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Theme:
Solidarity

Solidarity

Saturday, May 30, 2020
Summary, Sunday, May 24 — Friday, May 29, 2020

When the Bible is read through the eyes of solidarity—what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the margins”—it will always be liberating, transformative, and empowering in a completely different way. (Sunday)

If one of the primary markers of a Christian life is solidarity as modeled by Jesus, I am afraid that most of us still have a long way to go. (Monday)

Our cultural worship of individualism and “bootstrap” mentality deprives us of the capacity to empathize with people in need and recognize systemic oppression. (Tuesday)

The work of solidarity is to join and accept others as fully human—in our struggles and gifts alike. (Wednesday)

We are one, and through solidarity we more clearly identify and name the systems that separate us. We find in ourselves and in the other the true “image of God” in which we are created and connected. (Thursday)

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’s parables and stories paint a picture of a reign in which the poor and marginalized are lifted up and their needs are met, rather than being despised or ignored by those in control. —The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis (Friday)

 

Practice: Finding Our Teachers

Authentic solidarity requires a series of conversions. It requires our voluntary displacement from our position(s) of privilege—whether that be class, race, gender, physical ability, nationality, or religion—toward someone not like us in a real and tangible way. We may need to develop an appreciation for traits that our culture might not deem “acceptable” or even valuable. Only through relationships can we know what kind of help or advocacy is truly desired. Solidarity is not about “I’m helping you,” but a commitment to walking and learning together.  And of course, learning together requires us to be in dialogue, with the understanding that I have much to learn. The following practice from psychologist Roger Walsh’s book Essential Spirituality is one way to develop this skill.

If we choose to, we can see everyone as our teacher. Those people who have admirable qualities can inspire us; those with destructive qualities can remind us of our shortcomings and motivate us to change. Confucius was very clear about this:

“When walking in the company of two other men I am bound to be able to learn from them. The good points of the one I copy; the bad points of the other I correct in myself.”

When we meet kind people, we can develop feelings of gratitude and use those people as role models to inspire our own kindness and generosity. We can also learn from unkind people. Seeing how sensitive we are to criticism and hostility, we can remember how sensitive others are and resolve to treat them gently. We can also practice forgiveness and find how much better this feels than smoldering with resentment for days.

To begin this exercise, select an initial time period such as a morning or a day. During that time, try to see each person you meet as a teacher bringing you an important lesson. Your challenge is to recognize what that lesson is, then to learn as much as you can from this person. At the end of the day, look back and review your interaction with each person, the lessons each one brought, and what you learned.

As exercises like these are repeated, the eye of the soul gradually opens and we become increasingly aware of the sacred within us and around us. Every person becomes a teacher and a reminder of our spiritual nature, while every experience becomes a learning opportunity . . . and we see the world as a sacred schoolhouse designed to heal and awaken us, and to teach us how to heal and awaken others. What greater gift could the world offer?

Reference:
Roger Walsh, Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: 1999), 203–204.

For Further Study:
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, 30th anniv. ed. (Continuum: 2005, ©1970, 1993)

Barbara Holmes, “Contemplating Anger,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2018)

Interview with Richard Rohr, “From Service to Solidarity,” Living School Alumni Quarterly (Winter 2020)

Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014)

Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC Publishing: 2019)

Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2018)

Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, (Sourcebooks: 2020)

William J. Barber, with Liz Theoharis and Rick Lowery, Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing, (Beacon: 2018)

Image Credit: Paulo Freire (detail), Centro de Formação, Tecnologia e Pesquisa Educacional (CEFORTEPE), SME-Campinas, Campinas, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence; they can no longer remain as they were. —Paulo Freire
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Solidarity

A Movement of the Rejected
Friday, May 29, 2020

A powerful example of these five conversions at work is The Poor People’s Campaign, which was revived in 2018 by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. [1] Their work with and for the poor of the United States through mutual respect, dialogue, and organizing is foundationally based on their Christian faith and study of the Gospels. In these paragraphs, Theoharis offers a scriptural exploration of what the Kingdom of God implies for the poor and marginalized—a movement of solidarity.

The New Testament . . . portrays the survival struggles of the marginalized, the solidarity and mutuality among different communities, and the critique of a social, political, and economic system that oppresses the vast majority of people. . . .  Jesus’s teachings and actions around poverty, wealth, and power create a picture of him as a leader of a social, political, economic, and spiritual movement calling for a world without poverty, want, or oppression . . . what he named the Kingdom or Empire of God. . . .

The Greek word for “Kingdom of God” or “Empire of God,” basilea, has much to do with the economic order that Jesus advocated. Few would disagree that the Kingdom of God is central to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. However, many understand this kingdom as otherworldly and immaterial. But if we look at both the prevalence of the concept and the specific references to it in the New Testament, we can see that God’s kingdom is a real, material order, with a moral agenda different from and opposed to the reigning order of the day. The basilea is particularly present in the parables that describe how the reign of God functions differently from the Roman Empire: in God’s kingdom, there is no poverty or fear, and mutuality exists among all.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’s parables and stories paint a picture of a reign in which the poor and marginalized are lifted up and their needs are met, rather than being despised or ignored by those in control. . . . From these passages and others, we can see that . . . God’s followers are asked to model a community of mutuality and solidarity. . . .

Centuries of [New Testament] interpretation have attempted to spiritualize or minimize this good news for the poor, hiding the reality that the Bible is a book by, about, and for poor and marginalized people. It not only says that God blesses and loves the poor, but also that the poor are God’s agents and leaders in rejecting and dismantling kingdoms built upon oppression and inequality. . . . It is the vision of society the early Christians sought to create on earth, and that we who follow Jesus today are commanded to strive for as well.

References:
[1] The Poor People’s Campaign was first established by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in 1968 to encourage leaders and citizens across the nation to stand in solidarity with the poor. https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/about/

Liz Theoharis, “Blessed Are the Rejected for They Shall Lead the Revival,” Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing, William J. Barber, with Liz Theoharis and Rick Lowery (Beacon: 2018), 11, 12, 16–17.

Image Credit: Paulo Freire (detail), Centro de Formação, Tecnologia e Pesquisa Educacional (CEFORTEPE), SME-Campinas, Campinas, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence; they can no longer remain as they were. —Paulo Freire
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Solidarity

The Fifth Conversion
Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Fifth Conversion to solidarity is a choice to walk with the poor and oppressed, to be taught by them, and to love them as equals, each of us bearing the Divine Indwelling Spirit within.

Although he was raised Roman Catholic and worked with many religious organizations, Paulo Freire rarely used religious language or metaphors to make his point. Yet his teaching on solidarity is fully aligned with the ministry of Jesus: “Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were.” [1]

In his work teaching literacy skills in Brazil and Chile, Freire employed a method of dialogue that created solidarity and transformed systems of injustice. The dialogue enables the “helper” to let go of any personal agenda and allows the needs of the “helped” to be fully told. Eventually a movement towards liberation is born.

Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind . . . faith in their vocation to be more fully human. . . . Founding itself upon love, humility, and faith, dialogue becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence. [2]

I hope you can see how living out the Gospel is always a process of what Freire calls humanization, [3] a movement toward greater freedom, dignity, inclusivity, and possibility. We are one, and through solidarity we more clearly identify and name the systems that separate us. We find in ourselves and in the other the true “image of God” in which we are created and connected.

The dialogue that leads to solidarity is a way that oppressors and oppressed begin to recognize each other as subjects in their full humanity, as both learn and teach in this active encounter of faith and love. Here is Freire, in his own words:

Dialogue cannot exist without humility.
How can I dialogue if I regard myself as a case apart from others—mere “its” in whom I cannot recognize other “I”s?
How can I dialogue if I consider myself . . . the owner of truth and knowledge . . .?
How can I dialogue if I am closed to—and even offended by—the contributions of others?
Self-sufficiency is incompatible with dialogue.
At the point of encounter [in dialogue] there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know. [4]

We are all on this journey together and we are all in need of liberation (which might be a better word than salvation). God’s intention is solidarity with, and universal responsibility for, the whole. As Paul taught, “If one part is hurt, all parts share in the pain. If one part is honored, all the parts share in the joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Think of Christianity as a giant act of solidarity with the marginalized, and all of creation.

References:
[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, 30th anniv. ed. (Continuum: 2005, ©1970, 1993), 61.

[2] Ibid., 90, 91.

[3] Humanization is the process of liberation in which the oppressed are engaged fully as human beings, as opposed to an “object” or “thing” in service to the oppressor’s possession and control.  See Freire, 44, 49, 67–68.

[4] Freire, 90.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished; and

What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC Publishing: 2019), 69, 82.

Image Credit: Paulo Freire (detail), Centro de Formação, Tecnologia e Pesquisa Educacional (CEFORTEPE), SME-Campinas, Campinas, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence; they can no longer remain as they were. —Paulo Freire
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Solidarity

The Third and Fourth Conversions
Wednesday, May 27, 2020

We continue our conversions to greater solidarity with the marginalized.

The Third Conversion is when we idealize some of the virtues of the poor that we ourselves do not have. When the lens is cleared by our initial awakening to injustice, it is much easier to focus on people’s admirable qualities, especially those that might be lacking in our own group. This was certainly true for me. In my travels to India, the Philippines, and many Global South nations, I saw plenty of people who were happy, generous and grateful with the little they had. By contrast, I could be entitled and grumpy whenever the littlest things went wrong! It was so humbling.

Although it feels positive, staying at this conversion stage still places an unfair burden on those who are marginalized. Projecting only good qualities onto them tends to ease the burden of solidarity work from us. Layla F. Saad describes this tendency in relation to black women in her book Me and White Supremacy:

Black women are either superhumanized and put on pedestals as queens or the strong Black woman, or they are dehumanized and seen as unworthy of the same care and attention as white women. Both superhumanizing and dehumanizing are harmful because . . . they fail to capture Black women in the mess, joy, beauty, and femininity of women of other races. [1]

If it is unjust to dehumanize others, it is equally unjust to “superhumanize” them, applauding their ability to “do it all” instead of making sure they don’t have to.

The Fourth Conversion is a deepening recognition of the impact of systemic oppression. This tends to come about as a result of disillusionment and disappointment with the poor, especially when one sees how they have been socialized to a worldview of failure and scarcity. This is internalized oppression. As Paulo Freire puts it, “so often do [the oppressed] hear that they are good for nothing, know nothing, and are incapable of learning anything . . . that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness.” [2] From the very beginning, the systems we operate in either support us or tear us down.

From my place in society, I was able to enter into a good education system, and I always had good healthcare. I was offered so many options and encouragement to become “successful.” But when we come from a social location that has put us in systems and relationships where options are limited, we are often humiliated and looked down upon at every stage of our life. Under those conditions, it is much harder to keep putting our best foot forward.

The work of solidarity is to close the distance these systems have put between us by joining and accepting others as fully human—in our struggles and gifts alike. This work requires a commitment to relational accompaniment. What is needed, according to Freire, is for us to “stop making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures, and risk an act of love.” [3]

References:
[1] Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor (Sourcebooks: 2020), 87.

[2] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, 30th anniv. ed. (Continuum: 2005, ©1970, 1993), 63.

[3] Ibid., 50.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished.

Image Credit: Paulo Freire (detail), Centro de Formação, Tecnologia e Pesquisa Educacional (CEFORTEPE), SME-Campinas, Campinas, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence; they can no longer remain as they were. —Paulo Freire
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Solidarity

The Second Conversion
Tuesday, May 26, 2020

If the first conversion to solidarity is to befriend or experience compassion for the poor, the Second Conversion to solidarity is anger at the unjust situation that caused their poverty. Many people never reach this stage of anger at injustice, especially in the United States. Our cultural worship of individualism and “bootstrap” mentality deprives us of the capacity to empathize with people in need and recognize systemic oppression. When we are in the middle or upper tier of privilege, it is almost impossible to see the many ways the system helped us succeed. We cannot recognize or overcome this “agreed upon delusion” as isolated individuals, mostly because it is held together by the group consensus. The dominant group—in any country or context—normally cannot see its own lies. We have to pay attention to whomever is saying “I can’t breathe” to recognize the biases at work.

This often only changes when, through friendship with people of different backgrounds and life experiences, we witness mistreatment and marginalization. We get to know someone outside our immediate social circle. Our sister falls in love with someone from another race, religion, or culture. Our grandchild is transgender. We see all the ways life is more difficult for them than it needs to be. We feel their pain instead of standing apart at a safe distance.

Anger is a necessary, appropriate, and useful response to this kind of injustice. It is the beginning of social critique and helps us protect the appropriate boundaries for ourselves and others. Yet anger can be dangerous, too. When it hangs around too long, it becomes self-defeating and egocentric. Then it distorts the message it came to offer us. We can become so intent on pointing out problems that we are never actually willing to be part of the solution. As I like to say, the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better, not more criticism! The question of true conversion and solidarity is, “how can I work through my anger and get to the other side, so I can be a life-giving presence with and for those who are most suffering?”

For oppressed communities, however, anger can be a form of survival, a necessary stage on the path towards healing. Listening to such anger with compassionate friendship can itself be a form of solidarity. As my colleague Barbara Holmes writes:

Many spiritual traditions warn us against anger. We are told that anger provides fertile ground for seeds of discontent, anxiety, and potential harm to self and others. This is true. However, when systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival. . . Until the killing of black and brown people stops, all peaceful methods of resistance are appropriate. Right now, our anger is our truth, and our anger is a sacred part of our humanity and our faith. [1]

References:
[1] Barbara Holmes, “Contemplating Anger,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2018), 20, 25.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished;

Interview with Richard Rohr, “From Service to Solidarity,” Living School Alumni Quarterly (Winter 2020);

What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, (CAC Publishing: 2019), 47; and

Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2018), 15

Image Credit: Paulo Freire (detail), Centro de Formação, Tecnologia e Pesquisa Educacional (CEFORTEPE), SME-Campinas, Campinas, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence; they can no longer remain as they were. —Paulo Freire
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Solidarity

The Five Conversions
Monday, May 25, 2020

If one of the primary markers of a Christian life is solidarity as modeled by Jesus, I am afraid that most of us still have a long way to go. It’s one of the reasons I say that Christianity is still in its infancy. We are just taking our first toddling steps towards a more mature and embodied faith. Transformed teachers like Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and countless others, both sainted and anonymous, have invited us into solidarity with the poor and oppressed. When we are comfortably centered, it is difficult to move to the margins, but that is where we must go!

About fifty years ago, a Brazilian educator named Paulo Freire (1921–1997) wrote a book titled Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire worked for literacy amongst the poor in Brazil and Chile. His work became influential among many liberation theologians and those struggling against unjust systems. This book continues to impact my thinking about what it means to be in solidarity with those on the margins. It challenges many of our preconceived ideas about Christian “charity,” “service,” and “mission.” It is some of the most humbling subject matter we cover in our Living School curriculum. Many of our selfless and goodhearted students have dedicated their lives to Christian “service.” Yet they recognize the ways those vocations, as they are currently designed, often reinforce dehumanizing systems of oppression and marginalization. That paradox is often what drives them to study with us.

This week I will introduce you to a teaching I have developed in the Living School inspired by Paulo Freire’s work that I call “The Five Conversions.” It can offer us a path toward a more authentic Christian life where we recognize our deep connections to each other and choose to live in solidarity with suffering. Solidarity begins by becoming aware of our own social location, which is our place in society. For me and most of my readers that place is a starting point of privilege within the dominant culture. Let’s begin:

The First Conversion to solidarity is to have basic compassion for the poor in general, or one poor person. Throughout this discussion, I will be using the word “poor” in a very specific way—those who are powerless, dismissed, or considered lesser in society. This is far larger than mere economic poverty. Sadly, there seems to be many Christians who don’t even have basic compassion for the poor. In the United States, we are pretty much trained to blame people who are poor, immigrants or refugees, victims, or gay, lesbian, or transgender people. Far too many seem to think, even if to themselves, that if “those people” would simply work a little more, do things the right way, change their minds, stay hidden, or just “pray a little harder,” we’d all be better off. The first conversion is where we must begin. Our hearts must be softened, and we must experience basic sympathy, empathy, and recognition of another person’s pain.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished; and

Interview with Richard Rohr, “From Service to Solidarity,” Living School Alumni Quarterly (Winter 2020).

Image Credit: Paulo Freire (detail), Centro de Formação, Tecnologia e Pesquisa Educacional (CEFORTEPE), SME-Campinas, Campinas, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence; they can no longer remain as they were. —Paulo Freire
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Solidarity

Invitation to Solidarity
Sunday, May 24, 2020

Throughout human history, countless people have been poor, vulnerable, or oppressed in some way. Those holding positions of authority within systems of power secure their own privilege, comfort, and wealth—almost always at the expense of those most on the margins. Much of history has been recorded to hide this fact and instead celebrates the so-called “winners.” I call this systemic reality a form of sin, or what the apostle Paul describes as the “the world” (Ephesians 2:1–2). This type of corporate evil is often culturally agreed-upon, admired, and deemed necessary, as is normally the case when a country goes to war, spends most of its budget on armaments, admires luxuries over necessities, entertains itself to death, or pollutes its common water and air.

The hidden nature of systemic oppression makes it all the more remarkable that the revelation of God in the Bible is written from the perspective of the oppressed. The Bible reveals a liberating path of humility, compassion, and nonviolence in the face of oppression that culminates in the life, ministry, and state-sponsored execution of Jesus.

We see in the Gospels that the people who tend to follow Jesus are the ones on the margins: the lame, poor, blind, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and foreigners. He lived in close proximity to and in solidarity with the excluded ones in his society. Those on the inside and at the center of power are the ones who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers. Yet we still honor people in these latter roles and shun the ones in the former.

For the first three hundred years after Jesus’ death, Christians were the oppressed minority. But by the year 400 C.E., Christians had changed places. We moved from hiding in the catacombs to presiding in the basilicas. That is when we started reading the Bible not as subversive literature, the story of the oppressed, but as establishment literature to justify the status quo of people in power.

When Christians began to gain positions of power and privilege, they also began to ignore segments of Scriptures, especially the Sermon on the Mount. Our position in society determines what we pay attention to and what systems we are willing to “go along with.” This is what allowed “Christian” empires throughout history to brutalize and oppress others in the name of God. Sadly, this is still the case today.

But when the Bible is read through the eyes of solidarity—what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the margins”—it will always be liberating, transformative, and empowering in a completely different way. Read this way, Scripture cannot be used by those with power to oppress or impress. The question is no longer “How can I maintain my special and secure status?” It is “How can we all grow and change together?” I think the acceptance of that invitation to solidarity with the larger pain of the world is what it means to be a “Christian.”

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . Daily Meditations, (Franciscan Media: 2013), 37, 39;

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 22; and

What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC Publishing: 2019), 11.    

Image Credit: Paulo Freire (detail), Centro de Formação, Tecnologia e Pesquisa Educacional (CEFORTEPE), SME-Campinas, Campinas, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence; they can no longer remain as they were. —Paulo Freire
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