Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: Ordinary Courage

Ordinary Courage
My journey to Baghdad as a human shield
Donna Mulhearn

[image]I love going to book launches. They provide the opportunity to hear a writer speak of their latest book and for a bookoholic like myself, the treasured gift of a signed edition for that special set on my bookshelf. When I went along to the Brisbane Launch of Ordinary Courage by Donna Mulhearn at the Christian Brothers Centre I also got a night of inspiration and challenge.

The inspiration came from Donna’s story as a human shield in Iraq during 2003 and the introduction to Ordinary Courage by local Christian activist and community elder, Dave Andrews. The challenge came in Donna’s refrain to find our purpose and live it with ordinary courage!!

I started reading “Ordinary Courage” during Holy Week. From the pages of this intimate journal I re-discovered the traditional Easter images of hospitality, communion, betrayal, political exploitation, suffering, death and hope in the midst of despair.

Ordinary Courage is a pilgrim’s journal that challenges our dominant cultural values. Less than a month after Holy Week we remember ANZAC Day. I have never marched in an ANZAC parade. My father was a WW11 Veteran who refused to be part of the ANZAC tradition and left instructions that the Rising Sun badge to which he was entitled was not to be placed on his grave. He was buried with the untold horror of what he saw in Borneo and Papua New Guinea.

However, I have marched for peace and raised my voice for social change from my early teens in the Vietnam moratorium movement to the awe-inspiring march against the invasion of Iraq on February 15 2003 in Brisbane. To read the power of such solidarity for Donna and those who volunteered as human shields in Iraq confirms my belief in the process and action of non-violence and political activism in the midst of the horror of war.
There is another cultural value that Donna speaks of with intimacy and candor. It is the value of children and the senseless suffering they experience as a result of abusive power. Donna writes of the devastating impact of political and military abuse on the lives of the vulnerable kids in Iraq. Reading Ordinary Courage in Holy Week with the explosive revelations of a culture of sexual abuse and cover-ups by those with power in my Church raises questions about our failure to promote the ancient tradition of non-violence as a lifestyle and core value in the living of the Gospel.

Donna writes with the keen eye of a journalist tempered by the compassion of a heart formed in disciplined meditation. Ordinary Courage is not an easy read. It brings tears and anger as much as joy and hope in the unfolding of the dreadful days leading up to the Invasion of Iraq.

Reading Ordinary Courage was something of a personal pilgrimage. Many of the community connections that Donna treasures are common ground with my preferences in spirituality. The discipline of World Christian Meditation and life within L’Arche communities both challenge and nurture our shared faith. The popular Peace Prayer of St Francis takes on a new urgency in the devastation of bombs and missiles. Like Donna I have known the warm embrace of Michael Franti, whose lyrics and music inspired and encouraged her journey to Baghdad.

There is no “happy ending” in Ordinary Courage because war never has a happy ending. There is hope and there is an invitation to the reader to continue the story Donna has begun. The acknowledgements at the end of the book read like a useful litany of community programs and web sites that promote the values and practices Donna reflects on during her experience as a human shield in Iraq.

And, yes, I got Donna to sign my copy. It now sits between the signed copies of Richards Rohr’s “Soul Brothers” and Dave Andrews “A Divine Society”. However it will probably have a short shelf life here as I have already promised it on loan to one of my impoverished student friends. I will be buying more copies as I intend to give it as a Christmas gift to members of my family this year.

Ordinary Courage
My journey to Baghdad as a human shield
Donna Mulhearn
Published February 2010
272 pages, trade paperback
153 x 234mm
AU $32.95
ISBN 9781741966718

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Just Another Catholic Going Gaga!!

Being Catholic is a bit stressful at the moment.

The media is having a field day on our dark night of the soul. Papa Benedict seems more intent on brocade and lace than any of the pressing issues of the day. Tony Abbott is running Catholicism to the right side of the road and now I am told that Lady Gaga is having a crisis of faith.

Is there any other religion that can muster quite the mess of humanity (in which I admit full active and conscious participation) as the public face of dear old Mother Church?

One of the consolations in this, the best of times and the worst of times are those memorable lines from The Vatican Council of beloved memory:

'The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.' — Gaudium et Spes, Vatican Council II in 1965

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Oscar Romero

In memory of a man martyred for speaking truth
“The murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero — by a bullet to the chest as he said Mass at the altar — was not just a personal attack on a man who was a thorn in the side of El Salvador's corrupt ruling elite. It was the murder of an icon — a man who was prepared to 'speak truth to power', a bishop who stood side by side with the poor and the oppressed” writes Christine Allen.
The Age/The Guardian, March 21, 2010 

Archbishop Oscar Romero wrote, “The church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being... a defender of the rights of the poor [and] a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society... that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history.” For Romero, “when the church hears the cry of the oppressed, it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.”
Sojourners Magazine, March 2010