Knowing From the Bottom From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation at the Center for Action and Contemplation (Sign up here to receive these daily):
The vast majority of people throughout history have been poor, disabled, or oppressed in some way (i.e., “on the bottom”) and would have read history in terms of a need for change, but most of history has been written and interpreted from the side of the winners. The unique exception is the revelation called the Bible, which is an alternative history from the side of the often enslaved, dominated, and oppressed people of Israel, culminating in the scapegoat figure of Jesus himself.
We see in the Gospels that it’s the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, and the foreigners who tend to follow Jesus. It is those on the inside and the top—the Roman occupiers, the chief priests and their conspirators—who crucify him. Shouldn’t that tell us something really important about perspective? Every viewpoint is a view from a point. We must be able to critique our own perspective if we are to see a fuller truth.
November 29 marks the anniversary of Dorothy Day’s death. I owe much of my formation as a Catholic, as an activist, and as a writer to Dorothy Day and the Worker movement. Currently, I’m making my way through the recently released The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg. Dorothy’s personal papers were embargoed for 25 years after her death. Ellsberg has done a phenomenal job in sifting, collecting, tracing, and editing. (I’ve written a few times about D. Day and the Catholic Worker movement for Sojourners.)
Below is a poem by my friend Ted Deppe, recalling Dorothy:
House of Hospitality Tivoli, NY, 1976
Down the hall, someone’s playing Schumann and cursing,
and Dorothy says, ‘That’s why we call this a house of
hostility. At least we don’t turn away those in need,
but all our farms are failures.’ She quotes Dostoyevsky
to sum up fifty years of the Worker: ‘Love in dreams
seems easy, but love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.’
Outside, the ice on the Hudson keeps breaking with loud booms,
and Dorothy recalls the San Francisco quake
when she was eight. Which prompts an elderly man, silent so far,
to clear his throat and say, ‘I was there—I heard Caruso
sing from the window of the Palace Hotel. We were running
down Market Street when Mother stopped, pointed up,
and there he was, testing his voice they say—he was afraid
he might have lost it during the disaster—singing from La Boheme,
that magnificent tenor of his floating above the sound of collapsing
buildings.’ ‘And you heard him sing?’ asks Dorothy, ‘you heard
Caruso?’ and the man—a very articulate schizophrenic—says,
‘I saw a city destroyed and heard Caruso sing on the same morning.’
‘What a life!’ Dorothy says. ‘See, I was in Oakland,
where it wasn’t so bad. I only read about Caruso. And his valet—
did you see him? A character out of Ignazio Silone!
I mean, I love opera, I love Caruso, but this valet, when the quake hit,
reportedly came into the maestro’s hotel room
and told him, “Signor, it is nothing—nothing—but I think
we should go outside.” Then, once he’d waited in the shaking
building for Caruso to sing, a cappella, the complete aria,
once he’d finally escorted him safely to the open square,
he climbed six floors to that Room with a View
to pack the great man’s trunks, and carefully—apparently
calmly—carried them down, one by one.’
This poem appeared originally in The Shop and will appear in Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo Press, 2009)..
This week (November 29) marked the 35th anniversary of Dorothy Day’s death. My life continues to be shaped by the path she forged with her life and that of the Catholic Worker movement. I’m sure she was shocked when Pope Francis spoke her name on the floor of the U.S. Congress during his visit!
I’m grateful to Robert Ellsberg for his release of Day’s selected letters. Below is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to WWII conscientious objector and sociologist Gordon Zahn. It seems as fresh today as when she wrote it in the autumn of 1968.
“As a convert, I never expected much from the bishops. In all history popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power loving and greedy. I never expected leadership from them. It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going. What I do expect is the bread of life and down thru the ages there is that continuity. Living where we do there certainly is no intellectual acceptance of the Church, only blind faith. I mean among the poor.
The gospel is hard. Loving your enemies, and the worst are of our own household, is hard.”–Dorothy Day in letter to Gordon Zahn
Dan Delany: May perpetual light surround him. What a giant of a man! I like thinking of all the faces lining up to greet him — all the people that he helped along his Way. Dan died last week, released at last into God’s pure passion.
Catholic Workers’ Dan and Chris are part of my pantheon of spiritual heroes. Not only for their dedication to becoming living epistles of Matthew 25, but in their personal lives and struggles.
Dorothy Day mentioned Dan in at least one “On Pilgrimage” column (The Catholic Worker, January 1972, 1, 2, 4) saying:
… since Jan Adams mentioned in her article all those social alternatives that mean working from the bottom up and with people as they are, rather than from the top down (government), I’d like to write about the “earthy spirituality that Christians need to recover,” that Rosemary refers to. In a way, “Christians” is not quite the right word. The Jews in the tales of the Hasidim show themselves to be masters of that “earthy spirituality.” There is certainly more than a touch of the “wild, prophetic and the holy” in movements like Cesar Chavez’. It is “alive” in the sense that Jesus Christ meant when He said He has come “to bring life and to bring it more abundantly.”
I am sure that it is in the Catholic Worker movement too, and I sensed it in the new houses of hospitality, in San Francisco, run by Chris Montesano, and the one in Los Angeles, run by Dan Delaney, Jeff Dietrich, Sue Pollack (whose article appears in this issue) and several other young men. It is the only thing which keeps me from falling into a state of despair when I see the apparent hopelessness of the destitution situation around us here in New York.
He was a Los Angeles priest who fell in love with a nun. Together, they left the Catholic Church, got married, moved to Sacramento and soon began helping the needy in their new hometown by making sandwiches and handing them out from the back of their van.
The need grew and so did the work to address it. Soon the van was not enough and the couple opened Loaves & Fishes. That was 37 years ago.
On Wednesday, Dan Delany, a towering figure in the local plight of the homeless and the battle against injustice, succumbed to a lengthy bout with dementia. He was 80. He is survived by his wife and co-founder of Loaves & Fishes, Chris Delany; their two adult children, Becky and John Delany; and three grandchildren.
Renowned as a storyteller and a wit, Mr. Delany could also be a fierce and persistent voice for the poor. And in many ways, he and his wife lived like those they served, taking only a small salary and never wavering from their vows of poverty they made through the church.
Loaves & Fishes began as a modest soup kitchen and expanded through the years to become a broad-based campus with a private school for homeless children, a shelter for chronically homeless and mentally ill women, a kennel for pets belonging to the poor and a kitchen that continues to serve meals to thousands on every day but Christmas.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article41399673.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://lacatholicworker.org/2015/10/23/lacw-co-founder-dan-delany-joins-heavenly-cloud-of-witnesses
I spent a wonderful morning down on the national Mall watching Pope Francis address Congress. What an amazing speech. The air was electric! Not something you normally feel inside the political beltway of D.C.
Tears sprang to my eyes when the pope said he would build his talk around four great Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Wow! I finally felt like the church was done wandering in the wilderness and was ready to come home to the living gospel of at least the 20th century!
Here’s one excerpt:
My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.
I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. …
Here’s the link to the complete transcript of Pope Francis’ address to Congress:
“I loved the Church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me. Romano Guardini said the Church is the Cross on which Christ was crucified; one could not separate Christ from his Cross, and one must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the Church.”–Dorothy Day
“Resistance” is the secret of joy, wrote Alice Walker in Possessing the Secret of Joy. In the great 20th century experiment of nonviolent civil disobedience, there are currently two cases worth keeping an eye on, reading about, and providing prayerful and material support to those involved.
1. Dennis Apel, longtime Catholic Worker, founder of Beatitude House in Guadalupe, Calif., and organizer of the peace witness outside the Vandenburg Air Force base, recently had his case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. [Send donations to support Beatitude House here: 4575 9th St., Guadalupe, CA 93434]
Issue: When a military installation share custody over a public highway and designated “protest area,” can the base commander bar someone from that area? In what cases is a “public road” a “military zone”?
Judgment: Yes, a “military . . . installation” for purposes of § 1382 encompasses the commanding officer’s area of responsibility, and it includes Vandenberg’s highways and protest area.
Justice Ginsburg and Sotomayor concurred with the judgement. But, they said, “a key inquiry remains, for the fence, checkpoint, and painted line, while they do not alter the Base boundaries, may alter the First Amendment calculus … it is questionable whether Apel’s ouster from the protest area can withstand constitutional review.”
It’s likely that Dennis’ lawyer will bring the case again, this time making a constitutional argument. Read more on this case here.
2. Greg Boertje-Obed (age 58), Sister Megan Rice (age 84), and Michael Walli (age 65), Catholic peace witnesses, were sentenced last week to federal prison for roughly 5 years for Greg and Michael and 3 years for Sister Megan, for crossing the property line of the Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear weapons facility and spray painting bible verses and religious slogans on the outbuildings. (Read Washington Post reporter Dan Zak’s groundbreaking coverage.) [Send donations to assist the Transform Plowshares here: Dorothy Day Catholic Worker 503 Rock Creek Church Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20010]
Their public witness was called Transform Now Plowshares. It is part of the faith-based Plowshares Movement, an effort by people of faith to transform weapons into real, life-giving alternatives, to build true peace. Inspired by the prophets Micah and Isaiah, Jesus and Gandhi, Transform Now Plowshares began a symbolic conversion of the Y-12 Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility on July 28, 2012.
Issue: The U.S. government charged the defendants with willful injury of a national defense premises with intent to harm the national defense (“Count One”) and willful injury or depredation of property of the United States in excess of $1,000 (“Count Two”). On May 10, 2013, Thapar cited the definition of “federal crime of terrorism” to rule that the protesters must remain in jail until their sentencing. The charge of sabotage – which could have brought a life sentence – was brought forward, discussed, and ultimately dropped.
Judgement: Judge Thapar sentenced Megan Rice to three years in prison for breaking into the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and defacing a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium, a demonstration that exposed serious security flaws. The two other defendants were sentenced to more than five years in prison, in part because they had much longer criminal histories. Judge Thapar said he was concerned they showed no remorse and he wanted the punishment to be a deterrent for other activists. They were also charged with more than $50,000 in fines.
Quotes worth noting:
A. “What is the national defense the three are accused of sabotaging? The answer to that question is not defined in the statute. The prosecution wishes to punish the defendants for interfering with national defense without 1) defining what national defense is and without 2) defining what part of their definition of national defense was interfered with by defendants.
The prosecution wants to use the vague sabotage charge as a blunt instrument to prosecute defendants and also as an impregnable shield to avoid admitting that there are preparations for a nuclear war going on at Y-12. The prosecution wants to proceed without admitting that materials for nuclear weapons are prepared, refurbished and stored at Y-12 or allowing defendants to put on any evidence about those weapons. There is a very good reason for the reluctance of the prosecution – the weapons themselves, thermonuclear warheads produced or refurbished at Y-12 are designed solely to reliably and effectively unleash mammoth amounts of heat, blast and radiation. The uncontested fact is that these weapons, as the prosecution well knows, cannot discriminate between civilian and military and are uncontrollable in space and time. They are designed to cause such massive damage that they necessarily would inflict unnecessary and indiscriminate suffering upon non-combatants and thus violate 18 U.S.C. § 2441. Likewise, the planning, preparations or threat to commit the war crime in 18 U.S.C. § 2441 are crimes in themselves.
B. “[Judge] Thapar said the recommended sentences seemed extreme given the circumstances and did not distinguish between saboteurs and peace protesters. “Here, it seems like overkill,” Thapar said of Rice’s recommended sentence. “Six-and-a-half years for Megan Rice? Isn’t it supposed to be sufficient but not greater than necessary?”
Announcing the shorter sentences, the judge cited Rice’s decades of service and Walli’s military history, among other things. And he said he gave similar sentences to Walli and Boertje-Obed to avoid sentencing disparities. Even while emphasizing the importance of deterrence, though, Thapar acknowledged the good works of the defendants, which have ranged from volunteering in soup kitchens to teaching science in Africa.
“The court can say it is generally distressed to place good people behind bars,” Thapar said. “But I continue to hold out hope that a significant sentence may deter…and lead (the defendants) back to the political process that they seem to have given up on. Without question, the law does not permit the breaking and entering into the secure facilities of the United States.” Thapar urged the trio to use the political process and their community of supporters to go to Washington, D.C., to try to abolish nuclear weapons.”–Oak Ridge Today
C. Also fascinating is the “Heartland” Amicus brief and response by the defense on federal sentencing guidelines. Judge Thapar asked for guidance on whether he had to use the federal sentencing guidelines for “terrorism” in judging a nonviolent peace witness and how much he could take into account a defendant’s “good works” and contribution to the community.
Both cases remind me of practices in the early Christian church. A 3rd century Christian manual, called the Didascalia, reads as follows:
You shall not turn away your eyes from a Christian who for the name of God and for His faith and love is condemned to the games, or to the beasts, or to the mines; but of your labor and of the sweat of your face do you send to him for nourishment, and for a payment to the soldiers that guard him, that he may have relief and that care may be taken of him, so that your blessed brother be not utterly afflicted.
Today there will be a public witness in front of the White House at noon to demand the closing of Guantanamo and a restoration of the rule of law. As Ramadan starts, there are 106 prisoners on hunger strike and at least 45 are being force fed.
Luke 12:3 seems appropriate here: “Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.”
Below is a note from the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in D.C. and Witness Against Torture:
“Where is the world to save us from torture? Where is the world to save us from the fire and sadness? Where is the world to save the hunger strikers?” — Adnan Latif, Yemeni Guantanamo prisoner held for ten years without ever having been charged with a crime and cleared for release on four separate occasions, found dead in his cell on September 8, 2012.
July 12 will be day 156 of the Guantanamo hunger strike. As many as 120 prisoners are now participating in the hunger strike. The military admits that 45 are being forcibly fed by tubes snaked through their noses twice a day because they have lost so much weight.
Prisoners have appealed to doctors not to participate in this forced feeding. Obama, who knows force feeding is condemned by the AMA and the United Nations, said on May 17, as he once again promised to close Guantanamo, “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are?”
Apparently it is. And as Andy Worthington says, “We wait and we wait and still nothing happens.” Instead an additional 125 U.S. troops were recently sent to the prison to “contain” the situation.
On July 8 U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed a Syrian detainee’s request to end force-feeding saying she lacks jurisdiction to rule on conditions at the prison. However, she condemned the military’s practice of force-feeding detainees as “painful, humiliating and degrading” and said President Obama has the authority to stop it.
The vast majority of the 166 men have been held for more than 11 years without any charge or fair trial, with no end to their detention in sight although 86 have been cleared for release for years. Nearly two months has passed since Yemeni officials seeking the repatriation of the 56 Yemenis cleared for release agreed to set up a rehabilitation center to help reintegrate them. But nothing has happened since Obama lifted his ban on their repatriation.
Finally, word of the resistance actions is making it to the men at Guantanamo, and making an enormous difference to them. An attorney for several men at Guantanamo recently wrote Witness Against Torture to say:
I was at GTMO all week meeting with clients. I wanted to share with you the following words from . . . Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni national who has been in U.S. custody without fair process since 2002.
Moath was one of the very first prisoners to reach GTMO, where the U.S. military assigned him Internment Serial Number (ISN 028). He has been on hunger strike since February and the U.S. military is now force-feeding him. Moath shared the following during our meeting, translated as accurately as I could from the Arabic:
“I recently had an interesting conversation with one of the Navy officers in charge of my force-feeding here at Guantanamo. He told he was here to make sure I was treated humanely as I was being force-fed. So I answered through the interpreter, saying:
‘What I am enduring now is torture and the American people will tell you as much. Humanitarian organizations, various human rights bodies, as well as American groups such as Witness Against Torture and Doctors Without Borders have all declared that what is taking place at Guantanamo is a violation of human rights and that it amounts to torture.’
The officer’s face changed and he walked away.”
The men at GTMO are fully aware of your work and their eyes literally tear up when I describe the various protest actions you and your fellow activists have undertaken in solidarity with their plight. To say they are grateful would be an understatement.
In response to this moving statement, WAT members Jeremy Varon and Datt Daloisio wrote: “Our eyes fill with tears as we contemplate the significance of what Moath shared: that our actions — however inadequate we feel them to be — help the men at Guantanamo resist assaults on their dignity and confront their persecutors, with added confidence in the justice of their position and the world’s concern for their plight. There can be no greater affirmation of the value of our efforts, nor greater motivation for us to work harder.”
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly ran an 8-minute segment on Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement on Feb. 8.
If you’ve never heard Dorothy speak for herself, here’s your chance. Wonderful clips! As well as excellent interviews with heroes of the movement: Robert Ellsberg, Jane Sammon, Carmen Trotta, Joanne Kennedy, and Patrick Jordan.
“The Catholic Worker is essentially a school, you might say. I mean, it’s a place where you…where you…a lot of young people come to us…It’s a pacifist, anarchist movement, and they come to us to learn more about this point of view of beginning a change from the bottom up, rather than from the top down—through unions and credit unions. You do away with banks by credit unions…you do away with interest, you do away with…by mutual aid. You do away with possession of goods by sharing.”–Dorothy Day, interview in 1974
Shelley and her husband author Jim Douglass are elders in the movement for justice and peace. This year they mark 20 years in Birmingham offering radical hospitality in the Catholic Worker tradition.
Below is an excerpt from the seasonal newsletter by Shelley from her location at Mary’s House Catholic Worker in Birmingham, Alabama.
She reflects on a recent Vatican program to improve the Catholic image. It’s known as the “new evangelization.” It’s purpose is to “re-propose the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.”
“For months now I’ve been reading articles about the new evangelization. Usually they are proposing wasy to spread the message–through social media, or better texts for theology in Catholic Schools, or more careful adherence to doctrinal purity, or better art and music at liturgies, or any number of ways to make Catholicism more attractive and better understood. Now I love beautiful music, and I’m all for clarity (and brevity) in teaching. I have nothing against twittering and tweeting, although I don’t know how myself. It does make me wonder though: how on earth did Jesus manage to spread his message without all our modern advances in communication? Or how did Dorothy Day and the early Catholic Worker community evangelize before the internet?
Peter Maurin used to say that the message of the Gospel is dynamite, cloaked and hidden by theological language. For him, a new evangelization would be to uncover the social teaching of the church, and put it into practice. For Dorothy and for Peter, evangelization was to begin to live the good news themselves, by practicing the works of mercy in daily life. For Jesus, the good news was simple: the Kingdom of God is at hand! Change your lives, and live as though it were true!”–Shelley Douglass, Mary’s House Catholic Worker (Magnificat, January 2013)
P.S. I’ll be leading the Mary’s House Lenten retreat in Birmingham, Alabama, March 15-17, 2013. Come join us! To find out more information, email Shelley Douglass (shelleymdouglass at gmail dot com).