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JUST GOOD COMPANY WILL BE A PROPHETIC COMPANY
 

D enis Collins is a Jesuit on the faculty of the University of San Francisco who is helping us elaborate our editorial policy.  He ventures here to give a rationale for Just Good Company's plan -- to take a prophetic stance vis a vis the Church and the world in the spirit of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire.

Father Collins did his doctoral dissertation at the University of Southern California in the early 1970s on Freire, a towering figure in the post-conciliar Church best known for his development of a concept he called conscientization, a difficult word for Anglophones that could have been made easier, we think, if translators had only used the phrase "growing up."  

For those who wonder what Freire might possibly have to offer readers of JUST GOOD COMPANY, read on.    

 

JUST GOOD COMPANY WILL BE A PROPHETIC COMPANY

Denis Collins, S.J.

I'd like to offer some reflections on the notion of prophetic speech by referring readers to the thought of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian Catholic educator (1921-1997) who spoke out of the hopes that were enkindled in the very first years after Vatican II. Freire dared to denounce what he believed was hurting humankind and to announce caring alternative strategies to help people, not hurt them. He went on to suffer for speaking out  (no good deed goes unpunished) but he stood by his words through imprisonment and exile from 1964 to 1983.  To the end of his life he developed his prophetic vision as an educator and communicator, and he left us a wonderful last will and testament, Pedagogy of Freedom, a book that was published in 1996. 

            Freire was born into a middle class family that lived in dire poverty during the Great Depression. His experiences in childhood and adolescence told him what it was to be fatherless and hungry, attended by real stomach pains and severe headaches, and they gave him his passionate commitment to freedom from every form of human  oppression  -- intellectual, spiritual, physical, religious, and political oppression.            

            Freire was a prophet who spoke tellingly about hunger. For him, hunger to become  is a normal human state - something he called our "ontological vocation to be more." Freire argued that it is impossible to meet that hunger unless we understand that we have a daily duty to risk speaking out - authentically.  Freire's prophets are not content with thinking that is mythical or magical.  They must have a critical consciousness that helps them read the world as it is, and then summon the courage to denounce what needs to be corrected or improved, and announce alternatives that free us to become the humans our Creator intended us to be. 

            If we find elephants sitting in our living rooms (or in our Church vestibules), we hope we will have the gumption to say, "Hey! What the do you think you're doing here?" Following the Roman poet Terence's declaration, that nothing human was alien to him, we hope JUST GOOD COMPANY will entertain prophetic voices that denounce what stinks to high heaven and announce whatever Good News seems to apply.  

            We hope that contributors to JUST GOOD COMPANY will find a cybernetic environment where they can exercise the freedom of authentic prophets, unfettered by institutional gatekeepers or ecclesiastical spies and emboldened because they are in good company. We hope they will speak in the open spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and dare to risk thinking creatively, even unconventionally, in the face of the problems that threaten humankind and the planet we'd like to call home. 

            Dialogue was one of the key concepts that emerged from the Second Vatican Council.  Dialogue has been held out to us by friend and foe as an ideal, too often presumed by either side in a controversy to be a behavior that requires no asceticism.  Conservative understandings of dialogue too often end up as "Don't hesitate to tell the authorities your needs, then abide by their superior power to make decisions about your way of thinking and living."  An opposite presumption is sadly the case with many who speak in the name of a freedom that means  "all ideas are equally valid."  

            This is not what Freire meant. He said we need to undergo an "Easter experience" of dying to our own convictions before we can engage in the kind of constructive dialogue that can help fill our many hungers for freedom. Many nations champion these basic freedoms in their constitutions -- freedom of speech, of association, of religion (which includes freedom from abuse in the name of religion). But what good are these freedoms if we choose not to exercise them? JUST GOOD COMPANY will try to encourage these freedoms by promoting dialogue - which entails active reading and active listening, as well as speaking out against the oppressive forces that stop us from being all that we can be. As Paulo Freire (and a good many Old Testament prophets) taught us, we have to risk being misunderstood, denounced, even punished for daring to do that.




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