The Tangled Web
Faith in Public Life - New Mexico
By Stephanie Block
To appreciate what is being constructed by the Faith in Public Life network and how Catholics particularly are being targeted, let’s examine the network as it functions in one state: New Mexico.
Rather like attempting to untangle a ball of badly knotted yarn, one could almost begin pulling at any spot. So, for the sake of starting somewhere, let’s begin with Sr. Joan Brown
According to the biography provided at the Partnership for Earth Spirituality website, Joan Brown is a Franciscan sister who works in Ecology Ministry through the Social Justice Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe. She has a “Master’s Degree” in Cosmology, Religion and Philosophy from the California Institute of Integral Studies.(1)
This, by the way, is the same program from which Brian Swimme hails. Swimme is the author of Manifesto for a Global Civilization, which he coauthored with ex-priest Matthew Fox, The Universe is a Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation Story, and The Universe Story which was written in collaboration with Thomas Berry. These creation “stories” are mythic inventions, having nothing to do with traditional religious visions and meant to discover the place humanity holds in the unfolding story of Earth and cosmos.
This is a program that describes itself as “designed to help shape the intellectual, moral, and spiritual leadership necessary for meeting this historic challenge” of addressing the “unprecedented evolutionary challenge...The ecological, political, and spiritual crisis of late modernity call[ing] for a fundamental reorientation of our civilization, including a transformation of both our institutions and our own consciousness. The cultural historian Thomas Berry has called this task the ‘Great Work.’”(2)
Hardly the formation one might hope for a Catholic religious, but it does explain Brown’s Partnership for Earth Spirituality [PES]. PES is an ecumenical organization “to promote a better understanding of the interdependence of ecology and spirituality.” (3)
Partnership for Earth Spirituality
Started in 2002, PES creates programs and projects that run the gamut of silly to pagan.
One of the Partnership’s projects is “Earth Seminars,” such as the one held February 8, 2007, designed to equip participants with the skills they need to address ecological issues. This particular seminar discussed George Lakoff’s book Thinking Points: Communicating our American Values and Vision.(4) Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley and a Senior Fellow at the Rockridge Institute, which published the book, is an important figure in the Network of Spiritual Progressives and in Faith in Public Life. The reason? One blurb for the book explains: “Thinking Points provides a concise explanation of how conservatives think and use language —and how we as progressives can fight back. For all those awaiting a Rockridge manual for progressives, your wait is over.”
Now, an aside about the Network of Spiritual Progressives – its inaugural conference, at which Jim Wallis (Faith in Public Life initiator) and Lakoff were speakers, was in July 2005 and, just like Wallis’ Faith in Public Life, its purpose is to counter “right wing” spirituality. Furthermore, many if not most of the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ chapter are also part of the Faith in Public Life network, meaning these groups swell one another’s ranks.
The Partnership for Earth Spirituality conducts Women’s Wilderness and Earth Retreats, offering “time within the natural world to reflect upon one’s spiritual journey within the context of the entire Sacred Earth Community.” Sacred Earth? There was also an “Enchanted Earth Retreat,” which sounds even worse except that as New Mexico has been popularized as the “land of enchantment,” one hopes the retreat promoter was simply trying to find a catchy title.
Then there are the “Change of Season” celebrations – collaborations “with other faith communities like Las Placitas Presbyterian Church and organizations such as Erda Gardens to offer rituals and prayer services to celebrate the solstices and equinoxes and deepen our relationship within the natural world.” The Earth Vespers celebrating the Fall Equinox were held in Placitas at the Jubilee Garden, beginning with a gratitude prayer for the waters from the acequias, remembering those who have passed, followed by a short walk to the gardens where prayers, songs, blessing of seeds and prayer “formed the context of a special ritual.” Remember, this is the lady who works for the Social Justice Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Some of the rituals Sister has led are available at the website. Composed for a Vernal Equinox service held at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church in Placitas, New Mexico, on St. Cuthbert’s day, March 20, 2006, for example, is an adaptation of the Catholic Tenebrae, traditionally prayed on Good Friday. This has been combined with another adaptation, the Stations of the Cross, but rewritten to reflect the environmental crisis and the alleged growing impact of global warming. At each station, using Jesus’ sufferings as a metaphor, worshipers are asked to consider some aspect of environmental damage that humanity has done to the earth, and then, as in the Tenebrae service, a candle is snuffed. The eighth station – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem – becomes, for example, transformed into “An Ecofeminist Lament.” The last station – Jesus is laid in the tomb and which is the point in this eco-ritual when all candles have been extinguished – represents the “late, great planet earth” and the coming apocalypse caused by mankind’s sinfulness. Here there is only a single sin: the environmental destruction of the earth…excuse me: of the Earth.
Another ritual is offered on the website: “Welcoming the Day.” This, Sr. Joan tells us, is used by her both personally and in retreat settings to start the day “in a more Spirit-filled, meaning generating way.” It is designed to imitate the spiritual traditions of the “First Peoples” and their sense of “revelatory” time as distinguished from those who use time to measure work. This ritual begins with drumming or perhaps the soft tapping of two stones together, trying to find the Heartbeat of the Universe, a chant (“Behold, a sacred voice is calling us…”), readings from sacred text – preferably earth-centered, praying “the eight directions” four times each, a sort of kiss of peace or thoughts of peace, depending on whether one is in a group or alone, a blessings the paths – with cornmeal, if possible, and closing with a chant that repeats “All shall be well.”
Ritual materials explain praying “the eight directions.” It’s purpose is not to worship nature – pantheism – but to recognize God’s presence in all creation – panantheism. Therefore, among the gifts the worshipper seeks, one from each direction, is “community” – a gift that informs us that the “Earth is composed of a rich variety of communities, not just species and subspecies, not just what’s useful and what’s not, not just what’s natural, unnatural, not just what is human and non-human. These communities grow out of a consciousness of each other. If consciousness is awareness, than no entity is devoid of some kind of awareness.”
Another ritual, “Welcoming the Night,” closes with prayer to “Beloved Father and Holy Mother.” It asks, seeming to identify Father and Mother both as “god,” that: “we your creation drink one last time from the pool of the Sun’s energy. With great caring you have helped me this day to walk as your child, a pilgrim on a sacred path. At one with you and all of your creation, I enter into the night. Still me that I might listen to the sounds of this night. You are the source of my existence. Your heart is my home. From you I have come and to you I journey this night.”
Not surprisingly, the eclectic Sr. Joan with her gift for “community” is networked to a number of other elements of the New Mexico Faith in Public Life web.
One member of her Partnership for Earth Spirituality board was the former director of the New Mexico Conference of Churches. The Board also has 3 members – one a co-director – of Fr. Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. Fr. Rohr has been assisting Jim Wallis in reaching the Catholic population with his various “stop the religious right” strategies. And she also has the Director of the Office of Social Justice for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe on the Board.
Sr. Joan is on the steering committee of another New Mexico Faith in Public Life environmental group, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, an organization with about 20 state chapters, three-fourths of which are Faith in Public Life members. Founder and executive director, Reverend Sally Bingham, writes that “Taking care of our land, air and water….is the most moral value facing us all.” To the end of defending the “most moral value,” Sr. Joan assisted Interfaith Power and Light in holding over 60 showings of former Vice President Al Gore’s movie on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
The Call to Action (CTA) connection is particularly interesting. CTA has been fighting from within the Church for over thirty years to accomplish a number of “changes,” among them that:
As the Vatican has upheld the excommunication ban leveled at CTA participation in one US diocese, one can presume that support of CTA is highly questionable for sincere Catholics.(5) Yet Sr. Joan has been a follower of the movement for some time. She has not only appeared, as a member, in the CTA New Mexico newsletter (6), but she is connected to the CTA-related organization, Pax Christi. The Albuquerque Catholic Worker’s “Circle of Friends,” meeting at Sr. Joan’s home, shared Pax Christi’s website for several years. The two organizations are “linked in solidarity” and have worked together on a number of projects.
Now, Sr. Joan has free-will. She can pray to whomever and however she pleases. She can join any organization she pleases – anti-Catholic or otherwise. She can promote whatever she pleases. Just bear in mind, however, she’s in the employ of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Some more connections
New Mexico is a small state. It really isn’t surprising that people engaged in various aspects of progressive politics would know and assist one another.
Consider the Network of Spiritual Progressives. This is another recently (2005) constructed coalition (7) with connections to Jim Wallis. Its kickoff conference in Berkeley included Jim Wallis as a speaker. Sr. Chittister, an advocate for women priests in the Catholic Church, is one of several official spokespeople for Faith in Public Life as well as being a national co-chair for the Network of Spiritual Progressives. It’s tight enough in this circle to make one breathless.
Like Wallis’ Faith in Public Life, the Network of Spiritual Progressives decries the “Religious Right’s tactic of reducing the moral values field to two issues, abortion and gay marriage.”(8) Its national chair, Rabbi Michael Lerner, accuses the “conservative agenda” of opposing abortion but giving little support to the child once it is born.
But, the good rabbi was not above describing the election of Pope Benedict XVI “a disaster,” writing: “we watched with even greater distress as this Cardinal supported efforts to involve the Church in distancing itself from political candidates or leaders who did not agree with the Church’s teachings on abortion and gay rights, prioritizing these issues over whether that candidate agreed with the Church on issues of peace and social justice. As a result, Cardinal Ratzinger has led the Church away from its natural alliance with Jews in fighting for peace and social justice…”(9) It seems to be OK to talk about abortion and gay rights if one supports them.
Who was part of the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ Berkeley conference? None other than Pax Christi New Mexico’s coordinator, Fr. John Dear, SJ, who is also a Call to Action speaker. Sr. Joan and Mara Hoffman, co-chair of the Environmental Covenant Committee for the Network of Spiritual Progressives have written at least one article together. (10)
Then there’s Albuquerque Interfaith and the New Mexico Organizing Project, two Alinskyian faith-based local community organizations who, with hundreds of sister-organizations, are also members of Faith in Public Life. The liaison between the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and Albuquerque Interfaith is the same man who is the liaison between the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and Pax Christi. (11) Small world, isn’t it?
Of course, in a panantheistic universe, it makes sense - it’s all connected. "
Sidebar 1: Panantheism (also spelled Panentheism)
Panantheism is a term coined by Karl C. F. Krause (1781-1832, and used by proponents of creation spirituality to express the belief that God is immanent in all created being – although God is not limited to the created world. Simply put: all is God, but God is above all.
This contrasts with the Christian view that God created the world distinct from Himself. Fallen humanity and the evil it unleashed on the world are not God’s creation.
Sidebar 2: New Mexico Faith in Public Life Network
Catholic Relief Services
- Las Cruces
Catholic Social Services
- Immigration and Legalization Services Catholic Charities Santa Fe, Albuquerque
Diocese of Las Cruces Social Ministry
Diocese of Santa Fe - Office of Social Justice - Santa Fe
Good Shepherd Center – Albuquerque
New Mexico Community Foundation - Albuquerque
Call To Action
- Las Cruces
- Rio Rancho
- Cimarron - Eagle Nest
- Holy Rosary - Albuquerque
- Las Vegas
- Santa Fe
- Taos - Ranchos de Taos
- Albuquerque Newman Center & St. Charles Borromeo
- Silver City, Gila
Other Religious Groups:
- Buddhist Peace Fellowship- NM - Santa Fe
- Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch
- First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque
- Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry - Santa Fe
- Mt. Olive Baptist State Convention – Alamogordo
- American Friends Service Committee, New Mexico Area Program - Albuquerque
- New Mexico Conference of Churches - Albuquerque
- Las Cruces
- Albuquerque Interfaith
- No. New Mexico Interfaith Sponsoring Committee - Alcalde
Anti-Defamation League- New Mexico - Albuquerque
New Mexico Human Needs Coordinating Committee - Albuquerque
- New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light - Albuquerque - St. Thomas of Canterbury Church – Albuquerque
- Progressive Christians of Northern
- NM Tikkun/Network of Spiritual Progressives - Abq
- Tikkun/Network of Spiritual Progressives - Santa Fe
This article is a reprint from Los Pequeños de Cristo’s March 2007 issue of The Pepper.