Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

Bus Blog: “What Am I to Do?”

Bus Blog: “What Am I to Do?”

Sister Cecelia Cavanaugh
October 01, 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot about “posture” these days. One of the “postures” I’ve pondered is leaning, specifically leaning in. At the first Town Hall in Erie, I watched all the participants pay exquisite attention to those who were speaking, either in a large group or in our break out groups. Perhaps because of computer volume settings or connections, many literally moved their faces and ears closer to the screen. I wondered if our human need for connection and tactile communication might have contributed. I marveled at how all those present at the Town Hall were truly present in their bodies as well as their spirits as they leaned in toward each other. Later that week, I attended the Town Hall in Buffalo. In addition to the attention I’ve already described, in my small group, we worked together to help one member think about how to respond to a particularly difficult conversation. Our listening and suggestions truly provided support and something and someones on whom she could lean. During this week’s Dialogue Across Geographic Divides, I marveled at the leaning in I witnessed among six women ministering in urban and rural settings in my home state. As each described the reality and particular challenges faced in her circumstances, the others leaned in and offered suggestions and resources. They really could not help themselves! They had to reach out, lean in and network. I found this very heartening and supportive.

This morning I gathered with a group of sisters for our three times a week prayer and sharing and the post-debate pain was palpable. I watched tear stained faces and listened to hurting questions and petitions. “Lord, have mercy!” “God, help us!” I felt my own constant question, “What am I to do?” resonate with the prayer and questions of my sisters.

Yesterday, September 29, was the feast of the Archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael. I listened to the first reading, so familiar to us who love the hymn “On Eagles’ Wings.” As I pondered God’s promises of safety, defense, prosperity, safety and long life, I returned in spirit to Matamoros, Mexico where I volunteered in the refugee camp created by the US “Migrant Protection Policy.” I wondered how my dear neighbors living in simple tents for over a year were experiencing the presence of angels. Then I recalled Michael’s name and question, “Who is like God?”’ and realized again my call – our call – to be “like God,” to be angels in this world. How is this about posture? Well, a memory helps me respond to the President’s words last night addressed to the Proud Boys, “Stand down; stand by.” Reading that they rejoice in this order and that they’ve already had patches made with the quote dismayed me. I prayed, who has asked me to “Stand by?” With whom and for whom do I assume such a posture?

When I was a young sister in formation, we took classes with George Aschenbrenner SJ. Discussing the vows, he told us that Saint Ignatius of Loyola urged the Jesuits to live the vow of celibacy or consecrated chasitity “like the angels.” Father Aschenbrenner exhorted us NOT to try to be bodiless cherubs flitting around, but rather to understand angels as “mighty, concentrated personalities, standing always in God’s presence, ready to do God’s bidding at a moment’s notice.” This is the sense I have of St. Michael, for sure. It describes the strength, dedication and focus of those I met in Matamoros – the persons forced to live there and all who minister to and advocate for them. I believe it is the posture I am being called to assume, into which I pray to grow. It describes the community I experience as a Nun on the Bus.

Reflecting on the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Reflecting on the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Tralonne Shorter and Leslye Colvin
August 27, 2020

On the eve of the 2020 March on Washington, the NETWORK community gathered to pray, reflect, and recommit ourselves to the work of racial justice. Watch Tralonne Shorter and Leslye Colvin’s reflections.

Join the Virtual March on Washington at www.2020march.com.

Read Tralonne’s Reflection:

Nearly six decades ago, Ella Baker said these notable words: “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”

On the eve of the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Ms. Baker’s words still hold true for Black moms who are growing weary of marching for justice fighting against racism and sexism from slavery until now.

The nonstop police killings of Black people have been triggering and traumatizing for many within the African Diaspora. For me, these shootings and ensuing protests have stirred up feelings stemming from August 2014. It was the tragic death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American male killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer after a routine pedestrian stop violently escalated.

At the time of Brown’s death, I was four months into motherhood and beaming with purpose. As the proud mother of a beautiful Black baby boy, it was heartbreaking to see Brown’s dead body strewn across the pavement as though he were animal carcass for nearly five hours — almost as long as it had taken me to give birth to my son. But as a social justice advocate, I was compelled to take action. For me, Brown’s death, and the countless other Black victims of police brutality, including Jacob Blake, magnified disparities in communities across the United States besieged by institutional racism. In these communities disproportionately poor, people of color are over-disciplined in schools, over-represented in jails, and under-represented in all levels of government leadership, including among elected prosecutors, judges, and police chiefs.

Six years since the Ferguson protests, I am still haunted by Michael Brown’s death and the lack of justice for every Black and Brown family that has lost a loved one under similar circumstances. A U.S. Department of Justice probe found that the Ferguson police department’s racially discriminatory policing practices “routinely violates the Constitution and federal laws.” Yet a majority white grand jury decided not to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown, thanks to a widely unknown doctrine called Qualified Immunity.

Qualified Immunity was created as a response to policies put into place during the Reconstruction-era enforcement of the 14th Amendment. The doctrine shields police officers from being held legally accountable when they break the law so long as their unlawful action was not sufficiently obvious. This outdated doctrine nullifies an important civil rights statute that allows individuals to sue officers for violating their civil rights, thus rendering justice impossible.

In fact, I am more likely to win the lottery, than see impunity end for racist police officers conditioned to shoot first, ask questions later.

Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson and the protests that followed shined a spotlight on how little was known through empirical data about the extent to which over-policing occurs in Black and Brown communities. More data was needed, including the frequency of traffic stops, excessive use of force, and officer involved shootings. At the time, there were few think tanks tracking data on officer-involved shootings, so the Washington Post launched an ongoing investigation on this matter in 2015 and found that the FBI undercounted fatal police shootings by more than half. This is because reporting by police departments is voluntary and many departments fail to do so.

According to the Washington Post report, since 2015 there have been more than 5,000 fatal shootings involving on-duty police officers, with 1,022 incidents in 2020. While the data shows that half the people shot and killed by police are white, the rate at which Black people are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white people. Over 95% are young, men between 20-40 years old. Of course there are outliers, Tamir Rice who was just 12-years old playing with a toy gun at a playground when a police officer shot and killed him.

Our flawed criminal justice system is just one example of an institution peppered with individuals blinded by privilege, lacking cultural competencies and multi-disciplinary backgrounds in social justice. The criminal justice system especially, must be diversified, particularly because power dynamics overly favor police, prosecutors, and judges who have the power to impugn communities of color.

For Black families, children are taught early, right along with learning multiplication, how to navigate encounters with law enforcement officers. I have already practiced giving my son, who is six “The Talk.” ‘No fast movements. Always show your hands. Keep copies of your driver license, proof of registration, and insurance in your sun visor. Always get a receipt. Do not travel by yourself late at night. Do not travel in a pack. A drunk woman cannot consent. Always answer yes sir/ma’am. Don’t worry about trying to tape or record the encounter, just get home to me safely and alive, we can sort out the rest later.’

The truth is: We live in two different worlds. With two separate justice systems. With two standards of scrutiny. I pray, I’ll never have to give “The Talk,” but once my son who is projected to reach six feet tall hits a growth spurt in the next three years, God forbid he encounter the wrong police officer out of my watchful protection. There are no guarantees that he will come home to me alive. None.

But the sad reality is people of color are still treated as strangers in a country that never fully embraced us as kinfolk. It’s a misnomer to believe that race is real. Race is a false social construct designed to promote the supremacy of whiteness. The murders of Michael Brown, George Floyd and others including the deaths of Brown immigrants in U.S. detention facilities is a manifestation at the highest levels of this false doctrine. Similar to the lynchings during slavery and Jim Crow; today’s killings of Black and Brown people in police custody continue to send a clear message: Black Lives Don’t Matter.

The presumption that people of color are somehow threatening when unarmed, regardless of age, mental health, educational, or social status, is truly demoralizing. Undoubtedly, hearts and minds cannot be legislated. But laws are needed at the federal, state, and local level to mandate police accountability and force investigations, prosecutions and win convictions. Congress can show true conviction by passing the Justice in Policing, a comprehensive police accountability bill, passed by the House in June but is currently stalled in the Senate. The bill would outlaw chokeholds, no-knock warrants, train law enforcement on de-escalation methods, limit the use of military equipment, and finally end impunity for police officers by holding them liable for breaking the law. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: “The conscience of this country cannot rest until this country’s laws protects all of its citizens.”

Beyond passing the Justice in Policing Act, we must root out every manner in which this country has systemically and intentionally devalued Black lives. This includes closing gaps in wealth, income, health care, voting, representative democracy, affordable housing, and opportunity. We all must be as outraged as the Mothers of the Movement by the pernicious and unrelenting acts of racial inequity and injustice. A feeble pursuit of justice, is no justice at all.

Honoring the Assumption of Mary and Praying for All Mothers

Honoring the Assumption of Mary and Praying for All Mothers

Laura Peralta-Schulte
August 15, 2020

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a day to reflect on Mary’s remarkable life and honor her great gifts. Religious scholars and theologians, like Sister Elizabeth Johnson in Truly Our Sister, note that Mary was born in Nazareth, a tiny Galilean town of about 1,600 people. She was a brown skinned, first-century Jewish woman who belonged to a peasant family. She lived in poverty, unable to read or write, and her daily life and labor were hard. Yet she stands as one of the most celebrated woman in history, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of the Catholic Church.

On this feast day we remember the life and death of Mary. We celebrate young Mary’s bravery and willingness to say YES when asked by the Angel Gabriel to become the mother of Jesus. We recall the love shared between Mary and Jesus as she urged her son to help a friend at a wedding and he did. We marvel at her unflinching courage to endure the pain of watching the Roman Empire torture and crucify her son while never leaving his side. We rejoice, as she did, when the glory of the resurrection was revealed confirming God never abandons.

On this feast day, we call on Mary to protect the young mothers, the children, and all vulnerable people struggling with the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that has indiscriminately brought communities to a precipice. This includes the families of over 160,000 Americans who have died from the virus as well as the families grappling with new infections every day here and around the world. We ask Mary to be with the millions of low-wage workers, disproportionately in Black and Brown communities, as they struggle to put food on their tables and keep a roof over their heads.

We also summon the courage of Mary to continue our work to ensure Congress passes legislation that protects families like hers – the most vulnerable, the often forgotten. God’s love of those struggling in poverty is clear: Mary, a lowly, brown, peasant woman became the mother of God’s son. This is a holy paradox and a great lesson for those who seek to follow Jesus.

Let us commit today to fight for the bold and comprehensive legislation our people need to maintain their health, their dignity and their ability to thrive. Let us push past the forces of the State who fail to see, recognize or respond to the needs of those in poverty. Their willful indifference and deception condemns the vulnerable to misery and death.

Holy Mother Mary, pray for us.

On the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, let follow in Mary’s footsteps.

Working Towards Transformation in our Country

Working Towards Transformation in our Country

Sister Emily TeKolste, SP
August 13, 2020

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to have a conversation about politics or current events with someone you disagree with. But avoiding these conversations is contributing to our nation’s increasing polarization, not to mention the harmful effects of this division on family and community ties.

In May, I presented NETWORK’s Transformative Conversations to Bridge Divides training to NETWORK advocates from Philadelphia and Pittsburg. About 20 participants came together online to learn and practice ways to foster productive conversations and create the conditions needed for transformation to occur. Some of the key takeaways and commitments from participants included, “doing more preparation before difficult conversations,” “approach potentially confrontational conversations with a little less arrogance,” and “think more carefully about the other person when I need to have a difficult discussion.”

After the training, Gerri in Philadelphia found “There are constructive, concrete, successful ways we can have meaningful conversations with those we love who have opinions other than ours.” As we approach the November election, NETWORK will provide additional opportunities for all members of our Spirit-filled network to participate in this Transformative Conversations training, as well as other trainings and activities. Together we can transform our policies and our nation!

PHOTO: Participants learn how to build the foundation for transformative conversations.

5 Steps to a Healthy, Transformative Conversation

  1. Be Curious
    Seek to learn about the other person’s perspective
  1. Listen
    Listen fully and attentively, with an open mind
  1. Review
    Repeat back what you heard to make sure you understand correctly
  1. Validate
    Acknowledge what they said, even if you feel differently
  1. Express
    Share your truth, your assessment of the issue, your reasoning

Learn more: networkadvocates.org/transform

This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

 

Voting Under the Sign of the Cross

Voting Under the Sign of the Cross

Putting Our Focus on the Margins
Meghan J. Clark
August 13, 2020

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, our communities powerfully cry out for racial justice. The global COVID-19 pandemic remains, it has not dissipated, despite growing public fatigue with mitigation measures. Amidst all of this, we struggle to maintain voting rights in primaries and in preparation for November. NETWORK and its partners have tirelessly worked on issues of racial and economic justice for decades. The issues are not new, unknown, or unstudied; and yet, something about 2020 feels different.  The collective albeit deeply unequal experience of COVID-19’s vulnerability, suffering, and death has inescapably interrupted our business as usual attitude.

Today there is a growing chorus of people demanding a more just and equitable community. A chorus that rejects returning to a business as usual that benefits only the privileged while excluding millions. At marches in Rockaway, Queens, youth leaders pair a focus on racial justice alongside voter registration and census participation. Alongside chants of “Black lives matter!” you also hear, “Don’t just hope, get out and VOTE!”

Participation in the political, social, and economic life of the community is both our right and our responsibility. While not everyone is called to be an activist, all are called to actively work for the common good. Voting, in Catholic social teaching, is a moral obligation. Yet, as Christians, we are called to vote not motivated by own self-interest but by a commitment to the human dignity of all, an all-inclusive common good, and with a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. Faithful discipleship, then, becomes a matter of solidarity and kinship in which all are equally sacred. In faithful citizenship, we are called to vote under the sign of the cross.

Beginning with the Crucified

In his first homily as pope, Francis prayed that we, as the people of God, may receive the grace to “to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ crucified.” In focusing our journey on Christ crucified, Francis draws individuals out of themselves and towards the margins of society. The task is two-fold: to focus our attention on those excluded from our societies while also recognizing the structures by which they are rendered invisible or expendable. Beginning with the crucified Christ illustrates the ways both individual dignity and structures of sin are inextricably linked.  When Francis labels inequality as the root of all social ills in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), it is in recognition that it is “making it practically impossible to live a human life ruled by moral principles.”

Building on both Catholic social teaching and the prophetic insights of liberation theology, Pope Francis’s decries, “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading.…those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it.” (EG 53).

Voting under the sign of the cross, then, asks us to begin our discernment from the perspective of the excluded, of those who suffer from institutionalized violence, those whom the martyred El Salvadoran Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuria called the crucified peoples. For Ellacuria, the cross focuses our attention on the “collective reality, grounding and making possible individual sins.”1 Talking about the reality of individual sin is not enough. Seeing the reality of our society’s crucified peoples requires those with privilege to face the uncomfortable and unavoidable complicity in social sin, of which in the United States, racism and white supremacy are paramount.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the call for racial justice in our country today. Professing Christ crucified, in all its historical complexity, has long been central in African American Christian ethics, most notably the work of Protestant theologian James Cone, who famously described the crucifixion as a first-century lynching.2 Reflecting on the current protests, Nigerian-American Sister Anne Arabome laments that God cannot breathe; “As the protests continue, I see people on the streets — breathing in and breathing out. In their voices I hear the God of life screaming and asking for space to breathe again.”3

Living Incarnational Solidarity

“A faith that does not draw us into solidarity is a faith which is dead, it is deceitful…faith without solidarity is a faith without Christ.”4 These provocative words, spoken by Francis on a pastoral visit in Paraguay, challenge us to see that solidarity and work for justice are at the very heart of the Christian faith. For Christians, Jesus is our model of solidarity and it is in practicing solidarity that we encounter Christ in our neighbor.

In the Gospels, both the Beatitudes and Matthew 25’s parable of the last judgement provide clear descriptive illustrations of the connection between solidarity with Jesus and solidarity with those on the margins, culminating in an uncompromising statement that whatsoever one does or does not do for the least, one does or does not do to the Son of Man himself. A radical identification of Jesus not with his followers but with those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, etc.  Visual artists like Kelly Latimore powerfully concretize this for us depicting the Holy Family as migrants crossing a militarized border.5

“Solidarity is a wrenching task,” notes theologian M. Shawn Copeland, “to stand up for justice in the midst of injustice; to take up simplicity in the midst of affluence and comfort; to embrace integrity in the midst of collusion and co-optation; to contest the gravitational pull of domination.”6 Incarnational solidarity is deeply rooted in seeing one’s neighbor as the image and likeness of God, as the face of Christ in our midst. For Francis, “Solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them” (EG 189), a difficult task because “complacency is seductive” (Gaudete et Exsultate 137). In practice, this solidarity strengthens efforts to practice good politics, in which “everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home.”7

A Community of Kinship and Justice

Both the image of the crucified peoples and the focus of incarnational solidarity ask us to reflect deeply on how we view the work around us and possibly change the position from which we participate in the political community. For Christians, the task of politics is to build a community of kinship, and justice. It is the recognition that we belong to each other and that we are all diminished by the exclusion and oppression of some. In his many books and TedTalks, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ of Homeboy Industries challenges us to imagine a circle of kinship and then imagine it is big enough where no one is on the others side.8 For Boyle, Jesus does not provide us with easy answers but relentlessly asks, “Where are you standing?” The shift is at once a severe challenge but also freeing.

The fundamental starting point is where do you position yourself? With the marginalized and against marginalization? With the oppressed against their oppression? These seem like easy questions and yet for those like myself, a white woman in the United States, answering them honestly requires facing the ways in which my life has been aided by the white supremacy I recognize as sinful and evil. It requires humility in acknowledging one’s own complicity in systems of injustice, followed by a firm and persevering commitment to be anti-racist.

The Challenge of Radical Kinship and Politics

At this point, you may be thinking voting under the sign of the cross is impossible in U.S. politics. While it is true that Catholics who hold with the Church a consistent ethic of human dignity do not neatly fit into the U.S. political system, I wish to make two caveats before delving into the practical reflections on the type of political engagement envisioned above.

First, voting is always a bounded choice. There are no perfect candidates or political platforms. One advantage of Catholic social tradition’s approach to social ethics is that it recognizes the reality of both individual and structural sin. Our political engagement is aimed at bringing about greater justice and peace but recognizes that the fullness of either relies on God. By letting go of purity and perfection, we are freed to act for justice. This recognition, alongside a realistic appreciation of pluralism, also helps us act with humility, recognizing with Pope Francis that “growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others” (GE 141).

Navigating voting and political participation amidst these complexities is a challenge. It requires practicing: see (learning about candidates’ records), judge (discern), act (vote/advocate). Whenever Catholics explore the meaning of “the preferential option for the poor” the list includes: the unborn, migrants, those living in poverty, the elderly, victims of human trafficking, etc. For many in the United States today, the challenge is most acutely felt in navigating their position on abortion alongside their solidarity with marginalized and minoritized peoples.

Personally, I find Pope Francis’s approach helpful for discernment. Cautioning against ideologies within the church which either avoid talking about God or avoid social justice, he states, “our defense of the unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm, and passionate…equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned, and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking. . . we cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice” (GE 101). There is a unity and integrity to this image of “equally sacred” that is rooted in prioritizing those whose dignity is thrown away.

Equally sacred is not a capitulation or deflection. It does not deny the specific reality of injustice, the way “all lives matter” dismisses the need to specify Black lives matter. Instead it is a desire to be faithful to the Gospel, to standing with the crucified.  “A fundamental tragedy of this broken and sinful world,” notes theologian Cathy Kaveny, “is that the most vulnerable persons – the unborn, the disabled, the needy are often completely dependent upon persons almost as vulnerable as themselves.”9 The first step, according to Kaveny, is to listen and hear their voices. In U.S. politics, concern about abortion is often reduced to the question of criminal law. However, if we follow Jesus to the margins, it is difficult to treat any single issue as the only one of concern. Similarly, if we follow Kaveny alongside Boyle’s vision of kinship, it asks us to consider our policies on abortion from both the perspective of the unborn and the pregnant woman in crisis. In doing so, the nexus of concern expands far beyond mere criminalization of abortion.

Throughout his ministry, Pope Francis has implored us to pray with the Gospel, reject the throwaway culture, and be in kinship with the marginalized. When we do that, our understanding of building a pro-life community of solidarity must be a circle in which no one is left out. We position ourselves with Black Lives Matter,10 with migrants of all ages, and with those experiencing poverty and struggling to meet their basic needs.

As we head into election season, voting is one important way that we participate in the political life of our communities. It is an act of solemn discernment and conscience. In 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, desperate cries for racial justice, and increasing economic need, it feels as if the stakes are quite high, and they are. Still, as people of faith, we begin by making sure we are standing in the right place as we discern, our focus on promoting the common good and building a community of solidarity in which none are excluded.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Meghan J. Clark, Ph.D., is an associate professor of moral theology at St John’s University (NY). She is a senior fellow of St. John’s Vincentian Center for Church and Society. From 2010-2013, she served as a Consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. She is author of The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: the Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights (Fortress Press, 2014) and co-editor of Public Theology and the Global Common Good (Orbis, 2106).

Sources:

  1. Ignacio Ellacuria, “The Crucified Peoples,” in Ignacio Ellacuria: Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation, Edited by Michael E. Lee, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013), p. 204.
  2. James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2011).
  3. Anne Arabome, “I can’t breathe because God can’t breathe,” National Catholic Reporter, June 10, 2020 https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/i-cant-breathe-because-god-cant-breathe
  4. Pope Francis, “Visit to the People of Bañado Norte” (Address, Paraguay, July 12, 2015) https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/july/documents/papa-francesco_20150712_paraguay-banado-norte.html
  5. Kelly Latimore, “Refugees: La Sagrada Familia” https://kellylatimoreicons.com/gallery/img_2361/
  6. Shawn Copeland, “Towards a Critical Christian Feminist Theology of Solidarity,” in Women and Theology, ed. Mary Ann Hinsdale and Phyllis H. Kaminski (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995), 18.
  7. Pope Francis, “Good Politics is at the service of Peace,” World Day of Peace Message 2019.
  8. Gregory Boyle, SJ, “Compassion and Kinship,” TEDxConejo 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipR0kWt1Fkc
  9. Cathleen Kaveny, “Could the Church take a risk?” Commonweal Magazine, August 10, 2018.
  10. Olga Segura, “What Black Lives Matter Can Teach Catholics About Racial Justice” https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2019/02/01/what-black-lives-matter-can-teach-catholics-about-racial-justice
This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

Advocacy for Justice Continues… Virtually

Advocacy for Justice Continues… Virtually

Meg Olson
August 13, 2020

In response to the call to action on the April 2020 webinar, “NETWORK’s COVID-19 Response: Updates and Our Work Ahead,” Grassroots Advocates Teams and other NETWORK members and supporters from across the country held 24 meetings with their Senators’ offices in April and May to discuss what needs to be included in the fourth COVID-19 relief bill. As these were the first meetings held during the time of social distancing, NETWORK members and Senate schedulers worked together to coordinate these meetings to take place over the phone or via video conferencing.

Watch the COVID-19 Response webinar: www.networkadvocates.org/webinarrecordings

The specific topics of each of the meetings were chosen either based on the Senator’s position within leadership or key committee, or the NETWORK members’ advocacy interest and expertise. They included each of NETWORK’s seven Mend the Gap public policy priorities, as well as unemployment insurance, nutrition assistance, and caring for those who are incarcerated or in detention centers. Our Government Relations team helped prep advocates for their meetings and participated in calls held with Hill staff.

Read more about NETWORK’s COVID-19 legislative priorities:  www.networklobby.org/covid19.

Overall, NETWORK’s advocates found the virtual in-district and Hill meetings to be as effective as meeting in person. Sister Phyllis Tierny, SSJ of Rochester, New York joined with members of the LCWR Region 2 Justice Promoters Collaborative to discuss ensuring safe and fair elections and protecting all immigrants with Hill staff in Senator Gillibrand and Senator Schumer’s offices. One reason why she helped organize these meetings is because, “In these difficult and uncertain times, the issue of who can vote has become a priority as we look forward to the election in November.  Voting is both a privilege and a responsibility for all citizens and to be deprived of the opportunity because one is housebound or in danger of contracting the virus limits who can vote.” Sister Phyllis adds, “It was a privilege to interact with the legislative assistants of our New York Senators, knowing that they are sympathetic to these issues and will raise their voices in the Senate. One of the take-aways for me is the need for a different approach to work with legislators across the aisle. It is easy to think of politicians as ‘cardboard’ and talk at them. We need to find a way to engage their humanity and begin a different conversation!”

NETWORK is grateful for all of our members’ and supporters’ advocacy efforts around COVID-19, particularly for Black, Native American, and immigrant communities, as well as for those who are incarcerated or detained.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the ways our federal government has failed to structure a society that cares for those most in need… The grave challenges facing the United States and the world are unprecedented and require a bold and compassionate response.”
From NETWORK’s COVID-19 Legislative Priorities Leave Behind

This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

When You Say

When You Say

Leslye Colvin
August 12, 2020

When you say,
“I’m not racist,”
you deny the complexity
of a system built on the racist ideas
born of white supremacy.

When you say,
“I don’t see color,”
you do not understand that
making judgements based
on color is the problem,
not seeing color.

When you say,
“I was taught to treat everyone the same,”
you deny the limitations of your being kind
when the system denies my dignity.

When you say,
“But, I’m a Christian,”
you deny the whitening of Jesus’ body
and the distortion of his Gospel
for economic gain through
the genocide of indigenous people,
the enslavement of Africans,
and other atrocities against
people of color.

When you say,
“My child is Black,”
you conflate your love for one person
with a love for all.

When you say,
“My family never enslaved people”
you deny how the injustices of slavery
were transformed to perpetuate
your illusion of white supremacy.

When you say,
“My ancestors were wronged for being Irish or Italian,”
you deny that people of Irish and Italian ancestry
now identify as white.

When you say,
“My ancestors arrived after slavery,”
you deny that their white skin
privileges you today.

When you say,
“The Constitution says all men are created equal,”
you deny ongoing legal battles to make it realized.

When you say,
“All lives matter,”
you deny our lived experience.

When you say,
“I want to learn,”
you take a step forward.

When you say,
“I want to be an ally,”
the hard work begins.

Leslye Colvin is the Communications Coordinator for Gathering for Mission, a project of Catholic Committee of the South inspired by Pope Francis that provides practicums in dialogue in dioceses across the country. She is also a member of the editorial team for the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Daily Meditations, and a member of the NETWORK Board. This poem was originally published on Leslye’s blog, Leslye’s Labyrinth, www.leslyeslabyrinth.blogspot.com.

This story was published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue.

The Intersection Between the Heart of Christ and Juneteenth

The Intersection Between the Heart of Christ and Juneteenth

Leslye Colvin 
June 29, 2020

Upon hearing of a program being offered at the local cathedral that addressed poverty and the Church’s social justice teachings, I knew it was for me. Through JustFaith, I was provided insight to the heart of the Gospel of Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. Having entered this church as a young child in an apartheid state, I had already gained a deep appreciation of Moses and the Exodus from the Black Protestant Church. I also recognized the strong similarities between the enslavement and subsequent struggles of the Hebrew people, and those of us as African-Americans. The connection and assurance of God’s presence in the midst of ineffable suffering was as certain as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

My family entered the Catholic Church amidst the racial segregation of the mid-1960s. While the priests and parishioners welcomed us, I know our lived experience was not shared by all African-Americans, not even for those who identify as cradle Catholics. It was years later in JustFaith that I saw my families experience of welcome as a clear example of the Church’s social teaching on human dignity. This was transformative as I began to feel a pull towards a professional path guided by these principles. However, before that would unfold, the economy crashed and I became a ninety-niner, one who who received 99 weeks of unemployment benefits during the Great Recession.

An acquaintance called to ask if I would be interested in an internship with the archdiocese through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a unit of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that addressed domestic poverty. I promptly completed and submitted my application. A short time later, I was offered the position. While it was part-time and with no benefits, it was an opportunity to move beyond unemployment  and to do work that resonated with me. The new path was appearing.

By the time my internship began, there had been two significant changes that were causes for concern but I did not have the luxury of walking away from the opportunity.  My first surprise was learning my acquaintance had resigned and been replaced. The second change was another reason for pause. The CCHD internship was a part of Social Justice Ministries and, in this archdiocese, functioned under Catholic Charities. With the change, the internship and Social Justice Ministries, which would become Justice and Peace Ministries, was moved to a new unit named Communications and Advocacy. The Advocacy component included Disability Ministries, Jail and Prison Ministry, and Respect Life Ministry as well as Justice and Peace.

The decision to combine Communications with Advocacy was problematic in the best of circumstances. Communications is responsible for representing the interests of the institution, primarily the archbishop and the archdiocese. Advocacy is charged with encountering those on the margins with the heart of the Gospel. There is an inherent tension between the two units requiring discernment and contemplative action from leadership.

On the first visit to my new office, I was escorted by the head of Communications and Advocacy. The short walk had only one memorable moment. For no apparent reason, I was told, “We don’t talk about liberation theology.” Not wanting to rock the boat before it left shore, I did not response. Although two weeks later, I was offered a full-time position in Justice and Peace Ministries, the director’s comment was a precursor of the challenges to come and, in time, I would begin to reclaim my voice.

How do you tell an African-American woman not to discuss liberation theology? Although the distorted slaveholder’s Christianity of the United States, present in Catholic parishes and Protestant churches, has denied it for four centuries, liberation flows through the veins of the Gospel and the heart of Christ. Jesus was a man who lived under oppression, yet his words are clear, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives. . .”

On this Juneteenth of 2020, the nation remembers the last enslaved people of African descent who learned of their freedom in Texas more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Shamefully, the oppression of chattel slavery was replaced by the era of Jim Crow and institutionalized racism that we continue to resist as did our ancestors. As “Black Lives Matter” is proclaimed, may our nation follow the guidance of James Weldon Johnson as we “Lift ev’ry voice and sing ’til earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.”

Leslye Colvin is the Communications Coordinator for Gathering for Mission, a project of Catholic Committee of the South inspired by Pope Francis that provides practicums in dialogue in dioceses across the country. She is also a member of the editorial team for the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Daily Meditations, and a member of the NETWORK Board. This blog was originally published on Leslye’s blog, Leslye’s Labyrinth, www.leslyeslabyrinth.blogspot.com.

Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth

Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 19, 2020

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. Since then, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration in the Black community and grown to become the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.

This Juneteenth we must pause and acknowledge the immense gap between the freedom promised in 1865 and the freedom delivered. The Emancipation Proclamation formally ended slavery in the Confederate States, and later the 13th Amendment ended slavery across the United States, but white enslavers and white Union victors established new rules that intentionally limited the freedom of Black people and families for decades after that.

The new reality still allowed white former enslavers to set wage and work conditions. White structures restricted employment opportunities for Black people while creating new forms of powers to control “idleness” – an excuse police used to arrest Black people, imprison them, and force them to work for little or no wages. Newly “freed” Black people and families faced violence and terror as they attempted to leave their former enslavers. Firsthand historical accounts of formerly enslaved people recall multiple insistences of lynching and shootings. The system of slavery adapted into new systems of white control over Black people.

Still, Black families celebrated. Their joy and celebration was and continues to be an act of resistance and resilience in the face of racial oppression.

The Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and the continued fight for Black liberation against state-sanctioned oppression in this century are the continuation of century-old attempts to right the wrongs based in the United States’ original sin, the enslavement of Black people.

The forces of white supremacy and white racism are so powerful and so pervasive that we see day in and day out examples of blatant disregard for Black lives at the hands of the State police agents as well as white vigilantes seeking to assert dominance over Black lives. We see disregard for Black people’s health in hospitals, leading to higher rates of illness and death. We see disregard for Black workers who experience higher rates of unemployment and lower wages than white workers. The system was never set up to provide equity for Black Americans. We must work for radical change based in Black liberation for the good of our whole nation.

My heart breaks every day recognizing how my own behavior has contributed to Black oppression. It is long past time for white people to acknowledge how we contribute to this long-standing system, benefit from it, and have responsibility to tear it down. “All lives matter” is a slogan for those who refuse to acknowledge the unique and life-altering privileges being white provides. The privilege to have doctors take your health concerns seriously. The privilege of being able to walk by police officers without triggering their fear and a potential attack.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a holy movement calling us to affirm the life and dignity of Black people. In his life and in his death, Jesus was a member of an oppressed community, not the powerful. We cannot claim to follow the life and message of Jesus and remain silent in the face of racism today. Like the delay in emancipation for people who were enslaved in Texas in 1865, the pain and suffering of Black people in the United States has been going on far too long today.

We solemnly say the names of those we’ve lost to violence and systemic racism. We watch as our brother George Floyd died with a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 second as he cried in vain for the breathe of life and for his dead mother. We won’t be silent anymore.

Hope grows as resistance grows. The streets across the U.S. and around the world have become alive with prophetic witness. This is church in the street, proclaiming the sacred truth, “No one is truly free until we all are free” To the Black community on this day of remembrance, I commit to working with you restructure our society to ensure equity for the Black community. To the white people marching in the streets and in virtual spaces, I see justice in your eyes. To the white Sisters and Brothers clinging to the false God of white supremacy or white silence, I call you to true discipleship.

Malcom X said, “I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation.”

This Juneteenth, let us acknowledge the sinful history of slavery in our country, mourn the people harmed and killed by white violence and inhumanity, and honor the resilience of the Black community. This Juneteenth let us recommit ourselves to use our hearts, minds, and souls in the service of racial justice, a justice far too long delayed.

Prioritizing People over Partisanship Is the Faithful Response

Prioritizing People over Partisanship Is the Faithful Response

On May 22, 2020 I published a reflection in Global Sisters Report about the vows of religious life and their significance during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the vow of obedience. As I continued to reflect in the following days, I considered how my reflection about obedience could be re-oriented toward a different narrative not of my choosing.

The unfortunate demands made by the President Trump before Memorial Day weekend pushed for houses of worship across the nation to reopen their buildings. While his ultimatum was directed at States, the pressure it puts on faith leaders and their communities to begin congregating in the middle of a pandemic is very real.

As a woman religious, I know the importance of religious services and joy of coming together in person with a community of believers. These are central in the lives of many people of faith, myself included, and it is very difficult to go without them. But we aren’t making this sacrifice without cause. We are doing this because lives are at risk if we gather again too soon, without the proper protections in place.  As Rev. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the board of the Conference of National Black Churches, said: “We are out of the buildings because our people are important.”

Our unfortunate reality offers a case study of what prophetic obedience might look like. Because of President Trump’s pressure, faith leaders are even harder-pressed to defend their authority as they discern the risks, benefits and precautions of opening houses of worship and exposing their flocks to the virus. Congregants’ personal choices about how and when to resume in-person gatherings also became more complicated and contentious.

In these days of uncertainty and ineffectual national leadership, people of faith cannot afford to relinquish our own judgement. Decisions like these cannot be made based on ideology or a particular political agenda but should be centered on love of neighbor, with a special concern for the most vulnerable.

Faith leaders can model the thoughtful, nuanced discernment that prophetic obedience calls for at this unique time. The path forward will require leaders and congregants to do the hard work of listening, exercising patience, and carefully considering the real risks.

Pastor Dave Simpson of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Frederick, Maryland put it well:

An open letter to the President:

You have declared that churches are to be reopened.
My church has never been closed.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of “church.” A church is not a building. The church is the people of God called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that not even the gates of hell can prevail against the church. This virus has certainly not stopped the church from being what we have been called to be – the Body of Christ for the sake of the world. The people of God who are Good Shepherd Lutheran Church have continued to care for each other and reach out to the community and beyond.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of “worship.” Worship is not only – or even especially – what happens in a church building on Sunday mornings. Worship defines us as followers of Jesus Christ. We strive to worship the God who creates and saves us with everything that we do and everything that we are. We worship our God when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Our building may be closed, but we are still the church and we have not stopped worshiping. God has blessed us with new and enhanced ways to be church together as even technology has been sanctified (set apart for God’s use) for accomplishing the mission that has been laid before us.
Our building will be open again – when the time is right. It will be open again when we can gather in a way that does not put our members or our neighbors at unnecessary risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Our building will open when we have a plan that manages the risk and we have the resources to put that plan into action.
When our building opens, it will be to glorify God, not to make any secular or political point or to advance any agenda, nor will it be to assert our “rights.”
Until then, we will go on being church. We will go on worshiping online and, more importantly, in our community and in the world.
We are the church.
We are, and will remain, open.

Originally published on Pastor Dave’s Facebook account.