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Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

The Syrian people have been living in crisis for several years, and their situation continues to worsen. In recent weeks the overwhelming challenges facing refugees and internally displaced persons have been in the news with greater regularity, due in part to sorrowful stories of deaths while en route to seek sanctuary in Europe. Many countries that should be hosting people in need are, instead, tightening their borders.

We are meant to carry each other, to show compassion, to reach out with love to those in need. If you are looking for a way to contribute financial resources, I highly recommend reading about the work of Mercy Corps.

Many ordinary citizens are reaching out and trying to offer assistance, urging their governments to adopt humane and welcoming policies. This morning I read of the first refugees arriving not far from my home in southeastern Pennsylvania. In my area, Church World Service is one of the agencies coordinating welcome for Syrian families.

While watching this news unfold, I have been revisiting a beautiful book I reviewed on this blog, The Other Face of God: When the stranger calls us home. I am re-posting the review here in its entirety.

In The Other Face of God, Mary Jo Leddy shares stories of her life at Romero House, a home for people who are, for now, refugees seeking a new home. Her stories describe the lives of individuals with whom she has lived, and out of her experiences a theology of neighborliness and justice emerges. How does the stranger “calls us home”? In Leddy’s words, “Living in the shelter of each other, we begin to live in the neighborhood of God.” This is a powerful book, full of passion and deep faith. As I read, the prophet Micah’s words rang in my heart: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Through living in Romero House in Toronto for more than twenty years, Leddy has built relationships not only with those living in her house, but in the neighborhood. In building relationships with Romero House residents, Leddy has experienced the critical importance of respecting individual people, not treating people as a “cause” or an “issue.” Strangers can become neighbors when we learn to truly see one another. The distance between “us” and “them” disappears when people work alongside one another to plant a garden, to plan a party, to care for the needy in their midst.

Borders and boundaries between people do not need to be viewed as barriers. Rather, they can be meeting places. When we meet in a spirit of compassion, that meeting place can be full of the Holy Spirit. In Leddy’s view, a Christian should not try “to see Christ in the poor,” but to recognize that the spirit of Christ lives along the border—between you and I, between one and another, wherever compassion meets suffering.

Her narrative addresses the harsh and discouraging realities that people who are living without a country must face. The bureaucratic hurdles for those seeking residency and employment are many, and indifferent to individuality. I appreciated that Leddy drew upon Hannah Arendt‘s analysis of bureaucratic systems, and I think she did so in a way that would be very clear for readers without background in political philosophy. As a counter to the indifference of systems, people of faith are called to love our “enemies.” Leddy provides an insightful analysis of the ways that governments can turn “strangers” into “enemies” to further their political agendas.

Through her life and her writing, Leddy offers a powerful call for the works of mercy to be given “a place of privilege” in religious communities. Like the merciful Samaritan in Luke 10, we must help the stranger in need. We must be willing to truly see the face of a stranger, rather than a “problem,” and to allow compassion to emerge. We must remember that the parable ends with the command of Jesus that we “go and do likewise.”

Amidst the diversity of religious beliefs and places of origin, “perhaps there is only one distinction that matters: those who are learning to love their neighbors and those who remain indifferent to them.”

Mary Jo Leddy’s The Other Face of God: When the stranger calls us home was published by Orbis Books in 2011.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given. No fee was received.

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Part of the Modern Spiritual Masters series, Joan Chittister: Essential Writings is a collection of work from the prolific Benedictine author, scholar, and activist. Whether you are familiar with Sister Joan’s writings or are meeting her for the first time, this is a book that will inspire you.

Sister Joan has a voice that is both practical and philosophical, uplifting and challenging. I have re-read “Why I Stay” no fewer than a dozen times, engaging in dialogue with Sister Joan’s words as I reflect on my own experience of frustration with the church. Like much of Sister Joan’s prophetic writing, this piece is a rousing call to work for justice and equality for women. Other favorite pieces examine elements of Benedictine life, such as hospitality, mercy, and forgiveness.

The collection is edited by Mary Lou Kownacki, who serves with Sister Joan and the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, and Mary Hembrow Snyder, director of the Center for Mercy and Catholic Studies at Mercyhurst University. With more than sixty short selections, as well as a biographical introduction, Joan Chittister: Essential Writings provides much food for reflection.

On Sunday, March 1, 2015, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Sister Joan on Super Soul Sunday. You can watch the complete interview through Oprah’s website here.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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If you have any interest in health care, and in how we could be showing more love to those who need help, I urge you to read God’s Hotel: A doctor, a hospital, and a pilgrimage to the heart of medicine by Victoria Sweet. The author was a physician at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, which at one time would have been called an almshouse. It is a place that serves those with nowhere else to go. In God’s Hotel, Dr. Sweet shares a powerful journey of learning and healing.

During her studies of the history of medicine, Dr. Sweet focused on the medical work of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century German abbess who left behind several written works as well as a corpus of music. In sharing a historical perspective, Dr. Sweet reconnects readers with the origins of hospitals, which grew out of the radical sense of hospitality in monasteries, where monks and nuns took care of anyone who knocked at the door. There was an understanding that “whatever our current role, it was temporary.” Today I may be the nurse, and tomorrow I may be the patient who is ill. We must care for one another.

Dr. Sweet has good sense and a compassionate heart, and her feelings about how to practice medicine emerge directly from her experience serving patients. She has been a witness to miracles, and this is not something to take lightly. In caring for patients who lived in quite desperate circumstances, Dr. Sweet witnessed that, despite all the capabilities of modern medicine, sometimes peace, rest, and safety are just what a person needs to heal.

The stories of patient care and transformation are powerful, and Dr. Sweet brings a refreshing perspective on healthcare and wellness in the U.S. I highly recommend God’s Hotel.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, based on a copy that I borrowed from my local public library. No fee was received.

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As a parent longing for a more peaceful world, I find myself hungry for inspiration. Activist and author Frida Berrigan has written a soul-nourishing book, It Runs in the Family: On being raised by radicals and growing into rebellious motherhood. She describes her upbringing in Jonah House in Baltimore as the child of peace activists, and how her values and hopes inform her choices as a parent.

Reading Frida’s story we witness an unusual upbringing amidst a family dedicated to peacebuilding and social justice. As in any family, some things worked out well and brought joy, while other choices were more burdensome. Nothing is perfect, and hearing this story will help encourage parents who strive to raise their children to have a sense of our role within a global, human community. I do not want merely to talk about a better world, but for my daughter to witness and to work alongside me, contributing to a better world with our daily choices. As I strive to do this, honest stories from other parents brings tremendous refreshment.

Part of Frida’s story includes her exploration of the important place of religion in her life. I have experienced the need for a spiritual home that supports the call for peace and justice, and Frida’s words rang true for me:

“I’m not lapsed: I am a Catholic in waiting – waiting for the Church to remember the Gospels, to be a justice-and-peace-seeking community, to be fully inclusive of women and to be welcoming to people who are not heteronormative. Pope Francis is a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.”

While I know many activists find sufficient encouragement amidst a strictly secular community, that is not the case for me. I tried, but it was depleting. There was a crucial piece missing for me: a larger sense of love. I realized that my hunger for a more peaceable society is grounded in my belief that we were created to love one another and to help carry each other’s burdens. As I read It Runs in the Family, I witnessed that a sense of self, of connection to others, and of a loving God can weave together a fabric strong enough for building a joyful home.

Frida writes the column “Little Insurrections” for Waging Nonviolence, and serves on the board for the War Resisters League. I highly recommend following her work for a continual dose of inspiration and motivation as you parent toward a more loving society.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, based on my own copy of It Runs in the Family. Frida Berrigan is a friend.

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“God is already here. Through our wanderings, our questions, our encounters with beauty and with pain, the God within us is revealed. Advent is waking up to God in our midst. It is in the wandering that our eyes are open to the deeper truth. So let us not sleep through Advent.” —Simone Campbell, S.S.S.

Each year Pax Christi USA produces an inspiring Advent reflection booklet that carries their witness of Christian nonviolence. Entitled Waking up to God in our Midst, this year’s booklet focuses on the themes of economic and interracial justice and features thought-provoking writing from Sister Simone Campbell, SSS; Adrienne Alexander; Shannen Dee Williams; and Rev. Joseph Nangle, ofm.

Pax Christi USA also has compiled a helpful page of Advent resources.

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commissioned by Children’s HopeChest.
created by Elizabeth Ahlem.

In the U.S., we observe a national holiday of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. The day gives an opportunity for families, often geographically scattered, to gather in table fellowship and to share their traditional foods. The time is set aside to be thankful for abundance, and for the company of loved ones.

Certainly this is a simplified description, and I know that many people are on their own, or hungry, or in unhappy homes, or grieving, or worn down by injustice. In the midst of these complexities and challenges, we still can find a spirit of gratitude. We can be thankful for our minds, ready to create a world of equity and peace; for our hearts, that long to give love where it is missing; for our souls, crying out for God’s kingdom to be built here, now, in our midst.

My heart knows that we are meant to give thanks every day, even (perhaps especially) when it it hard. Instead of giving thanks, we let our worry about what is lacking get in the way of seeing the good that is present. Even in hard times, we have gifts that we can use in service of those in need. As we turn to God in gratitude, may our eyes be open to the needs of those around us. When we see injustice, and want to know where God is amidst the pain, may we remember that we each are meant to carry out the vision of building God’s kingdom. Each of us has a part to play in lifting up the lowly, in giving strength to the weak, in granting rest to the weary.

Let us give thanks for courage, and the strength to act on our convictions as we endeavor to build a more just and equitable world. Let us turn our thankfulness into action. We nourish seeds of peace by giving our time and material resources to those who are working to eliminate poverty and injustice.

My thanks to artist Elizabeth Ahlem for permission to share her artwork. This image was commissioned by Children’s HopeChest, which works to serve orphaned and vulnerable children.

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As the new church year approaches, with the first Sunday of Advent on November 30, many seek inspiring resources for the coming season. A recommended companion to the lectionary is A Maryknoll Liturgical Year: Reflections on the readings for Year B, published by Orbis Books. The stories from Maryknoll missioners draw upon a way of living in alignment with the teachings of Jesus. Missioners work among those who suffer material poverty and marginalization, learning to love each person as an equal, a potential teacher, and a beloved of God. With this book at hand, readers have many opportunities to remember the call to center our lives on service to others.

The stories remind us to be “open to truth appearing in unlikely places,” and a common theme is that people who are living in material poverty, in ongoing crisis, can open our eyes to the work of God in our midst. We are called to embody God’s love for others, and also to see God in each of our fellow humans.

The poverty and injustice in our world can be very discouraging, and it helps immensely to read witness from people who are working for positive change. Throughout this past year I have received spiritual refreshment and inspiration from Maryknoll’s book for year A, and I look forward to the daily reading of stories in this new volume. As the writer for the first Sunday of Advent asks, “As we pass through our own kind of unending Advent of widespread unemployment and unprecedented economic inequality, are we prepared to see hope and the Spirit’s truth in people and places where we have never looked before?”

Prepare your heart to receive the scripture in newness, and to have your faith refreshed by the testimonies of these Maryknoll missioners.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.

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