They Might Be Giants: Remembering Jerry Berrigan

Jerry Berrigan, left, and his brother the Rev. Daniel Berrigan with Sister Elizabeth McAlister in 1972. (Credit: UPI)
Jerry Berrigan, left, and his brother the Rev. Daniel Berrigan with Sister Elizabeth McAlister in 1972. (Credit: UPI)

Catholic peace prophet Jerry Berrigan died last week at home in Syracuse, NY. His brother Dan Berrigan is now the last of the six Berrigan brothers that called America to account for its soul. Among them they raised generations peace prophets. Below are excerpts from Jerry’s obituary and a recent profile of him. Thank God for the Berrigans — and all their relations!

Jerry Berrigan, a Catholic peace activist who, like his better known brothers Philip and Daniel, was arrested frequently for protesting the Vietnam War and other conflicts, died on July 26, at his home in Syracuse. He was 95.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Carla Berrigan Pittarelli.

Mr. Berrigan was a quieter counterpart to his brothers, the former Josephite priest Philip and the Jesuit priest and author Daniel. The two of them became international antiwar figures after they participated in the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md., on May 17, 1968. The trial of the Catonsville Nine, as they were known, helped galvanize protesters across the country.

Though he was not among the Catonsville Nine, Mr. Berrigan joined his brothers in other protests, against nuclear proliferation, both wars in Iraq and other causes. He, Daniel and 58 others were arrested in 1973 for disrupting a White House tour by kneeling in prayer on the last day of United States bombing in Cambodia, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for pouring blood on the floor of the Pentagon in 1979. …

New York Times (By Daniel E. Slotnik, AUG. 2, 2015)

And from the profile:

Jerry Berrigan can offer plenty of first-hand stories about giants.

Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the legendary Catholic Worker movement, was a friend. Day believed in “a revolution of the heart,” in the idea of hospitality and community for those who have the least.

When Day visited Jerry and his wife Carol in Syracuse, she spent a night at their home in the Valley.

Just over 50 years ago, Jerry traveled to Selma for the great march for voting rights, part of a contingent led by the Rev. Charles Brady of Syracuse. By sheer chance, they had an opportunity to meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That was three years before King was shot to death by an assassin. Berrigan said his overwhelming reaction – in a place where he witnessed the essence of raw hatred – was a sense of just how willing King was to put himself at ultimate risk, for a higher cause.

Decades earlier, as a young American soldier during World War II, Jerry had served Mass for Padre Pio in Sicily. Pio was revered among Catholics for bearing the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, and he’d later be canonized as a Catholic saint.

‘Heart! Heart! Heart!’: Jerry Berrigan, at 95, on greatest moment in life of conscience by Sean Kirst (July 25, 2015)

Vincent Gordon Harding, Freedom Fighter (1931-2014)

Vincent Gordon Harding with Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners, 2010
Vincent Gordon Harding with Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners, 2010

I am deep in the midst of grieving the loss of Vincent Gordon Harding–a friend, mentor, scholar, freedom fighter, mahatma, and now, an ancestor–who died in Philadelphia on May 19 from complications of heart surgery.

All great souls are also flawed–hagiography has no place in authentic mourning. True grief honors what has passed. No longer will I pick up the telephone and hear Vincent’s basso profondo, “Sister Rose Marie? Is it well with your soul?”

More later. Right now, I can only stand at the river, peering into the water in disbelief that it has carried him to the other side.

Roundup of Remembrances:

Vincent Gordon Harding and Rosemarie Freeney Harding,  1950s (Photo courtesy of Mennonite Historical Bulletin)
Vincent Gordon Harding and Rosemarie Freeney Harding, 1950s (Photo courtesy of Mennonite Historical Bulletin)

Vincent Harding Built a New World by Dee Dee Risher

Remembering Vincent Harding, An Enduring Veteran of Hope by Ken Butigan

A gentle giant left us by Catherine Meeks

Vincent Harding by E. Ethelbert Miller

Vincent Harding, Civil Rights Author and Associate of Dr. King, Dies at 82 by Margalit Fox

Vincent Harding, a true hero by Celeste Kennel-Shank

In Memory of Dr. Vincent Harding, a ‘Prophetic Voice for Justice and Vigorous Nonviolence’ by Ben Sutter

MLK speechwriter, civil rights activist Vincent Harding dead by Kate Gibbons

Remembering Historian Vincent Harding, Who Drafted Dr. Martin Luther King’s Anti-Vietnam War Speech by Democracy Now!

Social Activism Loses ‘Peaceful Warrior’ Vincent Harding by Jamal Watson

Rest in Peace, Vincent Harding by Steve Thorngate

Vincent Harding: A light shines in the darkness by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Vincent Harding Dead: Civil Rights Activist, Speechwriter And Friend Of Martin Luther King Jr., Dies At 82 by Yasmine Hafiz

Vincent Gordon Harding by Black Fire, UVA

Sally Ride – Ad Astra Per Alas Fideles

Sally Ride, 1983.Remembering the extraordinary Sally Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012).

In the first half of the 1980s, I was making my way through college at the University of California’s “farm school” in the crunchy, sleepy town of Davis. Between working toward a BA in Science (with an eye toward marine biology and aquaculture) and keeping my GPA up with classes in world religions, philosophy, and advanced poetry, I spent a lot of time at the Women’s Resources Center.

I can’t remember which building it was in, but remember it was in the basement. It was cool, happy, and had couches. I’d lay down there for hours memorizing chemical equations and Elizabeth Bishop. I loved listening to the women’s voices swirling around me. These were women living beyond the social norms in so many different ways. I loved the creative energy.

It was in the hallway outside the Women’s Center that I met Sally Ride. I have no idea what she was doing on campus. Maybe she came to give a talk. But as I was heading in to the Center, she was heading out, walking with a couple of friends and all laughing hysterically. She was slim, wearing a t-shirt and jeans and no shoes. (I have no idea why she wasn’t wearing shoes. I just remember thinking, “Wow! It must be nice to walk barefoot after having to wear those heavy space suits.” Though I realize now that they didn’t have to wear those lead-lined boots in the shape shuttle!)

I can’t remember if she was wearing the shirt or if  one of her friends had it on, but it said “Ride Sally, Ride!”–the refrain from Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” that became her motto worldwide, as the first American woman in space and the youngest.

I stopped her in the hallway and shook her hand, introduced myself, saying how excited I was to meet her and that I was studying science at UC Davis (women in science was a passion of hers, as her career attests). She shook my hand and thanked me for introducing myself and off they went. “Ride, Sally Ride,” I called out as they left and she waved her hand.

She was an extraordinary woman. Brilliant and gutsy and with enormous personal courage and conviction. Her work on the Challenger shuttle disaster investigation committee was nothing short of heroic as she supported whistleblowers who had been saying for months that the O-rings were going to fail in cold weather. Her work on climate change has been prophetic.

Both Sally’s parents were Presbyterian elders and her sister in a Presbyterian minister. Below is an excerpt from Sally’s sister, Bear Ride:

“Sally Ride was the first American woman to go into space and she was my big sister. Sally died peacefully on July 23rd after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. I was at her side. We grew up in Encino, CA. Our parents, Joyce and Dale Ride, encouraged us to study hard, to do our best and to be anything we wanted to be. In 1983 Newsweek quoted our father as saying, ‘We might have encouraged, but mostly we just let them explore.’ Our parents encouraged us to be curious, to keep our minds and hearts open and to respect all persons as children of God. Our parents taught us to explore, and we did. Sally studied science and I went to seminary. She became an astronaut and I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.

Sally lived her life to the fullest with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless. Sally died the same way she lived: without fear. Sally’s signature statement was ‘Reach for the Stars.’ Surely she did this, and she blazed a trail for all the rest of us.”

Sally, Ad astra per alas fideles! (“to the stars on the wings of the faithful”)

More on the death and life of Sally Ride:
Sally Ride pushed us to understand our climate and our world by Philip Bump

Why Sally Ride waited until her death to tell the world she was gay by Alan Boyle

American Woman Who Shattered Space Ceiling by Denise Grady

Latina Liberation Theology: ‘Thank You, Ada Maria’

Here’s an excerpt from my column from Sojourners (July 2012) honoring mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz who died suddenly in May. I’m firmly convinced that her work will, in the not too distant future as demographics in the U.S. continue to shift, be seen as critically important to understanding the future of American Christian feminism. I’m grateful for the generous comments I received from Rosemary Radford Reuther, Fernando Segovia, Gabriel Salguero, and others remembering Ada Maria:

… Ada was “a pioneer,” Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether told Sojourners. “She gave us a vision of justice and integrity for Latina women in the U.S. and the world that was inspiring”; her work is “an integral part of feminist theological thought.”

Ada María Isasi-Díaz was born in Cuba in 1943, the third of six sisters and two brothers. Her father worked in the sugar cane mills, and her mother nourished in Ada a love of Catholic religious practices and the importance of staying in the struggle (la lucha) for what one believes. Her family fled Cuba after years of civil war, and in 1960, at age 17, Ada arrived in the U.S. as a political refugee. Soon she joined the Ursuline sisters and, in 1967, was sent to Lima, Peru, as a missionary.

“I lived there for three years,” Ada wrote. “This experience marked me for life … It was there that the poor taught me the gospel message of justice. It was there that I learned to respect and admire the religious understandings and practices of the poor and the oppressed and the importance of their everyday struggles, of lo cotidiano.”

Her research on lo cotidiano—the dynamic daily lives of Latino/as—argued that theology didn’t have to be only about God in the abstract, but should include what people know about God and how they acquire that knowledge. In this way she identified Latinas and their community, traditions, habits, moral judgments, and self-definition as the primary source material for learning about their God experience. By relocating her primary theological sources out of the academy and to the kitchens, laundromats, home altars, and familias of Latina women, Ada flipped the locus of power, authority, and agency. …–Rose Marie Berger

Read the whole column here.

NYT Runs Obit for Catholic Theologian Isasi-Díaz

Finally (!)  The New York Times has run an obituary for Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. My memorial for Ada will run in the July issue of Sojourners (at the printer now). Here’s a portion of Paul Vitello’s NYT article:

In part, Dr. Isasi-Díaz conceived of Mujerista, or “womanist” theology (from the Spanish word mujer, for woman), to distinguish her ideas from those of feminism — a term “rejected by many in the Hispanic community,” she wrote in 1989, “because they consider feminism a preoccupation of white, Anglo women.” She hoped that “Mujerism,” which she considered a spiritual branch of the reform movement known as liberation theology, would help delineate the special community of need and identity shared by poor, Hispanic, Catholic women.

“Hispanic women widely agree that, though we make up the vast majority of those who participate in the work of the churches, we do not participate in deciding what work is to be done,” she wrote in a 1989 article in Christian Century, titled “Mujeristas: A Name of Our Own!”

“We do the praying, but our understanding of the God to whom we pray is ignored.” Dr. Isasi-Díaz argued that poor women, by the nature of their roles in their families and communities, “exercised their moral agency in the world” more profoundly than any other group of the faithful. They did that in the small daily choices they made, she said: between bus fare and a 40-block walk to work, for instance; or between breakfast for oneself or one’s child. Those choices embodied immense moral power, and deserved to be honored in the form of greater roles for those women in their church.

Read the whole article.

Remembering Adrienne Rich

Poet Adrienne Rich (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

I’m taking time to savor the work of Adrienne Rich, one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century who died this week at the age of 82. She articulated what it means to be a woman in a man-made world, giving thousands a dictionary of images and phrases to describe our own experience. And more than any other poet I know, Rich was relentless in pursuing a balance between politics and art without ever sacrificing the essence of either.

On the Role of the Poet:

“We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”–Adrienne Rich

On Poetry and the Capitalist Model:

“Poetry has the capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom – that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free’ market.”–Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s 1997 letter to Jane Alexander, head of the National Endowment for the Arts:

Dear Jane Alexander, I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.

Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright. In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored. I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me. Sincerely, Adrienne Rich (See July 16, 1997 Democracy Now interview with Rich)

An excerpt from Rich’s poem “Natural Resources,” in The Dream of a Common Language:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

A passion to make, and make again
where such un-making reigns. …

Remembering ‘The Barefoot Diva’ Cesaria Evora

“Cesaria Evora  was born on the 27th August 1941 in Mindelo, Cape Verde. Her bright voice and physical charms were soon noticed, but her hope of a singing career remained unsatisfied. A Cape Verdean women’s group and the singer Bana both took her to Lisbon to cut a few tracks, but the recordings failed to catch the ear of a producer. In 1988, a young Frenchman of Cape Verdean extraction invited her to Paris to make a record. At 47, she had nothing to lose. Having never seen Paris, she agreed. …” Read more.

Cesaria Evora, Cape Verdean vocalist, dies at 70

Fred Shuttlesworth: #Occupying Heaven

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth with wife, Sephira in Selma, Alabama, at the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Photo: Rose Berger)

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who withstood fire hoses and dogs unleashed by Birmingham’s public safety conmmissioner, and survived bombings and beatings during the civil rights movement, died on Wednesday (Oct. 5) at age 89.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (left), Ralph Abernathy (center), Dr. King (right) on Good Friday on April 12, 1963, in Birmingham.

I met Rev. Shuttlesworth last year in Birmingham with his lovely wife Sephira when I joined the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on a civil rights tour of Alabama led by Congressman John Lewis.

Rev. Shuttlesworth’s body was a bit ravaged, but his eyes were fierce and he was tracking everything that was going on.

He made it across the Edmund Pettus bridge one more time. And now he’s crossed a bridge where there’s nothing but angels on the other side.

“I think God created Fred Shuttlesworth to take on people like Bull Connor. He was one of the most courageous men that I have ever known. I don’t know of anyone else that could have led the movement in Birmingham.”–Rev. Joseph Lowery

Read more about Rev. Shuttlesworth over at Sojourners.

Wangari Maathai Dies, Farewell to ‘Mother of Trees’

Catholic Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize – a first for an African woman and a first for environmentalism – for her work with the Green Belt Movement, the largest community-based environmental organization in Africa.

Maathai (1940-2011), who died this week of ovarian cancer, was particularly known for leading poor Kenyan women in a reforestation movement that has planted 30 million trees and for actively resisting the corruption of Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi. At the announcement of the prize, the international press ran photos of Maathai standing tall, proud, beaming – and alone – in the spotlight.

“The Nobel Prize is absolutely a singular recognition,” explained Kenyan activist Njoki Njehu, director of the Washington, D.C.-based “50 Years is Enough” debt-relief campaign to Sojourners. “But it is also a collective recognition…[of] African women in terms of a way of valuing women’s work that has not been valued.” (Taking Root, a film about Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement, has just been released.)

Wangari Maathai opened her memoir with an scripture from Ezekiel. “The trees of the field will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them” (34:27). Below is an excerpt from the opening chapters of her extraordinary autobiography.

I was born the third of six children, and the first girl after two sons, on April 1, 1940, in the small village of Ihithe in the central highlands of what was then British Kenya. My grandparents and parents were also born in this region near the provincial capital of Nyeri, in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountain Range. To the north, jutting into the sky, is Mount Kenya.

Continue reading “Wangari Maathai Dies, Farewell to ‘Mother of Trees’”

Julie Polter: ‘For those things we’re afraid to talk about and those things we’re afraid to hear’

Over at Sojourners, Julie Polter provides the weekly ministry of producing SojoMojo, an in-house newsletter for our local community.

She’s been doing it for years. It’s a little “handmade” gift of the heart that knits together an amazing community of faith. Below is an excerpt from last week’s Mojo:

Prayers, concerns, and joys: Please remember all mourning the death of Fay Walker this week, mother of former Sojourners intern Susanne Walker Wilson (1991-92). Fay was a remarkable Christian activist, with much to inspire in her life story.

For those suffering famine in Somalia and the surrounding region. All those who mourn.

For refugees and outcasts, sinners and the sinned against, the victims and the aggressors; for all who hunger, mourn, or despair; for all who have no one to pray for them. For those things we’re afraid to talk about and those things we’re afraid to hear; for love instead of fear, abundance instead of scarcity, compassion instead of anger; for turning cheeks without turning away.