Friday, February 8, 2013

The legacy of the current crisis: reviewing and reinventing concepts

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

I nurture the conviction, shared by other analysts, that the current systemic crisis will leave us as legacy and challenge the urgency to rethink our relationship with the Earth, with the methods of production and consumption, to reinvent a form of global governance and coexistence that include everyone in the one same Common Home. For this, we are forced to review key concepts that, like a compass, point to a new north. Much of the current crisis stems from false premises.

The first concept to review is that of development. In practice, it's identified with material growth, expressed by the GDP. Its dynamic is to be as large as possible, which means ruthless exploitation of nature and the generation of large national and global inequalities. It's important to abandon this quantitative understanding and assume a qualitative one. In the latter, development is well defined by Amartya Sen (a Nobel Prize winner) as "the process of expansion of substantive freedoms", i.e., the expansion of opportunities to shape one's life and give it a sense of worth. Growth is essential, as it is the logic of all living things, but only good from the interdependencies of life networks that ensure biodiversity. Instead of growth/development, we ought to think about a redistribution of what has already been accumulated.

The second is the manipulated concept of sustainability which, in the current system, is unattainable. Instead we should introduce the theme of the rights of the Earth and nature, which has already been approved by the UN. If we were to respect them, sustainability would be guaranteed, the result of having adjusted ourselves to the logic of life.

The third is the environment. The environment [medio ambiente] doesn't exist; what exists is the whole environment [ambiente entero] in which everything lives and all beings are interconnected. Instead of environment, it would be better if we used the expression of the Earth Charter: community of life. All of us living beings possess the same basic genetic code, so we are all related to each other -- a real living community. This view would lead us to have respect for every being since it has value in itself beyond use by humans.

The fourth concept is that of Earth. It's important to overcome the poverty of vision of modernity that sees it just as a vast reality without intelligence. Contemporary science has shown -- and this has already been included in the ecology manuals -- that not only does Earth have life on it, but that it itself is alive. It is a superorganism, Gaia, that joins the physical, the chemical and earth and cosmic energy to produce and reproduce life forever. On April 22, 2010, the UN adopted the name of Mother Earth. This new view would lead us to redefine our relationship with it, no longer one of exploitation but of rational use and respect. A mother isn't bought or sold; she is respected and loved. So it must be with Mother Earth.

The fifth concept is that of the human being. In modernity, the latter has been thought of as detached from nature, outside and above it, making him "lord and master" of it (Descartes). Today, the human being is a part of nature and the universe as that portion of the Earth that feels, thinks, loves and worships. This perspective leads us to assume our responsibility for the fate of Mother Earth and her children, seeing ourselves as caretakers and guardians of this beautiful, small and threatened planet.

The sixth is the concept of spirituality. This has been confined in the religions, when it's the dimension of universal human depth. Spirituality arises when consciousness perceives itself as part of the Whole and intuits every being and the entire universe supported and penetrated by a powerful and loving force -- that Abyss of energy, generator of every being. It's possible to grasp the mysterious link that binds all things again and again, forming a cosmos and not a chaos. Spirituality gives us a feeling of reverence for the greatness of the universe and we are filled with self-esteem by being able to admire, enjoy and celebrate all things.

We still have to change a lot in order for all this to become part of the collective consciousness. But it is what should be. And what should be has the strength to become reality.

"Doing Time for Peace" and "Crossing the Line"

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday next week and I, personally, use it as a time to read inspirational books...or at least books about people whose lives and actions inspire me to live closer to the gospel of Jesus.

This year, fortunately, the preeminent oral historian of the Catholic Worker movement, Rosalie Riegle (above, center), has released two new collections of testimonies of people who have engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, and Community (Vanderbilt University Press, 2013) and Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace (Wipf and Stock, 2013). From 2004 through 2007, Dr. Riegle interviewed 173 war resisters from the Second World War up to the Iraq War who have risked arrest and sometimes long prison terms to speak in the loudest way possible against US militarism because, in her words, she "wanted to learn more about peaceworkers who are called to civil disobedience." The books explore the motivation of these activists, the experience of jail, the impact on their family life, and some of the communities of resistance that have sprung up around the country, such as Jonah House, the Baltimore community founded by the late Phil Berrigan and his wife Liz McAlister.

Both books are heavily illustrated. Says Riegle, "I think the pictures show these people are like all of us. They are unusual only in their courage and their commitments. They are not unusual in other ways."

Dr. Riegle, who has retired from teaching English and Women's Studies at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, is an activist in her own right. She has participated in countless peace protests, including getting arrested like the protagonists in these books, and she founded two Catholic Worker communities in Saginaw. She is also the author of Dorothy Day: Portraits by Those Who Knew Her (Orbis, 2006) and Voices From Catholic Worker (temple University Press, 1993).

For folks in the Baltimore-Washington area, Rosalie will be presenting her books this weekend:

Saturday, February 9 -- 4-6 p.m.
Potter's House Books
1658 Columbia Road NW
Washington, DC

Sunday February 10 -- 10 a.m.-12N (in connection with liturgy)
Jonah House
1301 Moreland Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21216

More information about these books:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The power of the Gospel

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
February 10, 2013

Luke 5:1-11

The episode of a surprising and unexpected catch in the lake in Galilee was written by the evangelist Luke to breathe life into the Church when it experiences that all its efforts to communicate its message have failed. What we are being told is very clear: we must put our hope in the power and appeal of the Gospel.

The story begins with an unusual scene. Jesus is standing on the shore of the lake, and "the people are crowding around him to hear the Word of God." They haven't come out of curiosity. They aren't coming to see wondrous deeds. They just want to hear the Word of God from Jesus.

It isn't the Sabbath. They aren't congregated at the nearby synagogue in Capernaum to hear the readings that are read to the people throughout the year. They haven't gone up to Jerusalem to hear the Temple priests. What draws them so is the Gospel of Jesus the Prophet, the one rejected by the neighbors in Nazareth.

The scene of the catch is also unusual. At night, the most favorable time to fish, Peter and his companions work by themselves and don't get any results. In the daytime, when they throw out the nets trusting only in the Word of Jesus who guides their work, an abundant harvest of fish is produced, contrary to all their expectations.

In the background of all the facts that make the crisis in Christianity increasingly evident among us, there's one undeniable fact: the Church is unstoppably losing the attraction and credibility it had just a few years ago.

We Christians are experiencing that our ability to transmit the faith to new generations is ever decreasing. There has been no lack of effort and initiatives. But, it seems, it's not just or primarily about inventing new strategies.

The time has come to remember that the Gospel of Jesus has a drawing power that isn't within us. This is the most decisive question: Do we go on "doing things" from a Church that's losing its attraction and credibility, or do we put all our energy into recovering the Gospel as the only force capable of engendering faith in the men and women of today?

Shouldn't we put the Gospel in the forefront of everything? What's most important in these critical times isn't the doctrines developed over the centuries, but the life and person of Jesus. What's essential is not that people come and participate in our things but that they can get in touch with him. Christian faith is only awakened when people discover the fire of Jesus.