Second Sunday in Advent

“The law of growth is rest. We must be content in winter to wait patiently through the bleak season in which we experience nothing of the sweetness of the Divine Presence, believing that these seasons when we feel most empty are most filled with a still small Christ-life growing within us.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”Romans 15:4

Youngest Child: What does the second candle mean?

Oldest Person: We light the first Advent candle to remind us of the promise of the prophets that a Messiah would come, bringing peace with justice and love to the world. We light the second candle to remind us, and God, that we are still waiting for the Messiah, patiently and actively like a farmer waiting for the sprouting seed.

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things,” writes the 20th century English mystic Caryll Houselander, “until the habit of Advent returns to us.” The disciplines of Advent are ones that teach us to do small things greatly, to do few things but do them well, to love in particular, rather than in general. This habit of small “successes” generates creativity, a sense of well being, a generosity of spirit rooted in satisfaction. It generates hope.

The Greek word for hope is elpis. In the Greek pantheon of spirits Elpis was the female personification of hope. When Pandora opened the jar given to her by Zeus, the spirits of disorder flew free into the world. Elpis remained in the jar, thus preventing humans from suicidal despair. Hope is depicted as a young woman carrying lilies in her arms.

Christians engaged in social transformation often get discouraged. We are acutely aware of the evils of the world. Sometimes we despair. Sometimes we allow our anger at injustice to be the source of energy in our lives. Sometimes we actually create despair and depression in our lives when we only fight losing battles. It is mandatory that we yoke ourselves to disciplines that generate hope.

Walking on the streets of a Las Vegas suburb, I met an 8-year-old boy out riding his bike. The bike was a clunker and the boy was wearing hand-me-downs. I asked him, “How’s it going?” “Great!” he replied. “I’m in my ninth week of having fun!” I laughed and laughed. Then I took out my date book to mark out my own nine weeks of fun.

Having fun is not the same as having hope, but they are related. Dipping in the deep refreshing pool of joy and contentment is one reminder that the world and everything in it—good and bad—belongs to God. It is our work to live in “day-tight compartments”—receiving our daily bread, doing good, offering hospitality, choosing compassion and forgiveness, serving the “least of these,” singing, praying, and, when night comes, giving our bodies and souls over to sleep.

What habits do you have that generate hope?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

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

Rose Marie Berger: The Thing From the Oil Company Board Room

"Skin of Evil" Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Global North and West is addicted to fossilized fuel. Myself included. And we are trying to push our addictions onto the Global South.

Everywhere we look the fossil fuel pushers are in our face, luring us into our next fix.

Not a week after the elections, the American Petroleum Institute launched ads in Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina targeting U.S. senators who are raising the issue of climate change; specifically, the ones calling into question oil company subsidies.

The oil and gas companies try seduction (“fighting for jobs”). They try fear (“we are too big to fail”). They accuse us of being unfair to them (“Discriminatory treatment of the oil and gas industry is a bad idea”). They try bullying and slandering.

Even when our court system recently convicted one of them killing (BP convicted of “manslaughter” for the 11 murdered on Gulf Oil spill rigs), they are not stopped.

We can’t unhook ourselves by ourselves. We have to fight the pushers by banding together and taking action through public policy, business, and civil society action.

The board of directors of these six corporations–ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Peabody, Arch, and BP–will do anything to make money. They are terrorizing our planet. Just ask the folks in Rockaway, NY, the Jersey Shore, and the Caribbean.

Are they “good men”? Upstanding men? Do they love their families? Of course. Do they go to church? Probably. Are they nice to animals? Most likely. Are they perpetrating a great evil of transnational proportions? Yes, they are.

They are like “The Thing From Another World” rising up from under the ice to kill the scientists by altering the temperature in the research station. The Thing requires human blood to survive and reproduce. Ugh.

What do we do about them? How do we help them do what is right and protect ourselves and our earth at the same time?

First, pray for the salvation of their souls. Second, direct our communal action at the corporations’ bottom lines.

Here are three steps:

1. Divest. Start with churches, universities, and towns. For managed portfolios, commit to zero direct investment in fossil fuels. For those who operate through the use of exchange-traded funds, direct your fund managers to bias against fossil fuels. (Here is the targeted list of carbon reserve companies to give your fund manager to set up an bias against investment.) Unity University in Maine is the first academic institution to divest. Vancity Credit Union has also divested.

2. Demand strong carbon “fee-and-dividend” laws on corporate carbon emitters at the local, state, and federal level. Push for an end to oil company subsidies. This fight will be part of the “fiscal cliff” deliberations.

3. Take personal responsibility. Right now there are 11 people in jail in Nacogdoches, Texas, arrested for resisting TransCanada’s takeover of land for the climate-killing Keystone XL pipeline. Some of them are being charged with felonies for their nonviolent direct action to stop the mining company that will exponentially increase global warming if allowed to complete its project. What can you do?

The World Bank has just released a blockbuster new report called Turn Down the Heat: Why A 4 Degree Centigrade Warmer World Must Be Avoided. The World Economic Forum, the European Union, and other world bodies will be discussing its content over the next few weeks and months. Read it. Ask your representatives and leaders if they have read it. Stir up some conversation.

“Hope” is part if the DNA of Christians. So is courage. So be bold, my friends, be courageous. Take hope in Christ. Be heartened in the struggle. Remember that because God so loves this world, God gave God’s begotten child. And we are of that lineage and race.–Rose Marie Berger

‘The Changing Moods of the Human Heart’

When the days seem plodding and dull, sometimes a prayer like this makes its way into our sight line and lifts our eyes to gaze beyond ourselves.

God in heaven,
God of power and
Lord of mercy,
from whose fullness
we have received
so generously,
direct our steps
in our everyday efforts.
May the changing
moods of the human heart
and the limits that
our failings impose on hope
never blind us to you,
source of every good.
Faith gives us the promise
of peace and makes known
the demands of love.
Remove the selfishness
that blurs the vision of faith.
Grant this through our Lord
and brother, Jesus.

Adapted from Living With Christ (Feast of St. Stephen of Hungary)

Jurgen Moltmann: “No where else in Christianity does the terrible or heroic name of Armageddon play such role as in America.”

moltmannDr. Jurgen Moltmann spoke at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary last September. His address was titled “A Theology of Life, A Life for Theology.” The 40-minute video can be watched here.

Here’s a little biographical information about Moltmann, who has been called the “foremost Protestant theologian in the world” today. Moltmann digs deep into the divine solidarity that undergirds all Christian hope. (Also, at minute 33, Moltmann describes where he was at Duke University in North Carolina when he heard from Harvey Cox that Martin King had been killed.)

Born on April 8, 1926, Moltmann was raised in a thoroughly secular home in Hamburg and grew up learning about poets and philosophers — Lessing, Goethe and Nietzsche — far from the church and Bible. He idolized Albert Einstein and planned to study mathematics at university. He was drafted into the German army at the end of 1944 and served for six month before surrendering in Belgium to the first British soldier he met in the woods. From 1945 to 1948, he was confined POW camps in Belgium, Scotland and England.

Overwhelmed with remorse in the camps and despairing over the horrors Germany had perpetuated throughout World War II, especially at concentration camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald, he was given a copy of the New Testament and Psalms in a Belgium camp by an American military chaplain. He began reading mostly out of boredom and was surprised how the Scripture fed his imagination and met his emotional needs. He saw a God who was with the broken hearted and present behind barbed wire. He later said, “I didn’t find Christ; he found me.” The suffering and hope he saw as a prisoner left a lasting mark on him.

Moltmann was allowed to study theology at Norton Camp run by the YMCA under British army supervision near Nottingham, England. After his release from prison, he began studying theology at Gottingen University, where he received his doctorate in 1952. The next five years he served as pastor of the Evangelical Church of Bremen-Waserhorst. In 1958 he became a theology teacher at an academy operated by the Confessing Church in Wuppertal and in 1963 joined the theological faculty at Bonn University. He published “Theology of Hope” the following year and in 1967 was offered the prestigious position of professor of systematic theology at Tubingen University, where he taught until 1994.

Today, he continues his work as emeritus professor of theology at Tubingen and has been named the “foremost Protestant theologian in the world” by Church Times, a London-based international publication of the Anglican Church.

Moltmann married Elisabeth Wendel in 1952. Active in feminist theology, she is the author of many books, including “The Women Around Jesus,” “A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey,” and “I Am My Body.” He gives her credit for making him conscious of the psychological and social limitations of the male point of view and male judgment.

The “Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology: J?rgen Moltmann” notes that his development as a theologian has been marked by a “restless imagination.” In “Theology of Hope,” Moltmann presents Christianity as an active doctrine of hope with power over the future. Hope strengthens faith, helps believers move into a life of love and creates a “passion for the possible.” For him this hope acts as the motivating force behind liberation in the world.

Beyond this eschatology of hope found in the resurrected Christ, his other major theological contributions focus on creative restructuring of the doctrine of God to include suffering (“The Crucified God”) and social doctrine of the Trinity (“The Trinity and the Kingdom”).

Some quotes from Moltmann’s presentation at Garrett are below:

“Despair can be like an iron band constricting the heart.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“The turn from this end [despair] to a new beginning came from three things. A blooming cherry tree, the unexpected kindness of Scottish workers and their families, and the Bible.”–Jurgen Moltmann, the spark of life when he first left the prisoner of war camp after WWII

“Christ’s own ‘God-forsaken-ness’ on the cross showed me where God is present where God had been present in those nights of deaths in the fire storms in Hamburg and where God would be present in my future whatever may come.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“Imprisoned professors taught imprisoned students free theology.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on studying theology at the POW camp at the Norton Camp in Nottingham, England

“There are various names for this ‘Spirit of Life’ because there are various life experiences.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the Holy Spirit

“God is not only a divine person who we can address in prayer, but also a wide living space … We human beings are giving each other space for living when we meet each other in love and friendship.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“With every righteous action, we prepare the way for the New Earth on which righteousness will dwell. And bringing justice to those who suffer violence means to bring the light of God’s future to them.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the future of God

“Americans as no one else in the Old World are looking ahead and are future-minded without the limitations of traditions and can look ahead without the burdens of the past.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on America

“To reinvent your own country you need a great audacity of hope.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the recurrent desire of American presidents to reinvent America

“[In 1967] The ‘Hope Movement’ replaced the ‘God is Dead’ movement.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“Christian hope does not promise successful days to the rich and the strong, but resurrection and life to those who must exist in the shadows of death.  Success is no name of God. Righteousness is.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“There were two different expectations … in this land of the future. On the one hand the the optimistic belief in an unending progress with millenarianistic overtones and on the other hand the doomsday expectation of the final battle of Armageddon. Both are perspectives are uniquely American and both are inter-related.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the messianic politics of the American founding fathers

“No where else in Christianity does the terrible or heroic name of Armageddon play such role as in America. Not even in the Revelation of John.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the Left Behind series

There are more Moltmann videos and further details here, including “Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann,” featuring Dr. Moltmann discussing theology with three Garrett-Evangelical professors of theology, followed by a Q&A session with the audience in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful; one-on-one interviews about the life and theology of Dr. Moltmann with the professors who participated in the “Conversation” — Dr. Nancy Bedford, who studied under him at the University of Tubingen in Dr. Moltmann’s native Germany; Dr. Stephen Ray; and Dr. Anne Joh.

Why So Glum, Climate Change Movement?

happyplanetSo, the planets in peril. Yeah. That’s bad. But hand-wringing never solved anything. U.K.’s Giles Fraser, canon chancellor at St. Paul’s cathedral in London, says the motto “Let’s make huge sacrifices in order to make nothing happen” is not the way to run a successful social movement!

“The climate-change campaign needs a sense of can-do enthusiasm”, says Fraser.  The language of “hope” and “salvation” comes to mind as a way religious folk can contribute to a global shift in consciousness about all of us living lightly on the earth.

Here’s an excerpt from Fraser’s recent speech:

Why is the climate-change campaign failing to change hearts and minds? Or perhaps it is chang­ing hearts and minds (we all do our little bit: recycling, green toothpaste, and so on), but is failing to affect our fundamental thirst for energy which drives the deeper changes that are taking place. Why?

One explanation is that many climate-change campaigners sweat gloom about the future. That hardly gives them a Henry V leadership style. It can sometimes seem as if their message is that if we try extremely hard, then we can just about stop any more changes. In other words: let’s make huge sacrifices in order to make nothing happen. With that message, it is hard to imagine how you might persuade someone to get out of bed.

At Lambeth Palace last fortnight, religious leaders got together to press a different message. We are the generation that is being called on to be heroes, to make a difference, to save the planet. Now that is the right emphasis.

The climate-change campaign needs a sense of can-do enthusiasm. It would be really something if that was what faith leaders were able to add to the mix: replacing gloomy defeatism with a secularised version of something we call hope.

Moreover, we may find that those who have sneered at the very idea of salvation will come to see the importance of this type of language. A biblical-sounding crisis requires a language and a philosophy commensurate with the size of the threat.–Giles Fraser

Read the whole speech here.

Where Were You on Election Night?

Apparently, the post Midnight at the Lincoln Memorial is getting lots of traffic and comments!

One person said:

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?.

Cracking the Architecture of Despair

I had a wonderful time Tuesday night at the Servant Leadership School in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Thanks to Tim Kumfer, I was able to debut material from my upcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood. It’s due out in May 2009 from Apprentice House press at Loyola College in Baltimore.

I appreciated the response from the audience who asked the essential question of our day – and maybe any day: How do we maintain hope in times of despair?

Since we were talking about urban architecture and how it influences the soul of a community, I answered citing Mark 13:1-2 as an example. And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” and Jesus replied, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.”

When we survey the “great buildings” around us – which we might understand to be the overarching architecture of despair – we hear Jesus saying: See this mighty facade meant to intimidate you and make you feel small and helpless? I say to you: Not one pebble of despair will remain because I will destabilize these monuments to might by cracking their foundations with hope.

Hope is a decision we have to make every day. Just like they say in A.A., you’ve just got to be hopeful for the next 24 hours. We are surrounded by a world that is addicted to despair. The addiction is to hopelessness, and therefore helplessness. But we can decide to resist that addiction by being intentional about choosing to live in hope. We make that decision every day, one day at a time.

One thing that helps us choose hope is by breaking down the architecture of despair into its component parts. Learn the details of the stories inside that architecture. In every way and in all places, the actual human stories within the facades will reveal – yes, terror, yes, great injustice – and also, always, human ingenuity, compassion, love, acts of kindness, an irrational acts of hope that crack the foundations of the architecture of despair..