Hold It All

Month: July, 2007

Towards a Post-Civilizational Praxis

For Jim Flynn and Pat Geier

A Reflection on John Dominic Crossan God & Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now [2007]

In the past few awful, maleficent years of the Bush Administration, a spate of books has appeared in which the word “empire” is used as applicable to the United States itself. In his latest work, Scripture scholar John Dominic Crossan brings his research on the historical Jesus to bear on this timely, terrifying matter of empire.

Crossan’s book is a sustained meditation on three options available to us in the early 21st century: Civilization, Anti-Civilization, and Post-Civilization. According to Crossan, Civilization, contrary to its uncritical and zealous celebrants, is full of barbarism. For one recent example, think of 20th century Germany and its philosophical, intellectual, musical, and cultural wealth and its death camps. Empires of successive civilization have wielded military, economic, political, and ideological power to further their self-serving aims. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Example

for Michelle Conley

For years in my Social Justice course at Saint Louis University, I assigned the 1993 paperback by Cao Ngoc Phuong entitled, Learning True Love: How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam. Phuong’s story is of a young woman growing up in Vietnam during the 1950s and 1960s. From a young age, her passion is to be of assistance to poor people; she also wanted to be a Buddhist, but didn’t have very inspiring teachers. This changed when she met Thich Nhat Hanh, who became her mentor, a relationship that is now in its fifth decade.

What made that book so compelling for me (and many of my students) was Phuong’s unbelievable stamina, inspiring cheerfulness, and serene courage in the midst of repression, poverty, and war. I used to say to the Social Work students in the class: “Please tell your friends who are studying to be Social Workers to read this book!” But really, the book is for all of us–a resource for understanding what it means to remain human in an inhuman time.

Just this past April, Parallax Press published a second, revised, and updated edition of the book, with this new subtitle: Practicing Buddhism in a Time of War–A Nun’s Journey from Vietnam to France and The History of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Community. At the age of 50, Phuong became a Buddhist nun, taking on the name Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness). The new edition of Learning True Love details the life and work at Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery and meditation center in France, as well as Thich Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong’s recent return to Vietnam after living in exile since the 1960s. Read the rest of this entry »