Judging Leaders at the Airports

Over and over again, people had to disobey lawful authority to follow the voice of their conscience. This obedience to God and disobedience to the State has, over and over again, happened throughout history. It is time again to cry out against our ‘leaders,’ to question (since it is not for us to say that they are evil) whether or not they are sane.

Dorothy Day, April 1954

Over and over again leaders face the judgment of citizens. Today thousands of citizens showed up at international airports to protest an order to block Muslims from entering the U.S.

The Bible, philosophers, Quakers, Henry Thoreau, all have plenty to say about when and how to confront authority.

If you see the extortion of the poor, or the perversion of justice and fairness in the government, do not be astonished by the matter. For the high official is watched by a higher official, and there are higher ones over them!                                  Ecclesiastes 5:8    (NET Bible)

Yet many are indeed astonished by the degree of perversion of justice in this ban.

The International Association for Refugees lists 46  Biblical instances of people forced from their homelands. [iafr.org]

The plight of refugees is one of the underlying themes in the Abrahamic traditions, yet still our leaders don’t get it. The treatment of strangers in our land is a test of our national conscience. And how we confront our leaders on this defines the values of citizens.

In this rather prophetic sentence, Day reminds us not to judge our leaders as evil, just whether or not they are sane. Wisdom from 1954 Catholic Worker.

 

And now the good news: According to Mother Jones: “A Federal Judge Just Issued A Stay Against Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Judge Ann M. Donnelly’s ruling halted deportations, but refugees abroad remain in limbo.”     JAN. 28, 2017 8:50 PM  [click on name for link]

 

Merry Christmas from Dorothy Day, 1936

Catholic Worker joins in appeal for democracy and peace, therefore asks you to join protest against all dictatorships, fascist and Bolshevist, against all suppression of civil liberties, fascist and Bolshevist, including freedom of religious propaganda, education, and organization, against all war, whether imperialist, civil, or class.

Merry Christmas.

Judge the Power of Prayer by the Reaction It Gets from the Powerful

Lessons from Standing Rock

“We certainly need to pray for courage these days. ‘Dear God, please deliver me from the fear of my enemies.’”  Dorothy Day 1970

Why talk about such inconsequential subjects as prayer in the time of hatred and irrationality?  We don’t have time for that.

The Standing Rock Water Protectors called on prayer as their foundation to protect their lands and our waters. People responded to their prayer: indigenous people from Hawaii, Australia, Canada, Congo, the Arctic, the Caribbean. Not only indigenous people,people of all backgrounds responded.

And government forces attacked. Again and again and again.

This is not the first time prayer had been attacked by government forces:

Aaron Mair recounts the government reaction to the Sioux Ghost Dance 1890. He relates that

The ‘Ghost Dance’ (Nanissáanah), a religious and spiritual resistance of prayer and dance was practiced by the Sioux Nation in 1890 to enlist the spirits of the dead to fight on their behalf, to make the white colonists leave, and to bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Native peoples throughout the region. Alarmed by the Ghost Dance, the United States government and local authorities sent in thousands of troops to violently put down this peaceful protest and sought the arrest Sitting Bull, who was believed to be one of the spiritual resistance leaders. The unarmed Sitting Bull was shot and killed when the attempt was made to arrest him.

Sierra Club 2016

Judge the power of prayer by the reaction it gets from the powerful.

An Embarrassing Hero

I saw Dorothy Day at a Mass one afternoon. She sat in a front pew with her head bowed in prayer. I had the same contradictory reaction to her that I do now, forty years later.

Her uncompromising belief in pacifism inspired everyone I worked with in the Catholic Left, activists who worked for the end of the American War in Vietnam, and for a shift in America’s attitude toward war. She is best known for her work with desperately poor people, opening Houses of Hospitality to feed and house the most marginalized in Depression America, and after. She constantly confronted the Catholic hierarchy in their neglect of the Christian message of social justice. Her stand for pacifism was absolute. Christians, she said, had no other choice.

That afternoon, what I saw in her bowed head was a piety and submission to authority that made me cringe. She once said that if the Cardinal told her to stop printing her Catholic Worker newspaper, she’d shut it down immediately. The idea of totally obedient and will-less devotion to a religious authority is a destructive medieval hold-over. It is an infantile approach to church. She was devoted to that obedience.

However, to categorize Dorothy Day as totally obedient or will-less or infantile verges on the ridiculous, and counter to everything we know about her life. So Dorothy Day, enigma, paradox, embarrassing hero, haunts my spiritual life.

This year, when a pastor was arrested for feeding homeless people outdoors in Fort Lauderdale, I swear I could see her right there. She goes to Palestine with Sherrill; she’s in jail for acts of social justice next to Paki. She is working at the Food Pantry. She is insulating walls with Richard to protect the creation she loved. She is striking with fast-food workers for a living wage. She is an unfailing guide for social justice.

But, a spiritual guide? Yes: “How can you not believe in God when there are so many beautiful things?” she asked her lover. Her beliefs about the sanctity of voluntary suffering? No. Her rigidity about women’s roles and about divorce? No. Her humbleness before church authority? No. Her humbleness before God? Yes.

I gave up this year. The only way to deal with a ghost is to face her. I’m reading what she wrote and what is written about her. I’m sitting next to her before God. The result: her paradox is becoming more pronounced – not what I was hoping for. Now the paradoxes in my own soul are clearer to me. Wandering in the celtic knot of Dorothy’s life is making me recognize the knot of my own life. Celtic knots are mysterious and beautiful, however unsettling to live with.

Prayer, Justice, and the Scales of Justice

“So long as we talk and argue and busy ourselves on the plane of this world, evil seems the stronger. ….The thing is to enter on another plane, to find that fourth dimension which represents the kingdom of the Spirit…. – Henri de Lubac, quoted by Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker, 1978

Injustice is easy to see. When black men are targeted, when rape is dismissed as a prank, when gays are murdered, when families struggle for food and shelter, we see injustice in the flesh.

lady_justice_w_scalesBut what is justice? Is it simply the absence of injustice? Revenge is a kind of justice; it is the desire to rebalance the scales. The image of Justice is a woman with a blindfold holding a scale.  When one man murders another, the world is thrown out of balance. By killing the murderer, some think, the world regains its balance. The forces have been equalized again. The family of the victim, the community can be satisfied. The value of the death penalty is not as a deterrent to murder; it is the restoring of balance from chaos.

Then along comes Jesus. “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.”

We’re being told to keep the scale unbalanced. We are being told not to attempt to purge evil by killing. He’s talking about another kind of justice.

What does this justice look like? smell like? feel like? An abstraction like justice or hope or love, stays uselessly abstract until we give it form.

“The legal battle against segregation is won, but the community battle continues.” Dorothy Day The Catholic Worker, November 1956

On December 12, 2014, friends and neighbors stood in the cold in Greenfield to declare the obvious truth that black lives matter.

Afterwards, thirty people came together in the Upper Room at church to celebrate Our Lady Of Guadalupe, or Tonantzin, the Mother. The 12th is her “birthday.”

In December 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac, Mexico, Mama Lupe appeared to the First Nation peoples. She spoke to the peasant, Cuauhtlatoatzin, (Juan Diego), in his original language, Nahuatl. She demanded that the Spanish conquerors build a church on the place where people had come for centuries to honor her as Tonantzin, the Mother. Cuauhtaltoatzin, a devout Catholic, repeatedly brought her demand to the Spanish authorities until, after she miraculously spread roses at their feet, they relented.

And so a Presence of Love and Protection appeared on the hill, in a country where people lived under the oppression of an occupying army.

In celebration, we placed images of Mama Lupe on a table with roses and candles. We lit candles to bring together all who call for justice: for parents of slain young men, for black children, for racism’s end. We prayed, sang, listened. We called down justice to live among us.

Praying gives justice voice. When evil seems overwhelming, sounds and images springing from the creation of ceremony can crystalize peace and freedom, allowing us to hear and touch it, and each other. And give sustenance to action.