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Theme:
Spirituality and Social Movements

Spirituality and Social Movements

Saturday, December 5, 2020
Summary: Sunday, November 29—Friday, December 4, 2020

Non-imperial movements within Christianity strive not towards protecting their own power and influence, but toward supporting the supreme work of love flowing into the world. (Sunday)

Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren (Monday)

Peter Maurin made you feel that you and all people had great and generous hearts with which to love God. If you once recognized this fact in yourself you would expect and find it in others. -Dorothy Day (Tuesday)

One of the most exciting things for me about being in the freedom movement was discovering other people who were compelled by the Spirit at the heart of our organizing work. —Rosemarie Freeney Harding (Wednesday)

Bring forth song and celebration; / So the Spirit will be alive among us. / Let the Spirit flourish and grow; / So that we will never tire of the struggle. —César Chávez (Thursday)

Let’s just use our different gifts to create a unity in the work of service, and back one another up, without criticism or competition. (Friday)

 

Practice: Contemplating Anger

So many works of social justice have been undone by people who do all the fighting from their angry selves. Today’s practice invites us to deal with our anger contemplatively, not just for ourselves but for those we seek to help and even those with whom we are in conflict. Teacher Dan Edwards writes:

The gift that contemplative practice brings to our emotions is awareness, the mental space to confront our emotional state in a safe way. . . .

Anger is the dominant emotion for many activists. . . . Anger is not a bad or negative thing; it is actually the fuel that feeds our quest for justice. It is when we let anger lead to hateful actions that we lose its beneficial potential. . . . It is imperative that we realize that often the injustice or wrongdoing isn’t personal but rather a societal ill and will always coexist with the peaceful lives we work hard to live.

Practice: Stop, Breathe, Reflect and Respond.

Once I am aware that anger is arising, I stop. I breathe in and out, and I pay attention to my breath, so that I can come back into my body and ground myself. I breathe until the dominate [sic] voices of anger dissipate and my focus rests comfortably on my breath and the current moment. I can now begin to reflect on the situation from a grounded place.

I then reflect on my personal ties to this wrongdoing and examine the reasons why it is affecting me so. . . . Most of the real work is done here, and this is where contemplative practice will become an invaluable tool. It is your contemplative mind that puts up signs like highway markers that point right back to you and encourage you to heal yourself from anger before healing others.

Take as much time as you need to reflect. In the end, I respond after I have reflected for some time on the act or situation. If the situation requires an immediate response, I may not respond at all—not because I am being passive or ignorant but because I am aware of how connected I am to the situation and how deeply personal my response may be. If I feel that I am not able to react from a grounded place, then I won’t. This method has helped keep me out of heated debates and actions that I would later feel the need to apologize for. So if your reactions are heated, give this method a shot. It may work for you.

Reference:
Dan Edwards, “Dealing with Anger,” The Activist’s Ally: Contemplative Tools for Social Change (The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society: 2007, 2017), 46, 47. http://www.contemplativemind.org/

For Further Study:
Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (HarperOne: 2009).

Can I Get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice, ed. Charles Marsh, Shea Tuttle, Daniel P. Rhodes (William B. Eerdmans: 2019). This collection includes profiles of César Chávez, Dorothy Day, Howard Thurman, Ella Baker, and Richard Twiss, plus others.

Frederick John Dalton, The Moral Vision of César Chávez (Orbis Books: 2003).

Robert Ellsberg, Dorothy Day: Selected Writings: By Little and by Little (Orbis Books: 2005).

Rosemarie Freeney Harding with Rachel Elizabeth Harding, Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering (Duke University Press Books: 2015).

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Thou, Dear God”: Prayers that Open Hearts and Spirits, ed. Lewis V. Baldwin (Beacon Press: 2012).

Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2015).

Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014).

Mark and Louise Zwick, The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins (Paulist Press: 2005).

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren
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Spirituality and Social Movements

Participating in Movements for Justice
Friday, December 4, 2020

I think there are three basic levels of social ministry, and none is better than the other. I believe all are the movement of the Holy Spirit within us for the sake of others. I like to imagine a river flooding out of control—symbolizing the circumstances and injustices that bring about suffering—overflowing its banks and sweeping those in its path off their feet.

At the first level, we rescue drowning people from the swollen river, dealing with the immediate social problem right in front of us: someone hungry comes to our door and we offer them some food, or invite them inside. These are hands-on, social service ministries, like the familiar soup kitchen or food pantry. Such works will always look rather generous, Christian, charitable, and they tend to be admired, if not always imitated.

At the second level, there are ministries that help people not to fall into the swollen river in the first place, or show them how to survive despite falling in. In general, these are the ministries of education and healing. Most of the religious orders in the Catholic Church in the last three hundred years went in that direction, filling the world with schools, hospitals, and social service ministries that empowered people and gave them new visions and possibilities for their lives.

Finally, on the third level, some ministries build and maintain a dam to stop the river from flooding in the first place. This is the work of social activism and advocacy, critique of systems, organizing, speeches, boycotts, protests, and resistance against all forms of systemic injustice and deceit. It is the gift of a few, but a much-needed gift that we only recently began to learn and practice. It seeks systemic change and not just individual conversion.

I don’t think most people feel called to activism; I myself don’t. It was initially humiliating to admit this, and I lost the trust and admiration of some friends and supporters. Yet as we come to know our own soul gift more clearly, we almost always have to let go of certain “gifts” so we can do our one or two things well and with integrity. I believe that if we can do one or two things wholeheartedly in our life, that is all God expects.

The important thing is that we all should be doing something for the rest of the world! We have to pay back, particularly those of us born into privilege and comfort. We also must respect and support the other two levels, even if we cannot do them. Avoid all comparisons about better or lesser, more committed or less committed; those are all ego games. Let’s just use our different gifts to create a unity in the work of service (Ephesians 4:12–13), and back one another up, without criticism or competition. Only in our peaceful, mutual honoring do we show forth the glory of God.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 84–86.

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren
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Spirituality and Social Movements

A Migrant Movement for Justice
Thursday, December 3, 2020

In the 1960s, while the Civil Rights movement was creating significant change on a national level, the farmworkers in the western United States, under the leadership of César Chávez (1927‒1993), were organizing for better pay and working conditions. The movement was informed and strengthened by Chávez’s authentic Catholic faith. Marvin Mich shares some of the history of that time:

As a Mexican American from the farms of Gila Valley (near Yuma), Arizona, César [Chávez] had known the poverty, despair, and discrimination that went with being a migrant worker. In 1949 when Chávez was 22, he was married and living in a barrio of San Jose, California, called “Sal Si Puede” (meaning “leave if you can”). . . .

The young Chávez was being shaped by his own experience of poverty and despair, but also by the vision and moral principles of Catholic social thought. Rerum Novarum [the 1891 papal encyclical concerning the Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor] and the Roman Catholic tradition were not distant, dusty principles for Chávez, but rather the building blocks for his emerging social, moral, and spiritual identity. . . .

The strike, la huelga, which began in September 1965, lasted for five years before contracts were signed with 140 grape growers and the United Farm Workers. During this time many church people and college students joined the strikers and supported the call for a national table grape boycott. [1]

Writer Daniel Rhodes explains how César Chávez’s spiritual roots impacted all aspects of the farmworkers struggle for justice:

The farmworker union was no normal union, and this would be no standard union struggle. It was a struggle that reached all the way down to their values, their spirits and faith—something Chávez understood and from which he drew. In fact, his first act after the vote [to strike] was to gather his family and pray a Hail Mary for each grower. Incessant prayer and regular Mass permeated the movement. [2]

The following prayer is César Chávez’s “Prayer of the Farm Worker’s Struggle,” which shows how devotion to God combined with action in the movement. I am deeply touched by the simplicity and humility of his prayer:

Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people’s plight.

Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.

Help me take responsibility for my own life;
So that I can be free at last.

Grant me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.

Give me honesty and patience;
So that I can work with other workers.

Bring forth song and celebration;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.

Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.

Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.

Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.

Amen. [3]

References:
[1] Marvin L. Krier Mich, Catholic Social Teaching and Movements (Twenty-Third Publications: 1998), 165–166, 169.

[2] Daniel P. Rhodes, “In the Union of the Spirit: Cesar Chavez and the Quest for Farmworker Justice,” Can I Get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice, ed. Charles Marsh, Shea Tuttle, Daniel P. Rhodes (William B. Eerdmans: 2019), 24.

[3] César Chávez, “Prayer of the Farm Worker’s Struggle / Oración del Campesino en la Lucha. Shared with permission from the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren
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Spirituality and the Social Movements

Spirituality in the Civil Rights Movement
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The deeply spiritual foundation of the Civil Rights movement is often underemphasized. The movement that sought political and legal equality for Black Americans was grounded in faith. The devout Christian commitment of virtually all its leaders, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Fannie Lou Hamer to John Lewis, inspired them to work for the dignity and equality of all. Rosemarie Freeney Harding (1930–2004), the wife of civil rights leader Vincent Harding (1931-2014), recalls the power of the Holy Spirit working in the movement during that time.

One of the most exciting things for me about being in the freedom movement was discovering other people who were compelled by the Spirit at the heart of our organizing work, and who were also interested in the mysticism that can be nurtured in social justice activism. We experienced something extraordinary in the freedom movement, something that hinted at a tremendous potential for love and community and transformation that exists here in this scarred, spectacular country. For many of us, that “something” touched us in the deepest part of our selves and challenged us in ways both personal and political.

There was an energy moving in those times. Something other than just sit-ins and voter registration and Freedom Schools. Something represented by these signal efforts but broader. As I traveled around the country in the sixties, it seemed to me that the nation—from the largest community to the smallest—was permeated with hope; the idea that people can bring about transformation; that what we do matters. . . .

Martin and Coretta [King] and Anne Braden and Ella Baker and others like them had a beautiful effect on people who spent time with them. Living and working in their presence hastened changes in your own thoughts, your reactions, your priorities; even if you weren’t always cognizant of the shift. . . . Being constantly in the presence of people who lived so fervently in the power of nonviolence, who believed and acted from the understanding that love and forgiveness were essential tools for social justice; being surrounded by people like that fed those commitments in me, in many of us. And it infused the nation. . . .

For a lot of people in the Movement, our participation gave us a craving for spiritual depth. . . .  Sometimes not knowing what was right or wrong in a situation, they had to be quiet about it. Had to go somewhere and just meditate about it. Pray on it. . . .

Rosemarie Harding’s description of the Spirit working within the young people of the Civil Rights movement reminds me of my time with the New Jerusalem Community where we also sang, prayed, and trusted that God would speak to us—and God did!

Reference:
Rosemarie Freeney Harding with Rachel Elizabeth Harding, Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering (Duke University Press Books: 2015), 168, 170, 171, 172.

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren
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Spirituality and Social Movements

The Catholic Worker Movement
Tuesday, December 1, 2020

After Brian McLaren’s helpful summary of biblical examples of social movements, I want to turn our attention to movements that originated within the United States in the last century. The Catholic Worker movement, established by Dorothy Day (1897‒1980) and Peter Maurin (1877‒1949), has continued to bear good fruit since its founding in 1933. Dorothy is renowned the world over for her love for the poor, while Peter Maurin is less well-known. However, the Gospel was at the center of Peter Maurin’s vision and an essential part of what has made the movement so long-lasting. As editor Robert Ellsberg writes, Peter believed:

One should not await some presumably propitious moment, but instead begin at once to live by a new set of values. “The future will be different,” [Peter] announced in typical style, “if we make the present different.” [1] And the revolution began with oneself. There was no need to form a committee to study the problem; the commandments of Christ were there before us, and all that remained was to give flesh to those words, to translate the Gospel into action, and attract others to the cause. [2]

Theologian Marvin Mich (1948‒2018) shows how Maurin’s radical commitment flowed from his reading of the New Testament, and his own Catholic faith:

Maurin brought with him a “gentle personalism,” which was a Catholic radicalism based on the literal interpretation of the Beatitudes. He rejected the liberal institutions of capitalism and the modern state and their faith in material progress and technology. . . . He proposed [instead] a radical imitation of the gospel life of voluntary poverty in solidarity with the weak, the poor, the sick, and the alienated. The Catholic Worker movement’s consistent intellectual position was based on a radical interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and on papal social encyclicals. . . .

The Worker encouraged communal living, ecumenism, and the concept of laypeople as missionaries. The movement is best known for its “direct action” on behalf of the poor. They started Houses of Hospitality, imitating the medieval hospice. These were soup kitchens, meeting rooms, clothing centers, and places of reflection. [3]

Finally, Dorothy Day reflects on how Peter Maurin’s love for God and people inspired the same in others:

Peter made you feel a sense of his mission as soon as you met him. He did not begin by tearing down, or by painting so intense a picture of misery and injustice that you burned to change the world. Instead, he aroused in you a sense of your own capacities for work, for accomplishment. He made you feel that you and all [people] had great and generous hearts with which to love God. If you once recognized this fact in yourself you would expect and find it in others. . . . But it was seeing Christ in others, loving the Christ you saw in others. Greater than this, it was having faith in the Christ in others without being able to see Him. Blessed is he that believes without seeing.” [4]

References:
[1] Peter Maurin, “Not a Liberal,” Easy Essays (Franciscan Herald Press: 1984), 61.

[2] Robert Ellsberg, “Introduction,” Dorothy Day: Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 2005), xxv.

[3] Marvin L. Krier Mich, Catholic Social Teaching and Movements (Twenty-Third Publications: 1998) 65‒66.

[4] Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (Harper & Brothers: 1952), 171. Ellsberg, Selected Writings, 44.

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren
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Spirituality and Social Movements

A Faith Created by Courageous Movements
Monday, November 30, 2020

In his book We Make the Road by Walking, my friend and colleague Brian McLaren describes some of the Spirit-led movements that shaped Judaism from the time of Moses, and sustained Christianity. We must remember that such movements are not simply a past occurrence, but something in which we are called to participate in our own time.

I believe that the Spirit of God works everywhere to bring and restore aliveness—through individuals, communities, institutions, and movements. Movements play a special role. In the biblical story [of Exodus], for example, Moses led a movement of liberation among oppressed slaves. They left an oppressive economy, journeyed through the wilderness, and entered a promised land where they hoped to pursue aliveness in freedom and peace. Centuries after that, the Hebrew prophets launched a series of movements based on a dream of a promised time . . . a time of justice when swords and spears, instruments of death, would be turned into plowshares and pruning hooks, instruments of aliveness [Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3]. Then came John the Baptist, a bold and nonviolent movement leader who dared to challenge the establishment of his day and call people to a movement of radical social and spiritual rethinking. . . .

When a young man named Jesus came to affiliate with John’s movement through baptism, John said, “There he is! He is the one!” Under Jesus’ leadership, the movement grew and expanded in unprecedented ways. . . . It rose again through a new generation of leaders like James, Peter, John, and Paul, who were full of the Spirit of Jesus. They created learning circles in which activists were trained to extend the movement locally, regionally, and globally. Wherever activists in this movement went, the Spirit of Jesus was alive in them, fomenting change and inspiring true aliveness. . . .

[Christianity] began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. . . . It claimed that everyone, not just an elite few, had God-given gifts to use for the common good. It exposed a system based on domination, privilege, and violence and proclaimed in its place a vision of mutual service, mutual responsibility, and peaceable neighborliness. It put people above profit, and made the audacious claim that the Earth belonged not to rich tycoons or powerful politicians, but to the Creator who loves every sparrow in the trees and every wildflower in the field. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2015), xvii–xix.

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren
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Spirituality and Social Movements

A Spirit-Led Christianity
Sunday, November 29, 2020
First Sunday of Advent

The God who became flesh in Jesus is the hidden God of whom the prophets speak to us. Jesus shows himself to be such precisely in the measure that he is present via those who are the absent, anonymous people of history, those who are not the controllers of history, namely, the mighty, the socially acceptable, “the wise and the learned” (Matthew 11:25). —Gustavo Gutiérrez

Much of what Jesus said seems to have been understood and taken to heart during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. Before the imperial edict of 313 that pushed Christians to the top and the center of the Roman Empire, values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, and love of enemies were common within the faithful community. The church at that point was still countercultural and non-imperial—a social movement for the reign of God. After 313 we lost that free position. Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war, money, and authority.

If we look at texts in the hundred years preceding Emperor Constantine’s edict, it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army. The army was killing believers. Christians were on the bottom but, by the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and was now killing the pagans. In a two-hundred-year period, Christians went from being complete outsiders to directing the inside! Once Christians joined the inside group, they had to defend their power. There’s not much room for any talk of the cross or powerlessness anymore.

Official Christianity slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point, which is probably why what we now call the movements of “religious life” began and flourished in the desert after 313. People went to the edges of the church and took vows of poverty, living in satellites that became “little churches,” without ever formally leaving the big Church.

Francis and Clare of Assisi formed their own “social movement” through a foundational agenda for justice. They lived in humility and simplicity outside the dominant social, political, and religious systems. For the Franciscans who followed in their footsteps, the first priority was living the spiritual life in a visible way that shouted Gospel love! Their life, close to the bottom, was where they hoped to learn the science of love. Their small communities were to be patterns for living and disseminating the transformative power of the Gospel.

Imperial Christianity is always about power. It seldom teaches about nonviolence, forgiveness, inclusion, simplicity, mercy, love, compassion, or understanding in a primary way. Yet Spirit-led movements within Christianity have flourished and continued to emphasize the values that defined the early Church and made it so threatening to the social order. I believe that any future church will be led by the Spirit back to those foundational values, making it a much flatter and more inclusive community. The examples of non-imperial movements within Christianity strive not towards protecting their own power and influence, but toward supporting the supreme work of love flowing into the world.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 48–51; and

“Powering Down: The Future of Institutions,” “The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2019), 43, 46–47; and

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 146.

Epigraph: Gustavo Gutiérrez, The God of Life (Orbis: 1991), 86.

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren
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