The chances of a U.S. citizen being killed by a terrorist are slimmer than being struck by lightning. That remains true even after the Paris massacre of last November 13th. In fact, according to The Economist, the chances of dying at the hands of terrorists are actually one in twenty million. So you’re far more likely to die from a car accident, airplane crash, post-surgery complications, or from gun violence than from terrorism.
Meanwhile, the likelihood of millions dying from the effects of climate change is about 97 in 100. That figure refers to the percentage of climate scientists who tell us that human inaction on the climate front will result in disastrous, planet-wide catastrophe. (By the way, 97% is about the same percentage as medical researchers who say that smoking causes cancer.)
And yet, in the wake of the recent Paris massacre, politicians call for absolute caution about the acceptance of refugees while siding with the 3% of scientists denying human responsibility for climate change.
On the refugee question, Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama put it this way, “If there’s even the slightest risk that they’re not the kind of people that we wish them to be,” we must exclude Iraqi and Syrian refugees from our state.
And Bentley is not alone. At least 31 governors (almost all of them Republican) have expressed similar determination to prevent refugees from entering their states. Governor Greg Abbot of Texas said, “I will not roll the dice and take the risk on allowing a few refugees in simply to expose Texans to that danger” of some refugee committing a terrorist act. “Better safe than sorry,” adds Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who describes himself as “a devout Catholic.”
The Catholic reference is important, because the position of Pope Francis is exactly the reverse of the Republicans’ who overwhelmingly identify themselves as fervent Christians. The pope has called for opening doors to refugees from Syria and Iraq. He has reminded believers that Jesus himself was a refugee from state violence and that his mother experienced the same terror suffered by Iraqis, Syrians, Somalians and others.
Meanwhile, in his landmark encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis urged extreme caution about climate change. There he quotes the 1992 Rio Declaration on the climate crisis:
“. . . (W)here there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures” (186).
So who’s right, Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues or Pope Francis?
That is, given the 1 in 20 million chance of being killed by a terrorist on the one hand, and the near certainty of millions dying from human-induced climate change on the other, is the pertinent popular phrase Ryan’s “Better safe than sorry? Or is it “Penny wise and pound foolish?”
Perhaps it is both.
Think about that for a minute.
The entire world was shocked by the horrendous atrocities of last weekend. Appropriately, they were followed by tears, laying of wreaths, moments of silence, prayer vigils, and singing of La Marseillaise before football games and other public events.
France’s President Hollande evoked sympathy when he correctly declared the attacks “an act of war.” No one disagreed.
However, Mr. Hollande was not correct in his implication that the killings in Paris somehow began a war that France and its partners have now self-righteously resolved to “finish.” Rather, the Paris massacre is part of a much bigger picture that includes conflicts the West has been part of since 2001.
To fill out that picture, consider the following “home truths” about war. Uncomfortable as they are, allowing them to sink in might help uncover alternatives to the violence that stupefies everyone.
- War is hell.
- In modern warfare, 90% of casualties are civilian.
- The casualties include refugee migrations.
- The West’s response to 9/11/01 was to declare war.
- It began a campaign of bombing and extra-judicial assassination in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere.
- According to a study by Lancet (one of the oldest scientific medical journals in the world), since 2003 the U.S. war in Iraq has caused more than one million deaths – again, most of them civilian.
- Meanwhile, the U.S. has supplied weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia for their own bombing campaigns in Gaza and Yemen.
- In Gaza alone (with complete U.S. support) the Israeli Defense Force fired 50,000 shells, carried out 6000 airstrikes, destroyed 3,500 buildings, killed 2250 Gazans, including 551 children.
- In wars there are always at least two sides.
- All have the right to attack and counter-attack.
- It is insane to be shocked when counter-attacks occur.
- Counter-attacks often mimic attacks.
- So if one side is perceived as attacking defenseless civilians, the other side will likely respond in kind.
- France itself is at war.
- President Hollande is a founding member of the U.S.-led coalition that has recently dropped 175,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria killing at least 600 civilians in the process.
- Therefore no one should be surprised when “in kind” counter-attacks occur. (To repeat: that’s the way war works.)
In view of such home truths, instead of responding to the Paris massacre with more bombings, the U.S., France and their allies should:
- Realize that the West’s enemies experience many “Paris Massacres” each day at western hands.
- Accordingly and on principle reject the atrocities of war that on both sides justly horrify everyone.
- Announce a cessation of all bombing campaigns.
- With allies including the United States, France, Russia, Iran, and others, call a Summit (appropriately) in Paris to meet with the leaders of the Islamic State to seek a negotiated settlement to the conflicts the West has initiated.
- Open western borders to the refugees inevitably produced by the U.S.-led wars over the last 14 years.
- In churches and other principled fora, specifically condemn all Islamophobic statements of politicians and other public figures.
Only actions like these can release the world from massacres that are the unavoidable consequences of the wars we rightly recognize as hell.
Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Dn. 12: 1-3; Ps. 16:5, 8-11; Heb. 10:11-14; Mk. 13:24-3.
The entire world was shocked by yesterday’s brutal attacks on innocent civilians in Paris. President Obama accurately expressed consensus in the West that the attacks “were not just on Paris, but on all of humanity and the universal values we share.”
Early reports have France’s President Hollande attributing the slaughter in Paris to ISIL forces. French police have said that one of the terrorists was carrying a Syrian passport. Such attributions make the attacks part of the war in the Middle East that has been raging since 2001.
France, of course, is a close ally of the United States in its global war on terror. It is a founding member of the coalition which (under U.S. leadership) has been bombing Iraq and Syria for over a year. In fact, hundreds of civilians have been killed in coalition attacks which as of last August had rained 17,000 bombs on Syrian and Iraqi targets and claimed more than 600 civilian lives. Most casual observers don’t know that. Those living under the ’round-the-clock air raids, of course, do.
If Syrians are responsible, it is reasonable to assume their intent is to make the French and their coalition partners (the U.S., Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, and Australia) feel the pain of civilians in Syria and Iraq. President Obama’s words show the point has been made.
It is a sad coincidence that today’s readings centralize apocalyptic texts found in the Book of Daniel and in the Gospel of Mark. Both are war documents. That is, contrary to insistence by evangelical fundamentalists, apocalypse is not about the end of the world. Instead contemporary scholarship identifies it as a literary form always associated with war and resistance to empire. As such (it may shock us to know) the form is more sympathetic to the cause of ISIL and other “terrorists” than to the efforts of the U.S. and its close ally, France, to control their imperial outposts. Nonetheless, apocalypse in no way condones terror — neither the wholesale terror of empire exhibited in its incessant bombings, nor the retail version we witnessed yesterday in France.
The Book of Daniel originates from Israel’s resistance to the Hellenistic empire of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In the year 168 C.E., he invaded Palestine and devastated Jerusalem. He hated Judaism and went out of his way to offend Jews at every level. He slaughtered them mercilessly. But he also defiled the Jerusalem Temple by offering a pig on its altar. He even erected a monument to Jupiter in the Temple. Patriotic Jews called it “the abomination of desolation.” While occupying Palestine, Antiochus destroyed all the copies of Scripture he could find, and made it a capital offense to possess such manuscripts. It was against Antiochus and the Greek occupation of Palestine that the Book of Daniel was written. It assures the Jewish resistance (which the Greeks saw as a “terrorist force”) that the Seleucid Empire, like all those preceding it, would fall in ignominy.
Something similar is happening in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark. Written around 70 C.E., its context is a six-month siege of Jerusalem by the Roman Emperor Titus. On September 8th of that year four Roman legions finally captured the city of Jerusalem from its Zealot defenders (whom the Romans considered “terrorists”). Moving from house to house (like U.S. soldiers in Iraq), the legionaries destroyed everything within reach, including the City’s Temple. Palestine would not again belong to the Jews until 1948. It was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans that Jesus predicts in today’s Gospel excerpt from Mark.
But the excerpt also calls for a complete end to the politics of violence and domination. That meant not only obeying the command of Jesus to reject empire, but also to refuse alignment with the Zealots and Sicarii — the resistance assassins who specialized (like Palestinian resisters today) in knifing occupation soldiers.
Though sympathetic to the resistance, Mark’s Jesus evidently saw the counter-productivity of tit-for-tat violence. He exhibits no sympathy for the Zealot recruiters who between 66 and 70 traveled throughout Palestine calling on Jewish patriots to defend their homeland by joining guerrilla forces. Instead, Mark’s Jesus counsels his followers to flee to the mountains (Mark 13:14-16). They were to do so not out of cowardice, but from apocalyptic conviction that God’s order of justice could not be established by the sword. Obeying Jesus’ direction meant that Christians were not only threatened by Romans but by Jews who accused Jesus’ followers of treason.
How should today’s Liturgy of the Word affect people of faith whose Commanders-in-Chief repeat the crimes of the Seleucid Antiochus IV and the Roman Titus — both of whom thought of themselves as doing God’s work in destroying what they despised as a superstitious, primitive, tribal, and terrorist religion? (Yes, that’s what they thought of Judaism!)
Today’s readings recommend that we adopt an apocalyptic vision. That means attempting to grasp the worldview of empire’s victims rather than of its agents — i.e. attempting to understand the reasons behind acts of terrorism like those which unfolded yesterday in Paris.
More basically adopting apocalyptic vision means rejecting defense of the present order and allowing it to collapse. It entails total rejection of U.S. and French imperial ambitions and practices. It signifies refusing to treat as heroes those who advance the policies of destruction and desecration inevitably intertwined with imperial ambition. It means letting go of the privileges and way of life that depends on foreign conquest and vilification as “terrorists” patriots desperately defending their countries from invasion by imperial forces. It means determining what such rejection might signify for our consumption patterns and lifestyles, and supporting one another in the counter-cultural decisions such brainstorming will evoke.
Missing the insights of contemporary scripture scholarship, fundamentalists routinely teach that apocalypse is about the end of the world — not about the end of particular empires. In a sense, they are right. Apocalypse is about the end of the world. The entire Jewish universe was anchored in the temple. Its defilement by the Greek Antiochus IV, its complete destruction by the Roman Titus seemed like the end of the world to the Jews. The threat of westernizing the Arab world might seem that way to the occupied Muslim world today. And the end of the American Way of Life premised on resource wars under cover of a “war on terrorism” might strike us as the end of everything we hold dear.
However, the apocalyptic message of hope is that the passage of empire and nationalism is not really the end. Instead it represents an opportunity for a new beginning. In the words Mark put in Jesus’ mouth this morning, “Do not be alarmed . . . This is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.”
Ironically, tragic events like yesterday’s massacre remind followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition to abandon a past based on dominion and violence and to create the entirely new reality based on the apocalyptic visions of Daniel and Jesus.
Last week President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. His announcement caused huge celebration in the anti-fossil fuel resistance movement. The victory made it clear that we’re living in revolutionary times. Powerful movements for social justice are springing up everywhere, not only on the climate change front, but more generally nationally and internationally.
Even more importantly, there is a red thread running through it all. The changes (and there are many as we’ll see) all represent the impending collapse of capitalism. We are likely standing on the brink of a transformation world-wide that parallels the fall of the Soviet Union a quarter century ago.
To begin with, think about what’s happening with the climate movement. Environmental activists are on a surprising roll in terms of their recent successes.
- The September 2014 Great Climate March in New York City which brought out 400,000 people.
- The subsequent rapid spread of the fossil fuel divestment movement.
- The recent TransCanada Corporation’s decision to temporarily suspend the XL Pipeline project even before President’s Obama’s announcement.
- The unexpected election of Justin Trudeau as Canadian Prime Minister on a platform highlighting commitment to Canada’s First Nations who are key players in the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
- Shell Oil’s abandonment of its arctic drilling plans.
- The expose of ExxonMobil’s cover-up of its own 1980s research identifying fossil fuel combustion as a major cause of global warming. (Despite its findings the company spent millions over a 27 year period promoting climate change denial.)
- The prospect of a lawsuit against ExxonMobil for adopting that “cigarette strategy.”
- Widespread outrage following the release of the Transpacific Partnership text which accords multinational corporations the power to override local environmental protection standards because they might impede corporate profit.
- The resultant promise of huge demonstrations and citizen lobbying efforts against the treaty.
- Pope Francis’ eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’, legitimizing the positions of environmental activists previously called “extremists” for expressing the same ideas.
- Next month’s Climate Conference in Paris which promises to yield further victories.
As Naomi Klein has pointed out, such changes – such widespread resistance throughout what she calls “Blockadia” – change everything. They signal a growing awareness that an economy based on fossil fuel consumption just cannot continue.
And that’s not all. Other mobilizations of people dissatisfied with the socio-economic status quo are sweeping our own nation and creating new socio-political configurations. Here I’m thinking of:
- The success of the Occupy Movement in coining the “One Percent” watchword and making economic disparity a key political campaign issue.
- The unexpected phenomenon of the Bernie Sanders presidential candidacy. (After more than 50 years of subjecting Americans to the most intense anti-socialist propaganda, who would have thought that a self-identified socialist could gain such a following?)
- The mobilization of the Black Lives Matter campaign as a 21st century resurrection of the Civil Rights Movement.
- The spread of the movement to campuses like Yale and the University of Missouri where students of color forced the resignation of Mizzou’s president and chancellor.
- The invasion of our country (and of Europe) with refugees from the U.S.-led and/or supported wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. (In fact, refugees represent the most powerful and effective anti-war marchers in the history of our planet.)
- The invasion of the U.S. with refugees from Mexico and Central America demonstrating the failure of the War on Drugs which has torn that country and region apart.
- Ditto for immigrants manufactured by the disastrous North American Free Trade Agreement and its Central American counterpart (CAFTA).
Yes, the chickens of Orwellian wars and of neo-liberal economic policies are coming home to roost with a vengeance. It is now possible to speak openly (as Pope Francis has done) about the failures of unfettered capitalism. It not only destroys the environment. It creates massive wealth disparities and unemployment especially in communities of color. Government cut-backs in public services (including police training) wreak havoc everywhere. As a result people are out in the streets. They’re stopping traffic. Students are walking out of class. Even the Mizzou football team and its coach went on strike.
Finally, think about what’s happening internationally:
- On June 17 th 2014, 133 of the world’s 196 countries met and declared their intention to “destroy the New World Order” championed by Western Empire.
- Russia has risen from the ashes and is confronting the Empire on all fronts.
- Vladimir Putin has emerged as the world’s most effective international leader and practitioner of diplomacy aimed at and independence from U.S. Empire.
- Russia and China are both returning to their socialist roots often advancing policies far more humane than their western counterparts.
- Despite recent setbacks, Greece has threatened the neo-liberal order in the heart of the European Union. SYRIZA’s original anti-austerity message has spread to Italy, Spain, and France.
- Latin America has broken free of the shackles of the Monroe Doctrine. Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are all forging their own paths while cooperating with and supporting one another. All are moving closer to Russia and China.
- The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) representing at least half the planet’s population, are trading with each other in their own currencies now making themselves immune from western sanctions.
- World-wide computer news sites have largely replaced a corporate-controlled mainstream media (MSM). People have awakened to the fact that the MSM can’t be trusted. In Latin America, Russia, China, and Iran, the new media are not even “alternative” any longer. Their mission is exposing the crimes of the West, its Empire and client states. Their message couldn’t be more straight-forward: No more war, torture, rape or genocide.
Economist, Richard Wolff, is fond of saying that when social change happens, it often comes quickly. He says that for decades it might seem that nothing happens. Then in a matter of days, decades happen. That’s the Soviet Union story of a little over 25 years ago.
We’re now in one of those periods where pent-up frustration and zeal for change is being released with hurricane force. It’s a good time to be alive – and to get on the band wagon.
Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: IKgs. 17: 10-16; Ps. 146:7-10; Heb. 9: 24-28; Mk. 12: 38-44
It has been more than a month since Pope Francis visited the United States and gave his stinging address to the U.S. Congress.
No doubt you recall the occasion. The pope used his time to call for the end of capital punishment. He identified the motivation behind the U.S.-led arms industry simply as “money” – “money drenched in blood.”
The pope also lionized:
- Abraham Lincoln who described capitalists as those who “generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people.”
- Martin Luther King who called the United States the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.
- Dorothy Day who rejected capitalism a “rotten putrid system” and
- Thomas Merton who described American politicians as a bunch of gangsters.
It was a masterful critique filled with irony – polite, but devastating for anyone who was listening closely.
Unfortunately, few commentators were tuned in sufficiently to pick up the subtlety. For them Francis was a nice old man praising “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” and closing with “God bless America” – without the pundits realizing, of course, that “America” pointedly includes the pope’s beloved Argentina devastated for decades by U.S. policy, and an entire continent oppressed by the United States for Francis’ entire life. Like everyone in Latin America, Francis knows all of this very well.
The lesson here is that when prophets speak, we’d best be alert to nuance and implication.
That lesson is applicable to today’s familiar story of the “widow’s mite.” It’s easy to miss the point, since it’s obscured by interpretations of homilists with no stomach for subtlety.
The episode comes right after Jesus and his disciples had all taken part in (and perhaps led) a demonstration against the temple priesthood and the thievery of their system from the poor. I’m talking about Jesus’ famous “cleansing of the temple.” That event sealed Jesus’ fate. The temple priesthood would soon be offering the reward for his capture that Judas would accept.
Following the assault on the temple, Jesus continues instructing his disciples on the corruption of the Temple System. To do so, he takes a position, Mark says, “opposite” (i.e. in opposition to) the temple treasury. The treasury was the place where Jews paid the tithe required by the law as interpreted by the priesthood Jesus despises. It was a “flat tax” applying the same to rich and poor.
Ever class-conscious, Mark points out that “many rich people” somehow made it clear to all that they were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came along and furtively put in a penny. Jesus calls attention to the contrast: “large sums” vs. “two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.”
“It’s all relative,” Jesus says. “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Jesus then leaves the temple in disgust.
There are two ways for homilists to explain this incident in the context of today’s Liturgy of the Word. Remember, it began with a reading from I Kings and its story of the great prophet Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.
Elijah was hungry. He encountered a single mom gathering sticks to make a fire to eat her last meal with her son. They were starving, and she had only a handful of flour and a few drops of oil to make some bread before she and her son would die of hunger. The prophet asks that instead she make him some food. Obediently, she does so. And strange to say, after feeding Elijah, the widow discovers that her flour and oil never run out. She somehow has an endless supply. She and her son are saved.
Then in today’s second reading, Jesus is contrasted with the temple priesthood. The temple priests, the author of Hebrews says, were required to repeatedly offer sacrifices in the Temple year after year. In contrast, Jesus entered the heavenly “Holy of Holies” but once, offering there not the blood of bulls and lambs, but his own blood. Jesus is the true high priest.
The standard way of treating these readings runs like this: (1) The widow of Zarephath gave the Holy Man all she had to live on and was materially rewarded as a result; (2) the widow in the temple donated to the temple priests “all she had to live on” and was rewarded with Jesus’ praise; (3) follow the examples of the widow feeding Elijah and the widow giving her “mite;” (4) donate generously to your priest (a successor of the Great High Priest in Hebrews) and you will be richly rewarded either here, in heaven, or in both places.
That’s a standard treatment we have all heard. However, it has severe problems. To begin with, it ignores the liturgical response to the Elijah story taken from Psalm 146. That excerpt from Psalms sets a back-drop for the entire Liturgy of the Word and provides a key for interpreting not only today’s readings, but the entire Bible. The psalm reminds us that the poor are God’s Chosen People. God’s concern for the poor is not with their generosity towards God but with God’s securing justice for them. As the psalm says, God gives food to the hungry, sets captives free, gives sight to the blind, protects immigrants, and sustains the children of single moms. God loves those concerned with justice for the poor, the Psalm says. God loves prophets like Elijah and Jesus. On the other hand, God thwarts the ways of the wicked – those who, like the scribes and high priests (as well as members of the U.S. Congress), exploit God’s favored poor.
All of that represents a “red thread” running through the entire Judeo-Christian tradition. It offers us a key for interpreting the story of Elijah as well. It changes the emphasis of the story from the widow’s generosity, to God’s provision of food for the hungry and God’s concern for the children of single mothers.
With that key in mind, we are alerted to circumstances in today’s gospel story that summon us to interpret it differently from the standard treatment.
We are reminded that the episode takes place in an elaborate context of Jesus’ assault on the temple system. In effect, the context is Jesus’ symbolic destruction of the temple itself. Yes, there was that “cleansing” I referenced. But there was also Jesus’ prediction of the deconstruction of the building itself. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (13:1-2). Then there was that strange incident of Jesus cursing a fruitless fig tree as he was entering the temple precincts (11:12-14; 20-24). The fig tree was the symbol of Israel. Here again Jesus pronounces a judgment on an entire system that had become corrupt and forgetful of the poor who are so central to God’s concern.
That judgment is extended in Jesus’ teaching immediately before the episode of the widow’s mite. Again, Jesus takes a position “opposed” to the temple treasury and says, “Beware of the scribes . . . They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” As scripture scholar, Ched Myers points out, Jesus was probably referring to the practice of turning over to scribes the estates of deceased husbands. The surviving wives were considered incapable of administering a man’s affairs. For his troubles, the scribe-trustee was given a percentage of the estate. Understandably fraud and embezzlement were common. In this way, religion masked thievery from society’s most vulnerable.
With Jesus’ accusation ringing in their ears, a case-in-point, a poor widow, arrives on the scene. She pays her tithe – the flat tax – and leaves penniless. Jesus can take no more. He storms out of the temple.
According to this second interpretation, Jesus is not praising the generosity of the widow. Instead, he is condemning the scribes, the priests, the temple and their system of flat taxation. Jesus’ words about the widow represent the culminating point in his unrelenting campaign against hypocrisy and exploitation of the poor by the religious and political leadership of his day.
That was Pope Francis’ point too in his address to the U.S. Congress: In effect he came to the defense of the widow’s impoverished counterparts on death row or living under the threat of bombs and drones proliferated by an arms industry motivated by worship of money drenched in blood.
In effect, Pope Francis berated the gangsters arrayed before him – every one of them guilty of fleecing the poor, destroying their homes and fields – all to support a system as rotten and putrid as the one Jesus symbolically deconstructed.
As Mark has Jesus saying, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear!” (MK 4:9)
Just this morning I had a conversation about retirement with a neighbor who is a very good friend of mine. “How’s retirement going for you?” he asked. “A lot better,” I answered.
And It has.
Fact is: up until recently, I’ve had a hard time finding my legs in this new phase of my life. With my family not exactly on board with my decision to leave teaching, I’ve experienced some discomfort and second-guessing on my part.
And then too there’s the element that since retiring (five years ago), I haven’t really left the classroom. I taught in a Latin American Studies Program in Costa Rica for several semesters. And then I did some filling-in for a couple of terms at Berea College on behalf of a colleague who had fallen ill. Last year at this time I taught a course there called “Poverty and Social Justice.” (And that was nice, since it brought my number of years teaching at Berea to exactly 40.)
The bottom line is that since my retirement, I’ve been out of the saddle for only two semesters – other than my time spent traveling.
And the traveling has been extensive. I’ve been all over the map – to Mexico (two summers), Cuba (three weeks), India (five months), South Africa (six months), and Italy (twice for three weeks at a time) – and then those months in Costa Rica I mentioned.
It was in South Africa that I started my blog. And that’s been fun – hundreds of entries published. A hundred and twenty-nine of them have appeared in OpEdNews – an alternative on-line news source I recommend to everyone. And over the past year or so some of those pieces have crept into the Lexington Herald-Leader about every four to six weeks.
In India I discovered yoga, weight lifting and Vipassana meditation. (See my reflections on Vipassana here.) Yes, I had been meditating twice a day since 1998. But the method I learned in India challenged so much of what I had been doing – moved it to a deeper level. And that started me on the road to rethinking everything about the spirituality and theology I’ve developed over my 75 years of life.
The works of Ken Wilber, A Course in Miracles, Marianne Williamson, and Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God have all played a part in that. Walsch’s three-volume work has been especially influential; I’m finishing its close reading for the second time. In many ways it has turned my world upside down. It has surprised me at some turns, confirmed what I’ve long believed at others, and simply evoked my denial-reflex at still others. In every case Conversations with God has caused me to wrestle with questions I thought long since resolved. Very exciting!
My latest project has been writing a study-guide for Pope Francis’ new encyclical. The 150 page book will be ready for distribution in about two weeks. That’s exciting for me since my approach to Laudato Si’ is to understand it in the context of Latin American history and liberation theology. Laudato Si’ is terrific, as is Evangelii Gaudium. Francis is asking us, I’m arguing, to re-think not only climate change, but capitalism, American history, theology, and understandings of church.
Everything I’ve just mentioned has led me to become more comfortable with retirement. At times lately I find myself thinking that life for me has turned more interesting, engaging and productive than ever before in its new stage.
And I don’t think that’s true only for me. I mean: what about you? Don’t you think that these are especially exciting, extraordinarily creative, and unusually challenging times? As I see them, they are nearly as exciting and promising as the 1960s, which I was so blessed to live through.
There’s something going on in the world. The positive forces of evolution are aligning on one side and becoming not only more vociferous, but are finding more receptive audiences everywhere. And by the same token, the less-evolved opponents of those positive forces are engaged in a death-struggle they are bound eventually to lose.
More about that next time . . .
It has been almost a month now since Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States – almost a month since he issued his clarion call to save the planet, eliminate capital punishment, open borders to refugees, and divest from the arms industry.
And what has happened since?
Nothing at all – as far as one can see from the vantage point of the parish pew, the diocesan newspaper, or statements from the national hierarchy.
None of this is surprising. It’s the same non-response achieved by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” That document called literally for changing everything in the Catholic Church. But nothing at all has changed as a result.
That wasn’t, of course, the response to Pope Francis’ visit here in September. Then there was great enthusiasm for traveling to Philadelphia to demonstrate Catholic faith by showing up to see the Holy Father in person.
Even my small parish in Berea, Kentucky sent a whole busload of people Pictures were taken. Descriptions of crowd density and of the hardships of traveling so far and lodging under primitive conditions were detailed. Everyone agreed however that it was all worth it.
Apparently, taking the pope seriously about climate change, capital punishment, the refugee crisis and disarmament is not worth it.
After all, the climate change process advances unabated. Despite the pope’s warnings, Catholics presumably continue watching Fox News, listening to Rush Limbaugh, and supporting climate change deniers in the political arena.
All of this is true, even though the pope warned in Laudato Si’:
“Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.” (14)
The words are prophetic. Indifference, nonchalance, and resignation seem to be the order of the day. As for “blind confidence in technical solutions,” one has to acknowledge the problem before that can enter the picture.
The pope is no stranger to denial. It was the order of the day in the case of Argentina’s Dirty War. Many Argentinians pretended they didn’t know about the kidnappings and disappearances of their neighbors, about the army’s rampant torture program or its thousands of extra-judicial assassinations. As Argentinians said at the time, “We did not know, what no one could deny.”
That seems to be the very definition of Catholic majority consciousness relative to the issues this pope has centralized. It’s the very definition of Know-nothing-ism and religious irrelevance.
Instead, Catholics and others need to embrace the sense of urgency the pope has articulated so well. We need:
- Frank discussion of diocesan divestment from oil and coal companies even in a coal state like Kentucky.
- The conversion of parish plants away from dirty energy consumers and into solar energy generators.
- The opening of our churches to the refugees created by the endless wars our tax dollars fund unquestioningly.
- Church-sanctioned resistance to taxes that finance those wars, arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Israel, and continued extra-judicial assassinations by U.S. drones.
- Protests against the scandal of the executions that have missed scarcely a beat since the pope’s clear pronouncement against capital punishment.
- Consistent connection of Sunday liturgies and readings to the overriding issue of climate chaos.
Pope Francis is right: it’s time for action and prophetic witness in the face of the greatest set of problems our planet has ever faced.