Nothing is as important today in theology and in church life as is the task of continuing the marriage between social justice and the Gospel. One of the groups who have been true pioneers in this area is the SOJOURNERS community based in Washington, D.C. under the leadership of Jim Wallis. They live in a community which builds its life around the Gospel, prayer, and the eucharist, they work actively with the poorest of the poor, they protest radically against all forms of violence and injustice, and they reflect theologically upon their praxis. In them you see something which is too often absent in circles both of piety and of social justice, namely, a radical commitment to both Jesus and justice.
With this in mind, I would like to alert readers to a recent book by one of its members: Turning Toward Home, a Sojourn of Hope, by Joyce Hollyday (Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1989). It’s Hollyday’s autobiography and it chronicles her journey of faith.
The book’s main interest lies not in the fact that she is associate editor of SOJOURNERS MAGAZINE and is married to Jim Wallis (things which she barely mentions) but in the fact that it is truly the story of a soul, a pilgrim soul tempted to many options but which, eventually, through the grace of God is able, in Kierkegaards’s definition of sanctity, to will the true thing.
It’s an important story because, as Dan Berrigan writes in the Foreword, it is not that easy to will the true thing. “Joyce is the story of all of us. At least in ricochet, in longing. (And in recoiling from?) The story we wish were ours, the story we fear might be ours. The life we pray for (and against), the life we know we are called to (at least in metaphor, and according to circumstance), the life we wish could happen, or wish could never happen, to us. Admiration and fear, that uneasy mix.”
Unlike so many autobiographies which tend towards self-indulgence, narcissism, and exhibition, hers faces outward and chronicles a faith journey. It’s a journal of a soul, in the best sense of that phrase.
She begins with the story of her childhood, how she grew up in a comfortable middle class home in Hershey (the chocolate capital of the U.S.). Even as a very young girl faith was already very important to her. However, dreamt the dreams of her generation: a good education, the right husband, the right job, the right home in the right suburb, kids, comfort, travel, culture, recreation. She had all the tools to actuate the dream, but faith and circumstances singled her out for something else and baptized her (remember, baptism means displacement and conscription).
As a college student she went to work with the poor in Harlem. Her life was never to be the same. After an undergraduate degree in Maine, she enrolled in the Yale divinity program, bent on ordination. Sometime before her junior year she decided instead to leave school and join Sojourners. Sojourners has been her life ever since.
The book is rather brief on most of the chronological detail of her life, even after joining Sojourners. She does describe in brief detail some of her work, a couple of arrests for peaceful protest, and trips to Central America and to South Africa. Mostly though the book is about her journey into Jesus and into justice, and the struggle to keep those two ever together.
It’s an exposition of her, and Sojourners ethics, a consistent ethics—one which begins with the Gospel, prayer, and eucharist, flows into (as they call it) “the waging of peace,” tries to be consistent in its stance for life (e.g., she is both a feminist and pro-life, believing the life of a woman and a child may never be pitted against each other), and ends up in gratitude and celebration. For her, as for Sojourners, piety must be wed to Jesus and Jesus to piety and both must ever be wed to gratitude and celebration. That, in brief, is the perennial task of Christianity.
The book is a challenge to many things: First of all, to let ourselves be more displaced, baptized, by the needs of the poor. Conscription by circumstance: “This world cannot be a home for any of us until it is a home for all of us.” It’s a challenge to greater courage: “There are some things so dear and so precious and so eternally true that they are worth dying for.” It’s a challenge to patience, to give ourselves over to the struggle without expecting quick results: “Although we never see results, faith demands that we act. We act for the sake of the faithful ones who went before us and showed the way, trusting that we would follow—and for those who will come after us on the journey.”
Finally it is a challenge to reconciliation: “Eras of Christian history have been marked by prevailing theologies addressed to particular historical situations. Emphasis has been placed at various times and places on salvation, conversion, or grace; on pietism, evangelism, mission, or liberation. I would assert that what we most need today is a theology of reconciliation—a faith that acknowledges Christ’s redeeming grace, the social burden of the Gospel, and the promise of a new unity in the body of Christ which cuts across all lines of division. At this juncture in history, we must heal the divisions and learn to live together, or none of us will live at all.”
God has a history of calling prophets with strange backgrounds. Amos is pulled away from sheep and sycamores. Joyce Hollyday is pulled away from idle class dreams and the chocolate capital of the U.S. Her writings bear a striking similarity to those of Amos. Turning Towards Home is a truly prophetic book that deserves reading.