What if the Catholic Church Responded to Its Sex Scandal the Way the NCAA Did to Theirs?

 

Pope Ratzinger confers with his Cardinal colleagues
Pope Ratzinger confers with his Cardinal colleagues

Many were pleasantly surprised by the severity of the sanctions the National Collegiate Athletic Association placed on Penn State following its investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. The NCAA’s measures evidenced an appropriately serious approach to unspeakable crimes.  At the same time, however, the athletic association’s aggressive sanctions contrasted sharply with the lack of appropriate response to much greater crimes on the part of Roman Catholic clergy.  It made some wonder what it might look like if the Catholic Church handled its infinitely larger scandal in a fashion similar to that of the NCAA.  

Of course, the Penn State’s board of trustees had initially tried to defuse its shameful situation by having the institution’s president resign and by firing Joe Paterno, the football program’s legendary coach. Eventually, they even removed “Joepa’s” statue that (dis)graced the entrance way to the football stadium in Happy Valley.   

But the NCAA went far beyond that – even further than most had expected.  It appointed high profile Independent Counsel, Louis Freeh, to investigate responsibility for Sandusky’s crimes and the cover-up that followed. Then in the wake of Freeh’s damning final report, it fined the University $60 million dollars – the amount the football program takes in annually. It ordered the program to vacate its winnings since 1998 (thus depriving Paterno of his legacy as the winningest coach in NCAA football history). It forbade the program to extend any football scholarships for the next four years, and released all of its current players from their ties to Penn State, making them immediately eligible to play elsewhere. The football program will be devastated for years to come.

The NCAA’s bold sanctions couldn’t be further from the response of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to its child abuse scandal. There instead the “old boy” defense of the institution and the members of its all male club kicked in just as it did at first inside Penn State’s football program when the Sandusky crimes initially came to light. At Penn State, the wagons were circled, Sandusky was mildly chided while everyone in charge from the University president and Joe Paterno on down denied any knowledge or responsibility. The attitude that “boys will be boys” threatened to carry the day.

The equivalent of that attitude and (non)response still prevails within the Holy City despite the shameful involvement of priests in raping and otherwise sexually abusing children on a worldwide scale that absolutely dwarfs anything that happened in Happy Valley. In the face of thorough investigations by independent groups (e.g. the absolutely devastating indictment published last year in Ireland) the Cardinal of New York invoked the “bad apples” defense, and protested that “only” a small portion of the clergy was tainted.

But what would it have looked like (impossibly!) if the Catholic Church had responded like the NCAA?

If it had done so:

–          Pope Ratzinger would have resigned immediately.

–          All cardinals and bishops who had covered up the scandal would have been removed from office.

–          The canonization process for John Paul II would have been terminated, because of the way he played down the sex scandal. This would be the equivalent of removing Joepa’s statue.

–          An investigation independent of the Vatican would have been launched headed by an unimpeachable figure – say the Dali Lama, perhaps joined by Sr. Pat Farrell, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) which is currently being investigated by the Vatican.

–          Upon completion of its investigation (assuming it would have reached conclusions similar to the one in Ireland), the commission would have:

  • Fined the Catholic Church $500 billion – the equivalent of one year of the R.C. church income. The money would be used world-wide to aid victims of sex abuse and to institute programs to educate clergy about human sexuality using the best insights of current sociology and psychology.
  • Removed from the list of genuine popes all those whose public crimes made them unworthy of the title “Vicars of Christ.” Here the Borgia popes come to mind, as well as Pope Pius XII for his silence about the Jewish Holocaust. (Obviously, the process of his canonization would be abruptly ended.) This would be the rough equivalent of Penn State’s vacating its football wins since 1998.
  • The exclusion of women from the priesthood would be reversed, and seminary scholarships would be extended world-wide to women desiring to receive Holy Orders.
  • Mandatory celibacy would be set aside as a requirement of the priesthood.
  • A reforming Church Council (Vatican III?) would be ordered to deal with the sex abuse and related problems – to be attended only by bishops not involved in the abuse scandal and subsequent cover-up. Their places would be taken by women elected by national bodies equivalent to the LCWR in the United States.

Of course, nothing like the results just described is remotely possible. Roman Catholic insulation from the external processes necessary to achieve such outcomes prevents that eventuality. The only external source capable of moving the church in the desired direction belongs to the Catholic faithful itself. It alone has the authority to withhold church attendance and contributions till the desired decisions of reform are taken.

Such pressure from the faithful will eventually be applied willy-nilly. That is, the faithful will either wage a purposeful campaign of withholding attendance and financial support in the light of failed church leadership. Or alternatively (and more likely) the once-faithful will be driven away from the church as the realization dawns that a college sports organization possesses sounder moral character than what pretends to be the “Mystical Body of Christ.”

Without Market or Violence: Women’s Role in the Miracle of Sharing: (17th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

 Today’s Readings: 2 Kgs. 4:42-44; Ps. 145: 10-11, 15-18; Eph. 4:1-6; Jn. 6: 1-15

Thirty thousand children die every day of absolutely preventable causes associated with hunger. Mostly they die from diarrhea connected with unsafe drinking water. Forty million people in all die every year from those same easily remediable causes. That’s like the death toll from 300 jumbo jets crashing each day for a year, with no survivors, and with most of the victims children and women.

Can you imagine 300 jumbo jets crashing every day? Of course, you can’t. Just three jumbo jets crashing on a single day would throw the airline industry into complete panic. It would recognize that something was deeply wrong with the system. More regulation would be demanded by everyone. 

And yet, with hunger, the equivalent of one hundred times those crashes with the horrendous figures I just mentioned happen each day, throughout each year, and no one in authority will say that the system is defective. In fact we celebrate the system as the best possible. Politicians commonly champion less regulation rather than more. They believe the free market is the solution to all of the world’s problems.

But is unregulated market the answer to world hunger? According to the U.N., the problem of world hunger is not lack of food production, but its faulty distribution. Through no fault of their own, but through the fault of the reigning market system, people in hungry countries just don’t have the money to buy food. According to the same U.N., a mere 4% tax on the world’s richest 250 people would solve that problem.

Each year those 250 people receive as much income as the world’s nearly 3 billion people who live on $2 a day or less.  Taxing the 250 by a mere 4% would provide enough to make the hunger I’m referencing disappear – and not just hunger, but unsafe drinking water itself, along with illiteracy, poor housing, and lack of medical care.

That sounds so easy. But such a tax is not even discussed – not even by Christians like us who profess to be “pro-life” and concerned about defenseless human life forms – at least before they’re born. In defense of the unborn, such Christians want to force women to bring all pregnancies to term. However they see forcing the super rich to part with an infinitesimal portion of their great wealth an unfair limitation on their freedom – even if it is to save thousands of already born children each day.

In the face of such intransigence on the part of those who see the free market as the solution to everything, many in hungry countries have turned to the violence of revolution or terrorism in efforts to change the system. So free market or violence against that system – which is the way Jesus approved? Today’s gospel reading indicates that Jesus approved of neither. Instead, he offers a third alternative – a non-violent system of sharing led by his followers with women in the forefront.

Let me explain what I mean.

Today’s Gospel reading comes from St.  John. Bread holds an extraordinarily prominent and symbolic place for him. In our gospel reading where Jesus feeds bread to 5000 men, there is no mention of the women and children inevitably in the crowd. Mark’s version of this story does mention their presence.   

It is important to note that there is also no mention of a “miracle” in this story. People have followed Jesus “to the other side” of the Lake of Galilee. They are hungry. Testing him, Jesus asks Phillip where to buy bread for so many. Phillip has to confess that the market system cannot even begin to feed them all. There’s nowhere to buy, and even then a year’s wages would be insufficient to give each person even a morsel. To reiterate: in the story the market system proves incapable of meeting the challenge. Jesus and the women in the crowd are about to offer an alternative.

But before we get to that, it’s important to acknowledge the other way of dealing with the desperation of hunger that is present in the story – armed violence – the traditional “manly” way of dealing with almost any problem. John the Evangelist underlines Jesus rejection violence as well as market – even though he evidently gives revolution and insurrection much more consideration than the market alternative he considered briefly with Phillip.

Think about it. In John’s account, the time is near the Passover feast of national liberation – a traditional time of civil unrest in Jesus’ Palestine. Moreover, the episode we’re considering takes place in the desert – the time-honored place of insurrectionary resistance. Revolution is evidently on the minds of the 5000. Jesus knows, John says, that the men want to make him king by means of violence. Perhaps that’s the whole reason they’ve stalked Jesus and cornered him in his desert get-away. In any case, after a day-long meeting, the intention of the 5000 remains unchanged.  On the contrary, it is merely reinforced by Jesus’ remarkable solution to the problem of hunger experienced then and there. Unable to dissuade those who would choose the way of violence, Jesus in John’s account simply walks away. He remains unambiguously the non-violent revolutionary.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that he walks away from the problem of hunger. Instead, he enacts a parable of what might be called “The Kingdom Sharing System.” This is the typical female way of dealing with problems – by establishing personal relationships and breaking bread together.

To begin with, Jesus has everyone relax – to sit down on the soft grass that nature has provided. In Mark’s account of this same event, the evangelist notes that Jesus divided the huge crowd into small groups of ten or so each. That gave all present a chance to introduce themselves and exchange pleasantries.

Then a child shows the way. A small boy brings forward five loaves and two fish and places them before Jesus. Jesus calls everyone’s attention to what the child had done. And that starts a “miracle of sharing.” The crowd is touched.  People begin to offer one another the plenty collectively present among them, but that everyone was perhaps reluctant to share.

The abundance was surely there, thanks to the way women work. I mean, can you imagine a Jewish mother going on a day-long trip to the desert with packing a lunch for her husband and children? Of course not.  In fact, there’s such abundance that even after everyone has eaten, 12 baskets remain to bring back to those not present to witness this “miracle of enough.” The dramatized parable’s point is: that’s the way the Kingdom of God works.  (And note how women must have been central to it all.)

What’s the lesson in all of this? First of all (as today’s responsorial psalm says) it’s God’s will that everyone have enough to eat. Bread is God’s gift to everyone, without exception. And whether people eat or not shouldn’t be dependent on their ability to buy. In fact, if someone is hungry, humans and their market system are the sinfully responsible ones.  And, we might add, it is anonymous women who actually save the day – those mothers who took the time to lovingly prepare food.

The bottom line here is that the way to satisfy hunger is not by depending on blind market forces or by waging violent revolution. Rather it is exemplified by the child in the story and the women in the crowd. That’s the way that Jesus calls us to deal with the problem of hunger with which our reflections began this morning.

And it’s Jesus’ followers, people like you and me who should be leading the way. How best can we do that in our hungry world? (Discussion follows.)

The New York Times on Drones: In Defense of Mafia Face-to-Face Hits

One of the unmanned drones in the growing U.S. arsenal

The New York Times recently  published an article called “The Moral Case for Drones.” It was authored by one if its national security reporters, Scott Shane. As the title indicates, the piece’s intention was to argue that U.S. drone policy is indeed morally defensible. However the article refused to address the really difficult moral issues. It concentrated instead on providing a rather obvious response to the question whether the use of drones avoids the wholesale slaughter of civilians that has been associated with modern warfare since the U.S. Civil War.

Of course it does! Is there anyone who would argue that carefully calibrated drone use would be worse than the direct targeting of civilians that occurred in Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki? However by focusing on the “lesser of two evils” approach and resolving it in favor of drones, Mr. Shane’s article leaves inattentive readers with the impression that drone policy is somehow moral and humane.

But what about those other questions?

For instance, nowhere in the article does Mr. Shane even gesture towards the basic moral issue (not to mention its constitutional counterpart) of whether or not the President of the United States actually possesses the authority to order extrajudicial assassinations by drone or any other means. If the President claims that authority, do we accord that same right to any head of state — even if he or she decides that Mr. Obama himself is an international outlaw?

But that’s not the only issue the Times article chooses to ignore. In fact, it begins by bracketing a whole host of moral questions about drone use. Mr. Shane opens by saying:
 

“For streamlined, unmanned aircraft, drones carry a lot of baggage these days, along with their Hellfire missiles. Some people find the very notion of killer robots deeply disturbing. Their lethal operations inside sovereign countries that are not at war with the United States raise contentious legal questions. They have become a radicalizing force in some Muslim countries. And proliferation will inevitably put them in the hands of odious regimes.”

At the outset, then, the Times author mentions some of the real issues only to set them aside. What about remote control assassinations? What are the moral implications of human agents making life and death decisions safely sequestered in air conditioned locations thousands of miles from the kill zone? Does it make a moral difference that justification comes from questionable sources, or that such justification is frequently circumstantial, based on hearsay, and often amounts to guilt by association? Is it a moral issue that the executioners’ decisions might be erroneously or casually made since they are immediately based on information provided by devices resembling video game screens?

Similarly removed from moral analysis is the fact that lethal operations inside sovereign countries not at war with the United States are not only “contentious” (as the article admits), but clearly contravene international law, not to mention the U.N. Charter. Is it possible to make a “moral case” in such a context? Wouldn’t that be like waxing eloquent about the moral case for face-to-face Mafia hits rather than spraying restaurants with machine gun fire? Like their drone equivalents, such hits successfully avoid all that messy collateral damage. However both types of extra-judicial killings are the work of “professionals” who immorally place themselves above the law.

Moreover, in an essay that will make that argument that drones diminish civilian casualties, Mr. Shane’s piece from the beginning chooses not to consider whether in the final tally, drones actually increase civilian casualties. Are the civilian deaths caused by such terrorists not to be calculated? Similarly what about the casualties caused by making drone technology available to those “odious regimes?” Their leaders find the United States similarly “odious.” Will the civilian casualties they cause seem thankfully minor when representatives of those particular agents fly their drones into the Sears Tower in Chicago?

Choosing not to consider such questions is like asking Mrs. Lincoln, “Apart from the assassination, what did you think of the play?”

However such incomplete and inconsiderate “moral analysis” also leads to the conclusion that United States drone policy is (as one of the article’s quoted experts says) “not only ethically permissible but might also be ethically obligatory because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision.”

It’s the type of incomplete and deceptive moral analysis that would do Mafia ethicists proud.

Jesus Had a “Bleeding Heart” (Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Today’s Readings: Jer. 23:1-6; Ps. 23: 1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Eph. 2: 13-18; Mk. 6: 30-34

The theme for today’s Liturgy of the Word is leadership political and spiritual. The image uniting both is shepherding.  For me that pastoral metaphor brings to mind characteristics of presence, watchfulness, protection, and overriding concern for the sheep of the flock. I’m confident you’d agree that in both government and church those qualities are in extremely short supply.

Think about political “leaders” announcing (literally) the day after the election of our nation’s first African American President, “I want that man to fail.” (Didn’t that mean they want our country to fail?) Think about clergy from our own faith community (literally) preying on young boys, ruining them for life, and then presuming to speak authoritatively to women and the rest of us about sexuality. That’s failed leadership.

The first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah laments the absence of political and spiritual leaders who were watchful, protective and caring in his time too. Instead of uniting people, and drawing them together, the would-be leaders of Jeremiah’s day (all men) were dividing and scattering them as effectively as our own. Through Jeremiah God promises to appoint new leadership to reverse that syndrome.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark specifically addresses that promised reversal. It focuses on Jesus’ own practice of spiritual shepherding.  Jesus fulfills the promise of Jeremiah by drawing his apprentice shepherds from an entirely new class of people – not from the tribe of Levi and its inherited priesthood, not from the royal palace, but from the marginalized and decidedly unroyal and unpriestly in the traditional sense. Jesus chooses illiterate fishermen, day-laborers, and possibly real working shepherds. By all accounts women also prominently filled shepherding roles in the early church.

Finally, the responsorial psalm and Paul’s letter to the Christian community at Ephesus remind us of the reason for shepherds at all – not the preservation of tradition, much less of patriarchy. Rather, shepherds are there to embody compassion. They exist for the welfare of the sheep. Leaders are there to foster the emergence (in Paul’s words) of a new kind of person – not over-worked, but rested, living in pleasant surroundings, without fear, lacking nothing, with plenty to eat and drink.  In a word shepherds are there for the sake of righteousness, justice, and compassion.

No doubt Jesus had that kind of respite in mind for his tired apostles when he invited them to “rest a while.”After all they were his sheep, and he their shepherd. His invitation reflects compassion for his friends.

But there was to be no rest. The “sheep” in the wider sense were so starved for the compassionate guidance unavailable to them either in court or at the Temple. So in droves they stalked Jesus and his friends even to their desert retreat. All of that evoked Jesus’ own compassion. The text literally says “his guts churned” when he saw the directionless people; they were so forlorn. So that was the end of any thoughts of “R&R” for Jesus and the others. (Buddhists speak of “The Compassionate Buddha. Mark reminds us here of “The Compassionate Jesus.”)

All of this highlights the defining characteristic of the type of leadership, the type of “shepherding” Jesus prized and practiced. It was defined by putting the needs of others first, even when that meant he himself would be deprived of the rest he deserved.

What a practical criterion for judging the leadership of our politicians, popes, bishops and priests! What a powerful criterion for judging our own leadership in our families, communities and places of work.

Who are the best leaders you know (political and/or spiritual) in terms of putting the needs of others first? When have you or persons close to you exercised leadership in those terms? Do our daily lives, our political lives show evidence of following the Compassionate Jesus? Why does our culture consider having compassion (a “bleeding heart”) a negative quality?  (Discussion follows.)

At Last: An Interesting Post on Mike’s Blog!!

Good news! Our daughter, Maggie, and her husband, Kerry just delivered their third child. Orlando Peter arrived on June 30th weighing in at 9.5 lbs. He joins his sister, Eva (3.8 yrs.) and Oscar (1.5 yrs.). Mother and child are doing fine.

The delivery was captured on “Good Morning America.” They decided to do a feature on birth photography, so they did one on Maggie, Orlando, and their photographer, Nicole. You can watch the video here:

http://gma.yahoo.com/video/celebs-26594247/birth-photographers-in-the-delivery-room-29960350.html

Books That Have Shaped My Life

 

 

 

 

A few years ago, a student in Costa Rica asked me to share a list of books that have been important to me. I wrote down what came to me at that time. For what its worth, here they are in no particular order (despite the numbering on the left). The list may offer some clue about why my postings take the tack they do. Consider this an addendum to my series on why I left the priesthood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

The Holy Bible Various

2

Food First Frances Moore Lappé

3

Hunger for Justice Jack Nelson Pallmeyer

4

Is Religion Killing Us? Jack Nelson Pallmeyer

5

Saving Christianity From Empire Jack Nelson Pallmeyer

6

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time Marcus Borg

7

Manufacturing Consent Noam Chomsky

8

Binding the Strong Man Ched Meyers

9

Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Ched Meyers

10

A Theology of Liberation  Gustavo Gutierrez

11

Meditation Eknath Easwaran

12

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying Sogyal Rimpoche

13

God Makes the Rivers to Flow Eknath Easwaran

14

The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels

15

Letters and Papers from Prison Dietrich Bonhoeffer

16

The Ideological Weapons of Death Franz Hinkelmmert

17

And God Said What? Margaret Ralph

18

Communism in the Bible José Miranda

19

Marx and the Bible José Miranda

20

Theological Investigations Karl Rahner

21

The  Secular City Harvey Cox

22

Christ the Sacrament of Encounter with God Edward Schillebeeckx

23

Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of Poetry  Various

24

The Second Sex Simone De Beauvoir

25

The Art of Loving Erich Fromm

26

A People’s History of  the United States Howard Zinn

27

The Open Veins of Latin America Eduardo Galeano

28

Hard Times Charles Dickens

29

Looking Backward Edward Bellamy

30

Antigone Sophocles

31

The Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri

32

Jesus, Symbol of God Roger Haight

33

Triumph of a People Black

34

I, Rigoberta Menchú Rigoberta Menchú

35

Confronting the Powers Walter Wink

36

The Power of Now Exhart Tolle

37

The New Earth Exhart Tolle

38

Practicing the Power of Now Exhart Tolle

39

A Kinder and Gentler Tyranny Peggy & Mike Rivage-Seul

40

Grassroots Postmodernism Gustavo Esteva

41

Escaping Education Gustavo Esteva

42

Teaching as a Subversive Activity Neil Postman

43

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Freire

44

Education for Critical Consciousness Paulo Freire
45 The Autobiography of Malcolm X Malcolm X with Alex Haley
46 Letter From a  Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King
47 Christian Attitudes Towards Peace and War Roland Bainton
48 “How Poverty Breeds Overpopulation” Barry Commoner
49 World Hunger: 12 Myths Frances Moore Lappé
50 You Shall be as Gods Erich Fromm
51 What a Difference could a Revolution Make? Joseph Collins
52 Small is Beautiful E.F. Schumacher
53 Limits to Growth Club ofRome
54 Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
55 When Corporations Rule the World David Korten
56 Patents Vandana Shiva
57 Globalization and its Discontents Joseph Stiglitz
58 Are you Running with Me, Jesus? Malcolm Boyd
59 The Imitation of Christ Thomas Kempis
60 The Story of a Soul Theresa of Liseaux
61 The Way of a Pilgrim Anonymous
62 A Theology of Hope Jűrgen Moltmann
63 Demythologizing the Gospel Rudolph Bultmann
64 Civilization and its Discontents Sigmund Freud
65 Beyond Belief Elaine Pagels
66 Adam and Eve and the Serpent Elaine Pagels
67 The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels
68 Liberation Theology Rosemary Ruether
69 The Starry Messenger Galileo Galilei
70 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina Galileo Galilei
71 Principia Sir Isaac Newton
72 The Origin of Species Charles Darwin
73 The Descent of Man Charles Darwin
74 The Ascent of Man Jacob Brownowski
75 Western Civilization Jackson Spielvogel
76 1984 George Orwell
77 At Play in the Fields of the Lord Peter Mathiessen
78 Storming Heaven Denise Giardina
79 Rules for Radicals Saul Alinsky
80 Who Runs Congress?  
81 Myths (to or Men) Live By Allan Watts
82 Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell
83 The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
84 Classical Mythology Edith Hamilton
85 Marx for Beginners Ruiz
86 Honest to God Bishop Robinson
87 Honest to Jesus Robert Funk
88 Cry of the People Penny Lernoux
89 Social Analysis Joe Holland & Peter Henriot
90 Analisis de Coyuntura Helio Gallardo
91 Roots Alex Haley
92 Bitter Fruit Stephen Kinzer
93 El Hurucán de la Globalización Franz Hinkelammert
94 La Critica de la Razón Utopica Franz Hinkelammert
95 El Asalto as Poder Mundial Franz Hinkelammert
96 Why ? The Untold Story Behind the Terrorist Attacks o f Sept. 11,2001 J.W. Smith
97 Democratic Capitalism J.W. Smith
98 Crossing the Rubicon Michael Ruppert
99 Bread for the World Bread for the World Organization
100 Rich Christians and the Poor Lazarus Helmut Golwitze
101 The Unsettling of America  Wendel Berry
102 Man’s Search for Meaning Victor Frankl

Recommended Authors/Read Everything by:

v  Noam Chomsky

v  Erich Fromm

v  Franz Hinkelammert      (Spanish Only)

v  Helio Gallardo (Spanish Only)

v  Eknath Easwaran

 Favorite Web Sites      

v  OpEdnews

Information Clearing House

v  Znet

America Is Not the Greatest Country in the World

Today’s readings: Am. 7:12-15; Ps. 85:9-10, 11-2, 13-14; Eph. 1:3-14; Mk. 6:7-13

Just before this year’s July 4th celebrations, HBO aired its first episode of “Newsroom.” Its highlight had lead actor, Jeff Daniels, delivering a speech about our country that has been viewed widely on the web. I’m sure many of you have seen it. As a news anchorman of the stature and credibility of Walter Cronkite, Daniels’ character is badgered into answering the question “Is America the greatest country in the world?” Here’s how he answered:

 

Whew! Those are hard words for most of us to hear, aren’t they? It’s almost as if their speaker were viewing the United States the way foreigners often do – or at least as someone highly sympathetic to the uneducated, infants, the poor, sick, imprisoned, and the victims of imperialistic wars. He seems to be saying that the experience of such people represent the measure of greatness.

I raise the “Newsroom” speech today because of today’s first reading from the Book of Amos. He was a prophet whose most famous speech was very like the one we just saw. I mean his words were similar in that they were offensive to patriotic ears and centralized the experience of the poor. And they were delivered by an outsider. As we saw in today’s first reading, Amos’ words also evoked such negative response that they led the chief priest of Israel to lobby for the deportation of the prophet.

What did Amos say ? Well, he was a very clever speaker. He did his prophetic work towards the end of the 8th century B.C.E. That was after the death of Solomon, when the Hebrew people had split into two kingdoms. The northern one was “Israel;” the southern one was “Judah.” Often the two were at war with one another. Yes, the “People of God” were that deeply divided even then.

Amos came from Judah, the southern kingdom. He went up north, to Israel, and confronted the people there. And he tricked his audience into agreeing with him that all their official enemies were really bad – the Aramites, Philistines, Moabites, and especially Judah, that kingdom to the south. God is extremely angry with these people, Amos promised. They would all be soundly thrashed.

“And they all deserve it!” his audience would have agreed.

And then the prophet turned the tables on his listeners. “But you know the nation that will be punished more harshly than all of them put together, don’t you? You know who the worst of all is, I’m sure.” (He now had his audience in the palm of his hand.)

“Who?” they asked eagerly.

“YOU!” the prophet shouted. “The nation of Israel has been the worst of all because of your treatment of the poor. You have shorted them on their wages. You have sold them into slavery. Your rich have feasted and lived in luxury, while those closest to God’s heart, the poor, have languished in hunger and poverty. In punishment, the Assyrians will invade your country and reduce all of you to the level of the lowest among you.

Of course the prophet lost his audience at that point. They didn’t want to hear it.

It was almost as if the Daniels character in “Newsroom” had responded like this to the question “Is America the greatest country?” No, I take that back. It’s almost as if some foreigner – one of our designated enemies, say from Iraq or Afghanistan, answered the question by saying:

“Well, America surely isn’t Nazi Germany, and it’s not the Soviet Union. Those places were hell on earth, weren’t they?  They caused havoc in the world; I’m sure we’d all agree. Those countries were truly the enemies of humankind. Neither is America Saddam’s Iraq, or Kaddafi’s Libya, or Ahmadinejad’s Iran. It’s none of those. But you know what? AMERICA IS  A LOT WORSE! And that’s because of the way it treats not only its own poor, but the way it savages the poor of other countries. Treatment of the poor is God’s criterion for greatness. And America falls flat before it!”

My point is that it sometimes takes someone who doesn’t share our cultural values and especially our class loyalties to help us see ourselves in something like the way God sees us. Those outside our culture often see us more clearly than we see ourselves.

Do you think Amos’ concern for the poor (the Bible’s real People of God) might be also centralized in today’s Gospel? I think it is. Mark seems to be reminding his audience (40 years after Jesus’ death) that the poor represent the touchstone for Christian authenticity.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends off his 12 apostles two by two as his emissaries. They are to drive out unclean spirits and demons and to cure the sick. Can you even imagine them doing that? They were just fishermen, maybe a traveling merchant or two, a former tax collector – all of them likely illiterate – not public speakers at all. Who would ever listen to such people? And yet Mark pictures Jesus sending them off in pairs to preach his message: “Repent; the Kingdom of God is at hand.” These are the same disciples who Mark tells us later never really grasped what Jesus was all about. And yet here they are preaching,  curing the sick and driving out demons.

Such considerations lead scripture scholars to conclude that these words were probably never spoken by the historical Jesus. Instead they were added later by a more developed church. Early Christians evidently believed so strongly in Jesus’ post-resurrection presence that they thought the risen Christ continued addressing their problems even though those difficulties were unknown to him and his immediate followers while he walked the earth.

And what was the message to those later followers? It seems to have been this: “Remember where we came from. We’re followers of that poor man from Nazareth. So stay close to the poor as Jesus did: walk; don’t ride. Steer clear of money. Don’t even worry about food. The clothes on your back are enough for anyone. Others will give you shelter for the night.” This passage from Mark almost pictures Jesus’ followers like Buddhist monks with their saffron robes and begging bowls.

Mark’s message to his community 40 years after Jesus — and to us today —  seems to be: “Only by staying close to the poor can you even recognize  the world’s unclean spirits. So concealed and disguised are they by material concerns and by things like patriotism and religious loyalties.  So don’t be seduced by identification with the rich, your own culture, and what they value — sleek transportation, money, luxurious food, clothes and homes.” Surrendering to such seductions, Mark seems to be saying,  is to depart from the instructions of Jesus. We’d say it is a recipe for loss of soul on both the individual and national levels as described by Amos and “Newsroom’s” Jeff Daniels.

But identification with the poor is hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to walk instead of ride, to have less money, to share food and housing with others. It’s hard to make political and economic choices on the basis of policy’s impact on the poor rather than the rich. For that reason, Jesus sends his apostles off not as individuals, but in pairs. The message here is that we need one another for support. This is also true because adopting counter-cultural viewpoints like those of Amos and the “Newsroom” anchorman evoke such negative response.

What do you think? Are we Christians really called to centralize concern for the poor, to simplify our lifestyles, and run the risk of being judged unpatriotic? If so, how can we support one another in doing that? (Discussion follows.)