death

Artist Statement: About the 'On Pilgrimage' Series

I was a reluctant artist, self-doubting leader and a broken soul.
I was in search of healing.

After a series of traumatic experiences that culminated with my hospitalization in Zambia, I went on a sabbatical in search of courage, tenacity, and renewal to continue in my vocation. It was early 2014, and we were entering into the year commemorating 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda. During this time, my mentors were leading a pilgrimage to Uganda and Rwanda to journey through places of immense pain and tremendous hope as a means to engage in the pain and hope in one’s active life. Because of my closely related work in Africa, I didn’t want to go — I knew I would have to intentionally delve into the hellish reality of a violent massacre I knew very little of. Simultaneously, I knew that by stepping into the pain, I would find the hope I was so desperately searching for. And so, together with eight other pilgrims, I went. We journeyed alongside of survivors and perpetrators of genocide as an attempt to identify in the incomprehensible pain that oppresses us all. It was through this experience that healing came in a profound way.

We Die Before We Live

Bob Fitch / Stanford University Libraries
Bob Fitch / Stanford University Libraries

On April 30, 2016, Catholic peacemaker and activist Daniel Berrigan entered life eternal. He was a teacher and friend to many in the Sojourners community. Read more reflections on Dan's life and legacy in the August 2016 issue

I ONCE HAD a conversation with Dan about his death. We were talking late into the night at the Block Island hermitage that his friends William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne had built for him while he was two years in Danbury federal prison, a consequence of the 1968 Catonsville draft board action. He had by then foresworn scotch, on doctor’s orders, so I was being introduced to Manhattans dry, which were somehow allowed. The place suited the topic. On the wall above us was an exorcism poem that he’d hand-lettered in a style familiar to Catholic Worker and resistance houses across the country.

I’m certain it was I who broached the topic. When we met in the early ’70s, it was in the wake of notorious assassinations: Medgar Evers and Viola Liuzzo, the Panthers, Malcolm, King, the Kennedys. There was a certain youthful grandiosity in imagining that he or others who were such troublesome peacemakers would be similarly targeted. I braced my heart. I told him so. (Then he turns around and lives, thanks be, to 94!)

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Do Not Be Ruled by Fear, but Faith

The Berrigan brothers: Dan, left, and Phil.

On April 30, 2016, Catholic peacemaker and activist Daniel Berrigan entered life eternal. He was a teacher and friend to many in the Sojourners community. The following article is adapted from the homily Steve Kelly gave at Dan's May 6 funeral Mass in New York City. Read more reflections on Dan's life and legacy in the August 2016 issue

IN THE STORY OF LAZARUS, told in John’s gospel, seemingly Jesus arrives too late. Humanity, doomed like Lazarus, is sealed under two tons of stone. Is this then an inspired picture of how God sees us? Humanity sealed up in death? Death taunting Jesus until Jesus has a visceral reaction? The hand of death moves the chess piece toward checkmate.

The complexity of the lie goes: “Once you are dead, once afraid, how will God guide you?” If afraid, how can one obey the guidance, dependence on the one who sent him?

“Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for a friend.” So God does know what it’s like to encounter death’s whiplash version. Always, everywhere, each time, each encounter, risks are included.

Jesus went the distance in this anguishing scene. To see him at work is to see life itself overcoming death, because he, as a human being, cooperated, obeyed the guidance of the one who sent him. He loved, he lays down his life.

Now there is a different moral power in town. God is going to crack death’s veneer, a chink in the armor. Through Jesus’ obedience, the crumbling begins, and the hidden, insipid hold of death is broken.

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The Unchained Life of Daniel Berrigan

Bob Fitch / Stanford University Libraries
Bob Fitch / Stanford University Libraries

WHEN WE LOSE a Christian peacemaker such as Daniel Berrigan, as we did in April, it gets very personal for many of us. Berrigan shaped and motivated a Catholic peace movement that became a fundamental and foundational influence on Sojourners and on me personally.

During my early years at Michigan State University, friends were drafted, others feared they would be next, and the Vietnam War consumed the attention of an entire generation. Then I learned about Daniel and Philip Berrigan and the small group of Christian protesters they were inciting. They were the only Christians I had heard about who were against the war in Vietnam.

Here were some Christians who were saying and doing what I thought the gospel said—and what nobody in my white evangelical world was saying or doing. The witness of the Berrigans helped keep my hope for faith from dying altogether. African-American Christians fighting for justice and that “Berrigan handful” of Christians fighting for peace paved the way for my return to faith.

Daniel and Philip Berrigan rose to national prominence after they and seven others burned 378 draft files with homemade napalm taken from a draft-board office in Catonsville, Md., on May 17, 1968. The result was jail sentences for the group and, eventually, Daniel’s play “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.”

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Weekly Wrap 5.27.16: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Killing Dylann Roof

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Obama administration’s decision to seek the death penalty for the Charleston shooter: “The hammer of criminal justice is the preferred tool of a society that has run out of ideas.”

2. At Baylor, the Real Story Isn’t Hypocrisy. It’s the Victims of Sexual Assault.

“... this is a story much larger than Ken Starr and Baylor. This story is about power, and money, and institutions that claim to be faith-based but refuse to stand for victims and against violence.”

3. There’s a Software Used Across the Country to Predict Future Criminals. And It’s Biased Against Blacks.

Lives in the hands of algorithms—

All My Favorite Theologians Are Dying

David Bowie (left) JStone / Shutterstock.com; Alan Rickman JStone / Shutterstock.com

All of my favorite theologians are dying. David Bowie. Alan Rickman. A couple of years ago it was Pete Seeger. It is as if all my favorite theologians are moving on.

Please take me seriously as I say this. It has been a grief-striking week. Just like when Robin Williams passed, there is this void in my life, in my way of knowing God.

St. David Bowie? Not Yet, But Faith Leaders Pay Respects to Dead Rocker

Image via REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/RNS

The legendary musician and showman David Bowie was as mutable and enigmatic about his religious views as he was about his music, art and gender-bending fashion choices.

Yet his death from cancer Jan. 10 at 69 brought tributes from religious leaders who knew talent when they saw it, and perhaps recognized that Bowie’s crossover style would inevitably touch the ineffable as he constantly looked for meaning — and novelty.

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