National Catholic Reporter
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Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand
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January 6, 2005
Vol. 2, No. 33

  Coming to the revolution a little late but still on time
"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what makes us important to the people around us."

A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer.  She is founder and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and national organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality for women in the Church and society.  She is an active member of the International Peace Council.

By Joan Chittister, OSB

On Christmas Day, of all the days in the year, I got invited to join a revolution -- a quiet, secret, sneaky little revolution but a revolution, nevertheless. And the way it happened is almost as interesting as the revolution itself.

The truth is that I'm a closet Internet geek -- maybe not so closet but a very run-of-the-mill kind nevertheless.

As far as I'm concerned, Internet technology is a Pandora's box of possibilities and problems. I also consider it one of humankind's most potent nonviolent weapons against the weapons of governments, hate groups and self-righteous bigots who set out, not to believe differently, but to excoriate everyone else who believes differently than they do.

Having said that, it is also true that I came to an understanding of the potential of the Web slowly.

For a long time, I did what every one else does: I used the Internet to buy books from and send email -- the down and dirty stuff designed to make a fast life even faster.

I once considered the Internet as simply a kind of text telephone. I could use it, I thought, as a substitute for the U.S. Post Office. Better than that, I could contact the individuals in my life who needed a kind of quick response without benefit of either stamps or posting. Most of all, I thought of it as a species of universal billboard designed to make private information publicly available, a new sort of advertising gimmick called a Web site. Recently, however, I've begun to discover another whole dimension to this communication system. I have discovered that the Internet carries within itself the quiet power to organize the whole world into one great thoughtful colloquy. This revelation snuck into my life a little at a time in the most benign of ways.

First appeared on the scene making world religion both a public and a personal commodity just when all world religion were turning global rather than simply regional.

Then onto my little screen moved, young, eager and committed to another kind of political conversation.

Finally, Howard Dean took my computer by the throat, clicked together an army of young people who wanted a different world and helped us all find one another.

I've seen the Internet's power to organize the rave parties that have begun to gather large crowds of people, seemingly out of nowhere, to do anything anywhere at anytime together -- to meet on downtown corners of large cities for pillow fights or to have a beach party of strangers, for instance. A kind of "do it yourself" mob scene technology.

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Then one day, I found myself invited to be part of a universal conversation: "the first Internet roundtable planning session for the Dialogue of Global Civilizations: Muslim Cultures and Western Cultures in Quest of a Just and Peaceful World." Scholars from around the world will pursue an organized Internet conversation aimed at bridge-building between these two cultures that will culminate in an international conference on the subject in the future. The idea is fresh and creative, plausible and possible.

I began to sit up and take notice. The world had changed under my feet. Here was truly another way to communicate, forget the leafletting level of past public awareness projects.

Here was another way to learn. I joined an on-line search program,, that enables me to search over 40,000 books, magazines, encyclopedias and journals in one place at one time. A veritable on-line library, I can search not only its sections but I can read every book there a page at a time, set up an on-line study carrel and, unlike any other library I know, leave my books on my own bookshelf when I log off until I come back to go on with my reading.

Now, on Christmas Day, I got a message, out of the blue, about joining the Not a Damn Dime Day revolution. All I have to do, the announcement tells me, is to refuse to spend a single dime on anything -- food, gas, entertainment, hardware, necessities or consumables -- for one day, Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, to protest the war in Iraq.

I don't need to march anywhere, hold any signs, risk any jail term, absorb any jeers from passers-by, or tell my family. All I need to do is to join millions of other people in sending a silent but potent signal to the people in power that I am opposed to the war in Iraq and that we are calling on the government that started it to do something about ending it. It is an attempt, the organizers say, to "remind them, too, that they work for the people of the United States of America, not for the international corporations and lobbyists who represent the corporations and funnel cash into American politics."

No doubt about it, here was another way to organize. Here was another way to be a presence in society. As the organizer puts it, "What if it worked?"

The Internet might even be a way to organize national conversations on current issues. We could start, for instance, by asking ourselves spiritual questions about political subjects -- like why it is that we are all so stunned, shocked, dismayed about the 150,000 deaths in Asia from a tsunami but we don't seem to be bothered a bit about the over 100,000 civilian deaths - most of them women and children - which, the Lancet study tells us, have resulted from our own invasion of Iraq?

From where I stand, it occurs to me that however tardy an Internet revolutionary I may be, the computer can become one of the most potent pieces of technology ever available to the common person. Come to think about it, starting that kind of revolution on Christmas Day may have been more than appropriate.

Comments or questions about this column may be sent to: Sr. Joan Chittister, c/o NCR web coordinator at the address below.

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