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.

Osagyefo Sekou: Martin King, Science Fiction, and the Future of America

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou is a fire-brand Pentecostal prophet. His recent essay A Mighty Stream traces Martin King’s life and developing perspective on radical economics within the Christian tradition.

I first met Sekou through the Word and World program. Additionally, he was the founding national coordinator for Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq. In response to Hurricane Katrina, Sekou moved to New Orleans for six months and founded the Interfaith Worker Justice Center for New Orleans. He’s the author of Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and Democracy (Campbell and Cannon Press, 2011) and the forthcoming Riot Music: British Hip Hop, Race, and the Politics of Meaning (Hamilton Books, 2012), which explores the London riots.

Sekou’s a third-generation Pentecostal minister and the special assistant to the Bishop of New York Southeastern District of the Church of God in Christ. As we continue to unpack and learn from the tremendous legacy Dr. King left us, here is another perspective in the opening section of Sekou’s essay A Mighty Stream:

“Darling I miss you so much. In fact, much too much for my own good. I never realized that you were such an intimate part of my life,” writes a young graduate student, Martin Luther King Jr. to his love interest, Coretta Scott. They are separated for a few months because King had gone home to Atlanta for the summer after his first year as a PhD student at Boston University School of Theology. King opens the letter by sharing how much he missed her. Honing the oratory that would go on to seize the consciousness of a nation, King laid it on thick. “My life without you is like a year without a spring time, which comes to give illumination and heat to the atmosphere, which has been saturated by the dark cold breeze of winter.”

Turning to “something more intellectual,” King indicated that he finished reading Bellamy’s “fascinating” book. In April 1952, Scott sent King a copy of Edward Bellamy’s socialist novel, Looking Backward 2000-1887. She inscribes the gift with a note expressing her interest in his reaction to “Bellamy’s prediction about our society.” The utopian science fiction novel took place in Boston, where both King and Scott were graduate students. Written in 1888 and set in the year 2000, the novel’s protagonist Julian West awoke from a 130-year slumber to realize that the United States has been transformed into a socialist society. West offered a stunning criticism of the faith practices of the 19th century:

“Moreover, it must not be forgotten that the 19th century was in name Christian, and the fact that the entire industrial and commercial frame of society was the embodiment of the anti-Christian spirit must’ve had some weight, though I admit it was strangely little, with the nominal followers of Jesus Christ.”

Read Sekou’s whole essay here.

Bill McKibben: Climate Change Won’t Wait

I’ve been pondering climate change issues for awhile: praying, educating folks on what’s happening, shoring up my spiritual foundations by reading things like Hiebert’s The Yawhist’s Lanscape: Nature and Religion in Early Israel, strategizing, and just doing some serious thinking.

On the one hand, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). I trust completely in the abiding love of God here on earth and in the life to come. What happens is what happens when it comes to breaking God’s fundamental earth covenant and the cycles of human life.

On the other hand, the role of the prophets is to continually make plain to the people where they have broken covenant with God, what they need to do to turn around, and what is promised them when they do.

When it comes to addressing global climate change, both hands are in motion. I need to act with all risk and passion of the prophets and all the joyful confidence of one who strives to walk humbly with God.

On February 17, 2013, God’s people are called again to carry a message to President Obama: Take meaningful action to reverse climate change now.

Below is an excerpt from Bill McKibben’s most recent oped in the LA TImes: Climate Change Won’t Wait:

… With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to physics’ timetable, it will be too late.

It’s not at all clear that President Obama understands this.

That’s why his administration is sometimes peeved when they don’t get the credit they think they deserve for tackling the issue in his first term in office. The measure they point to most often is the increase in average mileage for automobiles, which will slowly go into effect over the next decade.

That’s precisely the kind of gradual transformation that people — and politicians — like. But physics isn’t impressed. If we’re to slow the pace of climate change we need to cut emissions globally at a sensational rate, by something like 5% a year.

It’s not Obama’s fault that that’s not happening. He can’t force it to happen, especially with Congress so deeply in debt to the fossil fuel industry. But he should at least be doing absolutely everything he can on his own authority. That might include new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, for example. And he could refuse to grant the permit for the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. …

…The president must be pressed to do all he can — and more. But there’s another possibility we need to consider: Perhaps he’s simply not up to this task, and we’re going to have to do it for him, as best we can.

Those of us in the growing grass-roots climate movement are moving as fast and hard as we know how (though not, I fear, as fast as physics demands). Thousands of us will descend on Washington on Presidents Day weekend for the largest environmental demonstration in years. And young people from 190 nations will gather in Istanbul, Turkey, in June in an effort to shame the United Nations into action.

We also need you. Maybe if we move fast enough, even this all-too-patient president will get caught up in the draft. But we’re not waiting for him. We can’t.

St. John Chrysostom: ‘For this day the ancient slavery is ended’

“Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.”–St. John Chrysostom, The Nativity Sermon (385 AD)

Dorothee Soelle: Manipulating Human Desire

Dorothee Soelle

“Trivial religion in the age of consumerism” has made human desires totally manipulable. All desires to be different, to become a new being, to relate differently to others, to communicate in a new way, have been exchanged for the wish to possess things. It makes a difference whether a person says at some point in life, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10), or whether the yearnings that take this direction of radical change find no language in which to express themselves. These lines are not promoting some bourgeois inner spirituality. Their context speaks against such an interpretation. It simply states the human desire to be other than one is (“renewed”) and to have a “right” spirit, a less vacillating one.”–Dorothee Soelle, “Rebellion Against Banality”

From The Strength of the Weak:Toward A Christian Feminist Identity by Dorothee Soelle (Westminster Press, 1984)

Richard Rohr: ‘Imagining the Second Half of Life’

“The task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and to answer the first essential questions: “What makes me significant?”, “How can I support myself?”, and “Who will go with me?” As Mary Oliver puts it, “. . . what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (“The Summer Day”). The container is not an end in itself, but exists for the sake of your deeper and fullest life, which you largely do not know about yourself! Far too many people just keep doing repair work on the container itself and never “throw their nets into the deep” (John 21:6) to bring in the huge catch that awaits them.

Problematically, the first task invests so much of our blood, sweat, eggs and sperm, tears and years that we often cannot imagine there is a second task, or that anything more could be expected of us. “The old wineskins are good enough” (Luke 5:39), we say, even though according to Jesus they often cannot hold the new wine. According to Jesus, if we do not get some new wineskins, “the wine and the wineskins will both be lost” (Luke 5:37).”–Richard Rohr, ofm

Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (pp. 1-2)

Thomas Merton: Both Question and Answer

“The life of contemplation implies two levels of awareness: first, awareness of the question, and second, awareness of the answer. Though these are two distinct and enormously different levels, yet they are in fact an awareness of the same thing. The question is, itself, the answer. And we are ourselves are both.”–Thomas Merton

From New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Directions Books, p.4)

Feast of Lady Julian of Norwich

It’s the feast day of Julian of Norwich, great mystic and theologian of the church. I’m grateful to Richard Rohr for his reflections below:

At this time in history, the contemporary choice offered most Americans is between unstable correctness (liberals) and stable illusion (conservatives)! What a choice! It has little to do with real transformation in either case. How different from the radical orthodoxy of T. S. Eliot, who can say in Little Gidding,

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel…

There is a third way, and it probably is a way of “kneeling.” Most people would just call it “wisdom.” It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind of both liberals and conservatives. An authentic God encounter is the quickest and truest path to such wisdom, which is always non-dual consciousness and does not take useless sides on non-essential issues.

Neither expelling nor excluding (conservative temptation), nor perfect explaining (liberal temptation) is our task. True participation in God liberates us from our control towers and for the compelling and overarching vision of the Reign of God—where there are no liberals or conservatives. Here, the paradoxes—life and death, success and failure, loyalty to what is and risk for what needs to be—do not fight with one another, but lie in an endless embrace. We must penetrate behind them both—into the Mystery that bears them both. This is contemplation in action.

Read my favorite mystic, Julian of Norwich (1342-1420), and she will show you how to be a most traditional Christian, while breaking all the rules and orthodox ideas at the very same time. On the night of May 8, 1373, God “showed himself” to her and it took her more than twenty years to unpackage the experience. This English laywoman well deserves to be a doctor of spirituality. Her Revelations of Divine Love is a bottomless well of wisdom, love, and truth, and one of the few books I could return to every month and find something new—which, for me, is a sign of perennial and radical orthodoxy.–Richard Rohr, ofm

Adapted from Contemplation in Action by Richard Rohr. Read more by Richard Rohr and learn about the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Abbot Philip: ‘If we always agreed, there would be not much need to listen’

Abbot Philip is part of Christ in the Desert monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico. I’ve visited there only once and it was a profoundly transforming experience. He writes:

One of the great challenges of the spiritual life is that of accepting ourselves as we are, even when others may not understand us nor accept us.

Each of us must walk a path of righteousness, seeking to do what is right in our own lives and in the lives of our families or communities. That sounds, as always, fairly simple. It never is. Why is it that others always have the answers to our lives when they seem unable to navigate well in their own? Why is it that others think that they should be able to make the decisions in our lives? These are questions that are asked of me from time to time. I see these questions played out in our own community and in relationships. In a monastic community, we get used to having others involved in our lives. It is part of living in community.

We monks are never to make decisions just by ourselves. Married couples are supposed to do the same thing in their family lives. Even the abbot cannot make decisions in a totally autonomous manner in the monastic life. I have to consult a Council or a Chapter on almost every important decision. It is not just that I have to do that, it is also that doing so is a real help in living the monastic life and serving a community.There are times when the advice or the votes of the Chapter or Council are not what I want to hear. There are times in a marriage when one spouse really does not want to listen to the other. That is the nature of advice.

If we always agreed with one another, there would be not much need to listen to one another. Ultimately, of course, each of us must make his or her own decisions when they are decisions of the deepest levels of our lives. We must listen carefully first, we must weigh carefully all that is told to us—and we must make a decision. Most of the time in the spiritual life, we are not making earth-shattering decisions. I do not have to decide every day that I am going to remain a monk! I do not have to decide every day that I will try to pray! Daily spirituality is mostly about trying to do well the things that I have already decided to do. That is why it can get so very boring at times! There are times in everyone’s life that an important decision must be made. My personal experience is that those types of decisions have become less and less as I mature. There are decisions that I must make in my own life, but they are not the direction setting decisions of my younger years.

Now it is a matter of faithfully living out what I have promised and decided. For me, this is one of the reasons that life is more peaceful as I mature. One decision builds on top of another. If the first decisions are well made and strong, everything built on them remains strong. Sometimes I see people struggling so very much because they have never made good decisions. Or they made good decisions and later abandoned them. I certainly wavered about lots of decisions when I was younger, but in due time I reaffirmed those decisions and kept on the path which they indicated. Spiritually, it is very important to make good decisions, especially about the most important things in life. With good decisions, we have something on which our lives can be built.–Abbot Philip, OSB (The Abbot’s Notebook for Wednesday Apr 18, 2012)

‘Can Marriage Ever Change? Homosexuality and the Church’

The UK government has recently initiated a “consultation” on same-sex marriage. The Anglican dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral has urged the Church of England to welcome any couple that wishes to take on the virtues of Christian marriage. The senior Catholic cleric in the UK, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has strenuously argued the Vatican’s position and opposes and possible change in British law.

This week’s edition of excellent UK Catholic newspaper The Tablet features three prominent Catholic thinkers–Timothy Radcliffe, Martin Pendergast, and Tina Beattie–reflecting on the issue of marriage in the Church.

See below:

‘Marriage is founded on sexual difference and potential for fertility’ by Fr. TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE, former Master General of the Dominican order and a widely respected spiritual guide, author, and lecturer.

The Catholic Church does not oppose gay marriage. It considers it to be impossible. If it were possible, then we would have to support it since the Church tells us that we must oppose all discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The issue is not gay rights but a wonderful truth of our humanity, which is that we are animals: rational animals according to the medievals, spiritual animals open to sharing the life of God.

In the sacraments, the fundamental dramas of our bodily life are blessed and become open to God’s grace: birth and death, eating and drinking, sex and illness. St Thomas Aquinas says that grace perfects nature and does not destroy it.

Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this, there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future. Marriage takes all sorts of forms, from the alliance of clans through bride exchange to modern romantic love. We have come to see that it implies the equal love and dignity of man and woman. But everywhere and always, it remains founded on the union in difference of male and female. Through ­ceremonies and sacrament this is given a deeper meaning, which for Christians includes the union of God and humanity in Christ.

This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same-sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love. But “gay marriage” is impossible because it attempts to cut loose marriage from its grounding in our biological life. If we do that, we deny our humanity. It would be like trying to make a cheese soufflé without the cheese, or wine without grapes.

From the beginning, Christianity has stood up for the beauty and dignity of our bodily life, blessed by our God who became flesh and blood like us. This has always seemed a little scandalous to “spiritual” people, who think that we should escape the messy realities of bodies. And so the Church had to oppose Gnosticism in the second century, Manichaeism in the fourth, Catharism in the thirteenth. These all either had contempt for the body or regarded it as unimportant.

We, too, influenced as we are by Cartesianism, tend to think of ourselves as minds trapped in bodies, ghosts in machines. A friend said to me the other day: “I am a soul, but I have a body.” But the Catholic trad­ition has always insisted on the fundamental unity of the human person. Aquinas famously said: “I am not my soul.”

Lynne Featherstone, the Equalities Minister, is right to say the Churches do not have an exclusive right to determine who can marry – but nor does the State, because we cannot simply decide by some mental or legal act what it means to be a human being. Our civilisation will flourish only if it recognises the gift of our bodily existence, which includes the amazing creativity of sexual difference, lifted up into love. Giving formal recognition to this through the institution of marriage in no way disparages the blessings brought to us by gay people.

Timothy Radcliffe OP is a former master of the Dominicans. His latest book is Taking the Plunge: living baptism and confirmation, to be published by Continuum on 28 April.

‘Rather than buying into a marital bond, the sacramentality of such unions is what many of us strive to live out’ by MARTIN PENDERGAST

Timothy Radcliffe is trying to be typically generous to lesbian and gay people in his comments. Nevertheless when he states, in much less strident tones than some religious leaders, that “marriage” cannot be redefined by either State or Church, he has got himself into a double bind. Church and State have frequently redefined marriage and its structures over centuries due to a variety of factors: cultural patterns and religious influences, as well as social and human development. The model of marriage that we have today is rooted more strongly in eighteenth- and nineteenth-­century social patterns than it is in earlier religious traditions.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, David could write of the love shared between himself and Jonathan as surpassing even that of a man and woman. The relationship between the Roman centurion and his beloved “servant” who was healed (made whole) by Jesus in the gospel story is now widely accepted by scholars to indicate an affirmation of the love between the two men. Then there is the love between Ruth and Naomi, between Felicity and Perpetua, if the traditions are to be respected.

I believe Timothy Radcliffe risks idealising marriage too strongly, seeing it through his own dedicated prism of vowed celibacy. He states that “marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility”. But the social and anthropological structures of marriage are rooted not in biology but in relationality. As the Hebrew Scriptures say: “It is not good for a person to be alone.” Also, what of those who clearly have no potential for fertility – are they to be prevented from marrying, limited to a version of civil unions?

Faith communities have redefined marriage throughout their history, countenancing and rejecting polygamous marriage, allowing divorce and remarriage, and the Second Vatican Council stated that the ends of marriage are twofold, not solely based upon procreation. In medieval times the focus was so strongly on betrothal rites that marriage, in some places, was a rarity, since so few people could fulfil the social and economic requirements for a marriage to take place before the altar. And what of all those “sworn brotherhood” rites, adapted also to include same-sex female partners, identified by researchers such as Alan Bray and John Boswell? In spite of all this, I am not a supporter of same-sex marriage for myself. I hold, conscientiously, that the institution of marriage, in spite of all its cultural and social variability, is essentially patriarchal and not a status I wish to adopt.

The essence of civil unions is that they are based on an equality of persons legally expressed in a mutual signing of a contractual covenant, rather than expressed in vows of subjection, one to another. It is this value of equality that same-sex couples in civil unions bring to the common good. Rather than buying into a marital bond, the sacramentality of such unions is what many of us strive to live out. It is to be hoped this will increasingly be recognised by faith communities and their leadership. Happily, many congregation members, parents and families have got this message.

Martin Pendergast is gay, Catholic and a founder member of the Cutting Edge Consortium, which promotes equality and human rights across religions and beliefs.


‘Marriage is not just about sex but about a lifelong commitment to bodily unity in difference with another human beingby TINA BEATTIE

If we allow the marriage between Christ and the Church to become the mystery within which all human loving participates and towards which all human love is drawn, and if we accept that sexual love is good even when it is non-procreative, can we not go beyond this “impossibility” of gay marriage?

Marriage is not just about sex but about a lifelong commitment to bodily unity in difference with another human being in all the interwoven materiality of our lives. Yes, of course, we are our bodies, and in some species (not all) the reproduction of the species depends upon heterosexual intercourse. Yet couldn’t marriage become an inclusive rather than an exclusive sacrament?

A good heterosexual marriage models a fertile way of human loving that entails a lifelong commitment to the other and an openness to the vulnerable outsider (a newborn child is definitely such a person, but so is any person in need of the love and stability that a loving relationship can offer). A sexual relationship – homosexual or heterosexual, fertile or infertile – which is turned in on itself and closed to others, which lacks permanent commitment for better or worse, or which is violent and abusive, is not what Christians mean by marriage.

If we want to understand the sacrament, we need to look to Christ and the Church, not to the abundant diversity of participation within that sacramental love that constitutes our bodily human relationships. I’ve been married for 37 years and I have four children, but the loving relationships of my gay friends have helped me to understand more deeply what marriage means as a partnership of equals. I hope that they in turn have been enriched by their married heterosexual friends, and have better understood what their love means within the sacramental love of Christ and the Church.

In these times of radical change in our understanding of sexuality and human dignity (especially the full and equal dignity of women in this life and not just in the life to come), maybe we heterosexuals need the marriages of our homosexual friends to help us to understand what marriage looks like when it’s not corrupted by traditions of domination and subordination.

Professor Tina Beattie is director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton.

Read more from The Tablet.