This last week has been a difficult one for my family. My daughter with her family live, or lived, in Paradise, California. The massive devastation through the CampFire has been beyond difficult for the community of Paradise. Many people have lost homes, schools, and their town. And others did not make it out alive. How do we manage such places of loss?
My daughter called me early the morning of the fire, to tell me she and her family were okay but that they were being evacuated. She had actually started leaving her house just before the mandatory evacuation. I am so thankful for her decisive action and their safety. One of the things she remembered about leaving their home was that the trees around her house were crackling. The fire wasn’t there yet, but the trees on her property were making crackling sounds.
I don’t know a whole lot about forests. Once when I was researching, I discovered that trees in a forest or grove are actually connected underground through their root system. What one tree lacks due to pests, drought, or disease, other trees send through their roots.
I wondered, was this crackling due to the heat and the approaching fire or was it the community of trees sending on the message to those further ahead? Could this be a warning to whoever or whatever was ahead of the fire?
This image - born in time of devastation - offers a beautiful illustration of community. Together, we live this life in healthier ways than if we are isolated. When we can walk alongside others within community, we can learn to share our needs and meet the needs shared.
This is what I noticed for my daughter and her family in California and for myself as I was holding my family from so far away. My daughter and son-in-law are surrounded by a community that is supporting them as they navigate life after such great loss - as they find a place to live, replace toys for the kids, and clothes for each of them, even a space for their dog. So many needs as they have lost everything.
I also see community and support being offered to them from afar. People, family and friends, who have known us throughout their lifetime, are providing support and love. I can say this speaks volumes to my momma’s heart as I watch their sadness and courage in the face of such a devastating loss.
I’ve been surprised at the impact on my own heart in watching my kids suffer. I live 500 miles away and am not able to rush down and give them a hug. Even if I could, I would not be able to make the pain and loss go away. But my heart hurts to watch them. So much so that I am unable to think about much else. I find I am paying attention to the news and the progress of the fire. I even checked to see what view was available through Google Earth. (Just so you know: it is only updated every one to three years.)
The intentional community I live in has been a place where I am welcomed just as I am. These relationships allow me to understand the intensity of my own emotions, to be honest with permission to allow the pain of holding the hurt of my family.
I wonder if this is living in community - our empathy with the others in our lives, feeling with or even in the emotions of others. When the people around us are suffer, we get to hold that burden together, and that makes it a bit lighter for all. Maybe it is in the sharing of the weight of the load that allows us to benefit from sharing the weight of the pain and also the gift of the joy together. Maybe this is the way we are designed to live, sharing the struggles and joys of life in community together instead of in isolation in this individualistic culture in which we live. This seems to be more like the trees with the root systems connected under the topsoil.
I’m thankful for the community that is surrounding my family. I’m grateful for the community that is surrounding me. I’m also grateful to be part of a community of family and friends that allows us to experience each other's grief, happiness, sadness, and joy. In community, the load is lightened and more beautiful. It comes from how we understand God - if God is about relationship, being with us, then it seems that living life in community, one with another, there is both the experience and the reality of a God who is always with us.
What if this is how we experience the goodness of God? We experience this goodness within relationship, within love, within a community of people where we can both see and be seen, to know and be known, to love and be loved.
In my last blog post, I shared the beginning of Dorothy Day’s journey toward faith and her distinct leaning toward social justice. It was the integration of these two aspects of Dorothy’s understanding of the world that shaped both her work and life. There was something about her desire to know God and her view of people on the outside that brought her mission in life into focus.
A primary driving force for Dorothy was seeing those who were oppressed in the systemic divide created during the industrial revolution and the depression. The world experienced great suffering as the gap grew between those in power, business owners, and their workers. Unions were viewed as an affront, linking them to feared socialism. This was a tumultuous time where people were either thrown into poverty or looking out for their own self-interests. Those who were different from others were seen as the enemy. The church navigated this growing divide between the haves and the have-nots with a thrust toward evangelism, “saving souls,” over taking care of basic needs.(1)
Dorothy continued fighting for social justice through journalism and protests. This mission in her life gave her purpose, but she desired to love and be loved. She became involved in a controlling romantic relationship, but when she became pregnant, her boyfriend wanted to end it. Dorothy had an abortion to try to keep him, but he ended the relationship anyway. Dorothy became depressed and suicidal. As she looked back over her life, she could see that her desire to love and be loved was a guiding influence in her search for God. After her abortion, she continued to have gynecological problems and feared she would never be able to become pregnant again.(2)
Dorothy moved to Staten Island after selling the movie rights to her first book.(3) She sought a restful space to continue to write. During this time, she met and fell in love with Forster, an anarchist and biologist. Forster did not want to commit fully, so they were never married. He cared for Dorothy yet lived as if he was single. In spite of this, Dorothy experienced a greater happiness than she had understood was possible. Living with Forster awakened in Dorothy an understanding of her desire to be loved, leading her to pray.(4) It seemed living with Forster awakened her desire for more of God. Forster was against religion and argued that Dorothy’s preoccupation with faith was “morbid escapism.”(5)
This was an arrangement that Dorothy could live with until she became pregnant. At 29, she felt she would never be able to become pregnant again, and she experienced this as a precious gift. She wanted to raise her child with religion and was also aware of the cost if she did so. She didn’t want this baby to wonder and wander through life, as she had, without knowing about God.(6)
After Tamar Teresa, named after Teresa of Avila, was born, Dorothy was in conflict over what to do. Yet, she knew all along what choice she would make.(7) A nun helped her go through the process to have her baby baptized, learn about Catholicism, and to become baptized herself. Forster left her many times during this time. Dorothy became sick with the stress of wanting two things that couldn’t coexist, following her desire toward God and living with Forster.(8) She was falling in love with God and desired to be united to her Love, as obedient, chaste, and poor.(9)
After Forster left, she left Staten Island and took up journalism jobs once again. She became incredibly lonely, realizing that neither child or husband met her need for deep community. Through this time, her spiritual life deepened.(10) She discovered that women, even all of humankind, desired community. One experience that supported this understanding was becoming severely ill with the flu in Chicago. There wasn’t a supportive community available to her as a single parent in illness.(11)
Dorothy continued to be passionate in her stand against social justice issues and was bothered by the absence of Catholics in the struggle. She participated in a hunger strike in 1932, a march organized by the Communist-led Unemployed Councils; demanding relief and condemning evictions.(12)
In her confusion, Dorothy met a Peter Maurin. He had been told Dorothy was someone he needed to meet, and he became a teacher and mentor for Dorothy. In reality, they were a gift to one another. Peter brought the background Dorothy needed in Catholic history and a vision forward for the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy brought the energy and perseverance necessary for the work ahead.(13)
Peter’s vision was “building a new society within the shell of the old.” He saw more for the world, and he believed that the way to God was through humankind. Humankind could do great things, if only it were open toward God. The gift rooted deeply in both Peter and Dorothy was their understanding of seeing and loving the Christ in others.(14)
Together they formed the Catholic Worker Movement, developing a paper to help inform the worker and the unemployed. They taught the importance of living in community like Jesus did, individual action for social justice, pacifism, and voluntary poverty. In their teaching, they spoke against many of the political issues facing 20th Century America.
In the first issue, Dorothy writes that the purpose of the paper was to inform the reader that there was a social program in the Catholic church concerned not only about the readers’ spiritual but also their material welfare. Dorothy continues to ask the question of the possibility of being radical within a belief in God. That one would not need to become an atheist to care about others. The first edition was published by donations and scrimping from their monthly expenses.(15) The paper to this day is still run on donations, and a copy may be purchased for a penny.(16)
In 1933, when the paper started, there were 13,000,000 unemployed people.(17) Dorothy saw a need and worked diligently, within her faith of God, to meet people in their need. In Dorothy’s desire for God, she was moved to live out the incarnation with people, those who were oppressed on the sides of society. She was not content to only help those in need. She desired to be right in the midst of life with those who were on the outside. In my next post, we will take a look at her ministry as it developed.
(1) Nancy Koester, Introduction to the History of Christianity in the United States, Kindle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), loc. 4892-4916.
(2) Miller, Dorothy Day: A Biography, 138–40, 181.
(3) William D. Miller, Dorothy Day: A Biography, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982),163.
(4) Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (Chicago, Ill.: Thomas More Press, 1989), 135, 139-142.
(5) Miller, Dorothy Day, 188.
(6) Day, The Long Loneliness, 165.
(7) Ibid., 165–67.
(8) Miller, Dorothy Day, 190.
(9) Day, The Long Loneliness, 177–78.
(10) Ibid., 187–88.
(11) Miller, Dorothy Day, 208, 211.
(12) Albert J. Raboteau, American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 71.
(13) Day, The Long Loneliness, 202.
(14) Ibid., 203-204.
(15) Dorothy Day, “To Our Readers,” Catholic Worker Movement, May 1933, http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/articles/12.html.
(16) Raboteau, American Prophets, 77.
(17) Day, The Long Loneliness, 218.
Dorothy Day authentically lived out her faith in tangible ways that mattered. Yet, she faced opposition by the society she served. Her contribution has been recognized by those who had distanced themselves during her lifetime. In 2015, Pope Francis singled her out as one of four prominent Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day.(1)
Even though Dorothy had no theological training and no positional authority in the church, she has become one of the most significant and influential people in American Catholicism.(2) She had walked away from all that mattered in American culture; family, education, prestige, power; and purposely lived among the poor.(3) Her life, before she accepted Catholic faith, was one fueled by a love for social activism and a struggle to be in a place where she could love and be loved. Her journey through life was one of struggle, loss, pain, and searching. She defined herself as a Bohemian. “She was an unwed mother, a disillusioned citizen, a poor woman, a disaffected churchgoer, an unemployed observer of the human race.”(4) It was through this intense loneliness of searching that she discovered the answer for the long loneliness all humans experience, as love. Dorothy began to understand that love was experienced by living life in community.(5)
As I was reading about Dorothy Day through my summer church history course, I was taken with her spunk and tenacity in life. Over the next couple of posts, I would like to share part of her story with you. The image at the top of this post is from a wood carving created by Fritz Eichenberg as a homage to Dorothy.(6)
Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn in 1897 as the middle of five children. Her father was a sports writer, covering horse racing, and her mother was a homemaker. Her father was a confirmed atheist who, oddly enough, also carried around a Bible. Dorothy’s family moved to California before the 1906 earthquake shook the area. Due to the loss of her father’s job in the devastation from the quake, they moved to the East Coast. However, it was the kindness of people coming together during this tragedy in California that had a longstanding impact throughout Dorothy’s life.(7)
In her young adult years, Dorothy became involved with social justice, anti-war, and the socialist party. Against her father’s wishes, she pursued a position as a journalist. She wanted to experience the life of those in poverty. To do so she purposely lived on five dollars a month and wrote about it as a means to experience life from this place of hardship.(8)
Something about the kindness of people that Dorothy witnessed after the earthquake and her desire for social justice, helped her discover a desire to know God and to live authentically with the people she experienced in life. In this desire, she pursued many different journalist assignments. She often joined others on picket lines in her concern for social justice. The first time was in support of the suffragists in Washington DC. Women arrested earlier were treated as ordinary prisoners, instead of political activists, and taken to a workhouse. Dorothy, along with 34 other women, decided to protest their unfair treatment. Dorothy’s group was arrested and sentenced for 30 days. They made a pact to engage in a hunger strike to influence fairer treatment. As they reacted to the harsh treatment they received, it was falsely reported that the women were combative.(9)
They continued steadfast in their hunger strike. The lack of food combined with the harsh treatment and isolation caused Dorothy to go in and out of consciousness. During this difficulty, she identified herself with other prisoners and felt a deep need to escape her situation. However, she chose to endure until her 30 days were over. During day six, she was taken to the hospital. After a full 10 days, these persistent women received their demands and were taken to the city jail instead of the workhouse.(10)
Dorothy began to understand from this experience that it didn’t matter if you willed yourself to see the best in someone, they always showed their worst. She didn’t believe in prayer or religion, but she seemed to always place herself in places of prayer. Dorothy experienced prayer as peace. She felt that the “life of nature warred against the life of grace.”(11)
Dorothy felt convicted in realizing that she and the group she hung out with would live around the poor in order to help them but in reality, did not personally give up anything. This wasn’t a true philosophy of poverty. They were motivated by a sense of justice but were not embracing a life of poverty.(12) So, she signed up for a nursing training program during WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic.(13) She wanted to help the poor and began to understand that people, the sick and the poor, wanted to be respected which was more than love.(14)
Dorothy worked at the hospital for one year and left to follow her true vocation of journalism. In a time when the newspapers were stating that worker strikes were unjust and not at all helpful for the workers, Dorothy witnessed the reality the workers experienced. This real-life experience in contrast to the propaganda being shared helped to shape Dorothy’s social justice stand in life and ministry later on. She continued writing for papers, being involved in social justice protests. Another imprisonment experience continued to shape her understanding of and for the oppressed. She began to understand that it was not prudent to believe what people said but to judge their actions.(15)
More of Dorothy’s story will come in following posts. I find it incredibly interesting to discover the early foundations behind someone’s spiritual journey of discovery. So much of how we understand God is shaped by our families of origin, our experiences in life, and our understanding of how the world works. Dorothy’s compassion and empathy for people was fueled by the coming together of people in disaster and something within that saw value in those on the outside. This understanding shaped her life and ministry.
(1) Joan Chittister, “Dorothy Day” 41, no. 1 (2016): 71.
(2) Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001), 514–15.
(3) Chittister, “Dorothy Day,” 71.
(4) Ibid., 71.
(5) Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (Chicago, Ill.: Thomas More Press, 1989), 326.
(6) Eichenberg, Fritz, Works of Mercy, edited by Robert Ellsberg, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992), 72.
(7) Albert J. Raboteau, American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 64.
(8) Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day, 73.
(9) Ibid., 95–97.
(10) Ibid., 100–105.
(11) Ibid., 108.
(12) Ibid., 110–11.
(13) Raboteau, American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice, 67.
(14) Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day, 113.
(15) Ibid., 118, 124-125, 132.
We’ve often spoken about how we define God’s character. Our understanding of the Cross, why Jesus came to live among us, and why he died shapes our view of God. And thinking about this in the context of sacrifice and punishment distorts our understanding of a God who is for us. Let’s take a look at these two passages in Hebrews 10.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll--
I have come to do your will, my God.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (Hebrews 10:15-18)
The author of Hebrews writes that Christ stated God did not desire sacrifice. If sacrifice wasn’t desired, then why did Jesus die on the cross. Was it nonessential? I had always understood that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins, my poor behavioral choices. That Jesus’ sacrifice appeased an angry Father who can’t look at me in my sin. In theological circles, this understanding is called penal substitution atonement theory. Historically, this hasn’t always been part of our understanding of God. But, it is the only understanding I was aware of for most of my Christian journey.
Verses 5-7 share something different. God did not desire sacrifice or an offering, and prepared a body for Christ, the incarnation. Why did Christ need a body if it wasn’t for sacrifice? What if the cross was nonessential with respect to what God needed for appeasement and punishment, but was more about what we needed to understand, what we needed to see?
One of my favorite pictures of God’s care for humanity comes from Genesis 3. If you recall the story, God is walking in the Garden. Adam and Eve are hiding because of the shame they feel due to eating the fruit. I’ve always understood this scene as God calling out the misbehaving children. Yet, what I understand now is God walking in the Garden, as was God’s habit, calling out to Adam and Eve. We know looking on that God knew exactly where Adam and Eve were hiding. Yet, God calls out, “Where are you?” Such an invitational approach shows God’s desire to be with humankind. God never shames them in the conversation that follows, but only offers the natural outflow of having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. God actually listens and clothes them before he removes them from the Garden, for their safety and benefit. If you read the whole passage, God curses the serpent and the ground but never Adam or Eve.
As we think about a God who desires to be with us--with humankind--let’s go back to the body that God made for Christ. We can tend to miss the incredible gift of the incarnation, God becoming human to live among us, to live like us. I wonder if the incarnation is a little like God habitually walking in the Garden desiring to be with us. In breaking into our world, God shows us a “new” way of experiencing a relationship, much like the “old” way: a place of continual knowing and being known between God and humankind.
What if “sin” is thinking we are separate from God instead of the behavioral choices that come from this place of separation? The Greek understanding of sin is “missing the mark,” which we have formed into a right and wrong moral code. This hasn’t been the understanding for all streams of Christianity through history. A Jewish understanding of sin is more about a break in relationship: hiding, in shame, from a behavioral choice. Like what we saw with Adam and Eve in the Garden.
In reality, we are truly loved without regard to anything we have or haven’t done, or even in how we define ourselves. We have a hard time receiving God’s unconditional love into, believing that it could be the reality. We, also, have a difficult time allowing God’s unconditional love to impact our view of those around us. We form layers of self-protection to keep ourselves and others from seeing who we really are. Spiritual writers call these layers our false self. It is who we think we need to be to be accepted or thought “right.” We hide our shame--that which defines who we think we really are underneath it all. Yet, in reality what we really are, underneath our shame, is our Imago Dei, the image of God in which we are formed.
Adam and Eve came out from hiding and God met them in their shame. God clothed them, and tended to what they needed. What if God did the same thing for humankind in breaking into our world through becoming fully human and fully divine? What if in that amazing act, God is calling out to us to tend to what we truly need?
I believe that this is true. Jesus’ death on the cross was nonessential for God to accept me and you, but was essential for us to understand God’s loving embrace. God knew that this is what we needed to fully understand God’s love. The lens of sacrifice and offering was never God’s lens, but it was and often is ours. Jesus was willing to experience great suffering at the hands of humankind so that we could “get it,” so we could let go of our trying to get it all “right” and certain.
God crossed the boundary of the other by becoming human, breaking into our world, so that we could let go of our perceptions of ourselves and others and allow ourselves to love and to be loved, to know and to be known. God invites us to join the dance. The invitation is to let go of our self-protective barriers, our false selves, how we think we need to be perceived, and allow ourselves to be known. God modeled this for us by letting go of God’s perceived right to be God, to become one with us. Can we follow the example of the cross and let go of our own perceptions of who we need to be and allow ourselves to be known and to know those around us?
As we discussed in the last blog post, George Fox moved from an understanding of God formed in Calvinism to a new way to understand, know, and experience God. When Fox started preaching in 1647 people gathered to seek something new due to their dissatisfaction with religion. Fox wasn’t trying to build a church but to share the message he felt God had given him for the whole world. He believed the world would hear this message and become the True Church with Christ as the head. All the deceit he saw in the church came from people betraying the basic principles of Christianity. The only way out, in Fox’s opinion, was an inward submission to God, acceptance of God’s grace, and listening to Christ’s voice in the inner self.(1)
Fox focused on people and not on forming a theological doctrine. He felt Christ, the Light within each person, would teach each person, just as Christ had taught him. As Christ met people, they would be convicted of sin, which would lead to true repentance. The work was God’s. Fox understood the Light within is the one who “guides, warns, encourages, speaks, chastens, cares.” (2) It illumines the Scripture and is the Christ we seek. Fox’s understanding comes from John 1:9 and 8:12.(3)
In contrast to Puritanism, Fox believed it didn’t matter if you had a pure heart or agreed outwardly to doctrine. What mattered was how one responded to the Light. So, Fox didn’t point people to Scripture or the cross but to the inner light, bringing their lives to this Light.
Puritanism, on the other hand, taught a morality code without assurance of salvation. People did not know if they would gain eternal life since it was uncertain if they were one of the “elect.” Puritanism was a response and reaction to the hierarchical churches’ actions due to power and control. Yet, they created rules, a form of control, in their desire for people to do “right.” This may seem like it comes from good intentions, but acting as morality police for other people doesn’t work. One of Fox’s main complaints with the Christian church was their interest "in a savior who could forgive sin but not in a Christ with moral power to overcome sin.” (4) Unfortunately, judging others in this way often leads to dehumanizing those who are not like us.
Fox believed we all the Light of God within us. We have different measures of light based on our own journeys. Some teach we have just a fragment of God, but Fox states it is a presence of God. There is only one true Light, and we enjoy this fullness of God in community. We can’t practice our faith journey in isolation but we need community around us. (5) As we become reconciled to God and creation, this Light is the source of truth, the power to act on that truth, and unity with God and others.(6)
If every person has the Light within, then all are created equal without regard to race, gender, or anything else. Fox criticized meetings that didn’t allow women to speak and supported many women in leadership roles. This understanding was also behind his unwillingness to fight since “that of God” was in every human. The social inequalities so firmly in place were abhorrent and needed to be eliminated. This understanding led to a different way of speaking to one another without the social constructs formed to keep people in place, such as titles and removing one’s hat.(7)
Fox sensed God revealing things to him, “openings.” He experienced this Inner Light through seeking God and studying the New Testament. His understanding of God changed. Fox taught the physical practice of the sacraments remaining in Protestantism kept people from experiencing the real meaning represented. He didn’t disagree with the historical creeds but rejected them since they were formed for political and diplomatic reasons. Those who held to them used them as a test of orthodoxy and killed those who disagreed. Fox felt these practices were not from the spirit of Christ but were in actuality “devilish.”(8) Due to these doctrinal issues, Fox spent time in prison for having beliefs outside of what was considered orthodox during this time.
It is entirely impossible to speak to all the aspects of George Fox’s ministry or of the efforts of his followers. It was a movement that spread from living out the implications of what Jesus lived out among us. This goes well beyond what we know to be right by allowing the effect of God’s gaze of love to impact those around us. For Fox, and those who were affected by his life and teaching, it made a difference. They lived out that difference in ways that had harsh implications for their own lives. Yet, they lived out precisely what they believed. They did not follow rules or debates over doctrine but stood courageously in knowing that there is “that of God” in every human and that that statement of truth matters.
Quakerism has struggled since this time to remember this truth and to live in a non-hierarchical understanding of leadership and worship. Throughout history, Quakers, like other denominations, have split and split again. We all still struggle with perceptions that have impacted Christianity all through history. What is the authority of Scripture as we understand who God is, who we are, and who is the “other?” Are some on the outside based on our understanding of Scripture? I would have to say that I have found a home in Quakerism and even more so after studying George Fox, even in this limited time. His understanding of church, of God, and of humankind resonates deeply in my heart, as home for me.
(1) John Punshon, Portrait In Grey: A Short History of the Quakers (London: Quaker Home Service, 1984), 43–44, 46.
(2) Ibid., 36.
(3) Ibid., 48–49.
(4) Wilmer A. Cooper, A Living Faith: An Historical Study of Quaker Beliefs (Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 1990), , 13.
(5) Punshon, Portrait In Grey, 50.
(6) Cooper, A Living Faith, 13.
(7) Rufus Jones, “Introduction,” in George Fox, An Autobiography (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903), 34-35.
(8) Punshon, Portrait In Grey, 47–48.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!