Daniel P. Horan, "The Spiritual Crisis of Climate Change & Racism" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen: Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri to audiences around the world. Each week we endeavor to bring you a new interview with someone who’s been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwen, someone whose own writing is an important and valued resource to spiritual seekers. We invite you to share the Daily Meditations and these podcasts with your friends and family. Through them we can continue to introduce new audiences to the writings and teachings of Henri Nouwen and remind each listener that they’re a beloved child of God.
Now, let me take a moment to introduce today’s guest. Today on this podcast I have the pleasure of talking with Father Daniel Horan. Father Horan is the director of the Center for Spirituality and a professor of philosophy, religious studies and theology at St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame. He’s the author of 14 books and a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. He has a podcast called the Francis Effect. This is a podcast about culture and politics from a Catholic perspective. Father Daniel, there are so many things I want to talk to you about today, but before we launch into a discussion about our relationship and responsibility to creation and the environment, I’m curious if the writings and teachings of Henri Nouwen have been an influence on your spiritual journey.
Fr. Daniel Horan: Well, let me say Karen, right from the outset, what a joy it is to be with you. I’m honored to be on the podcast and I’m looking forward to our conversation too. The short answer is, absolutely. Like so many folks, especially those like myself in religious life, the writings of Henri Nouwen have been deeply, deeply influential. In fact, I was just thinking about it earlier today. Like when did I first read one of Nouwen’s books? And I had a hard time thinking about exactly when that was, because I seem to remember being a novice in the Franciscan Order of which I’m a part and just devouring book after book after book of his. I think the gateway drug, if I can use that maybe inappropriate metaphor is one that I think a lot of folks who are introduced to Nouwen these days is introduced by, his famous, The Return of the Prodigal Son book. I remember very, very distinctly being in the chapel in the novitiate very early in the morning. I’m not that young, but I’m a lot younger than most women and men religious these days. But I do have to say that we in the novitiate had a schedule that was pretty rigorous for its time. And we would be up before dawn especially in Lent and Advent in the Chapel at meditation. And we can bring a book to read. I just remember sitting in that Chapel, I can see it to this day and reading sections of The Return of the Prodigal Son. And for the first time, like I imagine so many readers of Nouwen, really relating, resonating so much with identifying with each of the three major figures in that parable in a way that I don’t think I had really understood or experienced before. But that was, as I say, sort of the entry point for me as I’m sure it is for so many other readers of Nouwen.
And I read everything from Clowning in Rome, which as a young religious was something that I think really spoke to me as I was discerning religious life and coming to understand what does it mean to talk about vocation in the world today. All the way up to, you know, so now more recently in my life, I’ve had the responsibility and honor and privilege of serving on a number of academic boards of trustees. And one small text that many of our listeners will be familiar with is Nouwen’s reflection on the kind of ministry of philanthropy. And I been very moved by that and find it challenging and insightful. But I have to tell you the most recent one is one that I just picked up a couple of months ago and have just sort of gone back in, – which is the last, if I got the chronology correct. And you’re the expert, so I will defer to you – but his little book, Can you Drink the Cup? which I think might’ve been, was that the last, was it a posthumous book and maybe the last, before he passed away?
Karen: It is, it is actually literally one of the last books. It’s interesting. He did it with Orbis and you’re right it’s a beautiful little book, but it was one that came out, I don’t know if it came out actually after his death, I think it was completed, but it’s a very important book. Yes, that’s good. That’s interesting. Well, you’ve obviously read a lot of Nouwen and I have been pretty excited about talking with you today.
You’ve been writing articles and books and so many important things, and I thought it was so timely that we would be talking today of all days. It may not be, it won’t be the actual day that the podcast goes out, but we are in the midst of COP 26. This is the global gathering of leaders and activists taking place in Scotland, addressing the issues of climate change in the world today. It’s evident to me in your writing Dan that you’re passionate and well-informed on the issues and the human responsibilities for our global ecology. I’d like to start there. There are still some people that honestly don’t accept the truth about climate change and there’s some people of faith that don’t, and I’m surprised by that. Are you, and how do you speak into this today?
Daniel: Oh, Karen, that’s such a great question. I wish I could say I was surprised. I think at this point I’ve become rather disillusioned with my sisters and brothers and realize that we’re all complex people and especially in the sort of environment that we live in today. I mean, I think when Nouwen died in the mid-nineties who could have imagined, you know, the internet as it is today and social media and all this sort of stuff, where people no longer really have a sense of what is true, or at least they might convince themselves that they’re armchair experts in things like meteorology and climate and science and so forth. But all of that is to say that I agree with the kind of surprise that you’ve described with people of faith and, and frankly who use faith language.
One of the ways I’ve come to understand that sort of resistance or hesitancy or denialism is it’s a form of original sin, or maybe what Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis have called ecological sin. And what I’m thinking of in particular is in Genesis 3 we have that great scene of course, with the characters Adam and Eve and the snake and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And one of the things that I think we are quick to kind of zip by in that story is what the actual original temptation was. Now, people talk about disobedience and Augustine talks about pride. But you know, one of the things that really strikes me is the temptation to try to be something other than what God created us to be. You know, that we’re more than -what is it the serpent says – “You could be like, God, you’re not good enough as you are”. And I bring that up because I think there’s a lack of appropriate humility and awe and wonder when we think about ourselves as human beings in God’s larger family of creation. And so there’s this temptation for us to think that it’s all about us, that we’re immune from, and isolated from, the rest of creation; that we’re kind of independent and self-sufficient, which is a total lie. You know we depend on other creatures, plants, and animals to sustain us and to give us shelter and clothing and food and fresh air. Thank God for plant life for that reason on this planet. So I bring that up only because I wonder sometimes if the spiritual crisis is really profound, much more profound than we realize when folks are inclined to sort of dismiss the reality of climate change and humanity’s role in that. Because a lot of people may not want to grapple with the fact that they are creatures. They are finite, we are interdependent too.
Karen: It’s interesting how there can be a tendency to separate them, feel superior to and in control of, but there is a failure in that to understand the interconnectedness. And I found that as I was reading things which you’ve written you really identified as a spiritual crisis. I don’t think a lot of people think of the global climate change as a spiritual crisis. They think of it as a physical crisis, but maybe unwrap that a little for us. Why is it a spiritual crisis?
Daniel: Yeah. Well, so on the one hand it’s a spiritual crisis because – I mean, as people of faith, let me begin there for those who embrace Christianity or are truly as the Catholic church often describes it women and men of Goodwill of any tradition – is that we recognize on the one hand that as human beings, we are more than the sum of our parts, right? We are not just limited to our physical composition or kind of biological makeup but there’s something deeper there. This constant openness to the transcendent, that God reaches near us and in the Christian community, we call that the Holy Spirit who dwells among us. And so that’s one thing. The other thing about that is if we believe in the Holy Spirit, we’re united to one another, again, a tenet of Christianity, right?
That through baptism we are united in the Holy Spirit. What I would say, and this might make me sound like a stereotypical Franciscan friar, kind of Francis, but that interconnectedness, that unity with the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Spirit by means of the Holy Spirit is not simply among humans. But as we see, for instance, in the book of Genesis chapter 1, verse 2 where God’s Spirit— the Ruach in Hebrew — draws near to creation, is imminently present to creation. Well, we look at the great soliloquy of God’s discourse in the book of Job toward the end, where God talks about the divine closeness to all creatures, including those that human beings have no idea about. But I’m also thinking too, in terms of a spiritual crisis, what is the significance of the heart of our faith as Christians in particular? And that’s the incarnation, right? Without the word becoming flesh, without Jesus Christ, there’s no Christianity. And what is it that we say we believe when we profess faith in the incarnation? We’re saying as the gospel of John outlines in the prologue that God the divine, the word, the transcendent takes on sarx, in Greek – flesh, earthiness, materiality. And so that the incarnation, the whole centerpiece of our life of faith, is actually something that does not pertain only to human beings, but to all of God’s creation, all flesh, all sarx, all materiality. There’s a lot more I can say about that because I get really worked up in an energized way about it, because I think it’s so important. But I love your question about how is this a spiritual crisis? Well, if we take seriously what we say we believe in the creed and then our faith, let’s say the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, God creator, the incarnate word. Well, that has real implications for our community as a planet, as an ecosystem, as a cosmic family,
Karen: You know it’s so interesting as I listen to you and I hear that. And in a sense right now, right at this moment as we kind of watch all the people gathered there in Glasgow, eager to make change, but also that sense of will we really be able to. What do you think is the role of people of faith? Where do you see us in this? Where, I mean, you might even want to open up to us Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, and just share a little bit about what is our responsibility?
Daniel: Yes, our responsibility first and foremost. This, I think comes right out of the Christian penitential tradition, right? We acknowledge, for instance, in our Eucharistic liturgies, before we even hear the word of God, we acknowledge that we’ve done something wrong; that none of us are sort of worthy to be there, that we need to do a kind of check-in or self-evaluation and examination of conscience. And I think that’s a place to begin. So what are our responsibilities with climate change? You know, in Laudato Si’ Pope Francis very early on in the encyclical says without any ifs, ands, or buts, that humanity is responsible for a lot of this devastation and the trajectory that the global climate system is on right now. And so I would say the first step for us is to acknowledge what we’ve done and what we have failed to do.
As people of faith, it’s not just, “secular people” or “non-believers” who are responsible for this. Quite frankly, we are. And as Pope Francis has pointed out and before him, many, many scripture scholars, it’s been decades, if not centuries of people of faith who have misinterpreted or misapplied this use of sacred scripture in our religious tradition to justify a lot of these great harms. I think about the misunderstanding of Genesis 1: 26 to 28, where people have assumed that what God is talking about here in this creation narrative, is that we can dominate, subdue, take without any kind of consideration for anything other than our own interests from the rest of creation. And we’ve seen the devastating consequences of that way of thinking and acting on it. So the first thing I would say is our responsibility to acknowledge that.
I think the second thing, and this is something Pope Francis emphasizes too, is embracing a spirit of ongoing conversion, ecological conversion. I think part of what that entails is what we were just speaking about a moment ago, which is that we need to remember that we are creation too, and that we are interdependent and interrelated. We are connected to one another in creation and we don’t go it alone. Right? So what we do has an impact, and that’s what Pope Francis means when he talks about the relationship between the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
And then I would say the third thing is people of faith are all called I believe, by virtue of our baptism, to be prophets. And what I mean by that is that we are to announce the good news. We are to announce the in-breaking of the reign of God, and to remind ourselves and others of what that entails: returning to right relationship, including right relationship with creation. So I think at the end of Laudato Si’ Pope Francis talks about not only a spirit of ecological conversion, but the importance of education and the importance of action. So that’s in a nutshell, I would say what I think the starting point is for people of faith.
Karen: I think another thing which I found in some of the articles that you had written that touched me very much, was the reality of our responsibility to our brother. And some of the poorest people in the world have been most impacted by the reality of climate change. For us to be indifferent to that is not what we are really called to as followers of Christ. We are called to care. It’s a failure to love if we don’t care for the person who is experiencing the tortures of climate change that can overwhelm them. We’re beginning to experience it much more in what we traditionally call the first world, but in essence those who are in much more devastating circumstances, it’s getting much harder, whether it’s getting dryer or whether it’s getting wetter or the islands that are literally going to disappear if the ice keeps melting. All these kinds of things, we have a responsibility as followers of Christ to love our brother. And I think that enters into it, don’t you?
Daniel: I totally agree. I absolutely agree. And I think you raised such an important point about the disproportionate impact of, and the kind of timeframe and when that affects different populations. And you’re right to say that in the kind of so-called first world or more developed or wealthier parts of the world, like the United States or Canada, or much of Europe we tend to be somewhat isolated, insulated rather from the worst effects. And again, I can’t help but quote, Pope Francis and Laudato Si’ where he’s one of the first in maybe the last decade to really highlight the language of climate refugees or environmental refugees. And sadly, we’re seeing this more and more exactly as you say, that people are -places are – being drowned. Fires, the wildfires in different parts of the world have become increasingly more destructive.
Other natural occurrences like hurricanes and tornadoes, and those sorts of things are increasing in their violence and their impact as well. And we can’t turn a blind eye. So yeah, it is. It’s not just a matter of, can we put ourselves first or our loved ones first or our nation first, wherever we may find ourselves, it’s can we listen to the cries of our sisters and brothers other parts of the world? And I’m thinking in particular of a lot of the Pacific Islanders who are really facing basically the total destruction of their homelands as we speak. As you said, I mean, it’s just, it’s of a magnitude that’s very hard to wrap one’s head around.
Karen: Yes. You wrote a book, All God’s Creatures: a Theology of Creation, and I’m curious in that if your model for us, if one of the thoughts is that we are to be “stewards of the earth”. I’ve heard that phrase before, or is there something else that you’re thinking of when you think about how we relate to the earth and relate to creation?
Daniel: I love that you ask that. Because in fact, I have a lot to say about the notion of stewardship. And one of the things I like to say, and I talk about that in the book, All God’s creatures, is that the stewardship approach to understanding humanity’s place within the community of creation, is by all means an improvement on the so-called dominion model; this idea that sort of God created the world and we could do as we please. Stewardship is better. But I actually believe drawing from not only sacred scripture, but also, surprise, surprise to our listeners, to the Franciscan tradition-Francis of Assisi and his beautiful Canticle of the Creatures. The theologians who follow in the Franciscan tradition in the middle ages up through our present time, people who have sort of like-minded approach, will say, well, wait a minute, the problem with stewardship as good as it is, is that it still creates a barrier between us and the rest of creation – us, meaning human beings.
And what I mean by that – a steward is a hired hand. You know, somebody who could be good or bad, and Jesus uses the image a lot, obviously in the gospels. But what I would argue for and believe Francis of Assisi, and to some extent as well, Pope Francis has signaled this, is to remember, as I mentioned earlier, that we are creation too. And as such, we are truly brothers and sisters to all of creation. Therefore, can we think of ourselves as part of a kind of cosmic family of creation or God’s, you know, part of God’s kin? As I like to say to my students sometimes put very, very simply there are two categories in existence, there’s God, and there’s not God. We’re on the not God side with everything else. We come from the same source. And so, you know, we come from the same origin and let’s recognize that that binds us together in a particular way.
Karen: That’s beautiful. Now there was something else before we go on, I want to ask you about a phrase that the Pope called “intergenerational solidarity”. What does that mean to you?
Daniel: Yeah, so that’s such a great phrase. And that’s one that actually goes back to John Paul II, that’s something he had used in passing and Pope Francis really lifts that up. What he means by that in short is that we have a responsibility, as you mentioned earlier, not just to ourselves, not just to our immediate kin or friends and neighbors, but to those generations, not even yet born, those women and men and children of generation after generation, after generation. Long after we have left this earth, there will be others who will inherit our common home, who will enter into this relationship of creation. And so when we make decisions, when we decide, is this the right approach? Is this the right path? Is this ethically sound? Do we only take ourselves or our immediate folk into consideration? Or do we think about generations down the road?
And if I may, just add two notes on that. One is there’s a real resonance between that spirituality, that way of thinking and discernment, and so many first nations and Aboriginal peoples around the world. You know, famously a lot of native North Americans will talk about seven or more generations. Can we, you know, think in terms of our actions and decision-making that many generations down the road—great-, great-, great-grandchildren—that our generation will never meet. Then the other thing I think of too in the Christian tradition, is the communion of saints, which is, we’re united to one another in the Holy Spirit, through baptism, not only to all of those who are currently alive with us, our contemporaries, but all women and men who’ve come before us. And all of those who will come after us. And in God’s eternal time, we are bonded together in love. So when we act, do we think about our sisters and brothers that we’ll maybe never meet in person, but how do our actions, our decisions, our inactions today , how will that affect those down the road? That’s in a nutshell, what I think the Holy Father is getting at with “intergenerational solidarity”.
Karen: It’s interesting, because you know what that reminds me of, it reminds me of something that became very real to Henri Nouwen in the last few years of his life. He wrote so much about fruitfulness, he really called us to be fruitful. He talked about fecundity which was a brand new word to me. I’d never heard that one before, but fecundity, being fruitful, having lives that bear fruit. And I think that’s the fruitfulness of caring about the generations that follow, that we are responsible and we owe it to them. And I so appreciate that you mentioned our indigenous communities around the world that have real leadership in this, who have always honored and loved and respected the earth in ways that we need to learn from them as opposed to anything else. You’re absolutely right. I am blessed by that.
Just before we move on I think we’ve gathered throughout the various things you’ve talked about, but I’ve been really touched by – you’re a Franciscan through and through. Tell us a little bit about the Franciscan tradition. I mean, I think about St. Francis of Assisi but for you all creatures are your brothers and sisters, is that indeed how you see it? Just give me a little insight into the Franciscan tradition.
Daniel: Sure, sure. Well, as you can tell already, I’m kind of a talker, so I’ll try to be brief because I could go on for a couple of days.
Well, I’ll say this, a couple of things that might just be kind of highlights of what’s so significant about the Franciscan tradition for me personally that drew me to the Order, but also I think the wisdom. Take Pope Francis, the name, for example, here is the first Jesuit Pope in all of the church history and the name he takes is Francis of Assisi, which no one has dared to touch for 800 years. And I can’t help but think that this is somebody who is very attuned to the way God is calling us to live in the world today and is responding to the signs of the times. And he sees in St. Francis of Assisi a model for that. So what is that model? Well, first is this sense of kinship, this inter-relatedness among all creation. When Saint Francis wrote the Canticle of the Creatures and he called the sun and the moon and the earth, his brother and his sister and our mother, a lot of people will reduce that to kind of a caricature. And they say, oh, well isn’t that cute. It’s like a beautiful little children’s book or something and let’s make a statue and put him in the garden. And that’s the end of that. But what those of us who are Franciscan scholars and theologians will point out is that he was not kidding around. He understood that in a deeply mystical, deeply profound and truthful way. So that when he says these elements of creation are connected to us in some way, he’s speaking a profound truth that’s echoed coincidentally in scripture. And then fast forward several hundred years, the natural sciences catch up and tell us, oh, as a matter of fact, these things called the elements of the periodical table, elements of the matter that exists in the world, we are actually all made up at the same thing. We are interrelated in that sense. So, that’s one thing, that interrelationship, care for creation, not just as something to be used, but something that we’re connected to in a distinctive way. Again, not unlike the indigenous communities around the globe who have understood this for millennia.
Another thing is evangelical poverty. And for Francis of Assisi, it wasn’t about who could be the most materially poor. Famously Francis of Assisi toward the end of his life, accepted as a gift, a whole mountain from a very wealthy Count in kind of the middle part of what is today Italy. And so it wasn’t about things so much, but as one’s relationship to property, both physical things and kind of what he would call spiritual things, like judgements, prejudices, the need to be right, the kind of dismissals we might make or insults, we hold grudges against one another. Basically all of this is to say, anything physical and non-physical that gets in the way of relationship.
And he points of course, to Jesus who famously said, “Birds have nests and foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. And that’s because then nothing gets in the way of his ability to be present to whomever God places before us. So I think relationship is at the heart. I think evangelical poverty is the greatest means to that. Can we relate to things in this world differently? There’s a lot more to say. Obviously St. Francis was also an icon of inter-religious dialogue and peacemaking. So these are kind of three things I think that really speak to us today. Our relationship to creation, our relationship to things and relationship to one another and the need for gospel poverty. But also this idea of dialogue, reconciliation and peacemaking.
It takes a lot to be Francis of Assisi and in 1219 in the middle of the fifth crusade to go disobey the Pope and disobey the local Cardinal and crusaders, to crossover into “enemy territory”, have a peaceful conversation over the course of several days with the leader of the Muslim world at the time. And then to come back unscathed because they mutually respected one another and cared for each other. They didn’t see each other as threats or objects of violence, but a true fraternity was formed. So boy, wouldn’t that be great to have more of that?
Karen: Absolutely, absolutely. Now I’m going to make a complete kind of left turn, but I make it because, Danny, you’ve written a new book, it’s called A White Catholic’s Guide to Racism and Privilege. You really have your finger on the pulse of the day. I want to hear something about this book. It just caught my eye immediately. I thought, thank goodness you’ve written it. Tell us about it.
Daniel: Well, thank you for saying that. I really appreciate it. It’s a book that’s very important to me as well. I’m so glad you talked both about the book on creation and then this one, because these are two things, as you said, maybe it’s a sense of the pulse of the time. But I also think these are really two of the most urgent matters especially in my own context here in the United States. I know we have listeners here from all over the globe, but I think there’s things we can relate to, certainly in climate change. But when it comes to racism, when it comes to racial injustice, sadly far too many places around the globe have their own stories of whether it’s colonization or like in the United States, chattel slave trades and other forms of oppression that need to be addressed.
I know you’re joining me – you’re in Canada these days and I’ve been very impressed by a lot of the work that’s being done across the provinces with a kind of truth and reconciliation, especially with native peoples up there. Sadly, in the United States we really are behind the times in that sort of effort. And so the genesis of this book is that for the last, maybe eight or nine years, I have written and I’ve given lectures and I’ve taught about, racial justice, about white supremacy, about anti-black racism and particularly from a theological perspective, a Christian perspective, a matter of faith. And last year as our listeners will recall around the time that there were a number of high profile murders of unarmed African-Americans in United States in particular, Mr. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor among others, there was this strong desire to seek more resources, to engage in more conversations about why is this continuing?
Why does this continue to happen? What are the structural and institutional factors that make these particular instances of police brutality possible in the first place? But more than that, all the ways in which some people are advantaged and some people are disadvantaged by the structures of racial injustice. And so my publisher reached out to me. I should say too that Henri Nouwen – and I think actually we were just talking about one of his last books – was published by Ave Maria Press and Notre Dame. They’re the ones who published this book of mine. My editor there reached out to me and asked if I would consider writing a book, given some of the work I had been doing already. And I’ll be honest with you, Karen. I hesitated at first. I was really hesitant because the thought that I had was on the one hand what does a white Franciscan friar male have to say when there are so many other resources already available out there. Like what is that about?
But then on the other hand, I was reminded and then encouraged particularly by my sisters and brothers of color, especially those who are theologians and anti-racist activists that white people need to do the homework first, before we can really move forward. That too often sometimes with good intentions but prematurely, predominantly white institutions, communities and organizations will want to respond to something and then bring in for instance experts of color to try to facilitate something and it doesn’t go well. This is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that the title is very significant, that I was very conscious and I agreed in the end to work on this project, to write this book, only if I can make clear that I wanted to speak to my fellow white women and men. And of course this is not to be exclusive.
I say very early on in the introduction that I hope what’s in here resonates with my sisters and brothers of color as well but there’s work that people who look like me, who occupy social locations like mine, we need to talk about these things. And sadly in mostly predominant or predominantly white contexts, whether it’s families or institutions or churches, they don’t generally have these conversations unless some tragedy occurs. So my interest in this book was can I create a resource? Can I create a means of conversation so that we can have some of this discussion and advance the cause of racial justice?
Karen: I love the fact that you come from the place of acknowledging white privilege, and how it contributes to racial injustice. And I really think that’s important. It’s exactly what you’re saying, that you come from where you can come, but you’re also wanting to say, how can we have a better kind of discussion? How can we do better in all of this? This summer, for myself you know, you mentioned about what’s happening here in Canada with our truth and reconciliation. Well, in so many ways we fail. There were, what is it, 94 recommendations. And we have not accomplished very many of them, and we are sad. We’re broken hearted at what has happened. And then of course there came the news of the bodies being discovered. And there will be more of that. But it is very, very important at this point to enter into saying, okay, I need to become educated, period, and I need to change where I’m coming from.
And I need to understand how can I be a better part, play a better part in this discussion and be a part of the solution. I know for myself, I bought a stack of books that I felt were a beginning for me, and I’ve just been reading and reading and reading. I kind of think it’s important. I’ve got to change. I’ve got to know stuff has happened on my watch, and I didn’t understand what was happening. And that’s no good. That’s not an answer. I so appreciate that you wrote this book. I was really touched by that, and I was touched by A White Catholic’s Guide to Racism and Privilege. So where are you heading with it? What’s happening with this?
Daniel: Well, I’m happy to say that it really has elicited a lot of conversations, some uncomfortable. It was interesting, I was in upstate New York at a university last week speaking with a number of students and administrators and professors precisely about this book. And one of the things I said from the onset is, you will be uncomfortable and that’s okay, hold on. And that’s okay. This is really hard work, but one of the key things, and I think you just summarized it so well when talking about the need to kind of read and reason, to think and to rethink one of the themes that I point out often is, we need to, well especially if you’re like me you are identified as white in this society. The whole structure of systemic racism and white privilege is such that we are prevented from seeing these realities, seeing the ways in which there are benefits for some and disadvantages for others.
And so the only way you can overcome a kind of system that is deliberately blinding you to these realities is to be reminded of that. We have to constantly remind ourselves. And I think some people get uncomfortable with that sort of language. They think, oh, you’re trying to instill some sort of guilt or to make people feel bad. And my response is I’m not trying to make anybody feel anything. I think the real key here, especially as people of faith, is we want to seek the truth, right? And the truth will set us free and the truth of racism and white supremacy means that the truth can be very hard for white people to see. So I think that learning and relearning and reminding and having conversations is really essential. And one of the ways I often think about this too, is that at least my experience has been when you get to a point where you see the truth, even a glimpse of it, it’s really hard to go back to the untruth.
What I mean by that is look at the outpouring both around the United States, but also globally last summer with the Black Lives Matter protest in response to the murder of George Floyd. You know, what happened? People ask that question, what was the tipping point? And for me, I think it’s when you cannot look away anymore, when you are confronted with the truth that you’d rather not see, then the work needs to begin, right? The work takes takes off from there. And how do we support one another in that work? The conversations are part of it. The self-education is part of it. The activism is part of it. But it’s not a one-shot thing. It is an ongoing experience.
Karen: Do you ever get exhausted by the causes and the need to protest? I mean, I think about those young people right now that have gone over to Scotland to be part of this Cop 26. Do you get discouraged, Dan, or where do you get your resources to stay fired up and aware and in a sense in tune?
Daniel: Yeah, that’s such a great question. Well, let me also echo – I’m so inspired by the young people today. I think of generation Z in particular, these young folks, I think they’ve threatened some older generations. I could, you know, include some of my colleagues, but I find it very refreshing because they’re sincere, they’re committed, they’re energized. And that should help light a fire under our seats we might say. But yes, I mean, the honest answer is yes, it is exhausting. It is frustrating. It is demoralizing at times. However, I’ll tell you in acknowledging that, I will acknowledge where I kind of find, maybe a source of resilience or a source of inspiration, which is when I take an honest look at myself and I think about the hatred that I hear, or the dismissals that I experienced, or the kind of the rejection of the reality, whether about global climate change or about the reality of systemic racism.
I look in particular at my sisters and brothers of color or those who are of Asian descent in the United States, who are indigenous women and men and I think they don’t have the luxury of just stepping back and saying, well, you know what, I’m tired of all this vitriol. I’m tired of all this resistance. They have to live with the injustice that our society continues to perpetrate. And if I don’t do something about it, if I don’t, even when it’s uncomfortable, when it’s unsettling, when it’s threatening, if I can’t bring myself to put myself there in solidarity as best I can, which will never be fully complete given the circumstances of our society and of our communities, nevertheless, if I don’t try, then I’m just part of the problem. And so that’s one thing I constantly find myself falling back to that. Who am I to complain about a bunch of angry trolls on the internet, or what have you, protestors and whatnot. When, case in point, what launched all of that kind of global awareness last summer is when people are literally dying because of the system. So that to me is what keeps me grounded. At least I hope it does.
Karen: Dan, I know our listeners are going to want to hear more, taste more, read more from you. You are a treasure. I’m so grateful that we’ve had this time to talk together and I’m going to encourage them to go to your website. Listen to your podcast, get your books. I mean, there’s some really wonderful books, all 14 of them and wonderful articles that are coming out in the National Catholic Reporter. I have a crazy last request. And I don’t know whether this will work for you or not, but I loved, I read your Peace Prayer for the Privileged. Is there any chance that you would consider reading that for us? I thought it was so powerful and I’d be really grateful if we could just hear that as a kind of closing note at this moment.
Daniel: Well, I’m deeply honored and I’ve been very moved by the responses that I’ve received after its publication. And so this was titled, Peace Prayer for the Privileged. And my inspiration for this prayer is -listeners will hear right away – the Peace Prayer that’s in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. Well, thank you, first of all, for your kind words, and for asking to pray this and I’m very honored to do that. I think it kind of speaks for itself.
Lord, make me an instrument of your holy discomfort
Where there is privilege, let me sow equity,
Where there is violence, let me work for peace,
Where there is division, let me seek unity,
Where there is racism, let me pursue racial justice,
Where there is environmental degradation, let me care for creation,
Where there is political discord, let me seek the common good,
Where there is economic inequality, let me seek justice.
Oh God of Justice, grant that I may not so much seek comfort,
as to welcome hard truths,
To be heard, as to listen,
To hold power, as to empower,
To seek control, as to follow,
For it is in humility, that we learn,
It is in seeking forgiveness, that we are reconciled,
And it is in dying to self, that we are born to new life.
Karen: Oh, thank you. Thanks so much, Dan. It’s just been such a delight to talk with you. I’ve got to come back to you because I know you have your finger on the pulse. That’s all there is to it. And I just encourage everyone to follow up with this. This is just a little taste of the good stuff that you’re going to get if you pursue Father Daniel Horan, I promise you that. Dan, thanks so much for being with us really appreciate it.
Daniel: Thank you, this has been delightful.
Karen: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. What an honor for me to spend time with Father Daniel Horan, a wonderful thinker, teacher and writer on the environmental crisis. And he’s given us wisdom from the Pope and from himself and how we as Christ followers need to respond. And I so appreciated what he shared with us about his latest book, the book on racism and white privilege and I encourage you all.
If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we’d be so grateful if you’d take time to give us a review or a thumbs up or pass this onto your friends and companions on the faith journey. Thanks for listening until next time.
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