Chris Hedges on the Works of Mercy

Hedges, Chris. “Fuelling the Fire of Real Change,” (28 September 2008). [This article was reprinted in Hedges’s Death of the Liberal Class, chapter 5]

The coals of radical social change smolder here among the poor, the homeless and the destitute. As the numbers of disenfranchised dramatically increase, our hope, our only hope, is to connect intimately with the daily injustices visited upon them. Out of this contact we can resurrect, from the ground up, a social ethic, a new movement. Hand out bowls of soup. Coax the homeless into a shower. Make sure those who are mentally ill, cruelly cast out on city sidewalks, take their medications. Put your muscle behind organizing service workers. Go back into America’s resegregated schools. Protest. Live simply. It is in the tangible, mundane and difficult work of forming groups and communities to care for others and defy authority that we will kindle the outrage and the moral vision to fight back. It is not Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who will save us. It is Dorothy Day.


Hope will come only through direct contact with the destitute. The ethic born out of this contact will be grounded in the real and the possible. This ethic will, because it forces us to witness suffering and pain, be uncompromising in its commitment to the sanctity of life.

“There are several families with us, destitute families, destitute to an unbelievable extent, and there, too, is nothing to do but to love,” Day wrote of those she had taken into the Catholic Worker house. “What I mean is that there is no chance of rehabilitation, no chance, so far as we see, of changing them; certainly no chance of adjusting them to this abominable world about them—and who wants them adjusted, anyway?

“What we would like to do is change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute—the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words—we can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.”

Works of Mercy and Works of War

Eileen Egan (1954):

In point of fact, every one of the corporal works of mercy is literally reversed in total war. Rather than shelter the shelterless, we destroy the shelter of man; rather than feed the hungry, we make the children of man hungry for generations by uprooting them and scorching and mining their fruitful fields; rather than cloth the naked, we raze the productive plants that make the cloth that cover them; rather than ransom the captive, we make a captive of every member of the enemy nation we can lay our hands on; rather than heal the sick, we hasten their death by blockading their supplies of goods and medicines. And to make the unspeakable cycle complete, we unbury the dead.

Nicholas Lash Colloquium


An Early Retirement?

This afternoon came as a bit of a shocker for me. All appeared to be going to plan. The sun was shining, I had finished a nice lunch, and cup of tea in hand I was just about to settle down with a good book when I discovered the news. It seems that the good life here in Durham is about to get a bit bleaker. Thanks to a hot tip from Matt Malcolm, I have come to learn that N. T. Wright, the big cheese himself, is hanging up the robes and mitre, rolling up his ink-stained sleeves, and preparing to unleash upon us all a proverbial torrent of trenchant texts, the sheer volume of which is surely enough to throttle the imagination.

No, I’m afraid it’s a true story. N. T. has announced his retirement as Bishop of Durham in favor of an academic post at the University of St. Andrews effective this Autumn. For more on this breaking news event, have a look here, here, or even here.

The Gough Map

Since moving to England, I seem to have developed a growing fascination for all things old. Perhaps this is due to the fact that in sunny southern California, “ancient” refers to any architectural or cultural artifact built sometime around 1880. Perhaps it’s because I now live around the corner from a little priory chapel founded around 1170. It could also be because I spend most of my study time here in Durham reading in the cathedral library — a beautiful stone and wood-beam hall with stained glass windows, creaking floors, and a massive vaulted ceiling — which was once used as the monk’s dormitory in the 11th century. Around here, history is tangible in ways I never quite experienced growing up in Rancho Cucamonga.

I mention this because the other day I made an interesting discovery while watching In Search of Medieval Britain. In this short BBC documentary, Dr Alixe Bovey, a lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Kent, uses the oldest surviving route map of Britain in order to chart her journeys back into the world of the Middle Ages. It’s called the Gough Map and it was made sometime around 1360. Bovey notes,

The Gough map is named after its last owner, Richard Gough, an antiquarian map collector who donated it to the Bodleian library in 1809. It’s one of the first maps that tries to depict Britain accurately with more than 600 towns and almost two hundred rivers.

One of the most interesting things about this map is the direction of its orientation. We are quite accustomed to seeing the world pictorially depicted North to South. However, Bovey points out that “the convention at the time was to put the East at the top because that was the direction of Christianity’s holiest city: Jerusalem.” The more I look at this map, the more I am struck by how concretely it signifies the radical alterity of the medieval social imaginary.

A research project sponsored by the British Academy has made available a fully interactive version of the Gough Map accessible here. It’s well work having a look at.

Upcoming Conference: Nurturing the Prophetic Imagination

On March 24-26, Point Loma Nazarene University will be hosting a four-day, interdisciplinary conference entitled: Nurturing the Prophetic Imagination. This promises to be an exciting and stimulating event, drawing a diverse and distinguished ensemble of plenary speakers (not to mention something like 70 additional session papers). Particularly noteworthy is the panel session wherein Nate Kerr, Rosco Williamson, and William T. Cavanaugh will discuss Cavanaugh’s new book, The Myth of Religious Violence

Plenary Speakers

  • Bill McKibben Christian environmental activist, scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and author of Deep Economy; The End of Nature; Hope: Human & Wild , and The Age of Missing Information.
  • Kathleen Norris — A Poet and Essayist, Norris is author of Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life; Dakota: A Spiritual Geography; Cloister Walk; Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith and The Virgin of Bennington.
  • Michael Eric Dyson — A Sociologist and Theologian  from Georgetown University, Dyson’s newest book April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death and How it Changed America, joins his others: Can You Hear Me Now?; Come Hell or Highwater: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster; Holler if You Hear Me.  
  • Emmanuel Katongole — Theologian and priest, associate professor of theology and world Christianity and co-director of the Center of Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, Katongole is author of A Future for Africa: Critical Essays in Christian Social Imagination; Beyond Universal Reason; and African Theology Today.

Special Guests

  • Joining us will be Dr. William T. Cavanaugh, a professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN) who will be hosting a special conference session to review his most recent book, The Myth of Religious Violence. He is also the author of Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (1998); Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (2008).
  • Dr. Ron Benefiel is the president for Nazarene Theological Seminary (Kansas City, MO). Trained as a sociologist, he is also an ordained minister who has pastored churches in a variety of urban settings. He is author of A Theology of Place: Ministry in Transitional Communities (1996).

A revised and comprehensive conference schedule can be accessed here.

The Prodigal Returns

For quite some time, I have been meaning to return to this little side project of mine. Despite my good intentions, it seems that other tasks have managed to capture the majority of my attention. I suppose initiating a PhD, attempting to settle into the patterns of newly married life, acclimating to the recurrent bureaucratic joys involved in a permanent relocation to the UK, not to mention trying to wrap my brain around the curious behavioral disorders of our cat (Badger) has thus far prevented me from making much real progress with my hobby writing. Next thing I know and six months have gone by. Alas. So for anyone marginally interested in this blog (a bold assumption indeed), my apologies for the long absence. Hopefully, I’ll have a bit more time to stay up to speed.

For now, I’ll try and pick up the conversation again with a nice quote from Graham Ward’s Cities of God:

The community, while one, while many, affirms its location in Christ, but by that very sharing in Christ it participates in the displacement of the body of Christ announced in the breaking of the bread. This is a third aspect of the fracture, which is given more explicit expression in the final dismissal following the eucharistic feeding: ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’ To employ a distinction found in Michel de Certeau between place (lieu) and space (espace), the ‘we’ is not bound by the institutional place it finds itself in, nor the civic place that locates the institutionalised place. The ‘we’ walks and opens up spaces in and beyond the given and material locale. The we participates in a rhythm of gathering and dispersal that shapes its walking, its pilgrimage. The erotic community it forms transgresses all boundaries. It moves out in love and desire and produces a complex space which cannot be defined, cannot be grasped as such, labelled by sociologists, mapped by geographers. It is itself a fractured and fracturing community, internally deconstituting and reconstituting itself. (p. 154)