Arundhati Roy: Fiction, Prayer, and the Ministry of Utmost Happiness

New Delhi: Social activist Arundhati Roy gestures during a news conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore.

“[Fiction] is a way of seeing. A way of thinking, it is a prayer, it is a song.”–Arundhati Roy, interview in The Hindu

“You know, Anjum, who was Aftab, or the book in general, is—you know, she’s not a signifier. This is not a sort of social history of the trans community. I mean, she’s a character, like many other characters in the book, very unique, very much herself. And when she’s born in the walled city and grows up, and then when she—she actually moves out of her home to a place close by called Khwabgah, which in Urdu means “the House of Dreams,” where she lives with a community of other people, none of whom is like herself. You know, even inside the Khwabgah, though there are many trans women, people who are—Anjum, for example, she’s a hermaphrodite, but there are others who are men, who are Muslim and don’t believe in having surgery, some who do. There are Hindus. There are Sunnis. There are Shias. So, they themselves are a very diverse community. But they look at the world and call it duniya, which means “the world” in Urdu, which is something else. But they have a history of being sort of inside and outside the community, which sort of predates the kind of Western, liberal, rights-based discourse, though, even in the story, as it modernizes, you know, there is that feudal story overlapping with the new, modern language and so on.

But actually, Anjum, though she does have this incendiary border of gender running through her—all the characters have a border, which is, for example, one of the—she moves into the graveyard, and she builds—eventually, she builds a guest house, called Jannat, which is the Paradise guest house. And one of the people who becomes a very close comrade of hers is a young man who was—who is a Dalit, who has watched Hindu mobs beat his father to death, as is happening every day now with Muslims and Dalits, because he was transporting a carcass of a dead cow, and so he’s beaten to death by people who call themselves cow protectors. And he converts to Islam, and so—and calls himself Saddam Hussein, because he’s very impressed by this video he sees of Saddam’s execution and the disdain he shows for his executioners. So Saddam has this border of caste and religious conversion—incendiary in India—running through him. The other major character is a woman called Tilottama from the south, and she is also a person of indeterminate origins as far as India is concerned. There’s Musa, who is now a Kashmiri, fighting, with the national border running through him.

So, it’s not conceptual. I mean, what happens is that India is a society of such minute divisions, such institutionalized hierarchies, where caste is a mesh that presses people down and holds them down in a grid. And so, all these stories somehow are about people who just don’t fit into that grid and who eventually create a little community, and a kind of solidarity emerges, which is a solidarity of the heart. You know, it’s not a solidarity of memorandi or academic discourse, but a solidarity which is human, which is based on unorthodox kinds of love—not even sexual love or anything, it’s just based on humanness.”–Arundhati Roy on her novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, from Democracy Now.

PA Nuns Step up Defending Land Against Pipelines

The Adorers pray before Thursday’s hearing resumes, Sister Martha, Sister Bernice, Sister George Ann, Sister Joan and Sister Linda. Photo by Lancaster Online’s Richard Hertzler.

Earlier in July, more than 500 people gathered in a hot and dusty Pennsylvania cornfield yesterday to join the Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ for the dedication of a new outdoor chapel, built on land about to be seized from them by a corporate developer planning to build a natural gas pipeline. (Read more.)

This past week, five Lancaster County landowners, including the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, were in US District Court in Reading, PA, fighting to keep the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline off their land. Transco/Williams seeks immediate possession of these properties, even though the eminent domain process is far from finalized, according to a press release.

After two full days of testimony and argument, the hearing came to an end. Judge Jeffrey Schmehl said he would review the cases and “render a ruling at an appropriate time.”

Organizers identified key takeaways from the court hearing:

*The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline (ASP) still lacks permits from the Pennsylvania DEP that must be obtained before construction begins. David Sztroin, project manager for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, testified at the hearing that those permits—assuming they come—are not expected until early- to mid-September.

*Furthermore, the PA DEP could ultimately deny Williams the necessary water permits to begin construction, effectively derailing the project. Why should Williams be granted advance access to landowner properties for a project that might never be built? In early 2016, the state of New York denied similar permits for the Constitution Pipeline. That project remains stalled to this day.

*Attorney Michael Onufrak conclusively demonstrated that the ASP is largely designed to export Marcellus fracked gas overseas. This fact clearly undercuts the legitimacy of FERC’s approval of the project, as well as the use of eminent domain.

*On Friday, July 14, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against FERC. The suit alleges that a fracked gas pipeline through their farmland in West Hempfield Township violates their long-demonstrated religious commitment to environmental justice.

The Adorers, whose religious practice includes protecting and preserving creation, which they believe is a revelation of God, allege that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and its Commissioner, Cheryl La Fleur, have violated a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, by forcing the Adorers to use their land to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline. Such use is antithetical to the Adorers’ deeply held religious beliefs.

The Adorers allege that FERC’s action places a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by taking their land, which they want to protect and preserve as part of their faith, and forces the Adorers to use their land in a manner and for a purpose they believe is harmful to the earth.

See more media stories.

Abbot Philip: Perspectives on Being Uncomfortable

Abbot Philip, OSB (Monastery of Christ in the Desert , NM)

“How do we learn to live in circumstances that are uncomfortable for us? The early monks again remind us to think of those who live in circumstances much worse than ours and who cannot change their circumstances. It is easy for many of us to forget the difficulties of others, especially when we find ourselves in circumstances that we find difficult. For instance, even though I find the summer heat difficult at the moment, there are many people who live in much worse conditions of heat and can do nothing about it. Normally I have the conveniences of a shower and in the evening the temperatures cool down. Lots of people don’t have that. So one way of dealing with my own circumstances, when I find them difficult, is to think of others who are in a worse situation.

Another way of dealing with difficult circumstances is to use the opportunity to identify more completely with Jesus during His passion and death. Most likely I won’t die from difficult circumstances, but I can use whatever suffering and pain that I might have to come closer to the Lord and offer this suffering and pain for others. For me, the most recent experience of this was in my illnesses, where the pain level was completely out of control and all I could do was cling to a crucifix and ask the Lord to help me. It took extra energy to go out of myself and offer that pain for the good of others. Even in those circumstances, there are surely people who had more pain and suffering than I did.

Another way to deal with difficulties is to offer them in reparation for my own sinfulness. We can use very simple phrases such as: “O Lord, may this suffering unite me to you and also purify me from all my own sinfulness.” Or, perhaps: “O Lord, may this pain and suffering cleanse me of all my sins, past and present, so that I may be more faithful to you.”

I think that all of us can see that the secret to pain and suffering is simply to get out of ourselves and be with the Lord and to find ways to love others through the suffering. That ability to be with others through pain is a real gift and I pray that I can hold on to it in the times of profound pain and suffering! Right now my pains are pretty minor.”–Abbot Philip, OSB (Abbot’s Notebook – 19 July 2017)

Lucky Lurky Margaret Atwood Retweets On Catholic Sisters

I happen to be reading Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood right now. It’s a delightfully conniving retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in a maximum security prison.

Then today I was alerted that Margaret Atwood herself retweeted Developers Are Trying to Build a Pipeline Through a Watershed. These Nuns Built a Chapel in Its Path by Heidi Thompson and myself on land defenders in Lancaster County, Penn., that was posted on the Sojourners website. Wow! (Thank you, @MargaretAtwood!)

(Apparently, some people are dedicated to using their twitter powers for good, not for sowing strife!)

The update on the Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Lancaster County, Penn., is the judge approved the fossil-fuel company’s right to take a portion of the nuns’ land by eminent domain, but then the nuns filed a religious freedom injunction!

This is a unique approach and I’d say this is an important case to follow. (See July 16, 2017 Washington Post article Catholic nuns in Pa. build a chapel to block the path of a gas pipeline planned for their property by Julie Zauzmer. Thank you, @JulieZauzmer!)

Now, circling back to Margaret Atwood: Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series published by Hogarth Press (founded in 1917 by none other than Virginia Woolf and her husband). It includes Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (on The Winter’s Tale), Anne Tyler’s The Vinegar Girl (on The Taming of the Shrew), and Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (on The Merchant of Venice). And due out soon is Tracy Chevalier on Othello!

It’s all mixed up to quote Margaret Atwood and the land defending Catholic nuns in the same blog post. But it comes together for me in this line from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, when Cleopatra realizes that, with the death of her love, the earth shall pass away and–I would add–the icecaps will melt shedding tears across the world:

“O see, my women, The crown o’ th’ earth doth melt. My lord!”–Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (Act 4, Scene 15)
–Rose Marie Berger

Richard Rohr: Start With a Foundational ‘Yes’ to Life

“If you asked me what it is I know, I would be hard pressed to tell you. All I know is that there is a deep “okayness” to life—despite all the contradictions—which has become even more evident in the silence. Even when much is terrible, seemingly contradictory, unjust, and inconsistent, somehow sadness and joy are able to coexist at the same time. The negative value of things no longer cancels out the positive, nor does the positive deny the negative.

Whatever your personal calling or your delivery system for the world, it must proceed from a foundational “yes” to life. Your necessary “no” to injustice and all forms of un-love will actually become even clearer and more urgent in the silence, but now your work has a chance of being God’s pure healing instead of impure anger and agenda. You can feel the difference in people who are working for causes; so many works of social justice have been undone by people who do all the fighting from their small or angry selves.

If your prayer goes deep, your whole view of the world will change from fear and reaction to deep and positive connection—because you don’t live inside a fragile and encapsulated self anymore. In meditation, you are moving from ego consciousness to soul awareness, from being driven by negative motivations to being drawn from a positive source within.”–Richard Rohr

Sonia Sotomayor: ‘No One Can Breathe In This Atmosphere’

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor provided an elegant dissent recently to the ruling in Utah v. Strieff, which revolved on the matter of “reasonable suspicion” in a police stop.

“This case involves a suspicionless stop, one in which the officer initiated this chain of events without justification. As the Justice Department notes, supra, at 8, many innocent people are subjected to the humiliations of these unconstitutional searches. The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner. See M. Gottschalk, Caught 119–138 (2015). But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. See M. Alexander, The New Jim Crow 95–136 (2010). For generations, black and brown parents have given their children “the talk”— instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger—all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them. See, e.g., W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903); J. Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963); T. Coates, Between the World and Me (2015).

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283 (2002). They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but. I dissent.”—Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice (https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/14-1373_83i7.pdf)

William Stringfellow on the Power of the State

“Remember, now, that the State has only one power it can use against human beings: death.  The State can persecute you, prosecute you, imprison you, exile you, execute you.  All of these mean the same thing.  The State can consign you to death.  The grace of Jesus Christ in this life is that death fails.  There is nothing the State can do to you, or to me, which we need fear.”–William Stringfellow (Second Birthday)

Rene August: ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil’

“Two-thirds of the world live on less than two dollars a day. Two-thirds of the world! That makes you [in the U.S.] a minority. Who in the U.S. lives on less than two dollars a day? … From where we sit [in South Africa] … did you know that the scale of the world map was reconfigured to make the USA look bigger than it actually is? And to make Africa smaller than it actually is? That’s just telling lies. So we must tell the truth and shame the devil. Because when you participate in lies you participate with that same enemy. So I’m not going to be collaborating with lies — as far as I know. I realize that I participate in many lies that I am blind to …

On FB someone said something about ‘America’ and I said, ‘Don’t you mean the US?’ So this country that is the United States, calls itself America, which is  two continents. And then you call where I come from, you call Africa a ‘country.’ A whole continent is treated like a country. And a country treats itself like two continents. That’s lies right there! So when you talk about making America great again, you are talking about making Mexico great again. You are talking about making Nicaragua great again! You are talking about making Canada great again.” –Rene August, South African Anglican priest @SojoSummit2017

Hard Books You’ll Be Glad You Read

Here are the hard books I hope to read (or re-read) this summer:

Blood and Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism by Damon T. Berry

A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglass

A Most Dangerous Book:Tacitus’ Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich by Christopher B. Krebs

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: An Informal Autobiography by Lorraine Hansberry

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision by Barbara Ransby

Let me know what hard books you are reading!

‘Saving Place, Saving Grace’ Trappists, Sustainability, and Place

Ecology meets theology. “Saving Place, Saving Grace” is the story of a Trappist monastery’s struggle for reformation of their home by embracing an intense sustainability initiative. Witness the monks’ land stewardship, contemplative prayer, and work ethic that shapes the core of their community, Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia.

An old definition of a monk is “Amato loci,” lover of a place. In 2009, the University of Michigan did a yearlong sustainability study of Holy Cross’ 1,200 acres on the banks of the Shenandoah River and embraced a land management plan. Now most of the 1,200 acres have been put into a conservation trust. Can faith communities and agricultural interests find common ground? Is there a balance between working the land and consecrating it?