Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Book Review of a Classic: THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH by Robert Coles and Daniel Berrigan

Book Review of a Classic: Daniel Berrigan and Robert Coles’:
THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH

By Kevin Anthony Stoda


I am writing this book review at a location on the planet Earth very remote from the America I grew up in. I am on the island called Gili Meno off the coast of Lombok, an island just east of Bali in the great Indonesian archipelago. Since the title of this religious-oriented peace activist classic, THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH, which I am reviewing refers to geography, it seems appropriate to travel so far to do the review.

Allow me to describe the island of Gili Meno a bit. It is one of three islands to the northeast of Lombok Island, where the people speak the language of Sasak. Nearly all residents are Muslim, but here are also practicing Hindus and Buddhists. As well, emigrated laborers from islands like Flores and Timor and tourists, such as myself, may at times represent Christianity on the island. As a matter of fact, today as I start to write, it is Easter Sunday 2007. I celebrated Good Friday on the Hindu island of Bali not two days back. Although La Pascua (Easter in Portuguese) is no big deal here on Meno Gili, the island’s quiet ambience provides time to reflect on what God has provided.

As in much of the rest of the world over the past decade, terrorism struck neighboring Bali twice in the past 5 years—hurting significantly its tourist business for the duration and causing fear of Muslim radicalism, which hardly existed otherwise in the region. Most Balinese blame the bombings on Islamist radical who came from outside the Indonesian archipelago. It should be noted that historically the Balinese Hindu culture had been relatively free to dominate the religious culture on both their island of Bali as well as on the island of Lombok until the 20th Century .

Only when the Dutch took over Bali and Lombok at the turn of the 20th century did Christians even get a foothold in Bali—and this was done despite official Dutch colonial policy and practices. The Dutch colonial government even rounded up several large Christian groups, mostly of Chinese Christian missionary heritage, and forced these Christian groups to relocate to unwanted jungle land in western Bali in the late 1930s, i.e. this policy was a form of Dutch ghettoization aimed at only Balinese Christians.

Meanwhile, Muslims had gotten toe holds in Bali and Lombok long before Christian missionaries did. For example, some seafaring Muslims, known as Bugis from the island of Salawesi, were hired as pirates and mercenaries to keep the various Balinese and Java Kingdoms in domination starting in the 17th century. I recently visited one such Muslim village, called Pengambangan, on the west coast of Bali. The town’s harbor displays traditionally colorful Bugi ships. Pengambangan was founded by Muslim sailors and pirates who settled not very far from where in the 20th Century the aforementioned Christian enclaves would be hollowed out from the jungle under Dutch auspices.

Earlier during my stay in Bali, I, myself, had visited a much newer evangelical church community, which had been planted by my own denomination in Denpasar less than a decade ago. The day I went to the fellowship was on Palm Sunday, 2007. I was told by churchmen there and by others around the island of Bali that the people of different faiths still get along together fairly well in this corner of the world despite the 2002 and 2004 Bali bombings of tourist locales. This is good news and a reminder to the rest of us growing wary of the 21st struggles or wars of ideas, cultures and religious convictions that have led to war and terror too often as of late

Returning again to the topic of the island of Meno Gili, I need to state that despite Dutch influence in the region, the island is not a namesake for the famous Dutch Anabaptist minister, Meno Simons, who had long since given his name to Mennonite Christians who have been seeking refuge and a new starts in life for nearly half a millenia—and whom have settled ubiquitously in South and North America over the past three or more centuries. The island’s name, Meno, means simply “small”. The word Gili in Sasak means “island”.

However, in terms of development policies on the island as practiced by local citizens here, there may be a connection in wisdom to the lifestyles as practiced by some Mennonite Amish in North America in terms of transportation and development. For example, as stewards of their islands, the governing leaders and residents on Gili Meno and its neighboring islands have determined not to permit any type of motor vehicles. Here, one either travels by foot, bicycle or on pony-drawn carriages, called “cidomo”.

In short, there is a proper restraint in making decisions related to development which is not present in many other parts of Southeast Asia. On the other hand, many individuals and guesthouses do maintain their own power generators, though. As well, boats to the island and between the islands are permitted to be powered by engines. Nonetheless, the island, Gili Meno, is not well lit with electricity. Therefore, all year long, the stars in the sky are as bright as on the Kansas prairie on a clear winter night.

Finally, it should be noted that the three islands, called Lombok’s Western Gilis, (of which Gili Meno is the one in the middle) are home to a great array of diving and snorkeling adventures and PADI training opportunities. There are reported to be over 3500 species of fish and plant life off the coast. This tourism interest in the islands, inspired by undersea wonders and nature, has recently enabled the westernmost island of the three Gilis to open a public high school on the region. Prior to this, all had to travel far to the mainland to complete their education.

Despite the healthy and idyllic living conditions here on the Gilis, life is naturally not so easy for the people who live in a tropical paradise. Besides historical under-education, there is a general lack of jobs here and in the northwester region of Lombok. Moreover, there are developmental stresses. For example, with the rise of tourism the local government has had to learn to make decisions related to how much water to import, how much development to allow, and what limits on tourism and construction need to be implemented.

The fact is that many of the locals live very simple lives--with not much in the way of modern education and technologies available to them and to their children. Many who open restaurants and try to cater to tourism are doing so only to finance education of their children, who often live several hours away with family or in boarding schools.

On the other hand, life certainly is healthy for raising a family here. Parents note that the sea, natural scenery, and sand provide more than enough fascination for most children. Crops, like tapioca, coconuts, watermelon, and even corn can be grown on the island. Popular sports, like badminton, are played any evening around the village. The three Gili islands are close enough from the mainland to import any seriously important objects within a half hour by boat.

I should note that of the three Gili islands, Meno Gili is not the party island of the three. Meno likes to see itself as the get-away place. There are no throbbing amplifiers here as one would find on the islands to the east or west of Meno Gili. Live music heard here in the night is likely to come from men and women strumming guitars or playing hand-made drums around a table under a thatched roof and singing in Sasak, Indonesia, English, Spanish, Japanese or in whatever language the locals or emigrants have learned a song two over the past few decades.

Finally, there is seldom a harsh word spoken here and people often see themselves as artists and peacemakers between their world and the wider world that comes to visit there. Newly emigrated business people always buy fish caught locally by fisherman on the island (instead of catching the fish themselves), so as not to interrupt the harmony within the community—providing deeper sense of roots of ownership or identity with those with whom they cohabitate this ecosphere.


REMEMBER: WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?

Just a month or so back I reviewed the book, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS? Kansas is so geographically distant from the Gili islands where I am writing at the moment that I would have to take at least: (1) two horse-drawn carriage rides, (2) one puttering passenger boat passage, (3) an hour-long taxi ride to a distant airport through monkey country in Lombok to the town of Mataram, and (4)hop at least 4 planes or jets to get to my home state.

Nonetheless, there is a common thread between the content discussed in the classic book THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH, the currently popular WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS, and how I have come about writing this book review here in April 2007.

The connecting thread has to do with family as a unit and what it means to live out one’s faith as an individual in a way that faith is reflected in how we live out our lives. In short, the references to Geography in the title of Daniel Berrigan and Robert Coles book indicates that there needs to be a match between where we find ourselves geographically in our own faiths and how we are actually living out our lives and living out our faiths. This focus on geography of place in our times of faith has too often been ignored by more individualistic evangelists from whatever faith.

In contrast, in Frank’s book on Kansas peoples and faiths, we have seen that the relationship between family, individual faith and geography of a community of believers or non-believers has not always been ignored by many fundamentalists and conservative spin doctors. This is one reason that a reading of THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH dovetails so well with Thomas Frank’s book on the politics of modern Kansas. The focus on family has not only been an asset to rightwing fundamentalist-steered politics in America, it has also been a major success in mobilizing radical or extreme Islamist campaigns around the world historically.

In fact, in both corners of the Middle East and in Western nationalist religions, there is a tendency to enshrine family in one’s form of worship—which, on the one hand, leads to tribal violence in many parts of the globe, especially where family is defined at the tribal level in countries, like Jordan and Kuwait. Meanwhile, nationalist or nation-bound families around the globe can be observed determining to sacrifice their children and future resources on unending wars in the name of family, i.e. serving the nation as though it were equal to serving the family of God.

Appropriately, the new edition of THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH (2001) I am reviewing was issued just months before the fateful bombing of the World Train Center Buildings in New York City. Just that very spring 2001, coauthor Daniel Berrigan had been arrested as part of a protest against a major museum exhibitionin New York City promoting war history on a ship located in the harbor--not very far from where the horrible 9-11 events took place.

In his “Afterward” to this new edition of his 1970s classic, Berrigan sadly noted that since THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH was originally published, the U.S. had already bombed nearly 20 countries. Tragically, he added, “In not one of these targets has a government arisen respectful of human or civil rights.” Berrigan accurately defined the practice that America has yet to get over: this unacceptable practice of honor over logic leads in U.S. history consistently to the policy of: “If a tactic utterly fails, redouble it.”

Such failed thinking has dominated American leadership rhetoric for the duration of America as a country. These demagogues play up the image of the U.S.A. country as one big American family--whether the object or subject matter has to do with fighting poverty, cutting taxes to the rich, or making war.

This fantasized family image ignores or even throws out the realities of real American families. Whatever is done is simply done in the name of families but may not be even worthwhile for families. For example, within a short ten-year period America politicians will have spent 5 trillion dollars in America on defense and security related expenditures in order to make the American family and world safe after the 9-11 attacks—never once taking seriously the post-colonial conditions and bad policy practices of the past century.

Meanwhile, the debt of our American grandchildren is tripled and social security and Medicare are threatened by the spending spree to keep families in America free from terrorism and attack for a few short years.

At the international level America’s most expensive media and political spin-makers often only indicate in their analysis that the American family is considered worthy of rating or of major concern when bombs drop anywhere in the world— e.g. in Palestine, Iraq, Bali—only what happens in the U.S.A. is important. Any good analyzer of religious practices should be able to assess that such a focus on the American Family is simply an extended animistic family-worship or American ancestor worship.

In short, how can the so-called honor of nation (a nation, like America, that doesn’t want to lose another war or admit it did terribly stupid and horrible things) ever be more important to any individual on this planet than his own faith in God?

Nonetheless, as the authors, Coles and Berrigan, point out: Family trumps faith in too many people’s sense of geography. That was the way it was in the early 1970s when GEOGRAPHY was written and that is tragically the way the American family ideal functions now.


FOCUS BOTH ON FAITH OF INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY

These issues of family and sense of self living geographically within and acting out our faith are among the issues that the priest Daniel Berrigan and the famous psychologist Robert Coles discuss in their GEOGRAPHY.

In a diabolical way, over the past three decades, I suppose the religious right and their conservative co-conspirators in America have taken quite a bit from Coles and Berrigans analyses within & concerning family, family identity & faith--along with other important metaphors laid out in this book. For example, Coles and Berrigan hav made references and discussions of these American typologies: (a) the angry American, (b) the isolated American, (b) the idealist, (c) the disgruntled, (d) the liberal, (e) the family man, (f) unhappy Americans like the Panthers or Weathermen who’d already turned to violence, and (g) different types of the so-called silent Americans.

Many of these silent Americans are often referred to by politicians but seldom do politicians actually have discussions with them. Dr. Coles, as a decades-long researcher and Pulitzer Prize winning writer concerning working class families in America, has talked to these silent Americans. Coles, therefore, has a lot of important things to say.

One of the most important points concerning the concept of geography and family is made when Coles shares of his long-time relationship with a Klu Klux Klan member and father. The man, off-the-cuff, admitted that had he been born anywhere in the world but the location he has been born and raised in Louisiana there was no doubt he’d be a different man and raising his family in faith and fellowship much differently.

Coles goes on to share that he noted the same geographic truth from his own experiences working throughout the South and North in the 1950s through 1970s, where he studied working class families, communities the protestors, and other residents there during that era of American transformation.

Besides geography being of such importance, Coles indicates that only time is as strong an influence on how someone actually lives his lives or raises his family. Nevertheless, it is the geographic make-up of the culture and perceived ideals and practices within a geographic setting which are most dominant. Coles explained that for many months in Louisiana he worked with those opposing and supporting integration. For example, he studied the protestors against integration of the New Orleans public schools and the children and families involved in the integration of those districts in the early part of the decade. Eight years later he observed the integration of Atlanta public schools. In contrast to his later experience in Atlanta studying the same phenomena, there were many protestors out in front of schools in New Orleans for months-on-end as police escorted black students to their schools. In Atlanta, nearly eight years later, almost no protests were visible

Why was there this difference?

Well, on the one hand, times had changed. What was acceptable in one time and place was no longer acceptable in another part of the south. However, when asked if he felt whether the people involved in the Atlanta and New Orleans transformations of public schools were different in character, belief and faith to any degree, Dr. Coles denied this.

Coles explained that the most important thing was that American South geography had changed. He stated that up until the early 1960s in the South certain behaviors were permitted and promoted in the name of law and order. Once the laws changed and the enforcement changed, people did not behave publicly as they did before the geographic transformation of what was expected of local citizenry.

Naturally, in Atlanta, there may have been even more economic reasons not to oppose immigration than in New Orleans. Nonetheless, Coles, who spent decades studying working class Americans in Boston and New York as well as in the South was not convinced that the Americans of one particular place or era were essentially different at heart.

Only the context in a certain place in time had changed. That was the only the factor that had allowed certain behaviors in New Orleans in early 1960s to be carried out, but not later in Atlanta. These behaviors included in Louisiana the permitting of adults to line up against, jeer at, and spit on children. By the end of the decade, concepts of what was acceptable had changed significantly—but mostly because enforcement of certain rules of law came into play first, not because hearts or belief systems had.


CHILDHOOD AND AMERICAN FAMILY

Unlike the French writer Herbert Marcuse who wrote so critically of American working class families, Dr. Coles spends a great deal of time in his discussions with Berrigan pointing out how amazed he is that working class Americans fight on so hard against a system that seems to distract them from faith,, personal values, and family.

On the other hand, he does agree with Marcuse and other French researchers on families who have noted that the modern nuclear family prevalent in U.S. imagery is a bourgeoisie creation dating back only a few hundred years. Nonetheless, it is this image and/or reality of family, which one must really take on seriously or get to know if one is to understand how America functions in the world.

For example, Dr. Coles states in response to a comment from Berrigan, “In certain respects as you say, the American family is now a consumer unit the likes of which the world has never seen; and the family certainly can become—here or maybe anywhere—a rallying ground for traditional forces. After all, as one becomes a family man one often does, as you said earlier, put aside political interests and instead make a series of adjustments, accommodations, compromises, arrangements, the sum of which sap one’s spirit. The result is less interest in protest, less effort to stay politically aware, less anger and outrage at the world’s injustices.” [p. 46]

In my opinion, the image makers of America’s past 4 decades, have found a way to package people’s faith in a bottle of conservative misrepresentations that leave the family system in America believing that the hard-working American family person has no choice but to try and survive by simply continuing to sacrifice itself to the post-industrial world of consumerism based on destructible and replaceable things—like military missiles and other expensive gadgets that cost 100 million dollars a pop.

However, this hasn’t always been in fact the case in America’s immediate post-Vietnam era, i.e. the years I came into manhood. For instance, in the late 1970s, I recall, Congress cutting off funding for both a B-1 Bomber and the neutron bomb. In other words, despite being the world’s biggest consumption unit, the American family could also think logically about great concepts, like global security, and economic waste associated with military gluttony. That is, when religionists and conservative manipulators didn’t distort the image of family and political party affiliation as has been the case for the most part of the period since the early 1970s in the USA.

Berrigan, unlike conservative political religionist Lou Dobb’s, often lives out his life in a way that imitates better what he preaches, what he says about family, and I how children should be raised. Berrigan notes, “I think it is very important to consider the relationship between the American Family and American Life in general. One of the things that many American children are denied is exposure to human variety—and then there is the fact that many of our children are taught to hate, not only so in homes, but by sheriffs, mayors, governors, and so up. Then, our children, so many of them, are taught to close the doors of their homes, barricade themselves from others and instead fill their own coffers with one purchase after another. I may be oversimplifying, but it does seem to me that, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, and that’s a cultural statement as well, which means that the kinds of families that have been ‘flourishing’ in this society for a hundred and fifty years, especially in the white middle classes, have become what they embraced: consumerism; militant self-interest; and wars to subdue ‘natives’, obtain international power, and control various governments.”[p.47]

In what they have observed, Berrigan and Coles have poignantly lain down the choices for family and for any individuals of faith at both an individual and a national level. More importantly, the fact is that America and its family members have had a choice since Vietnam to learn from our previous arrogance and wayward thinking, but as a society, the USA has chosen to march along the same path that took the country to Vietnam.

What stubbornness in raising a culture or a family!!!

We shouldn’t just tell children to apologize when they have wronged others. We need to do the same as a national family and repent of our errant ways. (Apologizing was one of the only good things that President Clinton ever did. He apologized so well for the sins of previous administrations in the U.S. had done, like undertaking nuclear and chemical testing on civilians and soldiers. Now, we have reverted to a Neanderthal family leader, George W. Bush, who no only fails to apologize and clean up his messes, but fails to get his underlings, like Cheney and Rumsfeld to do so in any timely manner.)

Repenting and turning from the errors of one’s ways is part of individual faith that needs to be lived out in families and states. I mean we need to live out our faiths geographically not just in one’s individual heart—as far too many evangelicals seem to believe.

What would the world be like if the German family or nation or peoples had decided not to learn from their errors after WWII!? The world would definitely be worse off—and yet Americans chose not to be quick to learn from the Vietnam era all the various lessons discussed by Berrigan in this book.

Berrigan also admonishes families in America: “I take it as crucial from the very beginning that the child have before him or her a wide variety of possibilities. The child should know well many kinds of people, not only the two people who have produced him or her; and exposure to what we might call many ‘models of manhood’ should continue right through, be present in the schools and playing fields and colleges.”[p.47]

What one would call this today is a good multicultural education. However, multiculturalism has been so much maligned by conservative and off-base evangelical spindoctors so much over the past two decades that very few Christians can see that multiculturalisms support in most of the USA was rooted in the increasing of proper family values. These well-rounded values were needed and advocated for America in the wake of the greatest military bungle of the USA’s 21st Century, i.e. the Vietnam War—a war that almost ripped the country in half. Further, multicultural education was part and parcel of a program to deepen t relations among American families and peoples of all faiths and religions, so that we could be more unified as a multicultural patchwork—not a fascist demagogic family that never admits errors nor grows up.

Coles points out that children need both potential male and female role models as well. The bottom line is that individual faith cannot grow without experience—variety brings experience. Faith if simply cocooned in the experience of the one individual is not enough to find growth. Only by interacting with families, societies and the greater world, can one’s faith become robust and not solely family tied or tied to a single individual’s heart.


CONCERNING MY ROLE-MODELING FOR OTHERS

I think that there are a great many facets of my own life that have provided good modeling for young people and young believers around the globe. Nonetheless, the fundamentalist hyper-focus on the family—whether it be from a Christian or Islamic perspective—ignores and denigrates me—much as has done to most individuals who have not been married nor raised children of their own.

For Christian practitioners of faith, this truth should be a fact of great shame. The apostle Paul never got married, and yet this ancient single is lifted up as a man in the know and has a served as an example for all of us. Further, Jesus Christ of Nazareth was also single.

Luckily, while I have been serving as a life-long educator during the past three decades on various continents around the globe, I have also come to understand that I have truly served as a positive role model for many others (including those of my faith or of other faiths) in many things that I do--or through how my faith is reflected in how I have been living my life.

Some of these acknowledgments have come through direct messages—through e-mails, letters, and thank you notes from students in Nicaragua, Malaysia and Mexico. In other ways, I have received direct unsolicited verbal praise from peers in my religious fellowship—often years after my time spent with someone has ended.

Nonetheless, in both Kansas and in greater America—an America that is focused on the family as the consumer black box of certain ideologies and belief systems--, I have not been often been welcomed by officials, school principals, and leaders—who should know better than they are revealing about what a GOOD ROLE MODEL should be.

A good role model should be able to support and change the path of another in a way that improves ones faith and one’s way of living, don’t you think?


KANSAS—LOOKING FOR ROLE MODELS?

Back in the early 1980s during my days as a Bethel College student in the Newton area of Kansas, I took a lot of time to do volunteer activities and to look out for others. I was one of the first to volunteer when President Reagan decided it was time to hand out the butter and cheese stockpiles to the working poor in Kansas. I was also one of the first huggers in the Special Olympics. Two years in a row, I shepherded a different set of little brothers all year as a Big Brother in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. I also served as a counselor for church youth out at Camp Mennoscah one summer.

However, by the time I returned to Kansas from living abroad in 1990, I discovered that much of my volunteerism related to being a good role model had been closed off to me.

What had occurred in Kansas?

Obviously, Kansas had become a less trusting and more insecure place. People didn’t trust outsiders to volunteer with their youth in many instances. Young male teachers, like myself, who tried to volunteer, to guide or mentor youth in the Big Brothers/Big Sister’s program were never given a call-back.

Worse still, if you tried to encourage young women in either their school endeavors or by complimenting them on their dress or clothes at a high school ball, you were likely to be called into the office by the local school principal and be told, “Don’t ever say anything to that girl again.”

Similarly, after my one full-year teaching in Great Bend High School in 1990-1991 (during the Gulf War), I quickly found myself practically blackballed from ever teaching in the state of Kansas again—despite the school principal’s, fellow instructor’s and board members’ at GBHS giving me good observation ratings numerous times over the year.

What had I done in Great Bend besides set high standards of achievement in the classroom?

Quite obviously, it was in the very realm of role-modeling for young America that I was clashing in the 1990s with society in Kansas to such a great degree. For example, as a Christian witness, educator, and role model, I felt I had to write a letter to the editor of the local paper that stated that the U.S.A. was spending to much on new prisons and not enough on education.

Moreover, as the first Gulf War was rolling near, I told staffers in my teacher’s lounge that I didn’t believe it to be right that Great Bend High School military recruiters were allowed to wander around the campus, confront, and meet with students in the cafeteria.

Finally, I showed anti-war films—often from the perspective of soldiers and children—such as ALL’S QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT in the month the U.S.-led coalition attacked Iraq in 1991. I also shared with my students a lot bout how different cultures behave and think. I also encouraged them to question and learn for the sake of learning, not always worrying about grades or standardized exams.

Several of those many students of mine at GBHS in Kansas let me know they thought I was a good role model and teacher. However, when my contract was not renewed—without cause--, I was forced to move on and look for another teaching job.

Similar sort of administrative shenanigans happened at the next (and last) school I taught at in Eudora, Kansas. (That was in 1991-1992.) This was at Eudora High School where I would routinely send students who used bad language, like saying “Fuck you” at me or another in class to the principal’s office. I wanted the boys to be talked to by the principal and their parents set straight about their rudeness and lack of respect.

Nearly a dozen times in a single semester, such students would return an hour later laughing and joking—the message was clear. The school office was not interested in being a good role model for me or my students.

In short, in the past three decades both Kansas and greater America have become very picky and choosy about who are allowed to be role models for its youth. With limited role modeling going on in schools, it seems little wonder that there is so much violence and mistrust in the American public and private school landscapes.

The bottom-line is that by narrowing local definitions of who good role-models are and how they behave, America has fallen short. Left with small numbers of options, these schools and states have not done a good job of picking or choosing role models for their youth.

Have churches and religious organizations done any better at getting good role models involved?

I am not certain about individual cases in America are but as a whole American Christians and religious leaders need to do better. I recall how after the 9-11 attacks in 2001, I had to walk out of church holding my ears one evening as one leader spoke stating that we all needed to see the events as 9-11 as rationale to follow our nation to a global war on terrorism starting in Afghanistan. (I wrote a note to that leader later about how I had felt abused by such a statement and he quietly never used such language in church again. In this action, I too served as a good role model—not confronting in front of the church my brother who was out of line but using a quiet approach to get him to rethink what he was saying and modeling to others.)

Churches and religious leaders must look into the matter or role models and faith--and demand more choice in America in terms of good role models—not some fictitious model imagined by one leader of FOCUS ON THE FAMILY--but a living breathing person acting out his faith and family values in the real world where faith and integrity are put to the test every day.


KIND OF EXILE

Dr. Coles wrote a book once on Simone Weil, a refugee from Germany, who almost converted to Christianity but rejected the authoritative form of baptism as practiced in the church institutions she had come to know in the UK. She died in 1943, and seems to have half-consciously starved herself (gone on a hunger strike or simply refused to eat) out of empathy for those who were suffering and dying under the heels of Fascism and Xenophobia in that time period.

Berrigan comments on Simone Weil, “She presents us with a fascinating puzzle. On the one hand, she was suspicious, as you have mentioned, of almost every possible political alignment or ideological position; and on the other hand, she demonstrated a very mysterious but organic or spiritual unity with others. It seems to me that she expresses in a rather exemplary way the struggle practically every modern person wages with alienation. I could say wages against alienation, but I mean with it, with the inescapable reality of it. We can be only so close to family or religion or culture. We can take only so much part of the continuing conflicts which go to make up history. . . . For her it was important to be a certain kind of exile; she was in England and yet she chose to die rather than to luxuriate in exile or rather than to use exile as an excuse for further alienation from her people, further spiritual distance from suffering.”

Berrigan was certainly in a sort of exile as he was being interviewed in THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH. At that very time, he was on the run from the law after being sentenced to numerous years of jail-time after burning draft cards.

I, however, also feel at times, exiled from the land of my birth as I try to live out an exemplary life of faith and struggle towards making the earth more just. Nonetheless, despite my sense of exile, over the last twenty-three years, I have returned to the U.S. to take up community, live out my faith and teach five times.

In the next year, I will likely turn myself again to the world of Kansas and/or to my homeland: the USA, I will try to return and make a difference while not falling into the mediocrity of faith that so many in my homeland seem to live their lives out in.

I will try to persuade Americans to raise their families to think about the bigger pictures of the geography of living faith than the realm of their material consumption and habitation. For this reason, I have recently bought time-share property on Gili Meno Island here in Indonesia. I am hoping to be able to tell my Congressman Ted Tiahart in Kansas and the powerful U.S. Senators there that Global Climate Change is affecting my property as well as our whole planet. I will ask them to please do something to get America to better manage climate change and to stop thinking primarily in terms of how the world should spin around America and American consumption needs.

Good Night from Southeast Asia!!

Kevin Anthony Stoda

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1 Comments:

Anonymous tammy Stoda said...

Kevin, WOW Keep it up because it is ohhh so true. American's are all about self consumption and what is in it for me. SAAAD and only getting worse by the day.

2:27 PM  

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