Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ambrose and Day

I have not blogged for awhile, and that has been weighing on me. I've been censoring myself since I wish to blog about "the state of the United States"--ie., politics (inevitably), and yet, I hesitate because politics are divisive and lead to misunderstandings. As a person who at least attempts to stay spiritually grounded, I understand that truly lasting and Spirit-led political change comes from a deep place of compassion and unity. On the other hand, I find myself distressed and worried about the state of the union.

In seminary, we read about Ambrose and John of Chryostom, powerful fourth century bishops. Both believed that God created an abundant earth for the benefit and use of all humans and that the rich are stealing from the poor when they allow people to go hungry and homeless. I was encouraged by the compassionate theology of sharing of Ambrose and John; I was saddened when, doing a little more research, I found them labeled "Christian socialists." I wonder why every sort of sharing is labeled with that term. They were simply stating that the rich have a moral obligation to share with the poor because their goods are not "theirs," but God's. Jesus seems to have said something similar to Peter: "Feed my sheep."

Dorothy Day, in our century, also made a central mission of sharing the world's good with the poor, setting up soup kitchens, homeless shelters and Catholic Worker farms. She wanted to combat what she called the "dirty, rotten system," understanding that many people become poor because the system is stacked against them. But whether they were the so-called deserving poor or the unworthy poor, she opened her home to them all, because she believed this was what the gospel preached. Interestingly, especially in light of our times, her Catholic Worker cofounder, Peter Maurin, was what we today would call a libertarian. (Day called him an anarchist.) Day and Maurin couldn't have been farther apart politically: He was highly distrustful of government, feared government tyranny, and believed in one-on-one, personal charity rather than government programs. Day, on the other hand, worked to change the system and establish government programs to help ordinary people. Despite their differences, however, the two were able to work together, respected each other deeply and pooled both sets of ideas and opinions to create a whole that was bigger than either one. Is this possible today?