“What will be God’s if all things are Caesar’s?”–Tertullian (160–220 AD), De Idolatria
“In Christian theology, it is not nations that rid the world of evil—they are too often caught up in complicated webs of political power, economic interests, cultural clashes, and nationalist dreams. The confrontation with evil is a role reserved for God, and for the people of God when they faithfully exercise moral conscience. But God has not given the responsibility for overcoming evil to a nation-state, much less to a superpower with enormous wealth and particular national interests. To confuse the role of God with that of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do, is a serious theological error that some might say borders on idolatry or blasphemy.”–Jim Wallis, Dangerous Religion (Sojourners, September-October 2003)
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Twelve years ago today, the Catholic Church lost one of her great and humble leaders, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.
Bernardin grew up in the South. Born in South Carolina, he served for many years in Atlanta until he was asked to lead the U.S. Catholic bishops as their General Secretary. He held that position in the critical and turbulent years between 1968-1972, when Catholicism world-wide was trying to get it’s footing in the Post-Vatican II era.
Bernardin captured the vision of the second Vatican council: Carry forward tradition, not traditionalism; cling to the faithful first, and the dogma of faith second. He was a rigorous intellectual and philosopher, but, above all else, he was a pastor.
Cardinal Bernardin is probably best remembered for introducing the concept of “the seamless garment of life.” In his 1983 speech at Fordham University, Bernardin put forth an inquiry to the audience: How can Catholics address the need for a consistent ethic of life and probe the problems within the church and the wider society for developing such and ethic? He made this address in the context of the bishops’ letter on war and peace issues (The Challenge of Peace), which had been recently released. He said:
Right to life and quality of life complement each other in domestic social policy. They are also complementary in foreign policy. The Challenge of Peace joined the question of how we prevent nuclear war to the question of how we build peace in an interdependent world. Today those who are admirably concerned with reversing the nuclear arms race must also be those who stand for a positive U.S. policy of building the peace. It is this linkage which has led the U.S. bishops not only to oppose the drive of the nuclear arms race, but to stand against the dynamic of a Central American policy which relies predominantly on the threat and the use of force, which is increasingly distancing itself from a concern for human rights in El Salvador and which fails to grasp the opportunity of a diplomatic solution to the Central American conflict.
The relationship of the spectrum of life issues is far more intricate than I can even sketch here. I have made the case in the broad strokes of a lecturer; the detailed balancing, distinguishing and connecting of different aspects of a consistent ethic of life is precisely what this address calls the university community to investigate. Even as I leave this challenge before you, let me add to it some reflections on the task of communicating a consistent ethic of life in a pluralistic society.
I encourage you to read Cardinal Bernardin’s full address, especially in these days when the current cohort of American Catholic bishops seems to have lost sight of the “seamless garment” and of the delicacy of pluralism..
Joan Baez was in D.C. last week promoting “Day After Tomorrow,” her new CD. (Check it out! It’s produced by Steve Earle and Stevie-boy wrote one of the tracks, “God is God.”)
But, guess what? She also took time to stop by the Obama campaign office in Alexandria, Virginia, and sing a few lines. My friend Nate Solloway was there volunteering and got a great picture with Sweet Joanie.
With her political spirit fully intact, the 67-year-old pacifist endorsed a candidate for the first time. “I haven’t heard an orator like [Obama] since King,” she said. Baez sang “We Shall Overcome” in 1963 to the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington.
As a point of interest, Baez committed her first act of civil disobedience when she was 16 years old. She refused to leave her high school classroom in Palo Alto, Calif., during “practice atomic bomb” evacuations. Instead, she sat at her desk and read her book. I wonder what she was reading?.
The post-election political cartoons have been hilarious, poignant, inspiring, and some have been downright scary. But, as Abraham Lincoln said, “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”.
On election night, Democracy Now! interviewed one of my favorite people, Dr. Vincent Harding. Dr. Harding was a close friend and colleague of Dr. King.
I’ve interviewed Vincent a few times. But, in 2006, I interviewed him about his writing Dr. King’s major antiwar speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” the speech that Dr. King gave a year to the day before he was assassinated. The speech was given at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. I consider this one of my most important interviews and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. You can read that interview here.
Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Harding’s comments to Democracy Now! on election night:
DR. VINCENT HARDING: I am much more deeply involved in the hopes for what we can do to help push him into the place that he needs to go. He is taking a good start at this point by winning this magnificent election, but he is not going to be out there as a messiah by himself. We who believe in freedom are going to have to stand around him, stand beneath him, stand in back of him, and do everything that we can to keep reminding him that what we need is to move towards the very thing that he’s been talking about: creating a more perfect union, creating a more just and peaceable society, creating a more democratic society. So my hopes are very much focused on him, but not on him alone. I see the energy that’s been built up over these two years of campaigns, and I see the possibility that we could gather ourselves together and begin to ask, in a very powerful way, not what should Barack Obama be doing next, but where do we go from here? What is our role as committed, progressive citizens to move to the next stages? …
For me, that question about the contradictions that would stand between seeing Barack as a second coming of Martin and seeing Martin as someone who clearly understood that militarism was not the way towards a solution of humanity’s problems. That’s why I said that those of us who believe in creating a more perfect union can only do it by standing around him, under him, behind him, pushing him to ask questions about what is the role of the military in a democratic society, by encouraging him to see the possibility that maybe he would be a better community-organizer-in-chief than commander-in-chief. Maybe a democracy needs community organizers more than it needs commanders.
Pulitzer-prize winning poet Phil Levine has lived and taught for much of his life in Fresno, California, in the San Joaquin Valley of central California. Growing up in Sacramento, that valley is a place I know and love. In fact, the title of my critical thesis for my MFA in poetry was “Writing in Gold Dust” on California poetry.
Enjoy Levine’s beautiful poem about the Central valley published in the November issue of Poetry magazine.
We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.
You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.
You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.
I have been in high spirits since Obama’s win. Watching the returns I cried, yelled, laughed, and went a bit nuts. Hope is such an amazing thing. I was at the March on Washington in 1963. I had come over from France during the summer and was staying with my grandmother in Lansdowne, PA. Took a bus to Washington and slept in a hostel with a ton of other folks. It was amazing. I was also 19 and weighed about 120 pounds.
I’ve asked a few folks to write up their reflections about election night. So send me a comment: Where were you on election night? What feeling or image stands out the most?.
A few days ago, I wrote about veteran photojournalist Matt Mendelsohn who shot photos on election night when a few of us gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.
Matt wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about his experience huddled with us there on the steps. One of Matt’s photos was printed in The New York Times and is garnering much attention. It’s on the verge of becoming one of those “iconic” images and he’s been blogging about it at his site The Dark Slide where you can buy a commemorative print.
I contacted Matt to ask about any other photos he might have from that night and he was so generous as to give me one that includes some close up shots of faces. Thanks, Matt!.
I caught indy journalist and Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman at D.C.’s Green Festival yesterday. She reminded the still-deliriously happy crowd that the work of rebuilding democracy is just beginning.
Calling Obama our new “Organizer-in-Chief,” Goodman said the election was won by a combination of community organizing and unprecedented fund raising. But the jury’s still out, she said, on the lessons learned.
The answer is in who gets listened to in the new administration. Will it be the big dollar donors who find an ear? Or will it be a new day for community organizations and the people they represent?
Goodman made the point that Obama will need organizers pushing from the outside – both in times when community leaders genuinely disagree with him, but also for the added power it gives the president when he knows millions are ready to take him to task should he wander astray.
And to prove her point, Goodman lifted up two women as models for the kind of leadership that we now need:
Rosa Parks. Contrary to the watered-down history that portrays her as a tired seamstress too exhausted to give her bus seat to a white man, Parks was a trained community organizer – trained, in fact, at the Highlander Center with Myles Horton. Goodman called her a “first-class troublemaker” and pointed out that it was Rosa who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott that launched Dr. King into leadership of the civil rights movement.
Mamie Till. The mother of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched during a summer vacation to in Mississippi in 1955, Mamie Till made the strategic choice for an open casket at Emmett’s funeral. Because of a mother’s courage, photos in newspapers around the world showed the brutality of racism.
Our new Organizer-in-Chief needs a few “first-class troublemakers” like Rosa Parks and Mamie Till to lead from the grassroots. Tuesday’s victory was huge and necessary, but this campaign was won, not solely by Barack Obama, but by an electrified citizenry committed to change. To move this from a historic “moment” to a historic “era” will take ongoing commitment by that same citizenry..
I heard Bill McDonough speak at the Green Festival in Washington, D.C., yesterday. McDonough is one of those paradigm-shifting thinkers who comes out of the design world.
His newest book is Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (as opposed to “cradle to grave”), which outlines his basic design production concept. Besides, the book’s made from synthetic ‘paper’ that can be recycled. No trees were harmed in the making of this book.
Design is the first signal of human intention. … Our goal is a delightfully divine, safe, healthy, socially just world with clean air, water, soil, and power, that can be economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed.
McDonough’s developed concepts like roof farming in urban China, television leasing to avoid the landfill in Europe, and fabric that’s strong enough for public use and safe enough to eat.