Sandra Schneiders: Religious Life is Sharing Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (Part 5 of 5 with Discussion Questions)

sandraschneidersThis is part five of a five-part essay by Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sandra Schneiders on the meaning of religious life today. The series is published in the U.S-based National Catholic Reporter. In this part Schneiders, professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, offers a conclusion to her essay on prophetic ministry and the nature of true Christian obedience. (See my earlier post on Tom Fox’s interview with Schneiders here, and Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.) The quotes that I highlighted and my set of questions are at the bottom of the post.

Religious Life is Sharing Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (Part 5 of 5)

We can now see the parallel between the two-level analysis of the execution of Jesus and the two levels of the struggle between U.S. women Religious and the Vatican. At the surface level Jesus was executed to put a stop to his “stirring up the people” which threatened the status quo of the Empire and the Temple. But at the deepest level, although “they knew not what they were doing,” the officials were trying to neutralize the radical revolution Jesus was introducing into their “world.” Jesus was initiating, by his prophetic words and works, a “new creation,” totally at odds with the satanic domination systems in power not only in political and religious institutions but in the human race as a whole. He was inaugurating and inviting people into the Reign of God, into a regime of endless and unconditioned compassion that would overflow into and empower a new form of justice based not on retribution and coercive power but on forgiveness of sins and inclusion in the all-embracing love of God. The Resurrection was God’s “yes” to Jesus’ work and “no” to the murder that tried to stop it.

Since Jesus, the Reign of God is “loose” in this world, working its painful way through the witness of saints and martyrs toward its full eschatological realization. The “powers” of this world are still at work to prevent this realization but, as Jesus said to his disciples on the eve of his death, “Have confidence; I have overcome the world.”

When we get down to the deeper levels of the question with which this essay began, “Why are Religious, of all people, being investigated by the Vatican?” we can discern the same two levels. At the surface level Religious are being threatened because they have been “upsetting the (patriarchal) order” of the Church as institution in which the hierarchy has its position of power. But they are calling into question not only absolute male power over women (which was not invented by and is not restricted to the Church) but also the necessity of understanding the Church itself as essentially an institution based on sacralized power. Religious, by their community life, are aligning themselves with the ecclesiology of the Church as People of God expressed in Lumen Gentium, a discipleship of equals, within which they are both exemplars and facilitators but also in solidarity with those to whom they no longer wish to be “superior” or “elite.” They are gratefully living among their lay sisters and brothers the oneness of the Body of Christ. This ecclesiology is no threat to the community Jesus gathered around him but it is a threat to an understanding of Church as a sacralized empire. It goes back to Jesus, not to Constantine.

But this Body of Christ, which we are, exists not just for the Church itself but for the world which God so loved. It is not a place of privilege or power, a sanctuary of the perfect, but the effective presence of Christ in the world in service of all those for whom Jesus died and rose. This is the vision of the Church in the world that came to marvelous expression in Gaudium et Spes.

The struggle between Religious and the hierarchy is really, at its core, a struggle over the nature of Religious Life itself which is necessarily determined by how one understands the Church in its relation to the world. Is this life a job corps of submissive workers carrying out hierarchically assigned and supervised institutional Church tasks designed to bring all people into the Roman Catholic Church and into subjection to its leadership? Or is Religious Life a charismatically grounded, prophetic life form in the Church called by God to the ever ambiguous task of discerning how the Gospel, the good news of the Reign of God, can be made salvifically operative in the concrete and confusing situations in which believers must live their Christ-life today in witness to all peoples of the infinite loving-kindness of our God?

Continue reading “Sandra Schneiders: Religious Life is Sharing Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (Part 5 of 5 with Discussion Questions)”

Peace Prayers at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig (and not Ronald Reagan) Brought Down the Berlin Wall in 1989

"Monday demonstration" in Leipzig on October 23, 1989, five days after the forced resignation of Erich Honecker.
"Monday demonstration" in Leipzig on October 23, 1989, five days after the forced resignation of Erich Honecker.

As the world marks the 20th anniversary of the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, I want to highlight a story that you won’t see in the mainstream news: how Christian nonviolent action was the lynch pin that set the stage for the wall to come tumbling down.

I remember exactly where I was and who I was with on the day the wall got a hole punched through it. It was the beginning of the collapse of Communism. The Soviet empire imploded. The Cold War that had left millions dead through starvation, poverty, nuclear brinkmanship, and “Red tide” skirmishes  began its slow decline. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal notes, what Friedrich von Hayek so aptly called the fatal conceit was in retreat.

Several months ago I came across a remarkable story by Lutheran peace activist Bonnie Block on faith-based peace action in East Germany in the 1980s that set the stage for the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. I asked Bonnie if I could reprint it here. She replied, “Yes, I wrote this article in 2001 and would be delighted to have it distributed.  We so often do not hear the stories of nonviolent action and thus it’s easier for the culture to convince us that violence works.”

Amidst a global economic recession and the potential end to U.S. imperial hegemony, I’ll posit that market capitalism is also a fatal conceit that is now in retreat. And the acts of faithful Christians who act out of Jesus’ ethic of nonviolence on behalf of human dignity are and will be the leaders of this revolution too. As the president of the German Democratic Republic said at that time, “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”

Read Bonnie Block’s article below:

Protests during the Church Congress in Leipzig (July 9, 1989)
Protests during the Church Congress in Leipzig (July 9, 1989)

In early November 2001, I was one of eighteen members of two Lutheran congregations in the Madison, WI area who visited the former East Germany as part of a 13-day “heritage tour.” I knew that the churches of East Germany had been vital to the nonviolent revolutions which brought down the Communist governments of eastern Europe in 1989. But hearing and reading the stories of people who were involved in this historic time, actually sitting in the pews of one of those churches and lightening a peace candle there, has strengthened my resolve to practice nonviolence.

The place we visited is the Nicolaikirche (St Nicholas Church) built in 1165 in the center of a cobblestone square in the inner city of Leipzig. The story actually begins in the late 1970s or early 1980s when there were huge demonstrations all over Europe to protest the arms race. But in East Germany there was no neutral space to discuss and reflect on public issues except for the churches. It was in this context that a youth group from a congregation in eastern Leipzig started “peace prayers” every Monday at 5 pm at the Nicolaikirche. Soon “Bausoldaten” (people who rendered their compulsory military service by serving in special, unarmed units) came, followed by environmental activists and people interested in third world issues. Together they tried to stir the public’s conscience and encourage action.

That made the Stasi (State Security Police) and SED (the ruling Communist Party) officials come to see what was going on. Soon applicants for emigration and other regime critics came — along with Christian and non-Christian citizens of Leipiz and other parts of East Germany. The government reacted. From the May 8 1989, the access roads to the Nicolaikirche were checked and blocked by the police. Later the autobahn exits to Leipzig were subject to large-scale checks or even closed during the time of the prayers for peace. Monday after Monday there were arrests or “temporary detentions.” Yet the people continued to gather.

By September, the 2000 seats in the church were filled and people coming out of the church were joined by tens of thousands waiting in the Square outside. All held lighted candles in their hands and slowly they began to move toward the ring road that surrounds the city center. Helmut Junghans, a retired professor at the University of Leipzig said: “It started with 5 or 6 but each week there were more of us praying for peace. Eventually we filled the church and then the square around the church and then we spilled onto the ring road surrounding the old part of Leipzig. Eventually there were 300,000 of us marching past the Stasi headquarters. Chants of ‘We are the people’ began and then soon changed to ‘We are one people.’ But there was not one broken shop window and there was no violence.”

October 7, 1989 was the 40th anniversary of the GDR. The authorities cracked down and for ten long hours uniformed police battered defenseless people who made no attempt to fight back and took them away in trucks. Hundreds were locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. The press published an article saying it was high time to put an end to the “counter-revolution,” if need be, by force.

On Monday, October 9, 1989 “everything was at stake” because the order to shoot the protesters had been given. Rev. C. Fuhrer, describes the day as follows:

1,000 SED party members had been ordered to go to the Nicholaikirche. Some 600 of them had already filled up the church nave by 2 pm. They had a job to perform like the Stasi personnel who were on hand regularly and in great numbers at the peace prayers. And so it was that these people, including SED party members, heard from Jesus who said: “Blessed are the poor”! And not: “Anyone with money is happy.”

Jesus said: “Love your enemies”! Instead of: “Down with your opponent.” Jesus said: “Many who are first will be last”! And not: “Everything stays the same.” Jesus said: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it”! And not: “Take great care.” Jesus said: “You are the salt”! And not: “You are the cream.”

The prayers for peace took place in unbelievable calm and concentration. Shortly before the end, before the bishop gave his blessing, appeals by Professor Masur, chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and others who supported our call for non-violence, were read out. This mutuality in such a threatening situation is also important, this solidarity between church and art, music and gospel.

And so these prayers for peace ended with the bishop’s blessing and the urgent call for non-violence. And as we–more than 2,000 persons–came out of the church–I’ll never forget the sight–tens of thousands were waiting outside in the Square. They all had candles in their hands. If you carry a candle, you need two hands. You have to prevent the candle from going out. You cannot hold a stone or a club in your hand. And the miracle came to pass. Jesus’ spirit of nonviolence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power. Troops, industrial militia groups, and the police were drawn in, became engaged in conversations, then withdrew. It was an evening in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no victors or vanquished, no one triumphed over the other, and no one lost face.

Not a shot was fired. On Monday, October 16, the peace prayers continued (as they do to this day) and 120,000 people were in the streets of Leipzig demanding democracy and free elections. On October 18, Erich Honecker, the leader of the ruling SED party resigned. Nonviolent protests were held all over Germany, including one with one half million people in East Berlin on November 4th. On November 7, 1989 the entire government of the GDR resigned. On November 9th the crossing points of the Wall in East Berlin opened. Seven months later the entire border regime of the GDR (symbolized by Checkpoint Charlie) came to an end. On October 3, 1990 Germany was reunified.

Sindermann, who was a member of the Central Committee of the GDR, said before his death: “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”

Block lives in Madison, WI, and was the national coordinator of Lutheran Peace Fellowship during the early 1990s and chair of the National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1995.  She would like to thank Herb Brokering for his reflections on the pilgrimages he made to the Eastern Germany before the fall of the Wall and which were available for reading on the bus during our journey in 2001.

Moving Toward a “Whole-Earth Jubilee”

earthjubileeOn October 24 people around the world will be observing the First International Day of Climate Action, hosted by Bill McKibben’s 350.org.

Right now, as the world prepares for the international climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December, the world lacks one thing to save itself: political will. We have the technology to make appropriate changes. But political will is forged through moral vision and religious persuasion brought to bear by a diverse set of grassroots actions. And grassroot action requires you.

For Christians, part of our mission in the world is to bring religious imagination to bear on the crises of our day. Climate change is one of the most critical crises of our day.

Thanks to Tim Kumfer over at Always New Depths for posting his short essay written for his Ecofeminist Theology and Philosophy class at Duke responding to this question: What resources exist in your religious and/or spiritual tradition for thinking about ecological crises like climate change, pollution, scarce resources like water and food, and species loss?

Here’s part of Tim’s response, but I encourage you to read the whole thing and consider what resources you draw on for shaping religious vision. Also, what fun and effective thing can you do for International Day of Climate Action on Oct. 24. Tim writes:

These themes of resistance to dominant ecological and economic practices within the Bible must be brought into the mix as Christians begin to reflect on our contemporary many-headed ecological crisis.  Listening deeply to these stories and paying attention to the dynamics in which they were formed I think we will find more radical conversation partners than we might have first imagined.  Our present lives in the first world are supported by structures of empire similar to those which our foremothers and fathers in the faith strove to leave or subvert from within. The rapacious practices of consumer capitalism need to be stopped; Sabbath can point towards alternatives which honor the earth and workers through the recognition of natural limits. A whole-earth Jubilee is necessary now more than ever, one which not only brings greater equality between humans but recognizes the inherent worth, beauty, and necessity of non-human species and the ecosystem.  This is perhaps the most important thing which the Christian (and Jewish) tradition at its best can bring to the table: an uncompromising moral vision which can go beneath green washing and eco-capitalist hype to re-present to us the truth which we already know: our lives in the first world need to change drastically for life on this planet to be sustained.

Read Tim’s full post here.

“Walling” and the Divine Image

theodosius_i_roman_coinRabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia recently posted a Jewish response (Torturing the Image of God) to the Pew Study on  White Evangelical and Catholic Christians justifying torture that I blogged about earlier.

I appreciate his provocative teaching. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the central teachings of Torah is that all human beings are made in the Image of God. That teaching and what flows from it are at the heart of Jewish prohibitions on the use of torture — and perhaps at the heart of Christian opposition to torture as well.

Indeed, the Rabbis – living under the Roman Empire – enriched that teaching about the Image as a direct challenge to the power of Rome, the Imperial fount of torture. One of them asked, “What does this mean, ‘In God’s image?’” And another answered, “When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When that One who is beyond all rulers puts the divine image on a ‘coin,’ all the coins [that is, human beings] come out unique.”

Take into account the Rabbinic teaching that Caesar puts his rigid uniformity upon his coins, whereas the Infinite God puts uniqueness into God’s coins: that is, every human being. Surely Jesus, the radical rabbi from the Galilee, knew this teaching.

So I believe there is a missing line in the Gospel story. Either Jesus didn’t need to say it because his first question would reawaken the knowledge in those who were trying to trouble him, or it was later censored out because it was so radical:

“Whose image is on that coin?” he said, and they answered: “Caesar’s.”

And then I think he said, “And whose Image is on this coin?” as he put his hands on the shoulders of the troublemakers.

Only then did he say, “So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — and give to God what is God’s!”

And of course, as the Gospels say, the troublemakers themselves went away deeply troubled — not because they had failed to trick him, but because he had forced them to think and feel and act anew as they opened themselves to experience the Image of God in themselves. And to understand that the Divine Image stood in radical contradiction to Caesar’s image, so that the world could not be neatly and comfortably divided into two different realms, one “spiritual” and one “political.”

This teaching needs to be renewed in every generation.

Read Rabbi Waskow’s full text here.

Pirates or The Horn of Africa’s ‘Greenpeace’?

piratewebWhat’s behind the Somali “pirates”? Are they sea-thieves or rebels against empire? What are we not being told?

More importantly, who’s dumping nuclear and medical waste in Somali waters? I guarantee you, it’s not the Somalis. Is it possible that these “marauders” are the Horn of Africa’s desperate version of Greenpeace?

Read Johann Hari’s article You Are Being Lied To About Pirates.

Here’s an excerpt:

The words of one pirate from that lost age, a young British man called William Scott, should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirateing to live.” In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”

Also read Marcus Ridker’s great book Villians of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age for an historical perspective on pirates as organized rebels against empire.

Is Sheol in Preston Hollow, Texas?

Whilst reading in the prophet Isaiah, I popped down to the grocery store to buy orange juice for Sojourners’ Mardi Gras pancake breakfast tomorrow. With the prophet’s searing poetry still curdling inside me, my eyes fell on that this week’s edition of that fish-wrap, scandal rag The Globe trumpeting:

globecoverbushorig1Just weeks after leaving the White House, depressed and paranoid George Bush is suicidal, insiders fear. In a blockbuster world exclusive, sources tell GLOBE the ex-President is boozing up a storm – and reveal why he is terrified of Barack Obama and his own wife Laura. Don’t miss a single word!

It seems that life in the Bushes’ new home in Preston Hollow, a wealthy Dallas suburb, is not all he expected it would be. It struck me that the prophet Isaiah is much better at explicating the daily headlines than I am and in words much franker and bolder than I usually give myself permission to use. Isaiah 14:6-10 says:

You persecuted the people with unceasing blows of rage and held the nations in your angry grip. Your tyranny was unrestrained. But at last the land is at rest and is quiet. Finally it can sing again! Even the trees of the forest–the cypress trees and the cedars of Lebanon – sing out this joyous song: `Your power is broken! No one will come to cut us down now!’ In the place of the impotent there is excitement over your arrival. World leaders and mighty kings long dead are there to see you. With one voice they all cry out, `Now you are as weak as we are!

In fact, Isaiah describes Yahweh’s specific instructions to Israel to taunt the deposed leader of an empire, saying, “When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon”  (Isaiah 14:3-4).

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, in his explication of Isaiah 1-39, makes the argument for why this taunting is important, saying that when the people are free from their oppression then “one of the important opportunities, in such freedom, is to engage in a mocking song against the tyrant.”

Brueggemann goes on to describe the toppled ruler’s arrival in Sheol:

“Sheol” is not a place of punishment, but it is where the dead are kept in their impotence. As the deposed oppressor arrives in Sheol, now completely removed from authority and utterly impotent—a suitable resident for Sheol—all the others who used to be active authorities and great powers in the earth (now become impotent) present themselves as a welcoming committee for the new arrival in Sheol. They gather around the new arrival and recognize him as one of their own, formerly powerful, now completely powerless.

In high irony, the poet [Isaiah] has them welcome the new member of the powerless to their company—“You are like us”—powerless, no longer a force to be reckoned with. … The speech “rubs it in,” so that this now feeble has-been should be recognized for what he is, completely broken and irrelevant, warranting no attention at all. (Isaiah 1-39 by Walter Brueggemann, 1998, p. 127-128)

elliottsorig-crop1In light of Isaiah’s description, it seems entirely appropriate that Kyle Walters, president of Elliott’s hardware store in Dallas should offer George Bush a job as a store greeter, saying, “Like you, many of our greeters are retired from the corporate world, so we’re sure you’ll have no trouble making new friends.”

How many American retirees have had to do just this in order to make their Social Security checks stretch farther and cover their medical expenses?

And, the LA Times reports, that while the former first lady is working on a book, “the former president has yet to interest a publisher in his memoirs. In fact, several have advised him to wait a few years until his reputation is less, well, in need of a good hardware polishing.”

Of course, having compassion for George W. Bush, the man, the husband, the father, is part of the Christian calling, as is extending him the hand of mercy when he repents of his sins.

But for President Bush who sought the status of emperor and who claimed divine right in his exploits; who tortured strangers in secret prisons; who opened the nation’s treasuries to privateers; who unleashed the dogs of war on civilians for the purpose of working out old vengeances and hoarding resources, I have a few good taunts left in me.

In fact, I imagine that, right now, Sheol may have taken up an address in Preston Hollow, Texas.

Labor of Love

Vicky Kemper is a former editor at Sojourners magazine. She wrote much of that magazine’s ground-breaking Central America coverage when she began work there in January 1985. Now she’s a United Church of Christ pastor in Amherst, Massachusetts.

In her Labor Day 2008 sermon, she reflects on the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C.– where Sojourners community was based–and where I still live. She examines how the radical good news of Jesus challenges, chastises, and cajoles the economically comfortable, while also offering justice and liberation to the economically uncomfortable.

It is hard for those of us who think of ourselves as politically liberal, socially progressive and theologically cutting-edge to admit that when it comes to economics—things like wages and profits and taxes and immigration policies—our views sometimes have more to do with our material perspective—where we live and how much we have—than our spiritual faith.

Vicki reminds us that it’s the uncomfortable area of economics that most often gets Jesus into trouble.

After all, the Roman authorities did not execute Jesus for talking about religion; they put him to death on a cross because his teachings threatened to turn upside down the very political and economic values and structures on which both the Roman empire and the Jewish temple were based.

But while the Word is hard for those of us who are wealthy by the world’s standards, God’s love is profligate, wasteful, excessive, overabundant, and poured out for us when we let our hearts be cracked open against the hard edges of the daily lives of the poor.

Thanks, Vicki! Keep that pulpit hot! Read her whole sermon here..