WHEN I SAW the December 1994/January 1995 issue with coverage of Flannery O'Connor, I thought, Oh good, maybe I'll learn what's so great about her. Willing to change my mind, I checked out [her books]. Still puzzled, I went back and re-read your feature articles on her. Alas. I still can't see it.
In Julie Polter's article ("Obliged to See God"), I look for myself in her assessment of some of O'Connor's readers: "local people who wished O'Connor would write 'nice' stories" or perhaps among those who "weren't offended by the roughness of her stories, but...ignorant of or hostile toward any spiritual potential." Me?
After all this effort to analyze both O'Connor and myself, I must pick up a section in Danny Duncan Collum's article ("Nature and Grace"). Collum says, "Raber's great sin is that he 'studies' people, when the point is to save them." For me, Collum is also describing O'Connor.
She is a wonderful student of people. Their vocabulary, their gestures, their interactions are seen and shown with intense clarity. But I can't see where her point is to save them. Every book, every story ends with death or despair or both. Is there never a glimpse of positive faith? Does the Spirit only come with judgment? Is there no compassion in Christ?
If O'Connor really writes about a religion of God's grace, I'm too dense to catch it. Well, you gave it a good try. And so did I. Pauline Meek
Clay Center, Kansas
FEAR OF STRANGERS
AARON GALLEGOS' recent commentary, "Room in the Inn?" in the December 1994/January 1995 issue was quite insightful and exposes the travesty of justice we are seeing here in California. Although I've been told this proposition will be tied up in court for the next several years, it already has had a disturbing effect of spreading fear among the poor. Many have refused medical help out of fear of being deported. People are literally dying because of this fear.
One of my biggest concerns is the subtle shift 187 causes in the thinking process of those health care professionals and teachers who are now called on to enforce this law. With the passage of 187, we in effect have added the ingredient of suspicion to both the healing and teaching professions. This incompatible and paradoxical element is contrary to the very essence of both. Teachers, doctors, and nurses serve those who are perhaps the most vulnerable in our society. Something is being twisted when we require them to act as auxiliary INS agents.
Proposition 187 is not just a California issue. What has happened here will come to your doors. I hope you will not be seduced by the misinformation that came from those who want to "save our state." Let's not forget that the state is made up of people, some of whom just happen not to carry certain papers. Bryan Lowe
LAW AND BORDERS
I READ Aaron Gallegos' commentary in the December/January issue ("Room in the Inn?") and believe he is not understanding the issue most Americans are trying to address. First, please let's understand that those of us who favor this type of legislation are angry at "illegal immigrants"-not " legal immigrants." At times, you seem to get caught up in your own underwear, like so many anti-Americans these days.
Second, those of us (the majority of this country) who favor some type of legislation like 187 believe we should be treated the same way in any other country in the world. For example, I would never go to Sweden expecting that country to pay for all my education, require all others to speak English when addressing me, and to receive welfare if I choose not to work. That's if I entered the country legally. But if I entered the country illegally , I would expect to be deported as soon as they caught me.
I resent your (and others like you) reference to accents and skin color-trying to make a legal issue a racial issue. That is not what is at the base of people behind 187. Whether someone entering our country is white and speaks Swedish (but enters the United States illegally) or is from India or Central America, the real issue is the same. That person prevented a legal immigrant from coming to America because he or she was supported by people like you who don't believe in laws! It is not an "anti-immigrant" spirit, but an "anti-illegal-immigrant" spirit that is fair and honest, and what Proposition 187 tried to address.
Hugh R. Linn
ABORTION: HOPEFUL TALK
THE NEW DOUBLE issue looks good. I am not persuaded by Jim Wallis that "only" a theologically based discourse will defeat the Religious Right ("Hearts & Minds," December/January), but I have doubts about theologies. I really thought the commentary "Pro-Life, Pro-Choice: Can We Talk?" (by Frederica Mathewes-Green) was hopeful, and I know how very hard such a dialogue is. This kind of face-to-face discussion seems essential to me to help defuse the irrational new belief by any side that bad manners and gun fire are the way to solve problems.
New York, New York
SUITS AND POWER TIES
THANKS FOR ALL your good work over the years. But please do me a small favor. Stop attacking "white males." We were born that way and can't change it. Most of us get exploited by the boss just like everybody else, and don't beat our wives or harass minorities. Some of us have even spent our life promoting racial and gender justice and the betterment of working people. It really hurts when we hear our sex and color being used as some kind of synonym for all the injustice in American society.
More important than that, it is deadly politics. The recent disastrous election showed that some 80 percent of white males voted against what they perceived to be "liberalism." They got tired of the incessant disparagement of "white males" in the press-white guys in overalls-we don't all wear business suits as your humor columnist seems to think ("H'rumphs," by Ed Spivey Jr., December 1994/January 1995).
It is absolutely vital that the progressive movement in America re-establish its connections with the white working class. A good place to start would be to stop using racist and sexist terms to describe us. Is that asking too much? Perry Cartwright
Ed Spivey Jr.'s reference to "white guys in suits" was not intended as a blanket attack on all people who are white and male (Ed is himself white and male, although he does not own a suit). Our apologies to those who took it that way.
The phrase was referring to the power elite-such as the congressional leaders that Ed mentioned in the same paragraph-who control the most resources and privileges at the expense of true democracy.
MOTHERS' FIERCE LOVE
JOYCE HOLLYDAY'S VISION of Rizpah spread on the rocks, driving away the vultures and beasts that had "an appetite for the decaying flesh" of her executed sons touched a chord with me ("Strength Through the Ages," November 1994). Women with sons on death row are stretched on the rack of ostracism. They wait and wonder if their child will live another year or be executed.
Yet week upon week many women come to the prison gate to chase way the vultures of loneliness and hatred that hover over their sons. Few of us know of the suffering poured upon such women. The woman/mother of Gary Gilmore in Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song sheds some light. God's love is incarnate in these women; a love given no matter what one does. Ed Weir
NORTHERN IRELAND'S POLITICAL RELATIONS
AS WORTHY AS THE desires for peace on the part of authors Rose Berger and Julie Polter may be, their commentary, "Dancing Toward Peace in Northern Ireland" (November 1994), typifies the myopia unfortunately all too common among North American peace activists when it comes to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Nowhere in the article is mentioned the injustice and oppression of British state imperialism, the generator of the conflict. Instead of examining the conflict as the product of a violently imposed partition of Ireland by Britain, it is pictured as the outgrowth of an irrational 1600s religious dispute. Britain's true role thus masked, it's easy enough to fall into the paradigm employed by the British state and its media minions to portray the conflict as a "community relations" problem rooted in historical and contemporary differences of perception of nationality, religion, and identity.
Being misled in this way, it is all too easy for activists to ignore questions of the discrimination and oppression that has been the fate of the Nationalist community (and working-class Unionists), and to ignore examining the power dynamics that obtain in Northern Ireland. Instead of "speaking truth to power," the onus for a solution is turned onto the backs of the oppressed who simply must "learn how to get along." Eugene McElroy
Highland Park, New Jersey
Rose Berger and Julie Polter respond:
Thank you for raising the role of British state imperialism (past and present) in perpetuating the situation in Northern Ireland. We chose an evocative editorial approach rather than an analytical one, so power analysis, while critical to our view, was not the focus. Our purpose was to create a sense of the interacting hopes and fears of all the people of Northern Ireland, focusing especially on the Christian activists who are doing the spiritual and relational work of reconciliation.
Those activists have a painfully clear understanding of structural sin and power imbalances, whether they're manifested in imperialistic oppression or self-protective church institutions or cultural prejudice. Many or most Christians working for peace in Northern Ireland at the "relational" level (whether between individuals or communities) do not view reconciliation as a substitute for "speaking truth to power," but rather as a companion to it in achieving a just society for all.
THE PROFUNDITY found in editor Jim Wallis' book, The Soul of Politics, excites me. The clear truth of telling life like it is, supported by illustrations and followed by resources and possibilities, gives me hope. This could be the needed springboard that propels us into the 21st century, because it speaks to people in all walks of life-but most particularly in political or religious leadership.
I challenge other Sojourners readers to promote this book wherever you can. Here are some things that I am doing:
1) Calling my local paper's book review editor to suggest it for review. 2) Making a contribution to start a fund so that the book can be put in the hands of all members of Congress. 3) Personally contacting my congressional representatives. 4) Sending a copy to Oregon's new governor, who reflected many of the book's ideas in his acceptance speech.
5) Starting a book study group in the new year. 6) Giving speeches or sermons wherever I can and using ideas and illustrations found in the book. 7) Talking to friends and colleagues about the book. 8) Encouraging minister and professor friends to read it and use it in churches and classrooms. 9) If I had the money, I would buy copies in bulk and pass them out personally to strategic people.
Please join me in this challenge!