Every now and then I read something that cries out to be passed along. Or someone writes to me with a question about liberation theology, or just plain theology for that matter, and I struggle to come up with a response that brings light to the topic. This blog is a record of the most intense of those discoveries and exchanges. You are welcome to submit questions and comments using the contact form on this site. Time may not allow me to write in response to each question (I am a volunteer) but I will do my best to pick illuminating questions and write thoughtful answers. I also include here occasional posts from friends that bring light to some corner of our predicament.
Dennis Rivers, Editor
By Dennis Rivers — June 24, 2016
I find myself praying for Divine intercession a lot these days. Even though I am not much of a believer in direct divine intervention any more. As I read story after story about toddlers killing their mothers with loaded guns left carelessly available, I am reminded once again that God will not save us from the tragic consequences of our own carelessness. And I have similar thoughts about the new military tensions rising between the United States and Russia. Did the USA really have to park missiles right on the edge of Russia? Would we accept Russia putting missiles on the Canadian border, pointing toward us? What a headache and a heartache of carelessness. Which leads me to some thoughts about the direction in which the United States appears to be drifting.
I am convinced that since the start of World War 2, the United States has become profoundly addicted to war.
>> addicted economically (war industries, weapons research and arms sales are woven through the US economy — an unacknowledged sort of military socialism — for example the $1.5 TRILLION program to build the F-35 high-tech fighter plane, and the more that $6 to $7 trillion spent so far on nuclear weapons and the systems, such as nuclear submarines, to carry and deliver them).
>> addicted culturally (having an enemy is a seductively easy way to know who we are and what we need to do, and the more flamboyant the enemy, the easier it is to blot out of our awareness the knowledge that we have not lived up to our own professed values of liberty and justice for all),
>> and addicted psychologically — aided and abetted by war movies and violent video games (focusing on our outrageously evil enemies allows us to avoid facing our own many mistakes and shortcomings, and to adopt the “It’s all their fault, they started it” attitude.) This propensity to blame others, avoid responsibility for one’s own actions, and seek empowerment through violent fantasies and bullying, can become so pronounced that they function together like a mental illness, blinding a people to the ways in which they may be hurting others and radically diminishing their own lives.
How we will extricate ourselves from such a deep addiction is one of the great creative challenges of our time, along with fighting global warming and moving toward global social justice.
January 5, 2016
Leonardo Boff (from the Tikkun.org web site)
There is an indisputable and sad fact: capitalism as a mode of production and its political ideology, neoliberalism, are so thoroughly established globally that it seems to make any real alternative impossible. It has in fact occupied every space and aligned almost every country to its global interests. Since society has been commercialized and turned everything, even the most sacred things, such as human organs, water and the capacity of flowers to be pollinated, into an opportunity to gain wealth, most countries feel obliged to participate in the globally integrated macro-economy and much less inclined to serve the common good of their people.
Democratic socialism in its advanced version of eco-socialism is an important theoretical option, but has a small worldwide social base of implementation. The thesis of Rosa Luxemburg in her book, Reform or Revolution (Reforma o Revolución), that «the theory of the collapse of capitalism is at the heart of scientific socialism» has not become reality. And socialism has collapsed.
The fury of capitalist accumulation has reached the highest levels of its history. Practically 1% of the wealthy population of the world controls nearly the 90% of its wealth. According to the reputable NGO Oxfam Intermon, in 2014, 85 members of the super-rich had the same amount of money as 3.5 billion of the poorest in the world. This level of irrationality and inhumanity speaks for itself. We are living explicitly barbaric times.
Over the past half century the issues facing activists have changed, as has our understanding and awareness of spirituality. For activists, spiritual philosophy is rising up the agenda because it offers distinct, tried and tested approaches to deep questions: Where did it all go wrong? What does it mean to be human? What is the place of leadership? What is the nature of power?
The book begins by defining spirituality for a modern audience of all faiths and beliefs, and goes on to consider the problems and necessities of true leadership. Drawing on a rich history of spirituality and activism, from The Bhagavad Gita, to the Hebrew prophets, to Carl Jung, it is both guide and inspiration for people involved in activism for social or environmental justice.
by Jon Queally, staff writer, Common Dreams
Published on Friday, July 10, 2015 by Common Dreams. Reprinted here under a Creative Commons license.
In a far-reaching speech in Bolivia on Thursday, Pope Francis offered his apologies to, and begged forgiveness from, the native people of the Americas as he acknowledged the brutal treatment they received throughout the so-called “conquest of America.”
In a speech that also touched on the need to rapidly move away from the destructive model of unbridled capitalism—which he described as the “dung of the devil”—Francis went much further than any of his predecessors in accounting for the crimes of the Church while it pursued and perpetuated colonialism and oppression across Latin America and beyond over the last five centuries.
“This system is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable. The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable.”
— Pope Francis
“I wish to be quite clear,” said Francis. “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.” He added, “There was sin and an abundant amount of it.”
In response, it was reported, the large crowd offered rousing applause.
10 key excerpts from Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment (Washington Post 6/18/2015)
History is Made as Pope Francis’ Encyclical is Presented in the Vatican (America 6/18/2015)
From New York Review of Books
From National Catholic Reporter
What Gandhi Taught Me about Jesus
A Pastor’s Memoir — A.C. Oommen — June 17, 2015
This article first appeared in Plough Quarterly No. 5, Summer 2015.
Reproduced with permission and deep gratitude.
I first saw Mahatma Gandhi when I was twelve, when he came to our state of Kerala in south India to help remove the age-old injustice of caste discrimination. He addressed a huge gathering on a river bed near my school, and I found a seat on the sand near where he was sitting cross-legged on a raised platform. He spoke about vegetarianism, not about national issues, but it impressed me immensely – he spoke in Hindi rather than English, and I saw him as a symbol of the resurgent India.
At that time, Gandhi was already famous in Kerala because of his 1924 action in the nearby town of Vaikom to open the Shiva temple to Hindus of all castes. For centuries, outcastes had been forbidden to enter the temple, and notices even prohibited them from using the town’s roads. Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign to abolish this humiliating segregation had been the first major test of his teaching of satyagraha (“soul force” or “truth force”).
On coming home from hearing Gandhi, I told my mother that I was now a vegetarian. (I would remain one for the next eighteen years, until moving to Uganda, when I gave it up in order to dine in fellowship with my African brethren.) From that day on, I began to follow Gandhi’s teachings. Despite my conflicting feelings toward British missionaries, whom I admired for their sacrificial work to uplift the so-called untouchables in Kerala, I began to participate in the Quit India movement pressing for India’s independence from Britain.
Although as a twelve-year-old I would not have been able to articulate what drew me to Gandhi, I now see four facets of his life and teaching as keys to understanding him.
First, truth and nonviolence were identical to him; they supported each other and gave coherence to his life. Nonviolence was not just a methodology or a “Gandhian tactic” as some have labeled it, but his religion itself. Truth is the ultimate reality, the climax of our search – the point where all our coverings and curtains are taken off. We do not know if he saw truth as an idea or as a person (“I am the Truth”), but he openly lived out the answer to the question “What is truth?”
Gandhi reminded me of Saint John in his old age, who constantly repeated, “Little children, love one another.” Continue reading
From the June 2015 issue of Celebration, A Comprehensive Worship Resource
Does beatification signal where Pope Francis is leading the church?
By Pat Marrin
The beatification of martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero on May 23, 2015, acknowledges what has been celebrated throughout Latin America since his assassination at the altar on March 24, 1980, in El Salvador. Blessed Romero gave his life as a good shepherd for his flock in a time of persecution. He modeled what a bishop looks like in a church committed to justice for the poor. Romero’s death and the baptism of blood endured by the people of El Salvador during its 12-year civil war (1980-92) inevitably have larger implications for the universal church, and for us in North America.
Pope Francis’ determination to advance Romero’s cause for sainthood recognizes this witness. It also reveals the influence Romero is having on Francis’ own goal as pope — to move the global church closer to the kind of church that emerged in El Salvador under Romero, whose story is a roadmap to such a church.
Ten years after the murder of Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang, her alma mater is honoring the beloved “angel of the Amazon” with a week of special events marking her ongoing legacy of service in the mission field.Stang, a 1964 graduate of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, Calif., spent nearly 40 years in Brazil as an advocate for indigenous people and the rainforest. She was killed Feb. 12, 2005, by two hired gunmen while walking along a dirt road in Anapu, in Brazil’s Para state.Angered by Stang’s involvement in helping the poor gain legal access to land, wealthy Brazilian loggers and ranchers engineered her assassination. Five men were eventually linked to the her death. A coordinator with the Brazilian bishops’ Pastoral Land Commission told Catholic News Service  recently that only one remains in prison, while three are only required to sleep there, and the fifth has yet to serve prison time.
The Notre Dame de Namur celebration of Stang’s life and work comes during its Founders’ Week (Feb. 8-12). On Tuesday a panel of speakers — family members, in addition to religious community colleagues and supporters — will share memories of their treasured sibling and friend. Other events include a Wednesday screening of the film “They Killed Sr. Dorothy,” followed the next day by a tour of the campus garden and a candlelight prayer vigil that evening.
The Thursday events, marking the 10-year anniversary of Stang’s death, will conclude that evening with a concert, wrapping up the commemorative week.
Scott Simon — Feb. 7, 2015
NPR News Story and Audio — Listen to Story
Pope Francis and the Vatican have recognized Oscar Romero as a martyr. This may move the name of the late archbishop of San Salvador a little further in the process that could one day make him a saint.
But being deemed a martyr is also holy. It means the church believes his life can inspire people; Pope Francis has said Romero inspires him.
Romero was considered a kindly, orthodox conservative parish priest when Pope Paul appointed him archbishop in 1977. He did not question El Salvador’s ruling regime.
But that regime began to round up priests and nuns who said the teachings of Jesus led them to oppose El Salvador’s military rulers. Several priests were killed. And Romero was truly galvanized. Responsibility opened his ear, and made his resolve as hard as steel.
Luis T. Gutierrez
Working Paper, 7 February 2015
A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In the sacramental churches, the main obstacle to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to resemble him as a male. But this is a fallacy which is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation.
“This is my body.” What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human body, and “became flesh.” The proper matter for the sacrament is “flesh,” not “maleness.” Therefore, the necessary and sufficient condition for outward resemblance is the human body, whether male or female. The advent of women priests and bishops is also required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine Person who became incarnate and abides in the Trinity. All the sacraments are nuptial. None of the sacraments was instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.
The choice of the 12 male apostles by Jesus is a particularity of his earthly mission to the people of Israel and should not remain normative as the church becomes incarnate in post-patriarchal cultures. Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate would be in perfect continuity with apostolic tradition.
This week, Pope Francis declared Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero a “martyr” for the Catholic faith, the last major step on the road to becoming a saint. Romero was assassinated on the order of a US-trained and -backed death-squader, Roberto D’Aubuisson, almost thirty-five years ago, on March 24, 1980.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, there is unease with Romero’s case for sainthood among high-ranking prelates, including Benedict XVI, “because of Romero’s embrace of liberation theology, a type of Christian theology that posits that Christ did not just seek liberation from sin but every type of oppression.” In fact, there was an actual Vatican banon Romero’s beatification, which the pope lifted with his declaration.
Liberation theology, which had its origins in Latin America, was a powerful force within the Catholic Church, aligning the church with the poor and condemning US-backed militarism. InEmpire’s Workshop I made the case that liberation theology posed an existential threat for the rising New Right, both its secular and religious versions. It was, in many ways, the first “political religion” that united post–Vietnam War conservatives, before they moved on to Islam. Liberation theology’s threat was primal, since it represented a reformed and progressive version of Christianity that emphasized inherent rights—only not the kind of inherent rights our libertarian Mullahs emphasize (i.e., property rights). Liberation theologians had a vision of individual dignity based on social solidarity and earthly economic justice.
Winslow Myers — December 2014
On Christmas Eve 1914, German and British soldiers crept out of their trenches, played soccer together, exchanged gifts of food, and joined in singing carols. Alarmed, commanders on both sides warned of the crime of “fraternizing with the enemy” and the war ground on for an additional four years, not only killing millions but setting the stage for the next world war two decades later.
From the safe perspective of a new century, those soldiers who tried to reach out peacefully to one another seem sane and realistic, while hindsight shows their generals to have suffered from a kind of mental illness based in rigid over-adherence to abstractions like flag, country and total victory.
A hundred years later it seems we would prefer to sentimentalize the story of Christmas in the trenches rather than using it as a measure of our own mental health. We suffer equally from group schizophrenia, made infinitely more dangerous by the presence of nuclear weapons combined with antique delusions of victory.
Deborah Gyapong Catholic News Service | Nov. 10, 2014
Liberation theology, which interprets the teachings of Christ in relation to liberation from unjust social, economic and political conditions, is rooted in the Bible and the life of Jesus, said the priest who developed the concept nearly 50 years ago.
Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez told an audience Nov. 7 at St. Paul University in Ottawa that “theology is a hermeneutic of hope. Theology touches on the motive, the story of our Lord in history.”
“Theology is a letter of love to God,” the Peruvian theologian known as the father of liberation theology added during a program in which he received an honorary doctorate.
“Theology is not a perfect response to that question, but an effort to respond,” he said, noting the immense suffering and mystery of poverty.
Since liberation theology arose in the 1960s, its reputation has suffered from time to time through associations with Marxism, utopian thinking and even armed struggle.
The ordinary, extraordinary life of David Hartsough
Book Review by Ken Butigan — November 12, 2014
Years ago, my friend Anne Symens-Bucher would regularly punctuate our organizing meetings with a wistful cry, “I just want to live an ordinary life!” Anne ate, drank and slept activism over the decade she headed up the Nevada Desert Experience, a long-term campaign to end nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. After a grueling conference call, a mountainous fundraising mailing, or days spent at the edge of the sprawling test site in 100-degree weather, she and I would take a deep breath and wonder aloud how we could live the ordinary, nonviolent life without running ourselves into the ground.
What we didn’t mean was: “How do we hold on to our radical ideals but also retreat into a middle-class cocoon?” No, it was something like: “How can we stay the course but not give up doing all the ordinary things that everyone else usually does in this one-and-only life?” Somewhere in this question was the desire to not let who we are — in our plain old, down-to-earth ordinariness — get swallowed up by the blurring glare of the 24/7 activist fast lane.
This book is about how to live well with people who deny our core beliefs, or whose actions we consider immoral, or who have traumatized us. Such people may be our spouses or kin, or international enemies.
Our societies are polarized around various issues—in the United States, it’s things like deficit spending, abortion, sexuality, race, Christianity/Islam, red/blue, the list gets long. Our polarization is fed by media which play on our fears to gain our attention. Political leaders rouse their base instead of speaking effectively to people on the other side. Leaders are chosen by favoring those who can denigrate the other side most convincingly. We have a political dynamic that says I win only if my opponents lose. This book is about depolarizing, while getting what you need. Continue reading
This sermon was given on April 18, 2014, by longtime peace activist Kathy Kelly outside the guarded fence of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, about forty miles east of Oakland. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has designed nuclear weapons for the United States military since the 1950s. For more information about Kathy Kelly’s life and religiously inspired peace witness, click here.
I have a long trip ahead of me this weekend. It begins with the Shore Line East commuter train in Old Saybrook, Conn. I will transfer to the Metro-North in New Haven. From Grand Central Station in New York, my roller bag and I will walk across town to the Bolt Bus stop at 12th Avenue and 33rd Street. I’ll hop a bus to Baltimore and spend the night with my mom. Then take the MARC train — the Baltimore to Washington, D.C. commuter train — to our nation’s capital, where I’ll join friends who have been fasting and demonstrating since Monday for the closure of Guantánamo and the end of torture and indefinite detention.
I will be late. I will not be fasting. I have a pretty good excuse on both fronts: I am almost eight months pregnant.
By Dennis Rivers
An introduction to Conscience Behind Bars / the Prison Letters of Norman Lowry
Is it possible to quietly and unobtrusively live an honorable life in the middle of a dishonorable society?
Whatever your answer to this question, I appeal to you not to answer it too quickly. I am convinced that if you live with the question for a while, you will come to see how impossible it is to turn away from the injustices of one’s time, and not, by gradual degrees, become an accomplice to them. I doubt that anyone on earth actually wants this realization, but when it arrives, you can’t send it back.
Twenty Children, Six Adults
twenty children, six adults
what WERE their names?
I must remember!
Oh, God, I don’t want to remember!
twenty children, six adults
what shall we make
of their sacrifice?
to what strange metallic gods of ours
have they been given?
twenty children, six adults
the President says
they are in heaven now
I find myself seized
with the urge to scream
twenty children, six adults
please no more pleasant words of reassurance
to mask our sorrow and our shame
that beat as loudly as the telltale heart
under Edgar Allan Poe’s floorboards
twenty children, six adults
God hears the pious platitudes
of everyone who could have made a difference
and overcome with grief and rage
falls off the front porch of eternity
in an ocean of tears
Dennis Rivers — December 2012
Freedom Plaza participant explains protests.
The Spirit of Freedom Square in Cairo, Egypt,
Comes to Washington, DC, October 6, 2011
The wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq rage on. For ten years the people of Afghanistan have suffered US bombing, invasion and occupation of their country. Thousands of innocent people have died. Through our military actions there we are recruiting ever more people to Al-Qaeda and the war on terrorism could continue forever. The wars and US addiction to militarism are bankrupting the United States and our government is forced to make drastic cuts in social services including funds for schools, libraries, job training, and programs for the young and elderly.
We have prayed, we have written letters to our Congresspeople, we have vigiled, demonstrated and gone to jail, but our government has not listened to the majority of American people who want to end these wars. If not now, When, If not us, Who?
NOW is the time to speak with our lives and bodies that this senseless killing and destruction must end. This is the time the American people must DEMAND that we bring the Billions of dollars squandered in these wars home to meet human needs at home. Security is found not through wars, military bases all over the world and a new generation of nuclear weapons, but in building a world in which every person can live with dignity with food, education, healthcare and a home to live in. How much safer we would be if we contributed billions for improving the lives of people all over the world rather than for weapons to kill?
Now is the time to bring the Spirit of Tahrir Square in Egypt to the United States and demand that our government listen to the people instead of the military industrial complex and the corporations.
We invite you to join thousands of us who will gather in Freedom Plaza in Washington DC October 6 to begin sustained nonviolent resistance to the wars and American militarism and demand that we bring the billions of dollars home to our communities across this country which so badly need these funds.
Please look at the website www.october2011.org and if the Spirit moves you, join us for a day, a week or as long as you can. Thousands of us will nonviolently demand:
- End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending and bring the billions of $ home
- Tax the Rich and corporations
- Protect the Social Security net, strengthen Social Security and Medicare for all
- End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests
- Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation
- Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages
- Get Money out of politics
Hope to see many of you in Washington and please help spread the word!
David and Jan Hartsough
By Dennis Rivers
This Easter I have been depressed
about the fate of the Japanese
as they face their natural
and man-made disasters.
It is hard to imagine
how they will extricate themselves
from their tomb of radioactive sorrows
kin washed out to sea
birth defects that will continue for centuries.
A friend sent me a link to a video
about Christians in a Beirut restaurant
suddenly standing up and singing
a beautiful Easter hymn.
He is risen!
By Dennis Rivers — April 2011
(Printer-friendly PDF version)
Who are you?
In this essay I’m going to explore some of the ways in which we are grander than our wildest dreams, and I am also going to explore one of the greatest paradoxes of being human: the fact of simultaneously being great and small.
There is a movie currently in theaters that provides me with a wonderful jumping off place. The movie is called Limitless. But it could have just as easily been titled, Limited, because the main character, falling into possession of a cognition enhancing wonder drug, uses his newly expanded powers in service only of ancient motives. He is now smart enough to accomplish practically anything, so he chooses to become a stock market wizard. Then he goes for the really big stuff: he becomes a player in the mergers and acquisitions game on Wall Street. And he persuades his beautiful ex-girlfriend to come back to him. Cure malaria? Forget it. Cause the leaders of the world to see that peace makes more sense than war? Not a chance. Truly, this is new wine poured into very old bottles. But as flawed as it is by its limited horizon of possibilities, the film still raises a deeply important question, how could each of us grow into greater fullness of being?, even if the film itself gives a shallow answer.
Spirit Within Matter — Sculpture by Vijali
By Dennis Rivers — December 28, 2010
One idea I have been developing in my journals for many years is a “theory of moral overload.” In my theory, we each have a nervous system that has evolved to handle the amount of bad news, failures and emergencies that might be generated in a circle a few miles wide. But now we participate in a mechanically connected world which brings to our awareness many more requests for help than we can ever respond to. As a result of this, it is very difficult to feel good about oneself, no matter how hard one tries to be helpful. Every situation of suffering we give our efforts to improve is accompanied by thousands we could not reach. The technologies that have expanded our world have inadvertently nailed us to a psychological cross, which influences all our relationships as we struggle to reassert some personal boundaries, hide from our overwhelming sense of failure and salvage some shred of self esteem.
The New Oxford American dictionary defines theology as the study of the nature of God and religious belief. Based on this definition of theology I am led to believe that liberation theologists believe in God. If I am wrong in this belief please inform me otherwise. However, if liberation theologists do believe in God and the Holy Bible, could you explain to me with Scripture examples the means by which the oppressed and the oppressors receive his/her salvation? Thanks for your time.