Humans but no Humanity

December 2nd, 2016 No comments

Street art in Istanbul.

Approaching Moral Death

November 30th, 2016 No comments

He’s quite concerned about insulting inanimate objects, but he has no problem with bombing children.

Trump’s Call to Strip Flag Burners of Citizenship Renews Decades-Old Debate

The obstacles include the precedent that the Constitution does not allow the government to expatriate Americans against their will, through a landmark 1967 case, Afroyim v. Rusk. They also include a 1989 decision, Texas v. Johnson, in which the court struck down criminal laws banning flag burning, ruling that the act was a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment.

We Must Make the Peace

November 28th, 2016 No comments

I want to say “no one with a brain can believe that life in the US in the Trump Presidency is going to be anything like business as usual.” I want to say that, but I won’t. Here’s why.
I doubt it would be possible to be more opposed to Donald Trump and what he stands for as a man or as a politician than I am. I find it literally impossible to understand how intelligent people can see a savior in him. Even a secular political savior. I find the mindset of the vocal Trump supporters, like the one depicted in this article, to be despicable. A spontaneous performance of profanity riddled bullying reminiscent of the man they look to for leadership.

But I attended mass this morning. Our parish has a very articulate associate pastor from somewhere in Africa (I’m embarrassed to say, I don’t know where). When you first start listening to him he is hard to understand, but when you get the rhythm of it you find that his insights on the scriptures are deep and enlightening. This morning he strayed from the topic of the readings, which, probably appropriately, concern the end of the world, and spoke directly to the heightened emotions still lingering from the election.

I personally have resolved to no longer engage in discussions about the electoral process. The election is over. We have done what we have done, and we will reap the harvest soon enough, whether it be bitter or sweet. But as political events unfold it becomes clear that someone is going to have to stand up for those who are set to lose, who have no one to speak for them. There are many. I see my task as not to argue but to stand up for justice. I feel that this has been the calling of my life. I hope to be able to follow in the footsteps of those who stood for the outcasts when it was not popular, even dangerous, to do so: Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And if I suffer their fate in the doing, that will be a life well lived, as far as I can see.

So that brings me to the topic of violence. My emotions call for violence to stop the atmospheric violence choking our nation. I’m not thinking about bombing anyone or shooting anyone or even really harming anyone in any particular way. But like watching popular TV in the end when the car chase and the shootout is over the good guys are the only ones still standing. And you feel good about that. Violence is OK if the good guys are using it.

But Fr. Ben says we have to lay down that thinking, and embrace each other as friends. He says Jesus promises us peace, but it is not a peace we can just sit around and wait for. We must make the peace.

Well, that’s a dilemma isn’t it? I must embrace that which repels me, with an attitude that violence must find offensive. It is difficult, but not impossible. 

Both Martin Luther King, Jr., and the man whose strategy King employed in the Civil Rights Movement, India’s Mohandas Gandhi, insisted that non-violent resistance required response to hate with love. Gandhi called it ahimsa, King agap. King elaborated on the nature of this love in an early speech: 

And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, “Love your enemy.” And it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Love your enemy.” This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.

 To respond to hate with love, in my mind, is far more difficult than responding with hate and a desire for vengeance. One must offer one’s own well being, indeed, even one’s body, as an atoning sacrifice exposing and washing away the evil of hatred. Gandhi once remarked on the expected consequences of his campaign against apartheid in South Africa, “I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am willing to kill.”

 The way of love is more difficult than the way of hate. But it is the only way to peace.

Delta apologizes for not removing Trump supporter who went on rant

The man was filmed Tuesday ranting about Trump and Clinton supporters This was minutes into a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Allentown Delta has apologized for not removing the man from the plane ‘Donald Trump is your President.

Thanks for Grace

November 26th, 2016 No comments

Grandma accidentally invites stranger to Thanksgiving – and it gets better

A woman in Mesa, Arizona, sent a text message to tell her grandson Thanksgiving dinner would be at her house at 3 p.m. this year. But she accidentally sent it to the wrong number. Jamal Hinton, 17, was in class at Desert Vista High School when his phone went off with the invitation.

Thanksgiving Peace in a Troubled World

November 25th, 2016 No comments

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Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. (New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Php 4:4–9.)

As I considered passages that might be appropriate for Thanksgiving I ran across Paul’s exhortations to the Christians at Philippi near the end of his letter to the church there.

Those Christians would have been familiar with negativity and anxiety. Scholars have estimated that the Christian church at Philippi was probably about 2% of the population. Very few of the local elites would have been included, and the greater part of the church membership would have been at the lower echelons of a status driven society, consisting mostly of poor Greeks and slaves. Philippi was a Roman colony, awash in the paganism of the Roman Empire, a promiscuous and idol worshipping culture similar to our own. In this letter Paul calls upon the Christians to live in a way that challenges the culture, which he acknowledges they are doing. But obviously, a minority challenge from the lowest level of society to the prevailing darkness would have produced anxiety in the community.

As someone who seeks to live “in Christ,” I identify with the plight of the Philippians. I have long felt that, far from being a Christian nation, the culture of the United States more resembles the paganism of the Hellenistic world. For me, this was made abundantly clear in the political process we had to endure this past several months. I allowed myself to become emotionally involved in the event, forgetting, as Paul reminds us, that “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Php. 3:20)

I think I am not the only one who has been adversely affected by the negativity of the season. I sense there is an air of bitterness and anxiety that was not resolved by the outcome of the election. Angry words are being exchanged, along with accusations and even acts of violence. The election didn’t solve anything. It seems to have deepened the divide.

So Paul’s advice to the Christians at Philippi is relevant to our own situation. He begins by essentially commanding the Philippians to rejoice. He emphasizes the command by repeating it. “I say again, rejoice!” This is not a passive admonition to “don’t worry, be happy.” The verbs in this passage are imperative.

How can Paul seriously expect worried people to respond positively to a command to rejoice? He can because he is not suggesting simply that one will oneself into joy (“lighten up!”). He is issuing a call to action. “Make your kindness known to all,” he tells them. And not to leave them scratching their heads, he follows this call to action with specific instructions.

The first thing they must do is to pray with thanksgiving. He actually prefaces the call to prayer by reminding them that “the Lord is near.” Some interpret this as a reminder of the Parousia, the second coming, but in the context of this call to prayer it more likely points out that Jesus has promised to be with us always (Mt. 28:20). So they (and we) have every reason to be grateful. We can pray with thanksgiving because we know the Lord is near, that he hears us. Our trust in the nearness of Christ in our afflictions and anxieties, if it is real, allows us to live with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

I think that last phrase deserves a little attention, because we are apt to think that Paul is writing in hyperbole. We are used to this, surrounded as we are with overblown descriptions of everything from laundry soap to toothpaste, and so we might dismiss it, as we do most advertising. But Paul didn’t live in a culture soaked in advertising, and when he writes that something surpasses all understanding, he means it. How can one understand a people who live in spiritual peace in the midst of troubled times? Are they daft? Paul assures us later in the letter that he has “learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Php. 4:11 NIV)

How? Paul instructs the Philippians to two counter-cultural actions. The first is to focus their attention on the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or gracious, in short anything that speaks of the sovereignty of God in a fallen world. It is true that the world is fallen and because of that we are beset by corruption in everything, but at the same time God’s signature is still to be found: in nature, in our loving relations with those close to us, in acts of love and heroism and charity great and small. Paul here suggests that we can train our minds to notice these things first and above all. In other words, to notice God first and above all. That alone is enough to overcome the darkness of the world.

But he goes on. Paul instructs the Philippians to “keep on doing what you have learned and received and seen in me.” To know exactly what Paul means by that we have to look further back in the letter where he writes,

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Php. 2:1-11 NABRE)

A central theme of all of Paul’s writing is the idea of being “in Christ.” Being in Christ means the abandonment of what he calls the flesh, meaning things of secular life, and adopting the Spirit, which is that our motivation becomes entirely identified with God’s will. And what is God’s will? Is it that we satisfy our worldly desires? Is it that we triumph in politics, accumulate worldly treasures and honors, vanquish those who persecute us? No. It is that we pour ourselves out completely in our service to those around us. Even those who don’t like us, who we may not like very much. Jesus blessed and forgave those who were nailing him to the cross, and then he gave up everything for a world that despised him. That is God’s nature. And if we are in Christ, it is that nature we are being conformed to.

It may seem overwhelming. But we are not alone. The Lord is near. That is the source of our thanksgiving. That allows us to act with charity even in the midst of persecution. That is what gives a sure hope in the future. And that is where we experience the God of Peace.

This land is our land

November 22nd, 2016 No comments

This is what you elected:

Alt-right leader: ‘Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!’

The president of the alt-right National Policy Institute Richard Spender’s remarks were posted Sunday on YouTube by “Red Ice Radio,” which describes itself as “covering politics and social issues from a pro-European perspective.” The Atlantic magazine, which is recording footage of Spencer for a documentary they’re working on, also published a video of the same event showing audience members apparently giving the Nazi salute.

And this is my response:

 

Dear President-Elect Trump

November 19th, 2016 No comments

“Dear President-Elect Trump,

For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has stood as this nation’s premier defender of freedom and justice for all.

As you assume the nation’s highest office, we must ask you now as president-elect to reconsider and change course on certain campaign promises you have made.

Specifically, you promised to:

  • amass deportation force to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants
  • ban the entry of Muslims and institute aggressive surveillance programs targeting them
  • restrict a woman’s right to abortion services
  • reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture
  • change our nation’s libel laws and restrict freedom of expression

These proposals are not simply un-American and wrong-headed. They are unlawful and unconstitutional, and would violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, as well as other statutes and international treaties.

Many of our country’s most cherished rights are the result of ACLU litigation and advocacy. They include the Scopes trial (the right to teach evolution in public science classrooms) and the following Supreme Court cases: Korematsu (challenging Japanese American internment); Miranda (the right to remain silent); Griswold (the right to contraception); Loving (the right of interracial couples to marry); Gideon (the right to a court-appointed attorney if you can’t afford one); Windsor (striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act); and Obergefell (the right of same-sex couples to marry) and others. We have worked with and battled American presidents of both parties to ensure that our country makes good on it’s founding premise as the land of the free.

If you do not reverse course and endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU at your every step. Our staff of litigators and activists in every state, thousands of volunteers, and millions of supporters stand ready to fight against any encroachment on our cherished freedoms and rights.

One thing is certain: We will be vigilant every day of your tenure as president. And when you ultimately vacate the Oval Office, we will do likewise with your successor.”

nyt_trump_ad-forprint-rel1

America has always been great, but has also made great mistakes

November 11th, 2016 No comments

franklin-justice

I am one of the relatively small percentage of people who put on a uniform in a time of war and literally risked everything for this country. Admittedly I was only dimly aware of the possible consequences when I volunteered, but I think that is the way of youth. Some who were much better aware hid behind fake disabilities while they put on military costumes and marched around the campus of private schools. The point is that I have at least as much stake in this country as anyone, and I have earned the right to exercise the freedoms that this nation has championed, including freedom of speech.

America has always been a beacon of the higher ideals of the so-called enlightenment. But at the same time the United States has been the location and the perpetrator of some of the ugliest injustices in world history. I, and I think most veterans, pledged ourselves to defending the former against the latter. Sometime that sentiment was abused, as was the case in Vietnam, where excellent men and women sacrificed to save the asses of cowardly politicians.

Now I am old and the country no longer has use for the kind of service I could offer in a military capacity. But I have never lost sight of that higher vision of America. Today a wave of fear and vitriol has been awakened, encouraged, and is sweeping across the nation, bringing to the forefront the worst of the American tradition. But there are many, probably most, who still cling to the vision of the sweet land of liberty.

I am one of them, and I pledge to continue to defend the country against all enemies foreign and domestic in whatever way I can, for as long as I can.

Happy Veterans Day.

“So much was lost with you, so much talent and intelligence and decency. …[Y]ou embodied the best that was in us. You were a part of us, and a part of us died with you, the small part that was still young, that had not yet grown cynical, grown bitter and old with death. Your courage was an example to us, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, nothing can diminish the rightness of what you tried to do. Yours was the greater love. You died for the man you tried to save, and you died pro patria. It was not altogether sweet and fitting, your death, but I’m sure you died believing it was pro patria. You were faithful. Your country was not.”

The future is still bright

November 10th, 2016 No comments

we-can-build-our-youth-for-the-future

In my US history classes today I gave the students an opportunity to express their thoughts about the election. Some were jubilant that Trump had won, many were despondent, and some were defeated. One of them blurted out, “The country’s going to hell!” When I asked why she felt that way she responded that if Trump did everything he said he would do in the campaign it would mean the end of America. A number of the students were concerned that Trump would be able to singlehandedly accomplish terrible things as if there were no limit to his power.

What I told them was this.

  1. We have to wonder if our dire predictions about the future are based on reality or rather reflect our ideological echo chamber. We know what Trump said, we also know that his own surrogates have publicly stated that he wouldn’t really do those things. We know that even though the presidency is a powerful position, that it is not all powerful, and that Trump cannot circumvent the rule of law unless we let him.
  2. We really don’t know how he will govern, and it’s possible that some of our fears have been overblown by our tendency to only listen to like-minded people. Yet all of us know people who passionately support Trump and while we are at a loss as to why we know they are good people. They must have heard something we didn’t. Maybe we should listen to it.
  3. Whatever rhetoric we heard from the campaign, and however we feel about the outcome, the system is working as designed. The faction in power has clearly stated the intention of surrendering power as specified in the constitution. Look around the world and notice where else you can witness that. In places with less respect for democratic institutions the losing faction would be alleging fraud and arming themselves to “take back the country,”
  4. While we respect the institutions and traditions of democracy that respect doesn’t preclude vigorous opposition. In fact it demands it. Those Trump supporters who think the opposition should be silenced forget the opposition President Obama faced beginning on his first day after the election and continuing to this day. I think they also forget that this election was a squeaker. There is no sweeping mandate here.
  5. The populist appeal Trump rode into office has historically elected presidents who could be disrespectful of constitutional norms. In particular, two populist presidents: Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, played fast and loose with the constitution. The republic survived.
  6. My most significant reason for optimism was them. They are engaged, interested, and concerned. They’re not a bunch of apathetic spoiled dumb asses as my generation likes to portray them They believe in the principles of American democracy. They are the future, and I think the future is in good hands.

Standing at the precipice…

November 6th, 2016 No comments

newspeak

…every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans [democrats]: we are all federalists [republicans]. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.” – Jefferson first inaugural address 1801

Revolutions generally bring together coalitions of groups who don’t share the same vision of what the desired outcome will look like. And, revolutions often change direction once they are begun. That was the case for our revolution, which began as a tax revolt and ended as a struggle for the rule of the common man.

Students of history know that seemingly incompatible differences in vision between the various founders became evident at the very beginning during the administration of George Washington, in the conflict between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson, the idealist, saw the revolution as the beginning of a new age of the emancipation of the human spirit. Hamilton saw independence as a means of harnessing the vast resources of America to compete economically with Britain.

Those whose vision aligned with Hamilton controlled the Federal government through the Washington and Adams administrations, but their hold on power was challenged by the Jeffersonians in the election of 1800. It is important to recall that the United States did not then have a history of party politics, and most believed that party spirit (factionalism) was antithetical to democracy. Nevertheless the differences between these two groups were so severe that both sides warned of the end of the republic if their opponents were left in control of government. There was no tradition of peaceful transfer of power from one faction to another. The dire warnings the two sides hurled at each other were not hyperbole.

When the electoral college was not able to elect a president in 1800 the election went to the House of Representatives as specified in the constitution. The House was controlled by Federalists (Hamiltonians), but the Federalist candidate John Adams did not have enough votes to prevail. The election split between two Republicans (Jeffersonians): Jefferson and Aaron Burr, and after 35 tie votes and the threat of military intervention by the Governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania elected Jefferson. In fact, there had been a backroom deal between Jefferson and Hamilton, where Jefferson promised to leave Hamilton’s financial measures intact in return for Hamilton swaying the vote in his favor. Jefferson would for the rest of his life deny that he had made a deal, but the evidence is clear. Which tells us that the very survival of American democracy was made possible by a reluctant willingness to compromise on fundamental issues.

After the contest was decided, Jefferson delivered the quote above in his inaugural address. He displays a hopeful vision, that the people, whatever their political persuasion, have a common love of liberty. And he allows for the most radical opposition, even to the point of threatening to destroy the republic, “as long as reason is left free to combat it.” Jefferson believed that an informed electorate could be trusted to act in the best interests of the country.

As a student of history, I have devoted a great deal of thought to the current election. It seems to me not to be an overstatement to say that this election is marked by political polarization our nation has not seen since the election of 1800, with the exception of the election of 1860. In 1800, the antagonists called upon a common love of freedom to save the republic. In 1860, they failed to do so, and the result was civil war.

The key to the survival of democracy, Jefferson believed, was that citizens would take seriously their obligation to carefully weigh what was at stake using the best information available. Looking at my Facebook feed and watching the National Enquirer-esque “breaking news” nonsense articles scrolling past, that those who post must apparently believe, I wonder if Jefferson should have been so optimistic.

Some scholars have referred to the intellectual atmosphere we live in as the “post-truth era.” Many will argue that what we call truth can be subjective, and that is true. But there are facts, and there are things that are demonstrably false, and there are ways to tell them apart. I fear that by abandoning truth as a basis for managing our shared community, we are also abandoning the ability for self government. Rather than leaving reason free to combat untruth, large portions of our electorate are engaged in all out combat against truth. We stand at the edge.

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