Revisiting Dorothy Day

July 9, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Posted in Catholicism, feminism, war and violence | 4 Comments
Tags: , ,

Because of my half-century of participation in the Grail movement, I have always felt related to Dorothy Day. The first recorded contact between the Grail and American Catholics was a 1936 letter to her from the co-founder of the US Grail, Lydwine van Kersbergen. In 1943, with the Grail planted in the Midwest, Day, on sabbatical from the Catholic Worker, participated in a three-week Grail program on rural living, liturgy, and the women’s apostolate. Later she made a silent retreat at Super Flumina, the Grail’s farm in Foster, Ohio.

My personal contacts with Day were limited. She spoke at a meeting of the Catholic Art Association—or maybe it was the Catholic Art Guild, since the Art Association shut down in 1970––during one of the summers that I spent at Grailville, the Grail’s farm and conference center near Cincinnati, when I was still a fourth-grade teacher. Her talk followed the showing of a short art film, “Two Men and a Wardrobe.”* My recollection is that Day was quite dismissive of the film, something that led me to categorize her as a crabby, old-fashioned Church type; I was in my mid-twenties at the time and not very forgiving.

I also wrote to Day in 1975, after I had become a full-time member of the Grailville staff, asking if she would send me a copy of the Muslim “Ninety-Nine Names of God” that another Grail member, recently home from Egypt, had given her. She responded,

Sorry. Those 99 Names have disappeared from my treasure box, though the beads remain. My bedroom is always used in my peregrinations, so things disappear, are ripped off, liberated, to use the language of the young. My love to all there. –– In Christ––Dorothy.

The message came on a postcard bearing the kind of dramatic woodcut, this one by Antonio Frasconi, that appeared frequently in the Catholic Worker. Eventually I had the postcard framed archivally, to preserve it. When I show it to visitors I tell them that if Dorothy is canonized, it will become a second-class relic, a comment that baffles most of them.

All the rest of my “encounters” with Dorothy have taken place since her death in 1980. One was reading the letter from Cardinal John O’Connor to the Vatican nominating Day for canonization. It highlights, as a reason for her canonization, Day’s repentance for the abortion she underwent she became a Catholic. Later, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, at an event in Day’s honor at St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village, the church where Day was baptized, described her as an “obedient daughter of the Church.” I was well past my mid-twenties by then, but my responses to these statements were still not very forgiving. With regard to Day’s obedience to the Church, for example, I thought: except for the cemetery workers’ strike, where Day and her Catholic Worker colleagues picketed against the strike breakers brought in by the Archdiocese.

Most recently, my encounters with Day include reading Jim Forest’s biography, All is Grace (Orbis 2011). I have had it in my head for years to write a book about Joan of Arc, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Day, because of the strong but seemingly unlikely connections between them––Thérèse the ascetic having written a play about Joan the warrior, and Day, the pacifist, devoted to Joan as well, then writing a book about Thérèse. Forest’s book is part of the material I’ve been accumulating for the project.

Forest is a terrific writer, and I learned a great deal from his biography that I had not known about Day. For one thing, I learned that she really was in many respects a traditional, if also utterly committed, Catholic. She was also a fairly judgmental individual, a sin she confessed again and again. So my evaluation of her in the 1970s was not entirely mistaken.

I also learned that Day really was an obedient daughter of the Church, frequently following the directions she received from bishops and priests—though she was by no means naïve about the sins of the institution.

I even learned that Day really did seriously regret—repent of—her abortion, though whether she would want to be remembered for that before anything else is another question. Indeed, she objected strongly to any suggestion that she was a saint, believing it undercut the Catholic Worker’s fundamental commitment to egalitarianism and denial of self.

Perhaps the most important insight I took away from reading Forest’s biography, however, is that precisely because of her high level of Christian commitment and the strength of her positions, Dorothy Day may well be exactly the kind of role model needed in this difficult time. In the midst of the environmental crisis that engulfs us, for example, I look around our apartment and wonder why in hell I ever bought all these clothes, these books, those items of kitchen ware, and I find myself deeply inspired by Day’s poverty and self-abnegation.

As I observe the chaos that paralyzes many of the groups I belong to, underpinned by the individualism and expectations of gratification by so many in my generation, I find myself profoundly challenged by Day’s concern with and obedience to authority, however communal her understanding of it was.

And when I am too lazy to turn out for public demonstrations, or too afraid of being arrested, I remember Day’s endless commitment to social action, and her many stays in jail.

Could it be, I find myself wondering, that the woman I once dismissed as too traditional a Catholic and too judgmental a person is exactly the model––the saint––we need as we face the crises that confront us?

 

Versions of this post appeared in EqualwRites, the newsletter of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference and Gumbo the monthly publication of the Grail in the US.)

 

Advertisements

Eco-Capitalist Schizophrenia: Alaska

May 16, 2018 at 10:44 am | Posted in Capitalism, Climate Change, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags:

So today an article in the New York Times illustrates perfectly  the argument Richard Smith makes in Green Capitalism, the book I reviewed in my last blog post. In that article, Brad Plumer explains that while it’s been almost exclusively blue states––California, New York, etc.––that are taking the lead on policies to reverse climate change, one deep-red state, Alaska, is being forced to join the efforts.

Why?

Because the effects of climate change in Alaska are simply “impossible to ignore” even in a state that went for Trump by 51%. Among the problems confronting Alaska are the melting of the solid permafrost that holds up roads, buildings and pipelines, “destabilizing the infrastructure”; many coastal and towns and cities being forced to relocate because of melting sea ice and fierce waves eroding shores;  the increasing size of wildfires  endangering homes and roads; indigenous communities that rely on walrus hunting seeing their catches plummet as sea ice disappears, and ocean acidification endangering state fisheries.

As a result of all this, Alaska, under the leadership of its Republican governor, has formed a task force to propose specific policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

Sounds good, right? So what’s the problem? As Plumer notes, while doing this, the state has to grapple with certain “deep contradictions”: 85 percent of the state budget is funded by revenues from the production of oil, which is for the most part exported to the rest of the US. The governor and lieutenant governor both strongly supported  the recent decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration. So even as Alaska has cut its per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 2005, you may be quite sure any state measures proposed won’t include ending the exportation of Alaskan oil, since such oil basically funds the government.

The draft state proposal on climate change calls for Alaska to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal by 2025, and suggests a carbon tax as a way to get there, But the oil and gas industries absolutely oppose a carbon tax. A representative says such a tax only makes sense if it is “global.” Good luck with that.

As Green Capitalism makes clear, no industry is going to agree to any local or regional tax, because it will decrease profits; competition from industries in areas without such a tax will run the local industry out of business.  And as the industries go out of business, citizens who are losing jobs will vote the politicians who instituted the tax out of office.

So in a certain sense, Smith agrees with the analysis of the oil and gas industry. It’s his solution to the problem that’s radically different: to save the planet––and ourselves––we have to end the profit-fixated system and take action now. Waiting for a fantasy global tax to be enacted just won’t cut it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green Capitalism

May 7, 2018 at 11:37 am | Posted in Capitalism, Climate Change | 1 Comment
Tags: , ,

The following is a slightly revised version of a review that appeared in the May issue of Gumbo, the newsletter of the United States Grail, the women’s movement I have been part of since 1965.

 

Green Capitalism: The God that Failed. By Richard Smith. (UK: The World Economics Association, 2016). 172 pp. $20.98 https://www.worleconomicsassociation.org/library/green-capitalism-the-god-that-failed/

Richard Smith is an eco-socialist scholar who has worked as a sailboat-rigger and carpenter as well as a university lecturer. Green Capitalism is a collection of his articles published previously in journals. Smith spoke once at a course I was taking; he was impressive. He also has amazing hair:

In Green Capitalism, Smith argues that capitalism is the root of the environmental crisis that we are confronting because capitalism is fundamentally committed to growth, whereas the planet is fundamentally finite. If the economy keeps growing, as capitalism says it must, we will exhaust the planet.

The book’s first chapter traces the problem back to the origins of capitalist thinking at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Before the industrial revolution, production was aimed at use; people made and grew what they needed, for the most part. But beginning in the 18thcentury, economists began speaking enthusiastically about the “invisible hand” that was guiding the market, the profit motive, that determined what owners would manufacture, what price to charge, what to pay workers, etc. Well-being, the common good, was no longer part of the equation. But the economists assured us that the “invisible hand” would take care of everything.

In chapter 2, Smith discusses contemporary economists who argue that “steady-state” capitalism—a capitalism that does not grow—will solve the environmental crisis. Smith shows, however, that “grow or die” is the law of capitalist survival. Without growth, for example, there’s no increase in jobs. Politicians who support changes that are crucial to planetary survival, like shutting down the coal industry or massively cutting back the production of consumer goods, get defeated in the next election; so they’re never going to support such a thing.  “Steady-state capitalism” is a fairy tale.

Chapter 3 is a critique of the thinking of “green capitalists” such as Paul Hawken and Francis Cairncross(GHG) who argue that green technology like buying electric cars, eating organic food, or passing carbon taxes is going to solve the climate crisis. The problem is that massive parts of the economy can’t be “greened” because so many of our commodities are made from fossil fuels or otherwise harm the environment. Sixty percent of the greenhouse gases (GHG) given off by automobiles are given off during the manufacturing and disposal processes, and at present, a great deal of the electricity used by electric cars is generated by coal or methane gas. The fibers in our clothes, the fertilizers in our fields, our phones, computers and televisions, all are predicated on a non-green economy. We have to change the system.

The fourth chapter expands Smith’s discussion of the jobs versus the environment conundrum introduced in chapter 2. Smith lays out the sobering links between China’s recent 8 percent economic growth and massive resource extraction there, but he does not overlook recent obscene US resource over-exploitation as well: surging home size, sales of SUVs and light trucks, flat-screen TVs and air-conditioning. Ultimately, to achieve the 90 percent GHG emissions essential to saving the planet, we have to shut down all the fossil-fuel related industries, not just reform energy production. This is so because 75 percent of GHG emissions come from industry, transportation, agriculture, and deforestation. The solution is to shift the economy from production of non-essential commodities to “caring industries”––local agriculture, universal health care, education, environmental remediation, restoring existing housing, reforestation.

Finally, in chapter 6, Smith consolidates his previous arguments into “Six Theses for Saving the Humans”:

  1. Capitalism is driving our ecological crisis.
  2. The solutions to the crisis are obvious but capitalism blinds us to them.
  3. The essential alternative is to shift to an economy that is planned globally, regionally and locally.
  4. This means people have to come together at all levels and vote on the needed changes.
  5. Such a democracy can work only if it is based on social and economic equality—food, health care, housing, education. There is already enough wealth in the world to do this
  6. These are crazy, utopian, unachievable ideas. But what is the alternative?

The trouble with Green Capitalism is that it says the same thing, over and over: capitalism is the problem. But this is also its greatest strength: by the end, we really get it: capitalism, the only economic system the Chinese communists, never mind liberal Westerners like us, live by, guarantees the destruction of the humans and most of the rest of God’s creation.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?

 

The Gun is Our God

April 20, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Posted in colonization,, guns, US History,, war and violence | 3 Comments
Tags: , ,

The following is a review that appears in the current issue of Kerux, the newsletter of Pax Christi Metro New York, the New York chapter of the international Catholic peace association.

 

Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. City Lights Books, 2018. 208 pp. $16.95.

To say that we have been hearing a lot lately about guns in the US, and about the Second Amendment to the Constitution, is to vastly understate the case. And the activism of the Parkland shooting survivors might even cause us to feel hopeful about US gun policy. Indeed, former SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stephens has recently called for the repeal of the Second Amendment!!

In Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz provides timely–and stunning–context for this conversation. Drawing on her expertise in the history of indigenous peoples and American history overall, Dunbar-Ortiz shows that the current gun crisis is actually about the identity of our country from its very roots. Changing it thus requires a good deal more than the repeal of the Second Amendment.

To begin with, Dunbar-Ortiz traces our “gun culture” back well beyond the writing of the US Constitution, to the “covenant ideology” of the earliest Puritan settlers. These settlers believed that since God had bequeathed the land to them, the massacring (with guns) of the indigenous people on that land was justified. Catholics might be tempted to a certain self-righteousness here since the author links these actions to the settlers’ Calvinist exceptionalist theology.  As the book proceeds, however, it becomes clear that a huge percentage of all white Americans eventually buy into this gun-powered exceptionalism. Dunbar-Ortiz also explains that the American Revolution was fought, in large part, because the British government had forbidden the settlers to cross the Appalachians to seize even more indigenous land, with the much-hated “Stamp Tax” used, in fact, to fund the British protection of those lands from settler appropriation.

The militias cited in the Second Amendment actually existed long before the Revolution, with male settlers forced to form a civilian militia to destroy indigenous villages and people during “King Philip’s War” in New England, 1675-78. In the South, these mandatory militias took the form of slave patrols to control enslaved Africans and kill those who resisted.  In each case, white male citizens were not merely entitled to own guns but were required to do so by law to protect and extend the profit-driven ownership of land and “chattel.” After the Civil War, slave patrol members—who had served in the Confederate Army in many cases–morphed into heroic cowboys like Daniel Boone and Jesse James. Romanticized in American fiction and later on television, these “cowboys“ had, in real life continued the historic American brutality against “the Indians” and slaves.

Absorbing as all this may be for those committed to peace-making, the final chapters of Loaded, in which Dunbar-Ortiz moves historic US gun culture into the present, prove to be even more galvanizing. For although the militias that murdered indigenous people and kept African-Americans enslaved were always supported, to some extent, by the military, the centrality of the military to that gun culture becomes ever more apparent throughout the twentieth century. From the US invasion and occupation of the Philippines, to Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, to JFK’s invocation of the (new) “frontier,” to US troops describing Vietnam as “Indian Territory,” metaphors of Indian defeat and extermination have underpinned American militarism. Is it any surprise, then, that even as we face this national crisis of gun violence, seven out of world’s ten largest gun-manufacturers are US corporations, and that since the war in Vietnam the US has disseminated over a billion guns world-wide?

Repealing the Second Amendment is of course, a good idea, as is passing the gun-control laws demanded by our young people. But since, in America, as Dunbar-Ortiz argues compellingly, “the Gun is God,” we need a whole lot more than that to change things. We need conversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis after Five Years: His Greatest Contribution

April 17, 2018 at 11:56 am | Posted in Catholicism, Climate Change, Vatican | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

Last night I was honored to participate in a panel in Manhattan sponsored by Dignity New York and the Women’s Ordination Conference called “Francis after Five: A Feminist Response.” I enjoyed very much the conversation with Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director  of BishopAccountability.org, Jamie Manson, NCR columnist and book review editor, Teresa Cariño, pastoral associate for young adults at St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan, and our moderator, the journalist and author, Eileen Markey. Unfortunately, the program was not videoed, but here, at least, is my presentation:

 

Let’s get right down to business. I am here to argue that the single most important thing Pope Francis did in his first five years in office was to publish his second encyclical, Laudato Si”: On Care for Our Common Home in June of 2015.

Why do I say this? Because the environmental catastrophe that we are experiencing is one of the two biggest threats facing humanity today––the other being nuclear war.

In making this claim, I am not thinking only of the extreme forest fires in California this past year, or the massive storms that devastated major parts of Houston and Puerto Rico, or the increasing droughts and famines around the world, though these are terrifying enough. I am also recalling that last fall scientists at MIT, Stanford, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in independent studies, warned that if we continue to release carbon into the environment at the current rate, by the year 2100, there will be a “biological annihilation”—a sixth mass extinction––which may well wipe out not only a huge number of other animal and plant species but the human species as well.

Part of what is so important about Laudato Si’ is precisely what Pope Francis says there. He states unambiguously that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity in our day and calls out the consumerist, profit-driven globalized technocracy as its primary cause. He also accepts the scientific consensus that changes in the climate are largely caused by human activity and calls for replacing fossil fuels without delay.

But it’s not just what Pope Francis says about climate change that makes Laudato Si’ the pivotal action of his papacy; it’s what the document achieved, and on many levels. Consider, for example, that one day after the encyclical’s contents had been leaked to the media, the Dalai Lama stated that : “Since climate change and the global economy now affect us all, we have to develop a sense of the oneness of humanity “ And then the head of the Anglican Communion issued a “green declaration” (also signed by the Methodist Conference); and the Lausanne Movementof global evangelical Christians said it was anticipating the encyclical and was grateful for it. The encyclical was also welcomed by the World Council of Churches and by secular world leaders Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, and the head of the World Bank.

The resources that Pope Francis drew on were also path-breaking. Of course, he quotes at some length his papal predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But also, underpinning his stress on the poor and people in the Global South as those most harmed by climate change, he quotes African, Asian and Latin American bishops conferences as his predecessors never did, and refers multiple times to the wisdom of indigenous people. All of this clearly embodies the integral ecology that is at the heart of the Pope’s argument in Laudato Si’. (Unfortunately, he does not quote many women at all).

But we are not here to talk about the contents of Laudato Si’; we are here to offer a feminist assessment of Pope Francis’s first five years in office. And a lot of feminist, LGBT and transgender Catholics were quite critical of the pope’s environmental encyclical.

Let me begin this part of my talk by saying that I have been a Catholic feminist since the early 1970s, when my women’s community, the Grail, offered path-breaking programs in feminist theology and spirituality at our organic farm and conference center outside Cincinnati. I also attended the first Women’s Ordination Conference in Detroit in 1975 and served as president of the Women’s Ordination Conference Board 2000-2002. I am also author or co-author of seven books, most of them about women and the church, and of hundreds of articles and reviews. I basically oppose the church’s position on women’s ordination, and reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

As I have said before, however, even if the pope had thoughts about these questions that deviate from traditional teaching—which I doubt he has––­­­­he would have been ill-advised to express them in Laudato Si’ This is so because to have done so would have started a civil war and distracted from the issue that concerns him most: the environmental catastrophe. Consider the blow-back from right-wing commentators like Ross Douthat over the suggestion about divorced and remarried Catholics being readmitted to communion in Amoris Laetitia, a much less contentious issue than reproductive or LGBTQ rights.

Yet I want also to point out that one thing Francis says in Laudato Si’ makes a really significant change in Catholic teaching on sexuality and gender, when he states very clearly that the destruction of the environment and the oppression of the poor are sins as grievous as abortion. Here, for the first time, a pope is undercutting what historical sociologist Gene Burns calls the post-Vatican II Catholic ideological hierarchy, in which sexual teaching is primary and obligatory for all, doctrine is secondary and obligatory for Catholics only, and social justice issues like climate change and war are tertiary and optional. The media paid considerably more attention when Francis reiterated this change in his recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete and Exultate, but he had, in fact, already asserted it in Laudato Si’.

I also want to suggest that feminist and LGBTQ Catholics here in the Global North need to be careful in our critique of Laudato Si’ precisely because of what Pope Francis in that document calls the environmental debt owed to the communities of the Global South who are suffering the most because of our massive over-consumption. The daily per capita emission of green-house gases by the average US resident is seventy times that of the average Kenyan.  Along these lines, a number of feminists were critical of the encyclical because they believed it did not put enough emphasis on population control as a way of remedying the climate crisis. But scientists tell us that if the poorest three billion people on earth were to disappear, greenhouse gas emissions would not go down at all because it’s the people in the Global North who are causing the problem. I fully support women’s reproductive rights, but the church’s opposition to those rights is not causing the climate crisis. We are.  And let’s be clear here: women and their children in the Global South are those who are suffering the most from the effects of climate change.

So I conclude as I began, by reminding us that the catastrophe afflicting our common home is one of the two greatest problems of our time, and that Francis’s greatest contribution as pope is to have challenged the whole world, women and men, cis and transgender, gay as well as straight, to the radical conversion needed to save God’s creation.

 

 

 

 

Why Include Women?

April 10, 2018 at 11:43 am | Posted in Commonweal magazine, feminism, The Hierarchy, Uncategorized, women | 2 Comments
Tags: , ,

 

I don’t spend a lot of time talking about women’s issues per se these days. I began teaching and writing about women, especially in the church, in the early 1970s, but since 2002, I’ve gotten more concerned about the impending environmental catastrophe—though the two are by no means disconnected.

But just now I am seriously pissed off about the exclusion of women from two recent presentations in the media, and if you will forgive me, I’m just going to rave about them a bit. Then I’ll get back to work reviewing a book about climate and capitalism.

Let me begin with a one-hour documentary on Pope Francis that I watched last week, the first in an MSNBC series called HEADLINERS. The series highlights “public figures at the forefront of our national dialogue and at the center of today’s news.” I am going to share in a later post my reflections on what it means that a secular US network chose the pope as the first such “headliner.” For now, I would note that the Headliners episode on Francis was not bad, though I did not learn agreat deal from it that was new.

What I did note with some outrage is that of the ten or so commentators included in the program, only one of them was a woman. Each of the other nine was a man, and in almost all cases, a white man. Maybe one was a Latino, or Asian, but no Black men of any kind. Maybe the producers thought they were covered because the sole woman commentator was also Argentinian? A two-fer? And why on earth would anyone want to hear what more than one woman has to say about the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest organization on earth, the vast majority of whose members are female?

The second cause of my pissed-off-ness is an article in the April 4 issue of Commonweal, “Showboating is a Sin,” on the culture of Catholic basketball teams in light of the recent NCAA championships won by both men’s and women’s teams from Catholic schools. It is perhaps worth mentioning that Commonweal was once one of the leading liberal American Catholic publications. I recall my excitement at reading Commonweal waiting for the bus on the way to my file clerk job the summer between high school and college down in Philadelphia.

In the half-century that has passed since then, however, Commonweal has not exactly kept up, at least on gender issues. The article in the April 4th issue is, unfortunately, a good example. In part of what was not my first letter to the editors on the subject of the exclusion of women from Commonweal pages, I acknowledge resonating with Moses’s description of the communal culture of Catholic basketball, but add:

“Unfortunately, another part of Moses’s article is also all too familiar: its gender bias. After a nod in the first paragraph toward women’s as well as men’s teams winning the Division I championships, Moses makes not one reference to women’s basketball throughout the rest of the article. And of course, the photo at the top is of male players… In addition to the ‘Scripture-based principles of Catholic social teaching’ fundamental to Catholic college basketball: ‘community, the common good, and solidarity’ that Moses invokes in his article, it would seem we have to acknowledge another one: male hegemony.”

(We’ll see if they publish the letter.)

The thing that drives me nuts about the gender discrimination in each of these instances is that it isn’t really very hard to avoid. When I was the director of communications at an African-American seminary in the 1980s, I never approved anything for publication until I checked to make sure there weren’t too many white faces in It. (“White faces rise to the top” was the axiom that kept me attentive.) What would it take for the guys (I use the term advisedly) at MSNBC and Commonweal to do the same kind of thing?

 

The Redemption of All Creation

March 28, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Catholicism, Climate Change, constructive theology, Environment | 3 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

In her new book, ecofeminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson argues compellingly that Christ is the redeemer of all creation, not only of human beings. What could be more timely, as the commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection approaches?

Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril. By Elizabeth A. Johnson. 256 pages. Published by Orbis Books. $28.

In January, Scientific American shared some disturbing news: researchers had determined that between 1990 and 2015, concern about the environment and climate change had declined among U.S. Christians. * Since the study didn’t distinguish between denominations, and since Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical was published in 2015, you may find yourself hoping, as I did, that U.S. Catholics don’t share this declining concern.

Unfortunately, certain powerful theological paradigms going back well before the Reformation make such a distinction unlikely. In her splendid new book, Creation and the Cross, theologian Elizabeth Johnson takes on one of them:  the notion that salvation is an exclusively human matter, having nothing to do with the rest of creation. “What would it mean,” she asks, “to rediscover the biblical sense of the natural world groaning, hoping, waiting for liberation?”

Johnson traces this dualism between redemption and creation back to the work of the eleventh-century theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, and, in particular, to his “satisfaction theory” of salvation, as formulated in his book Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Human). Anselm’s answer to the question, Johnson explains, is that Jesus had to become human and die on the cross to pay back what was due to God for human sin.  This theory, we learn, has played a pivotal role in Christian theology and practice ever since. But Anselm’s satisfaction theory is an interpretation of the cross, not its only possible meaning. And like all interpretations, it is shaped by the social context from which it emerged, in this case, feudalism, where local rulers required subjects to make satisfaction—to pay—for breaking the law.

In contrast, Johnson proposes an accompaniment theology of salvation, in which Jesus’ brutal death “enacts the solidarity of the gracious and merciful God” with all those who suffer, including the poor, species that undergo extinction, and all the rest of creation. She traces this redemption back to the Creator God of the Hebrew Bible, the Holy One of Israel who promises liberation to the Israelites in Egypt and later in Babylon. But this redemption is not some trade-off, as the satisfaction theory implies, but a redemption poured out by a God whose compassion for us is that of a mother for her child, a redemption that causes streams to flow in dry land and wilderness to bloom.

And it is this liberating and merciful God who sends Jesus, not to pay for our sins, but to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free. But Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom constituted a serious challenge to the Romans who ruled Israel during his lifetime. The cheering crowds who greeted him, especially during his entry into Jerusalem, as well as his confrontation with the money changers in the Temple, constituted such a threat to the unjust power of empire that the rulers crucified Jesus in order to silence him. Yet instead of death silencing him, the resurrection made Jesus present to the disciples in an entirely new way, enabling them to take the liberating message of the compassionate God to the ends of the earth and to all of creation. And through the early church’s recorded memories of the crucified and risen Christ, this understanding of the cross as an expression of the compassion and mercy of God spread throughout the world.

The culmination of this accompaniment theology is something Johnson calls “deep incarnation.”  The creator God Jesus Christ is, she explains, the God of all flesh, with flesh not signifying only sin, as the dualism between spirit and matter suggests, but the finitude and death suffered by all creation, including God’s own son. But with the resurrection, this “flesh was called to life again in transformed glory.” And, as St. Paul writes, the hope promised to all in this transformation “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”

Creation and the Cross concludes with a call to us all to a conversion, in our actions as well as our beliefs, to love of the Creator/Redeemer of the whole world and the entire cosmos. Within this conversion, mistreatment of the earth is as much a sin as mistreatment of other humans. In order to repent we must understand ourselves as members of the whole “community of creation,” whose suffering is our suffering. The cross, then, is the icon of God’s compassionate love for everyone and everything.

For all Johnson’s disagreement with Anselm’s satisfaction theory, she does show her appreciation for another aspect of Cur Deus Homo, and to such an extent that she actually imitates it: the question and answer format Anselm uses to make his theology accessible. Of course, no book is perfect, and in the case of Creation and the Cross, Johnson’s interlocutor, “Clara,” sounds, from time to time, suspiciously like a theology professor. That limitation notwithstanding, the Q&A format, combined with Johnson’s gift for clarity and strategic summarizing, makes this book an ideal tool for helping us all expand our understanding of redemption to include all of God’s beloved creation.

In a review of this length, it is not possible to do justice to the range of biblical and theological sources Johnson draws upon to lay out her deep incarnation theology. The depth and accessibility of such material throughout the book makes Creation and the Cross an ideal resource for RCIA participants seeking to achieve an understanding of the faith. But really, given the feeble concern so many US Christians feel for God’s creation even in the face of increasing numbers of massive fires, extreme weather events, droughts and flooded cities, Creation and the Cross is a book we all need to read, and we need to read it soon.

 

This review appeared in the March 22-April 5 2018 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

 

 

 

Catholic Leadership on the Global Political Stage

March 16, 2018 at 9:57 am | Posted in Catholicism, religion, secularism, Vatican, war and violence | 3 Comments
Tags: , , ,

 

Guns

March 3, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Posted in war and violence | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,

Perhaps you expect that this post will be about the Parkland shooting. Or about the NRA. Or the shocking! shocking! failure of Congress to do one blessed thing about gun control. Again.

But it’s not.

Instead, what I’m going to share with you today is one of my happiest childhood memories. It was back before 1952, so before I was five years old, when my beloved grandfather, Jim Dodds, gave me a double gun holster set that he had won at a country fair. I can still see the guns and the holster. I loved them. And I wore them as I watched very many cowboy and Indian movies and tv shows during my childhood: the Lone Ranger and Tonto; Davy Crockett; Daniel Boone; Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. And all those fabulous John Wayne flicks. I can even still hear  a number of the songs that they played in the movies and films: “Davy, Davy Crockett,King fo the Wild Frontier,” and the William Tell Overture at the beginning of the Lone Ranger.

I’d also like to share with you something that three different sports commentators said while my esteemed companion and I were watching Big East basketball on the tv a while back–after Parkland. The first one was talking about a successful shot of the ball by a guy from Creighton University. What he said was that the player had been “locked and loaded.” Then a commentator at the beginning of the next game spoke on two different occasions about “Villanova’s weaponry.” Then the final comment, later in the game, was that one of the players had been “cocked.”

Finally, a forty-nine year old (probably white) man who was being interviewed about gun control on NPR  said that young people today are much more thoughtless and violent in their use of guns than his generation was. His generation only used guns for hunting, but today, the young just shoot people.

If any of this interests you–if you’re looking for a more nuanced discussion of the shooting crisis in this country than those that blame the whole thing on the NRA, or on thoughtless teenagers–I recommend that you read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment.* I plan to post a review of it here before long, but you may want to get your perspective expanded even before then. Hint: Dunbar-Ortiz argues compellingly that guns have been at the heart of American culture since long before the Second Amendment was formulated. Background checks probably aren’t going to solve the problem.

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=loaded+a+disarming+history+of+the+second+amendment&sprefix=Loaded%2Cstripbooks%2C118&crid=WDBKQNNLYXGE

 

 

 

Remembering My Parents

February 24, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
Tags: , ,

I was going to begin this post by saying that last July was the hundredth anniversary of the births of each of my parents. While doing some research on them, however, I discovered that last July was the hundred and first anniversary of said births. I was never very good with dates. So:

Last July was the hundred and first anniversary of the births of each of my parents: Helen Dodds Ronan, born July 10, 1916, in Chester Pennsylvania; Joseph Edward Ronan, born July 21, 1916, also in Chester. During the eleven-day hiatus between the two birthdays, my father was given to saying that he had married an older woman.

I was also going to write that I did not think about the hundredth anniversary of their births last July because I was at the Grail International General Assembly in Portugal, but that I had been thinking about them a good deal since then. That last part is true, regardless of when they were born.

It’s not entirely easy to remember my working-class parents with  warmth. Each of them experienced–suffered–serious trauma in childhood. When my mother was four years old, her older brother, who was six or seven, died of diphtheria. Because the disease was so contagious, public health officials just came and took the body away. No funeral. Mom’s mother also contracted the disease and was hospitalized but did not die; when she came home, my mother said, her head was shaved. Her father, my beloved Poppie, had a nervous breakdown after his son’s death and sat looking out the window for six months. My grandmother took in washing to pay the rent. Mom said her parents never recovered from her brother Jimmy’s death. I suspect she never did either. In photographs of her from those years, she always looks frightened.

My father’s mother, Rose Mitchell Ronan, died when he was nine or ten, I believe from heart failure related to having had rheumatic fever. His father, the rotter Tom, then abandoned my father and his sister and brother to be raised by their mother’s unmarried sisters. After my father’s first year in high school, five years later, at the height of the Great Depression, the aunts put him out because they couldn’t afford to feed him any more. Soon after, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. As soon as he was old enough, he enlisted in the US Navy. I sometimes giggle when my father and his confrères are called “The Greatest Generation” because of their heroism during World War II. Daddy enlisted well before Pearl Harbor, because, I am pretty sure,  it paid better than the CCC— though, as the chief torpedoman on a submarine, I suspect he was also nobody to mess with.

Given all of this, you won’t be surprised to learn that affection and helping my brother and me deal with emotions was not exactly my parents’ strong suit. Years later, when my brother’s children were small, my mother told me she was sorry she didn’t hold and hug us more when we were little, as my brother’s wife  did. I had a hard time responding. Some of my clearest memories of my mother are of her raising hell with me if I  got anything below an A on a report card.

Yet as time passes, and my parents are no longer with us, I have had some second thoughts about them.  A few years ago a close member of the family left his wife and moved into a studio apartment that he furnished like a zen monk’s cell. When I asked him what he liked about his new apartment he replied that he liked that there weren’t piles of dirty underwear all over the floor. It had never occurred to me to be grateful that my parents always put their dirty clothes in the hamper. Similarly, whenever I see an article explaining that it’s better for families to eat dinner together now and then, I am grateful, as I never was before, that my mother served us dinner every night at 5;30–even if the food wasn’t exactly nouvelle cuisine.

But the thing I am most grateful to my parents for is their absolute commitment to my brother and me getting an education.  One of my earliest memories of my father is of his walking me, when I was a toddler, to the post office with him to buy stamps that he stuck into a booklet. When the booklet was full, he traded it in for a savings bond, which he then put in the top drawer of his dresser, saying “These bonds are for your college tuition.” You had better believe I was going to college.

And my happiest memories of my mother when I was a child are of her reading to me, something she did a great deal. I caught hell in the second  grade because I had stopped carrying the fairly heavy reader home with me after school; I couldn’t understand the point because I had always been able to read the stories. And I will never forget the books that were waiting for us  under the tree on Christmas morning.

Not getting an education was one of the great disappointments of each of my parents’ lives. My father won a scholarship to St. Joseph’s Prep in Philly but couldn’t go because the aunts couldn’t afford the car fare. My mother graduated from high school but then had to go to work as a secretary. A generation later my brother has two law degrees and I have a Ph.D.

I don’t have  any children of my own. But I have had many students over the years. And my memories of reading and discussing books with them are some of the happiest memories of my life. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

 

 

 

 

 

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.