Sunday, February 19, 2017

Disrupt and rebuild

I just listened to part of San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy’s address to the February 18 meeting of the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, California. It is a message to revive hope.

I am overwhelmed by the force of his words. Read them here or listen to them here, starting at about 1:21:45.

They are some of the most forceful words I have heard from a bishop. I am reminded of Monseñor Romero as well as of the Baptist prophet Martin Luther King, Jr.

I want to share a few parts, but urge you to read the whole speech.

He starts by laying out the Catholic Social methodology of See, Judge, and Act and then makes them real, in pointed remarks – that can be seen as direct rebuttals of much of the political rhetoric coming out of Washington.

Here are just a few points:

1) “see clearly the situation”:
"Never be afraid to speak the truth. Always find your foundation for reflection and action in the fullness of empirical reality. Design strategies for change upon ever fuller dissemination of truths, even when they seem inconvenient to the cause. 
"This is an especially important anchor for us, in an age in which truth itself is under attack."

2) “judging with principles to foster integral development.”
“…free markets do not constitute a first principle of economic justice. Their moral worth is instrumental in nature and must be structured by government to accomplish the common good.”
“…a grave suspicion about enormous levels of economic inequality in society. Pope Francis made clear the depth of this suspicion two years ago. “Inequality,” he said, “is the root of social evil.” 

To make his quotation from Pope Francis that “this economy kills” real he asked all those in attendance to do an experiment:
"I want you to sit back in your chair for a moment. And close your eyes, and I want you to think of someone you have known that our economy has killed:  A senior who can’t afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is dying, working two and three jobs, really dying because even then they can’t provide for their kids; young people who can’t find their way in the world in which there is no job for them, and they turn to drugs, and gangs and suicide. Think of one person you know that this economy has killed. 
"Now mourn them.       
"And now call out their name; let all the world know that this economy kills."

3)  Acting

But it is in speaking about acting that the bishop spoke a resounding message of challenge, centered on two words – disrupt and rebuild.

"I came up with two words. The first, sadly, has been provided by our past election. President Trump was the candidate of “disruption.” He was “the disruptor,” he said. 
"Well now, we must all become disruptors. We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children."

"But we, as people of faith, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as children of Abraham, as followers of the Prophet Muhammad, of people of all faiths and no faith, we cannot merely be disruptors, we also have to be rebuilders. 
"We have to rebuild this nation so that we place at its heart the service to the dignity of the human person and assert what that flag behinds us asserts is our heritage: Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal. 
"We must rebuild a nation in solidarity, what Catholic teaching calls the sense that all of us are the children of the one God, there are no children of a lesser god in our midst. That all of us are called to be cohesive and embrace one another and see ourselves as graced by God. We are called to rebuild our nation which does pay $15 an hour in wages, and provides decent housing, clothing and food for those who are poorest. And we need to rebuild our Earth, which is so much in danger by our own industries."

The bishop appeals not only to the faith traditions of all people but to the vision of the United States: the vision of equality.

He concluded with these admonitions:
"So let us see and judge and act. 
"Let us disrupt and rebuild.
"And let us do God’s work."

I can only hope and pray that his words are heard and reflected upon by the US Catholic bishops and all people of faith.

It would be encouraging to see a church that disrupts and rebuilds - in the US and also here in Honduras. 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

From bow and arrow, to rainbow

Once I heard a rabbi at a peace meeting in the early 1980s speak about the rainbow as a transformation of a symbol of violence – the bow and arrow – into a symbol of peace and reconciliation.

Today that image touches me deeply. I’m going out to a community that has been plagued for years with violence and killings. It is the ninth day after the burial of a man who was killed there and whose body was left and partially eaten by dogs.

I go in sadness – but what can I do to offer hope? What can I say in a community plagued by violence?

The readings offer me a clue: Genesis 9: 1-13 and Mark 8: 27-33.

The myth of the Flood and Noah’s rescue points, I believe, to the consequences of sin. Even a small word, a little lie, a rumor can spread like wildfire and consume a community, a family, a nation, creating divisions and setting and way open to violence.

Violence begets violence. That we understand. But we sometimes forget that lies, greed, an unkind word can generate violence.

But God wants to transform our violence into reconciliation.

But even more, with Christ we see another way.

He is not the Messiah expected by some of the apostles – a warrior who would come and violently overthrow the Romans and put the Jewish people back into power.

No, he was, as Isaiah notes in the Songs of the Suffering Servant, one who turns all this upside down. He will not take life; he gives his life. His weapon is the cross, not the sword. He is the source of a love that embraces enemies and seeks reconciliation.


The photo was taken on June 30, 2015

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A beautiful memoir of Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day is one of the most amazing and influential Catholics of the twentieth century and perhaps one of the most paradoxical. She was called a Communist in her life time – and she maintained friendship with at least some communists. But she was also lauded by a pope addressing the US Congress. A public woman, a prayerful woman, “conservative” in theology and who knows how to describe her politics.

I just finished a book by her youngest grandchild, Kate Hennessy, Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother.

It is a work which is both tender and pointed, revealing Dorothy and her daughter Tamar in their humanness, in their struggles, in their challenges, and finally with a touch of beauty.

It is an antidote to hagiography:

Dorothy is in danger of being lost in all her wild and varied ways, her complexities, her contradictions, and this sense of power that defies description.

Yet I think the book is inadequately sub-titled. It is a memoir, very intimate, of Dorothy Day and her daughter Tamar Hennessy, through the eyes, ears, and heart of the memories of a granddaughter.

Kate Hennessy has a way with words – or maybe it’s just her gift from her grandmother (and others) that she shares. She also has a way of choosing stories and tales that open us to an intimate portrait of Dorothy Day.

Kate Hennessy has a way of capturing her mother, her grandmother, and her own life in a few words, images, and selected events.

Writing of her 1967 summer at the Catholic Worker farm, she notes:

I returned home to Vermont freckled, happy, and with a head full of lice.

Reading, I realized Dorothy Day’s great affection for her grandchildren and her extraordinary way of trying to teach them.

It was after a long stay at the beach that Dorothy wrote, “We need a reverence for the earth. Everything comes from the earth. Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov kissed the earth. . . . I took my grandchildren one day out at the Peter Maurin Farm and said, ‘Come on out and let’s kiss the earth.’ Such a strange, mysterious, and beautiful concept— man being part of the earth.”

Writing of her mother and grandmother, she reveals how her grandmother wanted so much to do well with her daughter:

“What I really want,” said Tamar, who already had a habit of taking in stray animals, “is a hedgehog. They are little and not at all prickly if you train them, and they are very bad for cockroaches. But they like to curl up in garbage cans so you are liable to throw them out if you are not careful.” So Dorothy put an appeal in the paper asking if anyone had a hedgehog to donate to the Worker.
 There were times I was touched by the pain between mother and daughter – and by the difficulties both experienced. As Kate Hennessy wrote of Tamar:

“You don’t grow up until you forgive your parents,” my mother said the year before she died.

Hard as it might be, Kate Hennessy has caught part of the genius – sanctity – of her grandmother.

As always Dorothy wrote beautifully about what was wrapped in tragedy. Part of her genius was this ability to see beauty in what didn’t seem to possess it….

Dorothy wrote of bitter, bitter things in a way that gave them beauty and grace…

When she did describe things as they were, she soon discovered that people preferred to hear the good. But she also saw beauty where many couldn’t. She saw things in all of us that lay beyond the ragged threads of our miseries.

This also might be part of the struggle between mother and daughter, a daughter who suffered much, including what she felt was a mother who didn’t seem to always see and acknowledge the pain in her own life. Perhaps Tamar felt that Dorothy didn’t realize what Kate Hennessy says that her mother once said: “Everyone must live their own disasters.”

Dorothy Day comes real – full of wit, though also a bit of the invective. In her last years, her wit came through:

She still had moments of her quick wit and sense of the absurd, though. When she answered a phone call in the middle of the night, a strange man’s voice said, “I’ve decided to renew our affair.”
“It’s too late,” Dorothy replied. “I’m eighty-two.” And she hung up. Dorothy had a

Kate Hennessy writes with wit:
Dorothy’s history with cars was a history of gas pedals going through the floor, gear sticks coming off in her hand, the battery falling out onto the ground just as she arrived home, or windshield wipers breaking off in the middle of heavy rainstorms.
She writes with insight:

Tamar’s nonjudgmental nature led Dorothy to regret her outbursts and to once again appreciate Tamar’s peaceful and uncritical nature. “I could learn from her,” she said.

And she writes with love, helping us to see how Christ and God understand us as her grandmother said:

Christ understands us when we fail, she said, and God understands us when we try to love.

Read this book and take it to heart.

I also recommend that you read Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness. I used this book a few times at the end of a university course at Iowa State University on “Introduction to Catholicism” as a way to show Catholicism made flesh in a twentieth century woman.

I also recommend the work of my friend Jim Forest, All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. It is a loving portrait with plenty of photos and quotes.

Dorothy, the real Dorothy, should inspire us to live with love and joy, in the little things we can do:
“What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did He fail. He met with apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the seed fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest. And why must we see results? Our work is to sow.”