Courage, Holiness and the Story of Daniel Ellsberg

I am writing this DM on Memorial Day, a day for remembering the courage of those who have given their lives for their country. 

Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director Amanda Tyler differentiates Christianity versus Christian nationalism. Support the interfaith statement against Christian nationalism HERE.

In our recent DM’s, we have been meditating on the reality of holiness –what Heschel calls the most “precious” word in religion and the ultimate antidote to evil.  The meaning of holiness evolves as time and culture evolve. 

So far we have named how Joy—especially in times of trial—and Courage are sure-fire signs of holiness in our time.  The latter in a special way when powerful forces abound in media, politics and pseudo religion shouting about fear.

Recently Robert Ellsberg wrote a moving article about his father Daniel Ellsberg, who is now in the last days of his life.*  Robert is the publisher of Orbis Books (transparency note–they published my most recent book edited by Charles Burack, Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality in their “Modern Spiritual Masters Series”). 

Trailer of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. First Run Features

It seems appropriate to be writing this on Memorial Day because all wars are not created equal and sacrifices are not made only on literal battlefields but often behind the lines.  And the sacrifice Daniel Ellsberg dared was born of a deep moral concern.

Daniel Ellsberg, a former defense analyst, is remembered for copying the Pentagon Papers in 1971 which revealed the secret history of the Vietnam War.  Charged with 12 felony counts, he was facing 115 years in prison.  When asked by a reporter, “Are you concerned about going to jail?” he replied: “Wouldn’t you go to jail if it would help end this war?”

We are told his “conversion” occurred from spending two year in Vietnam and seeing up close and personal the suffering of the Vietnamese people.  His perception of the war shifted from being “a problem to be solved” to being “a mistake to be ended.”

The 2014 documentary Hit and Stay honors the Catholic “Catonsville 9” activists who inspired nationwide anti-war protests by burning 400 draft records from a Baltimore Selective Service office, three years before the Pentagon Papers.  WBAL-11(NBC)

And as he dug deeper into the Pentagon Papers he came to realize it was a “crime to be resisted.”

It was young draft resisters inspired by Gandhian nonviolence who went to prison for opposing the war who moved Daniel to ask himself the question: “What could I do to end the war if I were willing to go to jail?”

His is another example of “loving something more than the fear of death”—death being going to jail—that MLK Jr. called for.  We honor him and his willingness to sacrifice.

See Charles Burack, ed, Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality, pp. 153-162, 169f, 198-202.

And Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 379-389.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Unidentified bodies near burning house. My Lai, Vietnam. March 16, 1968. Photo by Ronald Haeberle on Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Queries for Contemplation

Daniel Ellsberg poses two questions in this DM.  How can we apply them today to asking the deepest moral questions of our time?

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality
Selected with an Introduction by Charles Burack

To encapsulate the life and work of Matthew Fox would be a daunting task for any save his colleague Dr. Charles Burack, who had the full cooperation of his subject. Fox has devoted 50 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship.  His more than 40 books, translated into 78 languages, are inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and have awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. Essential Writings begins by exploring the influences on Fox’s life and spirituality, then presents selections from all Fox’s major works in 10 sections.
“The critical insights, the creative connections, the centrality of Matthew Fox’s writings and teaching are second to none for the radical renewal of Christianity.” ~~ Richard Rohr, OFM.

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

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3 thoughts on “Courage, Holiness and the Story of Daniel Ellsberg”

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Hope in love, compassion, mercy and justice… is not the sole domain of religion. To believe so, tempts to make the Great Mystery small, when in reality it is so much vaster… beyond what we can fully comprehend or imagine. The SPIRIT moves as it wills, within anyone whom chooses to respond from the heart, whether this one is affiliated with religion or not. Listening to and responding with heart, is the key; that opens the floodgates of hope in love, compassion, mercy and justice. Flowing in these living waters, one never really knows where and to what it may lead oneself to!

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Thank you, Jeanette,
      I have identified this invitation and movement of Spirit in my life, as I would thing most of us sharing these DM have. I recognize that I am called daily to RADICALLY TRUST. For me, that’s what Spirit’s invitations require. You have clearly stated what I also have lived. None of us, who says ‘Yes’ to diving into Spirit Waters has any way of knowing where Spirit’s next shore may be. I do know that I have practiced saying YES, no matter what has been asked. If it wasn’t meant to be, then I know, Spirit will shut the door and redirect my energy in a way that is heart-felt and in alignment with Spirit’s bigger picture. Yep! RADICAL TRUST!

      Knowing Creation Spirituality is essential for this journey.
      This is a vibrant dance with Divinity, requiring each of the Four Paths.

      I may not always be ‘happy’ with the way things go, however, I have learned in all my years: I am not privy to the BIG PICTURE! There is so much more that I am, that each of us is part of, and we are needed to show up with our willing fidelity – our TRUST! Trusting implies we/I don’t understand, that’s why we/I trust!

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