May is the Month to Amplify Active Nonviolence in the U.S. Catholic Church

Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan

Catholics and others around the U.S. have an opportunity in May to write to their local Catholic bishop to encourage them to teach and preach on active gospel nonviolence. This is part of the global outreach offered by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative to support the Catholic Church in re-centering Gospel nonviolence in Catholic life and faith.

Social concerns committees, diocesan social justice directors, youth groups, and individuals can host letter-writing events in May at churches, coffee hours, prayer groups, and other key gatherings.

Write the bishop of your diocese in May. (And you don’t have to be Catholic to join in. See bottom of post.)

Instruments of Reconciliation: A National Campaign to Amplify Active Nonviolence in the U.S. Catholic Church

See here for more details, sample letter, and to report your action.

Three suggested dates below in the month of May have been chosen in the United States to ask Catholics and other concerned Christians to share their hope for greater teaching and commitment to active nonviolence with their local bishop and invite him to affirm active nonviolence as the “nucleus of the Christian revolution” by:

1: Sharing and speaking about Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message broadly within their diocese, seminaries, and other ministries

2: Concretely committing to an initiative to scale-up practices of active nonviolence within his diocese.

As Pope Benedict wrote, “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution.’”

We want to support our Bishops in their efforts, like Pope Francis, who pledged the assistance of the church in “every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”

Some dioceses – such as the Archdiocese of Chicago – are already experimenting with a commitment to a culture of nonviolence and practical steps to greater active nonviolence to address tensions and crime within the diocese. Pope Francis wrote them a letter of encouragement.

May 3 is the anniversary of The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response (1983), the Bishop’s pastoral letter.
May 8 is the birthday for Daniel Berrigan (b. 1921) and Sophie Scholl (b. 1921).
May 20 is the Feast of Austrian conscientious objector and martyr Franz Jagerstatter who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

See here for more details, sample letter, and to report your action.

Please share.

What if I’m not Catholic and I want to participate? Thank you! The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative welcomes support from all people of good conscience who want to see greater teaching from the Catholic Church on effective and active Gospel nonviolence.

You do not need to be Catholic to ask you local Catholic bishop for greater teaching on this. Search for your Catholic diocese’s web site to find the address of the local Catholic bishop.

Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter

Abbot Philip

From Abbot Philip at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico:

“Part of the spirituality of Easter is learning to believe in the presence of God in all that happens. All we need do is think of the earlier followers of Jesus who were so discouraged and disheartened when He was crucified. From a human point of view, that was the end. All of the hopes of His followers were dashed and broken. So a challenge of spirituality is to believe that God is always present and always bringing about a good in every situation. We don’t always see the good. Perhaps even often we don’t see the good. Yet we are called to believe.

At the heart of all spirituality is this deep and unfailing belief that God is God, that God is present and that God is involved in all that happens. Immediately this takes us to a different level of belief. Our world today, to an enormous extent, believes that there is nothing after death. So many Christians even believe that now. Jesus is a good figure and a good man, but surely Jesus was not God! Once a Christian no longer believes that Jesus is God, then such a person really can no longer be called a Christian. Such a person may well live in a way that brings him or her to heaven, but in this life there is a huge lack of faith.

How different our lives are when we believe that there is another life after death! In the past, of course, some would say that we Christians use the idea or even the reality of heaven to avoid living the realities of this life! For sure, when we believe that this life is not the whole meaning of human reality, then our understanding of how to live changes incredibly. It is more important to be good than to achieve a lot of money or have a lot of sexual relationships or to have power over others. What matters is living in Jesus Christ, living as He did and trying to love others and serve others. Continue reading “Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter”

Podcast: Where’s the Body of Christ when Bodies Go Missing?

Six minutes of truth-telling from the awesome team at Sojourners: Where’s the Body of Christ when Bodies Go Missing? This is the nascent short podcast series that Sojourners is developing called The God Beat.

This story about missing black and Latina girls in the D.C-area speaks to me because of my work on the Donte Manning story (see Who Killed Donte Manning: The Story of an American Neighborhood) and because of Ebony Franklin, who was murdered a few blocks from my house. There are hundreds of unnamed and disappeared girls in our country.

My Sojourners’ colleagues, Dhanya Addanki and Da’Shawn Mosley, get to the root of the Christian question in their podcast.

Ched Myers: Watershed Discipleship and ‘Catechism of Place’

Ched Myers is an activist theologian, biblical scholar, popular educator, organizer and advocate who has spent the past 40 years working in movements for social change, and empowering Christians in the life and work of peace, justice, and radical discipleship. He is the author of more than 100 articles and over a half dozen books, including Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, and Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice. Most recently, he is the editor and contributing author to Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional faith and practice. He lives in the Ventura River watershed in southern California where he carries out his work through Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. In this episode of RePlacing Church, he joins Ben Katt to discuss:

  • What is a watershed?
  • How two-dimensional political maps harm our imaginations?
  • The triple entendre of Watershed Discipleship
  • Why church needs to move beyond creation care
  • His personal journey of re-place-ment
  • How to undergo a “catechism of place”
  • Why it’s a great time to be a disciple of Jesus and trying to figure out how to be church

The Irish Famine in Theological Perspective by Oliver Rafferty, SJ

An in-depth historical look at the “Providentialist theology” that influenced government and church decisions at the time of the Irish holocaust in 1845-1850.

“The failure of government robustly to rise to the challenge of the Great Hunger because of an ideology underpinned with theological considerations caused many in Ireland to believe that ‘a British Protestant state has allowed massive starvation as a means of reducing the Irish Catholic population and strengthening its control over the country.’ I don’t think myself that it’s true, but never-the-less it was an opinion prominent in Ireland in the immediate aftermath of the famine.”—Oliver Rafferty, SJ

Violence, Politics, and Catholicism in Ireland by Oliver Rafferty

The Catholic Church and the Easter Rising 1919

‘Was there an Irish liberation theology?’ by Oliver Rafferty at St. Mary’s University College, Belfast (August 2014)

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab: The Messiah After the Crucifixion

Iraqi Christians demonstrate for peace and against ISIS in Mosul, 2015.

The Messiah After the Crucifixion

After I was brought down, I heard the winds
Whip the palm trees with wild laments;
Footsteps receded into infinity. Wounds
And the cross I was nailed to all afternoon
Didn’t kill me. I listened. A cry of grief
Crossed the plain between me and the city
Like a hawser pulling a ship
Destined to sink. The cry
Was a thread of light between morning
And night in a sad winter sky.
Despite all this, the city fell asleep. …

Excerpted from Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s poem “The Messiah After the Crucifixion”

The Palm Sunday Uprising


University of Zimbabwe students carry branches and fronds during a peaceful march from the campus to Harare city centre April 9, 2001. The students, who were protesting the alleged beating to death of a student by riot police during disturbances Sunday 8 April 2001, were disbursed by riot police who fired teargas. (Picture by Howard Burditt/Reuters)

The Palm Sunday Uprising (an excerpt from The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem):

“Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 … One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class …On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion.

Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology … it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals … to be in the city in case there was trouble … The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts … Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful. Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God … For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.

We return to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem … As Mark tells the story in 11:1-11, it is a prearranged ‘counterprocession’ … The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish Bible. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion), ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (9:9). In Mark, the reference to Zechariah is implicit. Matthew, when he treats Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, makes the connection explicit by quoting the passage: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion: look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (Matt. 21:5, quoting Zech. 9:9). The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be: ‘He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations’ (9:10). The king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, war-horses or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.

Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This contrast—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Cæsar—is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’s life … Holy Week is the story of this confrontation.”–The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp. 2-5)

Maggid: Telling Our Story of Resistance

This Resistance Passover is created by Rebecca Ennen and Rabbi Elizabeth Richman of Jews United for Justice. Visit www.jufj.org to learn more.

Telling Our Story

Reader:
In every generation we must each see ourselves k’ilu hu yatzah mi-Mitzrayim / as though we ourselves were freed from Egypt. This year the story speaks for itself:

All:
Long ago, a new king rose over Egypt. ‘Behold!” he said. “The people are too many and too mighty. Let us deal shrewdly with them.” He set over them taskmasters to afflict them and to make their lives bitter and harsh. We became slaves to Pharaoh in Mitzrayim.

Had God not brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, we and our children and our children’s children would still be servants to Pharaoh.

Reader:
There arose in America a President who did not know the real promise of this country, who did not recognize the beauty of our American ideals. He made our lives harsh with schemes of registers, walls, deportations, and humiliation. He embittered our lives: trampled the poor, cut our safety nets, and flouted the rule and protections of law. He afflicted and enabled the forces of hate. He feared that we, the people, were too numerous – and he tried to divide us from each other.

Continue reading “Maggid: Telling Our Story of Resistance”

Charles E. Jefferson: ‘Woe to you military experts, blind guides’

One hundred years ago today, on April 6, 1917, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to go to war against Germany and the U.S. officially entered World War I. This evening the U.S. president launched missile strikes from navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea on the airbases of the Syrian government in retaliation for the Syrian president using chemical weapons, likely using sarin gas, on civilians two days ago. Despite the Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Hague Convention of 1907, which forbade the use of “poison or poisoned weapons” in warfare, more than 124,000 tons of gas were produced by the end of World War I.

Below is an excerpt from What the War is Teaching, a collection of addresses given by Rev. Charles E. Jefferson at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1916:

“This then is the work of the Christian minister in the present world crisis. He must resist with every ounce of his strength the power of the military experts. Jesus met the hierarchy of his day without flinching. His followers must do the same. Let ministers and laymen all say:

‘Woe to you, military experts, blind guides. You bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne upon men’s shoulder’s, and you do not move them with one of your fingers.

‘Woe unto you, military experts, blind guides, you shut up the kingdom of God against nations, and you open up the empire of suspicion and fear and hate; nations are feeling after righteousness and peace and joy, and you block their way.

‘Woe unto you, military experts, blind guides, you devour widows’ houses and other women’s houses and men’s houses, you devour the proceeds of industry, and the resources of nations, you devour the money which might be spent on social uplift and for the fighting of the evils which sap the life of mankind.

‘Blind guides and fools, you work everlastingly on the outside of the cup and the platter and turn men’s attention away from that which lies within. You talk unceasingly about the material defenses, fortifications made of concrete and steel and neglect those interior and spiritual defenses without which a nation is doomed ….’”–Charles Edward Jefferson, What the War is Teaching (1916)

Charles Edward Jefferson was born in Cambridge, Ohio, on August 29, 1860. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University. He was ordained by the Congregational Council in Chelsea, MA, September 29, 1887. He found a home as pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle Church in New York City from 1898 to 1929, then was honorary pastor from 1929 until his death in 1937. His writings are archived at the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston.

Pope Francis’ 4 Principles for Social Peace

I’m grateful to Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore for inviting me to speak at their spring gathering. I decided to focus on Pope Francis’ four principles for building social peace and interlace them with stories, both personal and from the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. Here’s a tiny excerpt of my presentation:

Our Storied Future by Rose Marie Berger

I’m not a big one for reading church encyclicals, much less “apostolic exhortations.” But because I was excited about Pope Francis and I wanted to write about him for my work at Sojourners magazine, I decided to read the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Guadium) when it came out in 2013. This was a project that started under Pope Benedict and was taken up by Pope Francis.

I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but my marginal notes on the print out tell a different story.

I was really excited about what I read there. Amid my exhaustion and political anxiety, the Joy of the Gospel “spoke to my condition,” as the Quakers say—in particular the section in Chapter 4, on “The Common Good and Peace in Society.”

I experienced a strange fluttering within that I later identified as HOPE.

Pope Francis identified four principles that he said he did “out of the conviction that their application can be a genuine path to peace within each nation and in the entire world.” Wow! With the eternal appeal of a List-icle that made me sit up!

Here are Pope Francis’s four principles for building social peace:

  • Time is greater than space reminds us that it is less important to dominate a space or claim a position than it is to generate positive processes that unfold and regenerate over time.
  • Unity prevails over conflict. Conflict exists, but it is undergirded and surrounded by unity. We must always be looking for the synthesis that will take us forward.
  • Realities are more important than ideas reminds us to avoid constructing abstractions that are separated from what people are actually experiencing. That’s why we begin with people’s stories.
  • The whole is greater than the part is an invitation to understand that our concerns and perspective are always local and partial. We must hold them in a broader and more inclusive framework.

I researched where these principles came from and couldn’t find a solid source. They are embedded in Catholic Social Teaching but have been refined by Jorge Bergoglio over years. I found reference to him using a version of them in the 1980s in Buenos Aires, when Argentina was trying to reweave its social fabric after the excruciating internal “Dirty War” and the war with Britain over the Falkland Islands. My friend and scholar Gerald Schlabach at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis has written eloquently on them and I’ve drawn on his work.

This morning, I’d like to walk through each principle and tell a few stories that I think illuminate the life of Jorge Bergoglio as well as our own lives, and perhaps give us a glimpse of where we are going as we walk into the future with Jesus, Martin, and Francis, especially as practitioners and evangelizers of active gospel nonviolence. …–Rose Marie Berger