Hope

A Prayer for Mandela

NELSON MANDELA was the most important political leader of the 20th century. While Roosevelt and Churchill helped protect the West and the world from Hitler’s Nazism, Mandela heroically exemplified the movement against the colonialism and racism that oppressed the global South, shown so dramatically in South Africa’s apartheid. And from a Christian point of view, he combined justice and reconciliation like no other political leader of his time, shaped by the spiritual formation of 27 years in prison.

Shortly after Mandela was released from prison, he came to New York to meet with a small group of Americans who had been involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, and I was blessed to join them. From the start, I felt in Mandela a moral authority I have never experienced with any political leader.

Attending Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 was a highlight of my life. We were picked up at the airport by friends, a couple who had both been in prison and tortured, but now she was about to become a member of the new South African parliament. We saw a group of the infamous South African security police. Having been interrogated by these thugs before, I immediately said, “Let’s get out of here!” To which they replied, “Don’t worry, Jim, they’re ours now.”

At the ceremony, joined by my South African friends, we watched Nelson Mandela announce his vision for a new rainbow nation. More than 100,000 people (and a billion or so more via TV) listened with tears in their eyes and great hope in their hearts.

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VIDEO: A Soldier of Conscience

As Mary Margaret Alvarado writes in The Beginning of the End of War in the January 2014 issue of Sojourners, Joshua Casteel was deployed to Iraq in 2004 to serve as an interrogator in Abu Grahib. While there, Joshua came to the strong understanding that his role as a soldier did not align with his beliefs as a Christian. Before dying of lung cancer in 2011, Joshua wrote and spoke out as a conscientious objector.

“Soldiers of Conscience,” a 2007 documentary, follows eight Iraq War soldiers as they face the moral decision to kill an enemy combatant. In this clip, Joshua describes his “crystallization of consciousness,” or the moment he realized the call to peacemaking requires one to truly love one’s enemies.

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Four Questions for Sister Jean Lait, CSF

Sister Jean Lait prepares pies for a Thanksgiving meal. / Photo courtesy of CSF

Bio: Sister Jean Lait, CSF, is an Anglican Franciscan sister based in San Francisco who protests drones and their effects on children.

Website: communitystfrancis.org

1. Why did you decide to stand up against drones?
During WWII, I experienced the bombing of Coventry in England. As a child of 9 years, I slept under the stairs, anxiously waiting for the bombs to drop. Toward the end of the war, flying bombs known as “doodlebugs” were used. These were very similar to drones and were sent from Germany. They were aimed anywhere. These were bombs where you heard a whistle and then it was silent before the bang.

Thinking back on the fear and anxiety I experienced, the whole idea of drone warfare is just immoral to me. No child should ever be that frightened. No child should have to live in a war zone. That kind of trauma affects you, one way or another. You either use that experience for good or otherwise.

2. What do you and your community do to protest drones?
My order is committed to peace and justice. At one time, my community and I would be out there marching in the streets and protesting. But as one gets older, there are other ways of speaking out against injustice. I’m in my 80s, so the best thing I can do is just be myself and share my story in hopes that it brings awareness to the horrors of drones.

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And Now, the Rest of the Story

From destitution and fear to security, Charlene (Photo courtesy of Sean Sheridan, World Relief)

A FEW YEARS ago in this column, I told the story of Charlene, a woman I had just met in a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Charlene’s civilian husband had been murdered by rebel fighters in Congo’s brutal civil war. She and her eight children then fled for their lives, ultimately finding shelter in the hovel of mud and sticks where I met them (September-October 2010).

Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been forced by destitution to hike into the forest for firewood to trade for food for her children. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been brutalized by fighters who hid in the forests and used rape as a weapon of war. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been impregnated by her rapist. Because of the stigma of rape in that culture, the beautiful two-week-old baby she’d named David was destined to a life of marginalization and despair.

Charlene was the first woman I met in Congo. She explained to me that even when the women went to the forest in groups, armed rebels would overpower and rape them. If husbands went into the forest to protect their wives, the rebels would kill the husbands, and then rape the wives. The women took the risk—and paid the price.

For me, Charlene gave human shape to Congo’s horrific story of colonial exploitation, tribal conflict, and foreign greed. In the four years after we met, hers was the first story I told whenever I spoke about Congo. It was her pain that motivated me to keep speaking, writing, and advocating for Congo.

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The Beginning of the End of War

LATELY I’VE been reading my dead friend’s files. That’s how I know that he often typed in Cambria. That’s how I know that he drafted beginning-to-end, reworking early paragraphs before he set down the next—which is why so much of his writing just stops. That’s how I know that as a child he held press conferences in a White House made of cardboard boxes, wearing a clip-on tie, and that the night before he began school at West Point (a school he’d soon leave), he and his father smoked cigars on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, though his father did not like cigars. That’s how I know how much he thought about pain, which to Heidegger is “the rift,” a “separating that gathers,” and to Wittgenstein is “a having, not a knowing,” and to Elaine Scarry is an “objectless experience” that “destroys language.”

This thinking was for classes at the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago, and this thinking was for other people, namely prisoners and fellow soldiers in the War on Terror, which was also the Global War on Terrorism, and was the Iraq War and is still the War in Northwest Pakistan and the War in Afghanistan, a subset of which is “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and is also and continues to be World War III or World War IV, depending on how you count, and was once The War Against Al-Qaeda and is now the Overseas Contingency Operation, which has been tidily renamed CVE (Countering Violent Extremism).

Joshua Casteel was sent to the Long War after first enlisting in the Army Reserves as a high school junior in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Seven years later he was stationed at Abu Ghraib prison as an interrogator and linguist. This is where he became convicted that he could no longer be an “American war fighter,” which he saw as treason against his “real kingdom and home.”

In Letters from Abu Ghraib, a book of correspondence from this time, Joshua wrote to his parents:

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AUDIO: A Song for Newtown

On December 14, 2012, as news spread about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., composer Lloyd Larson — like so many of us — was devastated by the senseless loss of life. In the face of such intractable gun violence, how do we hold on to hope and keep moving forward when the odds feel overwhelming?

With the help of nine theologians, pastors, and advocates, Sojourners magazine’s December 2013 cover article “Grief, Courage, and Perseverance” seeks to answer this question. Larson also offers solace and hope through his composition “Dwell in the Light Forevermore,” a choral piece dedicated to “all who grieve and in memory of the children and adults of Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

Read these reflections on grief and determined hope one year after Newtown. And as you do, let Larson’s music (with lyrics below by Susan Bentall Boersma) minister to your soul.

Into the valley of shadows, under a veil of gray,
God calls the good and faithful, then guides us on the way.
Through the valley of shadows, lost in the dark of night,
Our God goes before us to lead us to the light.

There will be no more night!
No need for lamp or ray of sun, the Lamb will be the light.
There will be no more night!
No need to fast, to watch, to weep around the throne so bright.

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Five Traits of a False Prophet

Photo courtesy of Christian Piatt
Most prosperity preachers offer hope in exchange for something, which is not real hope. Photo courtesy of Christian Piatt

Somehow I’ve had the good fortune until recently not to know who Theresa Caputo, (AKA the Long Island Medium) was. The long and short of it, in case you’ve been similarly privileged, is that she has a reality show and claims to speak to dead people. She also has a book, which I saw in the airport bookstore, and tours extensively (including where we are on vacation). Before I knew who she was, just looking at her book cover and the related press around her, I assumed she was the latest in a long string of prosperity gospel preachers.

Not exactly, but kinda.

It got me thinking about what folks like this have in common, be they prosperity-preaching ministers, self-help “Jesus light” media darlings, or channels for the dearly departed from Jersey Shore. Following is a list of traits they all seem to have in common.

The New Commonwealth of God

A PROFOUND SENSE of expectation launches a new year. As the season of Advent commences the Christian year, just weeks before the turn of the calendar year, familiar biblical stories invite us to begin again by glimpsing the coming reign of God. Weekly worshippers and annual attendees gather for the season premiere of the greatest story ever told. A promise. A vision. A hope. Great expectation.

The ancient prophet, psalm, gospel, and epistle together extend to the contemporary preacher words of unflinching hope that emerge fresh from the rubble of turmoil, trial, and tribulation of every God-seeking generation. Today’s words of hope must also descend like the savory aroma of a holiday meal, promising solace to the harmed, heartbroken, and hindered.

Familiarity with the Advent and Christmas narratives may leave us unaware of the radical expectation and potential impact that reciting these events can bring. These readings offer an arresting narrative of divine presence inaugurating an unprecedented commonwealth from among the divided nation. The vision makes no sense if it does not offer an alternative to the existing promises of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The narrative challenges us to understand that our celebration of the birth of Jesus is not shiny lights or a musical presentation. It anticipates the arrival of goodness signaling an end to corruption and gloom. This global holiday extends the drama narrated in Christian scripture as each generation must wrestle again with the contemporary relevance of the birth of Jesus.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ DECEMBER 1 ]
Do You See What I See?
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

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VIDEO: The Poet of Poverty

As Andrea Ferich writes in “Digging” in the December 2013 issue, Camden, N.J. is a city of poverty and violence, with more than 40 murders taking place in one neighborhood in the last half-century.

Yet Camden is also a place where “we find our way toward beauty amidst the violence,” Ferich writes. At Sacred Heart Church in Camden, Father Michael Doyle pursues that beauty through poetry and prose. For years he has documented the despair and hope of Camden in monthly letters to friends.

“Poet of Poverty,” a 2008 film, journeys with Camden through the Father’s letters. In this excerpt, Martin Sheen reads the Father’s poem “The Dolphins Danced on Arlington.”

Poet of Poverty from Greenroom Productions on Vimeo.

Seven children were splashing in cascading water like shining wet dolphins in the sun. Somehow, they had hauled a discarded hot tub from Adventure Spas on Chelton Avenue, opened a fire hydrant and the powerful pressure sent the water upward on an old sheet of plywood into the tub and sent the children into ecstasies of delight in spite of all the awful misery around them…Nothing could daunt the wild surge of their young lives and hopes. What is it about hope! Does its real inspiration only rise out of the tragic emptiness to take its pure and unsupported stand against all odds?

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Digging

Monsignor Michael Doyle of Sacred Heart Church in Camden, N.J.

OUR BODIES AND the land are one. Move the earth with your body, dance on it, farm in it, play with it; our final return to it is sacred. The soil is made of clay, like you and me—hydrocarbon molecules, layers of geological and muscular formations, alive. The soil, mountains, and valleys are layered with time like our layered muscle tissue. We dance on the earth in the face of death, for the healing of ourselves and the healing of the land, connected as farmers, dancers, painters, musicians, and lovers of the goodness of the good green earth moving through lament. Our bodies and the earth are one and their healing and grieving are interconnected.

January 2011, around the corner from my house, Anjaneah Williams was murdered, across the street from Sacred Heart Church, pierced in the side, at 2 p.m., walking out from a sandwich shop. It was a Thursday. She died six hours later at Cooper Hospital in the arms of her mother, before the children who deeply loved her. One of the gunman’s stray bullets shot across the street through the stained glass at Sacred Heart. Anjaneah’s death reverberated in the air, an exploding, echoing canyon; a screaming mother in a vacuum, unheard and deafening. Her murder was one of 40 in the neighborhood in the near half-century since the shipyard closed. Forty people on the sidewalks, on the lots where houses once stood, in a neighborhood with 28 known environmentally contaminated sites.

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