Letters and Writings from Prison

jagerstatterorbisFranz Jagerstatter: Letters and Writings from Prison, edited and translated by Austrian theologian Erna Putz, has just been released by Orbis Books. This collection of writings by the Catholic Nazi resister Jagerstatter represents the first time his writings have been translated into English.

Jagerstatter was executed in 1943 for refusing to serve in the Nazi army. Before taking this stand he had consulted both his pastor and his local bishop, who instructed him to do his duty and to obey the law–an instruction that violated his conscience.

For many years Jagerstatter’s solitary witness was honored by the Catholic peace movement – his story saved from oblivion by Gordon Zahn who wrote about it in In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter.

Now, with his beatification in 2007  (read my column On Becoming a Christian about Jagerstatter’s beatification), his example has been embraced by the universal church. He stands as one of the great martyrs of our time.

An introduction by Jim Forest, founder of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, sets these writings in the context of Franz’s life and times, and draws out their meaning for today. Here’s an excerpt from Jim’s introduction:

Franz Jägerstätter was one of the least likely persons to question the justifications for war being announced daily by those in charge or to say to no to the demands of his government. What did he know? And, for that matter, who would care about his perceptions? He was only a farmer. He had never been to a university or theological school. His formal education had occurred entirely in a one-room schoolhouse. Though active in his parish, which he served as sexton, he was not a person whose name would ring a bell for his bishop. No priest or bishop or theologian, no matter how critical of Nazi doctrine, was announcing it was a sin to obey the commands of the Hitler regime when it came to war. So far as he knew none of his fellow Catholics in Austria, even those who openly disagreed with Nazi ideology, had failed to report for military duty when the notice came.

How could so unimportant a person dare to have such important convictions? How could a humble Catholic farmer imagine he had a clearer conscience than those who led the Church in his homeland? And, in any event, didn’t his responsibility to his wife and children have priority over his views about war and government?

Read Jim’s full introduction here.

Catholic Ohio: Sacraments in the Rust Belt

blessed-sacrament2I went to a fantastic Holy Saturday vigil mass at Blessed Sacrament in Warren, Ohio, last week. The architecture of the church is stunning with an glass silo-type spire.

There were 6 or 7 people baptized in the full-immersion font and probably a half dozen more who were confirmed into the church that night. It’s a parish alive with grace, patience, beauty, and (!) teenagers! This is a Catholic community thriving in the spirit of Vatican II.

Unfortunately, many Catholic churches in Ohio are not faring so well, according to a recent CNN story.

Along the Rust Belt and in cities dotting the Northeast and Upper Midwest, Catholic communities are mourning the loss of parishes. It’s a five-year trend of sweeping church closures that most recently hit Cleveland, Ohio. …

What drove the decision to close parishes in Cleveland were population shifts to outlying areas, financial strains that have 42 percent of parishes “operating in the red” and priest shortages, diocese spokesman Robert Tayek explained. The bishop, he said, is trying to find “an equitable solution.”

But the announcement has raised many questions. Among them: What happens to the struggling neighborhoods that have come to rely on outreach and programs offered by some of these inner-city parishes?

“Too many bishops are treating parishes as if they were Starbucks franchises,” said Sister Christine Schenk, a Cleveland-area nun who’s been fighting for nearly two decades to institute change in the church through her organization FutureChurch. “It’s about more than money. It’s about mission to the people,” she said.

The Sin of the Male CEO

tina-beatieThe March 7 issue of the British Catholic newspaper The Tablet has an intriguing article by Tina Beatie, Deadlier Sin of the Male, that I recommend reading. Beatie is a professor in Catholic studies at Roehampton University in Bristol.

Apparently the “Pope’s personal theologian” recently endorsed a theory that “men and women sin differently.”

“When you look at vices from the point of view of the difficulties they create,”  Msgr Wojciech Giertych, theologian to the papal household, wrote in L’Osservatore Romano, “you find that men experiment in a different way from women.”

Beatie reminds us that this approach has been explored by feminist theologians for at least 50 years since Valerie Saiving published her groundbreaking essay titled The Human Situation: A Feminine View.

Beatie does an excellent job of separating the reality of “gendered sin” from the hierarchy of sin. As you might imagine, the Pope’s theologian not only thinks men and women have different temptations but also that women’s are more dangerous than men’s. (The gall of that guy!)

And as an added twist, Beatie examines the male sin of greed in light of the economic collapse and the fact that “among the leading bankers that have brought the British economy to its knees there are no women.” This is mirrored in the U.S. situation.

Check out Tina Beatie’s article below:

In a recent article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Pope’s personal theologian, Mgr Wojciech Giertych, endorsed a theory by a 95-year-old Jesuit, Fr Roberto Busa, that men and women sin differently. Based on the Seven Deadly Sins, the list of men’s sins includes lust at the top and greed at the bottom, while women’s sins have pride at the top and sloth at the bottom. As usual when the Vatican says anything mildly controversial about sex, the news was greeted with a flurry of media interest. But in fact, it’s not news at all, since feminist theologians have been writing about the gendering of sin for nearly 50 years.

In 1961, Valerie Saiving published an essay in which she appeals for greater awareness of the ways in which concepts of masculinity and femininity shape the ways in which we experience sin. Her article has had a formative influence on much feminist theology, and her theories have been developed and refined by two generations of female scholars. At first glance, Saiving’s theory appears to contradict that of the Vatican. She writes that sins associated with femininity “have a quality which can never be encompassed by such terms as ‘pride’ and ‘will-to-power’.” Rather, women are likely to be guilty of “triviality, distractibility, and diffuseness”; of “inability to respect the boundaries of privacy; sentimentality, gossipy sociability, and mistrust of reason – in short, underdevelopment or negation of the self”. Yet perhaps this is what Mgr Giertych means when he refers to “pride”, since he cites as evidence the example of women Religious in convents, who “are often envious of each other over little things, but when the church bell rings, everyone goes to the chapel to sing vespers.” Monks, on the other hand “aren’t often interested in each other and, therefore, aren’t jealous, but when the church bell rings, few take part in common prayer.” Whatever else these anecdotes reveal, the behaviour of those nuns might suggest envy (which is second on the list of women’s sins), but they seem far more to do with triviality and “gossipy sociability” than with pride.

Continue reading “The Sin of the Male CEO”

The Thomas Mass

I just found this photo from the closing liturgy at the 2006 Politics and Spirituality Conference that the Center for Action and Contemplation and Sojourners co-hosted in Pasadena, CA. It was called a “Thomas Mass. ” The con-celebrants were Anita Amstutz, Richard Rohr, and myself. Jim Wallis preached.

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The “Thomas Mass” was first created in Helsinki, Finland in 1988 by a collection of ministers of various denominations, artists, musicians, and civic leaders (hence it is not really a “Mass,” in the official Catholic sense). They wanted to create a prayerful service that would again fill their cathedral, but with seekers, searchers, and believers alike. They recognized that much of Europe had become a continent of skeptics, and so they named the service after St. Thomas “the Doubter.”

After an initial attempt to create an ecumenical and new liturgy, they realized that it basically had the structure of the historic Catholic Mass. It immediately began to spread across Europe.  The Thomas Mass avoids the usual denominational turf, arguments, and leadership, while still offering a deeply sacramental structure where disparate groups can gather in a faith-filled way.

It retrieves the historic meaning of the very word “liturgy” as a collective work of the people. One of the strengths of the Thomas Mass is that it emphasizes full participation instead of mere listening or “attendance.” It was a wonderful experience.

Rose Interviews Catholic theologian Jim Douglass on his Book “JFK and the Unspeakable” and the Presidency of Barack Obama

I posted earlier on Jim and Shelley Douglass–two of my faith heroes. I interviewed Jim during his visit to Sojourners offices in December 2008. You can watch the videos below.

For more on Jim Douglass, go here.

“JFK and the Unspeakable” by Jim Douglass

shelleyjimdouglass1I’ve been honored to know Jim Douglass and Shelley Douglass since their days at the Ground Zero community in Poulsbo, Washington. Now they live in Birmingham, Alabama. Shelley leads their mission at Mary’s House, in the spirit of the Catholic Worker. Jim continues to be one of the foremost Catholic writers, thinkers, theologians, and practitioners of Christian nonviolence.

In Jim’s groundbreaking 2008 book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Mattersjfk-unspeakable, he  probes the role of the principalities and powers in the assassination of John Kennedy, the first Catholic President, and explores why we need to understand our history if we are going to fully understand what is at stake with Barack Obama. Here’s a little bit of what I wrote after visiting with Jim last December:

Kennedy showcased his new vision in June 1963 during a speech at American University in Washington, D.C., by preaching on the absolute necessity for nations to choose peace. “What kind of peace do I mean?” asked Kennedy. “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living … .”

It was this speech, Douglass says, that prompted the Unspeakable—in the form of people within the U.S. intelligence and military structure—to act.

FAST-FORWARD TO Jan. 28, 2008, when Ted and Caroline Kennedy stood on the stage at American University to endorse Barack Obama for president. President Kennedy’s 1963 speech formed the historical backdrop. The Kennedys, I think, were sending a message: Barack Obama can pick up the banner for peace dropped by John Kennedy in death.

You can read my whole column about my visit with Jim here–and look for a review of JFK and the Unspeakable by Ed Snyder in the March 2009 issue of Sojourners.

My Day on the Hugo Chavez Show

Tonight, PBS’s Frontline will air “The Hugo Chavez Show: An illuminating inside view of the mercurial Venezuelan president, his rise to power, and the new type of revolution he seems to be inventing – on television.” In the Washington Post review of the show, David Montgomery writes:

What Americans have been missing is a direct encounter with the temperamental, charming, fierce, cruel, seductive, whimsical and overwhelming personality that comes through on “Aló, Presidente.” When Chávez, 54, isn’t ordering troops to the border, he’s singing folk songs, riding horses and tractors, tramping through gorgeous countryside or castigating cabinet ministers who fail pop quizzes that he administers as the cameras roll.

In 2004, I was in the audience for Chavez’ “Aló, Presidente” … for 5 hours. And this was one of his shorter

Hugo Chavez at taping of Alo Presidente 2004
Hugo Chavez on Alo Presidente in 2004/Berger

shows! It was one of the most fascinating examples of political theater I’ve ever seen. He used media deftly to create a politically engaged populace.

Here are some of my journal notes from that day – January 18, 2004 – Caracas, Venezuela:

We were invited to be in the audience during the screening of President Chavez’ weekly television program. After coffee and about an hour’s wait, we were led to a tent behind the presidential house where the filming would take place (it is in a different location each week) and seated in chairs with our names on them in the midst of cameras and microphones and the “set” for the show.

Then Chavez sat at a desk “on stage” and for five hours hosted a program with only two short breaks. He talked about teachers in honor of National Teachers Day – honoring and joking with the Minister of Education who was present. He introduced an old prize fighter who was also present. He talked about the cross and scapular he wears. He chatted on the phone through a call-in mechanism with a number of people from around the country – a young girl about her school, one woman about the need for her to get involved in elections for mayor in her town, another woman about jobs for her sons and her nephew.

He talked about how unemployment was often the result of the neoliberal capitalist model and how Venezuela was creating a new economy – that they were going to initiate another revolution within the revolution by starting a new “mission” called Mision Vuelven Cara. This new mission will train and incorporate workers into development projects that will emphasize small farms and forestry projects, petroleum related businesses, tourism etc. The unemployed will be included as they build Venezuela’s capacity for productive employment. Then he recommended a book on the rebellion of 1840.

Then he went on to talk about how Venezuela has a deficit of beef and would be importing beef for a while from Brazil and Argentina, but that Venezuelans will be trained to raise beef, as well as for dairy farming. He said that it was good for poor people to eat more beef for the protein and that beef would be made available in poor neighborhoods for purchase in small quantities. He introduced the new Minister of Defense. He read from newspaper articles about the strengthened position of Venezuela in the world.

Then he spoke about the 1979 Puebla Conference of Latin American Catholic bishops which outlined the preferential option for the poor and he talked about the death of Oscar Romero. Chavez said that the challenge before Venezuela now is to take up the challenge of an option for the poor. Fr. Roy Bourgeouis was invited to make a statement. Fr. Roy talked about the School of the Americas and asked Venezuela to stop sending soldiers there for training. Chavez listened very intently. When Roy finished Chavez said quite a bit about the SOA. He had obviously done his homework. Then he moved on to talk about the writings of John Kenneth Galbraith. And so the program went on and on.

Chavez continues to be an ego-obsessed narcissist who doesn’t mind using his cult of personality to promote a particular political and social agenda and he’s not above taking direct, anti-democratic action against his enemies and to maintain his own power. So what else is new in the world of politics?

He is also “the peoples’ choice” in Venezuela’s fair elections. This week Chavez’ party swept most states, according to The Guardian, in Venezuela’s regional elections. The record turnout of 65% among 16.8 million registered voters shows the passion and antipathy elicited by this larger-than-life personality.

The Frontline show is tough, fair, and shows Chavez with his good points and his bad points. “The documentarians credit Chávez with being the first president in the 50-year history of Venezuelan democracy to elevate themes of poverty and social justice to the top of national discussion,” writes Montgomery. “But they suggest that his methods for addressing those issues have been uneven and over-hyped.”.