The Redemption of All Creation

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

 

 

 

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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
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Guns

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

 

 

 

 

 

Immigration Impasse? We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

February 16, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Climate Change, Environment, U.S. Politics, world water crisis | 1 Comment
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I don’t need to tell you that we are in a serious political and cultural mess regarding the question of immigration, not only here in the United States, but in Europe, Australia, and in many other countries. A million eight-hundred-thousand people brought to the US  as children risk deportation, the time-honored practice of legal immigrants bringing family members to the US is in danger of being abandoned, as is the visa lottery. And right-wing groups are gaining increasing political power by means of the immigration question .

But all of this conflict is, in effect, nothing more than the calm before the storm, the storm of climate refugees who will be surging across borders in coming decades. Indeed, many more of the current large numbers of immigrants are actually climate refugees than most of us realize. As Jeff Goodell reports in his new book, The Water Will Come, every year three times more people are made homeless by floods, storms and other “natural” disasters than are displaced by wars and other conflicts. And according to the International Organization for Migration, there will be 200 million climate refugees by 2050 (though some researchers predict as many as a billion). Yet, interestingly enough, climate refugees have no legal status in international law; to be a legitimate refugee, a person must have a “well-founded fear of persecution” on the basis of race, religion, nationality, social group or political position. For this and other reasons, many countries basically ignore climate refugees.

In light of all this, Goodell raises an interesting question. What do the nations who give off the largest percentages of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change owe to climate refugees, people driven out of their countries by climate-related sea-level-rise, drought, famine, etc.? He notes that at the various UN conferences on climate change and the environment over the past twenty-five years, the nations most responsible for climate change have fought tooth and nail against the inclusion in any UN agreement of taking financial responsibility for “claims and damages” against them by the most harmed nations.

Goodell suggests that a way to pay off such a debt is for the countries involved to take in the same percentage of climate refugees as they have emitted greenhouse gases in the industrial era. For the United States, that percentage is 27%–the most of any nation on earth, though the European Union comes pretty close, with 25%. Assuming that 100 million people will need new homes by 2050, Goodell’s proposal means that the US would take in twenty-seven million people over the next thirty-two years, more or less.

But Trump and his supporters are determined to exclude virtually all immigrants now, even those that can claim refugee status under international law. So how on earth –no pun intended–are we going to respond  to the millions of climate refugees coming north in the decades to come?

 

 

The Collusion of Almost Everybody

February 11, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Capitalism, Catholicism, Climate Change | 7 Comments
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We’ve heard the word “collusion” a lot in recent months. Did the Trump campaign collude with Russia? Did members of the FBI collude with the Clinton campaign? Etc., etc.

In his 2016 book, The Environmentalism of the Rich,* Peter Dauvergne details the ways in which mainstream environmental organizations have colluded, so to speak, with environment-destroying corporations. Here’s my review of that book, which appeared in the Grail’s monthly publication, Gumbo, in January:

 

At first glance, the title of Peter Dauvergne’s book could be off-putting. “Environmentalism” can sound pretty broad, or abstract, while “of the rich” surely doesn’t have much to do with people like us, right?

Actually, the title notwithstanding, Dauvergne’s book has a whole lot to do with people like us: concerned about the degradation of the natural world—God’s creation—but also necessarily up to our necks in the consumer society that is the 21st century United States—driving cars, flying in airplanes, eating processed food, buying cell phones, etc., etc., etc.

The “environmentalism of the rich,” as Dauvergne understands it, is a way of thinking and acting that has come to dominate the mainstream environmental movement in recent years. It focuses on “eco-consumerism”—favoring corporate products that are “green”—and making small life-style changes like composting, recycling, and taking shorter showers, even as overall consumption skyrockets around the world. And thanks to crack-downs since 9/11, state security agencies have suppressed many of the world’s direct action environmental movements that previously succeeded at confronting corporate and government harm and galvanizing the attention of the public.

Especially stunning in Dauvergne’s delineation of this shift from radical environmentalism to the environmentalism of the rich is his documentation of the rise of partnerships between retail corporations and mainstream environmental groups. Consider, for example, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). Already in the 1960s WWF was lobbying for stronger environmental laws, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to save endangered animals and highlighting the threats that economic development posed to wildlife. It went on to sponsor conservation projects around the world.

But in the 1990s the WWF began advocating “eco-labelling”—working with corporations like Cargill, McDonald’s and Walmart to certify various products and activities as “green.” In 2006, it began partnering with Coca-Cola to promote freshwater conservation in exchange for a $20 million donation. In 2011 Coke and the WWF launched a campaign to raise funds to conserve polar bear habitats; consumers could donate to WWF using “Coke Reward Points”; these projects are now in 50 countries. Coke revenues in 2014 were $46 billion. And it takes 150-300 liters of water to produce a half-liter of a sweetened beverage, in a world where billions of people live without adequate fresh water and obesity is sky-rocketing.

And it’s not only the WWF: The Nature Conservancy partners with Dow Chemical and Cargill; Conservation International works with Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Disney, Exxon-Mobil, McDonald’s, and Nestlé, to name only a few; while the Environmental Defense Fund also partners with McDonald’s. All of these partnerships help to fund the huge numbers of staff people needed to run environmental organizations around the world. Even Greenpeace, a group that has engaged in radical environmental protests over the years, now also engages in eco-consumer campaigns, thus helping to legitimize “the very political and corporate processes that are causing the overall rate of unsustainable consumption to escalate.”

Please do not get the impression that Dauvergne dismisses the contributions of mainstream environmental groups. Some of the best parts of the book are his stories of the achievements of those groups—protecting wilderness and animals, alerting the public to environmental dangers, and so forth. Yet ultimately, he is forced to admit, as are we, that despite these contributions, the situation of the planet is getting worse and worse and worse. And it’s going to take a lot more than the environmentalism of the rich to change it.

But that’s not all. Just after the review came out, I heard a discussion on the radio about another book–God forbid I could find the scrap of paper on which I wrote the title–about the relationships between food banks across the country and food chains like Walmart. Such mega-markets donate to the food banks and then claim they support the hungry. But something like 17% of Walmart employees are on food stamps because they’re paid to so little. Collusion ?

Then I was watching a Big East basketball game with my esteemed companion (I learned to love basketball in the Catholic schools in Philly when I was growing up.) It was a game between two Catholic universities–Marquette and maybe Xavier. During a time-out, an ad for Marquette described it as a university rooted in the Catholic faith. Quite inspiring. Then it was followed by a Jeep ad. And the game was airing on Fox, a network whose news coverage is widely recognized for its profound commitment to Catholic social teaching.

And then there’s my husband and me, with our money in Chase bank.  I mean, a Catholic university can’t be expected to pass on commercials that support its sports team that in turn supports its bottom line just because cars are a major source of the green-house gasses that are destroying the planet, can they? And should the Big East (all Catholic schools, I believe) stop using Fox, when it gives them the best deal, just because Fox commentators are racist nationalists? For that matter, should Keith and I be using some credit union when the Chase branch is walking distance and, conveniently, has more ATMs that any other bank out here in Brooklyn?

Let me conclude with a paraphrase from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “All have colluded and fallen short of the glory of God.” The question is, how are we going to stop?

*Peter Dauvergne , Environmentalism of the Rich (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2018).152 pp.  Paper. $16.95.

 

 

 

 

 

War Causes Climate Change

January 2, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Posted in Climate Change, war and violence, world water crisis | 4 Comments

The following is a slightly revised version of an article that appeared in the winter 2018 issue of Kerux, the newsletter of the New York chapter of Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace movement.

 
Over the past year, in the face of multiple “once in five-hundred year” storms, massive forest fires, droughts, and famines, many of us who were previously not that interested in environmental issues are being forced to give climate change a second thought. But what do you do if your passion is for peace?

Back in 2010, when I addressed the annual assembly of Pax Christi Metro New York, I took a shot at demonstrating the connections between climate change, especially the world water crisis, and war. I detailed, for example, the links between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and declining groundwater supplies there as well as the connections between drought in the Sudan region and the 2003-2010 war in Darfur.

But the causal relationship between climate change and war doesn’t run in just one direction. Not only does climate change cause wars; wars, and the military-industrial complex that underpins wars, are a, and some would argue, the cause of climate change (which, in turn causes more wars, ad infinitum). My aim in this article is to lay out this second phase of the vicious cycle, the one I didn’t address in 2010.*
The current impact of US militarism on the climate is staggering. The US Air Force, for example, is the single largest consumer of jet fuel in the world. The B-52 Stratocruiser uses 500 gallons of jet fuel per minute; ten minutes of flight uses as much fuel as the average driver does in a year. And CO2 emissions from jet fuel are as much as triple the amount given off by diesel or oil.

Then there’s the massive “upstream emissions” of greenhouse gases generated in the manufacture of military equipment, vehicles, weapons, munitions and infrastructure in the endless wars the US fights to maintain control over oil reserves in the Middle East. And this causal link between war and climate change, especially greenhouse gas emissions, grew steadily throughout the twentieth century. In World War II, a US soldier used 1 gallon of gas a day; in Vietnam, 9 gallons; in the Second Gulf War, 15 gallons.

But the (mis)use of fuel is only one part of the story. The immediate environmental consequences of warfare are also appalling. Already in the 1820s, the Napoleonic wars destroyed so much forest cover that they contributed to the cooling of the planet, while in World War I Great Britain felled nearly half of its commercial woodland for military use, and more than 8 million acres of European topsoil were destroyed in battles, tanks, trucks, bombs, etc., –the equivalent of 40,000 years of erosion.

Equally staggering is the tactical strategic role of environmental destruction in modern warfare. Eighty-five percent of the munitions used in the Vietnam War was aimed at the environment sheltering the Vietcong, not at the Vietcong themselves. The US also sprayed 70 million liters of defoliants like Agent Orange onto Vietnamese forests contaminating 40% of arable land and 23% of its forest cover. Napalm use killed vegetation as well as people. And lest we think that we were the only ones burning people and the planet with napalm, be aware that the French used it in Algeria and the British in Kenya in the 1950s.
In addition to the harm done to the environment (and human beings) by war, there is a direct and onerous link between military inventions and technological advances and the arrival of what scientists call the Anthropocene, the new, human-induced geological epoch. Consider, for example, nylon, invented by DuPont during World War II to replace Japanese silk for parachutes and bullet-proof vests. After the war, huge nylon nets, combined with sonar technologies created to identify underwater submarines, made massive but unsustainable increases in world seafood catches possible. These led to the plummeting of seafood stocks today.

Similarly, tank factories began after the war to produce vehicles like clear-cutters and bull-dozers that were used in mining, mountain-top removal, clearing forests and fields, and the destruction of topsoil. In the Atoms for Peace program after World War II, the US conducted 70 million explosions trying to identify civilian uses of the nuclear weapons invented in World War II—building highways over mountains, for example– while the Soviet Union did 128 explosions, though in each case the projects were eventually abandoned. Think of the environmental harm done by these “experiments.”
And then there’s the radioactive waste generated by the nuclear power stations that US nuclear weapons research generated, which may well be stored in a waste facility near you and your children and grandchildren in years to come. And then there’s the incalculable environmental damage at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

So why does all this matter? It matters because there’s a trend here in the United States towards what’s called “green capitalism.” That’s when people claim that they are fighting climate change by eating organic or buying hybrid cars. Don’t get me wrong here; those are good things to do. But as long as the United States is a hyper-militaristic war machine, colluding with other such machines, climate change isn’t going away. And when you turn out in the streets to oppose US militarism, or call your representatives to oppose the bloated US military budget, or donate to Pax Christi, you aren’t just working to save people from the violence of war. You are working to save God’s creation.

*Material in this article is drawn from Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene (New York, NY: Verso Books, 2015), 122-147, and H. Patricia Hynes, “The Military Assault on Global Climate,” Truthout, Sept. 8, 2011. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/3181:the-military-assault-on-global-climate Accessed December 6, 2017.

The Life and Death of Sister Maura Clarke

December 3, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Catholic sisters, Catholicism, war and violence, women | 1 Comment
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The following is a review of Eileen Markey’s splendid biography of Maryknoll Sister Maura Clarke, who was one of four churchwomen killed by military in El Salvador in 1980. The review appears in the current issue of New Women, New Church,  the bi-annual publication of the US Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC). I have chosen to leave in the references to WOC  and Christian feminists because I think the overlaps with and the differences from Maura Clarke’s liberationist activism are significant.

Eileen Markey, A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura (New York, NY: Nation Books, 2016) 336 pp. Hardcover. $26.99

A driving force behind the meeting in Detroit in 1975 that evolved into the Women’s Ordination Conference was the desire for the liberation of women in the Catholic Church. But during that same period, passion for another kind of liberation, the liberation of those under military dictatorships in Latin America, was driving some other Catholic women and men. In Eileen Markey’s splendid biography, A Radical Faith, readers become acquainted with (and will likely be deeply inspired by) one of them, Sister Maura Clarke.

Maura (née Mary Elizabeth) Clarke was like many American Catholic girls of her generation. Born in 1931 to Irish immigrant parents, she grew up in the traditional Catholicism of her working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York: attending Benediction, praying to the Blessed Virgin, listening to Bishop Sheen on the radio. And the religious congregation she entered in 1950, the Maryknoll sisters, was in many respects traditional as well. In the early years of her work as a missioner in Nicaragua, where she arrived in 1959, Maura and the other Maryknoll sisters were singing the Te Deum with members of the dictatorial Samoza family.

Several things changed all that: Vatican II, which mandated the renewal of religious life; Maura’s growing involvement with Nicaraguans who suffered enormously under the Samoza dictatorship; and her encounter with liberation theology, especially in the activism and writings of Ernesto Cardenal and his brother, Fernando.

Gradually the piety of Maura’s early years converged with the radical sense of justice that would shape the rest of her life. By the late 1960s, Maura and others were meeting and marching with Nicaraguans to protest the brutality of the Samoza regime. Maura interacted frequently with the Sandinistas, the revolutionary group that brought down the Samoza regime in 1979. When Maura moved to El Salvador in 1980, this history led the Salvadoran military to brand Maura and the three church women with she was working as subversives; on December 2, 1980, they beat, raped and murdered her and her companions.

Markey’s retelling of the political radicalization and activism that led to Maura Clarke’s death is galvanizing, but A Radical Faith is by no means only a narrative of the “assassination of Sister Maura.” Rather, it is a deeply moving study of the many dimensions of Maura Clarke’s life that shaped her heroic work for justice for the people of Central America. The extent of Markey’s research is stunning: details from interviews and letters from school friends, Maura’s interactions with her spiritual director, visits with her family in New York and Ireland, how she dealt with falling in love with a priest in Nicaragua. The engrossing portrait that emerges goes well beyond Clarke’s political convictions and actions.

At least two trajectories help to bring Markey’s extensive research together. One is the Irish history and identity of Maura’s family of origin. Maura’s father, John, had emigrated to the U.S. in 1914, but his brothers in County Sligo were active in the Irish Republican Army; he returned to Ireland in 1921 and fought in the Irish revolution. Maura’s mother, Mary McCloskey Clarke, grew up Catholic in what is now Northern Ireland, and knew well what being part of an oppressed minority felt like. From the beginning of the book, Markey uses the Clarkes’ experience of struggle against political oppression to clarify Maura’s commitments and her heroism. Already in the first chapter, Markey explains that during Maura’s childhood, she often accompanied her father, John, on his after-dinner strolls on the boardwalk beside the ocean where he

…told stories of the Irish revolution and instilled his thoughtful daughter with an understanding of the world from the perspective of the person on the bottom: the native, not the colonist, the peasant, not the landlord…of brave, principled rebels, of people who stand against the prevailing power and for the underdog. …Maura ingested the message. (27-28)

The other motif that brings Markey’s remarkable research together is Maura’s Christian faith, and, in fact, the centrality of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross to that faith. Repeatedly Markey highlights the influence of Christ’s suffering on Maura’s life and work:

…After the earthquake in Managua in 1972) Maura went with Fr. Mercerreyes as he walked through the remains of the parish…(hugging) people…crying with them and (sharing) the Eucharist. It was Christ’s broken body for a ravaged people. (141″

…(Even after death threats,) Maura had asked…”If we abandon them when they are suffering the cross, how can we speak credibly about the resurrection?” (241)

Since the 1970s, a number of feminist theologians have argued that the Christian focus on the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross is a major cause of women’s oppression. In 1975, the same year that many of us met in Detroit for the first Catholic conference on women’s ordination, the great German liberation and then feminist theologian, Dorothee Soelle, strongly criticized what she perceived as the sadism of Jurgen Moltmann’s theology of the cross, as expressed in his classic work, The Crucified God. And In the 2000s, U.S. feminist theologians Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock denounced the cross as a symbol of violence and abuse in two different books, Proverbs of Ashes (2000) and Saving Paradise (2008). After Vatican II some Catholic churches replaced the crucifix with a figure of the risen Christ behind the altar.

There can be no doubt that the cross has sometimes been used to encourage women to repress suffering and abuse rather than speak out about it. But as Maura Clarke’s life and death show, the suffering and death of Jesus have also inspired women to live and die in the hope of a resurrection of justice and peace for all. May reading A Radical Faith inspire Christian feminists, including Catholic women’s ordination activists, to reconsider and expand our understanding of the cross and other dimensions of our own faith in the months and years to come.

(Marian Ronan is Research Professor of Catholic Studies at New York Theological Seminary, NY, NY, and co-author of Women of Vision: Sixteen Founders of the International Grail Movement (Apocryphile Press, 2017). She was the 2000-2002 president of the WOC board.

WWJD?

November 27, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Aging, Climate Change, Environment, women, world water crisis | 2 Comments
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No, not what would Jesus do. What would Jane O’Donnell do?

Jane O’Donnell was part of the generation ahead of mine in the Grail, the international women’s movement I’ve been active in since my senior year in high school. Many of the women in that earlier  generation were utterly amazing. I would not be who I am without the example they set for me.

Jane O’Donnell was a native Philadelphian (as I am), and came to the Grail through the Catholic Worker. There was a close connection between the US Grail and the Catholic Worker from the outset; the Grail founders corresponded with Dorothy Day before they came to the US in 1940, and Day later made several  retreats at the Grail’s house near Cincinnati. And from time to time over the years, Day sent women to the Grail who seemed more suited to us than to the CW. Jane was , I believe, one of these.

Jane lived most of her adult life in Grail communities, and did amazing work with the poor. One story I heard involved her leaving a Grail Christmas celebration to take food to a family that was without any.

I knew Jane mostly from Grail meetings, but perhaps we lived together at Grailville, the Grail’s southern Ohio farm and conference center, in the 1970s. In any case, I have to confess, I mostly found Jane baffling. Eventually I read in an introduction to the Myers-Briggs test that extroverts are people who determine what they think by talking about it, and this helped me understand Jane a bit better. Suffice to say that in my family of origin, editing before you talk was a highly valued, not to say required, practice.  So I often had a hard time understanding what Jane was taking about.

I am thinking about this now because once, toward the end of her life, when we were both at the Grail Center at Cronwall on Hudson, Jane said to me that she had decided that it doesn’t really matter whether there are dirty spots on your clothes; you should just wear them that way. Striving as I was then to move from my working class background into the professional-managerial class as a professor, I thought once again: What is this woman talking about?

In recent years, however, I have been using my professorial skills to research the impending climate catastrophe. In a review of a book on the gargantuan increase in consumption since World War II, I read that after the war something like 70% of Europeans wore their socks two days in a row before washing them , but today, virtually nobody does. Since then, at the end of the day, I have been hanging my socks over the edge of my sock drawer and wearing them again– though my post-working class try-not-to-smell-like-a poor-person tendencies make it hard for me to admit this.

I am also trying to get myself to wear clothes that have spots on them. It would save water, because I would wash them less, and put fewer soap chemicals into the water system. Doing this is made easier by the fact that our fist-floor west-Flatbush apartment is a bit dark; sometimes I go out and see spots that I had missed when I got dressed (or see that I am wearing clothes a different color from what I had intended!)

In any case, there’s one thing I am fairly sure of: I know what Jane O’Donnell would do.

 

Fast Violence and the Western Imagination

November 2, 2017 at 9:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Before I begin writing, let me state clearly: I do not dismiss the deaths of the eight people hit by a truck Tuesday in lower Manhattan, or the injuries sustained by thirteen others. I am truly sorry for all of those people.

But whenever a violent event like this one occurs, I think about the title of a 2011 book that had a significant impact on me, Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. There are a lot of reasons why you would do well to read Nixon’s book, but the beginning of the title itself sticks in my head: slow violence. I mean, you would think, wouldn’t you,  that violence is violence? But by adding an adjective to that particular noun, Nixon calls such an assumption into question. If there is slow violence, then there is fast violence, too, and that, I would argue, is  precisely what happened along the bicycle path along the Hudson yesterday as school was letting out.

The real issue, however, is not that there are different kinds of violence, but that we in the West are fixated on one particular kind: the fast kind. Consider, if you will, the amount of attention focused on the fast violence that occurred in lower Manhattan two days ago. Twenty-one casualties, and hours and hours and hours of media coverage.

But now consider this: the day before the Manhattan attack, the highly respected British medical journal, The Lancet, published a report that

reveals just how bad climate change is for public health. The diagnosis reveals that hundreds of millions of people are already suffering the health impacts of climate change. Its insidious creep is being felt in multiple ways: rising temperatures are hastening the spread of infectious diseases; crop yields are becoming uneven and unpredictable, worsening the hunger and malnourishment for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet; allergy seasons are getting longer; and at times it is simply too hot for farmers to work in the fields…. local air pollution around the world – much of it coming straight out of exhaust pipes – kills about 6.5 million people annually…

You heard all about that on your radio, or over the internet, didn’t you? I mean, there is a significant–in fact–horrific difference between eight deaths and 6.5 million deaths, right?

The difference is that fast violence is a whole lot more fascinating. Who cares about insignificant millions dying slowly  from air pollution, or from water-borne diseases (a child dies of a water-borne disease every fifteen seconds)?

I think about this sort of thing, in part because my only uncle, Jimmy Dodds, died of diphtheria  in 1921 when he was six years old.  They just came and took the body away. No funeral was permitted, because of the contagious nature of the disease. My mother, who was four at the time, said her parents never recovered from the death of their only son. My grandmother wore a gold locket with Jimmy’s picture in it, and a lock of his hair, her whole life. I wear it now. I can still hear her sighing as she walked me to the library when I was in grade school.

But the eight people who got killed on Tuesday are a lot more interesting. A truck hit them, going really really fast, and driven by a terrorist. First things first, or maybe only.

 

 

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