Scrap Thomas’ Denialism Before It’s Too Late: We’re in a Situation Worse than Nazi Germany

Hitler bishops

Readings for 1st Sunday after Easter: ACTS 4:32-35; PS 118L 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1JN 5: 1-6; JN 20: 19-31

Last Sunday, which was both Easter and April Fools’ Day, I published my monthly column in the Lexington Herald-Leader. It pulled no punches. As a matter of fact, I was surprised that the Leader’s editors decided to print it.

My column contrasted the fact that fully 70-75% of Americans claim to be followers of Christ. They say they believe in Jesus’ resurrection – in the triumph of life over death. And yet, as a culture, we remain necrophobic, necrophilic, and entirely denying the direction of history announced in Jesus’ resurrection.

On the one hand, we’re overwhelmingly afraid of death. Despite the words of our national anthem, ours is not the home of the brave. Quite the opposite. Even our police officers are granted unrestricted license to kill if they simply allege, “I feared for my life.” Evidently, they’re all dreadful necrophobes.

On the other hand, we Americans love death and killing. The movies we patronize are about almost nothing else. Our constant solution to almost any problem you care to name is “Arm them!” “Fight them!” “Kill them!” “Nuke ’em!”

Yet, face it: Jesus could endorse none of that. He was completely non-violent and courageous in facing death. Along with every spiritual genius I can think of, he said we should treat others exactly the way we would want to be treated – because they are us. In effect, he taught that killing another person amounts to suicide.

So, Jesus refused to take up arms to save himself, his friends, or his family. If you live by the sword, he promised, you will die by that same instrument. Jesus prayed for his executioners. He said we should love our enemies, not kill them.

As a collective faith community, Christians are sadly in denial about the clear political meaning of those facts. No follower of Jesus should ever take up arms. The irony is that accepting that reality alone has the power to save our species and planet.

My column went further. Echoing Noam Chomsky, it alleged that the U.S. has been taken over by the most dangerous organization in the history of the world – viz. by the Republican Party. Despite its Christian pretensions, its positions on climate change and nuclear war make it worse, I said, than the forces of Attila the Hun, worse than ISIS, the Taliban, or Hitler’s Nazis.

The Republicans and supporting conservative Democrats place greed for money over the lives of our children and grandchildren. How dare they! Who gave those greedy few the authority to decide for 7 billion people? Why aren’t we all up in arms – precisely in Jesus’ name?

Usually when I publish such thoughts in the Leader, readers’ responses are quite vehemently negative. But do you know what happened this time? Not a single negative comment. Instead I received a whole series of supportive e-mails and word-of-mouth comments completely agreeing with my sentiments.

“You really let it all hang out there, Mike,” was a typical remark, “but I agree with every word you wrote.”

What can that mean, I wonder. If so many of us believe that our country has been taken over by forces more insidious than Hitler’s, and if Jesus is who his words and actions say he is, how can we stand by idly and watch it happen? Are we, the people, about to rebel? Are we approaching a tipping point? Have we gone beyond the denial that is no longer tenable?

Such questions are relevant in the light of the Gospel reading for this First Sunday after Easter. It’s about a man in denial about Jesus’ identity. The man meets the risen Christ (the champion of life over death), recognizes God in him, and changes profoundly as a result.

Of course, I’m referring to the original doubting Thomas. His nickname was “the twin” perhaps because he’s our twin in cowardice and hopefully in faith. Recall his story. Pray that it can be ours as well. If not, our “Christian”-dominated culture is beyond redemption.

The disciples are there in the Upper Room where they had so recently broken bread with Yeshua the night before he died. And they are all afraid. John says they are afraid of “the Jews.” However, it seems, like us, they fear death more than anything else. They dread it because they are convinced that death spells the end of everything they hold dear – their ego-selves, families, friends, culture, and their small pleasures. Besides that, they are afraid of the pain that will accompany arrest – the isolation cells, the beatings, torture, the unending pain, and the final blow that will bring it all to a close. Surely, they were questioning their stupidity in following that failed radical from Galilee.

So, they lock the doors, huddle together and turn in on themselves.

Nevertheless, the very fears of the disciples and recent experience make them rehearse the events of their past few days. They recall the details: how Yeshua so bravely faced up to death and refused to divulge their names even after undergoing “the third degree” – beatings followed by the dreaded thorn crown, and finally by crucifixion. All the while, he remained silent refusing to name the names his Roman interrogators were looking for. He died protecting his friends. Yeshua was brave and loyal.

His students are overwhelmingly grateful for such a Teacher. . .

Then suddenly, the tortured one materializes there in their midst. Locks and fears were powerless to keep him out. They all see him. They speak with him. He addresses their fears directly. “Peace be with you,” he repeats three times. Yeshua eats with them just as he had the previous week. Suddenly his friends realize that death was not the end for the Teacher. He makes them understand that it is not the end for them either – nor for anyone else who risks life and limb for the kingdom of God. No doubt everyone present is overwhelmed with relief and intense joy.

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

Later on, Thomas arrives – our fraternal double in fear and disbelief. His absence remains unexplained. Something had evidently called him away when the others evoked Jesus’ presence by their prayer, recollections, and sharing of bread and wine. Like us, he hasn’t met the risen Lord.

“Jesus is alive,” they tell our twin. “He’s alive in the realm of God. He took us all with him to that space for just a moment, and it was wonderful. Too bad you missed it, Thomas. None of the rules of this world apply where Yeshua took us. It was just like it was before he died. Don’t you remember? Yeshua brought us to a realm full of life and joy. Fear no longer seems as reasonable as it once did. He was here with us!”

However, Thomas remains unmoved. Like so many of us, he’s is a literalist, a downer. He’s an empiricist looking for the certainty of physical proof. Thomas is also a fatalist; he evidently believes that what you see is what you get. And for him there has been no indication that life can be any different from what his senses have always told him. Life is tragic. Death is stronger than life; it ends everything. And that means that Yeshua is gone forever. Who could be so naïve as to deny that?

Our twin in unfaith protests, “In the absence of physical proof to the contrary, I simply cannot bring myself to share your faith that another way of life is possible. And make no mistake: Yeshua’s enemies haven’t yet completed their bloody work. They’re after us too.”

Can’t you see Thomas glancing nervously behind him? “Are you sure those doors are locked?”

Then lightning strikes again. Yeshua suddenly materializes a second time in the same place. Locks and bolts, fear and terror – death itself – again prove powerless before him.

Yeshua is smiling. “Thomas, I missed you,” he says. “Look at my wounds. It’s me!”

Thomas’ face is bright red. Everyone’s looking at him. “My God, it is you,” he blurts out. “I’m so sorry I doubted.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Yeshua assures. “You’re only human, and I know what that’s like, believe me. I too knew overwhelming doubt. Faith is hard. On death row, my senses told me that my Abba had abandoned me too. I almost gave up hope. It’s like I’m your twin.

“But then I decided to surrender. And I’m happy I did. My heart goes out to you, Thomas. My heart goes out to all doubters. I’ve been there.

“However, it’s those who can commit themselves to God’s promised future in the absence of physical proof that truly amaze and delight me. Imagine trusting life’s goodness and an unseen future characterized by non-violence! Imagine trusting my word that much, when I almost caved in myself? That’s what I really admire!

“My prayer for you, Thomas, and for everyone else is that you’ll someday experience the joy that kind of faith brings. Working for God’s peace – for fullness of life for everyone – even in the face of contrary evidence – that’s what faith is all about. May it be yours.”

My point in writing that Easter Sunday article was something similar.

If 70-75% of us truly followed Jesus and left behind both our necrophobia and necrophilia, we’d get out in the streets and bring down the arrogant impostors who have seized power in this country. None of them would be able to resist such numbers in revolt.

Pray that Thomas’ transformation and faith might be ours as well, and that a tipping point has been reached or is on the way. The future of our world literally depends on it.

We need to overcome the faithless denial our love of violence and death suggests. That’s the call of today’s Gospel.

Easter Sunday: Pope Francis & the Deep Meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection

Pope Francis
Readings for Easter Sunday: ACTS 10: 34A, 37-43; PS 118 1-2, 16-17, 22-23, ICOR 3L 1-4; JN 20: 1-9.

On this Easter Sunday, it’s appropriate to address the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Did he really rise from the dead? Or is that doctrine simply a remnant of childhood like belief in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus? And for those of us concerned with social justice, what can the Bible’s resurrection stories possibly mean?

This reflection tries to address those questions from the viewpoint of Pope Francis.

In response to the question about the factuality of Jesus’ resurrection, let’s look at what the Christian tradition itself tells us. It indicates that the resurrection accounts are not based on the physical resuscitation of a corpse. The experiences portrayed in tradition were more visionary and likely metaphorical.

As for the sociopolitical meaning of Jesus’ rising from the dead, Pope Francis addresses that question quite meaningfully in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. Life is stronger than death, he reminds us. Despite appearances, vital forces will always triumph in the end. But we’ll get to that presently.

First however consider the nature of the resurrection traditions themselves. They were inspired by women and emerged from the bleakest depths of despair not unlike what many progressives might be feeling today as our fondest hopes appear further than ever from fulfillment – as a rogue U.S. empire wreaks havoc and its savage economy destroys the planet.

Think about it.

Following Jesus’ death, his disciples returned to business as usual – fishing most prominently. It was their darkest hour. Yeshua, the one on whom they had pinned their hopes for the liberation of Israel from Roman domination was dead. Their world had ended.

But then unexpectedly, women among them reported an experience which effectively raised Jesus back to life (MT 28:1-10; MK 16: 1-8; LK 24:1-11). He was more intensely present, they said, than before his execution. Their tales changed everything.

But what was the exact nature of the resurrection? Did it involve a resuscitated corpse? Or was it something more spiritual, visionary and prophetic?

In Paul (the only 1st person report we have – written around 50 C.E.) the experience of resurrection is clearly visionary. Paul sees a light and hears a voice, but for him there is no embodiment of the risen Jesus. When Paul reports his experience (I COR 15: 3-8) he equates his vision with the resurrection manifestations to others claiming to have encountered the risen Christ. Paul writes “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” In fact, even though Paul never met the historical Jesus, he claims that he too is an “apostle” specifically because he shared the same resurrection experience as the companions of Jesus who were known by that name. This implies that at best the other resurrection appearances might also be accurately described as visionary rather than as physical.

The earliest Gospel account of a “resurrection” is found in Mark, Ch. 16. There a “young man” (not an angel) announces Jesus’ resurrection to a group of women (!) who had come to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body (16: 5-8). But there is no encounter with the risen Jesus. In fact, Mark’s account actually ends without any narrations of resurrection appearances at all. (According to virtually all scholarly analysis, the “appearances” found in chapter 16 were added by a later editor.)

In Mark’s original ending, the women are told by the young man to go back to Jerusalem and tell Peter and the others. But they fail to do so, because of their great fear (16: 8). This means that in Mark not only are there no resurrection appearances, but the resurrection itself goes un-proclaimed. This in turn indicates either that Mark didn’t know about such appearances or did not think them important enough to include!

Resurrection appearances make their own appearance in Matthew (writing about 80) and in Luke (about 85) with increasing detail. But always there is some initial difficulty in recognizing Jesus. For instance, Matthew 28: 11-20 says, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted.” So, the disciples saw Jesus, but not everyone present was sure they did. In Luke 24: 13-53, two disciples walk seven miles with the risen Jesus without recognizing him until the three break bread together.

Even in John’s gospel (published about 90) Mary Magdalene (the woman with the most intimate relationship to Jesus) thinks she’s talking to a gardener when the risen Jesus appears to her (20: 11-18). In the same gospel, the apostle Thomas does not recognize the risen Jesus until he touches the wounds on Jesus’ body (JN 26-29). When Jesus appears to disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, they at first think he is a fishing kibitzer giving them instructions about where to find the most fish (JN 21: 4-8).

All of this raises questions about the nature of the “resurrection.” Once again, it doesn’t seem to have been resuscitation of a corpse. What then was it? Was it the community coming to realize the truth of Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me” (MT 25:45) or “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst” (MT 18:20)? Do the resurrection stories reveal a Lord’s Supper phenomenon where Jesus’ early followers experienced his intense presence “in the breaking of the bread” (LK 24:30-32)?

Regardless of whether one believes in resurrection as resuscitation of Jesus’ dead body or as a metaphor about the spiritual presence of God in communities resisting empire and serving the poor, the question must be answered, “What does resurrection mean?”

It’s here that Pope Francis helps us. In The Joy of the Gospel (JG), he relates the resurrection accounts, (whatever their factual basis) to our own despair – just as real and hopeless as that of Jesus’ bereft disciples. Francis writes to encourage us who might be worn down and hopeless in the face of a world:

  • Pervaded by consumerism and pleasure-seeking without conscience (JG 2)
  • Governed by merciless competition and social Darwinism (53)
  • Economically organized by failed “trickle-down” ideologies that idolize money (54, 55)
  • Controlled by murderers (53) and thieves (57, 189)
  • Torn apart by wars and violence (99)
  • Rooted in growing income inequality which is the root of all social ills (202), including destruction of the environment and its defenseless non-human animate life (215)

In the face of all that, here’s what Francis says:

“Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history . . . May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope! (276, 277)

Here the pope says that the power and meaning of Jesus’ resurrection is not found in the past. Neither is there reference here to the resuscitation of the Lord’s body. Instead, the pope explains the resurrection in terms of a story that calls attention to the persistent power of Life itself:

* Of nature and spring after a long cold winter

* Of goodness in a world that seems governed by evil

* Of light where darkness reigns unabated

* Of justice where injustice is simply taken for granted

* Of beauty where ugliness is worshipped as its opposite

* Of hope over despair

* And of activists who refuse to stand on the sidelines

No need for despondency, the pope says. Despite appearances, Life and its irresistible forces are on our side! They will not – they cannot – be controlled even by imperial agents of death as powerful as the Rome that assassinated Jesus or the United States whose economic and military policies are butchering the planet.

Even post moderns, skeptics and agnostics can embrace a story with a message like that.

After all, it’s spring! Life goes on! Jesus has indeed risen!

Emma Gonzalez (or maybe Stormy Daniels) for President!

Emma-Gonzalez (1)

This last weekend introduced the nation to two extraordinary women speaking about issues that concern us all, viz. presidential corruption and gun violence.

Those issues aside, what struck me about the women in question was the fact that each showed evidence of being better qualified for the oval office than its present occupant. As the latter might tweet: “Sad!”

Of course, I’m talking about Stormy Daniels and Emma Gonzalez. Stormy’s the porn star who alleges an affair with Donald Trump and a payoff by his lawyer to keep quiet. As we all know, she was interviewed on 60 Minutes last Sunday. Her responses to Anderson Cooper’s probing questions were serious, witty, and fulsome. (She also seemed to care about her young daughter, while her client seemed to lust after his own.)

Emma Gonzalez is the now-famous 17-year-old survivor of the Parkland, Florida St. Valentine’s massacre. On Saturday, she spoke out powerfully at the D.C. March for Our Lives. The highlight of her speech was an abrupt silence of more than 6 minutes to honor her schoolmates who were shot on February 14th. Those long minutes have been described as the loudest, most effective silence in the history of American oratory.

In any case, my point is that each of these extraordinary women showed herself better qualified for our nation’s highest office than its current occupant. Think about it. Ironically, both showed evidence of being:

* More thoughtful than Mr. Trump
* Smarter
* More self-possessed
* More articulate
* Better informed

Yes, that’s right. A 17-year-old high school student and a sex worker gave the distinct impression of being better qualified for “the highest office in the land” than the 70+year-old John who actually holds it.

Is there anyone out there to dispute my claim? If so, please let me hear from you.

So, maybe we should run Stormy or Emma for president. Emma would be my preference.

Granted sex workers have a special knowledge about the way men and the dominant patriarchy work. Nevertheless, their business model, like our politicians’, is based on deception, illusion, and fakery. This suggests that despite the brightness she exhibited on 60 Minutes last week, Ms. Daniels might share too much in common with dim-witted “Lyin’ Don” and most of our other “public servants.”

And don’t worry about Ms. Gonzalez’s age. Yes, according to Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, she’s less than half the age required for president. However, I’m sure we can find a way around that one.

After all, (except for the Second Amendment) Washington’s best and brightest have found their way around many constitutional obstacles without much trouble. So, while respect for the Second Amendment prevents “strict constructionists” from questioning citizens’ rights to own and use AR-15s to kill their fellow citizens, they have no trouble finding ways around:

* Initiating war by presidential fiat, despite the clear instructions of Article i, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution which reserves to Congress the right to declare war. (This has been true in the cases of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, the Afghanistan War of 2001 and the Iraq War of 2002 — not to mention all the acts of war committed after 9/11/01.)
* Reading our mail or listening to our phone conversations in clear violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment
* Executing without trial U.S. citizens like Anwar Aulaqi and his son in evident contravention of the Fifth Amendment guaranteeing due process to all U.S. citizens
* Similarly discounting the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment (and the Magna Carta itself) by imprisoning indefinitely and without charge or trial both suspected terrorists and undocumented immigrants
* Disregarding Article 9, Paragraph 1, Section 8 (the “emoluments clause”) by using the office of the presidency for personal profit.

You see, Emma Gonzalez, even at 17, perceives the hypocrisy of all that. She calls them out and demands that the entire Constitution (not merely the Second Amendment) be respected. If you can “interpret” the document for the sake of fighting terrorism, excluding Mexicans, making a buck, or spying on you and me, why not interpret away the Second Amendment for the sake of protecting the lives of our children, students and teachers?

Ironically, (as I said) such questioning makes this 17-year-old more honest, smarter, better informed, and strangely more qualified than the John who calls himself Don.

So, I’ll say it again: Emma Gonzalez for president!

Which to Celebrate This Year: Easter or April Fool’s?

Gandhi:Jesus

This April 1st, I fear I won’t be able to say “Happy Easter” to anybody. I’m even thinking about boycotting the festival altogether as a cruel April Fool’s hoax.

That’s because Easter is a celebration of life’s triumph over death. Yet we “Americans,” despite the fact that 70-75% of us claim to follow the risen Christ, find ourselves immersed in a culture of death. We love it; we’re actually necrophilic. Somebody’s got to protest that.

Examine the evidence so out-of-sync with Americans’ faith claims:

* Our Religious Fundamentalist Party, the G.O.P., is engaged in all-out terrorism on God’s creation. Republicans are worse than the Taliban or ISIS. Alone in the world, they bully every creature on earth by denying human-caused climate change. Millions of humans and billions of other creatures will die as a result.
* Totally beholden to the arms industry, U.S. politicians of every stripe choose violence as their first response to most problems they face. Their remedy for school shootings? Above all, don’t adopt the common-sense policies that have worked in every other industrialized country. Instead, bring guns to school; arm kindergarten teachers!
* Rather than pursue nuclear disarmament, they tear up past agreements and modernize our overwhelming arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. (They stand willing to totally destroy North Korea for doing something similar!)
* While claiming to be pro-life, they wage a genocidal war in Yemen (and half a dozen other places) where millions of children face mass starvation and an unprecedented cholera epidemic.
* Our Commander-in-Chief proposes a military parade in D.C. that will cost up to $50 million that could be better spent on programs to help veterans needlessly traumatized by our country’s absolutely futile and endless wars.
* In fact, nothing has changed, except for the worse, since Martin Luther King identified the United States as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

On Easter Sunday, doesn’t all of this seem ironic – and infuriating?

That’s because everything I’ve just described profoundly contradicts the Christian faith so many Americans claim as their own. Jesus was non-violent. He refused to take up arms to defend himself or his family and friends. He had no fear of death. Or rather, he overcame his fear and endured torture and capital punishment rather than take a life. Protecting himself or his loved ones by killing or sacrificing others was not Jesus’ Way. Quite the opposite.

He taught his followers the Golden Rule (MT7:12). He said we should love our enemies (MT:5:43-48). When attacked, he told his followers to put away their swords (MT26:52). In the midst of his death throes, he prayed for his executioners (LK23:34). His Easter greeting was the repeated phrase, “Peace be with you” (JN20:24-29)

Imagine if 70-75% of U.S. citizens:

* Truly accepted those teachings
* Refused to succumb to today’s necrophilia because of our faith in Jesus’ Way
* Called upon that faith to demand that President Trump sober up, stop the
bombing, and abjure permanent war that is the cause (not the solution) of the world’s problems
* From that same faith perspective, recognized the NRA, the arms industry and their political servants for the terrorists they are

A faith like that would be worth embracing; it would make a difference and bring many of us back to our faith roots.

It might allow Jesus’ followers to say (and truly mean) “Happy Easter” instead of sneering “April Fool’s!”

The Salvation of Our Country and Church Comes from Iranians and Mexican Immigrants (Sunday Homily)

Readings for 4th Sunday in Lent: 2CHR 36:14-16, 19-24; PS 137:1-6; EPH 2:4-10; JN 3: 14-21

NAFTA

Today’s liturgy of the word reminds us to look for salvation in unexpected places. In fact, it strongly suggests that the very ones our culture despises, and our church relegates to second class status have been chosen by God to save us. Specifically, I’m talking about Iranians relative to our country and Latin Americans in relation to the church.

Take Iranians first. (They are called “Persians” in today’s first reading.) There, one of them (King Cyrus) is identified in Chronicles as Judah’s “messiah” or anointed. The identification is given even though Cyrus was not a Jew, but an adherent of Zoroastrianism, a religion even more foreign to Judaism than Islam. Yet according to Chronicles, this Iranian king was God’s servant chosen to end Judah’s long exile in Babylon (modern day Iraq). That’s what I mean by salvation coming from an unexpected place.

Then in the second reading from Ephesians, Paul refers to Jesus of Nazareth in those same Cyrusian terms. Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed, Paul says – and an unlikely “Christ” at that. After all, the Nazarene was the son of an unwed teenage mother; an refugee-immigrant in Egypt at the beginning of his life; a working stiff rather than a priest or scholar; possessed by the devil (according to the religious establishment); a drunkard and whore-monger according to those same sources; an enemy of the temple and state; and a victim of torture and of capital punishment in the form reserved for terrorists. Nevertheless, just as Cyrus brought Judah back from their 70 year-long exile in Babylon, Paul says, Jesus, the executed criminal, brought all of us back from the metaphorical death caused by living according to the deathly standards of the world. In Paul’s eyes, those standards obscure the gifts of God by convincing us that we have to earn life rather than accepting everything as God’s gift. Or as Paul puts it: “salvation is not the result of works,” but of God’s graciousness.

That graciousness (John the evangelist reminds us in today’s Gospel reading) is unending; it covers all the bases, has no exceptions and lasts forever. It turns each of us into Christs – into God’s only son (or daughter) – into saviors of the world. In other words, each one of us is the unlikeliest Christ of all.

O.K. each of today’s readings tell us to look for salvation in unexpected places – even within ourselves. But what are we post-moderns to understand by “salvation” itself? Think about it. The answer should be clear both in terms of country and church. In both spheres our condition can only be described as absolutely desperate and in need of deliverance.

Politically, we’re currently like lemmings rushing headlong towards the final precipice. Under the aegis of the organization Noam Chomsky calls “the most dangerous in the history of the world,” our Republican “leaders” are in denial about the greatest peril the human race has ever faced. Here I’m referring to climate chaos that threatens to deprive our grandchildren and even us and our children of the most basic necessities of life.

Besides that, our rulers insist on developing nuclear arsenals whose destructive power boggles the mind. And they seem extremely anxious to unleash them. The U.S. commander in chief has gone so far as to wonder aloud, “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?” If we’re not looking for salvation from all of that, we must be asleep entirely.

And as for faith . . . My own Christian community, the Catholic Church, it is in dire need of salvation too. It is crumbling before our eyes.

My parish in Berea, Kentucky is a case in point. There we’ve had a series of restorationist pastors hell-bent on reinstating the pre-Vatican II order I grew up in during the 1940s and ’50s.
Clericalism is their watchword and guiding vision. Outside the sanctuary, they wear birettas and cassocks. While celebrating Mass they seem rule-bound, uncreative, unthoughtful, and totally oblivious not only to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, but to Pope Francis’ more recent summons to radical change as described in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (JG), and in his eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’ (LS).

As a result of such backwardness, church numbers are dwindling drastically. Parishioners I’ve seen at Mass every Sunday over my 46 years at St. Clare’s have gone missing. Alternatively, and like my own children, they have joined the ranks of the second largest denomination in the country – Former Catholics. Loyal progressives in my parish are at their wits’ end wondering how to cope with leadership tone-deaf to their desperate voices.

My own response has been to recognize what theologian and church historian, Figueroa Deck has identified as the “sleeping giant” of Latino Catholicism. That has me attending our parish’s Hispanic Mass at 11:00, rather than the increasingly reactionary and Euro-centric Anglo Mass at 9:00. I “go to the eleven o’clock” not only to escape the deadly retrogression of 9:00 a.m. antiquarianism, but in subconscious recognition, I think, of the fact that our Hispanic parishioners represent the cutting, salvific edge of the Catholic Church.

For decades now, the Latin American Church has embodied Catholicism’s most vital element.That’s personified in Pope Francis himself, our first Latin American pontiff, who I’m told is rejected by our current parish leadership – the same way Washington rejects Latin American immigrants.

Francis, of course, comes from Argentina. He’s followed the lead of Latin American theologians of liberation with his adoption of Jesus’ own “preferential option for the poor.” That entails recognition that the poor (including, most prominently, our immigrant population) know more about the world than our rich leaders – or even than us in more comfortable classes.

I mean, immigrants possess a version of what W.E.B. Dubois called “double consciousness,” while the rest of us see only one side of what’s occurring before our eyes. On the one hand, the daily observation of the undocumented (as our motel cleaners, nannies, gardeners, construction workers, and fellow parishioners) tells them what it means to be a white American. On the other, they know intimately the experience of exclusion by those same whites.

Immigrants know how the economy works for whites, and how it excludes browns and blacks. They know that rich capitalists and their money enjoy absolute freedom to cross borders, regardless of the negative impacts such mobility might (and does!) have on Global South economies. At least subconsciously, migrant workers recognize the simultaneous contradiction of their being excluded from such mobility, despite the fact that labor is an even more important part of the economic equation than capital. So even though the law (created by the rich) forbids them, immigrants vote with their feet to claim the rights the system unjustly denies them. Our “immigration problems” are the result.

The double consciousness of immigrants can be salvific for the church. If its expressions are heeded, they can save the church. As expressed by our Hispanic Pope Francis, the undocumented in our midst call us to a church where (in the words of The Joy of the Gospel) we cannot leave things as they presently are” (JG 25), but must include new ways of relating to God, new narratives and new paradigms (74).

Similarly, in the world of politics, Iranians (the descendants of Chronicles’ Cyrus the Great) inspired this time by Islam are calling us to changes in foreign policy. They implore us to just leave them (and their oil) alone. Ironically, their desire is that they be liberated from a kind of Babylonian captivity that places them under the jackboot of the United States and (still more ironically) Israel.

What I’m suggesting is that the descendants of Cyrus are still God’s instrument of our salvation. So in our present desperate context, are marginalized Catholic immigrants whose presence reminds us of Pope Francis’ wisdom and of the penetrating understanding of life that comes from refugees and the immigrants our government’s free trade policies create on the one hand, while refusing them sanctuary on the other.

Both bring us the new ways of relating to God, the new narratives and the new paradigms salvation requires.

The Ten Commandments Call Us to Joy and Peace, Not to Guilt and War

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The emphasis in today’s liturgy of the word is on the wonders of God’s law. Today’s first reading reviews the expanded version of the familiar “Ten Commandments” which many of us were made to memorize as children. Then the responsorial psalm praises God’s Law as perfect, refreshing, wise, right, joyful, clear, enlightening, true, just, precious, and sweet.

On hearing that string of adjectives, many might raise their eyebrows in disbelief. “Joyful, “refreshing,” “precious,” “sweet?” “That’s not been my experience of the Ten Commandments,” we might say. “My experience of what’s called “God’s law” is entirely negative. When I hear references to the Ten Commandments I think of repressed fundamentalists wanting the Commandments posted on school walls and enshrined on lawns before every courthouse.”

And it’s true: negative reaction to talk of “Commandments” is completely understandable. From childhood, authority figures intent on controlling the most intimate details of our lives have threatened us with “The 10 Commandments,” “sin” and “punishment.” From the time we were children, and especially as adolescents and young adults “God’s Law” seemed to militate against everything we really wanted to do – especially in the area of sexuality.

However, a bit of reflection shows how misplaced such reactions are. It reveals that “God’s Law” is not something posted on a classroom wall or on a plaque in front of a government building. It’s not written in stone either. Instead, it’s enshrined deep in the human heart. And human happiness – world peace – is impossible without observing that law which in its essence is no different from nature’s law.

That recognition in turn suggests how important it is for us to come to agreement about moral and ethical behavior if we truly want peace in the world. The U.N. has realized that and has sponsored research into the content of what it terms “a universal ethic.” According to the U.N., there are just four basic “commandments”: (1) Don’t kill; (2) Don’t rape; (3) Don’t lie, and (4) Don’t steal.

People as diverse as Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kung and professional atheist Richard Dawkins agree but go further in what seem to me very helpful ways.

In fact, at the age of 89, Kung has dedicated the last part of his career to peacemaking by building bridges between religions whose differences are so often the cause or pretext for violent conflict. Kung works on the four principles that (1) International peace is impossible without peace between religions; (2) there can be no inter-religious peace without inter-religious dialog; (3) there can be no inter-religious dialog without agreement about a global ethic, and (4) our world cannot survive without such an ethic that is universally accepted.

So in terms of “God’s law,” what do all major religions agree about? The Golden rule is the point of convergence.

Christianity puts it this way: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets “ (Mt. 7:12). In Confucianism the same statute is expressed in these terms, “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state” (Analects 12:2). Buddhism’s version runs, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udana-Varga 5,1). Hinduism agrees in these words, “This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do unto you” (Mahabharata . 5, 1517). Islam’s expression is, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself (Sunnah). In Taoism the same law finds this formulation: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss” (Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien). Zoroastrianism says, “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself” (Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5). Judaism says, “What is hateful to you do not do to your fellowman; this is the entire law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id).

Even Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous atheist endorses the Golden Rule. In formulating his own Ten Commandments, he leads off with his own version of that principle. Here are Dawkins’ Ten Commandments:”

* Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you
* In all things, strive to cause no harm
* Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
* Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
* Live life with a sense of joy and wonder
* Always seek to be learning something new
* Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
* Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
* Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
* Question everything

Dawkins also has something to say about that fraught area of sexuality I mentioned earlier. He adds four additional statutes:

* Enjoy your own sexual life (as long as it does not harm to others), and let others enjoy their sexual lives in private according to their own inclinations which in any case are none of your business.
* Don’t discriminate against or oppress anyone because of their sex, race or (insofar as possible) species.
* Don’t indoctrinate your children. Teach them to think for themselves, how to weigh evidence, and how to disagree with you.
* Respect the future beyond the temporal limits of your own life.

Now those laws are “delightful,” many would agree. They make sense because they reflect human nature and nature’s laws. They also can be perfectly aligned with God’s Law presented in today’s initial reading.

Imagine the world we’d create if we joined our brothers and sisters in all those religions I referenced and promoted Dawkins commandments with the same vigor the fundamentalists promote their repressed interpretations of the Ten Commandments.

Kung is right: we might witness an out-breaking of world peace.

Black Panther: A Nearly Revolutionary Film

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I remember 10 years ago taking Berea College students for a January “Short Term” to Cuba. Our month-long assignment was to study the African diaspora in that island nation. One day we were privileged to have Cuban poet, essayist and historian, Roberto Fernandez Retamar grace our classroom. Now 87, he was then about my age.

On that occasion, the great man said something that struck me as powerful, and that relates to the blockbuster movie everyone’s talking about, Black Panther. Retamar stated that black people in the Americas are the strongest, most beautiful most intelligent people in the world.

He explained why.

Before slaves were transported from Africa, he said, they were closely inspected for their strength, beauty, and intelligence. Their arms and legs were assessed for their musculature. Like horses for sale, their teeth were scrutinized. Women were evaluated in terms of their beauty and apparent ability to reproduce. Only the best were selected and shipped abroad. Those who didn’t measure up were left behind.

Then on the Middle Passage, only about half – again, the best of the best themselves survived.

When the slaves arrived at the auction block those evolutionary wonders were once again culled – for strength, beauty, skills and intelligence.

The culled are the ancestors of today’s African Americans, who remain, not surprisingly, the strongest, most beautiful and smartest people on the planet.

That’s what Retamar said. And it thrilled me and our mostly African-American students.

The same thrill is today being experienced nearly universally by millions of African-Americans and others across the world as they view the Disney and Marvel Comics film, Black Panther.

It celebrates the beauty, strength, intelligence and resourcefulness of Africans and African-Americans in a magnificent display of their inherent gifts. The film has been called “a defining moment for black America.”

That’s because Black Panther‘s stellar cast is nearly all African or African-American. And to reference another great man, in the movie’s mythical country of Wakanda, all the women are strong, the men are beautiful, and all the children are above average.

Moreover, the film presents themes that are anti-colonial, pro-liberation, wonderfully African and conscious of the oppression that people of color to this day experience everywhere.

The bare bones of the narrative are reminiscent of Greek tragedy: The benevolent king of a fabulously wealthy African country (Wakanda) has died. His virtuous son, T’Challa, is selected to fill the vacancy. But there’s a rival for the throne. It’s his villainous cousin, who challenges and defeats and apparently kills T’Challa in ritual hand-to-hand combat. The cousin proceeds to head a regime that tramples on tradition, disrespects women, and uses his country’s wealth for evil purposes. But T’Challa returns from his coma to restore order, tradition, and prosperity. He shares his nation’s wealth with the rest of the world.

Again, it’s a classic story whose details celebrate blackness, names white supremacist racism for what it is, and calls for revolution against colonialism in past and present forms. All of that is ground-breaking and entirely admirable.

However, the film pulls its punches severely leaving its potentially revolutionary message muddled and garbled. That’s true to such an extent that Black Panther finally comes across anti-revolutionary propaganda for the status quo and CIA. The attentive will see this as they witness a film that:

* Is entitled “Black Panther” but makes only a nod to the actual Black Panther Party of the 1960s.
* In doing so, deceives the uninformed in its audience about the Party’s nature by portraying its only member in the film as a “Killmonger” (the wicked cousin) instead of a community organizer.
* On the one hand, depicts Killmonger’s program as arming the world’s oppressed against the white colonial status quo that tyrannizes people of color throughout the world.
* But on the other describes him as preparing for that mission by service as a CIA mercenary killing hundreds of those people in Iraq, Afghanistan and other poor countries imperialized by the United States.
* Confronts Killmonger with T’Challa, his good-guy adversary, whose idea of changing the world is charity rather than systemic transformation of what Killmonger correctly perceives (in bell hooks words) as the white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy.
* Has T’Challa ally himself with the CIA to defeat the revolutionaries Killmonger has assembled.
* Peoples the movie with “strong black women” whose strength is mostly evident in their machismo – i.e. in their ability to scowl and kill as heartlessly as their male counterparts.
* Celebrates the film’s heroine for allegiance to country above her most intimate relationship.
* Presents a white CIA agent as heroic.

Moreover, any chance of understanding the film’s references to colonialism, white supremacy, and the villainous reality of the CIA is further obscured by Black Panther’s spectacular visuals – by 134 minutes of comic book chases, space ship dogfights, explosions, karate displays, knifings, spearings, shootings, fantastic escapes, and magical returns from the dead.

One comes away from the film happy to have seen blacks centralized and celebrated in a Hollywood blockbuster, but having gained very little in terms of understanding the nature of oppression, the robbery that is the essence of colonialism, or the true spirit of the Black Panther Party, of Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, or Angela Davis. There is no hint of any Free Breakfast for Children Program, of Black Panther health clinics, or the party’s emphasis on food justice. Instead, one identifies Black Panthers as violent Killmongers with utter disrespect for life, women and tradition.

When Roberto Fernandez Retamar gave us his class, he said something else that relates to Black Panther. Though his skin color is as white as my own, he introduced his remarks with the phrase, “I who am more or less black . . .” With those words he reminded us all that, by every account, life began in Africa. So, all of us are more or less black.

In other words, Black Panther is about us all. It can remind us that White Supremacy is a fiction that oppresses every one of us. So is capitalism’s patriarchal regime with its seemingly inseparable colonialism, neo-colonialism, and endless resource wars.

The struggle for liberation depicted in Black Panther is incumbent on all of us to join.

Too bad that point wasn’t made more clearly.