News, views, notes, and quotes

15 May 2015  •  No. 21

Invocation for Pentecost. “Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as one whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.” —Sri Ramakrishna

Right: Painting by Cuban artist René Portocarrero, recolored by Sydney M.

Opening hymn.Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” Doris Akers

Call to worship.The Promise of Pentecost

Liberia: Exceptional news and unsung heroes. The World Health Organization’s announcement last week that Liberia is now free of the Ebola virus marks an appropriate time to lift up the country’s own unsung heroes. UNICEF’s health officials credit community organizers in Liberia as the “unsung heroes.” In-country UNICEF staff are heralding community workers who went door to door, risking their own health and confronting people’s fears, suspicions, even hostilities. It was ordinary people, with extraordinary courage, who played the key role in turning the tide.

The Roman pivot. I am among the many who have been . . . well . . . astonished, and delightfully so, by the changes wrought in Roman Catholic life by Pope Francis. (If you didn’t see it first time around, or want a repeat, here’s a 3+ minute review from “The Colbert Report” archives.)
        Many would say this represents a change of tone but not substance. Partly true. Partly not. For instance:
       •Just last month the Vatican called off his controversial seven-year investigation of American nuns, accused in an earlier report of harboring “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Left: Mural in Rome, near the Vatican. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/Getty.

        •Also in April the Vatican bank, long suspected of money laundering, agreed to undergo unprecedented financial accountability procedures overseen by Italian government regulators.
        •Many observers think Francis played the key role in “unfreezing” the sainthood nomination of Salvadoran Bishop Oscar Romero which had stalled in the tenures of the previous two pontiffs.
        •This past week, after a private meeting with Pope Francis, Cuban President Raúl Castro said, “I will start praying again and return to the Church” if the Pope continues what he has been doing. (Most observers believe Francis played a major role in prompting the prospects for new diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.)
        •Also this week Gustavo Gutiérrez, Peruvian Dominican priest—considered the “father” of liberation theology who for decades was relegated to institutional margins (though never formally censured)—is a guest speaker at a Vatican conference. This move comes close to being a 180 degree turn in Vatican outlook.

Sample a wide range of distinctive Andean music.

One of my seminary professors, Gutiérrez’s A Theology of Liberation (Teología de la liberación, perspectivas, 1971) fostered a significant theological tradition. The man is a study in contrasts: intellectual heft yet a diminuitive physical presence (a very short man who walks with a limp and a orthopedic shoe, necessitated by an adolescent bone marrow disease); sharply critical of “first world” realities, but one of whose favorite words is “evangelical"; keen political insights yet a wholly natural, abiding piety. (This marks the period when I first began to think that my native religious tradition might contain resources of which I was unaware.)

Though permanently identified with the phrase “liberation theology,” Gutiérrez has always been nonchalant about the phrase itself. "Talking about the poor, talking about the peripheries, saying we have to go forward: This is what's important."

Ediberto Merida, Crucifix in wood and clay sculpture, Joseph Vail, photograph. Used as the cover art for Gutiérrez’s A Theology of Liberation

Hymn of praise. “On the Day of Pentecost,” music at St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City

The phrase "option for the poor" was first used by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1968 in a letter to the Jesuits of Latin America. Many point to the idea’s precedents not just in Scripture but also in Catholic canon law: "The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor."

Pope Francis's 2013 “apostolic exhortation”—Evangelii gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), on "the church's primary mission of evangelization in the modern world,” considered by some to be a “Magna Carta" for church reform—includes a section on "The special place of the poor in God’s people" in which he noted that "Without the preferential option for the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel . . . risks being misunderstood or submerged." —Evangelii Gaudium : Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World

Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and despite his anti-religious bent, Fidel Castro is quoted as saying “He who betrays the poor betrays Christ.” Following a US National Council of Churches delegation’s visit with Castro in the early ‘90s, a friend reported to me that at one point Castro said jokingly, “Either the church has changed or I’m getting old!

¶ In 1984 a group of advisors to President Ronald Reagan issued the “Santa Fe Document" (formally, “A New Inter-American Policy for the Eighties”) just prior to the President’s meeting with Pope John Paul II, known for his strong anti-communist stance. The document declared that “American foreign policy must begin to counterattack (and not just react against) liberation theology.” It accused liberation theologians of using the church “as a political weapons against private property and productive capitalism by infiltrating the religious community with ideas that are less Christian than Communist.”

¶ Though more explicit, the Santa Fe Document echoes sentiments in the 1962 “Adaptive Program for Agriculture," issued by the “Committee for Economic Development,” a group of 200 leading corporate executive and university presidents, who wrote: "Where there are religious obstacles to modern economic progress, the religion may have to be taken less seriously or its character altered."

¶ In a 1969 essay, then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller predicted that “The Catholic Church has stopped being a trusted ally of the US, and on the contrary is transforming itself into a danger because it raises the consciousness of the people.” He further recommended the US support fundamentalist Christian groups in Latin America and elsewhere.

Preach it. Theological methodology “reflects a way of living the faith; it has to do with the following of Jesus. As a matter of fact, our methodology is our spirituality. There is nothing surprising about this.  After all, the word "method" comes from hodos, "way." Reflection on the mystery of God (for that is what a theology is) is possible only in the context of the following of Jesus.  Only when one is walking according to the Spirit can one think and proclaim the gratuitous love of the Father for every human being.” —Gustavo Gutiérrez, We Drink From Our Own Wells

Call to confession. “There are tormenting times in creation, even as the earth heaves fire to produce its richest soil.” —Abigail Hastings

Intercession. Veni Sancte Spiritus  (“Come, Holy Spirit”), from the Taizé community

Bind and gag. “I think of a friend of mine whose first call was in a small town parish. The council president in that parish was a very, very difficult woman who tried to sabotage him at every turn. He tried, he really did. He prayed for her. He visited her and attempted to reconcile with her. He prayed and prayed, and finally one day he started singing (to the tune of ‘Bind Us Together, Lord’): ‘Bind her and gag her, Lord, bind her and gag her with cords that cannot be broken . . . .’” —Kathryn Schifferdecker, “Commentary on Jonah 3:1-5, 10”

Lection for Sunday next (Pentecost!). The Psalm for the day (104:24-34) stops one verse short of its frightful ending: “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.” I’m guessing the lectioners stopped short for fear of ruffling genteel decorum and to maintain order and decency. (continue reading)

I did not see that coming. “A federal appeals court ruled in a landmark decision on Thursday [7 May] that the bulk telephone surveillance program operated by the U.S. National Security Agency and revealed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden is illegal. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said the surveillance program, which swept up billions of phone records and metadata of U.S. citizens for over a decade, ‘exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized’ under the Patriot Act. The NSA and the government have long held that key provisions of the act, particularly Section 215, justify the surveillance program.” —Nadia Prupis, “NSA Phone Surveillance Illegal, Federal Court Rules,” Common Dreams

Not so good news. This week the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration reported that for the first time in recorded history the global level of carbon dioxide averaged over 400 parts per million (ppm) for an entire month (March). The broad scientific consensus is that Earth’s atmosphere cannot long sustain a CO2 average above 350 ppm.

¶ “Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life, a sobering new study reports. The research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, identifies a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any form of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them.“
        “‘These humans appear to have all the faculties necessary to receive and process information,’ Davis Logsdon, one of the scientists who contributed to the study, said. ‘And yet, somehow, they have developed defenses that, for all intents and purposes, have rendered those faculties totally inactive.’
        “‘More worryingly,’ Logsdon said, ‘As facts have multiplied, their defenses against those facts have only grown more powerful.’” —Andy Borowitz, news satirist for The New Yorker magazine

¶ We recently observed the sesquicentennial of the end of the US Civil War. Baptist-flavored folk, especially—and other interested in this history—should treasure Bruce Gourley’s monumental historical work in his series of articles, “Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words.” All total, there are more than 1,800 short pieces (soon to be issued in book form), one article per day, each day for the war's five-year duration. Available for free at this site.

Call to the table. “While love is dangerous
 / let us walk bareheaded / beside the Great River. / Let us gather blossoms / under fire.” —Alice Walker, Her Blue Body Everything We Knew: Earthling Poems

Right: Art ©Julie Lonneman.

Closing hymn. O Ignis Spiritus Paracliti (“O Fire of the Holy Spirit/Advocate”), poem by Hildegard von Bingen, 12th century Benedictine abbess, composer and mystic, by Ensemble Venance Fortunat, Anne-Marie Deschamps

Benediction. Said a pastor friend, quoting Merton, as she relinquished a dream-job-turned-nightmare: “It was a lucky wind  / That blew away her halo with her cares,  / A lucky sea that drowned her reputation.”

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

•“The Promise of Pentecost,” a litany for worship

•“All Together,” a litany for Pentecost

•“Pentecostal Passion” poem

•“The Promise of Pentecost: A sermon for Pentecost

•“Carpe Noctem—Sieze the Night: The struggle for spiritual vision in a dark time


©Ken Sehested @ Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor. Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

Your comments are always welcomed. If you have news, views, notes or quotes to add to the list above, please do. If you like what you read, pass this along to your friends.