Re “In Praise of Politics,” (Editorial 10/24): It seems to me that disillusionment extends far beyond politics. We look to our church and its leaders for unity and to speak out against those who treat the gift of life so poorly. We, the congregation, need our priests, church leaders and organizations to be on the same page with us in denouncing the reality of evil that clearly divides us regarding social issues and injustice. Hopefully, this election is an eye-opener for all about just how far the sheep have strayed, inside and outside the church.
I much enjoyed the piece by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., “Rethinking Russia” (10/24) and wonder if transition is on the cards. As in the United States, in Russia the rich play while justice flounders, but Russia’s clean streets and fewer homeless show a less cruel civic culture than ours. Russians see us much less wholesome than we do ourselves.
I also see Dostoyevsky as Father Schroth does, as a supreme artist; but I am curious about whom Father Schroth sees as the second greatest Russian writer. I have never wished to visit Russia, but now the embers burn, as does my curiosity about the author's literary favorites.
A Little Farther
Re “Not Yet a Saint” (10/24): This is one of your best, Father Martin! This line really leapt out at me: “Come on, just a little farther.” It reminded me of the example of Peter walking on water toward Jesus. Peter walked a few steps with his eyes on Jesus and then looked around, realizing what he was doing and where he was, before starting to sink in his panic. I think that in a World Youth Day sermon, St. John Paul II invited our youngsters to come farther, wade deeper. I'll remember that line, Father Martin.
Let’s Participate More
Re “Third Party,” by Ross McCullough (10/24): I think we should participate more after the election is over. Write, call, collectively assembly to demonstrate our concern, visit our legislators in person and make good arguments on issues on which we want to see positive action. Is this participation in helping our legislators know what policies people want enacted part of what Mr. McCullough calls sausage-making? I don't think so; this term denigrates the process of making good policy. Special interests often have more influence than we ordinary citizens, but we could have a positive impact if we are persistent. All of this helps to educate our legislators about real people with real issues.
Re “Docket Review,” by Ellen K. Boegel (10/24): I think it’s reasonable to avoid holding hearings on a nominee by a president who is soon leaving office and wait for a new president chosen by the people. What “soon” means can be debated. But it makes no difference—any party in power in Congress under circumstances like the present would insist on waiting and, regardless, this one has. So the conclusion may seem to be: Get out and vote. But you can’t really vote for a president on the basis of this issue alone, important as it may be. For me, as for many people, there is no way I could vote for anyone who would make the kind of judicial appointments I believe are important.
Too Much To Ask
In “Stand-Down for U.S. Police?” (Current Comment, 10/17), the point is well made that increased training and re-evaluation of training for police departments are necessary. A key issue is whether local governments are willing or able to fund such efforts. Even if such training were accomplished, it would not resolve the overall mission of police departments. Earlier this year, David Brown, the African-American police chief in Dallas, said that we are asking our police force to do too much. He further said that in every societal failure, we put it on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding? Let the cops handle it. That is too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all problems. So, if we are going to ask U.S. police to stand down, let's also ask the same of our elected officials who are simply not doing their job.
As Patrick Gilger, S.J., says in his article “Re-enchanting the World” (10/10), it is hard to find belonging in an age where we lack a sense of common meaning. As a result, Father Gilger explains, protest movements can become a major source of commonality. But, he argues, bonds based on resistance and refusal are fragile if they lack a positive orientation.
Yet, while belonging is tenuous in some ways, being a part of certain systems is the nearly unavoidable default. Simply being a U.S. citizen, for example, makes me complicit in anything the government does in my name or with my tax dollars—from deporting undocumented immigrants and bombing foreign countries to funding schools, infrastructure projects and services to those in need. I, along with the vast majority of Americans, cannot meet my basic needs without using products produced by people I do not know. I am connected to public power grids, waterlines and sewer systems, and I depend on fossil fuels for transportation.
Some aspects of this connectedness might be good. But the consequences of our interrelatedness make it more difficult to act as though we truly belong to each other. The systems we are a part of can hurt workers at home and abroad, innocent citizens of countries with which we are at war, migrants fleeing violence, people living in poverty or future generations who need the earth to remain a livable environment. Sometimes, it is precisely for the sake of recognizing our connection to—and responsibility for—our fellow humans that we build movements that include a strong element of protest and refusal. And when we begin from the premise that we belong to each other, we do not just resist the “reigning social system” for the sake of resistance; we also have a constructive vision to work toward.
I first realized how difficult—and beautiful—this kind of resistance can be when I visited White Rose Catholic Worker Farm in La Plata, Mo. If you ask members of White Rose what they are against, they might have a long list, including militarism, global warming, consumerism, torture and exploitation of workers. It is their opposition to these forms of violence and oppression that led them to refuse things many Americans consider necessities—paid employment, cars, pre-packaged food, indoor plumbing and electricity—in order to avoid paying taxes that fund unjust wars, polluting the environment and supporting unethical businesses. Yet they might also tell you that distancing themselves from many mainstream institutions and practices has made them closer to God, nature and their fellow humans. As they see it, disconnecting as much as they can from the U.S. government, the global economy and modern technology has not isolated them; it is this very detachment that frees them to live lives of sacrifice, community and joy.
While more extreme than many Catholic Workers, White Rose is part of a long tradition of resistance and community building started by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day in the 1930s. Models of “refusal” in many ways, Day, Maurin and many Catholic Workers since have resisted the government by committing acts of nonviolent civil disobedience: refusing to pay taxes, to be drafted or to register as nonprofits, and criticizing state-sponsored welfare programs.
Yet Maurin and Day stood for much more than refusal. Their whole manner of thinking was based around a positive message rooted in the Gospel: the recognition of the value of each human, and the premise that we must take responsibility for recognizing that value through direct acts of service, voluntary poverty, pacifism and communal living. The movement they started is responsible for hundreds of houses of hospitality (including the Oakland Catholic Worker, where I live and work), which focus on meeting the needs of their local communities.
Whether we choose belonging or refusal, we are at our best when all of our decisions are centered around the people we try to serve—particularly Latin American immigrants living in our area but also other neighbors in East Oakland, our nation and people around the world. What impresses me most about the Oakland Catholic Worker is the community of hundreds of donors and volunteers who contribute to our work each year: the staff, volunteers and board members who came to receive help and returned to serve others; the guests who braved the border to make a better life for their children; and the kids who steal our office supplies, care for their younger siblings and brighten our lives with their artwork. We may not have put the world back together but, while we work on that, we try to exemplify the positive goal of resistance by bringing our community together.