“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, August 17, 2009

Works of mercy

I have been reading a wonderful book that is called "Dorothy Day: Selected Writings" (edited by Robert Ellsberg, Orbis press, 1983) which chronicles the writings of Dorothy Day over her life. She was a Catholic, started The Catholic Worker newspaper, a radical, and pretty much an unapologetic communist, in the purest form of the word. She mostly wrote about poverty, and societal ills, and I have grown to love her ideas. She was greatly influenced by Peter Maurin (who I have discussed elsewhere in this blog).

Here is a quote from Day
Its time there was a Catholic paper printed for the unemployed. The fundamental aim of most radical sheeds is the conversion of its readers to Radicalism and Atheism.

Is it not possible to be radical and not atheist?

Is it not possible to protest, to expose, to complain, to point out abuses and demand reforms without desiring the overthrow of religion?

In an attempt to popularize and make known the encylicals of the Popes in regard to social justice and the program put forth by the Church for the "reconstruction of the social order," this news sheet, The Catholic Worker, is started. (p. 51)

"Is it not possible to be radical and not atheist?" I love that! We need a generation of Christian radicals. People so radical in their love for Jesus, and their working on behalf of social justice, that they become the object of attention by the FBI as Dorothy Day was.

I could easily quote 75% of the book here, it is wonderful, but let me put one more extended quote from a section called "The Scandal of the Works of Mercy" (p, 98-100)
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead.

The Corporeal Works are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.

When Peter Maurin talked about the necessity of practicing the Works of Mercy, he meant all of them. He envisioned Houses of Hospitality in poor parishes in every city of the country, where these precepts of Our Lord could be put into effect. He pointed out that we have turned to state responsibility through home relief, social legislation, and social security, that we no longer practice personal responsibility, but are repeating the words of the first murderer, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The Works of Mercy are a wonderful stimulus to our growth in faith as well as love. Our faith is taxed to the utmost and so grows through this strain put upon it. It is pruned again and again, and springs up bearing much fruit. For anyone starting to live literally the words of the Fathers of the Church - "The bread you retain belongs to the hungry, the dress you lock up is the property of the naked"; "What is superfluous for one's need is to be regarded as plunder if one retains it for one's self" - there is always a trial ahead. "Our faith, more precious than gold, must be tried as through fire."

Here is a letter I received today: "I took a gentleman seemingly in need of spiritual and temporal guidance into my home on a Sunday afternoon. Let him have a nap on my bed, went through the want ads with him, made coffee and sandwiches for him, and when he left, I found my wallet had gone also."

I can only say that the saints would only bow their heads and not try to understand or judge. They received no thanks - well, then, God had to repay them. They forbore to judge, and it was as though they took of their cloak besides their coat to give away. This is expecting heroic charity, of course. But these things happen for our discouragement, for our testing. We are sowing the seed of love, and we are not living in the harvest time. We must love to the point of folly, and we are indeed fools, as Our Lord Himself was who died for such a one as this. We lay down our lives too, when we have performed so painfully thankless an act, for our correspondent is poor in this world's goods. It is agony to go through such bitter experiences, because we all want to love, we desire with great longing to love our fellows, and our hearts are often crushed as such rejections. But as a Carmelite nun said to me last week, "It is a crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart."

...Well, our friend has suffered from his experience and it is part of the bitterness of the poor, who cheat each other, who exploit each other even as they are exploited, who despise each other even as they are despised.

And it is to be expected that virtue and destitution should go together. No, as John Cogley has written, they are the destitute in every way, destitute of the world's goods, destitute of honor, of gratitude, of love, they need so much that we cannot take the Works of Mercy apart and say I will do this one or that one Work of Mercy. We find they all go together...

Do I need to make the connection between these words and the experience of persons with various disabilities? "it is to be expected that virtue and destitution should go together." Might I ask whether there is virtue in my life if there is no person experiencing destitution in my life? I am confronted by my lack of personal responsiblity for others as being reflective of the words of the first murderer. I am confronted by my wealth, I probably have 10 pairs of jeans in my closet, and think about how I contribute to plundering the naked. It is not just about "downsizing" the things we own, it is thinking about how there are people in your community who cannot afford a pair of jeans, let alone the rest of the world.

SO it must imply that I must deny myself the things I can afford for myself and conscientiously take money and make other people's lives better. How many guitars, how many computers, how many (fill in the blank for you) do you need, when there are whose who live in poverty, because of their disability in your own community. After I read this section of Day's book, I looked at my closet in shock and immediately began to think about how I could live differently.

It is the Godly sorrow that I mentioned a couple of blogs back that begins with repentence. That is where I am at the moment, repentence. But I must move forward to an eagerness to examine myself, to clear myself so I can look at my closet with some degree of confidence that I have repented. Read this passage from Day above again, then revisit the 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 section. It will make you feel guilty but it might also do you, and a lot of poor people, many of whom are disabled, in your community and around the world, some good.

James 2:14 is a challenge to us... What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Simon the shoe maker

In Cairo, there is a Coptic Christian church called "the hanging church" which is old and absolutely beautiful. In the entrance hallway to the church there are several mosaics depicting a miracle which allowed the church to be built. The story is told that the bishop wanted to build a church. However, the land they owned was on the side of a mountain and could not be built upon. However, the Moslems in the city had plenty of land. The bishop went to the Moslem leaders and asked for some land. The Moslem leader replied that in the Bible, there is the part where Jesus says that if someone has faith the size of a mustard seed, he can move mountains. So they could just ask God to move the mountain if they had enough faith. The bishop was very disturbed. He wanted to believe that through faith he could move mountains, but doubted. He got the congregation to fast and pray for 3 days asking the Lord what to do. In some manner (I don't remember how) God appeared to him in a dream telling him that there was a man in the city who had the faith required to move the mountain (see picture of priest dreaming and him being shown the cobbler). The man was Simon the cobbler. So the bishop found him and asked him to pray that the mountain would be removed. He did and there was an earthquake that moved the mountain! (see picture of the miracle occurring with the sun shining through the crack in the mountain on the left side of the picture) The church was then built.

This story struck me in a variety of ways, but what touched me was that God knew who had the most faith in the city, and it was the cobbler, not the bishop or any of his priests. There is a great lesson in this story about faith, and people, and how God sees the world. I have stated elsewhere in this blog that when I speak to my group of friends, many of whom have intellectual disabilities, I do not stand before them as the one with the greatest faith, or the greatest morality. I may have been given the greatest opportunities, but that only makes me all the more accountable for the fact that I am not the one with the greatest faith or morality or love for others. No, I am confident that one of the adults with disabilities has the greatest faith and that causes me to approach all of them in a much different manner. You see the thing that is the most important thing in life, Faith in God, they may have gotten correct. Their complete faith is the stuff that can move mountains.

However, the church and too often me as well, focus on things that are NOT very important in God's eyes. (see close up of Simon the cobbler at left) Things like appearance and intellect. My friends with intellectual disabilities would be high on God's list for praying to move mountains, or loving others in a Godly manner. I wonder how far down on the list pastors and church leaders actually are. They might be very embarrassed to find out.

I believe in the prayers of my intellectually disabled friends for these very reasons. I know of their faith and I know of their love. So I truly do covet their unpretentious, simple prayers spoken out of faith and love.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Godly Sorrow

Kathi and I just returned from a trip to Ukraine and Ethiopia. While in Ethiopia, I was asked to do a morning devotional for the team I was a part of. I wondered about how to integrate the things we had been experiencing there. The poverty is overwhelming to see. As I looked around I saw a section in the back of the Bible that addresses or offers verses related to how someone might be feeling. Sorrow was one of the listings with the verse, 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. Verses 10 and 11 jumped out at me in particular. "Godly sorrow brings repentance" and then later, "See what this Godly sorrow has produced in you; what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done."

As I reflected on these things, I noted that
1. My time in Ethiopia has brought out a kind of Godly sorrow when I see the poverty and know my wealth.
2. It brings out a kind of repentance in a Luke 12:48 (to whom much is given much is expected) kind of way.
3. Looking at verse 11, Godly sorrow brings about
-earnestness - honesty with myself and others
-eagerness to examine myself - What can I do? How can I help? How do I contribute to the bad?
-indignation - what I see should not be
-alarm - something must be done immediately
-longing - for a different reality for people, that God's kingdom would come
-concern - for people who have no work, little means for livelihood, a weak or poor government, no safety net
- a desire to see justice done - in the lives of the people, poor and disabled who I met in Ethiopia.

This section of scripture almost strikes me as a recipe for integrating such a mission experience as one works through each of the aspects of the verses, ending with a readiness to see justice done. It is almost as if there are steps in a process that brings us to a point where the Godly sorrow late led to repentance, now takes us to the place where we are prepared to to what is necessary, to make the sacrifices, to see justice done when perhaps prior to embracing the Godly sorrow, we had not humbled ourselves to the point of wanting to see justice done. Before we weren't ready, but now we are.

The Christian church needs to work through this process in regard to persons with disabilities. It begins with repentance. It was amazing that I was sharing Wolfensberger's wounds with a group of pastors in Assela, Ethiopia. When I came to wound 16 (I believe) about exclusion from higher order thinking including church and religion, I commented that the Christian church was guilty of all of the wounds. Of course as I was speaking, my words were being translated. I made the comment, "May God forgive us" in reference to the Church's complicity. As I turned back to the screen, the entire group of about 100 pastors all said in unison in their language, "MAY GOD FORGIVE US!" It was very powerful, but perhaps the first time that when I shared this information, the audience, pastors in particular, responded in such a way. Too often the response is "It is not as bad as you think." Praise God for the Ethiopian pastors who simply responded with a statement of repentance which has to be the point of beginning. No wonder that there has not been earnestness, indignation, alarm, longing, concern and a desire to see justice done in the church toward persons with disabilities. There has yet to be repentance.

I pray that the church will wake up in Godly sorrow in the same way that the Corinthians woke up to Paul's confrontation in the letter that this section of scripture refers to.