AOC & Joey B. (with apologies to Dudley Randall)

The present rift between establishment Democrats represented by Joe Biden on the one hand and progressive insurgents led by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (A.O.C.) on the other, focuses on the Green New Deal. The debate seems to reprise a similar divide in the Black community between W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington. Their issue at the turn of the 20th century was education and whether African Americans were better served by a vocational curriculum or by the liberal arts. Dubois favored the latter approach, Washington, the former. In 1969 Dudley Randall wrote a famous poem encapsulating the controversy between cautious conservatives and more revolutionary leaders. It was entitled “W.E.B. and Booker T.” Here, I borrow heavily from Mr. Randall to similarly encapsulate the current debate between the Biden and AOC forces.

 “It seems to me,” said Joey B.
“It shows a mighty lot of cheek
“For someone young like you to speak                          
“Of Green New Deals and rising wage
“When all big donors shout with rage
“At Marxist thoughts of equal share
“Of voting rights and Medicare.
“That’s not the way to win the vote
“We’re better served to go by rote.
“And simply do what we’ve done before.”
 
 
“I don’t agree,” said A.O.C.
“We need new vision, words and plan
“Remember our loss when Hillary ran
“Saying words like yours so ‘tried and true.’
“She lost to Donald and so would you.
“And besides, Mother Earth has raised her voice
“To tell us all we have no choice.
“Time’s running short the experts say.
“My Green New Deal will save the day.”
 
“It seems to me,” said Joey B.
“That folks like you have missed the point
“Who tell us ‘Times are out of joint’
“And spend vain days and sleepless
“In uproar over workers’ rights
“Let’s keep mouths shut, and do not grouse,
“Be content to know you’ve won the House.”
 
 
“I don’t agree,” said A.O.C.
“For what can winning votes avail
“If all earth’s systems drown and fail?
“Unless we join to change our way,
“Your grandkids and mine will surely pay
“For the near-sight vision of pols like you.
“But as for me I’ll choose the New.
“I’ll take my chances that people know
“The Green New Deal’s is the way to go
 
“It seems to me,” said Joey B. –
“I don’t agree,” said AOC.

Marianne Williamson & the Immigration Crisis (Sunday Homily)

Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 66:10-14C; PS 66: 1-7, 16, 20; GAL 6: 14-18; LK 10: 1-12, 17-20.

The theme of today’s liturgy of the word is exile and deliverance from captivity. In its light, I can’t help thinking of all those refugees at our southern border and of Marianne Williamson’s wise and unique response in last week’s second Democratic Debate.

According to our readings, the immigrants and refugees our politicians want us to hate are exiles like the ancient Hebrews in Babylon. They are the victims of the rich and powerful as were the Jews in Jesus’ day, when Rome occupied his homeland aided and abetted by the Temple clergy. That is, today’s biblical selections say that the poorest and most vulnerable among us are God’s own people.

Yet incredibly, the richest and most invulnerable at the top of our contemporary social order – the very ones who crashed our economy, looted our common treasury, and escaped unscathed with the handouts we ourselves provided – somehow want us to believe that the poor exiles from their beloved homes in Central America are the cause of all our problems.

But remember: the home lands of these exiles from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are the very countries whose economies our government purposely and permanently crashed in the 1980s. Then, the Reagan and Bush I administrations used drug money to finance illegal wars that ended up killing hundreds of thousands and replacing governments and social movements whose primary beneficiaries would have been the parents of those at our borders today. The latter are victims of the drug lords we established and supported during the ‘80s and who today are doing the same things they did 40 years ago – marketing drugs while terrorizing and murdering the innocent. I’m talking about the generals and other military officers who are now the drug kingpins.

That’s the point Marianne Williamson tried to make at the first Democratic debate. But no one picked it up. None of the other candidates elaborated on Ms. Williamson’s observation that today’s immigration “crisis” amounts to our government’s reaping what it sowed. The other candidates still haven’t seconded Marianne’s point. Instead, they and their interlocutors remain stuck in the same old, same old. They mouth the standard political platitudes while ignoring the shameful history that explains today’s headlines.

It’s been that way from biblical times and before – rich foreigners oppressing poor locals. Listen to today’s readings. Or, rather, read them for yourself. Here are my “translations.”

IS 66:10-14c

These are the words
Of Isaiah’s prophecy
To all in captivity
By Powers
Foreign and domestic:
“Your time of desperation
Is nearly over.
You will soon
Return home
Like starving infants
To Mother-Jerusalem.
With hunger satisfied
And prosperity
Incredible
Along with joy
And comfort, comfort, comfort
At last!”
 
PS 66: 1-7, 16, 20
 
Our liberator
From exile
So kind and powerful
Is the answer
To the prayers
Of captive people
And a source of joy
For the whole
Human race
And all of creation.
No obstacle
Can impede
God’s destiny
Of liberation
Joy and freedom
From oppression.
 
GAL 6: 14-18

Yes, our destiny
Is an entirely
New World!
Where the world’s distinctions
Are meaningless.
Acting accordingly
Now
Will bring
Everyone
Compassion and peace.
However,
The World
Crucifies us
For this belief.
Nonetheless,
We’re called to
Bear its torture
And scars
Gladly
As Jesus did.
 
LK 10: 1-12, 17-20

Paul’s words
Agree with Jesus
Who sent
Thirty-six pairs
Of “advance men”
And women
To announce
(Like Isaiah)
Liberation
From oppression
By powers imperial.
Like lambs among wolves
Like monks
With begging bowls,
They healed and proclaimed
God’s Great Cleanup
Of a world
Infested by demonic
Imperial oppressors.
And it worked!
Every one of those 72
Cast out evil spirits
Just like Jesus.
(Despite powerful opposition
And crucifixion.)
Some have ridiculed Marianne's debate performance. However, that only shows how our country thought-leaders have become tone-deaf to biblical values. They consider them ludicrous.

For me, that only signals the necessity of doubling-down on support for the only one in the crowded Democratic field who courageously insists on the values embedded in today's readings which identify the keys for solving the problems caused by "experienced" politicians. As Marianne says, those keys are love and forgiveness precisely for and of those the rich and powerful vilify.

U.S. Concentration Camps Are Already Worse than Hitler’s

Recently Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) stirred controversy by characterizing U.S. immigration detention facilities as concentration camps. Critics said her comparison was over the top

It was an insult, some said, to families of Holocaust survivors. After all, none of the U.S. detention facilities is an extermination camp like Auschwitz or Buchenwald.

In response, AOC doubled down on her charge. Along with others, she was joined by historians, and even by the editors of The National Catholic Reporter in affirming her accusation. Concentration camps, they all said, are not synonymous with extermination camps. In essence, the former are locations where prisoners are held without charge. In that sense, the U.S. indeed maintains concentration camps, but nothing like German practice. The intention in making that distinction was evidently to distance U.S. camps from the horrors and death of Hitler’s infamous hell-holes.

The argument here takes issue with that distinction. It maintains instead that our burgeoning camps are every bit as brutal as Hitler’s. In fact, the number of deaths connected with the U.S. system dwarf the iconic number of six million incinerated, gassed, shot, or otherwise executed.

To begin with, we must first of all realize that U.S. concentration camps are not a new phenomenon begun with the presidency of Donald Trump. No, they have been with us at least since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War in 1945.

In fact, the argument can be credibly made that our country was explicitly founded on extermination, genocide and concentration camps. Using rationale supplied by John Locke, our Founding Fathers wiped out 90% of North America’s indigenous peoples, eventually confining survivors and their descendants in concentration camps (called “reservations”). They employed the same logic to enslave workers kidnapped from Africa imprisoning them in labor camps (called “plantations”).

For Locke, who inspired Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the crucial and ironic pronouncement behind such operations was that “All men are created equal.” But note well that in his formulation, the statement had no liberating relevance for Native Americans, African slaves, women or propertyless whites. Instead, its expressed intention was to establish the right of imperialists like him and his cohorts to steal land and resources from the continent’s indigenous inhabitants and to exterminate resisters.

Locke’s point (as explained in my book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking) was that just because the “Indians” were here first, they had no special claim on the lands they called home. That is, since (in Locke’s estimation) huge tracts were not being farmed as they would be in England, they were there for the taking by the Indians’ equals from Great Britain.

Locke said that a refusal by the Indians to recognize such equality amounted to a declaration of war against the British. So, the natives could be slaughtered with abandon – a task our country’s great Indian Fighters took on with enthusiasm and relish creating a holocaust that killed millions.

Adolph Hitler himself took inspiration from the examples just cited. He liked the concept of concentration and work camps. He was expressly impressed by the efficiency of U.S. extermination of our continent’s First Peoples. It inspired him and evidently the minds behind contemporary concentration camps.

With all this in mind, it is no exaggeration to say that the camps are reincarnating today before our very eyes. Our government has set them up world-wide. They are so ubiquitous and normalized that they remain practically invisible. But consider their contemporary equivalents in:

  • The U.S. prison-industrial complex itself for blacks, browns and poor whites transforming “Americans” into the most imprisoned population on the planet
  • Guantanamo Bay for holding “terrorists” who after years of internment and torture have yet to be charged with crime and which Fuhrer Trump promises to fill to the brim
  • Black Sites (sic!) concealed throughout the world where kidnapped Muslims and others disappear without a trace and are tortured without mercy
  • Fort Bliss (sic!), a concentration camp for immigrant children
  • Baby Prisons for infants as young as four months
  • Detention centers for refugees from U.S. wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere
  • Family prisons for immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America as they await trials which can be postponed indefinitely  
  • The Gaza Strip, the world’s largest open-air prison for Muslim Palestinians, “the Jews’ Jews” – unconditionally endorsed by U.S. politicians of all stripes

In such hell-holes the criminals (often the guards) commit murders, rapes and inflict torture with impunity. Nonetheless, after Hitler, it is no longer permissible for such polite company to crudely incinerate victims in ovens or to poison them in gas chambers. (That would be too “inhumane” and reminiscent of the unspeakable.) So, today’s executioners murder and incinerate Muslims (today’s “Jews”), and others on site. (It saves the trouble and expense of packing them into box cars.)

In other words, the executioners travel to the victims’ countries of origin in the Middle East and Africa and do the dirty work there – often from 10,000 feet in the air, where the screams of incinerated Muslim children cannot be heard. They cremate their victims more humanely in the  targets’ own homes with napalm and white phosphorous. Alternatively, “pilots” seated comfortably in their air-conditioned “theaters” send automated Gestapo (killer drones) to decapitate those suspected of evil thoughts. In the process, the system’s butchers have massacred millions far exceeding anything imagined by that little man with the toothbrush mustache:

  • Already by 1978, John Stockwell, the highly decorated ex-CIA Station Chief in Angola, estimated that his agency’s “Secret Wars” had killed more than six million in its dirty wars against the world’s poor. In Stockwell’s own words, every one of those wars was illegal and “bloody and gory and beyond comprehension almost.”
  • Add to that
    • The hundreds of thousands slaughtered during the 1980s in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras
    • More than a million victims in the completely illegal war in Iraq
    • Untold fatalities in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia,
    • The 10,000 already killed in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East – with the numbers increasing each day from cholera and intentionally-inflicted starvation

Again, the numbers are staggering – far beyond anything accomplished in Hitler’s death camps.

Meanwhile, at home, “Americans” are dissuaded from protest by a militarized skin-head police force of body-builders and thugs. “Dressed to kill” in their black or camouflaged flack suits, and anonymous under their helmets and behind polarized face-shields, they stand ready with batons, tasers, and AK47s – as well as employing surplus military tanks, and Humvees – to punish anyone who dares opposition.

So, congratulations to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She’s right again – this time about concentration camps. However, she and others are wrong to downplay the comparative horror of the U.S. system. It is every bit as horrendous as Hitler’s. To see the misery all one has to do is connect the dots. They’re there and though scattered are just waiting to be linked (exactly as they were in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power).

In fact, their presence is becoming more evident each day as is the emergence of Hitler-like fascism. We have only to open our eyes to see both phenomena, even though the camps, holocausts, and the system itself have been effectively renamed and camouflaged.

Thanks to AOC and others, the veils are beginning to fall; the issue is now before us. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s message: It’s high time for the rest of us to take note before it’s too late!   

Why Not Kill Them All: Abortionists, Soccer Moms and God?

Anti-abortion extremism is in the news again. (Does it ever disappear?) As everyone knows by now, it’s because right-wing lawmakers in Alabama have advanced a law banning abortion at every stage of pregnancy – from the moment that sperm fertilizes egg. The law makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

In terms of logic, the law can easily be debunked as literally absurd. In terms of theology (and remember, the question of abortion has been shaped by theology, regardless of what we might think about that fact) the law makes God himself (sic) deserving of capital punishment. Finally, in terms of the U.S. Constitution, criminalizing abortion contradicts the First Amendment which explicitly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

To clear the air of confusion and to clarify the concept of pro-life itself, let’s consider each one of those points.

Logic

To begin with, consider the law’s logical inconsistency. It begins by holding that abortionists are killers deserving capital punishment. Its reasoning runs as follows: (1) Abortion is murder, (2) But all murders are capital crimes; deserving capital punishment; (3) Therefore abortion-providers should be punished by execution or life imprisonment.

Strangely, the woman who seeks an abortion finds no place in that logic. I say “strangely,” because her exclusion doesn’t make sense according the syllogism just referenced. Murder is murder. And legally speaking, employing a hit-man to kill another person makes the employer guilty of conspiracy to commit murder regardless of who actually pulled the trigger. Both contractor and contractee deserve the same punishment. Since it’s the woman who employs the murderer, why not execute her or imprison her for life, the same as the abortionist?

The answer is because doing so would be absurd. It would be politically untenable.

Virtually no one in the electorate would support it – especially in the light of polls showing that 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Seventy-one percent oppose overturning Roe v. Wade – including 52% of Republicans.

Imprisoning abortion-providers might be one thing. But imagine, if legislators proposed filling jail cells with all the soccer moms among those responsible for the at least 45.7 million abortions performed since 1973 and the passage of Roe. Hundreds of thousands of moms in prison for life wouldn’t make sense. It is patently absurd.  It wouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

But think a little further about those numbers. They are familiar to us, because “pro-birthers” usually employ them to train focus on the zygotes and fetuses in question. However, the numbers can also suggest something else.

Exchange the viewpoint of zygotes and fetuses for that of our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who’ve undergone the procedure. If the fundamentalists are right, the sheer numbers mean that millions of the women we love are actually murderers. Millions of them over the last nearly 50 years have committed murder and, according to fundamentalist logic, deserve capital punishment – no less than the others on death row. Again, murder is murder. And in the case of abortion, the scale of the slaughter collectively perpetrated by the women we sleep with is beyond compare. It means that American women – women throughout the world – women in general – cooperate in mass murderers dwarfing the crimes of Hitler!

Logically speaking, all of that – treating abortion as murder, punishing abortion providers as capital criminals, refusing to do the same for the women employing them, and identifying millions of women throughout the world as evil murderers (while saying not a word about the men who impregnate them) – reduces to the absurd the position that abortion is murder.

In fact, it constitutes the very definition of logic’s reductio ad absurdum that proves the falsity of an argument by demonstrating that its conclusion is completely untenable. In other words, when you put words to it and draw the logical conclusions, the contentions of the pro-birthers sound absolutely crazy to almost everyone. Case closed.

Theology

And that brings us into the field of theology.

For Catholic moralists, commonly shared perception like that just referenced is called the “sensus fidelium.” Sensus fidelium refers to ordinary people’s conclusions about matters of faith and morals (such as abortion). It refers to conclusions based on common sense rather than the arguments of the experts including theologians. Catholic doctrine regards such agreement as infallible.

But here I’m suggesting a unique kind of sensus fidelium – one accessible primarily to women and their special ways of knowing. After all, male legislators cannot possibly understand women’s physiology, biological processes, psychology, or moral sensitivities in the same way as women.

In other words, women are a uniquely privileged reference group. However, because of the domination of theology (and politics!) by men, the latter act as if they know better than women. As a result, women are treated in effect as pre-rational children in need of direction by the culture’s patriarchs. (This, perhaps, offers another explanation of the disparate treatment of abortion-providers and women seeking abortion. The women in question are not truly responsible moral agents.)

To correct such imbalance, women of all faiths (and none) and not just Christian men should be in charge of any reasoning about and regulations of abortion. At the very least, such women deserve a decisive place at the table where theologians, ethicists and legislators discuss the question. If that were the case, another reductio ad absurdum would soon come to light – this one specifically theological. It would be that God Himself (sic) is the world’s abortionist-in-chief responsible for filling sewers with aborted babies.

What I mean is that according to medical researchers spontaneous abortion is the “predominant outcome of fertilization.” At least half of fertilized eggs are simply flushed down the toilet without their “mothers” even aware of their presence. They never knew they were pregnant in the first place.

If (as pro-birthers maintain) God is responsible for and cares about every fertilized egg, the conclusion is inevitable. God is a wholesale abortionist. Like all abortionists, he deserves the fate that death-of-God theologians declared fifty years ago.

(As a matter of fact, understanding God according to the absurdities just described might well be responsible for the rejection of his existence by rational adults. The fundamentalists themselves may have unwittingly but effectively executed him!)

Constitutional Considerations

What all of this means is that the recently passed Alabama law is unconstitutional, since imposes on Christians and non-Christians alike a particular religious (and therefore unproveable) theory about God’s role in the initiation of specifically personal life.

As we’ve seen, the particular theory arbitrarily holds that each fertilized egg is a unique human person with an immortal soul wedded exclusively to that particular fertilized ovum. The theory further holds that when the ovum in question dies, the soul’s God-intended purpose is forever frustrated. The world is forever deprived of the aborted-one’s unique gifts, which God cannot or will not supply through another person.

The idiosyncrasy of that position is unmistakable. As is the case with other faiths, one could easily understand early abortion as not that important in God’s grand scheme of things. A soul prevented from incarnating in one form could just as easily be imagined as appearing in another – when its time is right.

In other words, and more specifically, the theory that life begins when sperm fertilizes egg is not at all generally shared even across religions, much less by agnostics and atheists. For instance, some locate the beginning of personal life at the moment of “quickening” (when the mother first feels her baby move), others identify it with viability outside the womb, still others with actual emergence from the womb, or (as with some Native Americans) with the “painting” of the emergent child to distinguish it from animals.

Given such differences, it seems clearly unconstitutional to impose the view of one religion on an entire culture. We might expect such preference of one religious view over others from the Taliban. But it has no place in a governed by a constitution with the First Amendment quoted earlier in this essay.

Conclusion

The bottom line here is that in a diverse country like our own, some form of legislation like Roe v. Wade might be the best we can do. There it was determined that the pregnant woman as moral agent can decide about abortion on her own during the first trimester and in consultation with her physician during the second. In the third trimester, however, the state asserts its interest and can make laws restricting abortion to protect the woman’s health and the potentiality of human life.

However, a Roe v. Wade approach can never be sufficient for genuine pro-life advocates. For them, abortion law must be complemented by social programs that provide a welcoming atmosphere for all life forms. These would provide free counselling and pre- natal care for pregnant mothers along with post-natal services for their newborns. Job provisions would be available for new mothers along with free daycare for their pre-school children. Programs would also include low cost housing and (where necessary) help paying grocery bills. All such measures are genuinely pro-life. They not only discourage abortion; they also create a welcoming environment for new life.

However, don’t expect Alabama politicians to endorse such measures. For them, pro-life concern ends at birth. Afterwards, the burden must be assumed entirely by the mothers in question.

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister has called such typically male attempts to evade responsibility by its true name. She wrote:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Mike Pompeo’s Cynicism vs. Marianne Williamson’s Politics of Love

Readings for 2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:12-16; Ps. 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Rev. 1: 9-11A, 12-13, 17-19; Jn. 20: 19-31.

By the time you see this, many of you will have been yet again outraged by the crude cynicism of Mike Pompeo, America’s Secretary of State and former head of the CIA. This time, I’m referring to his embarrassing throw-away line following a speech at Texas A&M last week. Secretary Pompeo said:

“. . . When I was a cadet, what’s the first – what’s the cadet motto at West Point? You will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do. I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. (Laughter.) It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses . . . (Applause.) It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

In this election season, Pompeo’s arrogant disregard for the disastrous effects of the actions he described (in terms of governments overthrown, innocents slaughtered, and our own democracy discredited) offers an instructive foil to recommend the contrasting approach of Marianne Williamson, whose presidential campaign is based on what she terms a “politics of love.” The contrast between Pompeo and Williamson is further illumined by the familiar story of Doubting Thomas which is the focus of today’s liturgy of the word. It locates divine presence precisely in a victim of the imperial double-dealing and cruelty Pompeo finds so amusing and that Williamson finds abhorrent.

But before I get to that, please watch the secretary’s remark for yourselves:

What I found noteworthy in what you just saw was not so much what Pompeo said. (Anyone who knows anything about the CIA would not find that surprising.) What I found amazing was the audience laughter and applause. Both suggested not only rejection of U.S. ideals, but of the faith Americans commonly claim. Pompeo’s words absolutely contradict the Jewish tradition’s Ten Commandments.  The laughter and applause also suggested that Pompeo’s audience recognized that lying, cheating, and stealing somehow have more power than the teachings of Jesus about the primacy of love and doing to others what we would have them do to us. (Let’s face it: that’s the underlying reservation many have about Marianne Williamson’s candidacy as well.) Even more, the audience’s approval cynically endorsed Pompeo’s position that such actions constitute something glorious about Americans and their country!

I suppose the secretary would hasten to explain that we’re living in a dangerous world, where enemies lie, cheat, and steal all the time; so, we must do the same. But just imagine if Vladimir Putin or Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro had uttered Pompeo’s words! We’d never hear the end of it.

It’s principled response to such cynicism that fuels Marianne Williamson’s campaign for president. And in the light of today’s Gospel reading, which endorses miracles over “realism,” she should be taken seriously. More directly, and at a far deeper level than any of the other 20 (so far!) Democratic candidates, Williamson actually believes in a “Politics of Love,” and says so openly.

In fact, Williamson is running on a platform that holds that there is no distinction between personal and public morality. As she points out, the world and our country have a long history of acknowledging that fact. Jesus himself embodied that teaching. So did Gandhi. Abolitionists were Quakers, as were many of the suffragettes. Martin Luther King was a Baptist preacher. The Berrigan brothers were Catholic priests; so was Thomas Merton. None saw any distinction between the personal and political.

However, it’s not that Ms. Williamson is any less aware of our world’s evils than Mr. Pompeo. She doesn’t claim that the Judeo-Christian tradition invites anyone to ignore immorality and violence. Quite the contrary. As she points out, the entire Jewish tradition stems from rebellion precisely against the horror of slavery (in Moses’ Egypt). And the Christian tradition is founded on the teachings of a prophet who was tortured and executed by one of history’s most brutal empires. To ignore such evils, Williamson says, is not transcendence; it’s denial.

And that thought brings us to today’s Gospel reading.  It’s the familiar story of Doubting Thomas, whom in today’s context we might call “Realistic Thomas.” That’s because the story is finally about Christ’s call to recognize his own presence in the tortured victims of the kind of empire Pompeo’s audience applauded. It’s a parable told 80 years after Jesus’ death to encourage believers who, unlike Thomas, had not seen the risen Christ, yet believed anyway. The story is about the early Christian community coming to realize the truth of Jesus’ words, “Whatever is done to the least of my brethren, is done to me” (MT 25). Williamson recognizes all those truths. Evidently, Pompeo does not. 

Recall the parable.

The disciples are in the Upper Room where they had so recently broken bread with Jesus the night before he died. But Thomas is not present. Then suddenly, the tortured one materializes there in their midst.

“Too bad Thomas is missing this,” they must have said to one another.

Later on, Thomas arrives. Like the believers for whom the story was written (at the end of the first century) he hasn’t met the risen Lord.

“Jesus is alive,” they tell him.

However, Thomas remains unmoved. He protests, “I simply cannot bring myself to share your faith. Things like that don’t happen in the real world.”

The words are hardly out of his mouth, when lightning strikes again. Jesus suddenly materializes a second time in the same place. He tells the realistic one to examine his wounds – to actually probe them with his fingers. It’s then that Thomas recognizes his risen Lord. Yes, he realizes, Jesus is present in the tortured and victims of capital punishment – in those crucified by empire. The story invites hearers to join in Thomas prayer before such victims, “My Lord and my God.”

And that brings me back to Marianne Williamson . . . Let’s be honest: when we heard Williamson’s phrase, “politics of love,” did any of us find ourselves rolling our eyes? If so, that probably means we’ve somehow joined Secretary Pompeo in his cynical realism – in his implicit denial of the power of today’s parable. It suggests that we too believe that lies are more powerful than truth, that cheating is more rewarding than acting justly, that might makes right, that violence represents a more effective strategy than love.

In summary, we’re in denial about the truth of Jesus’ teaching – and that of virtually all of history’s sages. Williamson asks: “How’s that been working out for you – and for the world?” It’s time for a change of heart and soul like that of “Realistic” Thomas and like that represented by the campaign of Marianne Williamson.

She needs about 10,000 more individual contributions to qualify for appearance on the debate stage with the other candidates. If you want to see her there, contribute $1.00 or more right now!

“Mary Magdalene” Saves My Lent

I didn’t feel good about my Lent this year – until Holy Week. I don’t know why, but my heart just wasn’t in it till then. However, beginning on what used to be called Holy Week’s “Spy Wednesday,” a whole series of events unfolded that returned me to the spirit that should have characterized the previous 40 days. Its highlight was experiencing an extraordinary film that I want to recommend here. It’s called simply “Mary Magdalene.” It raises questions about women’s leadership in today’s Catholic Church.

What I did just before seeing the film prepared me. It began on Wednesday when I watched an Italian production of “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” The next night brought a brief celebration of Maundy Thursday at our new non- denominational Talmadge Hill Community Church. The following morning, I took part in a two hour “way of the cross” through the town of nearby Darien. Immediately afterwards, came a “Tre Ore” observance at the town’s Episcopal Church. The recollection of Jesus’ three-hours on the cross was marked by long periods of silence broken by seven sermons delivered by ministers from a whole variety of area churches. (At times the latter seemed like a sermon slam, with the clear winner the entry delivered jointly in dialog by our own two pastors from Talmadge Hill.)

Then on Holy Saturday, Peggy and I took in “Mary Magdalene,” directed by Australian, Garth Davis. For me, it was Holy Week’s capstone. To begin with, Joaquin Phoenix embodied the best Jesus-representation that I’ve seen so far. It was understated, believable, sensitive, compassionate, and challenging. Phoenix’s mien and demeanor reminded me of the Jesus forensic archeologists have estimated looked like this:

But it is Mary Magdalene (played by an unglamorous, but beautiful Rooney Mara) who supplies the eyes through which viewers finally see the peasant from Galilee. She’s a midwife, we learn. Far from the one defined as a prostitute by Pope Gregory the Great in the late 6th century, she rejects intimate relationships with men. “I’m not made for marriage,” Mary explains to the shock of her scandalized father, brothers and suitor. “Then, what are you made for?” they demand. All of them join together and nearly drown her as they attempt to exorcise the demons responsible for her refusal to submit to marital patriarchy.

Nevertheless, Mary persists and eventually tags along with those following Jesus – the only woman among the band of men called apostles. She herself is baptized by Jesus. She also pays closer and more perceptive attention to Jesus’ words than the others. She even gently corrects her male companions, suggesting that their interpretation of the Kingdom of God entailing violent revolution might be mistaken. Peter’s comment about such impertinence is “You weaken us.” But in the end, Mary quietly retorts, “I will not be silenced.”

Soon Jesus commissions Magdalene to baptize women.  As a result, they end up following the Master in droves. From then on, we see Mary habitually walking next to Jesus as he treks across Palestine’s barren landscape from Galilee through Cana and Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. At the last supper, after washing Jesus’ feet, she sits at his right hand. Clearly, she’s in charge and a leader of men nonpareil.

At one point in the journey to the Holy City, Mary unmistakably demonstrates her unique leadership. She implicitly reminds viewers of the words John the Evangelist attributes to Jesus, “The one who believes in me, the works that I do shall (s)he do also; and greater works than these shall (s)he do . . . (JN 14:12) For after witnessing Jesus restore a dead man to life, Mary herself emulates the healer’s ritual and restores to life a score of people left for dead by the brutal Roman occupation forces. None of the males among Jesus’ followers even dares such close imitation of Christ.

Then there is Magdalene’s relationship with a young smiling, cheerful, and very sympathetic Judas. He came to follow Jesus after his wife and child had been brutally killed by the Romans. So, he hears Jesus’ words about God’s Kingdom as a promise that Jesus will inspire and lead a retributive rebellion against Rome. But after Jesus’ participation in a direct-action demonstration in Jerusalem’s temple, Judas appears worried that Jesus is losing resolve and direction. So, in an evident effort to force Jesus’ hand, the apostle cooperates in Jesus’ arrest and collects the reward on his head. Judas fully expects that his teacher’s plight will mobilize his followers to the uprising Judas confidently anticipates. When that doesn’t happen, Judas is filled with despair. He returns home. The next we know, he’s hanging from the lintel of his hovel’s doorway.

Of course, there is no uprising. Jesus is arrested, tortured, and crucified. Afterwards, his limp body is placed in the lap of his mother. He’s then buried. While the other apostles flee, distancing themselves from the corpse, Magdalene faithfully sleeps on the ground outside the tomb. In the morning, she’s awakened by Jesus’ voice. He’s clothed in martyr’s white. Without uttering a word, she quietly sits on the ground next to him, convinced that he has come back to life.

So, she returns to the site of the last supper and tells Peter and the others her good news. They refuse to believe her. It’s at this point that Mary says those words, “I will not be silenced.”

According to Pope Francis, that refusal and her bringing of Good News to the apostolic leadership has merited for her the title of “apostle of apostles.” She is more important than any of them.

As you can see, I’m grateful to “Mary Magdalene” for salvaging my Lent. However, her story makes me wonder about the absence of female leadership in Francis’ church.

How about you? See the film and decide for yourself.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Green New Deal: A Must-Watch Video

Here in Connecticut, Peggy and I are part of a Climate-Change activist group that is just getting off the ground. We’re planning on supporting the Green New Deal that I’ve written about earlier here and here and here.

In that connection, here’s the best short video I’ve come across on the topic. It’s co-written and narrated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the most dynamic new member of the House of Representatives. Please watch it and see if it confers understanding of the GND as it invites you to get on board with this important movement.