Father John Dear: “The Nonviolent Life”

Earlier this week, I was privileged to hear Father John Dear speak at a local church. He is on a national book tour, speaking about the concepts in his most recent book, “The Nonviolent Life.” Although it was wonderful to hear him speak about his travels, including his recent trip to South Africa to visit important social justice sites there and to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it was most moving to hear him speak about the nonviolence of Jesus, as we began Holy Week, and how we can live that nonviolence in our own lives.

He emphasized that nonviolence has three components that we need to carry out simultaneously. The first is nonviolence toward oneself. It seems that that would be easy, but so many of us struggle to love and accept ourselves, judging our own worth in harsh ways that we would not inflict on another person. This being the first principle in the nonviolent life was a powerful reminder that peace within ourselves – and peace in our spiritual practice and relationship with God, if that is our tradition – is essential to bringing that peace to others.

The second component is to be nonviolent to all people and to all of creation. For those of us who are Christian, we are taught these Bible quotes from childhood. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It is much more difficult to live them, though, especially when our world is embroiled in multiple armed conflicts and many are intent on retribution against an enemy. It takes a lot of strength to respond nonviolently to violence, but we have the example of Jesus to follow, as well as more modern examples, such as Ghandi, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day.

The third component is to be part of the global grassroots nonviolence movement for the rest of one’s life. That does sound daunting, except that it doesn’t mean that one has to travel to other countries or take on every justice and peace issue. It can mean supporting local efforts to combat hunger or advocating for legislation to stop capital punishment or war or joining the fight for fair wages or equal access to education. Personally, I view my work fighting against unconventional fossil fuels and global warming as social justice work, which, in John Dear’s language, is also the work of non-violence. Likewise, this would encompass the advocacy work for or against legislation on the national level that I participate in as a member of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby.

It can be discouraging when one is working on such a big issue as ending violence. It was hopeful to hear Father Dear speak, because there are so many instances that he spoke about where nonviolent methods lead to important change. If it happened in those times and places, it can happen again here and now, especially with so many of us joining together at the grassroots level to work toward nonviolence, justice, and peace.



Palm Sunday

This morning at Palm Sunday Mass, my daughter was singing in the adult choir which was serving along with the children’s choir in the music ministry, while I was sitting in the congregation, positioned so that I could look up and see her and the choirs.

Because the parish had purchased the music library from the now-merged parish that my daughters and I had attended when they were growing up, many of the pieces were familiar. In our old parish, my daughters had come up through the choirs from third grade on and had also rung handbells. I spent many hours serving on liturgy committee and assisting in the music ministry. I had accompanied my daughters’ choirs and, after orthopedic problems with my elbow interfered with my ability to play, sometimes conducted while the music director accompanied.

One of the pieces that was part of today’s prelude was a wonderful arrangement of “Jacob’s Ladder” which had become part of our original parish’s Palm Sunday tradition. I had played it for a number of years and then moved on to conducting it, so it was poignant to hear my now-adult daughter joining with the children’s choir to sing the arrangement she had first learned when she was eight. The piano accompaniment is quite challenging and I had to remind myself that I used to be able to play it.

I don’t often allow myself to miss what I used to be able to do as a musician. I also can usually keep at bay the longing for the parish that my daughters and I had called home for so many years, but that fell apart even before the last flood made the worship space itself too costly to repair and maintain.

Today was not a day that I could keep those losses walled off. It may be a difficult Holy Week.

Groundswell Rising LTE

Below is a follow-up letter to the editor of the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin based on this blog post.

The link to the letter to the editor itself is:  http://www.pressconnects.com/article/20140406/VIEWPOINTS03/304060005/Letter-Documentary-shows-results-fracking, but I have printed it below to keep people from getting tangled up in the subscription process for the paper.

I am assiduously avoiding looking at the comments, as I know a few locals will tear into anything I write, so I am sparing myself the aggravation.


With over 70 other local residents, I recently watched “Groundswell Rising,” a new documentary on the effects of the fracking industry on individuals and communities and their response to it. Much of the film focuses on Pennsylvania, showing the noise, light, air and water pollution — and the health problems many have experienced as a result.

The most powerful segments show ordinary folks telling stories of how their lives have been changed by the industry moving into their backyards. These stories, along with a growing body of science, obligate Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stand up to the gas industry and protect New Yorkers.

Even though the people already affected will never be able to regain what they have lost, they have banded together to become the “groundswell rising,” fighting for their own health, their right to clean air and water, and their communities and ours.


PS  I hate writing with a 150 word limit. 😉

Letter on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church

Below is a letter that I wrote on one of the topics that is nearest to my heart, the call of women to ordination in the Catholic Church:

Dear Father,

Yesterday, my 23-year-old daughter and I were in attendance at 7:30 Mass. We are local, but not parishioners. When you began the homily saying that you were continuing a series on the sacraments with Holy Orders, my daughter put her hand out for me to clasp, because it is a very sensitive topic for us, especially in regards to women’s ordination, and we knew that we might wind up leaving together in tears. That we did not is a testament to your pastoral sensitivity on a very fraught topic.

I appreciated your statements about the theology coming along much later than the practice of Holy Orders for men only. The two theological defenses that you chose to share in your homily, that the Twelve were all male and that women priests would disrupt the imagery of the church as the bride of Christ, were presented in the most even-handed way possible. Thank you for not going into the whole “male as normative” line of argument, which flies in the face of the constant teaching that both male and female image God and that in Christ all are one. It also elevates maleness above other attributes. For instance, the Twelve were Jews, religiously and ethnically, but we don’t say that that is normative. I admit that the “Bride of Christ” imagery is problematic for me, as I don’t find it especially meaningful. I find much more power and dignity in the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, actively carrying divine love and service out into the world.

I also appreciated the historical context you included on the development of bishops, deacons, and priests in the early church, especially in being clear that both women and men served as deacons. There is also evidence of women serving as priests, presiding in early house churches. There are inscriptions and art depicting women presiders that has been recovered from early Christian burial sites. There is evidence of women, sometimes abbesses, who acted as bishops, into the Middle Ages. This history is not well-known, but it is very meaningful to those who do know it.

I appreciated you quoting Pope Francis saying that the church does not YET have the authority to ordain women, because that is much more hopeful than the statements of John Paul and Benedict. Given that the Pontifical Biblical Commission found no biblical reason that women could not be ordained, there is hope that the Holy Spirit will enable the Church of the future to recognize and accept through Holy Orders all who are called to serve, regardless of their gender.

I know a number of women who have discerned this call. As you said, you can’t know what it is like to have such a call but to be excluded from fulfilling it. The women that I know who felt called but who are vowed religious have all stayed with the Church, serving God and all people through the ministries that they are allowed to perform. Most of the other women that I know that felt this call to the priesthood or diaconate have withdrawn from active participation in the church because it is too painful to be constantly reminded of not being able to be what God has called them to be. Most of these women still identify as Catholic, but do not participate in parish life and worship. A few joined other denominations, including one who is now an ordained minister.

I myself have walked a fine, and perhaps cowardly, line of not knowing. From my early teens, I was involved in music and liturgy planning ministries. When I was a young mother, I had two dreams that I was a priest. I actually went to a discernment meeting in the diocese, back before they specified that you had to be either unmarried or a married man to attend. When we broke into smaller groups, I wound up going with the deacons, who shared that often the deacons’ wives would go to all the courses and training with their husbands, but that there was nothing that they could offer them in the end as their husbands were ordained.

Knowing how difficult it was for my friends who felt called to stay in the church, I decided not to try to discern if I was actually called myself. So, I have spent a couple of decades in this uncertain space. Of late, the deacon at the parish I most often attend has been ill and I find myself looking at the priest alone in the presidential chair and thinking that I could be there assisting as deacon. After a homily about the obstacles we face to saying “Here I am” to God, I went and spoke to the priest about these persistent thoughts of myself as deacon, knowing that, in some diocese, women are pursuing the possibility and that there is an international movement to restore women to the diaconate. I told the priest with whom I spoke that I knew there was nothing he could do in our diocese, but that I needed someone to listen, which he very graciously did. I appreciate his willingness to give me a time and space to share my situation with him and his support in the limbo in which so many women reside, not just on the question of ordination, but in the larger sphere of existing as a Catholic woman, especially a married one, when you are treated as somehow “other” in the one place in which you should be accepted in your fullness as a child of God.

He could neither do nor did I expect him to do anything about my dilemma. This applies to you as well, but I wanted to try to convey to you my thanks for your sensitivity in not causing me or my daughter any more pain than we already feel as women in the church. While my hopes of the “Yet” being in my lifetime diminish, perhaps it will be within my daughters’ lifetimes. We can only hope and pray.

In the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit,

Fifth Anniversary of the ACA shootings

Last night, when the news broke about the shooting at Fort Hood, the first thought many people had was “not again.” Not again at Fort  Hood, and not again in general.

The timing was especially poignant for those of us in the Binghamton NY area, because today marks the fifth anniversary of the American Civic Association shootings, in which fourteen people died, including the mentally ill gunman, and four were wounded.

Despite the tragic loss of life, the ACA shooting is usually not present in the list of mass shootings that gets recited in the media when the next horrible shooting comes along. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. Fort Hood.

I am not saying that we should not be remembering these other mass shootings. We should, and we should be doing more to avert similar deaths and injuries in the future.

What I do find disturbing is that so many have forgotten about the ACA tragedy. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.

I am afraid that the primary reason is that the gunman and most of the dead were immigrants. Most of them were gathered in one of the American Civic Association’s classrooms, taking a class to improve their English skills, when they were shot. They were from Vietnam, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Brazil, The Philippines. Two were in Binghamton as visiting scholars. Others had been resettled in the area as refugees. The ACA is well-known in the area as a gathering place for immigrants to study English or prepare for citizenship tests. Several of those who were shot were employees or volunteers who had embraced this important mission. Somehow, though nearly all of us in the United States are descended from immigrants or are immigrants ourselves, the story of the ACA shootings did not embed itself into our minds as have some of the other tragedies that took place in schools or other public settings. I’m sorry to say that I think people see themselves or their grand/children as being just like those gathered in an elementary school or at a movie theater, but that they don’t see themselves as people from a different country, with a different skin color, speaking with an accent, working toward citizenship.

Five years on, I don’t want these people to have been forgotten. I want them to be remembered – and to be remembered as neighbors, as members of our community, as people like us.


A Poem for the Marcellus

I had to share this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sandra-steingraber/marcellus-shale_b_1428030.html, which leads to an essay and poem by biologist/poet, Dr. Sandra Steingraber.  She is one of the heroes in the fight to keep unconventional fossil fuel extraction, aka fracking, out of New York State and to rein in this and all toxic industrial activity everywhere. The poem is mind-blowing for me, partly because of its depth of composition and partly because I have spent a lot of time in the fight, too, although in the role of citizen advocate/commenter, not expert/lecturer/author.