Baltimore Archbishop Wants Nonviolence to Enter the Consciousness of Whole Church

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori wants the principles of nonviolence honed in the American civil rights movement to shape the consciousness of the Catholic Church. To this end Lori released a pastoral letter in February on the  principles of nonviolence. The teaching document addresses the riots three years ago that shook Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray Jr., who died from injuries while in police custody.

The Enduring Power of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence: A Pastoral Reflection” was released on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of the season of Lent, a time that focuses on repentance, courage in the face of suffering, and reconciliation.

[To send a comment of support to Archbishop Lori, click here.]

Lori’s pastoral letter includes Dr. King’s principles for nonviolence:

1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
6. Nonviolence believes that justice will ultimately triumph.

Additionally, Lori highlights Dr. King’s actions for social transformation:

1. Information Gathering
2. Education
3. Personal Commitment
4. Negotiations
5. Direct Action
6. Reconciliation

Lori encourages a serious examination for U.S. Catholics of Kingian nonviolence and ties this philosophy to the history of Catholic witness and presence in Baltimore as well as to “Safe Streets,” an current evidence-based, trauma-informed, anti-violence project carried out in partnership with Catholic Charities.

Lori says that he hopes to lift up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of nonviolence and help them find their way into the consciousness of the church – “the whole church, myself, my brother priests, the leadership of the archdiocese, those involved in ministries.” —Rose Marie Berger

[To send a comment of support to Archbishop Lori, click here.]

My Lai Massacre in Vietnam: 50 Years Later

I was five years old when the people of a set of small villages in the My Lai region of Vietnam were massacred by U.S. soldiers. I don’t remember hearing about it or understanding what it meant until much later. However, I do remember driving with my parents to San Francisco to pick up my cousin who was returning from Vietnam where he served as a medic. He was not the same cousin I remembered from before. He was traumatized.

I am of the era where my older cousins and my high school teachers were veterans of the U.S. war in Vietnam. It colored everything they thought, did, felt. It set them apart from other Americans. In subdued desperation, all around us, the fought for their sanity and to make sense of hell. An impossible task.

Fifty years later, our U.S. wars are removed, sanitized. We don’t do “body counts.” We’ve outlawed frontline reporting. We have drones to kill for us. But the frontline soldiers still come back traumatized — and the killing of the innocent and guilty enemy is no less hellish.

I’m grateful to Ken Sehested for inviting me to submit a poem-prayer to this collection of worship resources produced for the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee to remember and repent what our war looked like on March 16, 1968. I invite you to use them in your personal Lenten reflections and with your community and Veteran’s groups.–Rose Berger

>>Those of us who worked on the My Lai Massacre 50th Anniversary resources share a belief that truth is found in many faith traditions. A list of relevant quotes from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is included. What we believe we all share in common is the longing and struggle for a world characterized by mercy, in turn mediating the demands of justice and the prerequisites of peace.

Those who planned the sample liturgy are Christians, and we write from our own experience; we do not presume the ability to leap from our context to construct a service incorporating the insights from other spiritual traditions. We recognize that honest interfaith engagement does not include abandoning our own confessional expressions, though it does mean holding such convictions with humility. Among other things, humility requires listening, the most penitential posture when approaching God, who always—always—calls to us from beyond borders and boundaries.

We trust that those who gather with us from other traditions, or of no particular religious affiliation, will participate as fully as vision and conscience allow. Even more, we hope that you may find some useful material in these resources (from which you are free to borrow and edit or adapt as seems appropriate) to develop a “Penitential Opportunity” service appropriate to your own tradition.

Included in addition to the liturgy are several supplemental resources: suggestions for additional music, litanies, and other readings; a meditation on the meaning of penitence, a theme integral to many religious traditions; a brief collection of historical facts to help in understanding the context of the My Lai massacre; a collection of quotes to guide deeper reflection and seasoned conviction; and a testimony from a volunteer in My Lai.

We recognize the pastoral challenge of getting local communities of faith to devote focused attention on an episode of brutality, 50 years past, in a place thousands of miles away, where few U.S. citizens have ventured to visit. This is particularly true in a culture in which communicating God’s promise, purpose, and provision is often confused with a desire to accentuate the positive.

The writing and compiling of these liturgical resources was done in anticipation of the Christian season of Lent, when penitence is a key theme, culminating in Easter’s hopeful promise of a redemptive future. This year the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is April 4, only three days after the church’s buoyant proclamation of death’s coming annulment. We seek prayers from every quarter to assist us in knowing how to seek the Beloved Community he proclaimed, and to live animated by Resurrection’s promise, in the face of the world’s seemingly endless confidence in what theologian Walter Wink called “the myth of redemptive violence.”<<–Ken Sehested, author and editor of prayerandpolitiks.org and coordinator of these worship resources

Belle Fox-Martin’s Marks of Lent

Belle Fox-Martin sent me this lovely Lenten icon today.

I’m finding myself tossed and tumbled in the Lenten scriptures — at one time dry bones, another the shouting crowd, another the grieving sister, then the befuddled disciple or perhaps just an onlooker. Belle’s art centers me in my particular incarnation of God’s breath and helps be exhale through my wounds and the wounds of the world that find their way into my heart.

Nikki Giovanni: The Blues

THE BLUES

Some folk think the blues
Is a song or a way
Of singing
But the blues is
History
A way of telling how
We got here
And who sent us
The blues may talk about
My man
Or my woman
Who left me
Or took my money
And is gone
But what they mean
Is I was stolen
In an African war
And ignorantly sold …
(Read the whole poem in the Oxford American, Winter 2016)

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent

Our friends over at Radical Discipleship are hosting a Lenten journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech. Last autumn I was asked to make a contribution and it was posted yesterday.

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent
By Rose Marie Berger, a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.–Martin Luther King Jr
———–

Between the first and second sentence of this paragraph, Brother Martin fully entered into his “vocation of agony.”

Between these two–the first, where he holds America accountable to the ideals of her founding and the second, where he begins his sharpest theological critique to date–King “sets his face like flint” (Luke 9:51; Isaiah 50:7) toward the center of military empire: Washington, D.C.

The Riverside speech launches the next phase of King’s ministry. Now he will address the mechanism of empire–not just its bitter fruits. Now he will hold America accountable not only to her founding ideals but to God.

In that space between “the present war” and “America’s soul,” an assassin snicked his soft-nosed bullet into a 30-06 rifle.

King names America as “Hope-Destroyer;” Vietnam is what the Prophet Jeremiah calls a “high place of Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt-offerings” (19:5). … [read the rest at Radical Discipleship]

Abbot Philip: Virtues and Vices in Lenten Practice

monks3Lenten reflections from Benedictine Abbot Philip in New Mexico:

…[I]n Lent we can become focused almost exclusively on sin rather than on virtue. We are struggling to overcome our sinfulness and yet that does not mean to focus on sin. Rather it should mean to focus on living for God and that means to focus on virtue. It is also good to remember that the least offensive of the capital sins is lust, excessive sexual appetites. Often Christians tend to think of such sexual appetites and the worst of the sins. Instead, the worst of the capital sins is pride. From the least to the greatest of these sins, the order would be: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Lots of us have different orders in our own minds, but this would be the classical order. The corresponding virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness and humility.

For us monks, humility is often pointed out to us by Saint Benedict in his Rule for Monks. Saint Benedict has a very long chapter on the degrees of humility. Many people today do not take the time to read that chapter well because some of the ways in which Saint Benedict expresses himself go against our modern sensibilities. For instance, Saint Benedict tells us that we must not only think of ourselves as worse than others but believe it in the depths of our hearts. For many people today, who already have low self-esteem, this can be a fatal recipe. It was C. S. Lewis who stated in one of his books that the problem today for many people is not pride but lack of self-esteem.This does not call us to abandon humility, however, but to understand it more profoundly so that we do not confuse humility with a lack of self-esteem. Instead of trying to reinvent humility, we must simply rediscover its reality so that we can live it more completely in our lives. Continue reading “Abbot Philip: Virtues and Vices in Lenten Practice”

Ched Myers: Jesus’ ‘Second Call’ to Discipleship

supermancrossThanks to our kinfolk over at Radical Discipleship blog for running the amazing biblical commentary by Ched Myers on the Mark gospel readings this Lent.

Ched Myers writes:

The midpoint of Mark’s narrative poses two questions, aimed both at the disciples in, and the readers of, the story:

“Do you not yet understand?” (Mk 8:21).

“Who do you say that I am?” (8:29a).

The latter provokes what I call the “confessional crisis” (8:30-33), which this Sunday’s reading inexplicably jumps into the middle of (we get the whole text on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 13th). This is followed by Jesus’ second call to discipleship (8:34ff), deepening the journey begun in 1:16-20.

These difficult episodes together represent the fulcrum upon which the whole gospel balances. Mark’s thesis is most clearly revealed here: Discipleship is not about theological orthodoxy but about the Way of the cross. It would seem that our churches do “not yet understand” this!

We pick up the thread in the first of three “portents,” in which Jesus speaks of his impending arrest, trial and execution by the authorities (8:31; see 9:31 and 10:33f). This “reality check” has been provoked by Peter’s identification of Jesus as “Messiah” (8:29). To our chagrin, it is immediately silenced by Jesus (8:30), as if Peter were just another demon trying to “name” Jesus (see 1:25; 3:12)! Then, with the phrase “Jesus began to teach them that it was necessary that the Human One must suffer,” the story departs in a new and troubling direction (8:31).

By “necessity” Mark means that those who pursue Jubilary justice will inevitably clash with the Powers. Jesus is serving notice that he will not enter Jerusalem as a triumphant military leader, but instead be executed by the authorities. This subverts the expected “Messianic script,” replacing it with what we might call a “prophetic script.” At key points in the second half of the gospel Mark will appeal to this script: John followed it, so will Jesus (9:12f), and so must faithful disciples (13:9-13).

Read the full commentary here.

Rule of St. Benedict: ‘On the Keeping of Lent’

spring-tree-buds_tn2“The life of a monk ought always to be a Lenten observance. However, since such virtue is that of few, we advise that during these days of Lent he guard his life with all purity and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the shortcomings of other times. This will then be worthily done, if we restrain ourselves from all vices. Let us devote ourselves to tearful prayers, to reading and compunction of heart, and to abstinence.

During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God “with the joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thes 1:6), of his own accord, something above his prescribed measure; namely, let him withdraw from his body somewhat of food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the gladness of spiritual desire await holy Easter.” — The Rule of St. Benedict

James Allison: ‘Don’t Believe The Lie’

Resurrection of  Lazarus by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11)
Resurrection of Lazarus by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11)
Lent is a time for unbinding ourselves from the culture of death. Like Lazarus, we lay dead in a tomb beyond which we cannot see. We are bound in stinking grave clothes. But through the pilgrimage of Lent we are gently unwrapped, until the day we hear that powerful voice saying “Come out!”

Here’s a reflection by British theologian James Allison from his book On Being Liked (2004):

“When we are baptized, we, or our Godparents on our behalf, renounce Satan and all his vain pomps and empty works. And here we were, sorely tempted at least to find ourselves being sucked up into believing in just such an empty work and pomp. A huge and splendid show giving the impression of something creative of meaning, but in fact, a snare and an illusion, meaning nothing at all, but leaving us prey to revenge and violence, our judgments clouded by satanic righteousness.

When I say satanic, I mean this in two senses, for we can only accurately describe the satanic in two senses. The first sense is the sense I have just described: the fantastic pomp and work of sacrificial violence leading to an impression of unanimity, the same lie from the one who was a murderer and liar from the beginning [John 8:44], the same lie behind all human sacrifices, all attempts to create social order and meaning out of a sacred space of victimization.

But the second sense is more important: the satanic is a lie that has been undone. It has been undone by Jesus’s going to death, exploding from within the whole world of sacrifice, of religion and culture based on death, and showing it has no transcendence at all. Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel (and it is the title of Rene Girard’s book) “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” This is the solemn declaration of the definitive loss of transcendence of the satanic show: we no longer have to believe it, we no longer have to act driven by its compulsions. It has no power other than the power we give it. The pomp has nothing to do with heaven. It has nothing to do with God.”–James Allison