In the two decades since his death from a heart attack at age 64, Nouwen’s popularity and influence have spawned at least five biographies. His reflections on faith, loneliness, vulnerability, love, prayer, social justice, and sexuality have won over modern audiences.
But this beloved priest had an even more intimate side, known only to those who corresponded with him privately.
I read with interest Catherine Woodiwiss’ column about her recent visit to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (“Making Room for Delight”). We also recently visited this magnificent edifice on a trip to Istanbul in March. On the day we arrived, a terrorist bomb had been exploded and we were greeted with a bit of apprehension by our guide, hoping we would not let this latest assault stop us from enjoying the Turkish culture and history.
We were staying near the Hagia Sophia and the Great Blue Mosque, so our first visit was to these two beautiful buildings. We were filled with awe, wonder, and delight. But even more, we were comforted by the message of comfort and love that was so clearly and strongly delivered by both “wombs” of faith. Fear is a feeling that closes a door, but the refusal to fear is even more powerful at keeping doors open.
From the Hagia Sophia to the many beautiful mosques, from the crowded bazaars to the busy streets and ferries, we enjoyed an assortment of “Turkish delight.” Thank you, Catherine, for associating “delight” with such a wonderful symbol of God’s enduring presence in the world.
For 30 years, the Berrigan brothers led the nonviolent charge against war, poverty, and racial injustice, writing letters to each other and to other loved ones throughout their years of activism. Their work took them all over the country and world (including to a 1985 Sojourners Peace Pentecost celebration in Washington, D.C.), and these letters catalog their dreams, plans, worries, and prayers during their travels. From news clippings, poems, and reports about trials, to birthday greetings and responses to political elections, the Berrigan brothers expressed honesty, faithfulness, and love for one another and the world.
Wrestling with Jesus
“Who Is This ‘Jesus’?” (Belden C. Lane, April 2016) is a beautiful and challenging reflection by one of the most authentic and honest voices of faith writing today. I keep wrestling with this same Jesus, whoever he is, because the struggle itself places me on a path that’s increasingly merciful and just. Thank you for this!
Don’t Leave Out Native Americans
Anne Courtright made a very important point about the treatment of Native Americans in her letter (“The Original ‘Original Sin’”) published on page 5 of your April issue. Sadly, on page 7 Jim Wallis omitted them when he speaks of “powerful voices.”
Are they simply not powerful because there are not so many of them? Ought we to be asking why they are not so numerous? Because we exterminated so many of them or isolated them on reservations.
I’ve lived and worked in rural Montana, Alaska, and Wyoming most of my life among different tribes. I care deeply about black lives mattering, but I grieve at the omission of the profoundly powerful voices of Native Americans. Don’t leave Native Americans out of the conversation when it comes to multiracial truth-telling.
The March 1 release of a cache of documents obtained during the raid that ended with Osama Bin Laden’s death reveals some of the Al-Qaeda leader’s strange concerns.
In one letter, Bin Laden writes to his wife, warning her that the dental filling she received in Iran may have contained a computer chip used to track her movements.
A Way Forward
Thank you for publishing Jim Wallis’ excerpt “Crossing the Bridge to a New America” in the February 2016 issue. It has injected in me some much-needed optimism and energy. The idea that racism is, indeed, America’s original sin is a powerful one that imbues in our fight against it a new hope. That we can and need to repent from this awful and systemic plague is both challenging and encouraging. With the murders of so many people of color—including Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland, among too many others—it becomes easy to slip into resigned indifference. But Wallis reminds us that we, as both a nation and as a church, need to accept and act on the truth, for it is the only way forward.
Manchester, New Hampshire
The Original ‘Original Sin’
Regarding the excerpt of Jim Wallis’ America’s Original Sin in the February issue, it seems to me that our treatment of Native Americans is just as much our “original sin” as our treatment of slaves.
A series of letters sent from St. John Paul II to a Polish-American academic shed new light on the pair’s close relationship and intimate discussions. Details of the correspondence between the former pope and Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish-born philosopher, were published by the BBC on Feb. 15. The duo’s friendship has been well documented, although newly released letters held at the Polish National Library show the closeness of their relationship.
My thoughts go to the recent perilous journey of a close Iraqi friend — I will call him Mohammed — and his son, whom I will call Omar. Already the survivor of an assassination attempt, this trusted translator, driver, guide, and confidant received a death threat in early August. He fled under cover of night, taking Omar with him. On that same day, 15 men were kidnapped in his village. He left behind a wife and six other children.
From Baghdad, Mohammed and Omar fled to Kurdistan and into Turkey. Next they boarded a boat from Turkey to a series of Greek islands, where, much to their relief, they were at last able to get on a ferry to Athens.
Mohammed wrote letters throughout his journey. The messages that came were understandably brief. I often did not know what to advise him. But having lived with this dear family, I felt as if I were on the hazardous and exhausting 42-day journey with them.
What follows are excerpts from those letters.
Westboro Baptist Church’s absurd notions of humanity are readily evident, in both word and picture, in Joanie Eppinga’s interview of researcher Rebecca Barrett-Fox (“The Face of Hate,” June 2012). If “God Hates America,” as is pictured in the Westboro sign on the cover of the issue, then does this mean that God loves Poland or Lithuania instead? Does God’s allegiance change daily, favoring America on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and then a different country on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays?
Regarding Jim Rice’s column “Fairness for Whom?” (June 2012): One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s prophecies fits the effects of today’s right-wing political agenda with uncanny accuracy: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
San Antonio, Texas
I really appreciated your article about Ada María Isasi-Díaz, “The Mother of Mujerista Theology” (by Rose Marie Berger, July 2012). I had the privilege of taking a summer course with her at the Hispanic Summer Program. Coming from a Latino macho culture, where most of ministry is in the hands of males while the majority of churches are composed of women, it was refreshing to hear her voice claiming women’s equality in ministry, not only at the parish level but also in academia and church leadership.
Re: “The Face of Hate” (interview by Joanie Eppinga, June 2012): Thanks for your great work! But your caricature of Calvinism is uninformed and unnecessary. Not only in the interview with Barrett-Fox but also in your editors’ note, you lump together “conservative” and “Calvinism.” You can do better than that! Progressive Calvinism is alive and well, at the forefront of the justice work. You abhor stereotypes, but you perpetuate this one.
The question that Bill Wylie-Kellermann failed to directly ask and answer in “An Assault on Local Democracy” (June 2012) is, why are some Michigan cities and school districts under the direction of an emergency manager? Certain cities/school districts have an emergency manager not because of their racial makeup, but because their elected officials were either unwilling or unable to make the difficult decisions to ensure the financial viability of the entities they were elected to govern. The City of Detroit was headed for bankruptcy.
As an enthusiastic new subscriber, I was stung by the article “Death by Individualism,” by Danny Duncan Collum (May 2012). My family abstains from vaccinations, but “selfishness” is certainly not our motivation. After two of our children were diagnosed with autism, we have made many choices that set us on a path apart from the crowd, and we have made these choices out of love for our children. Please be careful when generalizing.
Our June 2012 issue described Rebecca Barrett-Fox, interviewed in “The Face of Hate,” as a former editor of The Journal of Hate Studies; in fact, she is its book review editor, while interviewer Joanie Eppinga is its former editor and current assistant editor. We regret the error.
Thank you for your article “Destroying Our Rights to Save Them” (by Dianna Ortiz, April 2012) about indefinite incarceration. Struggling with all these disturbing developments in the political arena, as our civil liberties are systematically dismantled and the Constitution thrown in the trash, we of faith must look to our spiritual core to find courage and guidance.
Regarding your review of James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (“Were You There?” by Andrew Wilkes, March 2012): Cone’s point is an important one. But given that the crucifixion is presented by the gospels as largely following legal procedures, another way to help Americans appreciate the meaning of the cross is to compare it to the electric chair. We are the followers of a man who was publicly, officially executed in the most horrifying way.