Borrowing the Eyes of God (Dorothee Soelle, Kerry Walters, and Robin Jarrell)

“Society’s conventional image of a mystic is that of a person who withdraws from the world in order to journey inward. . . . The mystic is stereotyped as a guru sitting in splendid isolation on a mountaintop, utterly unconcerned with the world’s affairs. But theologian Dorothee Soelle, herself something of a mystic, argued that . . . the mystic is uniquely motivated and qualified to respond to social and economic injustices. Genuine mystics . . . says Soelle . . . have been liberated from the three powers that typically hold humans in bondage: ego, possession, and violence. . . . The genuine mystic understands that his or her connection with the divine is likewise a connection to all other humans and, indeed, to all of creation—a relationship, as Soelle said, that ‘borrows the eyes of God.’ Patterns of opposition and resistance bred by the division of I and not-I [therefore] collapse to be replaced by ones of mutuality and community. . . . [Soelle] grew up under the Nazi regime and, like many Germans of her generation, never got over the shame of belonging to a nation that willingly collaborated with mass murderers. She was especially worried by the acquiescence of so many people who claimed to be Christian, and eventually concluded that part of the explanation was that they had compartmentalized their faith, transforming it into a private and ‘otherworldly’ thing. Convinced that such privatization is a perversion of faith, Soelle worked as a theologian to demonstrate the social responsibility of religion and as an activist to put her theology into practice. She became one of the Cold War’s leading anti-nuclear voices, a dedicated opponent of both [U.S.] involvement in [the] Vietnam War and Soviet-style communism, and a proponent of liberation theology. The spiritual fuel of these activities was her conviction that the mystical worldview is revolutionary enough to resist ‘powerful but petrified institutions’ that trade in oppression and violence.” Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell

” . . . a person is considered righteous
by what they do and not by faith alone.”
James 2:24 NIV

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Does your version of Christianity address the powers of ego, possession, and violence?
  • What powerful, petrified institutions trade in oppression and violence where you live?
  • Imagine living with the guilt of “belonging to a nation that willingly collaborated with mass murderers.” Do you honestly face up to the shadow side of your country’s history?

Father, may I be a mystic who makes a difference in this world of people loved by you.

For More: The Silent Cry. Dorothee Soelle. Trans. Barbara and Martin Rumscheldt. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001.

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“Indiscriminate Hospitality” (Dorothy Day and Robert Ellsberg)

For Dorothy Day . . . “spirituality and her social witness were equally rooted in the radical implications of the Incarnation. In Christ God assumed our humanity. And we could not worship God without honoring God’s image in our fellow human beings. We should feed them when they were hungry; shelter them when they were homeless. We should not torture them; we should not kill them. In the 1950s Day and the Catholic Worker took on a more activist profile. She was repeatedly jailed for refusing to take shelter during compulsory civil defense drills in New York City. In the 1960s her activities reflected the turbulence of the times—protesting the Vietnam War, fasting in Rome during the Second Vatican Council to advance the cause of peace. She was last arrested while picketing with the United Farm Workers in 1973 at the age of seventy-five. By this time she was widely honored as the radical conscience of the American Catholic church. But her life was not primarily occupied by activism or protest. She was a woman of prayer, beginning each day with meditation on scripture, attending daily Mass, and reciting the breviary [daily psalms, scripture readings, and prayers]. By and large, her life was spent in very ordinary ways, her sanctity expressed not just in heroic deeds but in the mundane duties of everyday life. Her ‘spirituality’ was rooted in a constant effort to be more charitable toward those closest at hand.” Robert Ellsberg

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement
give you the same attitude of mind toward each other
that Christ Jesus had . . . .” Rom. 15:5 NIV

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Imagine the cognitive dissonance required to claim faith in God, while at the same time torturing or killing creatures made by God, loved by God, precious to God.
  • The simple daily life of Dorothy Day was both “ordinary” and “heroic” because she practiced something “ordinary” (hospitality) in a “heroic” manner (indiscriminately). Can you be indiscriminate when it comes to hospitality?
  • Is there a quiet, prayerful side of your life that enables you to rise to the mundane duties of everyday life in a simple, and perhaps even sometimes, heroic way?

God, help me to honor those you love without any preconditions.

For More: Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion. Ed. Robert Ellsberg. New York: Maryknoll: 2008.

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Richer by Far: The Death of Jesus as a Cautionary Tale (Eugene Debs, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, John Howard Yoder)

“To do evil, a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right. In every age there have been a few heroic souls who have been in advance of their time, who have been misunderstood, maligned, persecuted, sometimes put to death. Long after their martyrdom monuments were erected to them and garlands were woven for their graves. . . . Twenty centuries ago one appeared upon earth whom we know as the Prince of Peace. He issued a command in which I believe. He said, ‘Love one another.’ . . . He espoused the cause of the suffering poor . . . . It was not long before he aroused the ill-will and the hatred of the usurers, the money-changers, the profiteers, the high priests, the lawyers, the judges, the merchants, the bankers—in a word, the ruling class. They said of him just what the ruling class says of the Socialist today. ‘He is preaching dangerous doctrine. He is inciting the common rabble. He is a menace to peace and order.’ And they had him arraigned, tried, convicted, condemned, and they had his quivering body spiked to the gates of Jerusalem. This has been the tragic history of the race. . . . The men and women who have been in advance, who have had new ideas, new ideals, who have had the courage to attack the established order of things, have all had to pay the same penalty.” Eugene Debs

“Jesus’ cross was the price to pay for being the kind of person he was in the kind of world he was in; the cross that he chose was the price of his representing a new way of life in a world that did not want a new way of life. That is what he called his followers to do.” John Howard Yoder

“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin
were looking for false evidence against Jesus
so that they could put him to death.”
Mt. 26:59 NIV

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Can you imagine doing evil and thinking it good? (I’m asking you to wonder about yourself, not those who oppose you.)
  • Have you ever read the gospel accounts of the murder of Jesus as a cautionary tale about what happens to those who won’t conform?
  • Does state sponsored violence or deadly religiously motivated hate seem to you like a calibrated response to dissent?

Abba, grant me the courage to live like Jesus in a world that scorns him and his way.

For More: “Address to the Jury” by Eugene Debs

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Richer by Far: The Men in the Vat (Upton Sinclair)

“Inanimate objects are classified scientifically into three major categories: those that don’t work, those that break down and those that get lost.” Russel Baker

“Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was very seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself and have a part of his hand chopped off. There were the ‘hoisters,’ as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham’s architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees. Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor,–for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting,–sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!” Upton Sinclair

“Do you see someone skilled in their work?
They will serve before kings;
they will not serve before officials of low rank.”
Prov. 2:29 NIV

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • It’s so unpleasant even to read these things. Imagine going to work at Durham’s each day.
  • Who do you know that has their safety or health endangered by their work?
  • Why are the men at Durham’s treated like “inanimate objects?”
  • No matter how skilled, these workers will never “serve before kings.” Why is that?

Abba, as a consumer, make me aware of how I contribute to the exploitation of others.

For More: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. New York: Doubleday, 1906.

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Daily Riches: Challenging Those in Power (T.P. McCarthy and John McMillian)

” . . . to refer to someone or something as ‘radical’ is to risk offense. To self-identify as such is almost certainly to ensure one’s marginalization, to court caricature. Despite the fact that ‘radical’ can reasonably be defined as ‘going to the root of things,’ it is more commonly interpreted as ‘drastic’ or ‘extreme.’ Radicals are those who decry the status quo, who demand fundamental change, who seek transformation. These kinds of people almost always make others nervous, especially those in power. Without them, however, real social change is much harder to achieve. . . . it is worth remembering that many of the things we now take for granted have radical roots. [For instance] . . . the American Revolution, the abolition of slavery, public education, universal suffrage, public parks, integration, co-education, freedom of speech and assembly, the eight-hour workday, food and drug regulations, the minimum wage, child and prison labor laws, health and safety standards, reproductive choice, same sex partner benefits, marriage equality, blues, jazz, rock and roll, hip hop, unemployment insurance, HIV/AIDS research, the right to a fair trial, public health clinics, Head Start programs, immigrant rights, collective bargaining, affirmative action, wildlife reserves, clean air and water, African-American studies, and the living wage. It’s an impressive, albeit incomplete, list, and it underscores the point that America would be a far less decent and less democratic place were it not for the work of activists who have struggled to make real America’s founding promises of freedom and equality.” Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John McMillian

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.” Frederick Douglass

“You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you . . . .”
Jesus, in Mt. 5:21,22

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Would you want to live in a world without radicals?
  • Have the struggles of radicals benefited you?
  • Do you think of the Bible as a radical book? . . . of the life of Jesus as a radical life?

God in heaven, open my eyes to the truth, and my heart to the needs of others.

For More: Protest Nation. New York: The New Press, 2010.

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