Month: March 2015

The Call to be Prophetic Prisoners of Hope

This is an edited version of a talk given by Ernest J. Miller, FSC, to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

The Call to be Prophetic Prisoners of Hope

I am one humbly trying to fulfill my small role in the world as a Brother of the Christian Schools, as a teacher with a liberationist orientation, and assuredly as a Christian, because I don’t know how to be a Christian and not be concerned deeply about love, hope and justice.

I invite you to walk with me, to listen as well as you hear. I hope I say something that unsettles you, unnerves you, and even if for a moment, un-houses you.

I want to begin with Zechariah chapter 9 v. 11-12, to draw on its central theme as a frame for our reflection this morning.

And you, because of my blood covenant with you, I’ll release your prisoners from their hopeless cells. Come home, hope-filled prisoners! This very day I’m declaring a double bonus – everything you lost returned twice-over! (The Message)

I want to have a conversation with you about the call to be positioned as powerful prisoners of prophetic hope. The Book of Zechariah is a short, unfamiliar book to most, tuck away near the end of the Old Testament.

The prophet Zechariah’s message was addressed to those he described as prisoners of hope. These prisoners of hope had come up from slavery, the Babylonian exile, now back home struggling to complete rebuilding the Jewish temple. But obstacles were in their way, stopping them from completion.

The prophet, speaking for God, does not deny the challenges the people faced. He does not dance around their despair.

In verse 11, the prophet owns where they are: metaphorically describing their situation as hopeless cells, or in another version, waterless pits.

What Zechariah does is a crucial step to prophetic hope.  Publicly owning the despair.

You ask, “What does this scripture has to say to us today?”

Sisters and brothers, as individuals within community, you have the exhausting task to respond to Zechariah’s call to be prisoners of prophetic hope.

Publicly owning the trouble that comes from bigotry based another person’s gender, ethnicity, skin complexion, sexual orientation, income, or religion, indeed, owning all that disrespects the humanity, the dignity of other persons is a crucial step to prophetic hope. It opens us up to renewing the movement for community rooted in prophetic hope.

We are now living in a difficult moment in the history of the grand democratic experiment in the United States.

On child poverty, which affects a disproportionate number of brown and black children, the U.S. ranks 36 out of the top 41 wealthy nations in the world.

Something is wrong.

Protests following the grand jury decisions in the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island has largely died down. While each of these cases including Fruitvale represent a tragedy for all involved, the case that tears at my heart the most it is the death of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, gun down by a police office in 2 seconds time.

But, as is often the case, there is still no full resolution or reconciliation in these cases. New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes: “The issue of police-community relations was raised but not solved. The memory of mistrust still wafts through the air like the smell of rot being carried by the breeze.”

Something is wrong.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 939 active hate groups all stripes in the U.S. A hate group is defined as having beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

hate map

Hate groups by state. http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

Though it is a despairing moment in U.S. history because of the distance that still remains in achieving democracy, it is crucial that we continue to look for sources of light to sanctify our public life.

The Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton tells us:

Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which [people] can do about the pain of disunion with other [persons]. They can love or they can hate.

That is why you and I must hear the call to be prophetic prisoners of hope.

We must help our nation develop the grand vision of public life, which is to say how we live with one another, that we see articulated in the elegant prose and poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Dorothy Day, and Maya Angelou, among others, in whose work we find a democratic vista.

The Athenian thinker and social critic, Socrates, expresses how vital self-criticism is when he pronounces in line 38a of Plato’s Apology, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Here, Plato’s Socrates is concerned with both the life of the individual as well as the community to which one belongs.

My hope is to urge you towards embracing criticism of self and society with a Socratic, jazz-infused democratic sensibility, wrestling with this fundamental question: whether the grand Christian and democratic traditions of “struggle for decency and dignity, the struggle for freedom and justice” can be both sustained and expanded across our city, our nation, and our world.

The goal of such Socratic questioning and critical exchange is democratic paideia—the cultivation of an active, informed citizenry—in order to preserve and deepen our democratic experiment.

Cornel West eloquently describes this Socratic, jazz-infused sensibility this way:

“The interplay of individuality and unity is not one of uniformity and unanimity imposed from above but rather of conflict among diverse groupings that reach a dynamic consensus subject to questioning and criticism.  As with a soloist in a jazz quartet, quintet or band, individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group—a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project.”

Recognize the distinction between individualism and individuality—it is rooted in community, it seeks dialogue and engenders respect amidst the diversity that is humanity.

Theologian Shawn Copeland from Boston College in her theological work tries to

Shawn Copeland

unmask the thought-systems that would allow for the stigmatizing, identifying, and eradicating of whole groups of persons—persons deemed different, inferior, dangerous. Indeed, her theological vocation may be described as a defense of the vulnerable, not only from invisibility in society, but from evils that render them all-too-visible in the body public: that is, racism, sexism, and classism. (Pramuk, Horizons)

Merton offers this image: the human person as a body of broken bones. “As long as we are on earth,” Merton writes, “the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.

To reset this Body of broken bones, we must become prisoners of prophetic hope.

The unmasking of systemic colorism, classism, religious bias, homophobia, and sexism is a task that all us—black, white, yellow, red, and brown, gay and straight, rich and poor, of whatever religion, no matter bank account size—must shoulder together.

Each issue demands attention. For now, allow me permission to dwell on the question of “race” for a moment. I believe that “race” is arguably the most nettlesome of issues.

Copeland tells us: “The most mundane as well as the most significant tasks and engagements are racially charged—grocery shopping, banking, registering for school, inquiring about church membership, using public transportation, hailing a taxi- cab, even celebrating the Eucharist or seeking a spiritual director. We  see race. . . . We see and we interpret.”

So, what do we see when we see “race”? What do we see?

It’s about the color line. We’ve heard the experience of those who are perceived as too “white” or light-skinned by some in their brown and black communities. Look at black-oriented music videos and see colorism upfront.

This conundrum of “race” results from the fumes and odor of the Enlightenment discourse (beginning in the late 17th century) beginning with Rene Descartes.

Race is a social construct, an ideological, cultural construct.

Race has no biological element. To the degree there are those who believe race does have a biological dimension, it is because we have awarded it one. Over history race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.

“Race,” writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, “is an idea, not a fact.” Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires pseudo-science looking for a reason to fix certain people into categories to claim a false sense of superiority. (T. Coates, The Atlantic)

Yet, the paradox is race remains a phenomenon we must confront. Yes, it is a social construct but it’s institutionalized.

Copeland puts it succinctly: “The ability to read race accurately, to categorize people (black or white, red or brown) has become crucial for social behavior and comfort; the inability to identify accurately a person’s race incites a crisis.” (Horizons)

As I prepare to conclude, let me offer these final thoughts.

First and foremost, keep examining self and community.

Second, a Catholic school, especially a La Salle school must be a place where justice education is a priority. Listen to what Brother Alvaro Echeverria, FSC, former Superior General of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, writes:

Education for justice should not be merely a specific subject area but a common thread that runs through the whole
curriculum. This common thread should be reinforced by daily practice within the school. It is important to create a kind of micro-climate which offers an alternative, miniature model that does not support the anti-values which society often presents to us: … Otherwise the school runs the risk of duplicating the system and preparing students for a society of privileges … where there is no solidarity. It is precisely this situation which we have to try to avoid … (Pastoral Letter, 2003)

If education for justice is to truly take hold and diversity matters are justice issues, it must be a commitment of the whole educational community. It is not just for religious studies to consider. Education for justice cuts cross disciplines; it a concern for the whole academy.

Third, the great activist and historian W.E.B DuBois gives us two questions to consider, joining the mix of other questions we have:

What does honesty do in the face of deception? Deception defined as false, a fraud, a ruse.

What does decency do in the face of insult?

Finally, my sisters and brothers, you must possess courage. You have to be courageous to think critically, to cut against the grain. Professor West asserts: “Recognize that it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than for a solider to fight on the battlefield.”

Part of the challenge for this generation is that we have too many imitations, not enough originals—too many folks just trying to fit in because we hear that success and fitting is adjusting to the status quo. Be attentive to acquiring a Disneyland mentality where we perceive the sun is always shining and everybody is smiling. Be wary of a living in a culture of superficiality.

But Martin King and Dorothy Day and all those folks in that sculpture would say don’t be well adjusted to injustice; don’t be well adapted to indifference. Be like Martin and Dorothy and all those giants, maladjusted to bigotry and all forms of injustice.

Courage is the great enduring virtue that allows one to realize other virtues such as love, hope and faith. Courage requires knowledge that transforms who you are. The struggle for freedom and justice, for decency and dignity is a long-distance race. As Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaims, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

It is up to you to say yes to committing yourself for the long haul to be prophetic prisoners of hope. It is a long-distance run.

 

Ernest J. Miller, FSC, CTU D. Min student, gave a version of this talk to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

Ernest J. Miller, FSC, a CTU D. Min student, gave a version of this talk to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

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On Dying (a poem)

In honor of World Poetry Day, we'd like to share this poem by CTU Student, Neil Conlisk, Carmelite Pre-novice.

On Dying

I know this place
I’ve been here before,
It’s something about
The rug and the door.

I’m leaving this town,
My presence is fading,
Like handfuls of sand
Thrown to the wind.

My head’s underwater,
My nose on the ground,
But something inside me
Hears a sweet sound.

Punished by banquets
Of beauty and bliss,
And sweet berry wine,
And good angel’s kiss

Thank you, Neil, for sharing your poetry!

Thank you, Neil, for sharing your poetry!

 

And given this poem’s topic, Theophilus, along with the Student Representative Council (SRC), would like to extend a quick invite for at an upcoming lecture we’re hosting at CTU. Herbert Anderson, former professor at CTU, will speak on his new book, The Divine Art of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying on Wednesday, April 8th at 4pm. Save the date!

CTU_FLY_Anderson_2015_FNL

 

CTU_FLY_Anderson_2015_FNL

Artist Showcase and Cover Art Competition

As students of CTU, we at Theophilus seek to engage the voices and perspectives of our
academic community in the contemporary dialogues of theology and ministry through the annual
publication of an academic journal and our ongoing blog.

We also hope to promote the artistic endeavors of our diverse and talented community. This
artist showcase presents the creative work of a number of CTU students for our wider
community to enjoy. All students and alumni were welcome to submit two pieces for the
exhibition.

In addition to providing a forum for students to share their creativity, this event will help us to
select the cover art for the 2015 publication of Theophilus, The Student Journal of CTU.
All members of the community who come to see the show can vote for their favorite work by this Friday, March 13th! The winning work will be featured on our cover!

Not all works are presented here as some artists did not wish to have their work shared digitally.

Enjoy the creativity present in our CTU community!

J. Bernardo Ávila Borunda, M.Div./M.A. Student

Icon of Kateri Tekakwitha
egg tempera and gold leaf on panel
1 Avila Borunda kateri tekakwitha

Mother of Hope
acrylic guache gold leaf on pane
17 avila borunda mother of hope

Nhan Anh Bui, CPPS, M.Div. Student

Saint Gaspar’s Call
The Mission for Reconciliation in Vietnam
carved wood (digital photo of original work)
2 Bui Saint Gaspar

Ora et Labora
Prayer and work are inseparable in our missionary activities
carved wood (digital photo of original work)
3 Bui ora et labora

Sharon Dobbs, M.Div. Student

Sharon writes:
“I am a mother and an M.Div. student at CTU, and I am drawn to taking photos of children and women. The first photo is of children that do not have a mother, and are being cared for by a Catholic order of sisters in India: Handmaids of the Blessed Trinity.  The second photo was taken on a cycling trip in northern China.  We stopped along the way to rest, and during this stop in a small farm village were warmly welcomed by all including this beautiful mother and baby and their proud grandmothers.”

Girls praying before dinner in Vasai India
digital photograph
4 Dobbs Girls praying

Family love in northern China Ningxia Province
digital photograph
5 Dobbs Family Love

Susan Francesconi

Susan writes:
“This is a botanical illustration of a rose hip in early fall. This particular rose hip came from a bush in my garden which at the time still had a few roses in bloom. However, none of those flowers could compete with this luminous, glossy rosehip that seemed to be telling me ‘the best is yet to come.’”

Susan has a BA in Fine Art and studied botanical illustration for a short time at the Morton Arboretum.

Fruit of the Rose, 2007
watercolor on paper (digital reproduction)
6 Francesconi Fruit of the Rose

 

Graham R. Golden, O. Praem., M.Div. Student

Untitled (crucifix in Sacred Heart Parish, Española, NM)
digital photograph
15 Golden Untitled Crucifix

Untitled (bell tower of San Francisco de Asís, Ranchos de taos, NM)
digital photograph
16 Golden Untitled Bell Tower

Ali Kenny, M.A. in Intercultural Ministry Student

Jerusalem
acrylic paint (digital reproduction)
sewing needle used as painting utensil (in lieu of traditional brush)
7 Kenny Jerusalem

Sarah Martz, OSF, M.A. Justice Ministry Student

Gift
acrylic on foam core
18 Martz Gifts

Steve Niskanen, CMF, D.Min. Student

Tree Burst
digital photograph
9 Niskanen Tree Burst

Autumn Path
digital photography
10 Niskanen Autumn Path

Mauro Pineda, M.Div. student, Romero Scholar

Mauro writes:
“I am… a parishioner at St. Gall Parish on Chicago’s Southwest Side.  I was born in Mexico and grew up in Chicago. I am passionate about the art of expression in any medium. Diego Rivera and Pablo Picasso are the two artists that have been an inspiration.  I have admiration for the entire Renaissance, particularly Michaelangelo.  That motivated my leaning towards Fine Arts.”

Gavan Y Huaraches
charcoal on paper
This drawing was inspired by Luke 9:3, the New Testament image of the disciples being sent by Jesus to spread the Word, taking only the clothes on their back and sandals on their feet.
He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.” Then they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

11 Pineda Gavan y Huaraches

Resortera
prismacolor on paper
This drawing was inspired by 1 Samuel 17:49, the Old Testament image of David taking down Goliath with a mere sling shot.
David put his hand into the bag and took out a stone, hurled it with the sling, and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone embedded itself in his brow, and he fell on his face to the ground. Thus David triumphed over the Philistine with sling and stone; he struck the Philistine dead, and did it without a sword in his hand.
12 Pineda Resortera

Josh Van Cleef, M.A. Student

“Jesus was not crucified on a marble altar between two golden
candlesticks, but on a city garbage dump, outside the walls,
between two thieves”- George Macleod

Mary, Mother of God
acrylic and gold leaf on salvaged material
13 Van Cleef Mary mother of God

Jesus, Giver of Life
acrylic and gold leaf on salvaged material
 14 van cleef Jesus Giver of Life

Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro

by: Clifford Douglas Hennings, OFM

Weary my soul no longer friend, stay your embrace no more

A ramshackle such as is me,  is at the ready to disembark

To depart this ship of memory, thrashing in an ocean dark

And to step into that land long now seen, and kiss its gentle shore

In this time, my twilight hour, I do now name you friend

Long I dubbed you enemy, against your press I did defend

 

But Lo, you know, healing were the days and years of yore!

The dawning age of youthful dreams, thoughts of you I had none

A shadow cast and never seen, for having always faced the sun

A heart alight, green with glee and leaning into the fore

By quick expectancy, seeing neither starboard, port nor stern

Brilliant were the waters then, with passion mine eyes did burn!

 

Yet in the high-light hours of day, came a tempest’s rolling roar

Ahead it drew before the light, throwing gloom, arousing fear

Against the squalling of its breath, valiantly I fought to steer

Straining for victory and pressing on, ever clutching to my oar

I saw the fright of shadows then, and new my fate to be

And saw the swells of water then, swallow many into the sea

 

But Woe!, I said full throatily, this affront means War!

I steeled myself, prepared my arms and set my face like flint

To cast my bones as iron shod, resolved to remain unbent

Yet vain were my labors made, when nearing the endless bore

Alas, I did not see you then, did not know your subtle way

How your casting shadows made, a contrast for the day

 

How the gleaming things of light, always you they wore

Your darkness ever follows them, beauty wears you at her feet

And all the burnished sights of day,  in the end you they meet

For how confused  a world would be, so made without your score

A puzzled dash of colors thrown, senseless and undefined

And so for life to win its fame, with you it is entwined

 

It took the years for me to see, to find your hidden lore

Now I see your shadow caste, from a mountain out at sea

The sun behind its highest peak, and no more long to flee

Readied to quit this feeble ship, and breach its veiled shore

Name my life by these final hours, you my constant kin

And tell my tale of dread and joy, as it has always been!

 

Cliff Hennings, OFM

Cliff Hennings, OFM

Clifford Hennings, OFM is a solemnly professed brother of the Order of Friars Minor in the Province of Saint John the Baptist. He is a third year student in the Master of Divinity program at Catholic Theological Union.