Gordon Oyer to discuss “Pursuing the Spiritual Roots of Protest”

September 26, 2014, 7:00pm

Where we are going is where we went a long time ago. Over the falls. We are in a new river and we don’t know it. –Thomas Merton to Daniel Berrigan, 4 Aug. 1964

When people committed to faith-based, nonviolent solutions seek responses to today’s social ills, they instinctively reach out beyond formal institutions and faith boundaries to consult others with similar concerns. It was not always so. Fifty years ago this November, several committed peacemakers took a pivotal step toward the sort of ecumenical engagement we now take for granted. It occurred in the form of a retreat for Catholic and Protestant peacemakers hosted by the well-known monk, Thomas Merton, at his Trappist abbey in the hills of Kentucky. Together they processed ideas about contrasts between spiritual and social “privilege,” the role of technology, the relationship between church and society, our “right” to protest, sources of hope, and more.

The story of this event and its themes has been captured for the first time in a recently published book, Pursuing the Spiritual Roots of Protest: Merton, Berrigan, Yoder, and Muste at the Gethsemani Abbey Peacemakers Retreat. At 7 PM on Friday, September 26, Gordon Oyer, the book’s author, will be at Stony Point Center to share from his story of that event, comment on its themes and insights, respond to questions, and seek audience discussion on how that fifty-year-old conversation continues to inform and inspire. The book will be available for purchase, and the author will be available for signing copies. Please join us.

For more information on the book and topic, visit http://gordonoyer.weebly.com/.

Three powerful faith traditions…converged for the first time at that legendary 1964 retreat hosted by Merton. . . . Any of us who seek today to bear public witness to the gospel, justice, and political imagination are truly ‘children’ of that conversation a half century ago….We are walking in their footsteps. Oyer has gifted us with a magnificent chronicle of the contemporary spiritual roots of protest.

—Ched Myers, Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries

Here is more about this book from the publisher’s description: In the fall of 1964, Trappist monk Thomas Merton prepared to host an unprecedented gathering of peace activists. “About all we have is a great need for roots,” he observed, “but to know this is already something.” His remark anticipated their agenda—a search for spiritual roots to nurture sound motives for “protest.”

This event’s originality lay in the varied religious commitments present. Convened in an era of well-kept faith boundaries, members of Catholic (lay and clergy), mainline Protestant, historic peace church, and Unitarian traditions participated. Ages also varied, ranging from twenty-three to seventy-nine. Several among the fourteen who gathered are well known today among faith-based peace advocates: the Berrigan brothers, Jim Forrest, Tom Cornell, John Howard Yoder, A. J. Muste, and Merton himself. During their three days together, insights and wisdom from these traditions would intersect and nourish each other. By the time they parted, their effort had set down solid roots and modeled interreligious collaboration for peace work that would blossom in coming decades.

Here for the first time, the details of those vital discussions have been reconstructed and made accessible to again inspire and challenge followers of Christ to confront the powers and injustices of today.