“Christianity is really so bloody simple!”

photo for Trouw by Patrick Post

published in Trouw, 23 August 2011 (in De Verdieping)

By Frank Mulder

We cannot work for peace without being open to our opponents, says Jim Forest, writer and secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. And that requires setting our fear aside.

“Jesus loves Wikileaks” reads the banner in front of the American consulate on Museum Square in Amsterdam. A group of Christian activists are calling attention to the fate of Bradley Manning, the whistleblower who passed on military secrets to Wikileaks and has been imprisoned for several months without trial.

One of the participants is the 69-year-old peace worker Jim Forest. “Manning has been kept in solitary confinement for months,” says Forest. “People who dare to stick their necks out to expose abuses are the people I want to support.” He’s not very enthusiastic about the text on the banner. “Julien Assange of Wikileaks is not my role model. And you shouldn’t claim Jesus for your own particular cause. But I do know that Jesus told us to tell the truth. And that’s why I think we should be grateful to whistleblowers, especially when they expose what’s going on in Iraq.”

Forest is known in America mainly as a writer of books on spirituality. Recently he published a biography of Dorothy Day, the woman who founded the Catholic Worker movement in1933 and serves as a model for many Christian activists.

Forest himself lived in community with her in Manhattan during the sixties. “That was one of the ‘houses of hospitality’ for which the Workers are still known: communities, often in run-down neighborhoods, where addicts, refugees or other people in need can come for food, clothing and shelter. Since then hundreds of such communities have been established in all the cities of America and outside the US as well.” Catholic Workers are devoted to living out the Gospel in a literal, simple way, and they own as little property as possible. “Just like the early Franciscans. In a culture where many people prefer to live alone with their families, Dorothy challenged people to experiment with hospitality.”

Dorothy Day, says Forest, is still relevant for her radical social critique. “She didn’t think charity was enough. She wanted a society in which it was easier to be good, a society that was more hospitable to the poor and the stranger. Her action on behalf of trade unions and for peace often brought her into conflict with the authorities. She called herself an anarchist, by which she didn’t mean overthrowing the government but being loyal to the Gospel first and then to the government.”

Most Catholic Workers have spent time in jail, following the example of Day herself. Forest also spent more than a year in prison for burning draft records in 1968 during the Vietnam War. He conducted the action in public along with a group of clergy, while the Gospel was being read. “Sometimes you have to commit civil disobedience. But the purpose should always be to convey a message, never just to be confrontational.” His radicalism is not leftist, he says. “The good thing about the left is that sometimes they’re the only ones who do something about unemployment, war or racism. But when it becomes a religion, opponents are soon seen as political objects. Are you a follower of Wilders [the anti-Muslim Dutch politician]? Then I’m supposed to despise you! According to Christianity, however, I must always give the other the chance to repent by not getting in the way with a sense of my own self-importance. Every day I work on cleaning up my act.”

In 1977 Forest and his family came to the Netherlands to work for an international peace organization. “We were involved in the movement against nuclear weapons. They were being stored in Bergen, within cycling distance of my house. The movement was very important ? internationally, too ? but I always felt there was something lacking. The work of consciousness-raising was focused mainly on fear. ‘If the Russians launch a nuclear weapon on the storage site, all of North Holland will be destroyed!’ But it was that fear that was the most important cause of the Cold War.” For real peace you have to get to know the person behind the enemy, Forest believes, and for this reason he decided to visit the Soviet Union. He was so impressed by the church there that in 1988 he and his wife joined the Russian Orthodox church in Amsterdam.

The Eastern Orthodox are not among the most progressive Christians under the sun, Forest admits, and he even has a joke about it: “How many Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “None! What is this ‘change’?” The Orthodox churches have a survival mentality, Forest explains, which is quite understandable. “They’re in countries where you want to be seen as little as possible. But the social tradition is very rich. This is why we set up the Orthodox Peace Fellowship ? to tell those stories. We talk about the most important compiler of the Orthodox Liturgy, for example, John Chrysostom, the fourth-century Patriarch of Constantinople. He was exiled by the emperor for being too socially radical. According to him, you cannot find Christ on the altar if you have failed to see him in the beggar at the church door. Every day you must try to see the face of God in the other.” Forest laughs: “Christianity is really so bloody simple!”

Without that attitude, working for peace becomes a matter of dividing people into the good guys and the bad guys, and you have to choose which one you want to belong to. “The other side is never going to listen to you. If you want them to change, you have to enter into a relationship with them. Peace work is tied up with love, even if ideology sees that as betrayal.”

For Forest, peace work is more than solving violent conflicts. “It’s about everything that makes relationships, families and society more healthy. If you’re not working for peace ? if you’re making things that people don’t need, for instance ? you’re probably not in the right place. Hospitality is peace work, too. Peace work begins when you open your door, when you open your face.”

That can be exhausting, Forest knows from experience. There are so many people in need. “The people who inspire me ? Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi ? all say that you won’t last without prayer. It was a daily discipline for them, and it was more than meditating. Prayer is conversation with God, in which God is usually silent. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hear him. There are deathly silences but there are also audible silences.”

This is how we find the strength to keep from doing what society and advertising tell us to do. “They tell us we ought to be afraid. We must always refuse to listen to them. This is less exciting than exposing abuses, of course, but it is just as much a form of civil disobedience.”

Sidebar:

Jim Forest (1942) is a journalist. He is married and has six children. Despite his communist upbringing, he soon found his way to Christian belief. Through Dorothy Day he was introduced to the Catholic Worker community in New York. At that time he was actively involved in the civil rights movement and campaigns against the Vietnam War, for which he spent more than a year in prison. “A great year,” he calls it. “I could finally read Dostoyevsky, at Dorothy’s recommendation. And I had time for the Bible.” Forest was also a friend of the famous monk Thomas Merton.

In 1977 Forest was appointed general secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in the Netherlands. After traveling to the Soviet Union in the eighties he became Russian Orthodox. Since then he has been international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, for which he was the editor-in-chief of the magazine In Communion until this summer.

He has written several books on spirituality in addition to a few children’s books, and has recently published a new biography of Dorothy Day entitled All is Grace. Day (1897-1980) was an American journalist who, along with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker, a movement for nonviolent action dedicated to helping the poor that is also active in Amsterdam.

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translation: Nancy Forest
* * *

Fighting Among the Doves

drawing by Len Munnik

One of the most bizarre and disheartening experiences I had during my many years working in the peace movement was the passionate opposition I encountered from a number of fellow anti-war activists when I circulated reports I had received from Thich Nhat Hanh and other reliable sources of major human rights violations in post-war Vietnam. The reports led me to propose an effort be made by well-known war resisters to urge the Hanoi government to open its prisons and “re-education camps” to inspection by staff of Amnesty International or the International Red Cross.

Little did I anticipate the firestorm that quickly followed.

For my personal account of the controversy, “After the War Was Over: Seeing What You’d Rather Not See”, see: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/10/10/after-the-war/

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(Apologies for any typos — this is scanned from a photocopy.)

Worldview magazine (NY) / April 1977

There will always be people to minimize violations of human rights and to justify those they acknowledge. This is happening now in the case of Vietnam.

Fighting Among the Doves

by Jim Finn

At the end of the war in April, 1975, there was no bloodbath, as some of the more harsh antagonists of North Vietnam predicted. That terrible possibility not having come to pass, many Americans were pleased to turn their attention elsewhere. But others, including some leaders of the antiwar movement in this country, did not let falter their interest in and their compassion for the cruelly tried people of Vietnam. They collected as much information as they could about what was going on in Vietnam. Much of it was admirable, even impressive. But gradually rumors, reports, unverifiable but persuasive testimony, foreign news stories, and the accounts from refugees forced some people to believe that there was also in Vietnam a substantial violation of human rights.

Those moved by this evidence mounted relatively modest efforts to place their concern before officials of the Vietnamese Government. At first they wrote private letters to Mr. Dinh Ba Thi, the Vietnam Observer to the United Nations, and when these went unanswered, they made a public appeal. But even as these efforts were going forward, they were attacked by people who questioned the accuracy of the reports and the propriety and usefulness of making them public.

It becomes increasingly clear that, taken seriously, the issue of human rights is divisive. It disturbs what might otherwise be stable relations between individuals, between organizations. between governments.

Having taken seriously the issue of human rights in Vietnam, the “peace movement” in this country has splintered into different and sometimes acrimonious factions. People who marched side by side in antiwar demonstrations and sometimes shared the same cell for their acts of resistance now approach quite differently the reports of human rights violations in Vietnam, the explanations and justifications offered by the Vietnamese, and the moral and political responsibility of American war resisters.

As trivial and unsavory as the exchanges between the factions sometimes are, the debate itself is important. It is important because its outcome will influence the attitudes of Americans toward issues of human rights, even more important because it may help determine the fate of political prisoners in Vietnam. On both sides of the debate are writers, publicists, and leaders in various organizations — people who influence attitudes and policies in this country and may even influence those in Vietnam.

That is what gives whatever significance it has to this debate on human rights.

The first organized efforts to get some response from officials of the Vietnam Government were begun last September, when Richard Neuhaus, senior editor of Worldview, in cooperation with Jim Forest, drafted an initial version of the Appeal. Forest, a prisoner some years back for acts of war resistance, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and editor of its magazine, Fellowship, also wrote an article (“Vietnam: Unification Without Reconciliation”) in the journal detailing the charges with which he was concerned. The draft of the “Appeal to the Government of Vietnam Regarding Human Rights” was then reworked with the help of Tom Cornell of FOR; Laura Hassler, formerly with the U.S. Liaison Office for the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation; and Robert Ellsberg, managing editor of the Catholic Worker.

Before the Appeal was made public Jim Forest, wrote letters to the Vietnamese Observer to the U. N. asking for some response. These went unanswered. Among other unanswered letters to the Vietnamese Observer to the U.N. are a letter sent by over twenty Representatives to Congress and another sent last fall by Sanford Gottlieb, Executive Director of SANE. Citing the long history of that organization’s opposition to the war, the letter looked forward to the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations, but it also expressed concern about reports of hundreds of thousands of detainees, including Third Force parliamentarians, Hoa Hao leaders, and Buddhists who had staunchly opposed the Thieu regime — reports that had come from both the press and private Vietnamese sources.

In gathering corroborative evidence for the Appeal this ad hoc group relied upon the reports of experienced journalists such as Jean Lacouture and Patrice De Beer, whom the Vietnamese revolutionaries had respected for their reporting during the war years and who had spent considerable time in Vietnam since the war; on individuals who had been reliable sources of information concerning repression and torture during the Diem-Thieu regime; on the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which, throughout the war, worked to bring it to an end, assisted draft resisters, and advocated political tolerance; and on the testimony of some refugees.

This Appeal was then signed by about a hundred people who shared opposition to the war and now share a concern for the violation of human rights in Vietnam. (See partial text and attached list of signers.) The Appeal calls for the admission of Vietnam to the U.N. and for aid to that country, and it ends, as it begins, on a note of hope. But the burden of the Appeal is to call attention to reported violations of human rights in Vietnam, the thousands in “re-education” camps, including named individuals who opposed Thieu, and the “tragic self-immolation of 12 monks and nuns in Can Tho Province” who burned themselves on November 2, 1975, as a protest against repressive measures.

This Appeal was sent to the Vietnamese Ambassador on November 16, with a request for a meeting. There was no immediate response, but the Appeal formed the basis for a well-publicized press conference held by The International League for Human Rights on December 29, 1976. The conference made public a letter from Roger Baldwin, a veteran fighter for the protection of human rights and Honorary President of the League. Formally requesting Ambassador Dinh Ba Thi to convey the Appeal to his Government, Baldwin’s letter said in part:

“As a non-governmental organization affiliated with the United Nations, we address you to convey our deep concern with reported activities of your Government which appear to be in violation of the human rights principles to which we assume your Government subscribes by virtue of its United Nations connection.

“These activities, supported by documentation, cover suppression of language held to be critical of the Government or its policies, thus contravening Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In similar fashion, other articles of the Declaration appear to be violated in the detention of political prisoners solely for activities not involving violence or organized opposition. In this connection, we enclose a petition addressed to your Government and signed by 90 well-known Americans concerned with foreign affairs.”

The Vietnamese immediately responded publicly to this press conference, and early in February I received — as I presume all who signed the Appeal received — a letter from Ambassador Dinh Ba Thi saying he had been instructed by the Prime Minister, Mr. Pham Van Dong, to reply to the November mailing. The rather sketchy reply was in two parts: first, a one-page “aide-memoire” denying in general terms any violation of human rights and second, a one-page statement commenting on three specific cases, including “The ‘Immolation’ in Can Tho.”

The aide-memoire stated that those who had opposed Thieu now occupied “well-deserved positions in the new society,” and those who were misguided but have learned better and repented are now full members of the new society. “Being detained are only those who had done so much harm to the people and the country and now continue to sabotage activities against the laws and the peaceful life of the people.”

What is offered as a description of what took place in Can Tho deserves full quotation:

“According to the testimony of the witnesses, the following are facts on the so-called “immolation” in Thien Vien Duoc Su Temple, Tan Long A hamlet, Tan Binh village, Phung Hiep district, Can Tho province, on the night of November 1, 1975:

“1. Pham Van Co was a wrong-doer who claimed himself specialized in medical treatment for women but his only purpose was to give sexual stimulation. He disguised a s monk and had been twice admitted to live in temples but twice he was expelled for immoral conduct of promiscuity which is severely forbidden by Buddhism. April 1970, he set up for himself a pagoda in Tan Long hamlet named Thien Vien Duoc Su and called himself Duoc Su Nhu Lai (Buddha The Healer) where he admitted young women as disciples for his sexual satisfaction.

“2. 1972, a nun called Dieu Hau was pregnant with him. He killed her and burnt her corpse at midnight, then spread the news about her “immolation for peace.”

“3. 1974, another nun named Dieu Nguyen became pregnant. He also killed her and burnt her corpse to erase evidences of his crime.

“4. After the liberation of South Viet Nam, Co continued his immoral conduct and housed prostitutes in his temple. In face of being exposed, Co decided to end his life, burnt the temple and himself after killing 11 others including two youngsters. This incident however was described by some reactionary elements as an “immolation” to accuse the local authorities of repressing religion.”

This account of what is taking place in Vietnam and of what took place in Can Tho differs from reports offered by reliable journalists, refugees, and the Unified Buddhist Church. One might expect that a group of people who had learned to distrust official government statements would at least express cautious skepticism of reports from Vietnamese officials and lend support to the Appeal, which suggests that some independent international agency investigate discrepancies in the accounts of what is taking place in Vietnam.

The Appeal has generated such a response, but it has also provoked sharp attacks against those who initiated and those who signed it.

For his efforts Jim Forest has been accused of being an agent of the CIA, of needing to spend some time in a reeducation camp, of being a covert anti-Communist, of being a white bourgeois American — of anything that might undermine the legitimacy of his efforts. The present Chairman of Clergy and Laity Concerned (of which Richard Neuhaus was co-founder) wrote a letter to the Washington Post and the New York Times to dissociate the organization from the Appeal, in the course of which letter he criticized not Vietnam but the United States. In the first issue of Seven Days, of which he is a staff member, David Dellinger, a longtime pacifist, accused those who initiated the Appeal of “circulating for sometime now every remotely credible rumor it could get its hand on that, if true, would discredit the new Vietnamese government.” He states that the two major sources of their information are Thich Nhat Hanh (who was not allowed in Vietnam under Thieu’s regime and is not allowed in now) and Ted Jacqueney, both of whom Dellinger suggests are untrustworthy because they were long hostile to the National Liberation Front and Hanoi.

Another person who totally rejects the grounds of the Appeal is Gareth Porter of the Indochina Resource Center (which Graham A. Martin, the last U.S. ambassador in Saigon, bitterly credited with undermining essential support for the war — no small beer). Porter has organized a group that subscribes to the sentiment that there is no evidence that allows anyone “to impugn the good faith” of the Vietnamese Government in regard to human rights. He assesses the facts as he perceives them and concludes that they do not provide a warrant for investigative action. Presumably, if he were led to a different assessment or were presented with irrefutable evidence that serious violations of human rights do exist, he would change his stance.

For others, however, even hard evidence would not be sufficient to warrant investigation. Consider, for example, a longtime pacifist deeply engaged in Vietnamese affairs over the years. Writing from Hong Kong to take issue with Jim Forest, he stated:

“Even if I believed that there was a consistent policy of the violation of human rights, I just would not have the nerve — as an American — to tell the Vietnamese how to organize their society. Rather I would, I do — acknowledge and confess my own complicity in allowing the war to go on for such a long time …. If the Vietnamese had chosen the course of mass executions and plunder, of political prisoners and torture, it would have been our own strategies of terror and brutality which drove them to it.”

Not to have the nerve to defend those unjustly punished be cause one is an American is failure of nerve indeed. Rational discussion on these terms is difficult.

Other prominent Americans have both minimized the evidence that has been offered and shifted responsibility on thi s issue from Vietnam to the United States. A number of these people signed a statement (drawn up by Corliss Lamont and published in the New York Times on January 30 of this year), which estimates the number of people “detained in re-education centers” as 40,000 and states that many of these people are guilty of “rape, murder, torture, bribery and extortion.” That number of imprisoned “Saigon collaborationists” is smaller than almost all other estimates. (Early in February, 1977, Fox Butterfield of the New York Times estimated 200,000, and even Vietnam’s Ambassador to France put the number at 50,000.)

But the number is further diminished in importance by comparing it to the “several million Vietnamese involved in Saigon’s war effort.” If these people are being “detained” for the crimes imputed to them in this statement, one would like to know if they have been so charged by the Government and whether they have passed through even a crude judicial process. These are questions usually pressed by those who are concerned with human rights. The signers of this statement assert, however, that “Vietnam presents a very different case.” That, of course, is what is at issue.

In the ongoing debate between those who signed what has been labeled the Forest Appeal and those who criticize it, the national office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has played an important role. Staff members, working from this Quaker office in Philadelphia, have circulated letters and statements sharply criticizing those who shaped that Appeal and challenging the validity of the evidence that has been offered. Louis W. Schneider, the Executive Secretary, wrote a letter to all signers of the Appeal saying that the evidence offered “is either open to serious question or is insufficiently substantiated in order to be able to make particular allegations concerning certain individuals who may have suffered a loss of human rights. Indeed, in certain instances, including the alleged immolation, there is contradictory information. Until such questions are dispelled or more authentic documentation is adduced, our colleagues demur to subscribe either to generalizations or to representations on behalf of particular individuals who may have been cited.” The judgment of AFSC, he concludes, is that the government of Vietnam is acting with extraordinary humaneness.

From the Quaker International Center in Paris, the Director, Joseph Heflin, “after much investigation into international law concerning the protection of human rights,” wrote to ask that his name be withdrawn from the Appeal, which he had originally signed, for the following reasons:

First, “Since the United States Government has failed to ratify a single United Nations Convention on Human Rights, I am no longer in a position to sign any appeal as an American citizen which is addressed to another Government….”

Second, “I also believe it to be most presumptuous of me to have taken this stand when the U.S. Government has still not officially recognized the Republic of Vietnam at the United Nations.”

The rationale of the first reason would, one presumes, hobble even President Carter and that of the second once again places responsibility on the U.S. And, in the meantime, about those political prisoners in Vietnam, well….

That reasoning does not, however, permeate Quaker activities in this country or in Vietnam. During the war, some members of the national staff talked with representatives of the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) and publicly supported, not simply peace, but a North Vietnamese victory. Soon after the war the AFSC circulated a letter in which a staff member; describing the killing of looters in Vietnam, implicitly endorsed the execution of such summary justice. These staff members continue to be sympathetic to the victors in that war. Nothing criminal about that — even if it does suggest a political orientation most people do not associate with the Quakers. But it helps to explain why some AFSC staff members are skeptical of those whom they regard, correctly or not, as anti-Communist. (In this debate, perversely recalling some of those in the 1950’s, the charge of being anti-Communist is exactly that — a charge.)

One could spend more time threading the byzantine corridors of this potentially significant debate. But we only arrive, finally, at what in these circumstances is the overwhelming question: Presented with the evidence available and the argument that swirls around it, how can most of us reach a practical decision? Morally and politically, what are we to do? Ignore the alleged violations, accept them as the inevitable if regrettable concomitant of Socialist reconstruction, or urge their investigation and possible mitigation?

Each person who signed the Appeal — or refused to — must speak for him or herself. Joan Baez, for example, correctly pointed out that the letter was not an indictment but an inquiry as well as an appeal. And she added:

“Although there is doubt concerning the political prisoners in Vietnam, I would rather err in unintentionally offending government officials anywhere in the world, to whom I would apologize later if I have been mistaken, than to offend one political prisoner whom I might now conceivably help and whom later I may never be able to reach.

“In offering my own reasons for signing the Appeal I acknowledge that one moves in an area in which facts are inseparable from judgment and a degree of uncertainty is inevitable, that one relies upon reports from those one has earlier learned to trust. Many of us during the war relied upon the journalistic reports of Jean Lacouture. When he now reports on the number of prisoners in Vietnam, I know of no particular reason to distrust him. During the war some of the information I received came through the good offices of Jim Forest, Tom Cornell, the Catholic Peace Fellowship, and their sources. It checked out. Although they are not infallible, I see no reason to distrust them now. And there are others I could name whose help I have received. For fear of reprisal some of these sources cannot be named, but that, too, was true during the war when we relied, many of us; on publicly unnamed sources.

“There is, in addition, the general attitude and expectation that one brings to bear on postwar situations. I don’t mean a possible ideological approach that might obscure — or clarify — one’s observations. I mean the kind of thing that forces one to feel with a heavy heart the truth of Lacouture’s remark, itself the expression of deep sadness, that ‘it is better for someone trying to preserve intact his admiration for a revolution not to know its victims.’

“This recalled to me when I first read it Camus’s reference to ‘justice, that eternal refugee from the camp of the victor.’ I have a general expectation that grave injustices will be inflicted upon the defeated after almost any war, and almost certainly after one fought under the banner of revolution. That expectation may be dismissed as undue skepticism or cynicism, as insufficient faith in and reliance upon the goodness inherent in humankind. I would like to be persuaded that this were so and that Vietnam today could be the instrument of my conversion. But the melancholy history of wars and their aftermath, to which recent decades have contributed a possibly undue share, seems not to point in that direction. My own hope is that the injustices that occur will be limited, and finally brought under civilizing control. That is my hope concerning Vietnam.”

And what of those visitors to Vietnam, some of whom are obviously intelligent, sincere, concerned, diligent, who bring back highly favorable reports, contradictory to harsher views? Are not they to be trusted? For the most part, the efforts of these people are to be honored and their sincerity respected. But we know that honorable people have traveled through other countries and brought back glowing reports, unaware that they had passed through and around areas that were scenes of extensive misery and horror. I know that I could guide a stranger, even an English-speaking foreigner, through the streets of New York (skipping Harlem and South Bronx) and lead him to make a report of this city that Mayor Beame himself might find unduly fulsome. I cannot think the Vietnamese leaders are less skilled than I, and I consider it natural that they would like to display the most attractive aspects of their new society.”

There is one other point, which for Staughton Lynd was critical. In an open letter to Dave Dellinger explaining why he and Alice Lynd signed the Appeal, Lynd wrote that “Any revolutionary government finds itself much less threatened by the ordinary adherents of the overthrown regime, who often enough have opportunistic motives for throwing their support to the new men of power, than by persons who opposed the old regime for principled reasons other than the reasons of the victors. It is this kind of person who fares worst the day after the revolution. In Russia, the Social Revolutionaries, the Workers Opposition, the Kronstadt rebels were persons of this kind. This is a point I keep in mind when I read, for example, of the people described by Ted Jacqueney in his accounts of Vietnamese prisoners.”

What then is to be done? The Appeal itself is modest in that it asks only for an examination of the mounting charges of serious violations of human rights in Vietnam. The work of reconciliation should go forward, but we should not avert our eyes from possible abuses that we would object to in other countries tor whose people we felt special concern. As it was well expressed at the World Council of Churches meeting in Nairobi, “it is impossible to have zones of silence in the area of human rights.” It is not impossible to have some impartial international body investigate, with the help of the present Government of Vietnam, the questions that are being raised and that, if left unresolved, will continue to fester. Since it is not impossible, and since it is desirable, we should work to bring it about.

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APPEAL TO THE GOVERNMENT OF VIETNAM (Partial Text)

Beginning soon after the victory of North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government in the Spring of 1975, and sharply increasing in recent months, reports have reached us indicating grievous and systematic violations of human rights by your government. The evidence is too specific and persuasive for us to ignore.

Especially with regard to those imprisoned or otherwise detained, in May a Vietnamese official stated that 200,000 were being held in re-education camps. while some respected foreign journalists in Vietnam have estimated 300,000 detainees — the actions of your government constitute a great disappointment to all those who expected not the “bloodbath” so eagerly predicted by the American White House but rather an example of reconciliation built on tolerance. We realize that those held include individuals responsible for aspects of the war and the repressive mechanisms of the former Saigon government. But, having believed your fervent past expressions of commitment to human rights, we are deeply saddened to hear of the arrest and detention of a wide range of persons. including religious. cultural and political figures who opposed the Thieu government despite considerable personal risks, such individuals as Bui Tung Hum, Doan Quoc Sy, Luong Trong Tuong, Fr. Tran Huu Thanh, Tran Van Tuyen. Tran Ngoc Chau, Vu Hoang Chuong, Hong Hai Thuy and Duyen Anh.

Differences among us on what could be hoped for in the revolution’s victory did not in the past hamper our solidarity in opposing America’s intervention. Our agreement, then and now, transcends difference in ideology and analysis, being firmly grounded in our concern for the lives of the Vietnamese people. We have recognized that the credibility of our witness is related to the candor with which we demonstrate our concerns and our commitment to certain ethical precepts regardless of politics….

We therefore call upon you to honor the concern for human rights which you have expressed both in formal agreements and in countless conversations with peace activists. We call for a complete public accounting of those detained or imprisoned indicating as well, the charges for which they are held. We call on the government of Vietnam to facilitate on-the-spot inspection by the United Nations, Amnesty International or other independent international agencies in order to assure that those in the government’s charge are treated in accord with international covenants regarding human rights. We call on you to release any individuals who are held purely because of their religious or political convictions. We call for government recognition of the right to open and free communication.

We recall the tragic self-immolation of l2 monks and nuns in Can Tho Province last November 2, protesting administrative orders redefining and drastically restricting their religious practice. We have noted reports that many service projects of the Unified Buddhist Church (An Quang), including those assisting war orphans. have been closed, their funds frozen and properties confiscated….

Anne Aitken
Robert Aitken
James K. Aiu
James V. Albertini
Joan C. Baez
Roger Baldwin
Charles Bloomstein
Robert Bly
Elise Boulding
Kenneth Boulding
Malcolm Boyd
Kay Boyle
Millen Brand
Patricia Brandt
David R. Brower
Mary Bye
Angie O’Gorman Calvert
Hayden Carruth
Arthur W. Clark
Roberta Cohen
Community for Creative Nonviolence
Thomas C. Cornell
Dorothy Day
Paul Deats
Richard Deats
Marty Deming
The Rev. Frederick Johnson
Geoff Pope
Kate Pope
Richard Dieter
R. Scott Kennedy
Bishop John J. Dougherty
James Douglass
Shelley Douglass
Bishop Carroll T. Dozier
Daniel Ellsberg
Robert Ellsberg
Pieter Eterman
Howard Fast
James Finn
James Forest
Robin Foster
Jerome Frank
Congressman Donald M. Fraser
Allen Ginsberg
Bob Goldberg
Sanford Gottlieb
Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
AI Hassler
Laura Hassler
Uli Henes
Ginger Hentz
Mary Ellen Hombs
Wallace J. Inglis
Homer A. Jack
Anthony Jebb
Ken Kesey
Jerry Kinchy
Sue Kinchy
Peter Klotz
Jonathan Kozop
Anne Kriebel
Ed Lazar
Lee LeCuyer
Bernard S. Lee
Alice Lynd
Staughton Lynd
Bradford Lyttle
Lynn MacMichael
Jeane Magnotti
Barbara McDaniel
James McGraw
W.S. Merwin
Anne Moody
John E. Muior
Aryeh Neier
Richard John Neuhaus
Paul O’Dwyer
Chris Payden-Travers
Jack Payden-Travers
Glenn Pontier
Bob Randels
Lin Romano
lgal Roodenko
Ira J. Sandperl
Margaret Schmitt-Habein
Howard Schomer
Henry Schwarzschild
Rabbi Steven Schwarzschild
Judith Smith
Gary Snyder
Milch Snyder
Allan Solomonow
Phyllis Taylor
Richard Taylor
Andrew Thomas
Michael True
Carl Vast
Richard Voigt
Mobi Warren
Abbie Jane Wells
George Willoughby
Lillian Willoughby
Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf
Mildred Young
Wilmer Young
Gordon Zahn
Howard Zinn

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VIETNAM: A TIME FOR HEALING AND COMPASSION (Partial Text)

… some Saigon collaborationists have been detained in re-education centers, perhaps 40,000 at present. But such a number is surprisingly small considering the several million Vietnamese involved in Saigon’s war effort. it is well to recall the savagery with which the Saigon regime pursued its war policy before condemning the new Vietnam leadership for taking steps to punish and re-educate the worst wrong-doers. Many of those detained engaged in crimes against their own people, including rape, murder, torture, bribery and extortion. On balance, consider the terrible difficulties left behind by the war and made worse by America’s continued hostility. The present government of Vietnam should be hailed for its moderation and for its extraordinary effort to achieve reconciliation among all of its people.

We share the view that American citizens should be gravely concerned about abuses of human rights, whether they occur in our country or abroad. This concern is especially appropriate where our government supports a foreign regime that is engaged in flagrant abuse of its own people — abuses including systematic torture. But Vietnam presents a very different case. The present suffering of the
Vietnamese people is largely a consequence of the war itself for which the United States bears a continuing responsibility.

James Armstrong, Bishop, United Methodist Church
Richard Barnet, Co-Director, Institute for Policy Studies
Norma Becker, Chairwoman, War Resisters League
Atlee Beechy, Mennonite Central Committee
Robert McAfee Brown, Professor Union Theological
Robert S. Browne, Director, Black Economic Research
Mrs. Eleanor Brussel, Educator
David Dellinger, Seven Days Magazine
Prof. Richard A. Falk, Milbank Professor of Law,
Howard Frazier, Executive Director, Promoting Enduring
Rev. Stephen H. Fritchman, Unitarian Minister
Don Luce. Co-Director, Clergy and Laity Concerned
John McAuliff, Coordinator, Appeal for Reconciliation
Paul F. McCleary, Executive Director, Church World
Grace Paley, Author
Dr. Paul Sweezy, Co-editor, Monthly Review
George W. Webber, President, New York Theological Seminary
Cora Weiss, National Coordinator, Friendshipment
Corliss Lamont, Author, Coordinator

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James Finn is Editor-in-Chief of Worldiew and author of Protest, Pacifism and Politics, a study of the antiwar movement.
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War a "Lesser Good"? – a response to Fr Alexander Webster

St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly (vol 47 issue 1 – 2003) pp 65-67

by Jim Forest

In Fr Alexander Webster’s argument that the Orthodox Church should regard war as “a lesser good” rather than “a lesser evil,” it is striking how meager is his attention to the New Testament. Does he really imagine Jesus sanctioning war and obliging his followers to take part in it? The Savior became incarnate in a country enduring the humiliation of military occupation, yet failed to side in word or action with the Zealot opposition. There is no Gospel account of him sanctioning anyone’s death. In the one instance we know of when an issue of capital punishment was brought before him, he succeeded in saving the life of a woman who might otherwise have been stoned to death. When the apostle Peter used a sword in an attempt to defend Jesus from arrest, the injury Peter caused was healed by Christ—his final healing miracle before crucifixion. Jesus responded to Peter with words Fr Alexander has omitted from his essay: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus’ only act of violence in the New Testament narrative was to use a whip—not a life-endangering weapon—to cleanse the Temple. The only sword he wields is the sword of the truth. Again and again he insists on forgiveness. In the Beatitudes he blesses the merciful and refers to peacemakers as children of God. Following the way of the Cross, Christ gives the example of nonresistance. Quite literally he gives himself for the life of the world.

In the first three centuries Christians were notable for their refusal to kill, a situation that was problematic for converts in the military or in certain governmental positions. Catechetical texts coming down to us from the early Church put a special stress on the obligation not to kill either in war or through abortion. Substantial penances were established for those who broke this discipline. Even after Constantine’s conversion and the end of anti-Christian persecution, it remained obligatory for priests, deacons and iconographers not to kill anyone, not even in self-defense. These canons survive unchanged into our own day.

However convinced Fr Alexander may be that certain wars may be regarded as justifiable or even good, he would be forbidden by Church law to serve at the altar if he were to kill in such a “good” war — a prohibition one would assume should also prevent a priest from encouraging or blessing others to kill. Fr Alexander seems oblivious to the values that stand behind this prohibition. Does the Church forbid its priests doing what it regards (according to Fr Alexander) as “a lesser good”? What do these canons reveal about eucharistie life?

Canons do not, however, always solve the problem of what to do in the crucible of life. Many Christians faced with evil forces, such as St Alexander Nevsky, have found no nonviolent option in responding to attack but armed resistance—though later in life, struggling to avoid calamitous defeat, the same prince lost the respect of many fellow Russians for prudent compromises he struck with the Golden Horde.

Since the age of Constantine, time and again faithful Christians of every rank have found themselves drawn into war. Soldiers and their weapons have been blessed by pastors and bishops. We must recall, however, that often the wars on which blessings have been showered were not events which can be regarded as bringing any mortal credit on those who fought in them, however heroic and patriotic the soldiers may have been: wars for the expansion of empire, wars of national hubris, wars of manifest destiny, wars of ethic cleansing, wars to gain valuable resources.

Consider what might be regarded as the very best of recent wars: World War II. Here there was an aggressive enemy driven by totalitarian and racist ideology willing to kill not only opposing soldiers but large categories of noncombatants. Many people could find no way to respond to the war imposed on them but to fight back with whatever weapons they had. At last the Allied counter-attack resulted in city bombing, fire storms and finally the use of nuclear weapons. There were hundreds of thousands of noncombatant deaths which, in today’s “Newspeak,” would be regarded as “collateral damage.” Many of those who fought against Hitler and his allies, though possessing medals for heroism on the battlefield, have had to live with nightmarish memories of the killing of noncombatants and other terrible memories of what occurs in the actuality of war. They may well regard the war in its overall objectives as justifiable and unavoidable, but certainly not good. Indeed, one cannot even speak of the killing of the guilty as good deeds.

For all his interest in what in the Roman Catholic Church has come to be known as the Just War Theory or Doctrine, Fr Alexander seems to take little interest in one of the key elements of that doctrine: the protection of noncombatants. In the reality of modern war, it is the noncombatant who is the typical casualty. In the age of St Alexander Nevsky soldiers fought soldiers, but in our world when bullets fly and bombs fall, it is the most defenseless members of society who are the most likely to die or be maimed. Can anyone, least of all a follower of the Gospel, speak of events which claim the lives of so many innocents — mainly women, children and the aged — as “a lesser good”?

Were states to call on Orthodox Christians to take part in the destruction of churches or the wholesale burning of icons, there would be organized resistance by the faithful with the hierarchy speaking out boldly. But when it is the destruction of human beings, bearers of the image of God, what is most striking is the cooperation of the faithful in it and the near silence of their shepherds. True, one does occasionally discover theologians who raise questions about war. One of them, Fr Stanley Harakas, is briefly if dismissively referred to in the Webster essay. But one rarely meets an Orthodox Christian who has heard about such debate regarding these questions. The questions are raised in academic journals and forums and, sadly, there they tend to remain.

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Beauty in Overlooked Places and Faces

The Catholic Worker (New York) / June-July 2011

All is Grace: a Biography of Dorothy Day
by Jim Forest
Orbis Books, 344 pages, 2011

review by Amanda Daloisio

Upon opening All is Grace, the new edition of the biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest, one is struck first by the sheer number of photographs. Dispersed throughout the book, often accompanied by quotes from Dorothy’s writing, they are a large part of what makes this book so engaging. The pictures are by turns striking, surprising, familiar and new. They span her entire life and introduce us to those Dorothy loved: from her sister Della to her daughter Tamar to her nine grandchildren. There are photos of people whose names are Catholic Worker legend: Ammon Hennessy, Stanley Vishnewski, and Ade Bethune, but also snapshots of the various houses and farms, of demonstrations and of life in the New York Catholic Worker.

From the first page you realize that Jim Forest is a skillful storyteller, brimming with enough detail to be gripping, lively enough never to drag. Alternating between the fascinating facts of Dorothy Day’s life, the world in which it enfolded and the arc of her inner life, we are treated to a story that is part history, part biography, and part philosophy. And this seems fitting for a woman who so desired to engage the world and all its suffering and beauty. Her focus was in equal measure about the life of the body as experienced in the suffering of the poor, the life of the spirit and one’s relationship to God. She felt called to do all this in a community fed on the conviction that to work for peace and serve the poor is, indeed, a “duty of delight”.

From a very young age, Dorothy Day nurtured the seeds that would later germinate and influence her conversion and religious yearnings as well as the creation of the Catholic Worker. Growing up in a nominally Episcopalian household, Dorothy remembered a neighbor in Chicago telling her the story of a saint as a young girl. “[I] almost burst with desire to take part in such high endeavor… I was filled with a natural striving, a thrilling recognition of the possibilities of spiritual adventure.” What came with that desire were experiments with piety, even convincing her younger sister Della to sleep on the hard floor as the saints did in their monastic cells.

Later, intoxicated by new found freedom at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, she willingly sacrificed comfort and worked at manual labor jobs to spend what money she had on books, wanting her education to be about the labor movement, socialism and Fyodor Dostoevsky and her time to be spent writing. This seed of precarity would only grow as she moved to New York City at the age of eighteen. With newspapers such as The Masses and The Call, she continuously worked for little wages, if it meant writing meaningful articles. There was already a firm connection between what she wrote and how she lived. Her heroes were those of all stripes, from saints to socialists, who struggled toward a goal at great personal sacrifice.

One ever present and astonishing aspect of Dorothy Day’s personality was her ability to see and experience beauty. An avid reader from a young age, she found inspiration in the way books and music could transform the drabness of daily life into a meaningful pursuit. As Jim Forest describes it, “Dorothy loved words, rejoiced in the way they could be sewn together to change seasons, leap across time and space, or simply describe the ordinary things around her that she found most captivating.” Often this reading pushed her out the door and into the world. After reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Dorothy spent time walking through the slums of Chicago. In these poor neighborhoods, she found “the odor of geranium leaves, tomato plants, marigolds; the smell of lumber, of tar, of roasting coffee; the smell of good bread and rolls and coffee cake coming from the small German bakeries. Here was enough beauty to satisfy me.”(19) She was then just a teenager.

This ability would stay with her and provide solace in the midst of chaos for the rest of her life. At the age of eighty-one, she wrote as she looked out of her window at Maryhouse, “At exactly 8:05 AM, the morning sun gilds the upper floors of the building across the street, creeping from the gray one to the red brick one. A lovely sight…The sycamore tree stirs in the cold, east wind. The sky is a cloudless blue. And now one side of the tree, reaching the third floor of those tenements, is all gilded, as the sun spreads rapidly around…’My’ tree is now radiant with sun!” Manual labor, beauty, books, and personal sacrifice- these are some of the elements of Dorothy’s story that begin in her as a child. It is the crafting of All is Grace that allows us to follow these elements as they snake through her life, becoming themes and philosophies that Catholic Worker communities continue to struggle with and strive for.

It could be said that this gift, as well as her sensitivity to the plight of the poor, led Dorothy to be very present in the world. In short, she was a woman who paid attention to the bigger picture as well as the slightest detail, to the sinful effects of war on entire countries as well as the sorrows the “filthy, rotten system” had on the person who comes to the door. Combined with courage and a headstrong nature, she took what she saw and heard and turned it into concrete work. She met Peter Maurin, heard his endless teaching and knew it to be truth. There are stories to be told and ideas to be discussed, let us start a newspaper to do just that. People need to be fed and housed, let us make soup and rent cold-water flats. And so the Catholic Worker began.

Rightly so, around the history of 1933 when the first issue of The Catholic Worker newspaper is handed out in Union Square, All is Grace ceases to be a book just about Dorothy Day and widens to include the growing community, as well as Dorothy’s own growing family. She saw the Works of Mercy, the nonviolent resistance of war and the struggle for justice as work that could not be done alone.

The gift of this book is the use made of recently published collections edited by Robert Ellsberg, The Duty of Delight, Dorothy Day’s diaries, and All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day. Jim Forest so carefully weaves in these resources and the result is a life’s story told with much depth. We are privy not only to the stories of arrests and jail time, of meeting Peter Maurin and the beginnings of a newspaper, and then a movement, but we are blessed with her thoughts on these events, the doubts that plagued her as she raised Tamar, separated from Forster; as she wrestled with a growing movement and changing times. We might be amazed and inspired by what she accomplished, and rightly so. But we should be even more amazed and inspired to learn along the way that there was much sorrow, loneliness and second-guessing. All is Grace is, at times, heart wrenching in its honesty, due largely to the candor and diligence with which Dorothy recorded and reflected on her own life and Jim Forest’s use of these writings.

All is Grace is clearly written by a friend, colleague and admirer of Dorothy Day and includes his own personal reflections as well as memories told to him by many of those who knew her. This adds an element of intimacy to the writing that seems fitting for a woman who, by all accounts, would sit and talk, with an “ability to focus on the person she was talking to, not to see just a young face but your face, not discerning just a vague, general promise, but your particular gifts.” While often in the public eye, the spotlight was never where she felt most comfortable. Perhaps she might have felt the same about a scholarly textbook analyzing her life. But this warm, engaging account matches tone with content, and like Dorothy did for many a volunteer, “you [can glimpse] exciting possibilities in yourself that you hadn’t seen before.”

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The Real Saint George

St George and the dragon (illustration by Vladislav Ardreyev)

by Jim Forest

True stories become streamlined into legends and legends become compressed into myths.

The real Saint George never saw a dragon nor did he rescue a princess in distress. We are not even sure he had a horse or possessed a lance or sword. It is even possible he was a farmer. The name “George” means tiller of the soil. For this reason Saint George is a patron saint of agriculture, herds, flocks and shepherds.

A Christian convert who was born late in the third century after Christ and died early in the fourth century, George was one among many martyrs of the early Church. The word “martyr” is Greek for witness. A martyr is someone who dies for Christ and whose death bears witness to his faith.

What made George a saint especially loved and remembered by the Church was the completely fearless manner in which he openly proclaimed his faith during a period of fierce persecution when many other Christians were hoping not to be noticed. According to one ancient account, George went to a public square and announced, “All the gentile gods are devils. My God made the heavens and is the true God.”

For this Saint George was arrested, cruelly tortured and finally beheaded in the town of Nicomedia (in the northwest of modern Turkey). The probable date of his martyrdom is April 23, 303. His body was later brought to his birthplace, Diospolis, later known as Lydda, and today as Lod in modern-day Israel. His courageous witness led to the conversion of many and gave renewed courage to others already baptized.

Saint George was one of the early victims of the anti-Christian persecution ordered by the Emperor Diocletian that began in February of the year 303. Churches were destroyed and biblical texts burned. All Roman subjects were ordered to make ritual sacrifices to Rome’s gods. Those who refused risked severe punishment. Many were sent into exile as slave laborers in quarries and mines in Egypt and Palestine. Thousands were tortured and many executed. Finally in 311 the attack ended. With Diocletian in retirement and the emperor Galerius critically ill and close to death, Galerius published an edict of toleration allowing Christians to restore their places of worship and to worship in their own way without interference, provided they did nothing to disturb the peace.

Persecution ended but the memory of those eight years of suffering would never be forgotten. George was one of the saints whose witness remained fresh. His icon hung in more and more churches. As centuries passed he became patron saint not only of many churches and monasteries but even of cities and whole countries.

In early icons, made in the centuries before the legend of the dragon became attached to his name, we see Saint George dressed as a soldier and holding the cross of martyrdom.

Perhaps George was in the army, but it may be that he is shown in military clothing because he so perfectly exemplifies the qualities that Saint Paul spoke of in his letter to the Ephesians in which he calls on Christ’s followers to wear the helmet of salvation and the armor of righteousness, to be girded with truth, to clad their feet in the Gospel of peace, to possess the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, and to protect themselves from the devil’s flaming arrows with the shield of faith. (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Such symbolic use of a Roman soldier’s equipment does not rule out the possibility that George was in fact a soldier. People from every class and profession were drawn to the Gospel, soldiers among them. George may have been one of these.

It was only in later centuries that the dragon legend emerged. It has been told in many variations, but in its most popular form, it concerns a dragon living in a lake who was worshiped by the unbaptized local people, who in their fear sacrificed their children to appease the creature. Finally it was the turn of the king’s daughter, Elizabeth. While going toward the dragon to meet her doom, Saint George appeared riding a white horse. He prayed to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then transfixed the dragon with his lance. Afterward Elizabeth led the defeated creature into the city.

According to the Golden Legend, a collection of saints’ lives written by Blessed James de Voragine about 1260 AD, the wounded monster followed Elizabeth “as if it had been a meek beast and debonair.” Refusing a reward of treasure, George called on the local people to be baptized. The king agreed, also promising to build and maintain churches, honor the clergy, faithfully attend religious services, and be generous to the poor.

From the point of view of history, the story is apocryphal. Yet when you think about it, what better way to symbolize the evil that George actually confronted and defeated than to portray it in the form of a fire-breathing dragon? George fought and was victorious over an adversary which terrified most of the people of his time. We can understand the dragon as representing anything that makes us afraid.

The white horse George rides in the icon, a graceful creature as light as air and as fearless as his rider, represents the courage God gave to George as he challenged evil. It is the courage God gives to any Christian facing martyrdom.

In many versions of the icon, the lance George holds is shown resting lightly in his open hand, meaning that it is the power of God, not the power of man, that overcomes evil.

Notice how thin the lance is and that in many Saint George icons there is a small cross at the top of the lance. The icon stresses that it is not with weapons of war that evil is overcome but with the power of the Cross, the life-giving Cross that opens the path to the resurrection.

Similarly, even in battle with the dragon, George’s face shows not a trace of anger, hatred or anxiety. His tranquil face reminds us of Christ’s commandment that his followers must love their enemies.

In many versions of the icon, the hand of the Savior is extended from heaven in a sign of blessing. This detail is a reminder that whatever we do bears good fruit only if it is God’s will and has God’s blessing.

In more detailed versions of the icon there are scenes before and after the battle with the dragon. Sometimes a castle is in the background from which Elizabeth’s parents watch all that happens.

Following George’s victory, we are sometimes shown Elizabeth leading the wounded dragon on a leash made of her belt or scarf — a victory of life over death similar to Christ’s resurrection.

Bringing a wounded but still living dragon back to the town in its new role of guardian provides us with a powerful image of the conversion rather than the destruction of enemies. The final fruit of George’s combat with the dragon is not victory over a monster nor financial reward for successful combat but bringing unbelieving people to conversion and baptism.

Finally, as is the case with any icon, the Saint George icon is not a decoration but is intended to be a place of prayer. It belongs in the icon corner of any home where courage is sought — courage to be a faithful disciple of Christ; courage to fight rather than flee from whatever dragons we meet in life; courage to live in such a way that others may be made more aware of Christ and the life he offers to us.

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This is an afterword written for Saint George and the Dragon, published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press. See this page for details: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/04/04/saint-george-and-the-dragon/
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The Gospel According to John Wayne

[a work in progress — text as of August 2013]John Wayne

by Jim Forest

One of the unique aspects of being human is the role stories play in our lives and have played as far back as the human story is told. Stories inspire, enlighten, connect, delight, warn, admonish and surprise. We need them with an urgency that resembles hunger. Stories can save lives or turn us into killers.

In 1955, when I was thirteen, I went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York to see a photo exhibition that has haunted me ever since. Its theme was “The Family of Man.” The curator, Edward Steichen, brought together a vast sequence of photos that not only asserted but demonstrated that, for all the diversity of culture, skin color, local economy and development, varieties of religion and differences of clothing, we are indeed one human family bound together in love, pain, labor, awe, anger, gratitude and death. I bought the exhibition book and have hung onto it through many moves, returning to it ever since as if it were a Bible without words. Taken as a whole, the collection has as its golden thread the radical us-ness of being. It helped me understand that beneath our separateness is our unity. It’s about the “our” in the Our Father.

story teller - Nat Farbman (small)Among the images that I especially love is one of an old African storyteller in a fire-illuminated hut. We see him at the top of a circle of young people, boys and girls, listening to the old man with absolute attention and wonder. The storyteller’s eyes are wide open, his mouth a perfect O, his eyebrows arched high into his forehead, his hands raised above his head, all ten fingers outstretched. If he were telling the story of Jesus’s life, this might be the moment when the disciples discover the empty tomb.

The photo is an icon of the power of story telling.

“In traditional African cultures, not even the chief or the healer is as important as the storyteller,” Joseph Donders, a Dutch priest who had spent much of his life in Africa, once told me. “The survival of the tribe from generation to generation depends on stories, only the stories have to reveal truth. With truth-revealing stories the storyteller becomes the guardian not only of his actual audience but of those not yet born. This is because, in times of crisis, people are guided not by theories or principles but by stories. True stories are life-saving, false stories lead toward disaster. Stories are proven true by the test of time. An old story that has been told for centuries and has been tested in many times of crisis can be regarded as true.”

“The testing of stories,” he added, “requires the passage of many generations. In fact two thousand years is about right.”

Our conversation led us to consider the question of what was the most basic story in the modern world. We quickly agreed that, in its purest form, it’s the western movie and decided to call it the Gospel According to John Wayne. (Not John Wayne the man, who may have been as nonviolent as Gandhi, but John Wayne the actor in the gunslinger roles he often played.)

At that the core of the Gospel According to John Wayne is a good man with a gun defeating bad men with guns.

The story needn’t be set in the Old West. The core elements adjust to any setting: rural or urban, past or present, or a Star Wars future set in other galaxies where distances are measured in light years. The Gospel According to John Wayne can also be the Gospel According to Luke Skywalker or the Gospel According to Batman. The moral is the same in any case: We are saved by deadly weapons and the courage of those community defenders who aim and shoot.

In the classic Western version, it’s the story of men who are evil to their core threatening decent people in a newly-settled town in the lawless West in which there is a battered saloon at one end of the street and a newly painted and school house at the other. Endangered by pathological killers, the wellbeing of the townspeople depends on the courage of one brave man and those, if any, that he is able to rally behind him. The iconic scene is the gunfight on Main Street — one man with a gun facing another man with a gun and both pulling the trigger. There is sometimes a prefatory scene before the shoot-out in which we see the reluctant hero open a drawer and grasp his revolver, a weapon he once put away with the hope of never using it again. He is not, such scenes make clear, a man of violence but now there is no alternative. He straps on his holster, inserts six bullets in the gun’s chambers and walks out the door knowing he may be dead within the hour. In fact he survives. Thanks to courage plus good aim, goodness triumphs. It’s the men who love killing whose day ends in coffins.

It’s far from an ignoble story. There is real courage in it — the readiness of an honorable man to risk his life to protect his defenseless neighbors from wicked men whose death we who watch the film cannot help but wish for and, once it happens, welcome. If only briefly, it seems the world has been made a safer place.

The big problem with the Gospel According to John Wayne is that it hides from us the troubling fact that there is no such thing as a completely evil person — also, apart from Christ, the uncomfortable fact that there is no such thing as a completely good person.

Few biblical texts have more profound implications than this passage in the first chapter of Genesis: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)

If so, then there are no bad seeds. Our DNA does not oblige us to be murderers. No matter how damaged a person becomes in the process of growing up and entering adulthood, all of us are born bearing the divine image and can never entirely lose it.

For John of Kronstadt, one of the Russian saints of the nineteenth century, to become aware of this was one of the main challenges of Christian life. “Never confuse the person,” he said, “formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.” St. John’s insight was not developed at a comfortable distance from the rough side of life — he was parish priest in Kronstadt, a port city with thousands of sailors and more than its share of drunkenness, crime and violence of every kind.

In common with many ordinary Russians at the time, Saint John of Kronstadt avoided dehumanizing labels for men who had been convicted of criminal actions. They were instead commonly referred to as “unfortunates.” It was this attitude that helps explain why so few executions occurred in pre-revolutionary Russia. Those who committed murder and other grave crimes were instead sent to labor camps in Siberia.

The inability to see Christ in the other is the most common form of spiritual blindness, as one of the most prominent saints of the fourth century, John Chrysostom, often stressed. “If you fail to recognize Christ in the beggar outside the church door,” he said, “you will not find Christ in the chalice.” Or as Dorothy Day put it, “Those who do not see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”

Yet the Gospel According to John Wayne remains a compelling story — the lone man who puts himself in the line of fire and kills a human monster whose death is a blessing for every decent person. The story reminds us that that the community can only be protected by good guys — or good women — killing bad guys.

In the latter part of “Gone With the Wind,” a film that presents slavery as having been not so bad, the heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, returns to her family plantation, Tara, after Southern defeat. Though the Civil War has caused much death and devastation, Scarlett finds the mansion intact even though the crops have been burned, her mother has died of typhoid, her father is insane with grief, her two sisters are ill, and most of the (formerly happy) slaves have run off. Forced to take up work that in better days had been done by slaves, Scarlett’s life now centers on reviving the plantation through blood, sweat and tears, even if the paradise that the Tara plantation once had been is lost indeed. When a drunken Yankee soldier arrives and seems poised to rape Scarlett, she stands on the mansion’s grand curved staircase, revolver hidden behind her back, then, at the last moment raises the weapon and shoots him in the face. Afterward, in shock, she says to her sister-in-law, “I’ve done murder.” To her credit and the credit of the storytellers, Scarlett uses a razor-sharp word, murder, that doesn’t mask what she has done. After pulling the trigger and seeing at close range the death she has caused, perhaps Scarlett realizes she might have aimed at the man’s legs and protected herself without becoming a murderer.

How rare is the movie in which the hero is allowed to aim for the legs or, rarer still, find a bullet-free, nonviolent solution. Film after film, the implicit message is that, in confrontations with evil, there are no non-lethal — still less nonviolent — solutions. It’s a kill-or-be-killed world, period, next subject.

* * *

Dorothy Day: A Saint for Today’s World?

portrait of Dorothy Day by Geoffrey Gneuhs

By Jim Forest

Who was Dorothy Day?

First of all, she was not Doris Day, though Dorothy sometimes got letters addressed to the film star. But Dorothy did have, if only for a few months, a little Hollywood in her past. Just at the time of the Wall Street crash that inaugurated the Great Depression, she was working for a Hollywood studio as a script writer. With Wall Street in ruins, she was among the millions who was soon out of a job.

Dorothy was born in Brooklyn on the 8th of November 1897. She lived an exceptionally colorful life, every part of which, from early adulthood on, would be scandalous to one group of people or another, including the life she led following her conversion to Catholic Christianity when she was thirty. As a university student she had been a member of the Socialist Party — and soon afterward, very briefly, a member of the IWW: the Industrial Workers of the World. Though never a Marxist, she maintained friendships with a number of Communists and other radicals until the end of her life — giving rise during the Cold War to sharp criticism from many of her fellow Catholics. After her reception into the Catholic Church in 1927, she described herself a Christian anarchist, by which she meant a person whose obedience is to Christ rather than to Caesar.

A journalist, editor and writer, she made her main mark on history as founder of the Catholic Worker, originally a newspaper of that name but one that quickly grew into a movement best known for its many houses of hospitality — small communities scattered across the United States and a number of other countries that center on actions that in various ways are a response to Christ’s declaration that “What you have done to the least person you have done to me.”

The result is not just what might be called charitable activities, such works of mercy as hospitality to the homeless and other forms of practical assistance to people who have been pretty much abandoned by society. Dorothy pointed out that the works of war are the polar opposite of the works of mercy. Most people are willing to appreciate people who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, provide hospitality to the homeless, care for the sick and visit those in prison, but you quickly get in real trouble if you challenge the social structures that cause hunger, thirst, destitution, homelessness, illness and imprisonment.

Dorothy raised the question: Why undo with one hand the good you did with the other? Clothing the naked one day — and burning people alive the next? Giving drink to the thirsty on Monday only to destroy the water works on Tuesday? Housing the homeless, then bombing towns? The Catholic Worker way, Dorothy said again and again, was the way of the Cross, not the way of the crucifers. “War is the continuing passion of Christ,” she wrote, “and Christ did not come down from the Cross to defend Himself.”

So, on the one hand, you have in Dorothy Day someone who inspired the founding of a great many houses of hospitality and, on the other, someone who got in trouble over and over again for protesting a wide range of injustices.

She was arrested quite a number of times in her life for acts of civil disobedience. The first, in 1917, when she was only nineteen, was for being part of a group of women who stood in front of the White House protesting the exclusion of women from the voters’ lists — and the last was in 1973, when she was seventy-five, for taking part with farm workers in a banned picket line in California.

Dorothy came from a very conservative family. Her journalist father was an unabashed racist who also hated Jews and Catholics and probably would have had no moral objection to slavery had it not been abolished, but her voracious reading as a young woman drew her in the opposite direction. Reading Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, set in very poor immigrant neighborhoods in Chicago’s South Side made her leave her quite comfortable house and walk, pushing a pram with her baby brother in it, into those South Side neighborhoods near the stock yards. Those long walks in areas most people avoid marked the beginning of her vocation.

One of Dorothy’s major gifts was a talent for finding beauty in the midst of urban desolation as well as in the human face. Drab streets were transformed by pungent odors: geranium and tomato plants, garlic, olive oil, roasting coffee, bread and rolls in bakery ovens. “Here,” she said, “was enough beauty to satisfy me.”

Dorothy was a bright student but a reluctant scholar. When she was seventeen, having gotten a full-tuition scholarship, she started her studies to the University of Illinois in Urbana but — eager to get on with the adventure of life — dropped out when she was eighteen, went to New York and got a job reporting for one of America’s few socialist newspapers, The Call. She covered rallies and demonstrations and interviewed people ranging from butlers and to labor organizers and revolutionaries. She next worked for The Masses, a radical magazine edited by socialists who opposed American involvement in World War I. In September 1917, the journal’s mailing permit was cancelled. Federal officers seized back issues, manuscripts, subscriber lists and correspondence. Five editors were charged with sedition, a major felony, but as her name had only recently been put the masthead, Dorothy wasn’t arrested and managed to get out the last issue.

Her closest friends included many of the literary figures one thinks of from that period, including the playwright Eugene O’Neill. She often put him to bed but seems to have declined his offers to join him there. She was part of a circle of artists and writers who frequented a bar in Greenwich Village officially named The Golden Swan but more often called the “Hell Hole.”

Though she had been baptized in the Episcopal Church — the Church of Our Saviour in Chicago — as a child, she wasn’t a religious person in this period of her life but, like Eugene O’Neill, someone haunted by God. Across the table from Dorothy, O’Neill sometimes recited Francis Thompspn’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” There was a Catholic church — Saint Joseph’s — in the neighborhood whose doors were open late into the night. Dorothy would sometimes drop in to sit in the quiet while others prayed. There was something about being with people quietly at prayer which she needed even if she didn’t understand or share their faith. Sometimes she would find someone sitting in the winter cold on the church steps and bring him back with her to The Golden Swan for a drink and to thaw out.

Dorothy didn’t know much about the Catholic Church and was well aware of the anti-Catholic views of many of her friends, yet she was inspired by Catholics who were serious about their faith. It was clear to her that “worship, adoration, thanksgiving, supplication … were the noblest acts of which we are capable in this life.” When an atheist friend, noting Dorothy’s’ tendency to slip into churches, gave her a rosary, Dorothy was very touched. She had no clear idea how to use it but it was a very significant gift.

During World War I, she decided being a journalist was not an adequate response to the wholesale suffering going in the world — not only was the most destructive war ever fought going on at the time but there was a world-wide influenza epidemic that took fifty-million lives between March 1918 and June 1920. Dorothy became a student nurse working twelve-hour shifts at a Brooklyn hospital.

Despite having lived a “bohemian” life, it wasn’t until she fell in love with Lionel Moise, an orderly she met at the hospital that she fell very incautiously in love and became, as we now put it, “sexually active.” Unfortunately the man was the sort who isn’t interested either in marriage or children; he was a Lone Ranger/Marlboro Man type who enjoys sex minus consequences and resists marriage because it would impede his freedom. When Dorothy became pregnant, he urged an abortion. There was no way, he said, that he would take on fatherhood. With desperate sorrow she had an abortion, but, as so often is the case, he left her anyway.

She had lost both her child and the man she wanted to live with. It was a hard time in her life. Not long afterward she attempted suicide but luckily a neighbor smelled the gas in her apartment and saved her life.

The turning point in her life came several years later when she became pregnant once again. As before, the man — Forster Batterham — wanted sex without children, but this time Dorothy was determined that the young life in her womb was not going to die before birth if she could help it. Her pregnancy seemed to her nothing less than an experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness — a true miracle.

Her daughter, Tamar Theresa, was born on the 4th of March 1926. Given the gratitude that overwhelmed her, Dorothy decided that she wanted for her daughter something she had hardly dared want for herself, baptism in the Catholic Church. “I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered,” she wrote her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. “I wanted to believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to the Church would give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of the Saints, then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic.”

She was very much in love with her partner, though Forster Batterham was the kind of man who saw the world as too destructive a place for children. Even so, to his credit, he fell in love with his daughter once she was born. The problem now was that Dorothy was powerfully drawn to the Catholic Church, an institution he utterly despised. In his view, if you were going to make a list of things wrong with the world, the Catholic Church would be high on the list. He was also a convinced atheist. Dorothy’s response — “How can there be no God when there are all these beautiful things” — cut no ice with him. Their discussions tended to become heated arguments. One night he stormed out of Dorothy’s little beach house on Staten Island. This had happened before, but, when he came back this time, Dorothy wouldn’t open the door.

It was a very hard time for her. She still loved Forster, but she had reached a point of clarification in her life that it was time to become a Catholic. Tamar had been baptized soon after her birth. Dorothy’s own entrance into the church occurred on the 29th of December 1927. No friends were present except her godparent, Sister Aloysia Mary Mulhearn, the nun who had helped Dorothy understand the catechism.

The long-awaited, costly event gave Dorothy no consolation. As she wrote later on, “I had no sense of peace, no joy, no conviction that what I was doing was right. It was just something that I had to do, a task to be gotten through.” At Mass the next day, she felt wooden, like someone going through the motions. “I … shuddered at the thought of anyone seeing me,” she wrote. Was she not betraying the oppressed and the radical movement? “Here I was, going over to the opposition, because the Church was lined up with property, with the wealthy, with capitalism, with all the forces of reaction.”

She knew, as a human institution, that the Catholic Church was no paradise on earth. It pained Dorothy to see “businesslike priests” who seemed, as she put it, “more like Cain than Abel,” most of whom ignored the poor and never said a word about social injustice. She would have been disgusted but not amazed had she learned there were priests sexually molesting children and bishops who did little or nothing about it while shifting such priests from parish to parish. What was most important to Dorothy was her access, via the Church, to the Eucharist. She took comfort in knowing that there were other priests who lived poorly and “who gave their lives daily for their fellows.”

If only, Dorothy thought, it was less a Church of charities, fine as they were, and more a Church of social justice. As she wrote in The Long Loneliness, “I felt that charity was a word to choke over. Who wanted charity? And it was not just human pride but a strong sense of man’s dignity and worth, and what was due to him in justice, that made me resent rather than feel proud of so mighty a sum of Catholic institutions…. How I longed to make a synthesis reconciling body and soul, this world and the next.”

The five years following Dorothy’s entrance into the Catholic Church centered on her search to find something that didn’t yet exist: a way of supporting herself and Tamar through work which linked her religious faith, her commitment to more just, less violent social order, and her vocation as a writer. It was a journey in the dark.

Late in 1932, Dorothy was commissioned by Commonweal and America magazines to report on an event called the Hunger March. On November 30, six hundred jobless men and women departed from New York’s Union Square heading for Washington. For most of the way, it was a march only in a figurative sense — the participants traveled in vans plus several three old cars while Dorothy followed by public bus. The popular press treated the event as evidence of Red revolution. Little attention was given to the marchers’ proposals: jobs, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, relief for mothers and children, health care and housing for those who had lost everything. Hostility along the way reached a crescendo in Wilmington, Delaware where police hurled tear gas canisters through the windows of a Protestant church which had bravely opened its doors to the marchers. Those escaping the gas were clubbed down and the suspected leaders were thrown into police vans and taken to jail. Despite delays and injuries, the Hunger March pressed on.

When the swelling assembly reached the edge of Washington, they found barricades had been put across the highway. The demonstrators had been barred from entering the capital. Refusing to disband, the marchers camped out for three days and nights, despite bitter weather and encirclement by heavily-armed police.

Dorothy was struck by the contrast between what she witnessed and newspaper reports. Headlines warned of a Communist menace bearing no resemblance to the actual unarmed people who had endured insults and violence to dramatize the hardships and needs of the unemployed. “If there was not a story, the newspapers would make a story,” Dorothy recalled. “The newspaper reporters were infected by their own journalism and began to beg editors to give them gas masks before they went out to interview the leaders of the unemployed marchers.”

Such alarmist press reports shaped the response of the guardians of Washington. In one of her reports, Dorothy described the preparations that had occurred within the city — Marine riot drills, special guards at the White House, Capitol and Treasury. Protecting the city from the Hunger Marchers were the police force, the National Guard, 370 firemen, even American Legion volunteers. Weapons at hand included machine guns, tear gas, nauseating gas, revolvers, shot guns, night sticks and lengths of rubber hose.

On December 8, after a Washington federal court ruled in the marchers’ favor, the police reluctantly removed the barricades and stood aside. In The Long Loneliness, Dorothy described the last leg of the march:

“On a bright sunny day the ragged horde triumphantly with banners flying, with lettered slogans mounted on sticks, paraded three thousand strong through the tree-flanked streets of Washington. I stood on the curb and watched them, joy and pride in the courage of this band of men and women mounting in my heart.”

She felt bitterness as well. She knew the Hunger March had been organized not by Christians but by Communists and that the differences between the two groups were such that as yet she had no deep friendships with Catholics and was regarded as a traitor by many radicals she had once been close to. She had a religious faith and a social conscience, but no community. She could only watch and admire those campaigning for social justice — “I could not be out there with them.”

Dorothy felt useless. “How little, how puny my work had been since becoming a Catholic, I thought. How self-centered, how ingrown, how lacking in a sense of community! My summer of quiet reading and prayer, my self-absorption seemed sinful as I watched my brothers in their struggle, not for themselves but for others. How our dear Lord must love them, I kept thinking to myself. They were His friends, His comrades, and who knows how close to His heart in their attempt to work for justice. I remembered our Lord overthrowing the money-changers’ tables in the temple…. [What] divine courage on the part of this obscure Jew, going into the temple and with bold scorn for all the riches of this world, scattering the coins…”

The banners passed, and the marchers who had ignited such hysteria disbanded peaceably, no doubt wondering who was changed or what structures of life might be improved by their appeal and the hardship they endured along the way.

December 8 is a “holy day of obligation” for Catholics, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Following the march, Dorothy went to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Catholic University in northeast Washington. As the upper church was still under construction, she went into the crypt beneath, with its low vaulted ceilings, mosaics and dark chapels lit with the flickering of vigil candles. “There I offered up a special prayer, a prayer which came with tears and anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor.” This hidden event, Dorothy’s prayer of tears, marks the real beginning of the Catholic Worker.

Dorothy returned to New York the next day, December 9, eager to be with Tamar and to share news of the Hunger March with John and Tessa. They were all at home, but there was a stranger waiting for her as well, a man who had arrived earlier and whom Tessa had invited to stay for supper. His unpressed suit bore the wrinkles of having been slept in. He could easily have been among the marchers Dorothy had admired in Washington. His face seemed as weather-beaten as his clothing. However, the visitor wasn’t down-and-out in his welcoming smile. His whole manner communicated gentleness, vitality and intellectual energy. When he spoke, his calloused hands were as lively as his thought. “I am Peter Maurin,” he said

Peter Maurin was a French immigrant and former Christian Brother twenty years her senior. It was no love affair this time — in fact she was still in love with Tamar’s father, sending him love letters in which she practically begged him to marry her. Maurin — a man who had much in common with St. Francis of Assisi — was in search of someone who could help him launch a movement and had some very definite ideas about what Dorothy could do with her talents, one of which was to found a radical Catholic newspaper. It was an idea that Dorothy took to with enthusiasm — if there was one thing she knew about it was journalism and newspapers. It was in her blood. The first issue of The Catholic Worker was published five months later.

By now the Great Depression was in its fourth year. Industrial production in America was barely half what it had been in 1929. In a population of 123-million, more than 13-million workers were unemployed. The majority of America’s banks — ten thousand of them — had collapsed, while those which survived were busily repossessing houses, shops and farms whose owners couldn’t make mortgage and loan payments. Hoovervilles — shanty towns built by the homeless made of tin, cardboard, canvas and scrap wood — had sprung up in vacant lots all over the country. No Social Security program yet existed. There was, practically speaking, no social net. “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” was being played on every radio. When people talked about “hard times,” it was an understatement.

On May 1, 1933, when the first copies of The Catholic Worker were handed out at a rally on Union Square in New York, it was a paper that met a pressing real need. Few publishing ventures meet with such immediate success. Only 2,500 copies had been printed of the first issue. By December, the number had risen to 100,000. Readers found a unique voice in The Catholic Worker. It expressed dissatisfaction with the social order and took the side of labor unions, but its vision of the ideal future, neither marxist or capitalist, challenged both urbanization and industrialism. It wasn’t only radical but religious. Its revolution was green rather than red. The paper didn’t merely complain but called on its readers to make personal responses.

For the first eight months it was only a newspaper, but on December 11, 1933, a young woman knocked on the door of Dorothy’s apartment — also the editorial offices of the paper — and told Dorothy that she had heard “you have a house of hospitality.” Dorothy responded that the little group of people involved in the paper had been writing about it but had not yet actually started one. The visitor explained that she and a friend had been sleeping in subways, but that her companion had, in desperation, thrown herself in front of a train. “That very afternoon,” Dorothy recalled, “we rented our first apartment and named it the Teresa-Joseph Cooperative — Teresa for St. Teresa of Avila, Joseph after the foster father of Jesus.” They moved in some beds and began a work that continues to this day. God only knows how many men and women have been housed or helped in some way by Catholic Worker houses of hospitality in years since then. In 2013, the movement will be 80 years old.

If the Catholic Worker were just a movement providing hospitality to the down-and-out, it would be much admired and excite very little controversy, though some would still be annoyed. The Ayn Rand types, among others, would regard help to the poor as a major waste of time.

Ultimately what got Dorothy into the most trouble was her refusal to endorse war. For Dorothy war was simply murder wrapped in flags. A nonviolent way of life, as she saw it, was at the heart of the Gospel. The total number of people killed by Jesus and the Apostles is zero. She took as seriously as had Christians in the early Church the command of Jesus to St. Peter: “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword shall perish by the sword.” But by the twentieth century, it was rare for Catholics to take such a position.

The Catholic Worker’s first expression of pacifism, published in 1935, was a dialogue between a patriot and Christ, the patriot dismissing Christ’s teachings on conflict as a noble but impractical doctrine. Few readers were troubled by such articles until the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The fascist side, led by Franco, presented itself as defender of the Catholic faith. Nearly every Catholic bishop and publication rallied behind Franco. The Catholic Worker, refusing to support either side in the war, lost two-thirds of its readers. Those backing Franco, Dorothy warned early in the war, ought to “take another look at recent events in [Hitler’s] Germany.”

Despite Dorothy’s disgust with fascism and Nazism, following the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war, Dorothy announced that the paper would maintain its pacifist stand. “We will print the words of Christ who is with us always,” Dorothy wrote. “Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount.” Opposition to the war, she added, had nothing to do with sympathy for America’s enemies. “We love our country…. We have been the only country in the world where men and women of all nations have taken refuge from oppression.” But the means of action the Catholic Worker movement supported were the works of mercy rather than the works of war. She urged “our friends and associates to care for the sick and the wounded, to the growing of food for the hungry, to the continuance of all our works of mercy in our houses and on our farms.”

Not all members of Catholic Worker communities agreed, but Dorothy’s view prevailed. The young men who identified with the Catholic Worker movement during the war generally spent much of the war years either in prison or in rural work camps while others did unarmed military service as medics.

The world war ended in 1945, but out of it emerged the Cold War, the nuclear-armed “warfare state” with its military-industrial complex, and a series of smaller wars in which America was often involved.

One of the rituals of life for the New York Catholic Worker community beginning in the 1950s was the refusal to participate in the state’s annual civil defense drill. Such preparation for attack seemed to Dorothy part of an attempt to promote nuclear war as survivable and winnable and to justify spending billions on the military. When the sirens sounded June 15, 1955, Dorothy was among a small group of people sitting in front of City Hall. Refusing to go down into the subways “In the name of Jesus, who is God, who is Love, we will not obey this order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. We will not be drilled into fear. We do not have faith in God if we depend upon the Atom Bomb,” a Catholic Worker leaflet explained. Dorothy described her civil disobedience as an act of penance for America’s use of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities.

The first year the dissidents were reprimanded. The next year Dorothy and others were sent to jail for five days. Arrested again the next year, the judge jailed her for thirty days. In 1958, a different judge suspended sentence. In 1959, Dorothy was back in prison, but only for five days. Then came 1960, when instead of a handful of people coming to City Hall Park, 500 turned up. The police arrested only a few, Dorothy conspicuously not among those singled out. In 1961, the year I joined the community, the crowd swelled to 2,000. This time forty were arrested, but again Dorothy was exempted. It proved to be the last year of dress rehearsals for nuclear war in New York.

Another Catholic Worker emphasis was the civil rights movement. As usual Dorothy wanted to visit people who were setting an example and therefore went to Koinonia, a Christian agricultural community in rural Georgia where blacks and whites lived together. The community was under attack when Dorothy visited. One of the community houses had been hit by machine-gun fire and Ku Klux Klan members had burned crosses on community land. Dorothy insisted on taking a turn at the sentry post. Noticing an approaching car had reduced its speed, she ducked, not an instant too soon, just missing being shot. It was as close as she ever came to a martyr’s death.

Concern with the Church’s response to war led Dorothy to Rome during the Second Vatican Council, an event Pope John XXIII hoped would, as he said, restore “the simple and pure lines that the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth.” In 1963 Dorothy was one of 50 “Mothers for Peace” who went to Rome to thank Pope John for his encyclical Pacem in Terris. As he was dying of cancer at the time, the pope couldn’t meet with them privately, but at one of his last public audiences blessed the “peace pilgrims,” asking them to continue their labors.

In 1965, Dorothy returned to Rome to take part in a fast expressing “our prayer and our hope” that the Council would issue “a clear statement, ‘Put away your sword.’” Dorothy saw the fast as a “widow’s mite” in support of the bishops’ efforts to speak with a pure voice to the modern world.

The fasters had reason to rejoice in December when the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Guadium et Spes, was approved by the bishops. The Council described as “a crime against God and humanity” any act of war “directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants.” It was the Council’s one and only condemnation. The bishops called on states to make legal provision for conscientious objectors while describing as “criminal” those who obey commands which condemn the innocent and defenseless.

Acts of war causing “the indiscriminate destruction of … vast areas with their inhabitants” were the order of the day in regions of Vietnam under intense U.S. bombardment in 1965 and the years following. Many young Catholic Workers went to prison for refusing to cooperate with conscription, while others did alternative service. Nearly everyone in Catholic Worker communities took part in protests. Probably there has never been a newspaper so many of whose editors have been jailed for acts of conscience.

Dorothy lived long enough to see her achievements honored. In 1967, when she made her last visit to Rome to take part in the International Congress of the Laity, she found she was one of two Americans — the other an astronaut, Neil Armstrong — invited to receive communion from the hands of Pope Paul VI. On her 75th birthday the Jesuit magazine America devoted a special issue to her, finding in her the individual who best exemplified “the aspiration and action of the American Catholic community during the past forty years.”

Among those who came to visit her when she was no longer able to travel was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who pinned on Dorothy’s dress the crucifix worn only by fully professed members of her order, the Missionary Sisters of Charity.

On the 29th of November, 1980, Dorothy died, a quiet death with her daughter Tamar at her side. She is buried at Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island. The small grave stone bears her name, the dates of her birth and death, and two Latin words, Deo gratias — thanks be to God.

“If I have achieved anything in my life,” Dorothy once remarked, “it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.”

She also said, “Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”

Now the question: Should Dorothy Day be officially recognized as a saint?

Long before her death, Dorothy found herself regarded by many as a saint. No words of hers are better known than her brusque response, “Don’t call me a saint — I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.” Nonetheless, having herself treasured the memory and witness of many saints, she is a now candidate for inclusion in the calendar of saints. Cardinal John O’Connor of the Archdiocese of New York initiated the effort in 1997, the hundredth anniversary of Dorothy’s birth.

A bishop who also member of the military for 27 years, who held the rank of rear admiral and had been chief chaplain of the U.S. Navy, might seem an unlikely candidate to seek the canonization of a woman who had spent much of her life encouraging people not to go to war. On the other hand, someone who has seen the reality of combat would not be last in line to appreciate Dorothy’s hatred of war. “No priest can watch the blood pouring from the wounds of the dying, be they American or Vietnamese of the North or South, without anguish and a sense of desperate frustration and futility,” O’Connor wrote. “The clergy back home, the academicians in their universities, the protesters on their marches are not the only ones who cry out, ‘Why?’”

In a homily given in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, O’Connor described Dorothy as “a truly remarkable woman” who had combined a deep faith and love for the Church with a passionate commitment to serving the poor and to saving lives. He acknowledged that some might object to his taking up the cause of Dorothy Day because “she was a protester against some things that people confuse with Americanism itself,” but this was a view he completely rejected. Others, he said, might argue that she was already widely recognized as a living saint and therefore formal canonization is not needed. “Perhaps,” O’Connor said, “but why does the Church canonize saints? In part, so that their person, their works and their lives will become that much better known, and that they will encourage others to follow in their footsteps — and so the Church may say, ‘This is sanctity, this is the road to eternal life.’” Dorothy was, he said, someone who believed that a person is “a temple of God, sacred, made in the image and likeness of God, infinitely more important in its own way than any building…. To Dorothy Day, everyone was a cathedral.”

Noting that Dorothy had aborted her first child, O’Connor said, “I wish every woman who has ever suffered an abortion, including perhaps someone or several in this church, would come to know Dorothy Day. Her story was so typical. Made pregnant by a man who insisted she have an abortion, who then abandoned her anyway, she suffered terribly for what she had done, and later pleaded with others not to do the same. But later, too, after becoming a Catholic, she learned the love and mercy of the Lord, and knew she never had to worry about His forgiveness. This is why I have never condemned a woman who has had an abortion; I weep with her and ask her to remember Dorothy Day’s sorrow but to know always God’s loving mercy and forgiveness.”

Dorothy’s gratitude for the Church, despite every human shortcoming and sin, warranted O’Connor’s admiration. She was, he said, “a radical precisely because she was a believer, a believer and a practitioner. She, in fact, chided those who wanted to join her in her works of social justice, but who, in her judgment, didn’t take the Church seriously enough, and didn’t bother about getting to Mass.”

The canonization process has begun. The Vatican has already given Dorothy the title “Servant of God Dorothy Day.”

Whatever comes of the canonization effort, the Catholic Worker movement is alive and continues to grow. Each house of hospitality that identifies itself with the Catholic Worker movement — currently there are more than two hundred — might be regarded as a monument to Dorothy, though Dorothy herself would stress that they are first and foremost a response to the words of Christ: “What you did to the least, you did to me.”

There is also the more hidden testimony of the countless people who lead more hospitable and more peaceful lives, thanks in part to Dorothy Day.

Who could count them all?

* * *

Jim Forest
Kanisstraat 5
1811 GJ Alkmaar
The Netherlands

jhforest /at/ gmail.com

Jim & Nancy Forest

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Changing a society which has devalued women and de-humanized the unborn

correspondence with the Fellowship of Reconciliation on the issue of abortion

February 1998

Dear National Council Member,

The Fellowship of Reconciliation is not known for avoiding controversial issues. Since its founding it has supported those who refused to take part in war, even during periods when pacifism was regarded by many as treasonable. When racism was far more acceptable than it is today, FOR members launched campaign after campaign on behalf of interracial justice, playing an important and constructive role in changing the way Americans respond to each other. We have opposed executions no matter what the crime, how grim the circumstances and how seemingly unrepentant the murderer was. In nearly every area of life, the Fellowship’s role has never been simply to say no to violence but to seek life-affirming alternatives. Ever since our founding in 1914, we have promoted a vision of a nonviolent culture affecting nearly every area of life.

Yet there has been one notable area of avoidance. If a person knew nothing more about America than could be learned from statements and publications issued by the FOR or its program initiatives, he or she would have only the faintest awareness that the issue of abortion has divided the country for the past quarter century. So far, the FOR response has been to look the other way. The tragic irony is that one of the most pro-life organizations in US history says and does nothing to defend human life while in the womb or to support women under pressure to kill their unborn children.

The reason for this silence and passivity is that abortion is an issue dividing rather than uniting the FOR membership.

But is not passivity and silence in fact consent to abortion? If we had responded to any war or any area of social injustice with silence and without resistance, would anyone imagine we opposed what was happening or had a vision of a nonviolent alternative?

As a member of the FOR National Council, you belong of a community of people helping to give direction to the Fellowship of Reconciliation. We appeal to you to consider ways that the FOR can sensitize its members and friends to understand that, for some members of the FOR, the sanctity of human life, realized at every stage of life, is a constitutive dimension of pacifism. We believe the FOR could play a significant role in looking for ways to support women under pressure to have abortion and in the process help reduce the frequency of abortion. The FOR should promote dialogue, in small groups and via the pages of Fellowship magazine, to try to reach common ground on this critical issue.

Each of us began life in our mother’s womb and no doubt some of our mothers had a lonely struggle on our behalf in bringing us into this world. Let us see what we can do to make it a little easier for pregnant women to find the support and encouragement they need in a society which has de-valued women and de-humanized the unborn.

Yours in fellowship,

William Anderson, Faye Kunce, Shelley and Jim Douglass, Daniel Berrigan, Carol and Dick Crossed, Marie Dennis, Dan Ebener, Marie Dennis, Jim and Nancy Forest, David Grant, Anne McCarthy, Don Mosley, Will O’Brien, Anne Symens-Bucher, Richard Taylor, Jim Wallis [a few other names were later added]

* * *

on the stationery of the

Fellowship of Reconciliation
Box 271, Nyack, New York 10960
(914) 358/4601 / Fax: (914) 358/4924

to:
Jim and Nancy Forest
Dan Ebener

March 5, 1999

Dear Jim, Nancy and Dan:

Last spring we received a letter from you, signed by eighteen persons, asking for FOR to deal with the issue of abortion in a way that seeks life-affirming alternatives and promotes the vision of a nonviolent culture. We are grateful for your concerns.

Your letter has been taken seriously by the National Council. We have entered into discussion at our subsequent Council meetings about this issue. Both in plenary sessions and in committee meetings we have sought to deal with this issue in a sensitive and compassionate way that recognizes the wide spectrum of belief about abortion, the areas of difference, as well as the areas of common concern. We have discovered and reaffirmed that persons in the FOR with varying views on abortion also share many of the same concerns and all are seeking to form opinions consistent with our shared reverence for life.

Attached is a working internal document that developed out of committee efforts over the past few months. It was discussed at the Council meeting February 26-March 1 and has been amended to reflect suggestions coming from further Council discussions. We send it to you and to others that have inquired about this issue to indicate where we are at this time. As we will be bringing it before the Council at our spring meeting in May, after further reflection, we request you not to circulate this but we are sending it to you to indicate the seriousness with which we have taken your original letter.

Yours in fellowship,

Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson
Vice Chairperson FOR National Council

* * *

attached to the letter of Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson:

Working Internal Document! Not for Circulation or Publication (3-3-99)

FOR National Council

On Recognizing and Respecting Diversity Regarding Abortion

The FOR is an interfaith, international fellowship of women and men who are committed to nonviolence and reconciliation. Coming from a wide variety of religious, national, and ethnic backgrounds, we share a common identity in our reverence for life and the search for nonviolent ways of attaining justice. We oppose killing, whether in war or capital punishment or personal violence.

There is, nonetheless, a wide variety of opinion among committed FOR members on the issue of abortion. Some believe that abortion, from the moment of conception on, is always wrong. They believe that embryonic life is the beginning of human life and therefore should be accorded full human rights. Their belief in nonviolence leads them to protect women and the unborn.

Others, equally committed to nonviolence, do not equate embryonic life with the life of the mother. They believe that, especially in the early months, fetal life should be put in a context that considers such things as the health of the mother, fetal deformity and pregnancy arising out of rape or incest. They believe the pregnant woman should make the difficult decision herself. To forbid her this decision would be to deny respect for the individual and the belief that all persons should be free to follow their own consciences and the leading of the spirit.

There are many gradations between the above beliefs in the FOR, as there are in the wider society. Many who support either a pro life or a pro choice position do not see a constitutional or legislative solution as the best effort. Amidst our differences there are areas of agreement that we share:

* we are deeply concerned about women and children and lament the tragic dimensions of abortion.

* we believe that men need to be called forth to responsibility on this issue.

* we believe that women who are pregnant deserve health care, adequate nutrition, shelter and freedom from violence.

* we affirm efforts to reduce violence against women and efforts to enhance family planning so that the frequency of abortions will be decreased.

* we see the feminization of poverty as an injustice that must be addressed

* we would all seek to protect women from being coerced into a decision for or against abortion and we believe that women should have adequate support during pregnancy from family and community

* we deplore killing of doctors and the threat of violence against abortion providers and their families and groups providing reproductive services.

We believe that there needs to be space for respectful dialogue and compassionate listening on this issue. Such an endeavor will help recognize the differences among us and enable us to respect one another and reduce the violence and hostility on this issue. This will help further Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community and the call to nonviolence and reconciliation that we have received from our elders Mohandas Gandhi, Muriel Lester, A.J. Muste, Andre and Magda Trocme.

* * *

March 10, 1999

Dear Lou Ann Ha’aheo,

Thank you for sharing with me the draft text on abortion that will be presented to the FOR Council in May.

Unfortunately I find in it no recognition that abortion inevitably involves killing human life and that it thus raises an essential issue for an organization dedicated to protecting human life and promoting nonviolence. I find in it no commitment by the FOR to take any action that would result in there being fewer abortions. It basically says: “Some see it this way, some see it that way, and we in the Fellowship of Reconciliation find both points of view equally acceptable.”

The summation of the views of opponents of abortion is oversimplified. I doubt any FOR member would say there is never a reason for abortion. As far as I know, all anti-abortion campaigners agree that abortion is permissible when the life of the mother is threatened. Thus they would not say that “abortion is always wrong.” I also think that few if any would use the phrase “embryonic life” but rather “life in the womb,” “the unborn child,” or something similar.

In the next paragraph there is this sentence: “To forbid her this decision would be to deny respect for the individual and the belief that all persons should be free to follow their own consciences and the leading of the spirit.”

Can you not easily think of situations in which this principle would not apply? If someone says he is following his conscience in shooting those who carry out abortions and is doing so at the leading of the spirit, would we not object? I’m sure many racist and anti-Semitic actions have been carried out by people who claimed they were obeying conscience.

The text states: “We believe that men need to be called forth to responsibility on this issue.” I would say yes, of course, but why are not both men and women in this sentence?

Could you explain to me the term “the feminization of poverty”? It’s new to me. Mind you, I live in Holland.

The text states: “We deplore killing of doctors and the threat of violence against abortion providers and their families and groups providing reproductive services.” I’m sure every FOR member, no matter what his opinions on abortion may be, opposes killing doctors, but the last two words are an inappropriate euphemism. In fact we’re talking about abortion services, the opposite of reproductive services.

One last question: When are you sending this draft text to the other 16 signers of the letter which led to the creation of the groups that drafted this text?

Once again, thank you for your efforts on this very tough issue. I hope we meet one day.

friendly greetings,

Jim Forest

cc: Dan Ebener, John Dear

[there was no reply]

* * *

Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1999 15:39:52 -0800

From: Dan Ebener
To: “Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson”
CC: Jim Forest , John Dear , Richard Deats , Bill Ditewig
Subject: Abortion statement

Lou Ann –

Thank you very much for your thoughtful response to our group’s pro-life letter concerning the FOR’s lack of position on abortion. I understand the situation that this issue puts you in is a tenuous one. Clearly, the FOR diversity on this issue seems reflective of the culture we live in. While we may not easily come to an agreement on abortion, it is good and just for us to dialogue about it. I have been actively involved in the most intense efforts at pro-life / pro-choice dialogue in the country, for the past three years. Out of this experience, I offer these reflections / observations:

1. I hope that we could express more clearly a critical understanding of how the search for love and truth can lead toward pro-life pacifism. (Clearly, the draft which we have received is a committee document, and for that, I can only wish you my condolences. My experiences with committee writings is that you get a lot breadth and little depth. This draft certainly reads like a committee document.)

2. The three sentences intended to express the pro-life position are very weak. It is a rather superficial expression of the pro-life position. I would be glad to re-write them completely. Better yet, they could be written out of a dialogue experience. I would be ashamed to show them to my pro-life friends in Iowa; in fact, my pro-choice friends (who are members of the FOR) here would be embarrassed for the FOR. (One of our experiences with the dialogue process is that you must be able to express the other person’s viewpoint to their satisfaction. Some of the pro-choice people here have become so articulate in expressing the pro-life position that we kid them that we want them to speak at our press conferences. Maybe they could write the pro-life section for us.)

3. I know of no pro-life person who uses phrases like “embryonic life” or “fetal life”. This is clearly pro-choice language. In our local Common Ground group, we have recognized that use of the word “fetus” is a pro-choice term, “unborn child” is the preferred description for pro-life people.

4. The 3 sentences describing the pro-life positions are qualified by phrases like “some believe” or “they believe”. The same is true for the pro-choice paragraph until the last sentence, which makes a very bold pro-choice statement without any qualification.

5. It is an over-simplification to assume that pro-life people oppose abortions in cases of rape and incest. In fact, almost every law and regulation governing abortion excludes these cases. That’s not where the real debate is, except among philosophers and theologians. Politically, it is often used as a “wedge” to polarize the issue, not to bring people together. It is the proliferation of “elective” abortions which is the common concern of most good-intentioned people. There is no mention of this in the draft.

6. Even Bill and Hilary Clinton agree that abortions should be rare. But there is no mention of whether the FOR believes that abortions should be rare. Was this considered?

7. To single out men as the only ones who need to be “called forth to responsibility on this issue” sounds like a loaded and un-explained statement. What does it mean? Should not the mother and father of the baby function as a team in responding to the crisis pregnancy? The role of men is often to push for and pay for the abortion, even when the mother does not want to abort. Perhaps what you could say is that abortion provides an easy way for men to act sexually irresponsible and destroy the consequences.

8. While most pro-life people do not promote the Human Life Amendment any longer as a realistic solution to abortion (it is too quick and too drastic), we do promote a range of legislative regulations which might place reasonable restrictions on abortion. The way I see it, the reason for the violence and inflammatory language is the same as in war: We have set up a paradigm where there has to be winners and losers. Right now, the pro-life side is losing. 26 years after Roe, the pro-life movement is stronger than it has ever been. It is not going to go away. It gets stronger every year. (If a Human Life Amendment was passed tomorrow, we would witness a huge growth in the pro-choice movement, along with more violence from the pro-choice side, just as we witnessed in the years just prior to Roe.) For the FOR to deny the possibility of further legislative solutions to the issue is to condemn the pro-life side to a losing future. The only way the pro-life side will rest its passion for this issue is for some progress to be made toward a more pro-life policy. To deny that possibility, as this draft does, is to condemn all of us to more violence.

9. To be consistent, if we are going to condemn violence against abortion providers, as we should, we should also condemn the violence occurring against Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which I would be glad to document for you. (As I’m sure you know, just because it doesn’t get reported in the secular media doesn’t mean it does not exist.) Again, we need to be balanced and fair in our statements. I realize most FOR people are probably unaware of the violence against pro-life leaders and CPC’s, but we all understand that this is becoming a civil war, and once a conflict reaches those proportions, we know that the violence goes both ways. The role of the FOR, of course, is to bridge the gaps and bring greater understanding to both sides of the humanity of the other.

10. Could we consider some action steps in the statement? Perhaps express more directly a call for dialogue and understanding?

The Iowa Common Ground group, which has been featured on ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, Harper’s magazine, and many other media, would be willing to facilitate a process of dialogue on this issue for the FOR. I understand that it may seem like an overwhelming issue. It is. But I believe that it is the basis for an undeclared civil war in this country, and if the FOR is opposed to war and committed to the search for truth and the resolution of conflict, we need to be willing to step into the middle of this.

I would be glad to be helpful in whatever role you want me to play.

As requested, I have not circulated the letter to anyone. I believe that the signers of our original letter deserve a response directly from Nyack, so I have not contacted them either. They are all members of FOR and the national office would have their current addresses.

Again, thanks for your response.

In peace,

Dan R. Ebener

[There was no reply.]

* * *

From: Nancy Forest-Flier, [email protected]
To: Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson, [email protected]
Jim Forest, [email protected]
Dan Ebener, [email protected]
Richard Deats, [email protected]
Date: 05-04-1999 5:23 PM
RE: response to FOR statement on abortion

Dear Lou Ann,

As I am one of the three people personally addressed by FOR’s “On Recognizing and Respecting Diversity Regarding Abortion,” I would like to register my reaction to it. First, I want to thank you for your work in putting this document together and in getting such a dialogue started. It cannot be easy working with a committee to arrive at a single statement on such a divisive issue. But I think it is essential that this work be done and that it continue.

I have read both Jim’s and Dan Ebener’s responses to the statement, and I basically agree with both of them. The section that professes to express the pro-life position is quite weak and almost stereotyped. The first statement about the pro-life position (“Some believe that abortion, from the moment of conception on, is always wrong”) is grossly un-nuanced; in fact I would think that all pro-life people who are FOR members are willing to accept abortion when the life of the mother is at stake. There are loaded words used that pro-life people would never use (“embryonic life,” for instance, in the next sentence).

Finally, as Dan points out, the last sentence of the pro-choice paragraph is made without qualification (“To forbid her this decision would be to deny respect for the individual and the belief that all persons should be free to follow their own consciences and the leading of the spirit”). The problem I have with this sentence is that actually it applies to both pro-life and pro-choice people, yet you confine it to the ranks of the pro-choice. Pro-life people also believe that women should be free to make a choice; that women who believe in the sanctity of life since the moment of conception should be free to bear their child in a child-supportive, family-supportive, woman-supportive environment. But this is often not the case. It is not uncommon for women to be forced to have abortions by their partners or their parents, even when they sense that it is wrong. They may be young, they may never have thought very much about whether they are pro-life or pro-choice, yet suddenly they are supposed to make this staggering decision. The basically pro-choice society around them does little or nothing to support them. If they decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, they may be rejected by their partner or parents, or worse. They may know nothing about Pregnancy Crisis Centers. For these women, and there are many of them, such a phrase would be nothing but cynical posturing. Like the cynicism inherent in William Styron’s book “Sophie’s Choice,” the word “choice” has a hollow ring to it when it means deciding which of your children you are going to have killed.

You may be familiar with groups such as Pro-Life Feminists. These people see abortion more as a convenient way of society avoiding responsibility for women, children and families and for allowing men to behave in a way that is sexually irresponsible. The question for them is not only whether human life begins at conception, but whether the social problems that abortion represents should be offered only one solution: that woman endure a deeply invasive medical procedure that may have an enormous psychological impact on them for the rest of their lives.

I do not live in America, and the “civil war” that Dan talks about it distant from me. In Holland, where we live, the abortion rate is the lowest in the industrial world. This, the Minister of Health recently said, is something we are proud of. If lowering the abortion rate is enough to make a Minister of Health proud, then it must be worth pursuing. Holland is a country that has excellent sex education for young people, considerable social support for families, good medical coverage for everyone, and a major pro-life organization that prefers to help women in a non-accusatory, non-strident way. Perhaps the abortion rate of a country is a strong indication of that country’s social health. Look at Russia, where the abortion rate is soaring.

Finally, I wonder whether the title of the statement, “On Recognizing and Respecting Diversity Regarding Abortion,” doesn’t fail to recognize that there is a real problem here. It’s very nice to recognize and respect diversity, but the FOR also probably recognizes and respects diversity on many other issues — vegetarianism, for instance, or spanking your children, or use of alcohol or soft drugs. Should the FOR pat itself on the back for recognizing and respecting diversity on an issue that, unlike these others, is tearing the country apart?

I’d like to know whether the statement has been sent to the other signers of our letter. They should be made aware of how this discussion is progressing.

Finally, I hope that you take Dan Ebener up on his offer to be of assistance in this discussion.

Again, thank you for all you are doing.

Sincerely yours,

Nancy Forest

[email protected]

[There was no reply.]

* * *

On May 24, 1999, the following statement was approved by the Fellowship of Reconciliation National Council:

The FOR and Abortion

The FOR is an interfaith, international fellowship of women and men who are committed to nonviolence and reconciliation. Coming from a number of religious, national and ethnic backgrounds, we share a common identity in our reverence for life and the search for nonviolent ways of attaining justice.

There is a wide variety of opinion among committed FOR members on the issue of abortion and the beginning of human life. We have observed integrity and sincerity in members who are led to very divergent convictions on this issue, and we affirm and respect their place within the FOR.

Amidst our differences there are areas of agreement that we share:

* we are deeply concerned about women and children.

* we believe that women who are pregnant deserve health care, adequate nutrition, shelter and freedom from violence.

* we affirm efforts to reduce violence against women in a society where oppression of women, male domination and the open promotion of the subordination of women continue.

* we support efforts to enhance family planning so that the frequency of abortions will be decreased.

* we see the feminization of poverty as an injustice that must be addressed.

* we believe that women should have adequate support from family and community during and after pregnancy, and that men should be called to responsibility on this issue.

* we deplore murder and bombings directed at women’s health care clinics and their health care providers.

We believe that there needs to be space for mutually respectful dialogue and compassionate listening on this issue. Such an endeavor will help recognize the differences among us and enable us to respect one another and reduce the violence and hostility on this issue. This will help further Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community and the call to nonviolence and reconciliation.

[end]

* * *

to John Dear, executive secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation

June 19, 1999

Dear John,

In January, I wrote to you that I was considering resigning from the FOR because of its unwillingness or inability to recognize abortion as another form of murder similar in character to other acts of killing the FOR has opposed, or to make any initiative that would make abortion less common. You responded by asking me to hang in a bit longer in order to allow time for a dialogue on abortion at the February National Council meeting. You also asked how I could resign when the FOR has “a seamless garment advocate at the helm.”

Last night, after receiving the FOR National Council statement on abortion, it was clear to me that it was impossible any longer to remain an FOR member in the hope that the kind of change might occur which would renew my sense of connection. Thus my letter of resignation last night.

You mentioned in your letter that there would be a process of dialogue. I have to say I have had no experience of such a dialogue. I helped to write and was one of the signers of a letter to National Council members on the subject of abortion in which possible areas of FOR response were proposed — I attach a copy. So far as I am aware, only three of the letter signers (Nancy, Dan Ebener and myself) ever had a personal response to our letter. This came from Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson, vice chairperson FOR National Council. She sent us a draft text of a proposed declaration on abortion. She asked us not to send this to other signers of the letter. All three of us wrote back to her, among other things asking why those other FOR members who shared our concern were not allowed to see the draft. There was no response to this question or any reply to any of the more substantial comments any of us had made.

Did members of the National Council see our responses to that draft? What we said seems, so far as I can tell, to have had no influence at all in the text approved by the NC.

Is this dialogue?

It’s now 38 year since I joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I was 20 years old and living on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. I had lately left the US Navy as a conscientious objector and had become part of the Catholic Worker community (a movement that had come into existence in part because of Dorothy Day’s need to repent of an abortion she had had when she was a younger woman, though it wasn’t until I wrote a biography of Dorothy in the mid-80s that I became aware both of her abortion and its later impact on her life).

What drew me to join the FOR in the first place? Partly it was simply friendship with a staff member, John Heidbrink, who had the title Church Work Secretary. In those years membership in the FOR was probably 90-95 percent Protestant Christian. John was actively reaching out to Catholics, people like Merton, Dan Berrigan and Dorothy Day. Somehow he also wrote to me. I was excited to find a Protestant minister with such a warm heart for Catholics, something that wasn’t at all common in those pre-ecumenical years. I also came to appreciate John. He showered me with books and in many ways widened my world. We became good friends, a friendship that has lasted all these years. In 1964, he made it possible for me to take part in a small FOR group traveling to Paris, Rome, Basel, Prague and Moscow, a life-changing journey for me. He played a major role in the creation of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, which during the Vietnam War brought many hundreds of Catholics into FOR membership. It was partly thanks to the CPF that the Catholic Church produced so many thousands of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.

But it wasn’t only friendship with John, and later with other staff members, that made me so deeply respect the FOR. Here was an organization that recognized the sanctity of life in a remarkable and consistent way, working tirelessly to overcome all those forces which make people enemies to each other. Agreeing fully with General Sherman’s observation that “war is hell,” the FOR encouraged people not to go to hell. It also opposed capital punishment, even in that less violent time by no means a popular position in the US. It struggled to overcome racial prejudice and injustice. It was not uncommon for Fellowship members to risk imprisonment and even violence against themselves in their effort not so much to force change but to change people. Its nonviolence was not merely something negative but what Gandhi called satyagraha: the power of truthful living.

My involvement with the FOR led me to three periods of FOR employment, first as Interfaith Associate, later as Vietnam Program Secretary, then in the mid-70s (not long after getting out of prison) as editor of Fellowship magazine, a job I left at the beginning of 1977 when I was appointed to head the IFOR in Holland. In the 11 years since leaving the IFOR staff in 1988, I’ve spent a great deal of time helping build the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. (It was experiences in Russia while working for IFOR that led me from an academic interest in the Orthodox Church to become an Orthodox Christian.) I’ve spent most of my adult life working for the FOR or its associated groups. Such a long commitment makes it not so easy to resign.

When I joined the FOR in 1961, I hardly knew there was such a thing as abortion. It wasn’t an issue I can recall people either in the Church or in any peace group discussing. It wasn’t until later in the decade, with the emergence of the women’s movement, that the issue came up. Part of an emerging consensus among feminists at that time was that a woman should not be forced to bear a child. Put that way, I couldn’t help but agree. There was at the same time growing concern about the “population explosion” — the planet and all creation was under threat because of too many human beings. The case seemed to me, as it did to many others, convincing — and it gave another reason to support abortion, not only as a woman’s right but as a way not to overfill the human lifeboat. The Catholic Church was at that time the only loud voice in society taking an opposing view and even I, a Catholic, wasn’t convinced by what the Church had to say on the subject. I was among those smiling at such one-liners as: “If priests were the ones to get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

On the other hand, I would be caricaturing myself if I said that I was an eager supporter of abortion. It seemed to me, at best, a tragic choice. I had to agree with the traditional Christian view that human life begins at the beginning — that we are no less human in the womb than out of it — and that the killing of an unborn human being was never something to cheer about. Nor could I accept the rhetoric that very often was applied to the unborn — “a clump of cells,” “a product of conception,” etc. — or the tendency among the more articulate to use technical words (embryo, foetus, etc.) to depersonalize and dehumanize the unborn.

It was only when the FOR was seriously considering expulsion of the Catholic Peace Fellowship from its list of associated groups — this because of a statement it had issued opposing abortion — that I was finally forced, reluctantly, to realize that I was letting peer group pressure get the better of me, overwhelming both truth and conscience. I began to realize that the minimum one could do was to actively look for ways to help those who were under pressure to have an abortion — and quickly discovered how much even the smallest gesture of support could mean to a pregnant woman.

During that period, the war in Vietnam came to its sudden end. Preparing the June 1975 issue of Fellowship, I wrote to a number of FOR members who had played a major role in the movement against the war, asking them to write briefly “on lessons learned … and the ways in which we can better become a peacemaking community within the world’s most violence-prone society.” Among those to respond was Dan Berrigan, your brother Jesuit priest, who had spent part of the war in prison. At the time he was teaching in Detroit and could see, he related, a billboard out the classroom window that read, “Abortions,” and provided a phone number. Dan said that whenever he looked at this sign, he recalled a question Bonhoeffer had asked: “How are the unborn to live?” The billboard made abortion seem as normal an activity as delivering groceries or selling used cars. At the time, Dan wrote, “nearly two-million nearly-born people in our midst have been so disposed of.” He went on to ask a series of questions, one of which was what can we do to “help everyone walk into the full spectrum and rainbow of life, from womb to old age, so that no one is expendable?”

Would that the National Council statement on abortion had opened with such a question and attempted to answer it!

For the last few years I have in various ways tried to raise this issue once again within the FOR, chiefly through correspondence with members of staff, finally joining with other FOR members in writing to members of the National Council, asking them “to consider ways that the FOR can sensitize its members and friends to understand that, for some members of the FOR, the sanctity of human life, realized at every stage of life, is a constitutive dimension of pacifism.” We expressed our belief that “the FOR could play a significant role in looking for ways to support women under pressure to have abortion and in the process help reduce the frequency of abortion.” We made a few modest suggestions for what the FOR could do, such as “promote dialogue, in small groups and via the pages of Fellowship magazine, to try to reach common ground on this critical issue.” In the spectrum of pro-life writings, our observations and suggestions could hardly have been more mild. But none of them have made their way into the NC statement.

I have been asked, “Isn’t it enough that we agree about certain things? Let us hold together with our areas of agreement and not concentrate in our disagreements.” In general I am prepared to say yes. But for a fellowship of reconciliation (the lower case letters are intentional) not to be shocked at abortion and to fail to respond to it in a constructive way, undercuts the most basic point of all: that at no stage in life are human beings appropriate targets of violence, least of all in the womb.

This also raises the question as to whether the Orthodox Peace Fellowship should remain an associated group within the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I believe it should not and will be propose to our officers and board of advisors that we end this alliance.

This is already too long a letter. Let me end it simply by slightly revising Bonhoeffer’s question: “What can we do to help the unborn — and their mothers — to live?”

in Christ’s peace,

Jim

PS Though this is a letter first of all to you, John, I hope you don’t mind that I will be sharing it with other FOR members, hoping that it will help them better understand my reasons for resigning.

attachments: 1) group letter to the FOR National Council 2) draft text on abortion from NC working group 3) responses to that draft from myself, Nancy Forest-Flier and Dan Ebener 4) the text issued by the NC on May 24

[No reply was received.]

* * *

letter to Richard Deats
editor of Fellowship magazine and senior FOR executive staff member

From: Nancy Forest-Flier, forest_flier
To: Richard Deats, [email protected]
cc: John Dear, [email protected]
Date: 20-06-1999 11:22 PM
RE: abortion statement

20 June 1999

Dear Richard,

Thank you for sending the FOR statement “The FOR and Abortion”. You already have Jim’s response. I have been struggling with the contents of the statement and my own response to it for a few days now. I have been surprised with the depth of emotion that this exercise has revealed. I joined the FOR in 1974 — 25 years ago — and I recently turned 50, which means I have spent half my life as an FOR member. Jim and I met at the FOR in Nyack. Our first years here in Alkmaar were deeply entrenched in the FOR community both here and abroad. So trying to deal with the impact that this statement has had on me has meant some long, hard thinking about how much the FOR has been part of my life.

I understand that the statement on abortion is an attempt to search for areas of agreement. This is certainly admirable. At least now we know what the foundation is. But as I read down the list of articles, I realize that there is nothing in any of them indicating a courageous support of the “reverence for life”, which the first paragraph claims to be a basic part of membership in the FOR. Who indeed could not fail to agree with any of these points? You don’t have to be an FOR member, or even a pacifist, to agree with them. Having “concern” for women and children is something we expect of any normal person. The same is true for the rest of the statement. Is there any special way that the FOR, because of its “reverence for life” and aspiration for Martin Luther King’s “beloved community”, has something new and courageous to say to the world about this most important subject?

If the FOR’s aspirations were any less (say, like those of an environmental organization like Greenpeace), I would say, certainly the membership is divided on the issue of abortion. And I could live with that. But FOR’s aspirations are profound and very broad. They are nothing short of the search for truth, the establishment of a “beloved community” based on nonviolence, respect and justice.

Again, if abortion were any less of any issue (say, like vegetarianism), I would say every person is free to follow his or her own conscience. But whether you believe the unborn child is actually a child or simply a clump of cells, abortion is violent. It is profoundly violent. And no matter how I turn it, I cannot reconcile FOR’s high aspirations with this violence. I cannot. I cannot relativize the issue and say, it all depends on how you look at it. We are talking about violence and death here. Something (whatever it was) was once alive, and now it is dead, and it is dead because it was intentionally destroyed.

When I work all this into my own spiritual development, I realize that I cannot be part of a group that relativizes this issue. I cannot say on the one hand that abortion is a grievous sin, and on the other hand say “but it’s only a sin for me, because I’m an Orthodox Christian, it may not be a sin for you.” I must throw the weight of my entire life, my entire soul, my mind and my strength behind this truth and say it is a sin for everyone, no matter who they are. Otherwise my pursuit of truth is a joke, my prayers are empty, my confessions are hollow.

This is hard for me to get around. It has hit me right between the eyes these past two days. I fear that you will receive this news from me and from Jim and will say, they didn’t get what they wanted so they’re picking up their marbles and going home. But I implore you to realize that this is not the case. The fact is that I cannot be a member of an organization that claims to revere life on the one hand and then says that abortion has nothing to do with universal truth.

Richard, I am so, so saddened by this. I have felt myself growing further and further from the FOR in the last ten years. Even so, to make a definitive break, which almost seemed inevitable, is very hard. Yet I cannot continue with my membership.

love and peace,

Nancy

[There was no reply.]

* * *

John Dear
Executive Secretary
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Box 271
Nyack, NY

December 4, 1999

Dear John,

This is not a letter I have been looking forward to writing but no doubt you have been expecting it.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship will be ending its formal association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation as soon we have a US account operating, which seems almost certain to occur by the end of the month.

This follows a decision made within OPF not to affiliate ourselves with organizations which do not promote a consistent pro-life ethic. This would include attention to the unborn and their mothers, who often resort to abortion not so much from choice but under intense social or, in some countries, even legal pressure. The recent FOR National Council statement made it clear that the FOR and OPF take a very different view on this matter, which for us is central to our reason for being: protection of human life at every stage of development, from the womb to the death bed.

We will welcome opportunities to cooperate with the FOR on specific projects of common interest, insofar as we are able. The informal link is unbroken. We greatly admire many areas of FOR achievement and activity.

in Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest
Secretary
Orthodox Peace Fellowship

* * *

Paschal Hospitality

by Jim Forest

Louise and Nathon Degrafinried

“If it bleeds, it leads” was one of the first proverbs I learned as a young journalist. It’s hard to imagine a front page of any daily newspaper without headlines reporting bloodshed: domestic violence, shootouts, terrorist attacks, and war. Life-saving actions, if reported at all, tend to go to the inside pages. Stories that keep us in a state of fear have first claim on page one.

A particular non-page-one story comes to mind. It involves the sort of dangerous encounter that no one would wish for: the invasion of one’s home by a man armed with a deadly weapon.

Such an encounter happened in one isolated household in February 1984.

At the center of the story are Mrs. Louise Degrafinried, 73 years old at the time, and her husband, Nathan. They lived near Mason, Tennessee, a rural community northeast of Memphis. Both were members of the Mount Sinai Primitive Baptist Church. The other key participant was Riley Arzeneaux, a former Marine sergeant who had been serving a 25-year prison term for murder. He was one of five inmates who had escaped from Pillow State Prison several days before.

Once on the run, Riley had gone his own way. Somehow he had obtained a shotgun. He had been sleeping rough. It was winter. There was ice on his boots. He was freezing, hungry and exhausted. Having come upon the Degrafinried home, Riley threatened Louise and Nathan with his shotgun, shouting, “Don’t make me kill you!”

Now comes the astonishing part. Louise responded to their uninvited guest as calmly as a grandmother might respond to a raucous grandchild. “Young man,” she said, “I am a Christian lady. I don’t believe in no violence. Put down that gun and you sit down. I don’t allow no violence here.”

Riley obediently laid his weapon on the couch.“Lady, I’m hungry,” he said. “I haven’t eaten in three days.”

Louise asked Nathan to please get dry socks for their guest while she made breakfast. Within a few minutes she prepared bacon and eggs, toast, milk and coffee, setting the table not only for Riley but for Nathan and herself. A striking detail of the story is that she put out her best napkins. When the three of them sat down to eat, Louise took Riley’s shaking hand in her own and said, “Young man, let’s give thanks that you came here and that you are safe.” She said a prayer and asked him if there was anything he would like to say to the Lord. Riley couldn’t think of anything so she suggested, “Just say, ‘Jesus wept.’” (Luke 19:41)

Later a journalist asked how she happened to choose that text. She explained, “Because I figured that he didn’t have no church background, so I wanted to start him off simple; something short, you know.”

After breakfast Louise held Riley’s hand a second time. She had asked about his family and learned of the death of his grandmother. Riley, trembling all over, said that no one in this world cared about him. “Young man, I love you and God loves you. God loves all of us, every one of us, especially you. Jesus died for you because he loves you so much.”

All the while the police had been searching for the Riley and the other four convicts. Louise had been on the phone when Riley arrived. As a result of the abrupt ending of the call, her friend had alerted the police. Now they could hear the approaching sirens of police cars.

“They gonna kill me when they get here,” Riley said. Louise told Riley to stay with Nathan while she went out to talk to the police.

Several police cars had surrounded the house. Guns ready, policemen had taken shelter behind their cars in expectation that Riley might open fire on them. Instead they were face to face with an old black women, Louise Degrafinried. Standing on her porch, she spoke to the police exactly as she had spoken to Riley. “Y’all put those guns away. I don’t allow no violence here.”

Apparently Louise is one of those people who speaks with a voice-from-heaven authority. The police were as docile in their response as Riley had been. They put their guns back in their holsters. With their arms around Riley, Louise and Nathan escorted their guest to one of the police cars. He was taken back to the prison. No one was harmed.

The story of what happened to two of the other escaped convicts is a familiar tragedy. They came upon a family preparing a barbecue in their backyard. The husband, having heard about the escaped prisoners on the radio, had armed himself with a pistol. He tried to use it but was himself shot dead. The men took his wife hostage, stole the family car, and managed to drive out of the state before they were captured and the widow was freed. Another of the five, Ronald Lewis Freeman, was killed in a shoot-out with police the following month.

The story does not end with Riley’s return to prison. Louise and Nathan were asked to press charges against Riley for holding them hostage but refused to do so. “That boy did us no harm,” Louise insisted. As the couple refused to testify, the charges were dropped.

Thanks to the Degrafinrieds, Riley’s life was not cut short nor was anyone harmed, though twenty more years were added to his prison sentence for escape. Louise initiated correspondence with Riley. She asked for his photo and put it in her family album. Throughout his remaining years in prison — he was freed in 1995 partly thanks to her — Louise kept in touch with Riley and he with her.

“He usually called on her birthday and around Christmas time,” Louise’s daughter, Ida Marshall, related to a journalist after her mother’s death in 1998. It was Ida Marshall who wrote Riley with the news of Louise’s death.

Louise had enormous impact on Riley’s life. “After looking back over all my life in solitary, I realized I’d been throwing my life away,” he said in a 1991 interview. He remembered praying with Louise Degrafinried when she came to visit him in prison. “She started off her prayer,” he recalled, “by saying ‘God, this is your child. You know me, and I know you.’” Riley responded, “That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with God.”

In 1988, Riley became a Christian. “I realized,” he explained, “that meeting the Degrafinrieds and other things that happened in my life just couldn’t be coincidences. After all that, I realized someone was looking over me.”

Louise Degrafinried was often asked about the day she was help hostage. “Weren’t you terrified.” “I wasn’t alone,” she would respond. “My Savior was with me and I was not afraid.”

This is similar to a comment Riley made when explaining the events that led to his conversion. “Mrs. Degrafinried was real Christianity,” he told mourners at her funeral. “No fear.” Riley sat in the front pew at the service and was among those carrying Louise Degrafinried’s coffin to its burial place.

Riley Arzeneaux now lives in Nashville. The last I heard, he was working as foreman at a local business. He and his wife have a son.

I cannot say this is the end of the story. The consequences of that extraordinary encounter in Mason back in 1984 are still with us. The ripples keep going wider.

There is a lot of implicit theology in what happened that day. A large part of the Gospel is woven into this story.

The Hospitality of Abraham & Sarah to their angelic guests (5th century, Church of Maria Maggiore, Rome)

One of the most striking elements in the story is hospitality. Far from begging for their lives, the Degrafinrieds focused their attention on receiving Riley into their home. They put clean, dry socks on his feet. They put out their best napkins. They cooked for him and ate with him. They held nothing back. He was addressed in caring, disarming terms — Louise prefaces much that she says with the words, “young man.” They prayed with their guest and invited him to pray. When Riley couldn’t think of a prayer, Louise proposed the shortest versew in the Bible, two words that connected Riley directly to Christ’s tears: “Jesus wept.” Indeed Jesus weeps for Riley and all those like him, people who have lost their way in life and become a hazard to themselves and others. Riley was made safe in the Degrafinried home and then his hosts protected him from the police. Even when he was back in prison, the hospitality continued. Far from thanking God they have survived Riley’s visit and hoping never to see him again, the Degrafinrieds came to regard Riley as a member of the family. His relationship with Louise and Nathan has even been taken up by their children. Riley was given a place of honor at Louise’s funeral, was called on to speak, and joined family members in carrying her body to its final resting place. Not long ago, Riley was a guest speaker at the Mason elementary school. He was invited by the principal who happens to be one of the Degrafinried children. The hospitality that Riley experienced years ago continues to this day.

Hospitality is an essential dimension of Christian life. We experience the hospitality of Christ each time we receive communion. The church is a community of eucharistic hospitality. Hospitality has to do with our willingness to make room in our lives not only for those who in some way are related to us — spouses, children, relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employers — but for strangers, and perhaps even people we prefer to avoid.

Every act of welcoming engagement with others is an act of hospitality. In marriage, hospitality becomes a vocation: a man and a woman commit themselves to a lifetime of welcoming each other. Parenthood is hospitality to our own children. The circles of hospitality are small at first but gradually widen. The front door of one’s home acquires a sacramental significance: the place we welcome others.

Christ calls us toward an extremely difficult level of hospitality: the love of enemies. To understand what that might means love we need to reconsider the word “love.” What does Christ mean by love? As used in the New Testament, it has nothing to do with romantic love. The love Christ speaks of is like the sun shining on both the just and the unjust, love that does not depend of affinity or affection, love that struggles to protect the life of the other and even hopes to assist in saving the soul of the other. The “other” is the stranger, the outrider, the person who irritates us, the competitor, the adversary. “Love your enemies,” Christ commands, “and pray for them.”

What is meant by enemy? The English word has a Latin root: inamicus. Amicus means friend. Add the negative prefix in and you get inamicus — non-friend. We may be hesitant to label many people as enemies, but the world provides us with an enormous number of non-friends — people we cannot imagine ever placing within the category of friendship, people whose well-being or survival is of little if any consequence to us, people whose death we might even regard as good news, people with whom we have no longing to be in communion.

Our very salvation depends upon being in communion — communion with God and with each other. It’s a theme at the heart of the Gospel. In the the New Testament, Christ rarely speaks about the Last Judgement, but when he does, it is in terms of mercy, not only his to us but ours to others. He says that mercy will be given to those who were merciful. The hospitality of heaven will be given to those who offered hospitality. “I tell you solemnly,” he says, “that what you did to the least person you did to me.” He gives a series of specific examples, all of them acts of hospitality: food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for the naked, welcoming the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison. These are all very concrete actions that Christ speaks of — not very “theological,” if we think of theology as a realm of intellectual activity, of ideas, principles and insights. Many Christians would prefer a Last Judgment that was an examination of their professed beliefs rather than their actions. We would rather the doors of heaven open to us because we had recited the Creed correctly and had an excellent attendance record at church services.

Hospitality was at the heart of Louise and Nathan’s response to the arrival of Riley Arzeneaux at their door, a hospitality that would have been impossible had they not been so free from fear. No doubt they had heard via radio and TV that five armed men had escaped from prison and that a manhunt was underway. For days local people had been repeatedly warned about the convicts being at large and advised to “take precautions.” Many people understood that to mean that they ought to keep their weapons handy. America has a well developed gun culture. Many own guns precisely for such contingencies. But there was no trace of reliance on firepower in the Degrafinried household. As Louise says to both Riley and to the police, “I am a Christian lady. I don’t allow no violence here.”

Where does one obtain the kind of fearlessness that makes it possible to receive an escaped murderer as a guest sent by God? All I can guess from the articles and interviews I have read and my contact with family members is that Louise and Nathan had been freed from paralyzing fear by the depth of their conversion to Christ, the Christ who entered Jerusalem knowing that crucifixion awaited him, the Christ who prayed on the cross that those who were involved in his execution would be forgiven, the Christ who rose from the dead. The resurrection of the dead refers not only to our final rising, but how we live our lives before death. Louise and Nathan were people who had already risen from the dead when Riley Arzeneaux entered their lives. They were people who had risen from fear of death. I don’t mean to say there was no longer any trace of fear in their lives, only that fear was clearly not the driving force.

“The essence of sin is the fear of the Other, which is part of the rejection of God,” wrote the noted Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon. “Once the affirmation of the ‘self’ is realized through the rejection and not the acceptance of the Other — this is what Adam in his freedom chose to do — it is only natural and inevitable for the other to become an enemy and a threat. Reconciliation with God is a necessary precondition for reconciliation with any ‘other’.”

Who is “the Other”? Zizioulas capitalizes the word “Other” to stress its importance. The “Other” is often someone outside my tribe, my ethnic, racial, religious or national group. We tend to take a fair amount of care about intentional killing within the tribe — due process of law, etcetera — but not very much when killing outside the tribe. Americans carefully count Americans killed in war while preferring not to count those whom they kill. As a Christian, I may in theory believe that each human being — each “Other” — is a bearer of the image of God, but in practice? The truth is it rarely crosses my mind that people outside my tribe are bearers of God’s image. In fact I often have a hard time discerning that image within the tribe, indeed even within my own family.

Metropolitan Zizioulas stresses that, in rejecting the “Other,” I am not just rejecting a particular person or group of people but simultaneously rejecting that person’s Divine Parent. This is the essence of sin, the dividing of the human race into the “us” and the “non-us.” Those who are “not-us” can be dehumanized and become targets of violence without our even regarding it as a sin. Reconciliation, Zizioulas says, begins with God, but there can be no reconciliation with God if we refuse to seek reconciliation with “the Other.”

Many who have written on the spiritual life have stressed the necessity of overcoming fear. The monk and author Thomas Merton wrote: “One of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance of our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves.” [Seasons of Celebration, p 116] One of his best known essays has as its title “The Root of War is Fear.”

Fear should have a positive function in life, providing a wake-up signal. An alarm clock is a helpful means of rising from sleep on time, but isn’t something you want ringing every hour of the day. Unfortunately for most of us the alarm clock of fear is ringing much too often. Many of us are still prisoners of fear. We make unfortunate choices, small and large, because of fear. Most of us take great care not to do things that involve risk, for example the risk of being in the company of people we think might be dangerous. Fear stands in our way — fear of death, fear of the other. When things we sought to avoid happen despite our best efforts to avoid them, we tend to be paralyzed. If a young Riley Arzeneaux armed with a shotgun were suddenly to appear at our door, not many of us would find space within ourselves to worry about his wet and freezing feet and empty stomach or see him as a potential partner in prayer. Probably we would feel like people on an airplane about to crash. To the extent we are blocked by fear, we are people who have not yet acquired the spirit of peace.

St. Seraphim of Sarov (icon by John Brady)

One of the most beloved saints of the Russian Orthodox Church is St. Seraphim of Sarov. “Acquire the Spirit of Peace,” he would sometimes say, “and thousands of people around you will be saved.” Seraphim lived much of his life as a hermit in the Russian forest but had countless visitors. Hospitality was a major aspect of his life. Most of his visitors were pious people seeking advice, but not all his visitors were safe. A bear would sometimes come to visit him. Seraphim explained to a terrified nun who once happened to witness Seraphim sharing his bread with the bear that he, after all, understood fasting but the bear did not. On another occasion Seraphim was visited by several thieves who heard a treasure was buried in his log cabin. Not finding it, they nearly beat Seraphim to death. In portraits of Seraphim in later life, you see him stooped over supported by a walking stick, his back permanently damaged. He did nothing to defend himself from the thieves nor did he seek their punishment. He saw the robbers as “unfortunate ones,” a term Russians in former times often used in referring to people we tend to refer to in less compassionate terms: criminals, convicts and psychopaths. Seraphim’s attitude was not unlike Louise Degrafinried’s, who assured Riley Arzeneaux that he wasn’t by nature an evil man, only had fallen into bad company.

Another saint of the Orthodox Church, St. John of Kronstadt, said: “Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.”

St. John of Kronstadt was not a person who had any illusions about human beings and our capacity to commit serious sins. The town of Kronstadt was a naval base not far from St. Petersburg, a place of much drunkenness, prostitution, and disorderly behavior. Many of the people St. John met in daily life, and whose confessions he often heard, were men who had committed acts of violence. He knew quite well the grave sins men commit, and also was familiar with the human talent for justifying our sins or blaming them on others.

In the same period when St. John was serving the sailors in Kronstadt, Dostoevsky was writing novels which explored what lies behind our sins. In the novel Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky provides his readers with a richly detailed account of how a bright young man in St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov, gradually becomes a murderer: how he uses his clever mind to turn the unthinkable into the doable, how he develops an ideology that not only permits but justifies murder, how what he would once have recognized as a great sin is made into an act of heroic necessity. He comes to sees himself as having become a superman, a Napoleon-like person freed from the prison of “bourgeois morality.”

Raskolinokov’s name was carefully chosen by Dostoevsky. Raskol means division or schism: a radical break in wholeness, the destruction of community. For Raskolnikov, the break occurs first invisibly, in his spiritual and intellectual life, only later through murderous deeds. Committing murder, Raskolnikov becomes a destroyer of society. He has altogether lost the awareness of the existence of God. Through an act of double homicide, he has severed his bonds with all the human beings around him. Having committed murder, first intellectually, then in action, Raskolnikov is no longer a person, only an individual. A person is the self in a state of communion with others, a communion made possible by being in a state of communion with God while an individual is the self experienced in a state of apartheid.

Fortunately, Dostoevsky’s novel is not only a study of how a man becomes a murderer but also how he repents. In the latter part of Crime and Punishment, the reader witnesses a process of change in Raskolnikov that results in conversion.

We catch a glimpse of the younger Raskolnikov in Riley Arzeneaux in his first encounter with Louise and Nathan Degrafinried. He is in such a fear-driven and disconnected state that he was able to aim a shotgun at two elderly strangers. At that point in his life, he saw the image of God in no one.

It’s quite different for Louise and Nathan. They are able to glimpse the image of God in Riley. They see in him an angry child who has lost his way, someone who urgently needs to be cared for. In their response to their unexpected guest, they provide us with a model of hospitality, the love of enemies, and of a life not ruled by fear.

If the essence of sin is fear of the other, the essence of our healing is love of the other. It’s what the Gospel is all about: God’s mysterious love of us despite all the efforts we make not to be lovable, and how transforming love can be when it passes through one life to another — as happened not many years ago in a small house in Mason, Tennessee.

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Note: This text is based on a lecture given at Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, England, in 2005. The most detailed account of the story I’ve come upon was “Bless You, Mrs. Degrafinried” by William Willimon, published in Christian Century, March 14, 1984. I have found additional details in Memphis newspaper accounts published in 1998 after the death of Louise Degrafinried as well as in a recording of a talk by Riley Arzeneaux given at the Northwest Elementary School in Mason, Tennessee, whose principal (now retired) was a daughter of Louise Degrafinried. The photo of the Dagrafinrieds was provided by their granddaughter, Faith Marshall.

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Saint George and the Dragon

Saint George and the Dragon: A children’s book, written by Jim Forest, illustrated by Vladislav Andrejev, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

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Though Saint George and the Dragon was written first of all for children, I had adult readers no less in mind. Whatever our age, we need to stop slaying dragons and instead convert them, beginning with the dragons we carry within ourselves. That’s the point of the legend and why it is in fact so profoundly Christian.

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Recipient of the gold medal Moonbeam Spirit Awards for 2012. “For dedication to children’s books and literacy and for inspired writing, illustrating and publishing.”

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From the book’s afterword for older readers:

True stories become streamlined into legends and legends become compressed via symbols into myths. The St. George of myth was a knight in armor who fought a dragon to save a princess, but the real George never saw a dragon nor did he rescue a princess in distress. We are not even sure he had a horse or possessed a sword.

A Christian convert born late in the third century after Christ, George was one among many martyrs of the early Church.

What made George a saint among saints was the completely fearless manner in which he openly proclaimed his faith during a period of fierce persecution when many other Christians were hoping not to be noticed. According to one ancient account, George went to a public square and announced, “All the gentile gods are devils. My God made the heavens and is the true God.” For this George was arrested, tortured and beheaded. The probable date of his martyrdom is April 23, 303, in the town of Diospolis in Asia Minor — today’s Turkey. His witness led to the conversion of many and gave renewed courage to others already baptized.

In early icons, George was shown dressed as a soldier and holding the cross of martyrdom, but in the course of centuries the dragon legend emerged. It has been told in many variations, but in its most popular form it concerns a dragon living in a lake who was worshiped by the unbaptized local people who, in their fear, sacrificed their children to appease the creature. Finally it was the turn of the king’s daughter, Elizabeth, to be sacrificed. While going toward the dragon to meet her doom, Saint George appeared riding a white horse. He prayed to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then transfixed the dragon with his lance. In this profoundly Christian legend the dragon was only wounded by George. Afterward Elizabeth led the vanquished creature into the city — its populace charged by George with caring for a former enemy. Refusing a reward of treasure, George called on the local people to be baptized. The king agreed, promising to maintain churches and show compassion to the poor.

From a journalistic point of view, the dragon story is a literary invention, yet what better way is there to symbolize the evil that George actually confronted and defeated than to portray it in the form combat with a fire-breathing dragon? George fought and was victorious over an adversary which enslaved and terrified most of the people of his time. The white horse George rides in the icon, a graceful creature as light as air and as fearless as his rider, represents the courage God gave to George as he faced the power of death. It is the courage God gives to any Christian facing martyrdom or, for that matter, much smaller challenges.

This beautifully-illustrated book relates the classic story of St George and the dragon, with an afterword that looks at the real meaning of the legend.

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a book full of treasures

Told in a gentle, flowing manner, Saint George and the Dragon explains not only the legend, but shows how faith drives out fear, letting in peace, love and harmony. The explanation following the lavishly illustrated text discusses not only St. George in history, but details the symbolism of icons that depict this brave martyr. The illustrations by Vladislav Andrejev are iconographic in their execution, but brilliantly coloured and vivid accompaniments to the text. Both parents and children will find this book full of treasures worth coming back to again and again.

— Bev. Cooke

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What a treat!

A few months ago, we went on a trip to Saint Vladimir’s Seminary and I was able to shop in their bookstore. What a treat! While there, we pre-ordered Saint George and the Dragon and a week or so ago, it came! What a book! Jim Forest has done an excellent job of re-telling this legend in a way that will interest children. One of the most lovely parts of the book is when Saint George declares that he is a Christian knight and proceeds to explain in a beautiful and very child-friendly way all about Christianity. It is also very helpful that several pages in the back of the book are dedicated to explaining the real Saint George. After reading Saint George and the Dragon, it is quite easy for parents to speak to their children about who Saint George really was because the information on this beloved saint in right in their hands.

Vladislav Andrejev’s work is visually stunning and his illustrations for this book are the perfect pairing to Forest’s words. I wasn’t prepared by the cover for how glorious they actually are! There are thirteen full page iconographic illustrations in the book (as well as several smaller ones) and each one tells the legend of Saint George visually. The colors are rich and though the story has several scary parts, the illustrations aren’t graphic or gory in any way.

My own little ones are delighted with this storybook. They were properly horrified by the dragon and loved the story of Saint George saving Princess Elizabeth, taming the dragon, and baptizing an entire kingdom. To be honest, when I was pre-ordering the book, I was a little taken aback by the cost ($20)… especially since I wasn’t able to see it prior to ordering. I can tell you that the price is worth it. This book will be treasured by your family! In fact, I will be donating our copy of Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges to our library’s book sale. We have no need for it now that we have this gorgeous book. Bravo, Mr. Forest!

Orthodox Children’s Book Review

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A blessing of a book

In this large format children’s book, Jim Forest retells the story of St. George in simple, clear language that helps you see and feel the story. Every page spread is illustrated in the style of a Byzantine icon by iconographer Vladislav Andrejev. The icons are stunning in detail and color, and I found myself spending more than several minutes looking at them and identifying the messages within. For example, the attitude of the hands in all the pictures clearly communicates conversation. In the icon where St. George tells Elizabeth about Christ, George gestures toward Heaven as Christ leans out of the clouds and blesses him. In the following picture, Christ is leaning and blessing Elizabeth, indicating that she has believed the Message. Wonderful!

And in the icon where St. George is facing the king and queen, the dragon is clearly underfoot and even seems to be licking the foot of the cross on George’s shield in an appeasing posture. I know I will continue to find hidden details as I examine these works of faith and art.

At the end of the story, author Jim Forest provides a special essay with historical background about St. George and more icon images — a great addition for those who want to know more. In all, the book is a wonderful reminder that we can depend on Christ’s strength, might and sovereignty over the dragons–those evils and troubles–in our lives.

The story of St. George is for all of us who need courage.

I see that I need an icon of St. George near at hand to remind me of both Christ’s power and gentleness. There are so many lessons for us in this legend.

This saint’s story blessed me and increased my faith. I highly recommend this book, to both children and adults.

— Else Tennessen

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* To order the book from the publisher: http://www.svspress.com/saint-george-and-the-dragon/

* The illustrations for the book made by Vladislav Andrejev are in this folder: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157627339844345/with/6057026760/

* The book’s afterword, The Real Saint George, is posted http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/06/13/the-real-saint-george/

* A blog entry about the book’s origins is posted here: http://jimandnancyonpilgrimage.blogspot.com/2011/04/saint-george-dragon.html

* A folder of icons, paintings and sculptures of St George is posted here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157626322019037/with/3858736091/