December 2, 1980: Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean

“When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defense. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish and, some day, to bring forth life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in the heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the wellspring of Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of Abba in heaven.”Matthew 7:21

On December 2, 1980, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan—Catholic missionaries from the United States—were murdered by National Guardsmen in El Salvador. Dorothy and Jean were driving to the airport outside San Salvador to pick up Maura and Ita.

On the way back from the airport, they were pulled over at a roadblock by National Guardsmen. The four women were taken to an isolated location, raped, tortured, and shot. Then they were buried in a shallow grave beside the road. The National Guardsmen were also “good Catholics.”

These four women died in the same manner as many of the poor Salvadoran people they served. They are martyrs because they laid down their lives in love for the poor—just as Jesus calls all Christians to be prepared to do. The witness of these four women teaches us about listening to the call of Christ, taking up the cross and following Jesus, and being born again.

A stone cross and small plaque mark the country road where the four women were buried. It reads: “Receive them Lord into your Kingdom.”

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

Hot Off the Press! Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice

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The book is out! Great work by the one of the most innovative Christian movements today. How do we bear forward the gospel at the end of the Anthropocene? Love the watershed you’re with (to paraphrase Crosby, Stills, and Nash).

Order lots of these books here.

My poem “Prophecies from the Watershed Conspiracy” is included in the foreword, along with an essay by  Denise Marie Nadeau, a French and Mi’kmaq Canadian and dance movement therapist, who has made the Nibi ceremony for the protection of water.

This collection introduces and explores “watershed discipleship” as a critical, contextual, and constructive approach to ecological theology and practice, and features emerging voices from a generation that has grown up under the shadow of climate catastrophe.

Watershed Discipleship is a “triple entendre” that recognizes we are in a watershed historical moment of crisis, focuses on our intrinsically bioregional locus as followers of Jesus, and urges us to become disciples of our watersheds.

Bibliographic framing essays by Myers trace his journey into a bioregionalist Christian faith and practice and offer refections on incarnational theology, hermeneutics, and ecclesiology. The essays feature more than a dozen activists, educators, and practitioners under the age of forty, whose work and witness attest to a growing movement of resistance and reimagination across North America.

Contributors reread both biblical texts and churchly practices (such as mission, baptism, and liturgy) through the lens of “re-place-ment.” It’s a comprehensive and engaged call for a “Transition church” that can help turn our history around toward environmental resiliency and social justice, by passionate advocates on the front lines of watershed discipleship.

Order lots of these books here.

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.

Franciscans on Moral Discernment in an Election Season

In the middle of this crazy election season, I’ve appreciated the thoughtful leadership of the Franciscans in how to approach difficult decisions.

The Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate is presenting short pieces to help introduce particularly Franciscan and Catholic approaches to the decision-making process. Here’s an excerpt from their first installment. I urge you to read the whole article:

In the election sphere today, there is often an attempt to link our Catholic faith squarely with one political party. Although most religious leaders assert that our faith is not adequately represented or served by the platform of any particular political group, some, overtly or tacitly, strain to demonstrate how one party is the only morally acceptable choice. Such effort is wasted. The world is a morally complex and ambiguous place, especially when it comes to political decisions.

Taking a wider view as Catholics inspired by the Franciscan path of following Jesus, how can we approach the elections? Is there a political party or candidate for whom it would be morally unacceptable to vote? Does our faith compel us to pull a particular lever in the ballot box? If not, is it all just relativism?

The problem is not the clarity of our moral foundations; these are clear. The challenge comes from the complexity of our globalized world, the pluralistic society that is our nation, and the limitations of our fallen, yet still blessed, human condition. While our faith tradition offers us principles by which to live in a complex world, they don’t translate into a litmus test for choosing between candidates. Rather, our faith invites us to engage in moral reasoning—weighing the pressing issues of our day in the light of our tradition. While this is a process that often yields no categorical answers, it does provide us a method of discernment to guide us through troubling ambiguity as we make our decisions.

Our Franciscan tradition offers us a framework of five interconnected parameters that can guide our discernment: care for creation, consistent ethic of life, preferential option for the poor, peacemaking and the common good. …

Read the rest of “Franciscans are not ‘party animals'” (Part 1).

Richard Rohr: Losing Nonviolence … And Finding It Again

“I’m told that the word “nonviolence” did not exist (at least in the English and German languages) until the 1950s. There’s a reason for that: the notion didn’t exist in our consciousness. We didn’t create a word for it because we didn’t get it yet! When Gandhi came along, he pointed out that every religion in the world knows that Jesus of Nazareth taught and lived nonviolence except one religion—Christianity. In very short order, after Gandhi, this became obvious to many wise people throughout the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the one who most influenced our American culture regarding nonviolence. That’s why I speak of it as a recovery of nonviolence. We had it, but we couldn’t hear it, especially after Christianity became the imperial religion. When you’re imperial, you can’t hear any talk of nonviolence. You have to be violent to be an empire. So after 313 AD, we pretty much lost the nonviolent teaching of Jesus and it was not recovered until the twentieth century. It’s sort of unbelievable, but in between, nonviolence was almost universally forgotten, denied, or ignored as Christianity needed to justify its own violence.”–Richard Rohr, OFM (Adapted from Fr. Richard’s teachings on his lineage)

Brittany Cooper: ‘If We Refuse to Believe Black Girls, We Call into Question Our Own Witness’

Dr. Cooper
Dr. Brittney Cooper, assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama, has written an excellent column in response to prosperity gospel preacher Creflo Dollar’s recent arrest for assaulting his 15-year-old daughter.

Dr. Cooper is co-founder, along with Dr. Susana Morris, of the Crunk Feminist Collective, a feminists of color scholar-activist group that runs a highly successful blog. Professor Cooper blogs for the CFC as “Crunktastic.”

Here’s an excerpt from When the Church Fails Its Women: 7 Truths We Need to Tell About Creflo Dollar, Black Daughters and Violence:

For the record, we never know the whole story about anything, if it didn’t happen to us. That doesn’t prevent us from making reasonable judgments based on the evidence. Christians use the same type of reason to profess our faith in a God-man, who was born from a virgin, crucified on a cross and Resurrected on the 3rd day. And we believe in his Resurrection, primarily on the basis of the initial testimony of some women who Jesus’ male followers weren’t trying to hear (Mark 16: 1-11). So in my view, if we refuse to believe Black girls when they testify about their experiences, we call the basis of our own witness and our own faith into question. Jesus prioritized listening to women, even when his disciples said they were being a nuisance.

Why I wonder are Black women so willing, so ready to co-sign theologies that literally support us getting our asses kicked in our own homes?

Why have we bought into the primary premise of white supremacy, that the most effective way to establish authority is through violence? Surely, this situation teaches us that the only thing that kind of parenting does is breed the kind of resentment and contempt that will have your children calling the cops on you at 1 in the morning.

Why is it so hard for us to take a stand against Black men and tell them that there is never a reason to put their hands on us in a violent fashion? Not when homicide is the top killer (after accidental death) of Black women and girls ages 15-24.

Frankly, we need to “radically rethink” our understandings of authority, love, violence, and respect in the Black Church. …

The Crunk Feminist Collective writes about race, feminism, and popular culture from a Hip Hop Generation perspective. The blog, which aims to make feminist scholarship accessible to a wide range of publics, has been acknowledged by writers at the L.A. Times, TheRoot.Com, Clutch Magazine, and New York Magazine, and it is routinely cross-posted on sites like Feministing.com and TheRoot.com. The Collective also does speaking tours, conducts workshops, and engages in a range of activist causes related to women’s issues.

Richard Rohr: Antidote To ‘The Dirty Rotten System’?

Police flank Dorothy Day, seated at a farm workers picket line in Lamont, California, in 1973.

“We are all complicit in and benefitting from what Dorothy Day called ‘the dirty rotten system.’ That’s not condemning anybody; it’s condemning everybody because we are all complicit and enjoying the fruits of domination and injustice. (Where were your shirts and underwear made?) Usually the only way to be really non-complicit in the system is to choose to live a very simple life. That’s the only way out of the system!

Thus most of the great wisdom teachers like Gandhi, Saints Francis and Clare, Simone Weil, Dorothy Day, Jesus and Buddha—lived voluntarily simple lives. That’s almost the only way to stop bending the knee before the system. This is a truly transfigured life in cultures which are always based on climbing, consumption, and competition (1 John 2:15-17).

Once we idealize social climbing, domination of others, status symbols, power, prestige and possessions, we are part of a never ending game that is almost impossible to escape. It has its own inner logic that is self-maintaining, self-perpetuating, and self-congratulating as well as elitist and exclusionary. It will never create a just or happy world, yet most Christians never call it into question. Jesus came to free us from this lie which will never make us happy anyway, because it’s never enough, and we never completely win.”–Richard Rohr, ofm

Adapted from Spiral of Violence by Richard Rohr

30 January: 64th Anniversary of Gandhi’s Assassination

Today marks the 64th year since Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated.

In India, this day is known as Martyr’s Day and the entire country observes two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. to remember when the prophet of nonviolence and Indian liberation “stopped three bullets.” (There’s an interesting commentary by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay in The AsianCorrespondent).

If you haven’t already, please read the just-released book Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth by Jim Douglass. It details the little-known history of who killed Gandhi, why, and how the repercussions continue to influence nuclear policy between Pakistan and India today.

Thanks to friend Art Laffin who sent this lovely reflection for the day:

Today is the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination. At our weekly Dorothy Day Catholic Worker sponsored Pentagon vigil this morning, I prayed in gratitude for Gandhi’s life–for all he did to show the world the transforming power of nonviolence and the use of nonviolent resistance as a means to bring about revolutionary change. Gandhi is best known for espousing the nonviolent philosophy of “ahimsa” (Sanskrit term meaning “nonviolence” or “non-injury” — literally: the avoidance of himsa: violence) and “satyagraha” (literally translated “insistence on the truth”), and for leading a civil disobedience campaign which ended British rule of India.

Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolence and resistance was deeply influenced by Jesus as evidenced by his belief that: “Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. This was nonviolence par excellence.”

As one of the most influential figures in modern social and political activism, Gandhi considered the following traits (seven deadly sins) to be the most spiritually perilous to humanity:

  • Wealth without Work
  • Pleasure without Conscience
  • Science without Humanity
  • Knowledge without Character
  • Politics without Principle
  • Commerce without Morality
  • Worship without Sacrifice

Living in a society and world where violence and killing have tragically become the norm, where the U.S. is the world’s preeminent nuclear superpower, the following quotes from Gandhi point the way to creating a culture of nonviolence. “The first condition of nonviolence is justice all round in every department of life.”

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of (hu)mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

“Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the human heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.”

“Nonviolence is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy…Unless now the world adopts nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for (hu)mankind.”

“If there were no greed, there would be no occasion for armaments. The priciple of nonviolence necessitates complete abstention from exploitation in any form…Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit one another.”

“My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to to develop nonviolence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.”

Mohandas Gandhi, prophet of nonviolence, pray for us!--Art Laffin, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington D.C.

Stephen Colbert: Was Jesus Just Selfish?

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” – Stephen Colbert, Catholic comedian and social satirist

Read more about Stephen Colbert’s Catholicism.