We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II

On the opening of Women's History Month, and inspired by reading the message of Pope Benedict this Lent “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works” (Heb 10:24).

Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II

Nuns’ Statement Left at Silo N-8

October 6, 2002

Who abides in God’s heart [are]

Those who heal rather than hurt,

And those who love rather than hate…Psalm 15

We women religious, naming ourselves Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II, come to Colorado to unmask the false religion and worship of national security so evident at Buckley AFB in Aurora, the Missile Silos, and in Colorado Springs: Schriever AFB [the space warfare center], the Air Force Space Command Center at Peterson AFB, Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD), and the Air Force Academy. We reject the mission of these along with the US Space Command and Stratcom [formerly SAC] in Omaha, Nebraska.

We come in the name of Truth, ar-Nur, the Light. God alone is master of space, of the heavens that “pour forth speech…There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard” (PS. 19:2), a voice that proclaims world community, not domination of the world’s economy; peace, not planning for space warfare.

We hope in the light of that world to name things what they are, to unmask the lies, abuses, and racism hidden in the rhetoric of patriotism, security and moral superiority. We reject the US Space Command “Vision for 2020” to dominate space for military operations; to exploit space as a US 4th frontier, making all other nations vulnerable to US conventional and nuclear attacks; to integrate space force for warfighting; to abuse the Aleutian Islands and other lands with interceptors and spy satellites and to waste more billions of dollars and more human and material resources, causing the destruction of earth and the desecration of space.

We walk in the name of the Shepherd, ar-Rashid, the One who leads us on the path to justice for the “have-nots” rather than military power “to deny others the uses of space” and even of their own resources. We walk unafraid.

We trust the Shepherd who is also the Way of active nonviolence and generous sharing that will lead to true security.

We act in the many names of God the Compassionate, ar-Rahim: our Life, our Peace, our Healer to transform swords into plowshares, our violence and greed into care for the whole community of earth and sky, not as masters, but as servants and friends.

We pray in the name of al-Qabid, the One who holds the whole world, who said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name” (Jn. 14:13).

Shalom Salaam Shanti Peace

Carol, Jackie, Anne, Ardeth

Oh, my God, teach me how to be a peacemaker in a hostile world (Ps. 120).

Mid-East Peace Statement of Religious Leaders

National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East

Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is More Urgent Than Ever.

Concerned with new challenging developments in the Middle East, as leaders of major Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations inspired by core teachings of our traditions, we affirm with urgency that Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace is more vital than ever. We remain guided by our founding “Principles of Cooperation” in which we acknowledge how our bonds with those on different sides of the conflict sometimes lead to differing viewpoints, and we reemphasize our common agenda for peace. We derive encouragement from benchmark principles developed by Arabs and Israelis in earlier formal and informal negotiations that provide practical parameters for a peace agreement that could be acceptable to majorities of Israelis and Palestinians.

At this time of momentous changes, the drive for Israeli-Palestinian peace must be viewed in the context of:

the hopes and challenges related to the Arab Spring, including concerns for the rights of minorities;

the aftermath of the war in Iraq, including challenges to Iraqi democracy and stability;

the future of Afghanistan as the U.S./NATO role winds down;

tensions in U.S.-Pakistan relations;

the deepening crisis in Syria; and

the dangers of confrontation over Iran’s nuclear development activities.

Appreciating that we are addressing these issues in other forums, we agreed that all of these developments make efforts for Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace more, not less, urgent. Anchored in the deep concerns of our religious traditions to respect the hopes and rights of all people to live in peace, we reaffirm our commitment to work together for active, fair and firm U.S. leadership for comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, including a negotiated two-state peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. We acknowledge that 2011 was a difficult and frustrating year. While majorities of Israelis and Palestinians continue to long for peace, political problems on both sides inhibit leaders from moving forward. The months ahead, leading up to U.S. national elections, present a special challenge. We urge candidates not to use any rhetoric that

could make prospects for peace more problematic. As Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, we strongly caution candidates to do no harm to chances for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

More specifically, the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East calls on the

Administration, the Congress and candidates for office to support the following steps:

Address warnings to both sides to prevent violence, and undertake diplomatic efforts, in coordination with the

Quartet, to help maintain a durable, effective ceasefire; all attacks on civilians must immediately end;

Continue to support Palestinian state-building and economic development capacity, including immediately lifting

the Congressional hold on humanitarian aid;

Support Palestinian efforts to form a government capable of representing the West Bank and Gaza on the

essential conditions that it agree to halt violence, respect all existing agreements between Israel and the

Palestinian Authority, and negotiate a two-state peace agreement with Israel;

Urge Israel to halt all settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem; and

Urge a resumption of negotiations for a two-state peace agreement, based on U.N. Security Council

Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, and drawing on elements from the Arab Peace Initiative (2002), the unofficial Israeli Peace Initiative (2011), and the Geneva Accord (2003) which might lead to an agreement acceptable to both sides. We believe that U.S. support for these steps is essential to preserving hope for negotiated Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace, and that achieving peace would have profoundly positive effects on other current conflicts and challenges in the Middle East. As national religious leaders, we pledge to urge members of our communities across the country to work actively in the coming months to preserve and further prepare the ground for Middle East peace, and to support positive efforts by political leaders in both parties to help move towards this goal.

Released March 1, 2012

E-Mail: usicpme@aol.com

Website: www.nili-mideastpeace.org

Environmental Working Group and NATO/G8

mostly written by Tanya Kerrsen of Food First.

CANG8 Environmental Working Group – Vision Statement & Call to Action (DRAFT)

Summary
We stand in solidarity with rural and urban communities of the global North and South who are exposed to the hazards of climate change; ecological degradation and contamination; and land and resource grabs. We believe in food, resource and climate justice rooted in sustainability and democracy. We call on activists, concerned citizens, farmers, indigenous peoples and environmentalists to join us in Chicago in non-violent protest of the closed-door NATO/G8 summits and to participate in an open, civil society discussion of the G8’s environmental impacts and community-based alternatives.

What is CANG8?
The Coalition Against NATO/G8 (CANG8) is a broad-based coalition of civil society groups—including environmental, interfaith, labor, LGBTQ groups and others—formed in opposition to the NATO/G8 “war and poverty agenda.” Leaders and finance ministers of the Group of Eight (G8) economic powers as well as representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance will be coming together for a private summit in Chicago on May 19–21, 2012. The policy priorities of these two bodies have enormous influence on communities throughout the world, yet their summits are closed to democratic participation. By sponsoring a parallel Peoples’ Summit, rally and march, CANG8 aims to raise the voices of civil society groups to articulate their own needs, experiences and priorities for global development and security.

What is the CANG8 Environmental Working Group?
The CANG8 Environmental Working Group (EWG) was formed to highlight the environmental impacts of G8 policies at the NATO/G8 protests in Chicago. The goal of the EWG is to amplify the voices of affected communities and social movements—locally, nationally and globally—fighting to protect their lands, natural resources and biodiversity from destructive and exploitative development policies. We also seek to help connect the dots between war and militarism; the extractive, expansionist development model; and the global environmental and climate crisis. What CANG8 calls the “war and poverty” agenda is also an agenda of environmental destruction and climate chaos.

As of 2010, the G8 countries represented 51 percent of global energy production, 55 percent of global energy consumption and 42 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Keystone XL pipeline is perhaps the highest profile recent example of the expansion of extractive industries, which is moving increasingly into high-risk environments like the Alberta Tar Sands, the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, shale oil and gas fields around the world, and deepwater reserves like the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea. Families and children affected by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas suffer grave illness from water contamination and the destruction of their rural economies based on tourism, agriculture and recreation. Meanwhile, degradation and climate change is devastating millions of livelihoods, particularly in the global South. Indigenous peoples and subsistence farmers face floods, droughts and other extreme weather events. As many as 200 million people will be displaced by worsening natural disasters and climate change. Without a radical change in our global energy use and economic system, such “climate chaos” is expected to worsen, with devastating consequences for the world’s most vulnerable people. The global climate crisis requires that we rethink “business as usual,” respect natural limits to economic growth, and rebuild sustainable local economies.

We denounce…

Resource wars waged over the control of land, water, minerals, oil, gas and other natural resources. [In Africa, for instance, over 35 million hectares (86m acres) of prime farmland and forests have been violently grabbed for export production or land speculation since 2008.] We strongly condemn the forced displacement and military and police repression of communities struggling to defend their lands and resources.

Free trade agreements that open the door to the unfettered corporate exploitation of natural resources; destroy locally-based economies and food systems; and promote a corporate “race to the bottom” towards countries (and “free trade zones”) with lower or non-existent environmental and labor regulations.

False solutions to climate change that allow the biggest polluters to pay their way out of genuinely reducing emissions and other environmental impacts. While we recognize the good faith efforts of some corporations to “green” their supply chains, we reject sustainability certifications based only on voluntary compliance, which are difficult to enforce and leave large gaps for abuse. [We reject agricultural biofuels as a false solution to climate change and energy security that is leading to deforestation, human rights abuses, increased GHG emissions and rising food prices, especially in the global South.]

We support…

Community-oriented sustainable development that promotes local, democratic control over resources; provides high quality, living wage jobs; supports workers and immigrant rights; reduces energy consumption; and contributes positively to community wellbeing. We support private businesses—[as well as cooperatives, public enterprises and other economic models]—that place people and ecosystems before profits.

A binding climate agreement in which G8 countries live up to their historical responsibility for global climate change and commit to legally binding obligations to dramatically cut GHG emissions, without conditions or mechanisms that allow big polluters to evade regulations. Climate commitments must also include support for poor countries and vulnerable communities to build sustainable, climate resilient economies.

Peoples’ right to food sovereignty, meaning the right of rural and urban communities to healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Food sovereignty means protecting food-producing resources from agrochemicals, GMOs and other industrial technologies that in the long term deplete soil, pollute water, reduce biodiversity, contaminate native seeds and worsen climate change.

Call to Action
We believe that the current environmental crisis requires a broad convergence of social movements to demand environmental regulations and meaningful climate commitments, especially from the world’s most powerful countries. We call on activists and communities, rural and urban, North and South, to join the EWG in protest of the May 2012 NATO/G8 summits in Chicago and participate in an inclusive, civil society discussion of the environmental impacts of G8 policies. Activities will include workshops, alliance-building sessions, non-violent protest and special events TBD.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Crucifixion--Resurrection of NATO-G8

Just supposing two stations of the cross, the crucifixion and the resurrection, this is what I came up with regarding NATO-G8.

Crucifixion… We see how the US foreign policy relies not on moral authority but on nuclear deterrence in order to bolster its position as the head of NATO. We are privileged bystanders of the violence imposed by NATO currently in Libya besides Afghanistan where the US soldiers burn a pile of the precious Koran.

Meanwhile the Group of Eight hinges on NATO security measures for discussions of oil prices. The G8 worries over oil futures given political instability in the Middle East, the unrest in Syria, and tensions over a supposed nuclear program in Iran, but cannot count the human cost. Obama will reassure other heads of state, financial ministers, and bank presidents that he will make no drastic changes. Even if he makes a reduction in troops of 28,000 they can count on the 100,000 troops that will still occupy Afghanistan. He will promise not take advantage of the expected mild recession of the Eurozone to devaluate the dollar as President Bush did in his 2004 campaign, and he will insist that the Federal Reserve will keep the federal funds rate close to zero. Thus the G8 will set its 2012-13 agenda for global capitalism.

Resurrection…Afghan Peace Volunteers emerge with the moral authority to mediate the conflict between NATO and Taliban forces. They refuse a compromise that would subject Afghans to the perpetual occupation of foreign troops. They insist on their right to sovereign control over natural resources and garner pledges from the international community for debt relief, reserve control of funds, and reclaim authority over nation-building programming. Their use of nonviolent means inspires the majority of the 28 member countries of NATO to assert inward pressure until an agreement is signed.

This signatory act hails an emergent grassroot community of nonviolent means to reclaim their sovereignty in defiance of the Alliance Treaty. They assert that a true community has a nonviolent economics that does not depend on means which can only lead to bloodshed. At a future assembly of the United Nations a new set of conditions is devised to control oversight of military alliances, forcing accountability of future disarmament pledges and giving harsh scrutiny of all military budgets. The US budget that historically allotted 60% to its military and 6% to education is reversed, and the US allows its nuclear weapons program to go defunct.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In View of History

Historical perception must never be arbitrary and ill-informed; instead it must be loving suggest the political philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Multitude (2004). What is lacking for social change, they argue, is a socio-political concept of love relevant to history: "People today seem unable to understand love as a political concept, but a concept of love is just what we need to grasp the constituent power of the multitude..." (351)It is a given that how we act in the present will depend on how we perceive history. A fire that lights other fires will look to Peter Maurin who has said that our view of history must come from biblical history and church history. We cannot render our sense of history unto Caesar, at least if we are true to the ashes on our forehead. Four segments of history follow, ultimately pointing back to the need for a political concept of love when regarding history. The first two glimpses compare individuals, the martyr and the accommodator, while the latter two focus on the catholic community by considering the cases of Nicaragua and Northern Ireland. The survey begs the question how we situate our view of history today considering the threat of police violence to bulwark the NATO-G8.

The Martyr

1) One of many second century martyrs facing an imperial proconsul arrested for the crime of Atheism, since Rome correctly viewed the Christian as a dissenter of the pantheon of Roman gods. “But Polycarp said: ‘The fire you threaten burns but an hour and is quenched after a little; for you do not know the fire of the coming judgment and everlasting punishment that is laid up for the impious. But why do you delay? Come, do what you will.’”

The Accommodator

2) The martyrdom of Polycarp is retold by Eusebius in his forth century History of the Church. Contrary to his own subjects of historical study, the accommodating bishop was instrumental in normalizing Christianity which thenceforth was defanged of its pacifism. “[T]he most important and reliable historian of the ancient church” according to Guy Schonfield, Eusebius was hardly a prophet for his contemporaries of the fourth century. Emperor Constantine once heralded him fit to be bishop of the whole world and in 325 at the Council of Nicea, over which the emperor himself presided, they sat side by side. It was to Eusebius that Constantine told the story of a heavenly vision prompting his conversion and it was from Eusebius that the earthly emperor received his baptism. History of the Church Introduction (13, 29)

The Case of Nicaragua: A Divided Church

3) The Sandanista revolution in Nicaragua surfaced a schism within Catholicism. Like Eusebius, bishops could apparently tolerate oppressive regimes which it viewed as more compatible to church interests. Meanwhile, a few priests held positions in the newly formed Sandanista government; this reflected the catholic culture of the revolutionaries. But it was anathema to the hierarchy which ordered the priests to desist from such political involvement. “Edgard Parrales, one of the targeted priests, recalled a conversation with the nuncio in 1981. The nuncio told Parrales that the Vatican was going to back the bishops ‘even if the bishops were wrong,’ according to Parrales. ‘Even if they go against the gospel and the truth?’ asked the priest. ‘In whatever circumstances,’ answered the nuncio.” From an interview with Joseph Mulligan, S.J. in July 1989 The Nicaraguan Church and the Revolution (171)

Northern Ireland: Religious War

4) As would be case in Nicaragua where the poor suffered oppression, the oppression of catholics in Northern Ireland was viewed as a political concern and wholly secular affair, not a religious matter. In 1972 over sixty catholics were killed by the Shankill butchers, a gang led by Lenny Murphy whose purpose was to terrify the catholic community in Belfast. Oliver Rafferty S.J. interprets the history as ‘a religious war’ explaining in Catholicism in Ulster: 1603-1983 : “To many ordinary catholics it seemed that the forces of the ‘protestant’ state and the British government were directed against them. Since internment was such a devastating weapon the opposition to it was equally vehement. After the initial violence, the protests continued and catholics took to the streets of Northern Ireland in unprecedented numbers calling for an end to this most draconian measure. The shooting dead of thirteen people at an anti-internment rally in Derry on 30 January 1972 (‘Bloody Sunday’) united the whole catholic population—bishops, clergy and laity—as never before since the start of the troubles. The sense of outrage over the deaths undoubtedly led to the fall of the Stormont parliament as the British government engaged in a damage limitation exercise to sustain its flagging international image.” (270)

In this brief survey we have seen two portraits of individuals, one a martyr for the faith and one an accommodator, and additionally looked at the case of both Nicaragua and Northern Ireland. Today each of us will wonder if we can defend our faith in the face of adversarial pressure. We will also have to find the skill to communicate that belief. I have referenced three church historians. The first was an accommodator. The second is a former prisoner of conscience for crossing the line at the School of the Americas. The third taught me a course of church history at Loyola University. Joe Mulligan reminds me of Polycarp for his witness of direct action and to me his example seems most authentic to the values he communicated as historian, principle among them saying yes to the poor in love, means a defiant no to their oppressors. Such integrity offers a point of aspiration for us. For example, we have begun to call this May a kairos moment for good reason; we observe God acting in history calling us out into the world for direct action and we believe that we exist to love and in loving we make our faith known. Hardt and Negri affirm the proportions of martyrdom that this love can take in necessity: "We need to recover today this material and political sense of love, a love as strong as death. This does not mean you cannot love your spouse, your mother, and your child. It only means that your love does not end there, that love serves as the basis for our political projects in common and the construction of a new society." (352) Finally, the answer to our quest for a historical perspective can be stated unequivocally as an act of liberation.

Ash Wednesday

Though not always, today I am happily religious. It is Ash Wednesday and I have carried about the ashes on my forehead all day. I saw others marked similarly on the L train and in the Washington library. The public act means that catholics have left behind the ordinary times and entered the Lenten season, a perverse and ghoulish time for some when self-denying stoicism rears its ugly head. It is not my intention here to pretend the opposite.

Instead I am stuck on the publicity of the act. The full significance of a cross of ashes on my forehead is still out of my reach. If anything, such a display would contradict church readings that appear to discourage ostentatious signs of piety. “Rend your hearts, not your garments,” declares the prophet Joel (2:12) possibly correcting disingenuous mourners. And Jesus teaches us, “do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.” Mt (6:5-6) The Jewish Jesus and Joel both appear to want to hush up the more rowdy publicans with warnings not to be carried away with exterior performances of piety at the expense of neglecting interior conversion.

Oddly, wearing this article of my faith has a self-reflexive effect, causing me to ask if I am worthy of the mark and if I living up to the message that the mark bears. But as I experienced on the L train and in the public library the mark of ashes made familiar the one who wore them. A stranger became familiar! And my sense of connection with them through a shared faith brings me to the point. Faith is an integrative act. Even if it is expressed privately then it is not alone. The psalmist does not sing to himself “A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.” Ps 51 Similarly, the prophet Joel urged interior conversion “rend your heart…and return to the LORD, your God.” Moreover, this unity finds expression in the customs of common worship. And all of you apart of Kairos reflect the knowledge of this when we come together. Sometimes we take our public stances of mourning, taking a symbol other than ashes, the black hood and orange jumpsuit. We foreshadow too, on Ash Wednesday, the mystery of Good Friday…when our walk for justice will make known the crucified people of today.

I close wondering how all of you bear this cross of ashes. If you are proud, if you are grateful, it would do me good to hear. Strengthen my unbelief. I would like to be as bold as Old Polycarp not to deny my faith but it seems that daily I do so, and without even the threat of death by wild animals or by burning. I am tempted to cover the cross of ashes with my hat. And if I can barely resist this I wonder what good I’ll be proclaiming my faith in the face of denizens of police protecting NATO-G8. Yes, I would compare the persecution of the early Christians to the persecution faced by protesters this May. A dogmatic Christian proponent of NATO-G8 is not a real Christian. Only the hypocrite could make war and call it peace, support “protection” on the premise of nuclear deterrence and suppose a free-market first depends on bringing stability.

Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

“…those condemned to the wild beasts endured fearful punishments, being made to lie on sharp shells and punished with other forms of various torments, in order that [the devil] might bring them, if possible, by means of the prolonged punishment, to a denial of their faith.”

From “The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, as Told in the Letter of the Church of Smyrna to the Church of Philomelium” in Early Christina Fathers ed. Cyril C. Richardson. 150-51.

It continues: “The most admirable Polycarp, when he first heard of it, was not perturbed, but desired to remain in the city. But the majority induced him to withdraw, so he retired to a farm not far from the city and there stayed with a few friends, doing nothing else night and day but pray for all men and for the churches throughout the world, as was his constant habit. And while he was praying, it so happened, three days before his arrest, that he had a vision and saw his pillow blazing with fire, and turning to those who were with him he said, “I must be burned alive.”

“And while those who were searching for him continued their quest, he moved to another farm, and forthwith those searching for him arrived. And when they did not find him, they seized two young slaves, one of whom confessed under torture. For it was really impossible to conceal him, since the very ones who betrayed him were of his own household. And the chief of the police, who chanced to have the same name as Herod, was zealous to bring him into the arena….”

The narrative tells of the final exchange in the arena where the proconsul urges Polycarp to recant his faith: “…the proconsul was insistent and said: ‘Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.’

Polycarp said: ‘Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’

And upon his persisting still and saying, ‘Swear by the fortune of Caesar,’ he answered, ‘If you vainly suppose that I shall swear by the fortune of Caesar, as you say, and pretend that you do not know who I am, listen plainly: I am a Christian. But if you desire to learn the teaching of Christianity, appoint a day and give me a hearing.’

…the proconsul said: ‘I have wild beasts. I shall throw you to them, if you do not change your mind.

But he said: ‘Call them. For repentance from the better to the worse is not permitted us; but it is noble to change from what is evil to what is righteous.’

And again [the proconsul said] to him, ‘I shall have you consumed with fire, if you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.’

But Polycarp said: ‘The fire you threaten burns but an hour and is quenched after a little; for you do not know the fire of the coming judgment and everlasting punishment that is laid up for the impious. But why do you delay? Come, do what you will.’”

Lenten Love

People today seem unable to understand love as a political concept, but a concept of love is just what we need to grasp the constituent power of the multitude. The modern concept of love is almost exclusively limited to the bourgeois couple and the claustrophobic confines of the nuclear family. Love has become a strictly private affair. We need a more generous and more unrestrained conception of love. We need to recuperate the public and political conception of love common to premodern traditions. Christianity and Judaism, for example, both conceive love as a political act that constructs the multitude. Love means precisely that our expansive encounters and continuous collaborations bring us joy. There is really nothing necessarily metaphysical about the Christian and Judaic love of God: both God’s love of humanity and humanity’s love of God are expressed and incarnated in the common material political project of the multitude. We need to recover today this material and political sense of love, a love as strong as death. This does not mean you cannot love your spouse, your mother, and your child. It only means that your love does not end there, that love serves as the basis for our political projects in common and the construction of a new society. Without this love, we are nothing. ~Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire The Penguin Press: New York (2004) 351-52.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Essay On Belonging

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord raises a question of belonging. For when Jesus was brought to the temple in accord with the law and custom of his times, he became united culturally with the Jewish people. “Since the children share in blood and flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,” Heb 2:14

Kairos is a community of people who like those who awaited the Messiah, long for Shalom. As the song says, we are a people who look east. We will never surrender to the answer of war, but have said reluctantly the metaphor that we will be one with God’s soldiers. We want peace so like Simeon and Anna we speak the words we have in public spaces. We take ourselves into places of wide belonging, crossroads, entrances, spaces of celebration, prayer, worship, honest labor. And in step with a people with whom we share these times we display the consolation of our faith. And how do we do so, if without a sense of the truth? Perceived in faith, we recognize that privileged place is ours in which to stand and make known the bounty of God’s love.

Sentiments of recognition and consolation were spoken by the prophetess Anna: “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Lk 2:38). The vision of Jerusalem that Anna beheld was one held in Kairos. It existed for her to belong there. And the redemption of Jerusalem meant the reification of all things to their intended purpose in Providence. But I suppose the prophetess thinks as I do. She spoke the words of a nationalistic cause, after all, exploiting an ambiguity now divisible into paradigms of church and state. Today America the Beautiful might be sung.

We glance at the question of faithful citizenship. In Latin we can see the significance of faith and belonging fused together in the Latin word fide. It means faithful and is used by U.S. marines in their slogan Semper Fi, forever faithful. In contrast, the film High Fidelity staring John Cusack humored commitment. Professionalism is mocked by some anarchists, and it is this attitude that was formulated by the philosopher Marcuse in The One Dimensional Man which expresses aversion of the technocratic class. Closer to home, when I would profess to dismantle the myopic self-interest of nationalism, still I cry wolf. Why have I made appeal to the Constitution of the United States in my activism? The problem of radical commitment was first posed to me in a class with Sr. Peggy, a liberation theologian of El Salvador, who once spoke of ecofeminism and began from the beginning to raise our consciousness with the question: to whom do you belong? The ploy was disorienting but ancient: the philosopher Diogenes of Athens said, “I am a citizen of the world.” And to this day, if I am less impartial then Diogenes, at least by faith the borders of my political identity expand far beyond the narrow confines of the U.S. The community I belong to is Christian. And we are many. We live through out the world yet I belong to more than these.

My bond with the living includes my neighbor—of whatever faith. The commandment to love one’s neighbor means that a Christian must love every human being. In the ‘New World’ where inhabitants were said by society to be barbarians, the Good Samaritan argument had been applied by Francisco de Vitoria, Bartolom√© de las Casas, Luis de Molina and Domingo De Soto. It would offend this teaching of Christ to have nothing to do with non-Christians. A protestant reformer, Hugo Grotius, inherited the wisdom of Catholic critics of the Spanish conquest saying: ‘the protection of infidels from injury (even from injury by Christians) is never unjust.” Today humanitarian intervention in Kosovo, as it would have been in the Darfur, finds a source of moral authority in Maimonides in Mishneh Torah XI, a glossing of Leviticus 19:16 “It one person is able to save another and does not save him, he transgresses the commandment, Neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.”

It is common for scholarship to speak of belonging in terms of rights. The theory of rights one applies will mean belonging to a particular group, for instance by rights of citizenship, or more broadly based on the idea of a totality, rights will refer back to ones own humanity. So argues Mervyn Frost, a professor of international relations at King’s College London: “Having these rights does not depend on the largesse of the state within which one finds oneself.” The significance is telling: it means that belonging to a group is not necessary for the defense of human rights. Hillel Steiner is a theorist who argues in An Essay on Rights (1994) that human beings possess human rights and that they support claims against others beyond the boundaries of the state:

“Should a historical theory of distributive justice recognize state (or any other political) boundaries as having basic significance? It seems not. If the initial rights belong to all human beings and apply to all natural resources, it is hard to see why political boundaries should affect the validity or strength of a person’s claims.”

According to Steiner, the defense of human rights does not require belonging to a nation-state. In theory, belonging to a state is superfluous to the actual possession of rights and therefore unnecessary for one to make appeal to a state’s own contract to uphold said rights.

In this brief sketch of belonging, the notion of place has so far been central. Even more crucial a dimension than space is time. As the great Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “Technical civilization is man’s [sic] conquest of space…. But time is the heart of existence.” And Martin Luther King referred American’s to the place they had known in a common past, the “Land where my father’s died, land of the pilgrim’s pride.” Thus I belong not only to the land of the living but of the dead and gone. Perhaps in part this is the significance of the Catholic credo; it states a shared belief held among Catholics in all provinces, territories, nations and states. “I believe in one God, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is visible and invisible.” The faithful perspective of time does not stop short of a static present. With the metaphor of a wave rising and just as surely will crash on the shore, so a duty on present peoples is imposed by peoples of the past writes Pope Paul VI in his papal encyclical Popularum Progressio, On the Development of Peoples:

“Civilizations are born, develop and die. But humanity is advancing along the path of history like the waves of a rising tide encroaching gradually on the shore. We have inherited from past generations, and we have benefited from the work of our contemporaries: for this reason we have obligations toward all, and we cannot refuse to interest ourselves in those who will come after us to enlarge the human family. The reality of human solidarity, which is a benefit for us, also imposes a duty.” §17.

Thus, in Catholic Social Teaching one way a sense of immediacy is found is through the sense of community with those who have born out advances for human good. My faith is dynamic not only in belonging to a people of this present moment, but in belonging to “the reality of human solidarity.”

Because the complexity of one’s character as a being in time is frowned upon by many today, a faithful individual will likely confront a contradictory message. One frequently espoused is that of a realist who supposes we are all aspirants of wealth. It was this assumption that as “profit-maximizing individualism” that was condemned by Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous sermon February 4, 1968 titled The Drum Major Instinct. His virulent critique suggested that to distinguish oneself in such a consumerist way was the opposite path taken by those who forge their human personality; it meant belonging to a herd. We do not belong to a people by way of assumption; we are not consumption animals. The antidote proposed by King to remedy the drum major instinct meant that in the facts of faith, Christ alone could forge one’s dignity as a person. Similarly, our readings for the Presentation of the Lord recall the Malachi prophesy of the coming Messiah:

Yes, he is coming…
But who will endure the day of his coming?

He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver

Thus a person of faith holds a vision not only of a past but of a present transformed one day to come. It is this future of possible worlds that Pope Paul VI said has gathered us in “history like the waves of a rising tide.” It is his allusion of a powerful surge among people for the common good.

Berenice A. Carroll has added to peace research a complement to the realist literature of international relations (IR). Her study of kinds of power left out by mainstream IR includes most obvious “innovative power” or the power to adopt new foundations for social arrangements. This is the faculty of imagining crucial to gaining the shores of collective human dignity. Three further powers cited by IR structuralists Roger Tooze and Craig Murphy suggest the ways in which every individual belongs to that commonly valued history:

1) Disintegrative power…the power that large masses of people always have, by undirected but convergent individual action, to break down social organizations, economic institutions, and political structures.

2) Inertial power…the power of resistance that takes no organized or politically conscious form, but which confronts topdogs in all their efforts to organize societies according to their will and design…

3) Explosive power: the power of the ‘powerless’ to express their discontent or even rage by behavior and demands which exceed…the moral norms which ordinary bind most members of society.

Tooze and Murphy argue that it is precisely the invisibility of such powers that is constructed by prevailing powerholders. Much noise is made so as to tune-out modes of collective power that would displace them. Much like King’s critique of the Drum Major, Tooze and Murphy argue that we have further ways of knowing, realizing, constructing the future we want. Their project primarily is one of epistemology citing Steve Smith “Epistemology matters because it determines of what we can have knowledge.” Included in their analysis of international relations is also the knowledge of subjects commonly ignored, i.e. the oppressed. Thus, the question becomes, am I knowledgeable of ‘the poor’ and do I realize that in my belonging “to the least of these” I am powerful?

To sum up, belonging involves both place and time dimensions. Belonging may ultimately be about ending up somewhere. This end, we could call our purpose. Life without purpose is described in Margaret Atwood’s disutopia The Handmaid’s tale when the apparent achievement of a women’s culture comes with the peril of ignorance for what life once was. The narrator remembers that ‘the Commander’ had said that women can’t count: “What the Commander said is true. One and one and one and one doesn’t equal four. Each one remains unique, there is no way of joining them together. They cannot be exchanged, one for another. They cannot replace each other. Nick for Luke or Luke for Nick. Should does not apply.” Her past and current loves stand apart from her and out of reach; she cannot have them, she can not call them “hers.” Without a sense of belonging she feels utterly isolate. And in the patriotic religiosity of her society, it was called a sacrifice. “That’s one of the things they do. They force you to kill, within yourself.”

One failing of this essay is the unremarked upon necessity to forgive ourselves for what we have done and also failed to do. To speak as a Catholic, for instance, is also to have responsibility for the slaughters of innocent during the crusades. To speak as an American citizen is also to be guilty for the trail of tears, and of the many My Lai’s and Fallouja’s. As a friend who advocated for women priests once pointed out, I have no excuse. It was something of an apology that Rawls made in his essay Two Concepts of Rules. It “necessarily involves the abdication of full liberty to act on utilitarian or prudential grounds.” Does this mean that every act of religious conviction is hopelessly tainted? Indeed, the participation in any practice may be flawed. The sociologist and political scientist Max Weber wrote that ‘all knowledge of cultural reality…is always knowledge from particular points of view.” More simply, Fr. Daniel Berrigan has said that faith is where your ass is at. Confession: I chose not to attend Mass today at the Chapel of La Strada but have instead written—from the viewpoint along Devon where the White Rose currently resides (although members were today considering the move to a new home). But tonight I will say Deo Gratias in the vernacular of Kairos.

It is our common purpose to recognize hope and then spread it, to be a fire that lights other fires. We will agree that we need to ask about where we have been, as well as to ask about where we are going, (including among the ‘we’ all who are most needy).So once more I suggest that we remember from the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus blessed the poor, the meek, the merciful and from among other frail humans he also vaulted the peacemakers “for they shall be children of God”. In marking the presentation of the Lord, the Church emphasizes a common innocence: “Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them,” (Heb 2:14) What is indicative of the Church’s identification of Jesus, the child, is that in his exposed human innocence the Lord was made to belong. Our celebration of the Presentation of the Lord can mean nothing short of this vindication of the human person in relation to the public. On the one hand this public persona can be said to be “profit-maximizing” in the sense of a renewal of human worth. On the other this public identity means for us a duty to likewise incarnate ourselves more fully in relationship with ‘the poor’. More expansive, George Washington Carver, African-American scientist (1864-1943) said, “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong.” Dorothy Day called such belonging “the duty of delight.” Finally, in the lesson of the Christ figured as a child the Church shows us how God’s reality—true belonging—is both burden and gift.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gandhi, Jesus, and Fr. Martin Newell

John Dear tells us in Transfiguration: A Meditation on Transforming Ourselves and our World … that Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every day. I don’t. I rarely do. Hearing that Gandhi read the Sermon daily influences me to believe it had influence on Gandhi’s activity in the world. I wonder if he interiorized the Sermon in such a way that without consciously referring to it at all times, Gandhi’s activity became a referent back to the Sermon. Dear writes: “Gandhi knew it better than anyone.” Then, for his times, the activity of Gandhi must have been the best reference to the Sermon available.

We admit some limitations of looking at Gandhi’s activity as a reference for understanding the Sermon on the Mount. How could a Hindu, a man, someone long deceased, still speak to us today? The blessings of time raise doubt whether some of the Sermon’s meaning might be lost in translation. Little has been gained in the province of interrelgious dialogue; even now Christians doubt the authority of Hindus to interpret biblical meaning. Much has advanced in understanding of sex and gender roles; his particular viewpoint of a Gospel will be bound to reflect less of the understanding. Thus, will his activity be limited to a place and context inhibited by ignorance of advances? Long since dead, what can Gandhi know of the present day? Practically the whole of international relations has sprung up since Gandhi’s death. Astronauts walk on the moon; we survive cancer, heart transplants, AIDS. Gandhi knew a world before the Korean, the Vietnam, the Rwanda, the Congo; he knew of war in a pre-nuclear world but had no notion of fundamental difference between the cold war and the War on Terror. Arguably, his meaning of the Sermon on the Mount is a relic of the past. But following this logic leads to the implication that would rule out the wisdom of history and confine the message of Jesus himself to the dustbin of time.

Critics will try to marginalize the import of Gandhian activity for our times. Will we declare the Gandhian way relevant, even at the expense of popularity? Below we read of someone who brings to life the Sermon on the Mount the Gandhian way.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

Jesus said to them,
"A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house."
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith. Mk 6:5-6

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

Ripped from LCW :

Father Martin Newell of the London Catholic Worker community was sentenced to 24 days imprisonment Friday Dec 9th 2011 at Highbury Magistrates Court. Martin was brought before the court for refusing to pay a fine arising from cutting into the Northwood Headquarters, London in December 2008. The anti-war direct action was timed for the "Feast of the Holy Innocents" on the Catholic liturgical calendar. The feast day follows Christmas and commemorates the massacre of children in a search and destroy mission by King Herod who saw the birth of Christ as a threat to his power.

From the dock Fr. Newell stated

I work with refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan at the Catholic Worker. I am opposed to the wars we have been waging on these countries. I have nonviolently resisted these wars since they began. I'm refusing to pay this fine as a form of further non-cooperation with these wars.

Northwood Headquarters is the command centre for British forces deployed overseas. The base has been the location of a number of nonviolent direct actions by the pacifist Catholic Worker community over the past decade of war on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Martin is in HMP Pentonville. Solidarity messages can be sent to

Martin Newell, c/- Giuseppe Conlon House, 49 Mattison Rd, Harringay, London, N4 1BG.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dorothy's Underground Love


Because God is good. Yes. I’ve decided that life is simple after all. And what else can explain the deeply satisfying sense of love. No. Not so Howard, Dostoevski’s underground man who writes in his Letters from the Underworld (1913),

"As a matter of fact, if ever there shall be discovered a formula which shall exactly express our wills and whims; if ever there shall be discovered a formula which shall make it absolutely clear what those wills depend upon, and what laws they are governed by, and what means of diffusion they possess, and what tendencies they follow under given circumstances; if ever there shall be discovered a formula which shall be mathematical in its precision, well, gentlemen, whenever such a formula shall be found, man will have ceased to have a will of his own—he will have ceased even to exist. Who would care to exercise his willpower according to a table of logarithms? In such a case man would become, not a human being at all, but an organ-handle, or something of the kind." (p. 32)

Boiled down, the thickness of life is love. Formulaic yet so beautiful and hard. To receive. God spoke just now to me, here, with a curious song title: “For a Pessimist, I’m pretty optimist”. All I had wanted was some way to let out of my body what had to get out, this over abundance of the word love. Yes, I’ve experimented reading through a volume of Dorothy Day’s collected writings, marking the margin at every line she uses the word love [1]. What a task! The word is ubiquitous. She’ll say it plainly, piously, and profoundly. Her work is a profuse exclamation of love! “How I loved that statue!” she says about the Blessed Mother likeness. Of Peter Maurin: “He loved people, he saw in them what God meant them to be. He saw the world as God meant it to be, and he loved it.” “We love what is presented to us to love, and God is not much presented” and for days like today: “…a heavy fog. The trees on the Drive were beautiful standing out so alone, the only things of beauty in a gray, dark world. I love such days; so much is hidden, and only single things like a tree or bush stand out.” Meanwhile, as I write my spirit soars and as the lyrics underscore it, the power chords of Paramour “just feel so good”.

You might try such an experiment if you were a Behaviorist. I read of B.F. Skinner who led a school of thought explaining all behavior to be hedonistic. Avoid the pain you’ve had this past weeks from digesting the evil of Guantanamo. Seek pleasure stimuli, sweet, spice, salient foods that you’ve fasted from. Turn to the pages of Moral Disorder and other stories by Margaret Atwood or try Shelley’s Frankenstein. The stimulus-response relationship of the words on a page to the faculties of soul may not be so miraculous as I seem to think after reading Dorothy. I could be wrong about the turns of conditioning that seem to clean me out like flaxseed oil. Her effusions of love may be nothing more than a fiction. Before we can dismiss her though, she prophesies: “Love is a science, a knowledge, and we lack it”. And Dorothy can empathize with the strain of bearing the load of love:

“And now I pick up Thomas Merton’s last book, Contemplative Prayer…He quotes William Blake: ‘We are put on earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love.’ And he goes on to say that to escape these beams, to protect ourselves from these beams, even devout men hasten to devise protective clothing. We do not want to be irradiated by love.”

Proponents of Just World Theory hold that defense mechanisms protect one’s psyche. When an incident disturbs our sense of an ordered world the psychologist Melvin Learner proposes that we simply do not want to realize the implications—that perhaps the world is unjust, random, even malevolent. A belief must be protected: “All it requires is an intelligent selection of the information to which one is exposed,” he wrote. “And it has the added advantage of requiring no direct distortion of reality.”[2] I knew that something must be suspect about my desire to chase after the word love, something indirectly distorted. I feel bashful saying this, declaring my love for the word love. It’s embarrassing to admit.

Dorothy admits to her knowledge of God this way: “He is indeed a jealous lover. He wants all.” Of human love she accounts in The Long Way Home: “…With the chill November, he held me close to him in silence. I loved him in every way, as a wife, as a mother even. I loved him for all he knew and pitied him for all he didn’t know. I loved him for the odds and ends I had to fish out of his sweater pockets and for the sand and shells he brought in with his fishing. I loved his lean cold body as he got into bed smelling of the sea, and I loved his integrity and stubborn pride.” And from Union Square to Rome she swells with child: “No matter how much one is loved or one loves, that love is lonely without a child. It is incomplete. And now I know that I am going to have a baby.” Her meditations move forth into the abstract but possibly missing Forster On Pilgrimage (1948) “The soul complains that it wishes a particular love, a love for itself alone. And God replies fondly that, after all, since no two people are alike in this world, He has indeed a particular fondness of reach one of us, an exclusive love to satisfy each one alone.” Perhaps she was missing Forster and realizing that with him she could never have so touched the world except to have begun the Catholic Worker. A God who invites so much taking of responsibility is almost veiling a threat. She continues, “It is hard to believe in this love, it is so tremendous. If we do once catch a glimpse of it we are afraid.”

It is not for everyone to love God as Dorothy did. The man who wrote from the underground lived in a time of terror and he could not realize himself in an openly loving community. He might have never known that it were possible in some place to practice dissent openly as Dorothy could. And so he concluded that the formula of life must be at cross purposes with love and goodness. In a suppressed world Howard could not imagine a public faith that hated the sin but loved the sinner. He could not fathom himself as an instrument of God: "Who would care to exercise his willpower according to a table of logarithms? In such a case man would become, not a human being at all, but an organ-handle, or something of the kind." (p. 32) Unfortunately, something in Howard's life experience had poisoned the well of his faith.


[1] Day, Dorothy. "Selected Writings" Ed. Robert Ellsberg. Orbis Books: New York, 2003.

[2] Tirman, John. “The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars” Oxford University Press: New York, 2011. 355.

The Handmaid's Tale

[Mk 4:21-25]

If Mark has a way of concealing the messianic identity of Jesus, his parable of the lamp is ironic. He characterizes the disciples at turns clueless, and others dupes to the powerful presence of Jesus the Christ in their midst. Now beginning one of the most sought after of Margaret Atwood's novels, The Handmaid's Tale, I was helpfully advised "You might have to read it twice." For a book that opens without a trace of time or place, the charm of Atwood's storytelling is her ability to make the reader come at odds with the story, gripping it to discern the context and identity of the narrator. So far I have found a few clues:

“Think of it as being in the army, said Aunt Lydia.” (17)

“Rita sees me…. But the frown isn’t personal: it’s the red dress she disapproves of, and what it stands for.” (19)

The Commander’s Wife smokes. “I looked at the cigarette with longing. For me, like liquor and coffee, cigarettes are forbidden.” (24)

“’She inhaled, blew out the smoke. I’ve read your file. As far as I’m concerned, this is like a business transaction. But if I get trouble, I’ll give trouble back. You understand?” (25)

“They can hit us, there’s Scriptural precedent.”(26)

The Guardians think “…of being allotted a Handmaid of their own” (32)

“There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes; only me” (32)

That the evidence suggests a world where a woman is made to do a man's bidding is not all that unfamiliar. And unfortunately, neither is it so strange to find the feature of a Madame whose business lucre is her contract of other women. Just the same, it is no stretch of the imagination to source Scripture for the legitimacy of physical abuse.

But what is less depressing than the familiarity of the context is the consciousness of the narrator. She has the self-awareness to name that there are "no more substitutes; only me". At first she gives less value judgment than stark observations. But by the close of chapter five her understanding of power is evident as she perceives the thoughts of Guards--men who are too young to touch women dream "of being allotted a Handmaid of their own."

The question almost becomes a matter of unhinging the powerstructure. Whether she knows the thoughts of the guardians indicates that she may have authority. She may not be in authority, but she may be an authority. Margaret Atwood would suggest that the reader not only accept the credibility of her narrator but also become aware of why we believe her. We might choose to believe the narrator only for the pursuit of pleasure. We could read the novel to escape from our reality. If so, we voyeurists would be no different than the Commander taking advantage of the handmaid. On the other hand, the narrator could be worth believing because we want to recognize the woman for who she really is. The opaque beginnings of Atwood's tale provide the reader with the choice early on whether to commit further, knowingly, seeking clarification. The focus of the character's identity will eventually become clear should we have faith. If we believe that the woman is more than the object of appeasement, we will find a portrait of truth worth gazing upon.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or a under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”

He also said to them, “Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Clearness Committee

The following article seems fitting with the feast of St. Paul's conversion.

A Communal Approach To Discernment

By Parker J. Palmer

Many of us face a dilemma when trying to deal with a personal problem, question, or decision. One the one hand, we know that the issue is ours alone to resolve and that we have the inner resources to resolve it, but access to our own resources is often blocked by layers of inner “stuff”—confusion, habitual thinking, fear, despair. On the other hand, we know that friends might help us uncover our inner resources and find our way, but by exposing our problem to others, we run the risk of being invaded and overwhelmed by their assumptions, judgments, and advice—a common and alienating experience. As a result, we often privatize these vital questions in our lives: at the very moment when we need all the help we can get, we find ourselves cut off from both our inner resources and the support of a community.

For people who have experienced this dilemma, I want to describe a method invented by the Quakers, a method that protects individual identity and integrity while drawing on the wisdom of other people. It is called a “Clearness Committee.” If that name sounds like it is from the sixties, it is—the 1660’s! From their beginnings over three hundred years ago, Quakers needed a way to draw on both inner and communal resources to deal with personal problems because they had no clerical leaders to “solve” their problems for them. The Clearness Committee is testimony to the fact that there are no external authorities on life’s deepest issues, not clergy or therapists or scholars; there is only the authority that lies within each of us waiting to be heard.

Behind the Clearness Committee is a simple but crucial conviction: each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. But that inner voice is often garbled by various kinds of inward and outward interference. The function of the Clearness Committee is not to give advice or “fix” people from the outside in but rather to help people remove the interference so that they can discover their own wisdom from the inside out. If we do not believe in the reality of inner wisdom, the Clearness Committee can become an opportunity for manipulation. But if we respect the power of the inner teacher, the Clearness Committee can be a remarkable way to help someone name and claim his or her deepest truth.

The Clearness Committee’s work is guided by some simple but crucial rules and understandings. Among them, of course, is the rule that the process is confidential. When it is over, committee members will not speak with others about what was said and, equally important, will not speak with the focus person about the problem unless he or she requests a conversation.

  1. Normally, the person who seeks clearness (the “focus person”) chooses his or her committee, with five or six trusted people who embrace as much diversity among them as possible in age, background, gender, and so on.
  2. The focus person writes up his or her issue in three to five pages and sends this document to members of the committee in advance of the meeting. There are three sections to this write-up: a concise statement of the problem, a recounting of relevant background factors that may bear on the problem, and an exploration of any hunches the focus person may have about what’s on the horizon regarding the problem. Most people find that by writing a statement of this sort, they are taking their first step toward inner clarity.
  3. The committee meets for three hours—with the understanding that there may be a need for a second and even third meeting at a later date. A clerk (facilitator) and a recording clerk (secretary) should be named, though taping the meeting is a good alternative to the latter. The clerk opens the meeting with a reminder of the rules, closes the meeting on time, and serves as a monitor all along the way, making sure that the rules are followed with care. The recording clerk gives his or her notes to the focus person when the meeting is over.
  4. The meeting begins with the clerk calling for a time of centering silence and inviting the focus person to break the silence, when ready, with a brief summary of the issue at hand. Then the committee members may speak—but everything they say is governed by one rule, a simple rule and yet one that most people find difficult and demanding: members are forbidden to speak to the focus person in any way except to ask honest, open questions. This means absolutely no advice and no amateur psychoanalysis. It means no “Why don’t you…?” It means no “That happened to me one time, and here’s what I did…” It means no “There’s a book/therapist/exercise/diet that would help you a lot.” Nothing is allowed except real questions, honest and open questions, questions that will help the focus person remove the blocks to his or her inner truth without becoming burdened by the personal agendas of committee members. I may think I know the answer to your problem, and on rare occasions I may be right. But my answer is absolutely no value to you. The only answer that counts is one that arises from your own inner truth. The discipline of the Clearness Committee is to give you greater access to that truth—and to keep the rest of us from defiling or trying to define it.
  5. What is an honest, open question? It is important to reflect on this, since we are so skilled at asking questions that are advice or analysis in disguise: “Have you ever thought that it might be your mother’s fault?” The best single mark of an honest, open question is that the questioner could not possibly anticipate the answer to it. “Did you ever feel like this before?” There are other guidelines for good questioning. Ask questions aimed at helping the focus person rather than at satisfying your curiosity. Ask questions that are brief and to the point rather than larding them with background considerations and rationale—which make the question into a speech. Ask questions that go to the person as well as the problem—for example, questions about feelings as well as about facts. Trust your intuition in asking questions, even if your instinct seems off the wall: “What color is your present job, and what color is the one you have been offered?”
  6. Normally, the focus person responds to the questions as they are asked, in the presence of the group, and those responses generate more, and deeper, questions. Though the responses should be full, they should not be terribly long—resist the temptation to tell your life story in response to every question! It is important that there be time for more and more questions and responses, thus deepening the process for everyone. The more often a focus person is willing to answer aloud, the more material the person—and the committee—will have to work with. But this should never happen at the expense of the focus person’s need to protect vulnerable feelings or to maintain privacy. It is vital that the focus person assume total power to set the limits of the process. So everyone must understand that the focus person at all times has the right not to answer a question. The unanswered question is not necessarily lost—indeed, it may be the question that is so important that it keeps working on the focus person long after the Clearness Committee has ended.
  7. The Clearness Committee must not become a grilling or cross-examination. The pace of the questioning is crucial—it should be relaxed, gentle, humane. A machine-gun volley of questions makes reflection impossible and leaves the focus person feeling attacked rather than evoked. Do not be afraid of silence in the group—trust it and treasure it. If silence falls, it does not mean that nothing is happening or that the process has broken down. It may well mean that the most important thing of all is happening: new insights are emerging from within people, from their deepest sources of guidance.
  8. From beginning to end of the Clearness Committee, it is important that everyone work hard to remain totally attentive to the focus person and his or her needs. This means suspending the normal rules of social gathering—no chitchat, no responding to other people’s questions or to the focus person’s answers, no joking to break the tension, no noisy and nervous laughter. We are simply to surround the focus person with quiet, loving space, resisting even the temptation to comfort or reassure or encourage this person, but simply being present with our attention and our questions and our care. If a committee member damages this ambiance with advice, leading questions, or rapid-fire inquisition, other members, including the focus person, should remind the offender of the rules—and the offender is not at liberty to mount a defense or argue the point. The Clearness Committee is for the sake of the focus person, and the rest of us need to tell our egos to recede.
  9. The Clearness Committee should run for the full time allotted. Don’t end early for fear that the group has “run out of questions”—patient waiting will be rewarded with deeper questions than have yet been asked. About twenty minutes before the end of the meeting, the clerk should ask the focus person if he or she wants to suspend the “questions only” rule and invite committee members to mirror back what they have heard the focus person saying. If the focus person says no, the questions continue, but if he or she says yes, mirroring can begin, along with more questions. Mirroring does not provide an excuse to give advice or fix the person—that sort of invasiveness is still prohibited. Mirroring simply means reflecting the focus person’s language—and body language—to see if he or she should have a chance to say, “Yes, that’s me” or “No, that’s not.” In the final five minutes of the meeting, the clerk should invite members to celebrate and affirm the focus person and his or her strengths. This is an important time, since the focus person has just spent a couple of hours being very vulnerable. And there is always much to celebrate, for in the course of a Clearness Committee, people reveal the gifts and graces that characterize human beings at their deepest and best.
  10. Remember, the Clearness Committee is not intended to fix the focus person, so there should be no sense of letdown if the person does not have his or her problems “solved” when the process ends. A good clearness process does not end—it keeps working within the focus person long after the meeting is over. The rest of us need simply to keep holding that person in the light, trusting the wisdom of his or her inner teacher.

The Clearness Committee is not a cure-all. It is not for extremely fragile people or for extremely delicate problems. But for the right person, with the right issue, it is a powerful way to rally the strength of community around a struggling soul, to draw deeply from the wisdom within all of us. It teaches us to abandon the pretense that we know what is best for another person and instead to ask those honest and open questions that can help that person find his or her own answers. It teaches us to give up the arrogant assumption that we are obliged to “save” each other and learn, through simple listening, to create the conditions that allow a person to find his or her wholeness within. If the spiritual discipline behind the Clearness Committee is understood and practiced, the process can become a way to renew community in our individualist times, a way to free people from their isolation without threatening their integrity, a way to counteract the excesses of technique in caring, a way to create space for the spirit to move among us with healing and with power.

On a personal note: I was lucky to experience the method outlined here while in a major life transition. In particular I remember several comments made from what Palmer describes as the "mirroring" that takes place near the end. As a result of experiencing its formative impact, I can't help but imagine the community around Saul. I now find it curious how little is suggested of Saul's communal discernment to transition into the life led by disciples of Jesus. Were there not at least some who gathered with him some evening before a journey? Could it be to the credit of this invisible committee Saul would later adopt a new identity? I suppose that a reasonable man like Saul would consult with others likewise open minded and intellectually curious. Perhaps it was from this very community around him that nurtured Saul so that he needed less from the few Apostles, and thus it was among such intimates that his courageous metanoia would be safely considered at a distance. It was they who gently questioned the dilemma he faced in his encounter with the Jesus community. And finally, couldn't an event of communal discernment have prefigured the epiphany dramatized in Acts? If that were so, one implication to consider is a theology of the Holy Spirit that de-centers the Christ encounter in personal histories of grace.