Radical Discipleship: Bending the Arch is a heavily annotated collection of poems, can you talk about the relationship between the poetry and the history and information in the back?
Rose Marie Berger: It’s a good question. I just finished reading Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Five Quintets, a 350-page poem examining the Modern era with no endnotes or explanations. It’s a stunning, ground-breaking work. But it requires a lot of work by the reader. Bending the Arch requires a lot from the reader also, but I wanted to lower the bar a little. Make it a little easier and more accessible. There are themes in Bending the Arch that I want readers to explore more on their own. My hope is that the endnotes will encourage readers to dig into the suppressed historical narratives in their own families and regions.
RD:What was the process like for writing the book?
RMB: I wrote the earliest version of “Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” (or what was then titled “Saarinen’s Arch”) in 1994, a quarter-century ago, in response to my own sense of cultural dislocation. I am a cultural Californian, a West Coaster, and Catholic who has lived for more than half my life in the culture of the Anglo-Protestant urban East and in neighborly relations with people who mostly migrated from the rural South to Washington, D.C. Since I migrated East from the Sacramento valley, I’ve been trying to get my footing, find my standing ground.
On a trip to St. Louis in the mid-1990s during one of the great spring floods, I dreamed that I was looking west through the Gateway Arch, designed by architect Eero Saarinen in 1947. Instead of seeing the Mississippi River, I saw the Pacific Ocean, two thousand miles away. In an instant, something ignited in me: I wanted to know about the spiritual powers in operation between St. Louis and the Pacific in the age of expansion and extermination, an age which my Irish Catholic and German Mennonite immigrant family took part only three generations ago.
“Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” also became my masters thesis for my MFA in poetry at the Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. My mentor Dennis Nurkse (Love in the Last Days: After Tristan and Iseult) never shirked from the expansiveness of my vision for the work and helped me learn the technical skills I needed to pull it off. …
I’m honored to be on the receiving end of epistles from Quaker Friend Wendy Clarissa Geiger, peacemaker, poet, planter, and purveyor of historical memory, who roots herself on her family farm near Jacksonville, Florida. In her recent letter she intersects with my earlier blog post Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation and beyond. Here is Wendy’s note from yesterday:
Dear Friends, Family, and Other Scattered Pilgrims, a Wendynote re Climate Crisis,
First, a story. In the eighties, in East Germany, there appeared a notice on a church door that basically read: Those interested in making sure the Berlin Wall comes down a thousand years from now, and discuss what we must do, now, for the Berlin Wall to come down a thousand years from now, meet in the church basement on Saturday…
A small group met, growing larger and larger, with more groups forming, as the months went on. More and more creative protests as the months went on. Of course, there was solidarity protesting to bring down the Berlin Wall in West Germany, in the United States and elsewhere. In only a few years, in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, much sooner than “a thousand years from now.” At Checkpoint Charlie, many, many persons danced atop the Wall as it was coming down, singing “We Shall Overcome.” Soon thereafter, on “McNeil-Leherer News Hour,” a representative from a conservative U.S. think tank admitted that it was the Peace movement that brought down the Wall, not Ronald Reagan.
So, Dear Friends, what must we-you-I do now, so there will be a livable and living, viable, healed and healing Planet Earth “a thousand years from now?” In the tradition of Thomas Berry: Planet Earth is leaving the Anthrocentric Age and continuing into the Ecocentric Age…with or without humans…
In school, we learned that centuries ago, some (some…not all) people thought Earth was the center of the Universe. Now, how will life on Earth be when humans are not the center?…when White folk are not the center?…when the United States are not the center?…when men are not the center?… Will humans transform? Will we “disappear from view,” to use Thomas Merton’s words, and commit omnicide (not suicide or genocide, but all…omnicide…)? As in: humans have to be the center of attention or nothing at all (and take everyone else with us).
There are two books to contemplate that I recommend, both by Carolyn Baker: Navigating the Coming Chaos – a handbook for inner transition and Collapsing Consciously. A third book I recommend is Coming Back To Life, by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown. That book describes many of the thinking and body-moving exercises done in workshops. Her talks may be found on www.youtube.com , and her website is www.joannamacy.net . There are dvd’s about “The Work That Reconnects,” as Joanna Macy calls her work (workshops, lectures) around the world. On YouTube may be found Joanna Macy addressing the Bioneers Conference (about 9 minutes long, as I recall). Related, “The Souls Are Coming Back” is a marvelous, compelling, encouraging song by Holly Near, also, on YouTube, also, sung to the Bioneers Conference. Also, on YouTube, may be found Holly Near (and Emma’s Revolution) singing “I Am Willing” (another marvelous, compelling, encouraging song) to the School of the Americas Watch gathering 10+ years ago.
Yesterday I posted Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation and beyond and raised questions about what those us of formed in Western Christianity do when humans are no longer the center of God’s creation covenant? How then shall we live when no “Red Sea” miracle or Deus-ex-machina moment will save us from climate-induced social collapse? Where does hope fit as a theological theme when humans are decentered?
I also asked for conversation with people whose worlds have ended before–such as displaced Indigenous communities, refugees, prisoners. Noting that they may have practical guides and spiritual resources on how to live post climate collapse.
Today, I offer you an eloquent response from Louis Templeman, who was an inmate in Baker Correctional Institution, in Sanderson, Fla. What can we learn from Louis’ wisdom about how to live after the end of the world?–Rose Marie Berger
From Louis Templeman: I haven’t read your links yet. Just your letter. I apologize for not waiting until time to pass so I can rewrite. But, it is disposable anyway. Hope it mirrors the trouble you feel. Here’s what prison is like:
All over, all gone, alright. All over, all gone, alright. Uselessness and Helplessness, the religious of the apocalypse, embrace me and squeeze me and invite me to endure. And wait. And wait. And, yes, wait. But waiting is over. I’m already there. They’re Already here. Already here. Already here. Pain calls for sleep. Sleep runs from pain. Noise calls For more, more, more. Listening calls for sense. Sense calls for meaning. Meaning runs from every damn thing. Waking up means more of the same. The sleep is short. The truth sleeps, faking death. The sleep trucks in more of the same. The same. The same. The same. The same shit. Yet, the human condition, bred for hope, cries for something else. Something not coming. The face of Gone, the face of Over, is ever, ever ugly and unchanging. Disaster, boring until painful, calls the sisters to pray for your sight so, you can watch, and feel, and watch. –Louis Templeman
Louis Templeman is the father of five adult daughters and very happily married to Joy. He is author of Ice Water from Hell (published under his pen name Gano Rinehart) and has worked as a social worker, Pentecostal pastor, and house painter. He was an inmate in Baker Correctional Institution, Sanderson, Fla.
I read Jem Bendell’s paper on Deep Adaptation in the age of climate collapse last August and it sent me into an existential panic. It took about three months and quite a few transformative conversations with folks at Sojourners and in the Watershed Discipleship movement before I moved to another response: something akin to Job’s lament but told from the point of view of the whales.
Bendell’s paper and subsequent conversations raise questions for me about what do those us of formed in Western Christianity do when humans are no longer the center of God’s creation covenant? How do we offer ceremonies in a way that seduce the Sacred presence to return? How then shall we live when no “Red Sea” miracle or Deus-ex-machina moment will save us from social collapse? Where does hope fit as a theological theme when humans are decentered?
I’m committed to staying in conversation with Bendell’s paper, my faith, and my community of Watershed disciples and act out of any wisdom that may arise. I also want to be in conversation with people whose worlds have ended before–such as displaced Indigenous communities, refugees, prisoners. They all may have practical guides and spiritual resources for how to live after the end of the world.
Above is a video with Jem Bendell. Below is an excerpt from a Vice article on Bendell’s article by Zing Tsjeng.–Rose Marie Berger
“What if I told you there was a paper on climate change that was so uniquely catastrophic, so perspective-altering, and so absolutely depressing that it’s sent people to support groups and encouraged them to quit their jobs and move to the countryside?
Good news: there is. It’s called “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.” I was introduced to it via an unlikely source—a guy formerly in advertising who had left his job to become a full-time environmental campaigner. “We’re fucked,” he told me. “Climate change is going to fuck us over. I remember thinking, Should I just accept the deep adaptation paper and move to the Scottish countryside and wait out the apocalypse?”
“Deep Adaptation” is quite unlike any other academic paper. There’s the language (“we are about to play Russian Roulette with the entire human race with already two bullets loaded”). There’s the flashes of dark humor (“I was only partly joking earlier when I questioned why I was even writing this paper”). But most of all, there’s the stark conclusions that it draws about the future. Chiefly, that it’s too late to stop climate change from devastating our world—and that “climate-induced societal collapse is now inevitable in the near term.”
… The candles hiss; the organ-pedals storm; Writhing and dark, the columns leave the earth To find a lonelier and darker height. The church grows dingy while the human swarm Struggles against the impenitent body’s mirth. Ashes to ashes. . . . Go. . . . Shut out the light. …
Pat Gaffney is graduating/retiring as the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK this year. She wrote the reflection below on her nearly 30 years in that role. I have had the honor of working with Pat since 2016 on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative–though, after meeting we quickly found lots of connections, including that she’s the godmother of the children of my highschool ceramics teacher! Pat and I have spent hours on Skype and even spent a week in London together, Pat’s home town. She is a phenomenal woman and friend. Sharing these stories of women doing gospel work over the long haul is how we extend God’s circle of hospitality and justice. Sign up for more Pax Christi Stories.—Rose Berger
FROM PAT GAFFNEY:
1 April 1990: the day my contract with Pax Christi began. 29 years on, I am still here (how did that happen?) but preparing to move on and create space for some new thought and energy. This article takes a long view of our work over this period, of changes within the global and domestic arenas, and in technology. Our movement has undertaken so many challenges with a spirit of ingenuity, flexibility and faithful persistence to Gospel peacemaking.
1990 was a good time to come on board. Talk was of a Peace Dividend. With the Cold War behind us, new opportunities were unfolding for economic and social growth. Spending on defence would decline and investment in arms conversion would follow. The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp had helped to get rid of cruise missiles. Pax Christi’s valiant East-West group, coordinated by Peggy Attlee, having worked towards one Europe, was prepared for the new challenges of creating a common home. In the summer of 1990 our British section of Pax Christi hosted in Clifton Diocese an international ‘route’ for young people, with the theme, Let’s build a Europe of Peace. Sadly, many of those hopes crashed on 2 August when Iraq invaded Kuwait and what was to become protracted war in the Gulf and Middle East began. Goodbye peace dividend.
As a ‘new’ person four months into the job, the prospect of sliding into war was daunting! Thankfully, friends in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Christian CND, the National Peace Council (NPC) and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) were ready to create common plans. Could we de-escalate the tension by urging our Government to prevent a full military response from the USA? Setting up communication systems was key. Pax Christi at that time had one temperamental computer, an old but sturdy Adler typewriter, and a photocopier. My first big purchase was a FAX machine – essential for getting out press notices, sharing drafts of leaflets, sending letters to Government and so forth. By Spring 1991 we had established the Christian Coalition for Peace in the Gulf and a ‘Call for Action’ supported by church leaders, religious communities and groups around the country. In response to military attacks and then years of sanctions against Iraq, weekly vigils were held nationwide. The NPC ran a conference that became a springboard for much joint work, including the creation of the Peace Education Network (PEN) and a more focused response to the UK’s arms trade to the region – in particular that of British Aerospace.
Three women — a religious nun, a canon lawyer and a journalist, took Catholic bishops to task for their silence and cover-up in an attempt to keep the scandal of clerical abuse under wraps at the recent Vatican sex abuse summit.
“How could the clerical church have kept silent, covering these atrocities?” Nigerian Sister Veronica Openibo, leader of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, told bishops Feb. 23 at the Vatican summit on child protection.
“We must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a church,” she said.
Sister Openibo, a member of the executive board of the women’s International Union of Superiors General, was one of 10 women religious participating in the summit.
She also told African and Asian bishops present that they must not justify their silence about clerical sexual abuse by claiming that they are involved in combating serious issues of poverty and conflict.
“Let us not hide such events anymore because of the fear of making mistakes. Too often we want to keep silent until the storm has passed! This storm will not pass by,” Sister Openibo said.
Linda Ghisoni, a canon lawyer, is undersecretary for laity at the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life was the first woman to give a major presentation at the Vatican summit on child protection and clerical abuse crisis.
Addressing the summit Feb. 22, Ghisoni said the Catholic Church should re-examine how the “pontifical secret” is applied in clerical sex abuse cases so there is greater transparency in the cases and it is not invoked “to hide problems,” The secret ensures cases are dealt with in strict confidentiality.
“A bishop cannot think that questions regarding the church can be resolved by him acting alone” or only with other bishops, she said, urging bishops not to resist having regular audits of diocesan safeguarding policies and of the ways they or their review board have handled allegations.
Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, the Vatican correspondent for Mexico’s Noticieros Televisa since the pontificate of Paul VI said bishops if they are truly serious about fighting clerical sex abuse, must join forces with journalists and not view them as enemies plotting against the Catholic Church.
“But if you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us, because we journalists — who seek the common good — will be your worst enemies,” she said.