Curiosity and contempt

Camino Edith Wharton QuoteIt has been a little while since I have blogged. I’ve been either too tired, too busy, or too uninspired.  Anyway, I was reminded of this quotation from Edith Wharton today, always a favorite one of mine, so I made a meme out of it.  That got me thinking about how often my own desire and willingness to live as Wharton’s words suggest.

With the reminder that when I write, I’m talking to myself allow me to begin. Right up front we are reminded that being unafraid of change is step one.  Change?! Unafraid of change?! Oh sure, many of us will say we are fine with it… that’s generally the case as long as it is a change of our own choosing. Any change that chooses us? Not quite so easy to like that kind of change. That goes for change that comes forth as challenge in both large ways and small, as well as the less obvious invitations to grow. You know, like the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Those kinds of changes… are they so welcomed? Not always.

Having said all of that, I have long believed the words of a little wallet card that came into my possession in the mid-90’s. It read said, “Change always comes bearing gifts.” The moment I read those words, I immediately hated them. Yet, something in them caught my attention, the slightest little tug Continue reading

United States of Survivor

get hereOn May 31, 2000 something remarkable happened on television, all due to a replacement series that debuted that night. This television program turned the tide of “reality television” and has had a profound influence upon this country. In fact, perhaps more profound than we realize! The show is “Survivor on CBS.

Before I get too far allow me to say that I have never watched an entire episode this program. It never ever appealed to me, and when I learned more about it from obsessed friends, I felt nothing but revulsion. The idea that people would go against one another and vote people “off” the island, “outwitting” others so that one person wins a million dollars is – sorry people – abhorrent to me. Rome before the fall is what I thought then, Rome before the fall is what I feel now. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I sound like a snob, an elitist, a snowflake, go ahead. That’s fine by me. You may say that “It’s just a show, just a game” Watch the promo materials – it is called the “greatest social experiment” for a reason.
“Outwit, outplay, outlast” is the motto. Have fun all alone with your cool million you outwitter, outplayer, you outlaster you!

survivor-300x184Tonight I did begin to watch an episode of the show because I have been wanting to write about it. I’m not going to lie, I’m about 5 minutes into season 30, episode 1 and I can barely stomach it. Sorry Survivor fans. This has been my impression all along, now that I am seeing it – I hate that it is proving me right. I’ll try to keep going, but the motif is clear enough, and I can work with that. Let me share this example, a description of this season that I found here:

The cast is composed of 18 new players, initially split into three tribes containing six members each: Escameca (“Blue Collar”), Masaya (“White Collar”), and Nagarote (“No Collar”).

Perhaps you can begin to see what is so timely about all of this.

So what led me to all of this? Well – two things got the ball rolling. One was this podcast from Fresh Air, in which host Terry Gross interviews Maggie Haberman of the New York Times. Haberman has covered Donald Trump for the NYT for some time, and previously for multiple publications. The second thing that caught my attention was the printed text of this AP interview with the President that was recently published.

The final element was something that happened as I sat in a doctor’s waiting room. A man was talking to his wife about his pain, but then he began to speak of gratitude for how things could be so much worse. He was loud and it was a small waiting room, so I could not help but hear him over the din of CNN on the TV. His passion about gratitude had me near tears, I would not have expected that kind of talk from a man like this – older, larger, roughhewn. Then it happened, he glanced up at the TV, where Sean Spicer was going on about something, and the man went on a major rant about the liars, liberals, and losers that make up the media, and how they were hellbent on destroying President Trump.

Humans are complex, I thought, no – maybe complicated. Maybe both. Anyway, I could not muster anger for him. Yet I knew that he and I saw the world through a shared lens of gratitude, but a cracked lens of politics. As I sat in the exam room moments later, waiting for the doctor, somehow Survivor – for reasons I cannot explain – popped into my head.

Anyway, this is not a takedown of the president, I promise you it is not. It is an analysis of the current situation in the context of faith, culture, and politics. Who are we as a people? How did we get here?

This is too much information to go into very deeply so I will say this, and then urge you to find what it takes to watch at least one episode of Survivor if you have never seen it before. I picked the one that I did because it pitted white collar people versus blue collar people versus “no collar” people. (More free spirited.) SPOILER: A blue collar wins. NOT SPOILER: ust know that you will learn a lot about our country and our culture, just by watching the people introduce themselves.

Briefly, the Maggie Haberman interview on Fresh Air struck me because of the haunted description of Donald Trump.  A man who prefers to sleep in his own bed. Nothing wrong with that, but an oddity if you are the leader of the free world. And his isolation, gathering a cadre of people around him who are… well, they are who they are. Haberman’s take on Bannon staying or going was fascinating. You’ll need to listen to find out. It is just so much intrigue.

Make no mistake, all power centers are rife with intrigue! However, a leader of Trump’s personality and style bring us to levels of intrigue not seen before. Somehow that ol’ Bush White House with Cheney and Rove seems fairly benign to me. Anyway, it is a fascinating podcast full of things I knew, and many that I had not thought of.

hubrisThe AP interview struck me as primarily sad. Then it terrified me. I’m sad because our president simply cannot get through too many sentences without reminding everyone how great and successful he is. So much hubris, but what also appears to be so much insecurity. Whether President Trump is successful or not… I mean, if he is, then we do not need to be reminded on a constant basis. It is unseemly at best.  In the interview, of course he had to emphasize, even if it were true, that Obama got “zippo, zero” and yet Trump got the worker released from Egypt posthaste. I am glad that she is released, but gosh – does it all have to be about Trump? And then there is so much that is either awkward or unclear. Like when he is speaking, I find myself saying out loud to no one, “What is he on about now?”

Anyway, read it for yourself.

Finally – at it’s heart, Survivor is a completely set up “reality” program. As I watched the open for the episode, I saw how slick it was. I’m not surprised – after all, they have had 17 years to perfect it. And I am sad to say that our president, who is used to adulation via his businesses and via his own “reality” show is remarkably similar. I will say this, Survivor is better produced, more slick.

But isn’t it a kind of populist Trumpian dream that we “vote” off the losers so that we can end up with our own prosperous million? That we can have what we want, not sharing it at all? Let’s get all those “fill-in-the-blank” others out of here, and THEN we will be great. What if, what if. What about now? What about human dignity? What about life? What about a strong sense of the common good? I for one am sick to death of hearing about trickle down, as I have since the Reagan era… It is a reminder that others outwit, outplay, and outlast, so the fault with those on the bottom rungs must be their own.

As a Catholic I am also considering the theological implications of living the Eucharist and the kind of mindset that brings us Survivor and the current political situation. Sadly, many of us were catechized to believe that we somehow “earned” the right to the banquet of the Eucharistic table, and that we must “work” for it, and that we “take” communion, or “receive” communion. None of which is true. You cannot outwit, outlast, or outplay your community. Why would you want to? In its greatest sense, the best Eucharistic theology makes it clear that everyone needs to be at table. The Eucharist heals, binds, and propels – it is not the million dollar reward for driving everyone away.

This piece grows long, and I grow tired. At this point, I have merely skittered across the surface of some ideas. I will close this way – remember that a country hooked on “outplay, outwit, and outlast” gets the leadership it deserves. THAT is not a Trump problem, that is our problem and it seems the current president might fit nicely into the model.

What have we done to create this? What can we do to move forward? Me, I’m still wishing I could have had a conversation with the man in the waiting room who was one part graciously and humbly grateful and one part ranting and raving. Mostly I would have asked him questions starting with why. It could have been interesting, what I learned from him, and what he learned from me. If anything. We will never know.

At this point, I am not happy about life in the United States of Survivor, but it seems that is exactly where we are.

What do you think?

Ending. Beginning.

79e1dcd771692a79c9919a6cc035829eWell, tomorrow is Friday, January 20, 2017 and we all know what that means… The past eight years have been far from perfect. In fact if I could sit down with President Barack Obama, there are many frustrations that I would share with him. Having said that, I would say that overall, I mourn the end of his days in the Oval Office.

After the prior eight years, he seemed a dream in many ways. An African-American, young, hopeful, inspired to do grassroots change, socially progressive, and so much more, he inspired so many of us. Yet, the reality of governing versus campaigning set in, and some of the dreams evaporated. Add to that, many made him a hero, and nothing good comes of that. The hero-making, idolizing is what turned me off early on during the campaigning, so I was very late to hop on the Obama for President train.

For good or ill, Continue reading

Choose wisely, together

These are strange days. Each day I encounter news that I could not possibly imagine would ever exist. There is a hashtag called #nottheonion, because ludicrous stories may be satire – or they may be reflective of something real.

Some quotations have worked their way into my consciousness, so I have been praying with them and pondering them.

the-ultimate-measure-of-a-man-is-not-where-he-stands-in-moments-of-comfort-and-convenience-but-where-he-stands-at-times-of-challenge-and-controversyThe first is this one from Dr. Martin Luther King, who we will remember in a national holiday on Monday. I am acutely aware that for many Americans, their own comfort and convenience, their own safety and security, trumps (oh that word) all other things.  At some level we are all guilty of this, aren’t we? Yet, when we get right down to it, especially for people of faith, things like comfort, routine, convenience, and so forth are all expendable. What matters is – as Dr. King noted – where we stand at times of challenge and controversy. And I do believe that we are entering a place of great challenge and controversy.

20171011-trump-cnn-buzzfeed_0For example, at the so-called news conference on Wednesday, the president-elect ignored a CNN reporter’s question, berated the reporter, and then called CNN fake news. Let’s just say that that kind of behavior does not strike me as either presidential, or as behavior that is attuned to the First Amendment. That this moment stands for challenge and controversy is Continue reading

Dreams, action, and justice

03de7a07ac1437954fb6ed41b144e18dThere is not much that I feel like I can say right now. It has been a tough week, although I did have a birthday and I continue to ponder my Camino. Finding words to write about that is difficult, but on the other hand, maybe more important than ever now!

In any case, this song has been on my mind since Tuesday night, so I put it here to begin the week. Nothing is over really, in fact Continue reading

Fear? Or faith?

popefrancis-fear-tyrannyOn Saturday I walked to church and listened to a podcast. The thing in the podcast that struck me the most was just how powerful a motivator fear can be. Having already read the mass readings, which address fear and other things, and I began to think about fear in our time. It is not all that different than fear in any other time; it just seems worse because we are bombarded with so much information.

So what are we afraid of? Continue reading

Exceptional

Over on Facebook, a theologian friend posted a question asking (I paraphrase) if others thought that American exceptionalism was a sin. Lots of interesting answers followed, many in agreement, clarifying why they thought it might be a sin, with more leaning towards yes. If reading these words sets you off – in either direction – hold on, that is part of the point.

One of the commenters pointed towards it being a sin because it is a lie. That makes sense to me, at least in the way that I see and understand American exceptionalism, because at its root the sin of pride is poised to leap in and co-opt, thus leading us further astray. Someone else pointed out American exceptionalism in the light nationalism, mentioning Gaudium et Spes. They also noted that St. John Paul II warned us about excessive nationalism; he certainly saw the fruit of evil that came from such a position.

NationalismThis all has me thinking because excessive nationalism, which is not to be confused with patriotism. I am worried about what grows out of such exceptionalism,  and it seems like a runaway train to me today. My biggest problem with American nationalism is that is seemed rooted – as I mentioned earlier – in excessive pride. Also, maybe it is just me, but it seems inherently disordered through the lens of faith because God has loved each and every one of us into being, so how could one country be full of people who are superior?  However, while our way of life offers us many gifts, I do not think that this is it and that everything else is flawed in some way. How arrogant is that?

As God’s people I do think that we need to keep asking ourselves questions like this, so that we are engaged with the dynamism of our lives in Christ. If we can’t see – or even be willing to see – that a position infused with the exceptionalism sort of mindset is one that risks our humanity, then I fear we are lost. The idea that we are unlike any other and without equal implies a hierarchy that is not true. It is not a big leap from this point of view to great sins such as racism, sexism, and prejudice.

Another challenge of the position is that we reduce humans, denying them of their dignity, to a “group” that we oppose. Whether it is someone denigrating all “conservatives” or putting down “liberals” as if their was but one group-hive mind among them all is ridiculous at best, and sinful at worst. That’s bad enough, but the nationalism loads up all kinds of generalizations that are simply not true – and those are lies. And we know who the purveyor of all lies is, right? Some big contemporary lies might be that all Mexicans are flooding our borders to take advantage of our way of life is a lie,  all Muslims belong to a death cult intent on destroying our way of life, all Black citizens in addition to being lazy welfare users also want to kill our police.  We could all go on and on with examples, each one uglier than the next.

Are there truths in some situations? Yes, but no all can be all anything and it is a challenge of sin to think this way. Similarly absurd would be the notion that all Americans are the best people in the world and our way of life is completely without fault. That is the exceptionalism we see so much of on parade lately, and that is dangerous territory.

This gets me back to my last post, about what we might choose. As people of God, in particular for those of us who are Roman Catholic, we are asked to live in ways so that all may be one in Christ. Instead of slicing and dicing, choosing either or, we are invited to live holistically and in service to the other. That is not so easy to do if you are inclined to pigeonhole the worth and the unworthy, the good and the bad and so forth. For about the 804,482th time I refer to Anne Lamott’s great line, illustrated in the image below.

quote-you-can-safely-assume-that-you-ve-created-god-in-your-own-image-when-it-turns-out-that-anne-lamott-16-72-26So tell me readers, what do you think? Is American exceptionalism a sin? If so – why? If so – why not? In the end, I’m left thinking that sin easily springs forth from this mindset. for the reasons I mentioned and more. I’m curious in these days of so much talk of our nation’s greatness and failure how things look to you.