An Interview with Sr. Joan Chittister on Vatican’s Operation Clean Sweep

American Baptist minister Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, senior religion editor for the Huffington Post and former associate dean of religious life at Princeton, interviewed Sr. Joan Chittister about recent Vatican moves against American Catholic women religious. Here’s a snippet from In Praise Of Courageous Nuns Facing The Vatican Crackdown:

So what is this all about Sister Joan?

“Well it is a hostile take over, there’s no doubt about that. They’re ‘cleaning up the church’ — everything but themselves.”

One of the speculations is that the crackdown has its roots in the nun’s support for President Obama’s health care bill.

I don’t know about that for sure, but it seems like it may have been a turning point. It [the nun’s position] was a model of thinking Catholic, thinking through this thing and coming up with another approach. There are other ways to impact the issue you care about.

Part of it, whether they know it or not, is a strong demonstration of the whole male/female aspect of every question. Sit down and shut up. Daddy knows best. We will tell you what to think, we will tell you what to do — what would a woman know?

How are the Sisters are holding up?

There is prayer and fasting going on for the sake of the LCWA officers. We want to give them all the support we can. The sisters are mightily concerned, but they know there is no substance to these accusations. For instance, to talk about radical feminism when you don’t have a clue as to what it is — it is very embarrassing. Because the people who do know what it is sit back and say What?. It’s bizarre.

There is a serious power play going on. It seems like they could take over.

Yes. Theoretically they can do it. If you were ranking the departments of the Curia, the CDF would be the ultimate department — from which there is no official appeal.

No doubt that it is serious, but it’s also putting people in a corner that nobody should. And not these people [in CDF]. And the lay people know that. If there is integrity left in this church it is in the people who are ministry on the streets.

Which are the nuns.

Yes.

Say this plays out — do you ever think about leaving the church?

I don’t seek to do that, I’m a Catholic, born and bred, I have learned that the tradition and the institution have often been at odds in the history of the Catholic Church.

The church has always converted slowly. The last time their sins were pointed out it took them 400 years to say that Martin Luther was right and that they shouldn’t have been selling relics and that maybe people could read the scriptures in their own language and read the word of Jesus themselves.

It was the same thing. ‘We tell you what to think about scriptures, because you will destroy the sacred word. You won’t understand it. You’ll destroy it.’ We got through that. God willing we will get through this.

My fear is not the people who organize to leave the church, it is the amount of disillusionment and depression that is out there because of the church itself.

Everybody talks about how the Pope wants a smaller, purer church. Well, they talked about that in the 16th century. And they got it — they lost half of Europe. Now they are losing Ireland, Austria, the American church is teetering. You have people who love their faith but cannot support these acts by the institution.

What happened to Vatican II?

Good question, somebody hijacked it when we weren’t looking. Maybe this is the moment that we all decide what happened to Vatican II. Clearly there is an element of the institution that wants Vatican II destroyed, eliminated. That’s because it makes the whole church, the church. For the very first time in history, Vatican II made being laity a vocation, and the laity have taken that seriously. So they are standing up in the streets to say what the church needs to study and make a decision

It’s tricky, I’m a Protestant writing about this because I feel so strongly about supporting my mentors, but many will criticize me because I am not Catholic.

We are all Christians in this together, what happens to this church does affect you as a Christian. It will affect the way others see Christians around the world. We are not in this alone The laity are being very clear about that, not just because they have loved Sisters or see the work they are doing, because they know that this is damaging the church.

The whole notion that you would suppress thought and call that Catholic, call that Christian, call that a witness to adult ministry in an adult world is impossible to compute. Write this as a Christian. Don’t absent yourself here, I need you.

Well, a lot of us are concerned and not sure what to do when someone holds all the trump cards.

Oh, there is no doubt about it; people may be destroyed here. And there may be people who want them destroyed. They either want thinking adults in the church who bring their own experience of the Holy Spirit to every question — with great respect for the institution, ironically, or they don’t.

I assume you saw the critique on Sister Margaret Fawley’s book?

Oh, I can’t tell you what that did to me. But that woman is so bright, and so precise. Her responses are superb; she said: “I never said I was producing Catholic doctrine. I’m a theologian, thinking through these issues. ”

When you want to make all your thinkers parrots, puppets, don’t talk to me about your respect for the Holy Spirit.

From In Praise Of Courageous Nuns Facing The Vatican Crackdown by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush.

John Gittings: The Glorious Art of Peace

The author of The Glorious Art of Peace says history is usually studied and written from the perspective of war, and can look very different when viewed from the perspective of peace. The author John Gittings was part of the UK’s nuclear disarmament movement and an editor and writer for The Guardian. He’s also associate editor of The Oxford International Encyclopaedia of Peace. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Gittings from The Browser:

Your book tours us through peace “from the Iliad to Iraq.” What core point did you most want to get across with it?

What I wanted to get across is that there is more than one perspective from which one can look at history. A lot of our history has been written from the perspective of war, and the moment you start looking at it from the perspective of peace, you get very different answers. That is why I began with “The Iliad,” because most people would regard it as a tale of war and not of peace.

You wanted to draw particular attention to Book 18 – why?

I would say, first of all, that throughout “The Iliad” there is a counter-narrative of lost opportunities for peace. Obviously, if peace had been achieved there would have been no Trojan war or it would have come to an end sooner. But Homer reminds us from time to time that there were alternatives. There’s a very remarkable scene in book two, near the beginning, when the entire Greek army, misunderstanding a speech by their commander Agamemnon, turns on its heels and runs to the boats, hoping to go back home. Homer is telling us that the rank and file were not bent on fighting to the end. The gods, on that occasion, intervene to stop the Greek army from sailing away. Even the wily Odysseus is unable to stop his men from launching their boats.

Book 18 is significant because it describes the making of a new shield for Achilles, who had withdrawn from battle. His friend Patroclus had borrowed his armor in his place and been killed, and his armor had been seized by the Trojans. So Achilles needed a new suit of armor, which was made for him by the heavenly blacksmith Hephaestus. If you read other accounts of Greek warriors, what you put on your shield is invariably something to frighten the enemy – a Gorgon’s head or a serpent or a wild lion. Homer instead describes a set of images on Achilles’ shield, almost all of which are concerned with peace not war – including young men and women dancing, laborers in the field bringing in the harvest grapes or plowing the fields, and a council in which a case is arbitrated by peaceful means. This assembly of images, in my view, is designed to tell us that there is, or should be, a peaceful alternative to war.

So Homer, or whoever wrote “The Iliad,” had a peace agenda?

This is also an example of the passages in Homer which lead me to believe he was a single individual, because if it was stitched together from epic material then a scene such as the above would not appear – there would be stock images of a much more conventional shield instead. Homer, like Shakespeare, encompassed all humanity in his work, and in “The Iliad” he encompasses peace as well as war. A number of Homeric scholars have pointed out that the text, as we have it, is divided roughly into three thirds. The central third is almost entirely concerned with war and fighting. But the first third, where the plot is developed, is very different, and so is the final third. So the subject matter of “The Iliad” is war, but the feelings and emotions of the people concerned are much more complex.

Read the whole interview.

Latino USA Radio Interview: Remembering Chiapas’ Bishop Samuel Ruiz

I did a radio interview with Latino USA’s Mincho Jacob on Wednesday about the death last week of Roman Catholic Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas, Mexico.

I’m not sure if Mincho read my Huffington Post column on Bishop Ruiz or if my friend Sean Collins at Latino USA tipped Mincho off that I might be a person to call. Either way I was grateful for the chance to remember Bishop Ruiz with the Latino USA audience.

To listen to the interview, click on the link below and go to minute 3:00.

INTERVIEW: http://latinousa.org/salsa/wp-content/lusaaudio/930seg02.mp3

However, the story before is also worth listening to. It’s with Arizona-based journalist Terry Greene Sterling on the trial of members of the paramilitary group the Minutemen who are accused of killing nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father Raul Flores.

Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)

Here’s a very moving 3-minute video of images (some graphic) from El Salvador’s war and the voice over of Archbishop Romero’s last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980,  in which he appeals to the members of the Army to put down their weapons. Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass the following day.

The 30th anniversary of Romero’s assassination will be in March 24, 2010. I’ll be interviewed on NPR’s Latino USA by Maria Hinojosa with Salvadoran theologian Ernesto Valiente who teaches at Boston College. The English translation of an excerpt of Romero’s sermon is below the video.

Archbishop Romero:
“We want to greet the entities of YSAX, which for so long have awaited this moment which, thanks to God, has arrived. We know the risk that is run by our poor station for being the instrument and vehicle of truth and justice, but we recognize that the risk has to be taken, for behind that risk is an entire people that upholds this word of truth and justice….

We give thanks to God that a message that doesn’t mean to be more than a modest reflection of the spoken Word finds marvelous channels of outreach and tells many people that, in the context of Lent, all of this is preparation for our Easter, and Easter is a shout of victory. No one can extinguish that life which Christ revived. Not even death and hatred against him and against his Church will be able to overcome it. He is the victor!

As he will flourish in an Easter of unending resurrection, it is necessary to also accompany him in Lent, in a Holy Week that is cross, sacrifice, martyrdom; as he would say, “Happy are those who do not become offended by their cross!” Lent is then a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. Our people are very qualified, all their surroundings preach to us of cross; but all who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador is our Easter, our resurrection, and that is the hope of the Christian people….

Today, as diverse historical projects emerge for our people, we can be sure that victory will be had by the one that best reflects the plan of God. And this is the mission of the Church. That is why, in the light of the divine Word that reveals the designs of God for the happiness of the peoples, we have the duty, dear brothers and sisters, to also point out the facts, to see how the plan of God is being reflected or disdained in our midst. Let no one take badly the fact that we illuminate the social, political, and economic truths by the light of the divine words that are read at our Mass, because not to do so would, for us, be un-Christian….

Continue reading “Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)”

Sheena Iyengar: Health-care Debate and ‘Different Views About Freedom’

artofchoosingI was listening this afternoon to social psychologist Sheena Iyengar interviewed on the Diane Rehm show. Iyengar, who has a new book out called The Art of Choosing, made a very insightful comment on President Obama’s role as mediator and consensus-builder between Republicans and Democrats in reforming the American health-care system. She said:

The job of the mediator or the leader becomes how do I make sure that I surface all these ideas and take them in a constructive direction and don’t allow this group to disintegrate into a dysfunctional conflict. …

“[The leader’s role is] is to create a truly phenomenal choice that will work. And that’s actually Barack Obama’s challenge right now. If you think about the Republicans and the Democrats in terms of the health care debate. What they are really arguing about at its essence is the different views they have about freedom.

On the one hand, the Democrats are saying the only freedom that’s fair, the only freedom that I value, is one that gives everybody the same outcomes, the same health care. The Republicans are saying the only freedom that’s fair, the only freedom I value, is one that ensures equal opportunity, not equal outcome. So that means that anybody who’s worthy or who has more money or who has better health, whatever the criteria is for greater merit, the people who are more meritorious should get better health care and the people who are less should get less.

Neither position is particularly right or wrong but they are so fundamental to the two parties different views that Barrack Obama has this major challenge on his hands as to how is he going to come up with a health care option that will speak to both models such that people believing in either one of those models will believe in the choice he’s providing.”–Sheena Iyengar

Sheena Iyengar, researcher and S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University, is the author of The Art of Choosing.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi: ‘Only Breast-Feeding Mothers Should Be Allowed to Control Countries That Have Nuclear Weapons’

Tsutomu Yamaguchi
Tsutomu Yamaguchi

As weird as it may seem, there were actually 165 people who got blasted twice when the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August, 1945.

A new book by Charles Pellegrino, The Last Train from Hiroshima, tells their remarkable stories. (Dwight Garner gives an excellent review of Pelligrino’s book in the Jan. 19 New York Times)

One of those survivors, Tsutomu Yamaguchi died just a few weeks ago. His obituary and his recollection of his experiences should be read as modern “texts of terror” and studied along side the Prophet Isaiah.

One of Yamaguchi’s conclusions in his long work against nuclear weapons was that the only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers who are still breast-feeding their babies. An excerpt from his obit is below:

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only official survivor of both atomic blasts to hit Japan in World War II, died Monday in Nagasaki, Japan. He was 93. The cause was stomach cancer, his family said.

Mr. Yamaguchi, as a 29-year-old engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was in Hiroshima on a business trip when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. He was getting off a streetcar when the so-called Little Boy device detonated above the city.

Mr. Yamaguchi said he was less than two miles away from ground zero that day. His eardrums were ruptured, and his upper torso was burned by the blast, which destroyed most of the city’s buildings and killed 80,000 people.

Mr. Yamaguchi spent the night in a Hiroshima bomb shelter and returned to Nagasaki, his hometown, the following day, according to interviews he gave over the years. The second bomb, known as Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, killing 70,000 people.

Mr. Yamaguchi was in his Nagasaki office, telling his boss about the Hiroshima blast, when “suddenly the same white light filled the room,” he said in an interview last March with the British newspaper The Independent.

“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he said.

Read Yamaguchi’s whole obituary here. Also read Yamaguchi’s first-person account How I survived Hiroshima–and then Nagasaki by David McNeill.

Interview: Orthodox John Nankivell on Celtic Christianity

RMB at ancient pilgrim path on Dingle Peninsula, Ireland.
RMB at ancient pilgrim path on Dingle Peninsula, Ireland.

There’s an excellent interview over at the online Russian Orthodox magazine Pravoslavie titled Bede’s World: Early Christianity in the British Isles.

It’s Fr. John Nankivell, a Greek Orthodox pastor and author in Britain, giving an indepth look at early Christianity in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England.

This is a part of church history that many know little about–but it had a huge impact on how we “do” church in the Western world.

Below is an excerpt, but check out the whole thing if you like this kind of Celtic Christian history.

The Irish influence in seventh-century Northumbria was profound. The relations between Ireland and Britain go back to the earliest use of the seaways between Ulster and Argyll, between Wexford and southwest Wales, but this influence went both ways and we know that the early British (and this includes the area that is now Wales) were quite significant as missionaries, particularly along the coast of Ireland in the fourth and fifth centuries. We don’t have many details about their actual activity, but we do have names from the dedication of churches. The best-known British missionary is St. Patrick, the deacon’s son snatched by pirates from Britain and sold into slavery in fifth-century Ireland, who later returned as a free man intent on winning his pagan masters for Christ. The evidence of early churches named after certain saints links St. Patrick with Ulster and northeast Ireland. We also know of St. Patrick’s connection with Gaul, and interestingly, near St. Germanus’ relics in Auxerre, France, is an early fresco that the local people like to believe is Bishop Germanus blessing St. Patrick. In fact, there are some textual links between the two.

There were also Christians in the south of Ireland from early times. In 431 the Pope sent Bishop Palladius from Gaul to Ireland to organize an already existing church. Church dedications link this mission with Wicklow and with southwest Wales; it’s from Britain that the southern Irish had received their Christianity and learned their Latin.

Having received their faith from Britain, the Irish church became the most flourishing part of western Christendom in the sixth century. People came to Ireland from all over Europe to pray and study in the numerous monasteries, and Irish missionaries carried the faith across Europe, particularly to the Germanic kingdoms that had come into being after the collapse of Roman rule.

The great missionary movement from Ireland began in the sixth century.

The most famous examples of this are the two saints Columbanus and Columba, both named after the dove and noted for their ascetic life, but both men of authority and deep learning. Columbanus’ mission was to the Franks of Gaul and the Lombards of north Italy; Columba’s to the Picts.

One of the reasons St. Columba left Ireland in 563 and founded his monastery on the tiny island of Iona, off Mull, was to be a missionary to the Picts, whom St. Ninian, working from Whithorn (now southwest Scotland) had first preached to in the fourth century. In fact, Columba was going to an existing Irish kingdom, Dalriata, of which Iona was a part. Next to it was a British kingdom, Strathclyde, and north of that was the Pictish Kingdom, both southern and northern Picts. By the mid-seventh century, the Picts were Christian, and as southern Pictland was part of Northumbria for a time, St. Wilfrid served as bishop for Picts in the north of his diocese.

Columba’s Iona became the centre of a major monastic commonwealth stretching from north Ireland, where daughter monasteries were founded at Derry, Durrow, Tiree in the Hebrides, Pictland and Northumbria. In 616, half a century after its foundation, the Northumbrian Prince Oswald came to live at Iona, and by Wilfrid’s time, there was no need to travel to Ireland, as Oswald had invited the Irish Aidan to Northumbria and it was at Aidan’s monastery at Lindisfarne that Wilfrid was first instructed in monasticism.

Besides the followers of Columba, such as Aidan and Cuthbert in Lindisfarne and Northumbria, there were already south Irish missionaries in Britain, such as St. Fursey in East Anglia, who were independent of Iona.

But, East Anglia was also influenced by clergy from Gaul, Northumbria, and Mercia and of course, the British, who are overlooked in all of the literature.

Read the whole article here.

Doria Russell: Novelist as “God”

doriarussellforwebTwo decades ago, Mary Doria Russell, a paleoanthropologist turned novelist, was decoding the stories in ancient bones. Then she wrote two beautiful, theologically evocative books of science fiction, The Sparrow and Children of God. (You can read the preface to The Sparrow here.

I love these books and have read them over and over. Also, I interviewed Doria Russell for Sojourners last year. She’s very funny and is currently working on a novel about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

The premise of The Sparrow and Children of God is that life is discovered on another planet by way of transmissions of hauntingly beautiful music. And Jesuits explorers and scientists make first contact, just as Jesuit priests were often in the vanguard of Europe’s age of discovery. Mary Doria Russell grappled with large moral and religious questions on and off the page—as she imagined the conversations and relationships between these Jesuits, the other scientists who travel with them, and the species they encounter.

Mary Doria Russell will be interviewed in a Speaking of Faith radio segment titled “The Novelist as God.” Listeners will discover what she discerned—in the act of creating a new universe—about God and about dilemmas of evil, doubt, and free will. The ultimate moral of any life and any event, Doria Russell believes, only shows itself across generations. And so the novelist, like God, she says, paints with the brush of time.

“The Novelist as God” will air on public radio stations nationwide from Thursday, January 29 through Wednesday, February 4. You’ll also be able to hear and download the program online at www.speakingoffaith.org, where you’ll find broadcast locations and times.

Vincent Harding on Barack Obama

On election night, Democracy Now! interviewed one of my favorite people, Dr. Vincent Harding. Dr. Harding was a close friend and colleague of Dr. King.

I’ve interviewed Vincent a few times. But, in 2006, I interviewed him about his writing Dr. King’s major antiwar speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” the speech that Dr. King gave a year to the day before he was assassinated. The speech was given at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. I consider this one of my most important interviews and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. You can read that interview here.

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Harding’s comments to Democracy Now! on election night:

DR. VINCENT HARDING: I am much more deeply involved in the hopes for what we can do to help push him into the place that he needs to go. He is taking a good start at this point by winning this magnificent election, but he is not going to be out there as a messiah by himself. We who believe in freedom are going to have to stand around him, stand beneath him, stand in back of him, and do everything that we can to keep reminding him that what we need is to move towards the very thing that he’s been talking about: creating a more perfect union, creating a more just and peaceable society, creating a more democratic society. So my hopes are very much focused on him, but not on him alone. I see the energy that’s been built up over these two years of campaigns, and I see the possibility that we could gather ourselves together and begin to ask, in a very powerful way, not what should Barack Obama be doing next, but where do we go from here? What is our role as committed, progressive citizens to move to the next stages? …

For me, that question about the contradictions that would stand between seeing Barack as a second coming of Martin and seeing Martin as someone who clearly understood that militarism was not the way towards a solution of humanity’s problems. That’s why I said that those of us who believe in creating a more perfect union can only do it by standing around him, under him, behind him, pushing him to ask questions about what is the role of the military in a democratic society, by encouraging him to see the possibility that maybe he would be a better community-organizer-in-chief than commander-in-chief. Maybe a democracy needs community organizers more than it needs commanders.

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