My Experience in Nicaragua (11th in a Series on Critical Thinking)

Ortega

Nicaragua taught me so much about the world and critical thinking. All during the 1980s it was the center of news reports every day. President Reagan was obsessed with the country and its president, Daniel Ortega (pictured above). Reagan continually referred to the Sandinista government there as a “Marxist, Leninist, repressive totalitarian regime.” However, he neglected to apply his lofty standards to what preceded it, viz. the Somoza dynasty of three dictators who governed the country brutally with the full support of the United States.

Reagan’s obsession took the form of support for an equally brutal counter-revolutionary force of terrorists called “the Contras” – whose base was the exiled National Guard of the Somoza regime. Reagan famously referred to those killers and drug runners as “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.”

My experience in Brazil along with careful reading of the press and some history had convinced me that the Reagan administration was disseminating what a Great Man would later term “fake news.”  But I wanted to find out for myself.

So in 1985 I found myself in Managua for six weeks. My specific purpose in going was twofold. The first was fact-finding; I wanted to experience life in a revolutionary situation. I also needed to learn Spanish, which was increasingly necessary for my work in liberation theology. That was my second aim. Languages, by the way, are nearly universally recognized as powerful aids to critical thinking. They expand awareness of other cultures, different points of view and ways of expression.

Along those lines, one of the strengths of my training for the priesthood had been language study. In high school it began with Latin my freshman year. Then came French and Greek. All of those studies continued through my sophomore year in college. Next, of course, I had to learn Italian for my years in Rome. Just before that I needed a semester of Hebrew to qualify for theological studies there; so I took a summer course at Harvard. Once in Rome, it became apparent that German would be essential for my doctoral thesis on Jurgen Moltmann and his Theology of Hope. That led to two summers’ study at the University of Vienna. Then I needed Portuguese for my sabbatical in Brazil. And finally, in ’85 it was Spanish in Managua.

For two summers, I studied at Casa Nicaraguense de Español. It had students living with Nicaraguan families, leaving for Spanish class every morning and then studying the Revolution every afternoon. We visited prisons, farming co-ops, and offices of both the Sandinistas and their political opponents. We attended political rallies and demonstrations. The experience was difficult, but invaluable in terms of expanding my horizons and acquainting me with revolutionary thought and practice. Over the next 20 years I would return to the country a dozen or more times. In 1990 I would do so as an Official Observer of the election that defeated the Sandinistas, replacing them with a U.S.-supported party. I edited a book on the topic.

On that first visit, however, I was amazed by the range of books available in Managua that I would never have otherwise encountered. They covered all aspects of Marxism, socialism, history, education, liberation theology – and critical thinking. It was a treasure trove for me. Reading those books acquainted me with a line of thinking “forbidden” to most Americans.

As I said, this first experience in Central America made an extremely important contribution to my political education. It brought me into further contact with the living conditions of working-class people on the receiving end of extremely destructive US Third World policy. The contrast between what I observed in Nicaragua and what our government said about the country was astounding. It pointed to the fundamentally dishonest character of our national leadership. In addition, those books I mentioned underscored the one-sided bias of our mainstream press, scholarship and teaching.

What I learned from all this, along with the other experiences I’ve outlined here so far, has made me terribly suspicious of our government. Revelations connected with the Iran-Contra scandal heightened the suspicion exponentially. I saw clearly that the lies told about the Sandinistas were only the latest in a long string of misleading stories, cover-ups, and paper-overs foisted upon the North American public. Contra-gate, Vietnam and Watergate were the rule, not the exception. Sad to say, they represent the way our government does business.

In the end, I concluded that the burden of proof will always rest with our officials, rather than with our country’s designated Third enemies, including those currently identified as “terrorists.”

(Next Week: Costa Rica and Franz Hinkelammert)

The U.S. Is Not Reagan’s “Shining City upon a Hill” (Sunday Homily)

reagan

Readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 58: 7-10; PS 112: 4-9; I COR 2: 1-5; MT 5: 13-16.

Today’s readings are about the nature of the light emanating from a shining “City on a Hill.” Jesus introduces that imagery specifically in today’s Gospel selection. In doing so, he alludes to the words of the prophet Isaiah (today’s first reading) which describe the City’s characteristics.

However most Americans don’t primarily associate the City on a Hill image with Jesus, much less with Isaiah. In fact, most cannot hear the phrase without thinking of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. In Reagan’s mouth, “City on a Hill” became a quintessential expression of American Exceptionalism. As such Reagan’s usage exemplifies how Republicans have hijacked and distorted Christian discourse.

Reagan however didn’t coin the City’s connection to “America.” John Winthrop, the Puritan leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, had already done that in 1630. Standing on the deck of the flagship Arbella Winthrop told his shipmates, “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Then in 1961 J.F. Kennedy quoted Winthrop’s words specifically as the new president addressed the General Court of Massachusetts. Kennedy added “. . . (W)e are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arbella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less fantastic than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within.”

After Reagan, Gary Bauer, the president of the Family Research Council, attempted to borrow some of the Reagan thunder by using his idol’s words. Bauer repeatedly used the “City on a Hill” metaphor as he attempted unsuccessfully to secure the Republican presidential nomination in 1999. Before him in 1997, Reagan’s adopted son, Michael, had already written a book about his father entitled The City on a Hill: Fulfilling Ronald Reagan’s Vision for America.

As for Reagan himself, here’s what he said about the image in his farewell speech to the nation in 1989:

“…I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still . . .”

These words show that Reagan’s image of the “City on the Hill” is one of pride, strength, harmony, peace, open markets and free immigration – all of it specially blessed by God. Noble ideals all. . . .

Nonetheless President Reagan’s policies proved questionably coincident with his words and especially with the biblical ideals expressed in today’s readings.

Think about those ideals.

In the selection from Isaiah, the prophet says the City on the Hill shines because its inhabitants:
• Share bread with the hungry.
• Protect the oppressed and remove oppression from their midst.
• Shelter the homeless.
• Clothe the naked.
• Remove from their midst accusation and malicious speech.

The Responsorial psalm seconds all of that, adding that the hilltop city’s just citizens:
• Lend (without interest).
• Give lavishly to the poor.

In today’s selection from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle himself identifies with the weak and fearful, not those who are “wise” according to the standards of the world. Paul goes on to contrast the world’s logic with what elsewhere he calls the foolishness of Jesus’ Spirit – which chose to identify with those on death row (I COR 1:23).

Finally, today’s Gospel reading has Jesus refer specifically to the “City on a hill” and the light that causes it to shine. Once again, it’s the “light” described by Isaiah – sharing bread, shelter, clothing, and money with the hungry, homeless, naked, impoverished and oppressed.

All of this has little to do with President Reagan’s version of an exceptionally blessed America. In fact, during his term in office Reagan:

• Consistently stigmatized the poor. (Reagan often told the story of a “welfare queen” in Chicago who turned out to be a figment of his speech writers’ imaginations. According to the story, she drove a Cadillac and had cheated the government of $150,000 using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards and four fictional dead husbands. Once again, all of that was a lie.)
• Halved the budget for public housing.
• Closed shelters for the mentally ill.
• In so doing, created an epidemic of homelessness virtually unknown since the Great Depression.
• Spent the entire decade of the 1980s supporting oppressive governments Central America – specifically in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
• Oversaw the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, thus opening the publicly owned radio airwaves to dominance by privately financed right wing programs whose bread and butter soon became the “false accusations” and “malicious speech” Isaiah saw as incongruous with the light Jesus subsequently saw as characterizing the City on the Hill.
• Inspired his self-proclaimed acolytes (in our own day) to introduce savage reductions in Food Stamp programs for the hungry, and elimination of unemployment benefits.

And that’s the short list of the horrors of the “Reagan Revolution.” None of it has anything to do with Jesus’ vision of a City on a Hill. Rather Reagan policies fly directly in the face of that vision.

The point is that the right wing in this country (personified in Ronald Reagan) has hypocritically identified itself as somehow “Christian” while turning that tradition squarely on its head.

Progressives are missing the boat by surrendering to that hijacking of Jesus’ meaning and message, when in reality that message supports their cause, not that of their reactionary opponents.

It’s high time for progressives to go on the offensive by recognizing and employing the power of myth and image so successfully manipulated by the religious right.

(Sunday Homily) Zacchaeus, White People, and the Case for Reparations to African Americans

reparations

Readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 11: 22-12: 2; PS 145: 1-2, 8-11, 13-14; 2 THES 1: 11- 2: 2; LK 19: 1-10.

In the June 2014 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an article called “The Case for Reparations.” There he argued that the United States owes a huge debt to African Americans. It’s a debt compounded by 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal and 35 years of racist housing policy. Until those debts are paid, Coates wrote, America will never be whole.

Today’s gospel story about Zacchaeus, the tax collector, relates to Coates’ concern.  It addresses the problem of unjustly acquired wealth and reparation. As such the reading opens a question very much on the minds of our country’s African American community as described in Coates’ Atlantic piece.

White people probably disagree. Surveys show that nearly 75% of us oppose reparations. Slavery happened so long ago, the dissenters argue. They deny that slavery constitutes a factor contributing to the contemporary wealth gap between blacks and whites. At any rate, they think reparations are impractical and even impossible. Needless to say, Christians in that group see no connection between their faith and the reparations Coates was writing about.

Today’s Gospel reading calls such convictions into question.

There Jesus invites himself for dinner to the home of Zacchaeus, a tax collector. The latter is so overjoyed by the invitation that his very first reaction is to divest himself of his wealth and to make reparations for his ill-gotten affluence. He exclaims, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

The first part of Zacchaeus’ promise (“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor”) represents recognition on the tax collector’s part that his extorted wealth constitutes a crime against poor people in general. So it calls for general divestment on his part. He’s going to give away half of his property – half to the poor of Jericho where he’s been overseeing tax collection for years!

The second part of Zacchaeus’ promise (“And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over”) is directed specifically to identifiable victims of his extortion. He’ll return to them four times what he defrauded – four times!

Luke’s remembering and repeating a story where wealth divestment and reparation are the very first reactions of a rich person to Jesus’ offer of table fellowship is significant. It seems to suggest that such rectifications are not only recommended for those deciding to join “The Way” of Jesus; they constitute a requirement of discipleship.

All of this suggests that in today’s Gospel we find an invitation to open our eyes to the fact that, far from impractical, reparations are not only possible but required from people of faith. In fact, they have already been proven to work. For instance, in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act that recognized the need to redress the wrongs suffered by Japanese-Americans unjustly interned in World War II concentration camps. Cash payments were made to survivors.

But slavery and its aftermath have been far more hurtful than that particular instance of wrongful imprisonment. Consequently, much more than one-time payments seem due to the descendants of the millions of slaves whose unpaid labor contributed so mightily to the building of America.

Reparations are also due for Jim Crow, low wages, glass ceilings, denial of loans, and segregation’s practices of red-lining. All such measures have prevented the descendants of slaves from participating in the American Way of Life that has remained largely closed to blacks.

As shown by police killings from Ferguson to Baltimore and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement, as shown by the resistance of heroes like Colin Kaepernick, by the brave example of the Black Panthers (whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year), it’s time for a national conversation on race – for a Peace and Reconciliation Commission to consider the form that long-overdue reparations might take.

Suggestions for spending the estimated $14.2 trillion owed the descendants of slaves include:

  • A federal employment program offering well-paid jobs to all our country’s poor.
  • The provision of state-of-the-art day care centers to help newly-employed parents.
  • A housing program providing decent dwellings for African Americans in urban centers now being gentrified.
  • Major upgrading of public schools attended by black children – to make them equal to those in affluent white suburbs.
  • De-militarization of urban police forces and the introduction of community controlled policing.
  • Release of non-violent offenders from prison and the restoration of their voting rights.
  • Transformation of prisons from places of punishment and degradation to centers of education and personal reform.

All such reparations are clearly possible. They will not happen without the national conversation just mentioned and without a Peace and Reconciliation Commission.

However, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, absent such measures our country will never be whole.

Today’s Gospel reading seems to endorse his observation. It invites Jesus’ followers to lead the way.

Sunday Homily: The Hypocrisy of Reagan’s “City on a Hill”

City on Hill

Readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 58: 7-10; PS 112: 4-9; I COR 2: 1-5; MT 5: 13-16. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/020914.cfm

Today’s readings are about the nature of the light emanating from a shining “City on a Hill.” Jesus introduces that imagery specifically in today’s Gospel selection. In doing so, he alludes to the words of the prophet Isaiah (today’s first reading) which describe the City’s characteristics.

However most Americans don’t primarily associate the City on a Hill image with Jesus, much less with Isaiah. In fact, most cannot hear the phrase without thinking of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. In Reagan’s mouth, “City on a Hill” became a quintessential expression of American Exceptionalism. As such Reagan’s usage exemplifies how Republicans have hijacked and distorted Christian discourse.

Reagan however didn’t coin the City’s connection to “America.” John Winthrop, the Puritan leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, had already done that in 1630. Standing on the deck of the flagship Arbella Winthrop told his shipmates, “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Then in 1961 J.F. Kennedy quoted Winthrop’s words specifically as the new president addressed the General Court of Massachusetts. Kennedy added “. . . (W)e are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arbella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less fantastic than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within.”

After Reagan, Gary Bauer, the president of the Family Research Council, attempted to borrow some of the Reagan thunder by using his idol’s words. Bauer repeatedly used the “City on a Hill” metaphor as he attempted unsuccessfully to secure the Republican presidential nomination in 1999. Before him in 1997, Reagan’s adopted son, Michael, had already written a book about his father entitled The City on a Hill: Fulfilling Ronald Reagan’s Vision for America.

As for Reagan himself, here’s what he said about the image in his farewell speech to the nation in 1989:

“…I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still . . .”

These words show that Reagan’s image of the “City on the Hill” is one of pride, strength, harmony, peace, open markets and free immigration – all of it specially blessed by God. Noble ideals all. . . .

Nonetheless President Reagan’s policies proved questionably coincident with his words and especially with the biblical ideals expressed in today’s readings.

Think about those ideals.

In the selection from Isaiah, the prophet says the City on the Hill shines because its inhabitants:
• Share bread with the hungry.
• Protect the oppressed and remove oppression from their midst.
• Shelter the homeless.
• Clothe the naked.
• Remove from their midst accusation and malicious speech.

The Responsorial psalm seconds all of that, adding that the hilltop city’s just citizens:
• Lend (without interest).
• Give lavishly to the poor.

In today’s selection from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle himself identifies with the weak and fearful, not those who are “wise” according to the standards of the world. Paul goes on to contrast the world’s logic with what elsewhere he calls the foolishness of Jesus’ Spirit – which chose to identify with those on death row (I COR 1:23).

Finally, today’s Gospel reading has Jesus refer specifically to the “City on a hill” and the light that causes it to shine. Once again, it’s the “light” described by Isaiah – sharing bread, shelter, clothing, and money with the hungry, homeless, naked, impoverished and oppressed.

All of this has little to do with President Reagan’s version of an exceptionally blessed America. In fact, during his term in office Reagan:

• Consistently stigmatized the poor. (Reagan often told the story of a “welfare queen” in Chicago who turned out to be a figment of his speech writers’ imaginations. According to the story, she drove a Cadillac and had cheated the government of $150,000 using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards and four fictional dead husbands. Once again, all of that was a lie.)
• Halved the budget for public housing.
• Closed shelters for the mentally ill.
• In so doing, created an epidemic of homelessness virtually unknown since the Great Depression.
• Spent the entire decade of the 1980s supporting oppressive governments Central America – specifically in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
• Oversaw the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, thus opening the publicly owned radio airwaves to dominance by privately financed right wing programs whose bread and butter soon became the “false accusations” and “malicious speech” Isaiah saw as incongruous with the light Jesus subsequently saw as characterizing the City on the Hill.
• Inspired his self-proclaimed acolytes (in our own day) to introduce savage reductions in Food Stamp programs for the hungry, and elimination of unemployment benefits.

And that’s the short list of the horrors of the “Reagan Revolution.” None of it has anything to do with Jesus’ vision of a City on a Hill. Rather Reagan policies fly directly in the face of that vision.

The point is that the right wing in this country (personified in Ronald Reagan) has hypocritically identified itself as somehow “Christian” while turning that tradition squarely on its head.

Progressives are missing the boat by surrendering to that hijacking of Jesus’ meaning and message, when in reality that message supports their cause, not that of their reactionary opponents.

It’s high time for progressives to go on the offensive by recognizing and employing the power of myth and image so successfully manipulated by the religious right.

Rios Montt Is a Born Again Christian! A Prominent ‘Christianist’ Cleric Supported His Genocide. Should He Be Droned Next?

pat-robertson_thumb

In all the analysis of the Rios Montt trial and conviction for genocide, it is rarely even mentioned that the General was a born again Christian. He was directly and vocally supported not only by Ronald Reagan and Elliot Abrams, but by prominent clerics like Pat Robertson.

Robertson’s support of Montt was not casual. Nor was it ignorant of Montt’s tactics. In reference to those atrocities, Nikolas Kozloff of Counterpunch writes:

“Far from denouncing such practices, Robertson rushed to defend Rios Montt. ‘Little by little the miracle began to unfold,’ he wrote of the regime. ‘The country was stabilized. Democratic processes, never a reality in Guatemala, began to be put into place.’ Robertson also praised Rios Montt for eliminating death squads, despite recent estimates that tens of thousands were killed by death squads in the second half of 1982 and throughout 1983. Most damning of all, even as Rios Montt was carrying out the extermination of the Mayan population, Robertson held a fundraising telethon for the Guatemalan military. The televangelist urged donations for International Love Lift, Rios Montt’s relief program linked to Gospel Outreach, the dictator’s U.S. church. Meanwhile, Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network reportedly sponsored a campaign to provide money as well as agricultural and medical technicians to aid in the design of Rios Montt’s first model villages.”

Hmm. . . . Aid and comfort to a perpetrator of genocide, defense of its practice, fund-raising on its behalf, concealment of concentration camps as “model villages” . . . Those sound like the crimes that justify the droning of “Islamist” clerics. But there’s been not a word about this connection in the U.S. mainstream press, much less from our government officials.

The hypocrisy of it all is not surprising to me. It is exactly what I’ve come to expect from personal experience of Guatemala and of Central America in general. There during the ‘70s and ‘80s Evangelicals and the U.S. media supported dictators throughout the region. Moreover, far from being seen as the accomplices of terror, the Evangelicals were favored by the U.S. government in its fight against Roman Catholic liberation theology. Remember, Montt’s atrocities occurred during what Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century” – the war of the United States against the Catholic Church in Latin America.

My personal experience makes all of this unforgettable for me. For the last 20 years and more, I’ve been associated with an evangelical term-abroad program for North American students in Central America. My job was to teach our students about liberation theology.

Each semester we would take students to Guatemala to visit the killing fields there. For a period, Rios Montt was always among the speakers interviewed by our students. So were professors at the Evangelical Seminary in Guatemala City. To a man, they supported Rios Montt amid the charges of genocide that always swirled around him. They echoed Robertson’s defense and/or denial of the on-going genocide. They spoke glowingly of Montt’s quasi-sermons delivered with great passion each Sunday morning as he explained his policies in terms of the Bible.

On one occasion, a student of ours summoned the courage to ask “President” Montt the question that was on everyone’s mind: “There are charges,” he said, “that you were behind mass killings of Mayan Indians. Now that it’s over, do you have any regrets about your policy?”

The ex-president’s face grew angry. He stepped from behind the podium and shook his finger at our student. “Listen,” he thundered. “I did what I did because God told me to do it! To ‘regret’ my actions would be a sin against God!”

That’s the kind of man Christianist clerics like Robertson supported. That’s the kind of Christian jihadist outlook that motivated genocide.

Now imagine what would happen to “Islamist” clerics responsible for aiding, advising and supporting Muslim acts of terrorism exactly like Montt’s, in exactly the way the Christianist cleric, Pat Robertson did.

In fact, little imagination is required. Think of the fate of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen and Muslim cleric who recently was listed as droned by the Obama national security state. His “crimes” in relation to Islamic terrorism allegedly mirrored those of Robertson in his support of Rios Montt. The C.I.A. not only killed Awlaki, but later murdered his 16 year old son in the same way.

Could it be that Rev. Robertson and some members of his family will be droned next? Hmm . . . .

“You Lose; You Lose; You Lose; You Lose, and then You Win”: The Difference between Knowledge and Wisdom (Sunday Homily)

motherjones_gr

Readings for Trinity Sunday: Prv. 8: 22-31; Ps. 8: 4-9; Rom. 5: 1-5; Jn. 16: 12-15. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052613.cfm

As I was preparing this week’s homily, I thought I would focus on a piece of good news for people of faith. For me, that would be a change of pace, because the pages of our newspapers are daily filled with such bad news. At last, I thought, there was something good to report – and related to this morning’s liturgy of the word and its surprisingly indigenous and tribal themes about Wisdom, the Great Spirit and their manifestations in God’s creation. Unfortunately my piece of good news did not stand up to history’s harshness to indigenous people and to the rest of us who are not rich and powerful.

I’m referring to the recent conviction of Guatemala’s ex-president, Rios Montt on charges of genocide. As a frequent visitor to Guatemala along with my students, I’ve followed closely efforts by Guatemala’s Mayan population to bring Montt to justice.

General Efrain Rios Montt was the U.S.-supported dictator who took power by a coup d’état in 1982. On May 10th (just a couple of weeks ago) he was held responsible for the deaths of more than 1700 Guatemalan Mayans in a 40 year-long war that killed more than 200,000 “Indians,” and disappeared more than 30,000 others.

It was the first time a modern head of state has been convicted of genocide in his own country. The octogenarian president, who had been trained at Washington’s Kennedy School, was a vocal born-again Christian, and supported by President Reagan and the Washington establishment was sentenced to more than 80 years in prison.

Montt’s conviction represented a huge victory for Guatemalan priests, religious, catechists who served Guatemala’s poor. Thousands of them had been butchered by the brutal Guatemalan military. It was a victory for peasants, workers, union leaders, social workers, teachers, students and others without public power. They had been working on this case for more than two decades despite threats and violence coming from the Guatemalan oligarchy and the U.S.-trained military that supports it. Above all, Montt’s conviction was a victory for Guatemalan Mayans whose various tribes compose 70% of the country’s population.

I was going to say that the Montt conviction showed that the Forces of Life and Justice coupled with hard work and dedication of ordinary people can achieve miracles even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I intended to point out how the patient indigenous understanding of the unity of all creation, the long arc of history, and the Great Spirit’s powerful Wisdom finally received improbable confirmation.

But then last Tuesday, Guatemala’s Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision on a technicality. As a result, the 86 year old genocide is (at least for the moment) a free man.

The reversal raises the question about the direction of history, who’s really in charge, and what forces (good or evil) will ultimately triumph. An answer to that question, I think, is implied in today’s readings, which, as I said reflect a peculiarly indigenous, tribal point of view about the direction of history and its Sovereign.

That shouldn’t surprise us because the Jewish Testament is a tribal document, isn’t it? Jesus himself was a tribal person – not a product of bourgeois society like us. Once again, according to tribal beliefs the world over, the earth and its history ultimately belong to God. The planet has been given as gift to earthly creatures and to humans as a trust. If it “belongs” to anyone, it belongs to ordinary people – to the poor and not to those whose only claim to ownership resides in their bank accounts.

Today’s liturgy of the word celebrates that viewpoint in terms of the Wisdom of Jesus and his Holy Spirit. In effect, the readings tell us not to worry whether good or evil will triumph in history. From time’s beginning that issue has already been settled, because in the long run God’s Wisdom is in charge not only of human history, but of the entire cosmos. Far from asking us to worry, God’s Wisdom requires us to know one thing only – what every tribal person knows.

You see, wisdom is different from knowledge. Knowledge is the intellectual grasp of data and so-called “reality.” The knowledgeable person knows many things. And that knowledge often tells us that the world is hopeless; the cards are stacked against ordinary people – like the Mayans of Guatemala – and their thirst for justice and hope. The powerful have insured the maintenance of the status quo, for instance by retaining power to annul unfavorable court rulings.

The tribal wise people on the other hand need to know one thing only. In theological terms, they know (and act on the knowledge) that the Lord is present in every human being and in all of the earth and that in the big scheme of things, God’s Wisdom will triumph. Hinduism’s Shveshvatara Upanishad puts it this way: “Know that the Lord is enshrined in your heart always. Indeed there is nothing more to know in life. Meditate and realize the presence of God in all the universe.”

The first reading from the Book of Proverbs seconds that insight from the Upanishads. Proverbs portrays Wisdom as God’s guiding principle for the creation of the entire universe. Wisdom is embedded in the very laws of creation. The author pictures it as playing before God as the Creator pours God’s Self into the earth, its oceans, skies, and mountains – and into the human race.

Today’s responsorial psalm also agrees. It praises wise human beings. In God’s creative order, they are almost angels. They are crowned with honor and glory, the psalmist says; they rule the earth. This is because they realize (as the Mayan indigenous of Guatemala do) that they are sisters and brothers with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and with the creatures of the deep.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus said something similar; he saw the wise as “gentle” (meek); he promised that they would have the earth for their possession. They are princesses and princes, kings and queens in disguise whatever their earthly social status and wherever they find themselves.

Finally, the Gospel reading from John concurs with the understanding of the wise which sees them as single-minded – as knowing only that one necessary thing (God’s presence in each and every creature). John says that the wise who (like Jesus) know that one thing, ultimately receive everything from God, the origin of all things good and wise. So John has Jesus again tell his friends not to worry about anything – not even about remembering the many things he might tell them.

Instead, they should rely on God’s Spirit of Truth who will remind them of the one thing necessary. That Spirit will remind them that Jesus, the Gentle and Incomparable One embodied conscious awareness of God’s presence in everything. Consequently (like all the gentle) he has been given everything that belongs to God. “Everything that the Father has is mine,” says the crucified and apparently defeated one.

Living in accord with Jesus’ spirit of conscious unity with God brings peace even in the face of ostensible failure. That’s what Paul says in today’s second reading. Even though we might be otherwise afflicted, those very afflictions will strengthen our character, Paul writes. The love which Jesus’ Spirit pours into our hearts will produce great hope when those around us are mired in and depressed by their despair.

Can you imagine the despair of the Mayans during the genocide – and now by the reversal of the Montt decision? Can you imagine their temptations to discouragement before the overwhelming odds they face in pursuing God’s justice against the brutal killers of their relatives and friends?

The message of today’s readings: Don’t be discouraged. Instead be mindful of God’s Wisdom. It is present in your heart and in the very fabric of the cosmos. Despite appearances to the contrary, and despite the best-laid plans of the powerful, the Forces of Life and Justice will prevail in the end.

Or as the great community and labor organizer, Mother Jones said “You lose; you lose; you lose; you lose, and then you win.”

That final, improbable victory of God’s wisdom and justice is what’s promised in our readings today.

Anniversary of St. Oscar Romero’s Assassination: Imagine if He Had Been Elected Pope!

A lot has been written in these pages about liberation theology. I’ve defined it as “Reflection on the following of Jesus of Nazareth from the viewpoint of those committed to the liberation of the world’s poor and oppressed.” I’ve called it the most important theological development in 1700 years and perhaps the most important intellectual development since the publication of the Communist Manifesto. (See my blog posts by clicking the “liberation theology” button just under the masthead of this blog site.)

Well, today is the feast day of liberation theology’s patron saint, Oscar Romero. On this day, March 24th in 1980, St. Oscar was gunned down by the U.S. – supported military of El Salvador. He was shot while celebrating the Eucharist in a convent chapel.

His killing was part of what Noam Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century.” It was fought by the U.S.-Vatican axis against the Catholic Church in Central America. That church had committed the unpardonable sin of taking seriously the call of the Second Vatican Council to live out what the Council called Jesus’ own “preferential option for the poor.” Such doctrinal consistency was unacceptable to the U.S. government and to the pope of Rome.

St. Oscar had been a conservative priest who was appointed archbishop of San Salvador by Pope John Paul II precisely because of Romero’s conservative leanings in both politics and theology. In a country heavily influenced by liberation theology, he could be counted on to continue the Catholic Church’s war against that movement, as well as its support for the Salvadoran oligarchy, the butchery of its military, and the U.S. policy that sponsored it all.

That particular troika brought about in 1977 the killing of Rutilio Grande, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest and close friend of St. Oscar. Their friendship had flourished even though Grande was an advocate of liberation theology.

Following Grande’s assassination, Romero underwent a profound conversion. He passed from being the enemy of liberation theology like John Paul II, his lieutenant Joseph Ratzinger (the future Benedict XVI), and Jorge Bergoglio (the future Francis I) to being its ardent promoter like Grande himself.

As U.S.-sponsored “White Hand” assassination squads did their bloody work throughout El Salvador, St. Oscar denounced the bloodbath in no uncertain terms. Each Sunday his sermons were broadcast throughout the country denouncing the military and reading the unending lists of people tortured, garroted, executed, burned, buried alive, drowned, smothered, shot and raped the previous week.

That is, while Bergoglio was giving at least “silent consent” to those same crimes by the military in Argentina, and while John Paul II worked hand in glove with Ronald Reagan against liberation theology, Romero fulfilled the role of courageous prophet in El Salvador.

For his troubles, St. Oscar received threats daily from the White Hand. He could see that his own days were numbered. “Yes, they will kill a bishop,” he had said, “but may my blood may be the seed of freedom for the Salvadoran people.” Those words and others spoken by the sainted archbishop are centralized in the song featured at the top of today’s blog post. (See the sponsoring website: TheMartyrsProject.com/)

True to his premonitions, on this day 33 years ago, he was shot at the altar.

But what if he had survived? What if (impossibly) he had been created Cardinal? What if he had been elected pope? How different then the church would be. How different the world.

Conversions are possible. St. Oscar changed profoundly.

Can something similar happen for Francis I?

St. Oscar, pray for us!

Pray for Francis I!