Breaking glass

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Eighty years ago, on November 9-10, 1938 the lives of many were shattered. Like shards flying every which way, the existence of Jewish people of Germany was splintered in ways we have yet to recover from. This is the anniversary of the time of evil known as Kristallnacht. The night of breaking glass. Although they may age, and their numbers dwindle, there are those still alive who witnessed these events, such as Ruth Winkelmann and Jill Pauly.

In an almost spontaneous moment this explosive event turned the course of anti-Semitism, creating momentum that would spin out of control. – Of course, the moment was anything but spontaneous if you study the history of that time. Which also signifies the need to pay attention to the current events (like this or this) of our lives. There are so many more, many that we do not even know about.

This short post serves to remind us of how forceful the power of hatred and division is; we are living it right now.  The horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh two short weeks ago, the rally in Charlottesville in August of 2017 are simply two incidents of the rise in anti-Semitism. As for prejudice against people of color, the evidence is so voluminous I hardly know where to begin. The rejection of people of other faiths, especially Muslims is ever present. As for people from other lands who seek a better life in the United States, often arriving on foot seeking refuge and asylum from extreme violence and poverty, there has been an abominable welcome. The list goes on and on, unfurling like a ribbon of infinity unraveling from a spool over all time.

Often the rejection of others is justified in tidy legalistic terms by people of faith. What dissonance this reveals, given that Jesus Christ pretty much spent his entire time of public ministry reaching out to those unwanted ones at the margins, and was himself rejected by the standards of the day. If one claims him as their God I am not sure how one reconciles this belief. I’m not here to judge, but I am curious as I cannot understand how one can believe in that fashion. God does not love white people, Christians, or any one other person more than another.

Ironically the readings for tomorrow (Sunday, November 12) are rooted in what it means to give not from your surplus, but from your very need. This can mean giving away your last bit of food to a stranger, or donating the smallest coin, knowing that your own livelihood may be imperiled by such an act. It can also mean that we are to give of our hearts in ways we simply cannot imagine.

One example of that might be something like stretching the door to our hearts, forcing ourselves to open a bit wider, in pursuit of our God. This could mean starting to see “the other” in a more loving light. Love could be a big leap, so let’s start with seeing “the stranger” at least as someone who is not a threat. That too is part of giving out of your life, not from the surplus. It is what we are called to do, at least those of us who are Christians. We must be transformed through, with, and in Christ. That is hard work, but so far Jesus has not given up on us, so maybe we should not give up so easily either. Just a thought. And trust me, I’m talking to myself as much as to anyone who reads this.  My own struggles with rejecting the other have less to do with race, color, creed, but coalesce around ideology. I’m always trying to keep that heart-door open, but man, does it stick a lot. Where is the WD-40 of grace that I need to lubricate the hinges that will enable the transformation that I myself require?

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This quote is remarkably appropriate pretty much every single day.

For this Catholic, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht reminds me that Jesus (who was in fact born as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew – just saying) is forever knocking at the door of our collective hearts.  I’m trying to go open mine – what will you do with yours? One need not be Christian to open the heart, but must be human. When we get to that point, the Kingdom will truly be here.  In the meantime, the only glass to break is that surrounding our own hearts.

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Honoring King, in black and white

Hobbs-Lorraine-Motel-Martin-Luther-KingFifty years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and today we have a national holiday; but we have less respect for one another than ever as a nation.

A great deal of white America loves to talk about black-on-black crime, but somehow never uses that term for other crime.

A great deal of white America loves to say that they see everyone as equal, until a black family moves in nearby. Do you feel that way with your other ethnic neighbors?

A great deal of white America loves to say that this is a land of opportunity, and that you just have to work hard enough. Sounds good, but 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.

 

 

What will we choose today?

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Tenderness or severity? What will we choose?

What will we choose today? Tenderness? Severity? We seem to believe that severity is the go to for keeping law and order, but I’m not sure it is all that simple. Many of us profess to follow the Prince of Peace. Severity did not seem to be his thing and here we all are, 2000 years later, still worshiping a man who was hung like a shameful thief on a cross. He never resisted, he did not fight back, he did not choose severity – even when it was chosen for him.Knowing that death was coming for him, Jesus responded to violence by saying

“Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”- Matthew 26:52

What will we choose today? Especially we who follow Christ? Will we “show them” who is in charge, whoever them may be… Black people, Muslims, fill in the blank, there are many “thems.” For some, out of madness and rage, out of destruction, “them” are the police. More death does not bring forth life, it brings forth only more pain, sorrow, anger, and ultimately, even more death.

What will we choose today? Will we blame all of “them” and hold ourselves unaccountable when in fact we all have a role in what is happening? Will we clasp our hands in prayer and pray for a new president to “fix” things? Will we keep saying “if there were no blacksgaysmuslimsdemocratssocialistsimmigrants then we would be ok?”

What will we choose today? And what will be on our heart as we take our last breath, whenever that may be? Will we be glad that we spent more time wallowing in despair or spouting anger? Will we be glad that we used all the power given to us by God to keep order? Or will we regret that severity won the day, leaving tenderness in the dust? Discernment is of the highest order, when we consider each moment of our own precious lives, and of the precious lives of others.

What will we choose today? Why wait for death to find out? What will we choose?

 

Invited guests and stretched hearts

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All are welcome – that’s the idea anyway.

Imagine that you are invited to a great banquet, a sumptuous feast, a life changing event that you never imagined that you would attend. Maybe you wanted to attend, maybe you swore you would never go to such a thing, but whatever the case, you find yourself getting ready to enter. As you approach, someone greets you, but you notice they are looking you up and down in a way that makes you deeply uncomfortable. You were told that the host of the vent welcomed all people, yet now you are not so sure.

As you proceed, another person stops you and asks for your credentials. Suddenly you loose your emotional footing – you wonder what’s going on. You have your invitation, and it appears to express that you are welcome at any time, so you’re not sure what might be wrong.

While others stream in through the great doors, you and some others are asked to step to the side while these so-called greeters meet. You see them looking over at your ever growing group, and talking. You may feel Continue reading

Night falls

Night Wiesel

Reading Night has me considering just how night falls around us lately. Should I be embarrassed to admit that I had never read Elie Wiesel’s Night? It felt kind of shocking to me, as I am holocaust-obsessed person, not to mention a big reader. Frankly I’m not sure how I never did, but I never did read the book. Until now. Wiesel’s recent death propelled me down to our local library to find a copy.

When I think about this moral giant’s passing, and the confluence of current events I find myself feeling ill, wondering out loud – how did we get here? Again? Some among you may think I am being reactionary, or simply overreacting. Pardon me, but I will err on the side of caution here, many good Germans, Jews and non-Jews, felt like others were overreacting back then. By time they could do something it was too late, so the cautionary tale approach works just fine for me.

The slim volume is harrowing – there is no getting around that. As Wiesel chronicles elements of his Transylvanian childhood, he creates evocative scenes of daily Jewish life with his words. I’m not going to review the book for you here; many of you read it, and if you have not, I will simply say do not delay – read it now.

Maybe it is my own odd preoccupations with death, Continue reading