an endemic settlement of poverty and a permanent state of war, are creating, within the West, structurally interreligious, intercultural, inter-ethnic societies. Would it not be time to discuss, beyond the emergency, the fact that history seems to impose the true invention of a new future for the construction of models of the relationship between religious freedom and civil democracy?” (#9) 

40. This truth of the human condition appeals to the person through moral conscience, that is, the “judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is about to put, is performing or has accomplished” [33] . The person must never act against the judgment of his conscience – which must be properly formed, with responsibility and with all the necessary aid. On his part, it would allow him to act against what he believes to be the need for good and, therefore, ultimately, God’s will [34] . Because it is God who speaks to us in that “most secret and sacred shrine of man, where he is alone with God” [35]. And, to the moral duty of never acting against the judgment of one’s conscience – even when it is invincibly erroneous – corresponds the right of the person to never be forced by anyone to act against his conscience, especially in religious matters. The civil authorities have a correlative duty to respect and enforce this fundamental right within the right limits of the common good. (#40)

There is no lack, to be in the context of the Roman Empire, of attesting to Christian resistance in the face of the persecutory interpretations of religio civilis and the imposition of the cult of the emperor [60] . The emperor’s religious cult appears as a true alternative religion to the Christological faith – which represents the only authentic incarnation of the lordship of God – imposed by violence by political power [61] . (#59)

A “state theocracy”, as well as a “state atheism”, which claim, in different ways, to impose an ideology of replacing the power of God with power of the State, respectively produce a distortion of religion and a perversion of politics. (#61)

In fact, one of the most striking data, regarding the conflicts that are now the main concern, is the fact that the ruptures and horrors that ignite the outbreaks of a world war “in pieces”[74] , they devastate with sudden fury peaceful cohabitations long experimented and settled over time, and leave behind an endless line of suffering for people and peoples [75] . In today’s troubled context we cannot ignore the concrete effects that migration due to political conflicts or precarious economic conditions entail for the just exercise of religious freedom in the world because migrants move with their religion [76] . (#67)

72. A free and conscious conscience allows us to respect every individual, to encourage the fulfillment of man and to reject a behavior that damages the individual or the common good. The Church expects its members to be able to live their faith freely and for the rights of their conscience to be protected where they respect the rights of others. Living the faith can sometimes require conscientious objection. In fact, civil laws do not oblige in conscience when they contradict natural ethics and therefore the state must recognize people’s right to conscientious objection [81].  (#72)

The Church must examine herself in order to rediscover with ever renewed enthusiasm the way of true adoration of God “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23) and of love “before” (Rev 2: 4). It must open, through this continuous conversion, the access of the Gospel to the intimacy of the human heart, in that point where it seeks – secretly and even unknowingly – the recognition of the true God and of true religion. The Gospel is really capable of unmasking religious manipulation, which produces effects of exclusion, debasement, abandonment and separation among men. (#75)

77. Inter-religious dialogue is fostered by religious freedom, in the search for the common good together with the representatives of other religions. It is a dimension inherent in the mission of the Church [88] . It is not as such the goal of evangelization, but contributes greatly to it; it should therefore not be understood or implemented as an alternative or in contradiction with the mission ad gentes [89] . Dialogue illumines, already in its good disposition to respect and cooperation, that relational form of evangelical love which finds its ineffable principle in the Trinitarian mystery of the life of God [90]. At the same time, the Church recognizes the particular capacity of the spirit of dialogue to intercept – and to nourish – a particularly felt need in the context of today’s democratic civilization [91] . The willingness to dialogue and the promotion of peace are in fact closely linked. Dialogue helps us to orient ourselves in the new complexity of opinions, knowledge and cultures: also, and above all, in matters of religion. (#77)

When, on the other hand, religion becomes a threat to the religious freedom of other men, both in words and in deeds, even reaching violence in the name of God, we cross a border that recalls the energetic denunciation first of all by part of the religious men themselves [97] . Regarding Christianity, its “irrevocable dismissal” from the ambiguity of religious violence can be considered a kairòs in favor of a rethinking of the theme in all religions [98] . (#79)

81. The “martyrdom”, as the supreme non-violent testimony of one’s fidelity to the faith, made the object of specific hatred, intimidation and persecution, is the limit-case of the Christian response to targeted violence towards the evangelical confession of truth and the love of God, introduced in history – mundane and religious – in the name of Jesus Christ. Martyrdom thus becomes the extreme symbol of the freedom to oppose love to violence and peace to conflict. In many cases, the personal determination of the martyr of faith in accepting death has become a seed of religious and human liberation for a multitude of men and women, to the point of obtaining liberation from violence and overcoming hatred. The history of Christian evangelization attests it, also through the initiation of processes and social changes of universal scope. These witnesses to the faith are just cause for admiration and following from the believers, but also of respect on the part of all men and women who care about freedom, dignity and peace among peoples. The martyrs resisted the pressure of retaliation, annulling the spirit of revenge and violence with the power of forgiveness, love and brotherhood [99] . In this way, they have made evident for all the greatness of religious freedom as the seed of a culture of freedom and justice. (#81)

82. Sometimes, people are not killed in the name of their religious practice and yet they must suffer profoundly offensive attitudes, which keep them on the margins of social life: exclusion from public offices, indiscriminate prohibition of their religious symbols, exclusion from certain economic benefits and social …, in what is called “white martyrdom” as an example of confession of faith [100]. This testimony still provides proof of itself in many parts of the world: it must not be attenuated, as if it were a simple side effect of conflicts for ethnic supremacy or for the conquest of power. The splendor of this testimony must be well understood and well interpreted. It instructs us on the authentic good of religious freedom in the clearest and most effective way. Christian martyrdom shows everyone what happens when the religious freedom of the innocent is opposed and killed: martyrdom is the testimony of a faith that remains faithful to itself by refusing to revenge itself and kill itself to the last. In this sense the martyr of the Christian faith has nothing to do with the suicidal-homicide in the name of God. (#82)

Religious Freedom Denied to Catholics in Kings Bay Case

Catholic anti-nuclear witnesses, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, April 4, 2018, prior to entering the naval base in Kings Bay, Georgia.

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 defendants received word Friday evening that Magistrate Cheesbro of the Southern District Court of Georgia, recommended that their motions to dismiss the charges including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act argument be denied.

The seven defendants, all Catholics, had testified with expert witnesses during their November 2018 evidentiary hearings and have waited fourteen weeks for the decision. There is still no trial date set but it is expected to be in two or three months in Brunswick, GA.

Their statement follows:

Elizabeth McAlister, 78 years.

“On April 4, 2018, we went onto the Kings Bay naval base, the largest nuclear submarine base in the world, to make real the prophet Isaiah’s command to beat swords into plowshares. We were charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor which carry a maximum penalty of over 20 years in prison.

We immediately filed motions to dismiss the charges. We argued in detail that all nuclear weapons are both immoral and illegal. The commandment Thou Shall Not Kill applies to us individually and to our government.

On April 26, 2019, U.S. Magistrate Benjamin Cheesbro issued an 80 page report recommending our motions to dismiss be denied. We now have 30 days to appeal his decision to US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood.

In response to our use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense, the court found our cause is a legitimately religious one and that our faith is sincere. Magistrate Cheesbro concluded, however, that imprisoning us for up to 20 years is not a coercive response to our faith-based actions, but that even if it is, such imprisonment is the government’s least coercive response. Obviously all of us and thousands more have been praying and protesting outside of military bases. We think when the government is prepared to launch weapons which can destroy all life on earth, we must do more.

We are already working on our appeal and look forward to appearing before Judge Wood.

We realize the struggle to rid the world of nuclear weapons is an uphill one. We look forward to continuing to live our lives in a quest for peace and justice.”

Please sign the Global Petition to get all charges dropped and share it to your friends and contacts: .

Hristos voskrese! Christ is Risen!

This is the night … The fire is blessed. The paschal candle is lit (despite gusts of wind and an overzealous candle snuffer). The ancient story of beginnings, enslavement, freedom, death, and resurrection has been told. In the dark night of the Easter Vigil, George from Pittsburgh said to me in old Church Slavonic: Hristos voskrese! (“Christ is risen”). The proper response is: Voistina voskrese (“He is risen, indeed!”).

There nothing quite like the Easter vigil. Happy Easter.

Add red cabbage, vinegar, kosher salt, water and fire. Wait 12 hours. Voila!

Good Friday: The Messiah After the Crucifixion

Remnant of a 1497 Riemenschneider crucifix that hung in front of the altar of the Würzburg Cathedral until the building—and most of the city—was destroyed by fire in 1945. The 150-
year-old cast, probably made for a museum by the sculptor Andreas Halbig.

The Messiah After the Crucifixion

by Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab

When they brought me down I heard the winds
In long lamentation weaving the leaves of palm-trees,
And footsteps receding far, far away. So the wounds
And the Cross to which I have been nailed all through the afternoon
Have not killed me. I listened: the wail
Traversed the plain between me and the city
Like a hawser tied to a ship
That is sinking into the depths. The cry of grief
Was like a line of light separating morning from night
In the sad winter sky.
Despite its feelings the city fell asleep.

When orange trees and the mulberry are in blossom
When Jaikur spreads out to the limits of fantasy
When it grows green with vegetation whose fragrance sings
Together with the suns that have suckled it with their brilliance
When even its darkness grows green,
Warmth touches my heart and my blood flows into its earth
My heart is the sun when the sun throbs with light
My heart is the earth throbbing with wheat, blossoms and sweet water
My heart is the water; it is the ear of corn
Whose death is resurrection: it lives in him who eats
In the dough that grows round, moulded like a little breast, the breast
of life.
I died by fire: I burned the darkness of my mortal clay, there
remained only the god.
I was the beginning and in the beginning was the poor man
I died so that bread might be eaten in my name,
That they might sow me at the right season.
Many are the lives that I shall live: in every pit
I will become a future, a seed, a generation of men,
In every heart my blood shall flow
A drop of it or more. … —Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab

About the poet: Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab (1926-1964) was an Iraqi poet from Basra. His beautiful long poem excerpted above, “The Messiah after the Crucifixion,” was translated by M.M. Badawi. Al-Sayyab came from a family long involved in Iraq’s political struggles for freedom. In 1941, Al-Sayyab’s own political awareness flowered, following the execution by the British of the leaders of the anti-colonial Rashid Ali Al-Kilani Movement of April-May. This poem may have recalled those public executions. Al-Sayyab pioneered Arabic free verse as a way of breaking the shackles of colonial constructs.

The Cathedral is Not the Church

by Rose Marie Berger

The Notre Dame Cathedral reflected in the sunglasses of a Parisian.

Less than a day after fire destroyed much of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, donations have flooded in to fund the rebuilding of the iconic 850-year-old church and world treasure — including nearly $1 billion just from a handful of France’s financial elites and corporations.

As flames consumed 900-year-old oak latticework on Monday, Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain to the Paris fire brigade, ran into the church to rescue the Blessed Sacrament held in reserve in the tabernacle. Along with others, he formed a human chain to rescue priceless works of art, including the crown of thorns believed to be worn by Jesus.

In our Holy Week pilgrimage to Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, we can meditate on his crown of thorns and the sacred Eucharist redeemed from ashes.

But we must also look deeper. The magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris is indeed a monument of living praise in stone, glass, and wood. It sits on the birthplace of Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It rises as a work of art built by human hands to the greater glory of God.

But, glorious as it is, the cathedral is not the church.

The church is not the architecture, artwork, artifacts, or sacred objects. 

The church is the living body of Christ found in the wounded, migrant, friendless, and exhausted who live on the streets of Paris. That is the church that Our Lady, Notre Dame, folds into her cloak.

Only in reaching out to these abandoned ones do we rescue what is most sacred. Only in rebuilding this incarnate church can Notre Dame be restored.

To rebuild Notre Dame requires reweaving France’s communal heart and making a human chain to rescue those lost and left behind.

To rebuild Notre Dame calls for a social and spiritual project that even the most secular French can support.

Makeshift refugee camp near the Stalingrad metro station in Paris, France.

Can the wealthy of the world support a Notre Dame project that starts in each French neighborhood, each European neighborhood, each American neighborhood? Can each neighborhood commit to providing housing, healthcare, and friendship to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers living on the streets, living under threat of legal persecution?

Remember, the church is not the building.

For each dollar donated to raise Notre Dame once again, let 2 dollars be donated to bring the body of Christ into a loving family. 

The new Notre Dame must be both an architectural project and a social process that sparks love for the “other,” treasuring the gifts of the other in our hearts, as Our Lady did (Luke 2:19).

The new Notre Dame – both project and process – must make it easier for the overfed to have a meal with the underfed, for the stressed and overpaid to rest with the exhausted and overworked, for the children of wealth and the children of poverty to plant vegetables together and play in a fountain and fly kites. The new Notre Dame must have open green spaces where the Earth and Creation can sprout forth.

Remember, the church is not the building. 

The church is the people of God – believers and nonbelievers, French and foreign, housed and homeless, artisans and CEOs – working together to rebuild France’s communal life.

We will know that Notre Dame is rebuilt when there is housing for the more than 16,000 people, primarily war and economic refugees, living in 497 informal settlements in France. One third of whom are located in Greater Paris.

Out of these ashes a new magnificent cathedral can be built that truly reflects the glory of God.–Rose Marie Berger

Rose Marie Berger, author of Bending the Arch: Poems, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.

Richard Rohr: Jesus’ Death

Deposition from the Cross by Bosnian artist Safet Zec (2015).
“The deep-time message of Jesus’ death is presented through a confluence of three healing images from his own Hebrew Scriptures: the scapegoat whom we talked about on Sunday; the Passover lamb which is the innocent victim (Exodus 12); the “Lifted-Up One” or the homeopathic curing of the victim (Numbers 21:6-9) who becomes the problem to reveal the problem.

The victim state has been the plight of most people who have ever lived on this earth, so in all three cases we see Jesus identifying with humanity at its most critical and vulnerable level. It is God in solidarity with the pain of the world, it seems, much more than God the omnipotent who, with a flick of the hand, overcomes all pain. But Jesus walks the victim journey in an extraordinary way.  He neither plays the victim card himself for his own aggrandizement, nor does he victimize anybody else, even his murderers. He forgives them all.

In the Hebrew tradition, the Passover lamb was a perfect, unblemished sheep or goat that apparently lived in the family home for four days before it was sacrificed (Exodus 12:1-8). That’s just long enough for the children to fall in love with the lamb. What could this symbolize? I personally think it is an image of the first (false) self that is thought of as good, adequate, and even innocent. It is who I think I am before I do any shadow work and see my own dark sides. It is when religion stops at the “cleaning up” stage and never gets to “growing up,” “waking up,” or “showing up” for others. Only when we let go of our attachment to any good, superior, or innocent identity do we begin to grow up spiritually.
Continue reading “Richard Rohr: Jesus’ Death”