All Catholics Should See “The Keepers”: It Will Scare the Hell Out of You (Sunday Homily)

Readings for 6th Sunday of Easter: ACTS 8: 5-8; 14-17; PS 66: 1-7; 16, 26; I PT 3: 15-18; JN 14: 15-21

I’m presently in Michigan working hard on a book I’m writing about critical thinking.

Meanwhile, my wife, Peggy, is off in Cuba teaching a class of Berea College students there. So I’ve had lots of time to invest in my project. And I’ve nearly finished another draft.

This weekend, my sister, Mary, has come to our cottage in Canadian Lakes for a very welcome visit. Unfortunately, however, the weather has been cold and rainy. So we spent some time watching a startling Netflix series. It’s called “The Keepers.” It’s a shocking account of an unsolved 1969 murder of a young Catholic nun in Baltimore.

Sister Cathy Cesnik, disappeared shortly after confronting authorities about widespread sexual abuse at the prestigious Keough High School, where she taught English. Two priests there used the confessional to identify young females who would be vulnerable to their sexual depredations. Eventually they ended up sharing their victims with school outsiders including police officials. The priests had become pimps who threatened their victims and their families with death if they revealed their abuse.

The young women were so traumatized that the priests’ threats kept them silent for years.

Finally, however, some of Sr. Cathy’s former students decided to investigate her murder.  One thing led to another, and eventually more than 50 women came forward with their shocking tales which brought to light not only cover-ups by the Baltimore archdiocese, but that implicated the Baltimore Police Department as well.

The story with its cynical use of religion to exploit innocent children led to long conversations with my sister about our Catholic backgrounds, about our own experiences in Catholic schools, about confession, and church teachings in general. We found ourselves sympathizing with those (including close friends and relatives) who have left the church as irredeemably corrupt. No wonder, we agreed, that “former Catholics” represent the second largest religious “denomination” in the country (with 22.8 million), behind members of the official Catholic Church at 68.1 million.

Yet, as human beings, those people (all of us) retain a spiritual hunger. So many former Catholics (and others) identify themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.”

Today’s liturgy of the word gives us an idea of what that identification might mean. They call us to realize the fact that the Spirit of Christ resides in everyone – and in all of creation. It’s not dependent on going to church, being a Catholic or even a Christian. Rather, it depends on simply opening our eyes and on waking up to the Spirit’s presence everywhere, despite the self-induced sleep and blindness of “the world” – and, I would add, despite the corruption of hypocritical churches.

And where does the Spirit reside? The answer is surprising. The Spirit of Christ is closer to us than our jugular vein. John the Evangelist has Jesus say as much in today’s Gospel reading. Listen to the description again for the first time.

Jesus says:

  1. I am in the Father.
  2. You are in me.
  3. I am in you.

Could anyone be clearer about it? We are all temples. Our bodies, not buildings are the churches that matter. There is nothing in Jesus’ teaching about confession, ritual, priests, doctrine. It’s simply about opening our eyes and embracing the truth that God’s Spirit is like the very air we breathe. It’s like Paul will later say in his Areopagus speech about the “Unknown God” (Acts 17:28): Everyone lives and moves and has being in God’s Spirit.

Recognizing that and acting accordingly is what spirituality (vs. religion) is about. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, such recognition will have us keeping his commandments: to love God wholeheartedly and our neighbor as ourselves. And, of course, loving our neighbors as our self does not mean loving them as much as we love ourselves. It means loving them because they are our self – the Self that is one with God. Put more simply: All of us are one. That’s the essence of Jesus’ teaching.

Later on in Acts 17:28, Paul elaborates. He explains to Greek seekers in the Areopagus that their altar to the “Unknown God” represents an unconscious recognition of the God of Israel.

But that recognition can happen only if we become holy in the sense indicated in today’s first reading. There Philip (and later Peter and John) invoked Christ’s Spirit on Samaritans – the traditional enemies of Jews. Significantly, the apostles do so while laying hands on the Samaritans’ heads. Their action symbolically brings together the left and right sides of the brains of those they touch. The ritual shows that experiencing the Spirit calls not just for logic, but for intuition as well. The Spirit is the one who makes us whole, not simply right or left-brain dominant. “Holiness” means wholeness in that sense – integrating what we know logically and by intuition.

That’s what spirituality means!

I’m writing this at 3:00 Sunday morning. The Keepers is still haunting me and keeping me awake. I’m feeling disturbed, even angry, about the Church’s distortion of faith, God and the Spirit of Christ explained so simply in today’s readings.

Please excuse me for any lack of coherence here.  Blame it on the late hour. But don’t miss watching the film.

Ava DuVernay’s Film, “13th”: Don’t Miss It!

13th-netflix-documentary

Did you know that the U.S. Constitution still allows African Americans to be legally enslaved?

I didn’t.

That’s one of the many reasons I found 13,th, Ava DuVernay’s new and explosive Netflix documentary, so enlightening and shocking.

Following up on her civil rights drama, Selma, DuVernay’s film dissects the prison-industrial complex and shows how this profit-from-prison system results directly from a little-known clause in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution ratified in 1865. The amendment states:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Emphasis added)

Through a series of brilliantly juxtaposed interviews, bold graphics and hip-hop lyrics, the film demonstrates how the 14 words highlighted above led to a chain of events that provided former slave owners with the legal justification they required to retain the tremendously profitable free labor slaves provided the ante bellum South. The events in question:

  • Saw former African chattel convicted of “crimes” such a loitering and vagrancy.
  • Led to their imprisonment and return to chain-gang servitude.
  • Expanded such practice through the passage of modern crime bills that now serve a highly privatized prison-industrial system that massively re-criminalizes and disproportionately incarcerates black and brown-skinned Americans.
  • Reactivated the exception clause of the 13th Amendment to provide free labor for Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, and many other firms.

However, 13th goes much further than exposing past and present forms of legal slavery. It also traces the shocking expansion of the U.S. prison population itself. Forty-five years ago, there were about 200,000 inmates in U.S. prisons. Today inmates number more than 2 million. Although the U.S. has just 5% of the world’s population, it has about 25% of the world’s prisoners.  One in three behind bars is black.

Going even further, 13th connects the general criminalization of African Americans with political strategies that disenfranchise people of color. The connection highlights Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the militarization of police forces, and voter-suppression measures in general.

In Kentucky those strategies end up robbing 22% of African Americans of their right to vote. That’s because law in this state insists on depriving convicted felons of voting rights even after they have paid their “debts to society.”

All of this serves the purposes of right wing racists who admit in the words of conservative ideologue, Paul Weyrich, that they don’t want everyone to vote. High voter turnout, Weyrich has argued, works against the G.O.P.’s chances of winning. So besides disenfranchising former felons, Republicans implement voter I.D. laws, under-supply voting machines to African American communities, and otherwise make it difficult for people of color to vote.

However, Republicans are not the only ones indicted in 13th. The documentary also identifies Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1990s Crime Bill as responsible for the explosion of prison populations.

Most chillingly, though, 13th fingers the rhetoric of Donald Trump repeatedly presented as referencing “the good old days” when protestors against the measures criticized in the film would be “punched in the face,” and “carried out on stretchers.”

I highly recommend 13th to counter such uninformed nostalgia for the segregated past. I also hope DuVernay’s work will be duly recognized this year at the Academy Awards. (She’s on the short list for best-documentary nomination.)

“Sausage Party”: A Surprising Anti-Capitalist Call to Revolution

sausage-party

What do you call an economic system where:

  • Everything is sexualized?
  • But sexuality is repressed?
  • Products are treated as people?
  • People are treated as commodities?
  • Theory promises the greatest happiness possible
  • But in reality devours those who believe it?

Of course, that system is the patriarchal sausage party called capitalism. And that’s exactly what’s satirized in the film by the same name. The computer-generated animated comedy is raunchy, sophomoric, scatological, irreverent, suggestive and filled with non-stop double entendre. At the same time, it is artistic in its imagery and creative in terms of its star-studded voice cast. Above all, “Sausage Party” is trenchantly critical of capitalism’s ideology and practice.

Here’s how its plot is summarized on-line by Violet LeVoit:

“A happy-go-lucky sausage (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his supermarket buddies including a hot dog bun (Kristen Wiig), a bagel (Edward Norton), a sausage (Michael Cera) and a taco (Salma Hayek) learn about the horror that awaits them when humans bring them home to chow down. Despite the hostility they get from other supermarket items . . . they embark on an existential adventure to escape from their edible fate. This raunchy animated comedy . . . holds the distinction of being the first R-rated computer animated feature.”

That’s the apparent tale. However, as it unfolds, the comedy reveals itself as an elaborate send up of capitalist theory that crumbles upon its entry into the real world.

Literally (and revealingly) set in a “Market,” “Sausage Party” cleverly presents products as people – or is it people as products?  Like characters reminiscent of Plato’s “Parable of the Cave,” hot dogs, buns, honey mustard, a damaged douche container, and every other super market product you can think of, have all been seduced by a theologized theory that promises a marvelous utopia awaiting them in the “real world” outside the realm where market’s theory is constantly celebrated as a gift from God.

However, like enthusiastic commodified workers hired by employers, the “chosen” soon realize a reality harshly at odds with the theory they’ve learned so well. What was supposed to fulfill actually devours them along with people from all over the world. Meanwhile the commodities’ all-white directors are stupid, dirty, unconscious, and unthinking materialists with no clue about the havoc they’re actually wreaking across the globe.

With all of this in mind, “Sausage Party” becomes a rich satire redolent not only of Plato’s Cave, but of other classic themes including The Journey, The Quest for Truth and Meaning, the Power of Popular Revolution, and the Supremacy of Love and Hope over Blame and Guilt.

It becomes the story of how commodified people come to the realization that their rulers are restricting, exploiting, and destroying them. They become conscious that the entire market system is necrophilic, because it is based on death itself. It employs highly theologized propaganda to induce guilt about perfectly natural impulses (like love and sex) that might otherwise encourage fellow-feeling and awaken rebellious tendencies.

Despite overwhelming obstacles and odds, the conscientized overcome the divide-and-rule distinctions their keepers have imposed. Men join forces with women, blacks with whites, Hispanics with Anglos, Jews with Arabs, gays with straights, and atheists with believers. They take up arms against their oppressors, overthrow the establishment replacing its chaos with an order based on free love and joy. (Sausage Party’s concluding sexual orgy is remarkable.)

In short, “Sausage Party” is about the power of love and natural instincts to destroy an artificial capitalist system based on deception, repression, guilt and tribalism.

For those reasons, the film is worth seeing. But leave the kids at home for this one.

 

 

“War Dogs”:  What Everybody Knows: War is All about the Money

war dogs

“What do you know about war? They’ll tell you it’s about patriotism, democracy . . . You want to know what it’s really about? War is an economy.”

That’s the way director, Todd Phillips’ “War Dogs” begins. It’s the (mostly true) tale of two bumbling stoners from Miami Beach who become wealthy arms dealers supplying weapons to the U.S. military and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The story line reminds us that money is the major reason for the endless wars the U.S has waged across the Muslim world since 9/11. It also reminds us of our moral duty to oppose the corrupt war system that is eminently reformable with a few simple measures – if for no other reason than saving money that is currently wasted.

To begin with, it’s true: war has nothing to do with patriotism, democracy or freedom. It’s simply good for the economy. In fact, war is the economy – or at least its heart where the military budget consumes 57% of the U.S. budget’s annual discretionary spending – $3.8 trillion to be exact. (That’s very nearly as much as the rest of the world combined spends on “defense.”)

In other words, our economy is dependent on blood sacrifice. Pope Francis said as much last September when he spoke to members of the U.S. Congress. He remarked, “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money – money that is soaked in blood.”

At the conclusion of “War Dogs,” Todd Phillips echoes the pope’s phrase, “as we all know.” For as the credits roll, Leonard Cohen sings his own “Everybody Knows.”

And what is it that everybody knows about war?  At some level, we all know that it has fundamentally corrupted our society. Our way of life is based on murder. Yet we refuse to put a stop to the killing. It’s as if we see no alternatives, though they’re staring us in the face.

We’ve become so inured to permanent mayhem that we rarely ponder what it all means for the defenseless poor of the world who (rather than the rich) habitually end up on the wrong end of the guns, bullets, drones, bombs, missiles, air planes, tanks and ships with which our government and U.S. corporations greedily supply the entire world.

For example, here’s what our war economy has meant for the people of Yemen the poorest country in the Middle East. (Their plight is barely reported in the U.S corporate media.) For the past year and a half, Yemen has been the target of bombs dropped by Saudi Arabia, the richest country in the Middle East, with the full support and cooperation of the United States, the richest country in the world. For the impoverished of Yemen this class war has meant:

  • 2,7 million Yemenis driven from their homes.
  • 7000 Yemenis killed – 3,000 of them civilians, including hundreds of children.
  • 30,000 Yemenis injured.

In the end however, “War Dogs” only hints at such disaster. It only suggests the profound corruption of the entire war system. That’s because its two twenty-something principals, Ephraim Diveroli (played by Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) are only small-time bottom-feeders in a system that allows the two –  virtually without education or knowledge of the world – to secure a $3 million Pentagon contract for 100 million rounds of Ak47 ammunition for use in Afghanistan and the longest-running war in U.S. history. The bullets, of course, will be fired at poor people in Afghanistan.

The top-feeders in the system put Diveroli’s and Packouz’s profits to shame; by comparison, the latter come off like choir boys. The big guys are after much, much more.  Their corporate names include the Carlyle Group, Halliburton, Boeing and Motorola. Most recently, the personal names at the top are Bush, Cheney, and Obama. Their bald-faced corruption and indifference to human suffering is absolutely mind-boggling. It has:

  • $6.5 trillion (yes, “trillion” with a “T!”) gone entirely missing from the Pentagon budget without any explanation or even a single audit of the Defense Department over the past 20 years.
  • A father (and former U.S. president), George H.W. Bush, working for a defense-oriented firm (the Carlyle Group), while his son waged permanent war all over the world.
  • A vice president’s company (Halliburton) receiving $39.5 billion in federal war contracts without any bidding from competing firms.
  • A spokesperson for the sitting U.S. president defending the killings in Yemen by saying that the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia would “positively impact the U.S economy and further advance the president’s commitment to create jobs by increasing exports.”

[Imagine if such words and/or practice were reported of a designated enemy like Russia, Korea, Venezuela or Cuba! Imagine a cynical system of war in those countries involving family members, government colleagues, business cronies, and revolving doors connecting presidencies, vice presidencies and defense industry offices. We’d have no trouble identifying it all as “corrupt” and “criminal” Yet somehow we can’t make the same designations when our own government (with our tax dollars!!) is involved.]

Yet that is exactly what “War Dogs” should invite thoughtful viewers to do. It should have us demanding:

  • The cessation of war against the Muslim’s world’s poor.
  • Audits of the Defense Department as rigorous as those monitoring welfare programs for the poor.
  • The nationalization of weapons manufacture to remove the profit motive from war.
  • A 50% cut in the nation’s military budget.
  • The investment of that 50% in rebuilding the homes of the poor destroyed by the U.S. military.
  • The opening of U.S. borders to refugees created by U.S. wars in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.
  • The imposition of special war taxes to fund (and discourage) each additional war our country’s leaders choose to engage.
  • The centralizing of such recommendations in the upcoming presidential debates.

Each one of these proposals is not only anti-war; it is economically sound. Or as Diveroli explains to Packouz whose anti-war sentiment makes him initially demur at joining his friend in the gun-running business: This isn’t about being pro or anti-war . It’s about money. “This is . . . pro-money!” It’s about our tax money.

For Discussion: The Clearest Explanation of Marxism and Surplus Value I’ve Come Across

Whenever my adult children and I get together, we end up “discussing” current events such as the coming General Election, U.S. foreign policy, Black Lives Matter, or Cuba. And those discussions always lead to exchanges about alternatives to capitalism — especially socialism inspired by Karl Marx. On such occasions I end up defending those alternatives, and my dialog partners offer powerful counter-arguments.

I always come away from such events wishing I could be clearer in expressing my convictions. I’ve taught Marxism in the past. For a while, in a team-taught interdisciplinary course involving 15 Berea College faculty drawn from various disciplines (History, Philosophy, Physics, Biology, Economics . . .), I was asked to give the Karl Marx lecture to those colleagues and the entire B.C. sophomore class. The context was a course called “Religious and Historical Perspectives,” the best teaching (and learning) experience I’ve ever had.

There I wish I had been able to give something like the lecture I’ve pasted below. It’s given by Richard Wolff and it’s the clearest explanation of Marx’s theory of “surplus value” that I’ve come across.

Richard Wolff is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts. He is a Marxist educated at Yale,Stanford and Harvard. He currently teaches at the New School in New York City. I am grateful to my good friend, John Capillo, who called him to my attention.

Please watch the video. If my children do, I know it will spark more enlightened conversation. I’m also hoping it will start discussion here among readers of this blog.

See what you think:

(Sunday Homily) “Citizenfour”: Keeping God’s Law through Civil Disobedience

Citizenfour

Readings for 5th Sunday of Lent: JER 31: 31-34; PS 51: 3-4, 12-15; JN 12: 20-33 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032215-fifth-sunday-lent.cfm

I saw “Citizenfour” today. You can see it too. For your own good, please do. The film is live-streamed free here:  https://thoughtmaybe.com/citizenfour/

“Citizenfour” won this year’s Academy Award for best documentary. Its director is Laura Poitras. The film is about whistleblower, Edward Snowden – the 31 year old CIA employee who two years ago leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA).

The information revealed “America’s” massive world-wide spy system that Snowden saw as absolutely eviscerating U.S. constitutional protections against “unreasonable search and seizure.”

In case you’ve forgotten, the 4th Amendment of the Constitution reads as follows:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In contradiction to those words, Snowden’s revelations show that indeed “Big Brother” is watching us at all times. We are under constant surveillance. None of our e-mails or phone calls is secure.  Telephones normally found in hotel rooms are routinely used as listening devices. All of our e-mail searches are monitored and recorded.

This means that citizens expressing disapproval of government policies are easily identified. So are our constitutionally protected efforts to organize against such policies. All of us are subject to blackmail and prosecution based on stories manufactured from “metadata” and texts gathered by our watchers.

Knowing full well that he would be hunted down and prosecuted (and possibly executed) for his leaks, Edward Snowden shared his information with Laura Poitras and with Guardian reporter, Glen Greenwald. Snowden fled to Russia where he was given temporary political asylum. “Citizenfour” is the upshot.

Of course, Snowden’s opponents say his revelations have endangered national security and that he is guilty of treasonous acts of espionage. In response, the former CIA contractor says the whole matter of government secrecy and surveillance needs full debate. So do extra-judicial killings in the world-wide drone assassination program. Security, Snowden implies, is less important than freedom, privacy, and the lives of innocents arbitrarily killed on mere suspicion of possibly one day harming U.S. citizens. Then there are those disturbing words in the Fourth Amendment. . . .

All of that made me think about today’s liturgy of the word. It’s all about obeying conscience rather than the written law. It’s all about another 30 something law-breaker who rejected absolute security in favor of opposing the authorities of his time.  Think about the readings one-by-one.

The first (from the prophet Jeremiah) reminds us that God’s law is not primarily found on tablets of stone. It is inscribed on our hearts. Without invoking “God,” that’s the law Edward Snowden claims to follow – a law much higher than the 1917 Espionage Act invoked against him.

According to today’s responsorial psalm, a heart shaped by God’s law is good and merciful; it is compassionate, forgiving, and guilt-free. Laura Poitras’ film shows Snowden exhibiting all of those qualities. There is not a trace of self-seeking in any of his actions or statements – only concern for others victimized by the state.

It is that heart sensitive to God’s internal law that Jesus manifested. But, like Ed Snowden, it took him great pain to get to that place. Today’s second reading specifically mentions Jesus’ “loud cries and tears,” his anguished prayers and supplications.

Finally, today’s selection from the Gospel of John reiterates the call to follow Jesus, even as Snowden has without any specific reference to Jesus.  Our reading has the Master say that “serving” him means walking the way of the cross. In other words, we must learn his same lessons about rejection that always follows hard upon adoption of Jesus’ counter-cultural “Way.”

A seed has to die before it can bear fruit, Jesus explains. That’s our Teacher’s metaphor about exchanging what the world calls “life,” for what John’s gospel calls “eternal life.”

As in contemporary “America,” the world’s utopian ideal enshrines perfect security – saving our lives at all costs, even if it means wholesale killing of others, even if it means surrendering the God-given freedom that makes us specifically human.

By contrast, Jesus’ Way enshrines compassion, service and forgiveness, even if it costs us our lives.

Ironically, Jesus explains, if we expend our resources on saving our lives, we will lose them. But if we reject security as our guiding principle, we’ll gain access to “eternal life” – access to God’s Kingdom, where God is King, not Caesar.

Mysteriously, today’s final reading instructs us against loving our lives. It actually says we should hate our life in this world. Edward Snowden shows what that injunction means. His courageous example calls us to oppose Big Brother, and to support Snowden’s own return to the United States – as a hero.

Be sure to see “Citizenfour.” It exemplifies today’s readings. It’s about opposing the values of “the world,” and about losing one’s life in favor of life’s fullness. It provides an example of a young man following the Law of God inscribed deep in our hearts. That’s our vocation.

(Sunday Homily) Why I Liked “American Sniper”

american-sniper

Readings for 3rd Sunday in ordinary time: DT 18: 15-20; PS 95: 1-2, 6-9; I COR 7: 32-35; MK 1: 21-28

Today’s readings are about resistance to oppression. They invite us to side with the oppressed and poor in their fight against world-class bullies – to understand the world from the viewpoint of the “unclean.” Seen from that perspective, “American Sniper” is full of insight. It calls us to think critically about whose side we are on in the endless wars our country wages.

The need to see reality “from below” is a major point of today’s first reading. There the message of Moses announcing liberation of the oppressed is presented as the criterion of prophetic truth. Those who teach like Moses (on behalf of the enslaved) should be listened to. False prophets with another message will be punished. This first reading from the Jewish tradition goes on to promise the advent of another prophet like Moses.

By virtue of its inclusion in the liturgy of the word, today’s gospel selection from the Christian tradition identifies Jesus as fulfilling the Mosaic promise. He not only astounds people by his authoritative way of speaking. His action on behalf of a man considered “unclean” demonstrates Jesus’ prophetic authenticity.

That insight was on my mind last week when I decided to see “American Sniper” for myself. I had read the reviews. I knew the criticisms. But I wondered what it would look like if I followed the suggestions of today’s readings and viewed the film “from below,” from an Iraqi perspective.

What I discovered was surprising.

Viewed from the underside of history, “American Sniper” was a tribute to the world’s poor and oppressed – especially to the heroic people of Iraq. That’s because “American Sniper” was about resisting bullies the way the Iraqis have since 2003.

That bully theme is not farfetched. It was announced in one of the film’s opening scenes.

There an adolescent Chris Kyle is instructed by his father about three ways of being in the world. Kyle, of course, is the film’s central character – the most lethal sniper in the history of the American military. He is believed to have killed 255 Iraqis in his 4 tours of duty. Many, it is certain, had their heads blown right off.

“You can be a wolf, a sheep, or a sheepdog” Kyle’s father tells him (in my paraphrase). “Wolves are bullies; they are cowards preying on the weak. Sheep are the naïve who simply go along, following the herd; they do nothing about bullies. They too are cowards. The way to deal with bullies” says Kyle’s father,” is to be a sheepdog and protect those the bully preys upon.

“I want you to be sheepdogs!” the elder Kyle shouts at his sons, “Don’t let the bullies have their way.”

Ironically, the rest of “American Sniper” shows how Chris Kyle entirely rejected his father’s advice, but also how Iraqi patriots unconsciously heeded it. They emerge in the film as the sheepdogs Kyle’s father admired.

For his part, Kyle joins a gang that specifically preys upon the weak for no good reason – simply because it can and because (as Kyle writes) it’s fun. Chris Kyle became a gangster bully.

No, he didn’t join the “Crips” or “Bloods,” “Sharks” or “Jets.” He joined the “Seals.” And their destructive power was beyond belief. To begin with, their gang attire was fearful including matching helmets and boots, flak jackets, camouflage, wrap-around sunglasses, and night vision goggles. They had guns of all types, unlimited supplies of bullets, grenades, missile launchers, armored vehicles, helicopters, planes, and sophisticated communication devices. They prowled in menacing groups along the streets of Bagdad pointing guns at open windows and doors, pedestrians and drivers.

But it wasn’t easy for aspiring bullies to become Seals; doing so required absolute submission and humiliation. So as with all gangs, they had their initiation rites. These included merciless hazing and demeaning tests of endurance. Such rites of passage were accompanied by constant indoctrination that left initiates exhausted and absolutely malleable. In terms of today’s responsorial psalm, their hearts were sufficiently hardened for the inhuman tasks before them.

As a result, and with no knowledge whatever of their intended victims, Seals became convinced that anyone their superiors identified as “targets” were savages. They knew that because their indoctrinators told them so.  They knew nothing else about Iraq, Iraqis or their culture. And so, and like their Indian Fighter predecessors, Seals hated “savages” and wanted them all dead.

In other words, gang aspirants became servile and submissive sheep. They obeyed orders without question or understanding of context. (It’s the military way.) Seals stood ready to kill women, children, the elderly and disabled – anyone identified by their superiors or who threatened their mafia-like ethos of “family.” Protecting one’s “brothers” in crime became the justification of any slaughter. As a result of that brainwashing, Seals were entirely unable to see their “enemies” human beings.

Such identification was difficult for audiences of “American Sniper” as well. Nonetheless, Iraqi humanity inevitably surfaced for anyone remembering today’s readings about Moses and Jesus.  Those prophetic lenses revealed the Seals’ victims to be the successors of the poor and oppressed that both of those prophets came to rescue.

Think about the Iraqis for a minute.

Like their predecessors in Egypt, they were perfect targets for bullies. They had no army, no sophisticated weapons, no helicopters, planes or armored vehicles. They wore no uniforms or protective clothing. Apart from unemployed members of Iraq’s Republican Guard, almost none had formal military training.

Instead they were simple peasants, merchants, teachers, barbers and taxi drivers. They were fathers and mothers, children barely able to lift a grenade launcher, grandparents, friends and neighbors banding together as best they could to protect their homes, families from the ignorant, marauding invaders who proudly called themselves “The Seals.” Unable to show weapons in public (like their menacing occupiers), Iraqis hid them by day under floor boards in their homes.

Some were so desperate that they were willing to sacrifice themselves and their children to resist the Seal home-invaders. So they became suicide bombers. Others experimented with non-violent resistance. They were willing to share their tables with the barbarians from abroad, offering them food and shelter in hopes that kindness might win them over.

But no such luck.

So the majority resorted to defending themselves and each other with weapons – mostly captured or left over from previous Seal invasions (there have been many). What else were these brave patriots to do?

One of them became particularly admired. He had been a national hero, called Mustafa. In the story, this fictional character was an Olympic gold medal winner like the American’s Michael Phelps. But instead of resting on his laurels or using his status to protect himself from harm, he employed his skills as a sharp shooter to defend his people.

We can only imagine the pride that swelled the hearts of Iraqis when they heard how he inspired fear in the American bullies who constantly kicked in their doors, destroyed and looted their property, belittled their culture and faith, intimidated their children, frightened their elders, and demeaned their women.

In the end, Mustafa became a glorious martyr.

Again ironically, he was gunned down by his ignorant American counterpart. He was killed by the bully without a thought in his head who was in the game for fun, for the rush of battle, and to protect his relatively invulnerable “brothers” from the harm they deserved at the hands of the civilian victims they tormented.

In what can only be described as an act of self-loathing, that counterpart, Chris Kyle, takes careful aim and from a great and safe distance shoots a patriot he considers “savage,” because he mirrors so well his own bloody “work.”

It’s easy to vilify Chris Kyle. But he’s not to blame. He was no different from any other soldier serving in Iraq. He was no different from drone “pilots” operating from their air-conditioned “theaters” in Nevada or New Mexico. Sad to say, all of them are unwitting bullies and gangsters. They are brainwashed sheep.

Today’s readings are a reminder of all that. So is “American Sniper.”

Both call us to put ourselves in the shoes of those we are taught to hate.

Shockingly, they call us to change sides!