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Unquiet Musings in an Age of Unreason
Father Larry
In the debate between Carl DeMaio and Scott Peters in the 2014 52nd Congressional District Race, DeMaio sought to position himself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. In spite of my own kin making the same claim, it is a position that makes absolutely no sense to me. To be an advocate of peace, justice, and compassion is not without costs – including financial costs. Social liberalism and financial conservatism are mutually exclusive. “No one can serve two masters.” That’s precisely why Bill and Hilary Clinton have always been denied liberal credentials.

We cannot afford the rich. Over 3 billion people attempt to exist on $2.50 or less a day. The wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world. No, humanity cannot afford them.

The report of the UN Committee Against Torture found the United States not to be in compliance with international anti-torture treaties. And, the report compiled by the bipartisan United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program and its use of various forms of torture details confirms what we already knew – the United States of America engaged in the systematic torture, sometimes resulting in the deaths, of detainees. What the report reveals is – well sickening. The fact that the CIA Director and former Directors or fellow conspirators in this evil, like Dick Cheney, use the same euphemisms and rationalizations (Vershharfte Vernehmung, is well translated as “sharpened” or “enhanced interrogation”) as their World War II Nazi counterparts on trial at Nuremberg for war crimes does nothing to curb the nausea. Neither is it surprising. For Bush, Cheney, or those employed by the CIA to admit the reality would be to confess themselves as war criminals.

The UN panel was also critical of police brutality and the excessive use of force by police officers in the U.S. When we lived in Colorado two young black men in two separate incidents, both suffering from cognitive impairment, were shot and killed by the police — I believe by the same officer — who like Daniel Pantaleo had absolutely no business serving on any police force. In one case a young man, just a kid to me, was standing in his yard holding a knife. Because he was within twenty feet of the officer the law said it was legal to shoot him to death. Of course, what is legal and what is just and right and good are often two very different things. Obviously our society needs and will always need competent police officers, but law enforcement officers with overwhelming power and control issues, or prejudices that interfere with their ability to function thoughtfully and equitably contribute to a systemically violent society. I am entirely supportive of what I hope becomes a sustained effort to eliminate sanctioned violence. I also think such a movement can be helped by keeping in mind that the strength of the protest is in direct proportion to the purity of the victim.

I am not much disturbed by the possibility of Obama Care being dismantled, maybe then we can work toward universal single payer health care and move beyond the Wal-Mart level of development to become a civilized nation.

I used to wonder how the Republicans could be so wrong about just nearly everything. Ronald Reagan argued that because of the economic boom that would take place there would be no growth in the federal budget deficit, but budgeted federal revenues dropped creating a huge fiscal hole. In the early 1980s Republicans worked for the deregulation of the savings and loan industry. Within seven years the federal government lost $125 billion dollars in payouts. There are plenty of other fantasies: Abolishing bank regulations will help the economy, Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction and was a front for Bin Laden, and Obama Care actually hurts people. I used to wonder how Republicans could be so wrong about so much, and then I realized they are not wrong they are right! They do indeed know how to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

A nation that is unable or unwilling to recognize its own complicity in the oppression of the poor or in the violence of global terrorism is simply incapable of producing solutions adequate to the problems it faces. Substantial and long-term answers only come, as they have always come, from the highest aspirations of the human heart espoused by all the great faith and wisdom traditions of the world — compassion, justice, peace, mercy, faith, and some sort of reflective repentance.

The Republicans have accused the President of misleading all of us by asserting that progress is being made against ISIS. That leaves me puzzled as to what to make of the almost daily reports of towns and villages being taken back from ISIS. It may just be that because of my commitment to pacifism I have terms like “winning” and “losing” all confused.

What do I think of American Sniper and Chris Kyle? Well it makes me think of the 1964 film “The Americanization of Emily” — an American comedy-drama war film starring James Garner and Julie Andrews. Garner’s character argues both humorously and dramatically that the way to end war is to get people to see the simple reality that the wounded and the dead of war are victims rather than heroes. It makes me think on what Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, former army Ranger, paratrooper, and Psychology Professor at West Point, says in his book On Killing — how killing in combat can become addictive. It makes me think of the “Fargo” television series in which the Gus Grimly character kills the evil Loren Malvo but in doing so is somehow himself diminished. And Chris’s real life assertion that “violence can be a solution” is so mind numbing and heart numbing that I don’t think at all.

A World Forever Breaking Down:
Upon Hearing the Dreams and Visions of Isaac the Blind
Fr. Larry

 

Lately as I drive alone here and there along the North Coast of San Diego in my VW Beetle, I have only one CD I play over and over again – Osvaldo Golijov’s The Dreams and Visions of Isaac the Blind as performed by The Kronos Quartet. It is music that is entirely earthy and ethereal at the same time. Sometimes it is quiet and sad; sometimes it is a dance of frenzied passion. Mystically it gives wonderful expression to a line from an apocryphal psalm: “No one sings as purely as those who are in deepest hell.”

And I find myself reflecting on something Golijov said of this beautiful and enigmatic work in an interview, “I have this image,” he said, “of my great grandfather who shared my bedroom when I was seven, I’d wake up and see him by the window praying with his phylacteries in the early light. I think of his always praying, or fixing things, his pockets full of screws. I remember thinking three of his children are dead; how does he still pray? Why does he still fix things?” The question, then, woven into the melodies of this astonishing composition is: “Why this task? Repairing a world forever breaking down?”

My own struggle with Golijov’s question is one of the big reasons I have not blogged for such a long time. Trying to revitalize a mission church requires an enormous amount of energy, energy that as an old man I don’t always have, so that is certainly a factor, but being a work of love it is not as significant a hindrance as sheer discouragement with those who have it within their power to do so much good, but act instead out of so much selfish ambition and blind self-will — or as with the Democrats so little courage or passion.

How is it I have wondered, that Republicans were able to sing Amazing Grace as they gathered to consider how to use the threat of a government shutdown, no idle threat it turns out, to remove the Health Reform Law from the books. It has to be the epitome of cruel irony when people of wealth and power take a Christian hymn, written by a repentant trafficker of African slaves, meant by him to inspire hope, compassion and astonishment at the generous goodness of God, and use it as cabal music – “pep music” for a meeting to scheme against the millions who have no access to medical care. If there are people who know of a better way, by which I do not mean a more self-serving way, to provide quality medical care to every sick or injured man, woman and child among us – let’s go for it. But, to appropriate the words of the evil Vinzzini in The Princes Bride, to say in the name of the holy, “Cut the rope!” is, as Vinzzini is also fond of repeating, “Inconceivable!” Of course Iago tells Vinzzini that he doesn’t think Vinzzini really knows what that word means – perhaps I don’t either.

U.S. Congressional Representative Stephen Fincher in explaining why he wanted to dramatically reduce funding for The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (food stamps) rather disingenuously argued: “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.” Poor Mr. Fincher must feel himself caught in a terrible and painful bind. More than most of us Fincher is, as a Congressional Representative, “Washington.” According to his tangled logic he is both the robber and the robbed. Actually, Fincher is not all that much against “Washington,” by which I assume he means the duly elected government of the United States of America, “taking money from people in the country to give to others in the country.” Stephen Fincher is in fact the second largest recipient of Farm Subsidies in the history of the State of Tennessee – “Inconceivable!”

With only a slight modification I agree emphatically with Fincher’s statement. I believe unequivocally that it is not only the “role” but a natural moral imperative of citizens, of Christians, of humanity to take care of each other – generously and compassionately. Feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and disabled, sheltering the dispossessed is nothing less for the secular humanist than a definitive mark of what it means to truly be human, and for those of us consecrated to the spiritual path of a religious life and faith, it is indicative of what it means to consecrate one’s heart to God. Five billion dollars was cut from the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program. For a family of four participating in the program this means twenty-one fewer meals per month. It increases the food insecurity (there’s a nice euphemism) of 22,000,000 children and 9,000,000 elderly persons, and will insure that many veterans and their families will, at times, just have to go hungry. “Inconceivable!” And inconceivable that President Obama would sign a farm bill into legislation requiring further cuts. I guess it could be worse. We could live in Afghanistan or Pakistan with American drones blasting the hell out of our little children. But I digress – I guess.

Fincher further justified his economic violence against the poor and the working poor with a Biblical quotation – II Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you,” writes Saint Paul, “we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Fincher, who claims to be Christian, has been derided for his misuse of Scripture, his appalling and seeming deliberate misunderstanding of the Bible, and his egregious theology. But it seems to me that there is more at stake here than a simple misunderstanding of a Biblical text – there is something wicked. Using the word of divine goodness to justify the evil of making life difficult for someone vulnerable – “Inconceivable!”

Between 2009 and 2012 significant gains were made in the U.S. economy. The problem is that 95% of these economic gains went to the richest 1% of the population. Globally, the 85 wealthiest people in the world possess the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3,500,000,000. The wealth of the richest 1% of the people in the world is now 65 times the combined wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population. The trouble with this is not simply that some people have, materially speaking, a little higher quality of life than others – some folks drink beer while others drink champagne, some divide their time between three or four mansions and some live in a three bedroom two bath condo, or that some drive a Prius and others a Tesela, or that some send their sons and daughters to Harvard and others to the nearest Community College or State University, but that many are unable to read even if someone were to give them a book, walk all day to find drinking water, and live and die like stray dogs or starving cats on the street. Oh well, if they complain there is no bread then in the words of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake.” “Inconceivable.”

Now here I go with that very flow of consciousness that carries me into the soul battering rapids. The thing about Marie Antoinette leads me into thinking about a comment of the same genre Barbara Bush once made. After touring the Astrodome in Houston, Texas which had been set up to shelter the victims of Hurricane Katrina; after walking through the sea of cots set up for the suffering; for people who had lost, family, homes, jobs, much loved pets, all their possessions, and any sense of normal security Barbara’s best response was that since they were underprivileged to begin with “this was working out very well for them.” It shows that same thinking, that same mentality, that same lack of either sympathy or empathy as another one of her infamous observations. Barbara indicated in another interview that she didn’t pay much attention to the news reports on the war in Iraq. “Why,” she asked on this occasion should she “waste her beautiful mind thinking about things like body bags and death counts.” “Inconceivable.”

What has always been self-evident is that poverty and powerlessness tend to have a dehumanizing effect on anyone without a strong spiritual grip. What is not so obvious, but increasingly borne out by psychological research, is that money and power are also dehumanizing. Without a grasp on the life of the spirit, money and power suck one into the insanity of narcissism. Not long ago most of the major news sources reported the story of the seventeen year-old boy who killed four people, and I think injured two others, in a drunken car crash. He was sentenced at the time to a $450,000 a year rehabilitation center as part of his ten year probation – no jail time. A defense psychologist had testified the boy (Isn’t it interesting that a female rape victim who is sixteen or seventeen is a “woman” but a male whose reckless narcissistic behavior kills innocents is a boy?) was suffering from “affluenza.” His privileged and pampered up bring, it was argued, left him with a sense of entitlement that impaired his judgment as shown by the fact this his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit and that he was driving 70 miles an hour in a 40 mile an hour zone. “Inconceivable!”

Why this task then, this labor of, “Forever repairing a world breaking down?” I suppose everyone has to answer this question in his or her own way. For myself I can only say that in spite of the discouragement it is for the same reason that Golijov’s great grandfather was not only always repairing things but also praying in the early light of morning. It has something to do with the mysterious desire, that acknowledged or unacknowledged, exists in all humanity for intimate communion, for union, with God; for that experience of God C.S. Lewis once described “as immediate as the taste of color.”

Guns, Games, Movies and the Violence Connection

Father Larry

 

I love guns. I have played with them, fired them, owned them all my life – well actually I don’t think I have gone shooting now in almost forty years, but I do own a .22 pistol and a 20-gauge shotgun that belonged to my older brother Tom. Along with an opal tie clip, he hadn’t worn in years, they are about the only tangible connection I have with his memory. I don’t care anything about the rapidity with which any gun can be fired, the number of rounds it holds, or its firepower. This may sound strange, but I enjoy the ascetics, the artistry, the shape and feel and color of particular guns much as one might appreciate a modern abstract sculpture. I am especially fond, for example, of the 1849 cap and ball 36 caliber Navy Colt. I think it is beautiful.

I cannot remember the first time my brother allowed me to shoot the single shot .22 bought with the money he earned as a shoeshine boy. It was sometime before my seventh Christmas — the Christmas my mother gave me a Marksman pellet pistol as one of my presents. I love guns but I have never been a hunter. When I was young I spent hours plunking tin cans rusting on the ground or shooting them out of the air at the little dump down by the canal, but unlike the men in my family who hunted deer, and game birds, and shot rabbits and squirrels down on the river, I never found pleasure in killing any living creature — was always repelled by the notion. I love guns and I know there are others who love them even more. But we live in a world in which for everyone to live well we must be able to set aside personal interests and desires for the greater common good.

Perhaps it is because I am politically and philosophically ignorant of the nuances of democracy, or just unappreciative of its refined elegance, but it would not bother me one whit if every gun, perhaps I should say in the words of the right wing, if every “weapon,” were collected and melted down and made available for something human like building a bridge. It would not disturb me in the least were every violent video game destroyed, every movie depicting psychotic mayhem and rape banned. If a two hundred twenty-five year old document written for the political governance of an agrarian society, protected by volunteers carrying their own simple personal muskets, cannot be interpreted in such a way as to meet the challenges of an overcrowded and chronically volatile urban world, then something is amiss either with the interpreters or with that document. It is insane to believe that the authors of the U.S. Constitution thought that every mother’s daughter or son had the inalienable right to wander around with a highly lethal assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition just because they imagine any day now they may be called upon to violently oppose the government elected by the people. When the Constitution itself becomes an instrument in the hands of the fearful and angry to bludgeon the peaceful and innocent something is terribly wrong. And, if it should ever become necessary to resist a tyrannical and oppressive government, Gandhi, followed by Martin Luther King, Jr., certainly showed a better way.

The grasping langoustes snatch and seize all the power and money on the beach so that real freedom, the freedom that comes from living in a peaceful and benevolent community is lost. Indeed, most people are ill equipped to resist the arguments of the Crustacean brain. This is due in part to thinking in our Western World in a way that is almost totally linear, thinking strictly in terms of cause and effect. So, when the producers of violent video games insist that there is no scientific evidence proving their games contribute to violent behavior and thinking, or the film industry asserts that the graphic depiction of psychopathic savagery has no part in the shaping of the human mind and spirit, or the National Rifle Association argues that the banning of assault weapons, statistically, has no direct impact on crime or the slaughter of children, their arguments seem more compelling than they are. They seem more compelling than they are because in the Western World we tend to think in terms of direct cause and effect rather than trusting our intuition and common sense or thinking holistically.

There is another way of thinking that can be more helpful in resolving the hideous violence that plagues our society. Superior, I believe, to primitive reactive Crustacean instinct, is thinking systemically. Systemic thinking views the parts of the whole in relationship to each other. If, for instance, one studies the environment as a system, as an ecosystem, then air, water, plants, animals are studied, not in isolation from one another, but in how they work together. In systems thinking problems are viewed as parts of a whole, and in terms of their relationship, their interaction, with all the other parts.

 

The point is that the NRA is in one sense correct – guns are not the problem. Video games are not the problem. Bad and violent movies are not the problem. The problem is that each systemically fuels an increasingly violent and chaotic American culture. Recently my wife and I went with our grandchildren to see The Hobbit. I enjoyed going to the movies with the grand kids – watching The Hobbit not so much. It really did not communicate Tolkien’s wonderful sense of adventure. It was little more than a noisy series of frightening events rather than the coherent story of a courageous quest. It is a number of pages into my copy of the novel before Bilbo Baggins traveling in the fellowship of the Dwarves encounters the three trolls who threaten to eat him and his companions. Through trickery the trolls are kept debating how to best serve up Bilbo and his friends as a meal until the sun suddenly rises and they are turned to stone. In the novel this episode is integral to the whole story. The filmmakers obviously did not think this exciting enough, and at this point in the film introduce an entirely extraneous subplot – an evil and monstrous goblin of enormous size and strength, astride a ferocious warg (a kind of giant wolf), races after Bilbo and his friends, determined to extract horrible vengeance for the arm the goblin lost in trying to kill dwarves. Obviously this sequence is inserted for no reason other than to furnish moviegoers with the expected quotient of meaningless and mindless terror to which they have become addicted. Now, is it likely these scenes from The Hobbit will be the direct cause of a heinous act of violence? Certainly not, but they do represent a part of the systemic problem.

The National Rifle Association, which adamantly and stridently “fights” (its own word) any reasonable or sensible regulation of firearms, has just released its own electronic target shooting game – an electronic game that includes practice with an assault weapon. It is advertised as appropriate for age four and up. The target is, in the words of the news media, “coffin shaped.” Coffin shaped!? Not a coffin shaped for Bambi, or Old Yellower, or Pepe Le Pew. But a coffin shaped for a human being – a coffin, a human target, with red spots to mark the brain and the heart.  Suitable for age four – shaped for age four. Will this target game, will the attitude and utter stupidity of the NRA, create another Columbine, Aurora, or Sandy Hook? No. Not directly. But it is systemically connected.

Was Sarah Palin, and her fellow conservative Republicans, in depicting certain congressional districts in the cross hairs of a deadly weapon, in their suggestive remarks of violence against democrats, like in tweeting ”Don’t Retreat – Reload!” directly responsible for the carnage at Casa Adobes? Was Sarah and her ilk, in the use of the innuendo of violence, linked in some direct cause and effect relationship to that shooting of eighteen people at that peaceful and appropriate political rally in a Safeway parking lot, or the six deaths that occurred there, including that of a little nine-year-old girl? Of course not. We understand that there was no “scientific link” to this event, or to the critical wounding of Congress Woman Gabrielle Giffords that day, a wounding from which neither she nor her family will ever fully recover. No, there is no direct cause and effect link. But the level of rhetorical hostility, the violent and provocative images and language, is part of the whole and was interacting that day with every other part — including Loughner’s mental illness. Everything, absolutely everything, is connected.

The other night I watched an interview with one of the Sandy Hook families. A bright and highly articulate little boy, whose sister was among the innocents murdered, expressed his confidence that reasonable means of gun control could be found. He suggested that maybe hunters could store their rifles in designated secure facilities and check them out when they wanted to go hunting. And that similarly target shooters could leave their guns secured at a shooting range but have them readily accessible whenever they wanted to target shoot. But we know the chances of something that simple and sensible happening is far less likely than a large meteor hitting the Earth. Why is it that the American people are so polarized on issues like gun control? Why is it that intelligent reasoning, good will, and common sense cannot resolve the controversy? Systems thinkers, like the late Edwin Friedman, would suggest that it is because a large and growing segment of the population is psychologically and spiritually stuck – stuck in fear and anger. Their vehement opposition to everything from reasonable gun control to thoughtful immigration reform has to do with being trapped in an anxious and reactive state of mind rather than possessing the confidence or capacity for responsive and intelligent problem solving. It is difficult to imagine how any society incapable of self-regulation can endure for long.

So, why would anyone want to support a comprehensive ban on weapons of human destruction? Why would anyone want to support the reasonable regulation of violence in films and on television? Why should anyone care about ending the inhuman, mindless, addictive violence of electronic games? I would think one reason people might want to support such an agenda is that they would like to live in a kinder, gentler, more peaceful world. And the only way to do that is to change the whole by paying attention to the interaction of its parts. One thing is for certain; as long as we allow the angry, fearful and greedy voices among us to drown out the voices of “our better angels” we will continue to be caught in that black maelstrom that seeks to swallow whatever light there is. It is difficult and not easy, but always we do well, are well, when we do our best, day by day, to follow that voice above us and within us that says, “Let go the fear.” Yes, for the sake of our children we need to let go of the fear and anger and do the responsible thing.

The Deficit Problem

The Deficit Problem

Father Larry

This country does in fact have a serious deficit problem. But the reality is that the deficit was caused by two wars – unpaid for. It was caused by the tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country. It was caused by a recession as a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street. And if those are the cause of the deficit, I will be damned if we’re going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor. That’s wrong.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (l-VT),
Senate Budget Committee, 11-18-2011.

What wonderful passionate principled language, and if Senator Sanders is damned it will probably only be temporarily by Corporate American and not for all time – hell, the real hell, hosts no compassionate residents, that’s one reason it is hell. Balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor is, as Sanders declares, “wrong.” It is wrong and devilish and – well, deserving of damnation. Please forgive me for sounding like a preacher. It is a sort of madness that seizes me at times like the spell on the Ancient Mariner which allowed him no peace until he accosted some stranger with his rhyme:

They prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
Made and loveth all.

Lacking Coleridge’s poetic skill I have no rhyme of my own to add, but hopefully this little essay will not be without reason, or just plain old common sense.

More than forty-nine million, or sixteen percent of all Americans live in poverty.  The poverty line for a family of four is $24, 343. Where I live, near San Diego, a two-bedroom apartment rents for at least $1,550 a month. That would leave a family of four, in a two bedroom apartment, with an income of $24,343 only $4,743 for the year, or just under $400 a month, to live in the high style of the welfare queen that never existed other than in Ronald Regan’s cruel imagination.

While certainly not the only factor cuts in Medicaid, especially in the area of mental health services, have intensified the problem. In 2011 the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance surged by 9%. The Heritage Institute, meantime, tells us that the poor are really not that bad off – did you know that most of the poor have refrigerators, microwave ovens, televisions, and cell phones at their disposal? Actually I know someone, I count him as a friend, who falls within the sociological and governmental definitions of “poor.” He says he is not homeless – he just doesn’t have a house. He considers his little camp in an urban canyon as his home. But here’s the thing. He does indeed own a cell phone, and what’s worse he has a microwave oven – he just doesn’t have an electrical outlet in which to plug it.

A new report tells how big business is pouring money into state judicial elections to make sure it gets its own way. In 2007 the West Virginia Supreme Court voted two to three to throw out a $50,000,000 damage award against the owner of a coal company. The owner of the coal company had spent three million dollars to elect the judge who cast the deciding vote. The humorist Will Rogers once quipped: “We have the best politicians money can buy.” He was partially correct. We have the best government the rich can buy for themselves. For the wealthy it all works out rather well, but for those who have a hard time paying for food, shelter, clothing medical care or even renting, much less owning, a member of congress or the judiciary – not so much. And the number of those for whom it is not working out is growing. The latest numbers show that one of every two Americans can now be categorized as poor.

Until I read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed I was perplexed by how often the poor collude with the rich in creating and maintaining their own misery. Freire was born in 1921 in Recife Brazil, a port city noted for its poverty. In teaching literacy Freire discovered that the peasants had internalized the world of their oppressor – the elite’s social construction of reality.  Educational programs, and even adult literacy classes, contribute to the state of consciousness characteristic of the poor, the oppressed and dominated in that it is the words and language of the elite that the poor and the oppressed are taught; that is, they learn to explain the world in terms of the elite.

The working class, and especially the poor in the U.S., like the more severely oppressed peoples of Latin America, internalize the world of the American domination system. The values expressed in our language, the very words we use, justify the status quo – the established distribution of wealth, power and privilege. Indeed, the educational system itself conditions each generation to accept the way things are not only as reality, but also as the only desirable state. Don’t interfere with the established domination system because then you might not attain the American dream. This image of the American dream, of possibly attaining enormous wealth, is itself the model, not for what it means to realize the reality of full and genuine humanity, but the delusion of significance conveyed by money and power. In the end the American dream is the dream of the poor that they might be able to one day join the establishment — it is the hope of the oppressed of becoming the oppressor. Even the word “entitlements” referring to badly needed social programs has taken on negative connotations. It now has the connotation that the poor and the desperate shamelessly feel they have a right to be taken care of by the rest of society rather than assuming responsibility for themselves. In short, it is the use of language in a way that has the effect of further dehumanization.

The accusation that some liberal democrat, because he or she advocates in some minimalist way for the poor, is engaging in class warfare shakes the confidence of the sturdiest advocates for justice, and suggests to the economically oppressed that their legitimate aspirations are monstrous – like communism under the murderous Stalin. I recently had a woman who was decidedly middle class and doing well tell me, “I feel like Obama has a boot on my neck. We need to cut entitlements,” she said. When I pointed out to her that severe cuts have in fact been made she replied, “Well they need to be cut more.” She did not, of course, suggest cuts in the military budget. She had changed the parish church she attends because she was tired of hearing her priest talk so much about social justice. My point is not that she is a bad person, but that her thinking is, predictably, in the bondage of the elite establishment.

Mitt Romney argued in New Hampshire that the number of government regulations have quadrupled during President Obama’s first term in office. I heard people argue over whether that was true; in fact, Romney’s campaign admitted it was false but Romney continued to say it anyways, but I heard no one questioning whether more regulations, if they protected ordinary people from Wall Street predators, might not actually be a good idea. One lie that middle class, working class, and destitute persons in this country believe, or internalize, is that all regulations represent a loss of personal freedom – the beginning of the slide into the abyss of totalitarianism. Words and phrases like “freedom,” “free enterprise,”  “government interference,” and “the American dream,” are all used to justify greed and economic violence. So, the recent settlement with Wall Street, as one might expect, is good for bankers, but not so good for distressed homeowners. That’s what freedom means? Dying on the emergency room floor of a hospital that refuses to treat you because you have no insurance is the way of liberty and democracy!?

Consequently, Romney, who purchased a $13,000,000.00 home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, California in order to tear it down to build something more to his liking, frightens people with his claims that President Obama is leading us into European style socialism; whereas, he is determined that America will remain “free, democratic, and prosperous.” He has to be referring, of course, to countries like England, France and Germany – are they not free, are they not democratic, are they not prosperous? Just compare this with a bumper sticker I saw on an old pickup truck the other day: “I’ll keep my freedom, guns and money. You can have the change.”

A clever play on the word “change.” But it works both ways. “Change” is what Romney and his ilk are willing to spare the most vulnerable in society. “I like to fire people that work for me,” says the superrich Romney with his hidden assets in the Cayman Islands. And, “I’m not concerned about the poor.” Now it is true that both these sentences are out of context. The statement about liking to fire people was within the context that it is good to be able to fire a health care provider that is not offering good care – something Romney can easily do with his two hundred seventy million dollars, that we know of, but that most of us can’t.  And he did say that he wasn’t concerned about the poor because they have a “safety net,” and if it needs some repairs he would do that as president. “If” Mr. Romney? “IF”!? I suspect the same thing will happen to Romney’s “if” that happened to George Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” It’s all PR – pure BS. And while those statements do technically have a larger context, I suspect that they are also rather Freudian. “I’ll keep my money, you keep the ‘change’.” And, sadly, the poor and economically oppressed all say, “Amen!” After all, in their good hearts they are for freedom, for democracy, for prosperity.

The poor value freedom and fear socialism. They have a difficult time escaping the constraints of the self-serving vocabulary of the elite. But do I personally at all care if universal medical care is labeled as “socialism,” or as “dictatorial” if I cannot choose my own doctor? Not one whit! I don’t get much choice regarding my own medical treatment right now, but at least I do receive health care, such as it is, when I need it. And that’s what I want for everyone from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. There are simply too many of us in a complex modern world to behave as if we lived in the nineteenth century. Our hope for progress lies in the poor themselves refusing to live as serfs or to be frightened by the “boogey man” words of the elite.

It is to the advantage of the rich who profit enormously from war to create a mind-set among the poor that makes maiming and killing, and being killed or maimed, seem honorable and righteous. After all, don’t we want everyone to be free – don’t we want everyone to live in a “democracy”? Isn’t that what it means to be a good person? So, all the children, and their innocent parents, we have killed are “collateral damage” meaning, I suppose, that it is okay because we didn’t really mean to exterminate them – they just happened to be standing where our radioactive explosives hit. Our own children killed in shameful wars of aggression, many of them in the armed services in an attempt to escape poverty, are cast as “heroes” who have died so that “we might be free,” rather than as tragic victims of the U.S. military/industrial complex. I think it was Voltaire who said, “As long as people believe in absurdities they will commit atrocities.” And, “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.” Romney and Newt Gingrich also said the other day, echoing the first George Bush right after he blew up an Iranian airliner full of innocent people by “mistake,“ –“I will never apologize for America.” Really? The United States of America is never wrong – never has anything of which, to use a religious term, it needs to “repent?” Those who can make us believe that absurdity have the power to make us commit injustices and atrocities. The tyranny of the elite can only be overcome by recognizing how the domination system’s values are internalized by the poor.

The oppressor consciousness views everything, including people, as objects of commerce — as abstractions. The elite are blind to innate human dignity and fail to see how the poor, not as abstractions, but as real persons, are unfairly cheated and deprived and trafficked in. All domination systems are therefore toxic. They are toxic for both the poor and the elite establishment. All domination systems represent a dehumanizing consciousness for both the oppressor and the oppressed. However, what we must seek is not the replacement of the old domination of the elite with the new domination of the poor and oppressed – to turn the tables so to speak; but rather to work for the genuine humanization of every man, woman and child on this planet. I quote Freire at length:

This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressor as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong for both, Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in defense of the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity,” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source. True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so these hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need to be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work, and working, transform the world. This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the oppressed themselves and from those who are in true solidarity with them.

Our real deficit, then, is a deficit of humanity, of genuine religious values, of the will to work for true generosity, and of the courage to embrace the unknown good in favor of known misery. The good fight we are called to wage is against both physical and economic violence and injustice – against the lovelessness of false generosity.

Response to an Invitation to Work for the President’s Reelection
Father Larry

Dear Jeremy:

Today you e-mailed me to ask if I would volunteer to help organize for President Obama. I would probably have been able to say an enthusiastic yes had the President paused to think he might want my help before denigrating people such as myself as “self-righteous” folk futilely tilting at wind mills in order to feel good about themselves.

If that is the President’s assessment of me I can live with it. Certainly far worse things have been said about me. And, what he said is partially true – he just doesn’t get the depth or quite the way to or in which it is true. If he genuinely understood the passion of the liberal heart and mind, he would not have been able to say what he did.

It is not just that I am piqued by the President’s stupid and thoughtless comment, although I am indeed that, but that my hope is for a leader who will labor, whether win or lose in the short term, for what is right without “wimping out” – who will have the courage and the stamina to lose a battle, or an election, in what will undoubtedly be a very long struggle for a better, kinder, more equal and sustainable world. I suspect that this will require not one but wave after wave of such persons who are willing to be spent for a quality of change and justice “we can believe in.”

To now the President has simply not shown himself to be such a person. Today, during lunch after church, I told my daughter and her family about your e-mail. She asked me what I was going to do. I replied that I did not know, but that in the end I would probably unenthusiastically vote for President Obama as the lesser of evils. The grandkids wanted to know what the President had done that I felt that way. My daughter answered for me, “That is precisely the problem, he hasn’t really done anything – no substantial change in which we can believe.”

I probably should have added to her reply that while President Barak Obama and the Democrats are a sad and colossal disappointment, Republicans are absolutely frightening. Of course, it may be that we are so captive as a society to the Industrial/Military complex that there is no longer any political hope for us – that the best we can do, as individuals, is to speak out prophetically against the whole system as a way or preserving our own personal moral integrity – and sanity.

Regrettably I know of no way to reach you with this response, and so I will just post it on my little blog in hope that maybe sometime in the not too distant future some anomaly in cyber space will result in your finding it on your screen. If not perhaps you will hear some other small, but more powerful, voice in our rather large and noisy world.

Where Are All the Liberals?
Father Larry

Sometimes lately I find myself wondering where certain things have disappeared. Like, whatever happened to the buzzards that used to constantly circle and glide majestically over Bakersfield and the surrounding countryside – the farms, the desert fields, river and canals? Whatever happened to all the Black-eyed peas that grew there – the kind I helped my mother snap in the cool of the day out on the green lawn. In fact, whatever happened to Bakersfield? It’s just not there anymore. In its place is a huge ugly fungus – like the kind that grows under someone’s big toenail. I wonder about those things. And, I wonder where are all the liberals? There is, of course, my grand daughter, and while she has been a liberal all her life eleven years is a fairly limited amount of experience in that vocation. I guess I mean where are the liberal leaders in political science and religion. I know there are plenty of people vilified as liberals, but that is mainly for the sake of political expediency – its just rhetoric. No. One rarely sees the real thing.

Maybe if I defined my term you will see why this is bothersome to me – not why Bakersfield has disappeared, I can adjust to that one, but the one about the disappearance of liberals. “Liberal” is from the Latin liber meaning “of freedom.” One of the first uses of the word (1375) was in regard to the classical education of a university as the practice of liberal arts; that is, an education that provides a general knowledge that enables the student to think for him or herself – to think rationally. Wasn’t it Einstein who said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them?” Liberals appreciate creativity in general, but especially that creativity which is a way out of societal and spiritual “stuckness.” As early as (1387) the word “liberal” was used to refer to someone who was generous in bestowing gifts. With the Age of Enlightenment in Europe it was defined as “free from narrow prejudice” and “from bigotry.” It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that “liberal” began to be used as a term for various movements around the world. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes: “As soon as one examines it, ‘liberalism’, fractures into a variety of types and competing visions.” There, are, however, certain values that are at the heart of liberalism.

Liberals are committed to the building of societies that are free, fair, open, and transparent in how they work. They emphasize our life together as community where people matter more than institutional needs. They tend to emphasize cooperation and the desire to make a contribution to the good of the whole over competiveness, acquisitiveness, or personal success at the expense of others. Alfred Adler called this desire to contribute to the common welfare “social interest”. We can very appropriately refer to it as liberalism. Adler saw the desire to be “better than,” or ”more than” or “superior to” others as a mistaken and neurotic life goal – as the antithesis to the liberal spirit. So why, contrary to Fox, are the Democrats and Obama not liberals? Here is a short list:

1) Real liberals think it nice to care for and to protect the middle class, but their passion extends beyond the middle class to the poorest and most vulnerable among us.Statistics indicate that 43.6 million or 14.3% of American households are in poverty, and that 50.2 million households, including 17.2 million children, are “food insecure” – what a euphemism. Most days Joe works as a “handyman” or does odd jobs, but still lives in the bushes. His legs are rotting off from some sort of a circulatory ailment. He has no medical care. If the President and his party were liberal they would have done something about universal health care when they were in the position to do so, instead of denigrating people of compassion as self-righteous.

2) Our troops are still in Iraq; in fact, U.S. troops are deployed in something like 150 countries. Military spending has almost doubled since 2001. U.S. military expenditures account for 44% of the military spending for the entire world. The U.S. thinks that somehow invading a sovereign nation and killing Osama Ben Laden has achieved justice. One would think all the innocent blood we had already spilled in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been revenge enough. But, the President did get to look “strong,” and his ratings did go up. It has been of interest of late to note that like George Bush, the President insists he “don’t need no stinkin’ approval” from congress to wage war. Maybe Denis Kosanovich is a liberal. Didn’t he propose a Department of Peace?

3)The poorly named Patriot Act, one of the greatest infringements on personal liberty to ever occur in the United States of America has been renewed. And the President was certainly not acting as a liberal when he declined to prosecute those in government responsible for war crimes. Liberals are supposed to believe in the rule of law. Holding people responsible for their crimes against humanity is one way of discouraging them, or those of their ilk, from resuming such practices in the future.

4) The extension of tax breaks to some of the wealthiest people not only in this country but in the world, while others are hungry, homeless and sick, while the infrastructure of the nation continues to deteriorate, and while the planet continues to die day by day can hardly be characterized as liberal

5) From a liberal perspective freedom has to do not only with individual autonomy when applied to the political realm, and to personal salvation when applied religiously, but rather emphasizes the freedom of the community – the freedom to be for others, to be for the healing of our broken and dysfunctional social order. Political conservatives and religious fundamentalists focus almost entirely on individual autonomy. Conservatives are primarily concerned with conserving the wealth and power of the few. This is why we can’t appropriately regulate Wall Street, pass universal health care, stay out of war, care for the poor, or take significant action in regard to the environment.

This list could go on but this should be sufficient to show that a genuine liberal is hard to find.

Jesus was a liberal. This is the simple reality of all four Gospels. I appreciate what the evangelical minister Gary Vance writes in “Common Dreams”:

Jesus was the ultimate liberal progressive revolutionary of history. The conservative religious and social structure that He defied hated and crucified Him. They examined His life and did not like what they saw. He aligned Himself with the poor and the oppressed. He challenged the religious orthodoxy of His day. He advocated pacifism and loving our enemies. He liberated women and minorities from oppression. . . He associated with drunks and other social outcasts. He rebuked the religious right of His day because they embraced the letter of the law instead of the Spirit. He loved sinners and called them to Himself. Jesus was the original Liberal. He was a progressive, and he was judged and hated for it. It was the self-righteous religionists that He rebuked and He called them hypocrites.

It would actually be more correct to say that Jesus is the source of the core values of modern liberalism. As Vance goes on to note in his article: “The primary issues of Christian Liberalism were birthed when Jesus spoke the profoundly prophetic words found in Matthew 25: 31-46. These scriptures reveal God’s heart for the poor, the sick and other neglected people through out history.” But again I ask, “Where, not only among politicians but also people of professed faith, are the liberals?”

That may seem like a rather strange question coming from an Episcopalian. After all, our bishops are notorious for supporting gay and lesbian rights. And a number of pronouncements have been made in support of immigration reform and compassionate care for those who have entered the country without legal documentation. Clergy are urged to participate in anti-racism training. And there are all sorts of programs aimed at feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and sheltering the homeless. Yet, there is really no interest in the systemic causes of hunger, or homelessness, or the healthcare crisis, or the environment and even less desire to advocate for change. When it comes to advocating for peace and nonviolence we are not even in the room; instead, the Episcopal Church celebrates Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and now 911 like holy days on the liturgical calendar. Indeed, the American flag is seen as a Christian symbol.

Not long ago I received, through the church electronic mail system, a tragic message about eight young men, marines, who had been killed in Afghanistan. The message said they had died so I could live in freedom. My inner response, which I now express here, is that these beautiful boys did not die for me or my freedom, that I had, in fact, protested their going, that I had shouted as loud as I could, “Not in my name!” No, I did not ask them to go, but I grieve their deaths – their victimization. Tragically, rather than seeing these boys as the victims of a violent system, the Episcopal Church, like most other denominations, honors them as heroes and patriots. Liberal? I think not.

At the heart of theological liberalism is God – the God who is freedom. Over and over again in the Hebrew Scriptures God is seen as the one who liberates the people of Israel from every form of oppression. Saint Paul says to the earliest Christians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Theological liberalism does not mean, as many fundamentalists suppose, not believing anything positive about God or Scripture. Theological liberalism is simply living free from the constraints of both the fundamentalism of easy and simplistic “beliefism,” and the fundamentalism of radical skepticism. To be free of the confining notions of either “overbelief” or “underbelief” is to be a theological liberal. In this sense one may be both progressive and orthodox at the same time – practice what might be called a “liberal orthodoxy.”

Many people think both John Crossan and John Spong liberal, but they are more pedantic than liberal. Although he never quite escaped the fundamentalist factuality of his youth Marcus Borg would be a far better example. Desmund Tutu is certainly a liberal, but he is something of the exception to the rule that proves the point. There are simply not enough Desmund Tutus in our world.

One way a systems process perspective, like Family Systems Therapy, sees group leadership and individual emotional and spiritual health, is in terms of the differentiation between the “solid self” and the “soft self.” The soft self is that part of ourselves we can haggle over, that we can negotiate. The solid self is that part of ourselves we cannot negotiate away. The healthy man or woman is one who knows the difference and responds to the needs and contingencies of our world on the basis of clear and solid inner values without attempting to coerce others to go along. It’s like Luther saying at the critical moment, “Here I stand. God help me, I can do no other.” The point is simply this, people who espouse one or more liberal causes as it suits them are not liberals – they are “hobbyists.” A liberal is someone who seeks to respond to the systemic needs of our world and the issues of our time out of a solid set of liberal values – I would say out of core Christian values.

My son-in-law took me to Five Guys (the hamburger place) not long ago for the first time. It was a most satisfying experience. I had been wondering to where all the really good hamburger places had disappeared. If you know any real liberals, say like Frederick Denison Maurice, I hope you will introduce us. I would like to know more about how to become one. I am not saying, of course, that Maurice disappeared — everyone knows he went straight to heaven on the first of April 1872.

PRESIDENT OBAMA, BECK, GRAHAM, GEARAN AND TRUTH MATTERS
FATHER LARRY

Years ago my wife was given a T-shirt for helping with some community or church event. The caption on it said in large letters: “TRUTH MATTERS!” I found it somewhat disconcerting that she frequently wore it to bed as a nightshirt. What did that mean? A while back (obviously I have some difficulty in, as they say, “striking while the iron is hot” on this blog) Anne Gearan wrote an interesting piece for the Associated Press. I was immediately arrested by its title: “Fact Check: Obama Skips the Fine Print in Nuke Speech.” I thought Anne had discovered something in the small print in our nuclear agreement with the Russians that was, you know, like the fine print in an insurance policy where you agree to pay a sacrificial premium while surrendering your right to be reimbursed for catastrophic illness. I am, however, really happy to say that my expectation was disappointed.

I thought Anne, like my wife with that T-shirt, was saying both that truth matters in that it is important and that some matters are important because they involve a matter of truth that is essential and significant. But Anne wasn’t writing about anything important — maybe she was just playing around. Of course, when one plays with the truth it quickly becomes an exercise in the disingenuous and may even lead toward the fallacious.

So, Gearan begins by quoting the President as saying: “The risk of nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up.” She then extrapolates from this that President Obama was linking the two in a way that implies a global nuclear conflagration and a nuclear terrorist attack on a single city would be equivalent. Anne I think you missed the implication, which is not that nuclear winter in New York City would be just as horrific as a worldwide nuclear holocaust, but that they are both terrible to contemplate, and that while the risk of one has gone down the dangers of the other have risen. Regarding even a limited nuclear attack, the deaths, the human suffering, the awful and continuing poisonous effects of radioactivity, and the sheer horror stun all conceptualisation. I doubt that there is anyway to picture the financial catastrophe that would occur, or the effects on the practical functionality of the rest of the country; or, the impact on the quality of life for every man, woman, and child in America. But suppose there were three small nuclear bombs rather than just the one pictured by the President, nuclear bombs no bigger than a breadbox, detonated in New York City. Would that seem like a more serious threat to Anne? Or, how about ten bombs one exploding in New York, one in Washington D.C., one in Chicago, one in Los Angles, one in Dallas, one in Fort Worth, one in San Francisco, one in Portland, one in Seattle, and one in Bakersfield, California?

According to “Obama Skips the Fine Print in Nuke Speech,” President Obama’s assertion that a small amount of plutonium, about the size of an apple, could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people is misleading in that the amount of plutonium would actually need to be grapefruit size. Now Anne, I wonder if you could clarify for me the size of apples and grapefruits being compared? Was President Obama claiming something ridiculous like the amount of plutonium the size of one of those little apples you can consume in two bites would be as devastating as an amount of plutonium equal to the size of one of those really large grapefruits you see in the supermarket?

Furthermore, Gearan says, it is presumed that the capability of producing a small nuclear bomb of such devastation and death is beyond that of “most current terrorist groups.” Well let’s hope that presumption is correct. Either way I would think that we would want to affirm the President for recognizing the difference between “most” and “all”, and for being awake and alert rather than meandering off somewhere with a goat – oblivious to the dangers and challenges of the twenty-first century.

I guess one of the big problems I had with Anne Gearan’s piece was that I just found it stupid. I don’t think I am supposed to use that word. I know my grandkids are not allowed to use it, but then their parents are both smarter and nicer than I am. I once called Jack stupid and he didn’t like it one bit. He said that while I was older than him in human years he was certain that as measured on the Canine Scale his was the superior IQ. My mother never told me I couldn’t say that word, and I know that she sometimes said that really stupid things were stupid. The article is stupid because it is propagandistic rather than an honest journalistic analysis. It is meant to create an unfavourable impression of the President as either incompetent or somewhat dishonest or both, but it is not meant to lead the reader to a better understanding of the issues surrounding nuclear weapons. In that sense it is unintelligible, unperceptive, lacking in common sense, written as if composed by someone in a dazed state — perhaps intoxicated.

If Anne Gearan is interested in the” fine print,” in the factual details, in the essential reality of things, in the crucial questions, in truth that matters, then why not ask about the moral integrity of people who, with venomous hatred, shout the “N” word and scream “Faggot! Liar! Baby killer!” at those who, based on my opinion (as differentiated from hard empirical evidence), have more class, probably more intelligence, and possess more in the way of goodness and kindness of heart than they do? Why not investigate the correlation between the use of violent words and images by Republican leaders and their surrogates in the media, and the frightening death threats against Democratic congressional representatives and their families — bricks thrown through windows, the brandishing of firearms, and the call for militias to use deadly force in opposition to the government; that is, we the people?

I had quite forgotten about Anne’s Associated Press article, when I heard Franklin Graham’s remarks on CNN the other day. Graham, the son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham and heir to the Graham religious empire, was holding forth with considerable deviousness on the question of whether President Obama is a Muslim. In that interview Graham very cleverly, but inaccurately, first casts President Obama as Muslim by definition. “The President’s problem,” he says, “ is that he was born a Muslim, his Father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was a Muslim. His father gave him an Islamic name.” One is then, according to Graham, a Muslim or a Jew by accident of his or her birth. By using the word “seed” he sneaks in an unwarranted and improper association with genetics – gives the impression that being a Muslim is an inherited characteristic like foot size or skin color. As an aside it is rather interesting that Graham wants to suruptiously connect religious faith with genetics but not with sexual orientation. If Barack Obama had been born in a traditionally Muslim family in a thoroughly Muslim culture, then there would be a real sense in which it could be said he was born a Muslim. But he was born in a highly pluralistic culture, to parents from different worlds. What religious associations the father, who was not a particularly good Muslim, had in mind in naming his son we will never know – perhaps none. Nor do we know what his mother was thinking, maybe nothing more than that it would be nice for the boy to be named after his father. Personally I like the name. On the Enigram I am a Four which indicates I like things that are somewhat different or even unique. Too bad my name isn’t Larry Obama. And if you have to be black to have a great name like that, well that would also be okay. I am bald and one of my little biases is that bald black guys tend to look more interesting than bald white guys.

Graham continues in his silly attempt to undermine the sincerity and legitimacy of the President’s Christian faith by saying, “He (the President) has renounced Islam, and he has accepted Jesus Christ. I can’t say that he hasn’t. So I just have to believe that the President is what he says.” It is hard to see how one could renounce what one never was or embraced, but it’s not the logic of this statement that matters – it is nothing more than an immoral attempt to fix the false notion that President Obama is a Muslim in the minds of television viewers. Graham’s statement is classically passive aggressive. It strikes a vicious blow while leaving Graham in a position to claim that it was entirely benign. He can’t really say that the President has renounced Islam, but because he is such a good guy, such a righteous man, he’ll believe the best while leaving you to suspect the worst. The intent of such a ploy is for the viewer to think: “Well the Rev. Franklin Graham is not willing to say unequivocally that President Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim, so I bet it’s true the President is actually a Muslim. And that is code for evil black terrorist.

If Franklin Graham had any spiritual or intellectual integrity, if the truth really mattered to him, he would have said something like this, “Although the President and I may disagree about many things he is, in fact, by virtue of his public profession of faith in Christ and participation in Christ’s church, a follower of Jesus and my Christian brother.” Using Franklin Graham’s method of reasoning and speaking I could say: “I do not know whether Franklin Graham is an atheist whose goal is to covertly subvert the Christian faith from a position of leadership in the evangelical Christian community. I can’t say that. I just have to believe that he is what he says he is.” Or I could say: “I don’t know whether Franklin Graham is an anti-Semitic bigot like his father. I can’t say that for certain. I will just have to trust him when he says he isn’t.” But, if the truth matters to me what I will say is that while I find his fundamentalism a deviation from the faith of the Apostles, and his stupidity embarrassing, Franklin Graham is my brother.

I can’t and don’t have to say the same sort of thing about Glenn Beck – star of the Fox propaganda machine. Beck is not my Christian brother. He is a fellow human being – at least I can’t say for certain that he is not a human being. I just have to take his word that he is what he says he is when he professes to be human. And I take him at his word when he asserts that he is a Mormon – something that, as far as I know, has not been denied by the Mormon Church. I am only being a little factious here. Mormonism is not a “branch” of Christianity like say, Catholicism, Protestantism, or Eastern Orthodoxy. It is not that Mormons are bad people any more than that being a Muslim means that someone is a bad person. In fact, many Mormons like many Muslims are wonderfully wholesome people. It is simply that based on certain theological criteria Mormonism does not stand in continuity with the historic Christian faith, and when Muslims acknowledge that Jesus was a prophet but go on to insist that Mohammed was the last and greatest prophet, they assert something no Christian can accept. So when Beck calls on Christians to leave churches that pray and work for social justice it is the ranting of an outsider. When churches speak out on matters of social justice, when they pray for peace and justice to triumph in our world, they are practicing what they have heard and learned from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Apostles; in short, they are attempting as best they can to walk in the Way of Christ.

Of course, Beck is referring only to the sort of peace and justice work with which he disagrees. In fact, the political/religious right has always had strange ideas about which politicians are and are not Christian. The Rev. Billy Graham thought Richard Nixon, who was both an outstanding statesman and foul-mouthed crook, was his good buddy. Ronald Regan who didn’t go to church and whose wife sought guidance from astrologers in order to advise her husband, even on matters of state, was considered by evangelicals as one of them. And because he told them Jesus was his hero and flattered them, fundamentalists fawned over George Bush, an alcoholic and war criminal who laughed at how ridiculous they were behind their back. But someone, like Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama, who is a person of compassion, and of humility, and who is genuinely concerned for the poor, the vulnerable, and for the well being of just ordinary people is painted as a diabolical anti-Christ. I can tell you this. In the end I am more concerned with the character and the competency of the person exercising the powers of the presidency than I am with what is listed on their religious or philosophical resume. But I am digressing badly.

When Glenn Beck alludes to the President as a Muslim (meaning a black terrorist to be feared), a Nazi, a Hitler, a communist or fascist he is saying that the President is a vicious, evil, murderous person. There is simply no other way to honestly construe his words – vile words that can only come from a dark heart. For Beck truth does not matter – not even in the small things. In his self-serving speech at the Washington Monument he told the crowd how he had held President George Washington’s hand written First Inaugural Address in his own hands. A lie! A rather small lie, but a lie nonetheless – a lie told to manipulate the emotions of people. Even when Beck warns his audience not “to pick up a gun” or “cause any violence,” he does so in a way that is itself incendiary. First, he plants in the imaginations of his listeners a vision of the government (which he erroneously equates with the President and the Democratic party rather than with “we the people”) as menacing – threatening our most basic freedoms and rights and posing an imminent danger to our liberty and our very lives. It is ironical that the president who actually kidnapped, secretly imprisoned, tortured and even murdered suspected enemies of the state was a Republican not a Democrat. And the President proven to be guilty of illegal clandestine operations against political opponents was not a Democrat, but a Republican. With total disregard for truth, for any rhyme or reason, Beck tells his audience they are under “a well-coordinated attack.” He asserts, “There is a coup going on. . . . There is a stealing of America. . . . the American way of life is being systematically dismantled and destroyed. . . . the republic is in danger. . . . there will be rivers of blood if we don’t have values and principles. . . . Obama is trying to destroy the country. . . . and is pushing the country to civil war. . . .” The appropriate response, the natural reaction then, is anger and overwhelming fear in which people begin to think violent thoughts – thoughts of armed resistance to the President and the phantom like evil with which, in their now confused thinking, he is aligned. Beck ratchets up all this violent imagery by talking about how somebody might shoot him (Beck) in the forehead because of his resistance to any effort to take away his gun, or to letting someone into his house to tell him how to raise his children. He even claims that Obama wants to kill him. He urges peace and non-violence all right, but he does so because now is not the time for armed resistance. That time may come, but it is not yet. What the left really wants, he raves like a paranoid schizophrenic, is for Beck’s followers to commit some act of violence, to take up arms, so that they can be ruthlessly and violently suppressed. As someone who, on many issues, would probably have to be considered on the political left, I prefer to think of it as the Christian or moral left, I find this all most curious since I am, by conscience, a pacifist.

It is not that I think Anne Gearan, Franklin Graham, or Glenn Beck must agree with me on pacifism, universal non-profit health care, gun control, theology or philosophy. It does not disturb me to be contradicted – it’s good for me. I think that honest debate, respectful dialogue, humble and thoughtful challenges to what one thinks and believes is enormously helpful to the search for truth – can strengthen the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual integrity of individuals, religious communities, and societies. It is when self-serving mendacity masquerades as truth and reality is deliberately replaced with illusion than I am deeply troubled. Unfortunately, the more anxious any organization, society, or culture becomes, the more susceptible it is to the conjurer’s slights of hand. Obviously, things are not always as they seem. I only know Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. through what has been told of them and through their own writings. And while there are things about them I wish had been different; for example, I wish they had shown more love, and respect and honor for their wives, their contribution to this world, to humanity, was enormous. Glenn Beck, riddled with pathological self-grandiosity, has cast himself as another Martin Luther King, Jr. But to paraphrase a former vice presidential candidate: “Glenn, you are no Martin Luther King, Jr.” – not in peace and goodness, not in compassion, not in rhetoric, not in intellect, not in anything.

Please forgive me for letting this turn too much into a homily. I have now been an ordained clergy person for more than four decades and it is hard for me to avoid a little sermonizing. However, I will be quick about it:

• Do you want truth or nostalgic illusion? Many talk about wanting to return to the values of the past. My question is what values are in mind? The values of manifest destiny under which the US launched wars of aggression against Mexico in a shameless land grab, or against Spain and then the people of the Philippines in the brutal repression of that nation’s drive for independence? The values of the slave trade in America? Perhaps they are thinking of the time of genocidal warfare against Native Americans? Or the values of segregation, of beatings and lynching, and the denial of human dignity and the fundamental rights we all desire for ourselves? Or, the time before women could even vote, or the time when workers had no choice but to work for below subsistence wages in places and under circumstances that showed no concern for their health or lives. Maybe they are talking about a time when husbands could beat their wives or abuse their children with impunity. Are we talking about the values of a pre-Social Security or Medicare America? The past to which some would like to return is that time when we thought that power in this country would always be held in the hands of the descendants of white Europeans. That day has indeed passed. President Obama is only the first, not the last by any means, of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women who will govern this country. That is simply the reality, not only the reality of shifting attitudes and values, but of demographics. Welcome or unwelcome “the times they are a changing.” If you want, you can become very nostalgic and grieve the passing of a time that probably never was, or you can contribute to a future that is different but hopefully better for everyone. What you cannot do is to make the river flow in the opposite direction.

• Second: I simply want to say that what I personally am most interested in is truth written with an upper case “T” – Truth as the nature of divine reality. By truth with a lower case “t” I mean truth as bare fact – truth that can be argued, debated, researched, speculated on and handled in the way Anne Gearan handles it. When thought of in the upper case sense truth calls into question our core values, our guiding principles as individuals and as a society. It compels us to respond to situations and practical issues in a manner consistent with the divine character. If we are Christian it means the way we are in the world and with others is determined, not by our internal anger or fear, but is something that emerges naturally from our experience of the presence and Spirit of Christ. “What does not live in you cannot live around you.”

Since I am preaching now I will end with the following quote from Nan C. Merrill’s rendering of Psalm Ninety-Four:

Too often we spew forth arrogant words,
we boast with heads held high.
We oppress the weak in our blindness,
and turn a deaf ear to the cries
of the poor.
We ignore and turn aside
from the stranger,
too many children go hungry to bed.
And, we think, “This is not our concern;
let them pray to God for help

Moderating An Easter Blog
FATHER LARRY

I prefer being correct especially when it comes to books, poetry and film. I think that’s because much of the fun, much of the satisfaction, in reading a book, or a poem, or in viewing a well made movie, is in being able to pay enough attention to get the subtleties right – in discovering how, as well as what, a piece means through its use of evocative language – the images, feelings, and trans-conceptual thoughts it stirs. So, I was somewhat chagrined to discover that in my “Easter Blog,” which was a response to Brian Doyle’s poem, “Some Thorny Questions About the Resurrection,” that I had misunderstood both “the how” and “the what” of Brian’s poetic musing.

I write this rather occasional blog as mood and circumstances move me, and I guess I must write it mainly for myself, as a way of thinking, because, even though from time to time someone will tell me they have read it, I have no real on-going sense or idea that anyone else ever reads it – Jack, our Queensland/Catahoula mix, of course hears me talking as I type. And although Jack sometimes looks up at me curiously from his den under my desk, I am not sure, although I could also be wrong about this, that Jack is really paying close attention to either the sense or nonsense of what I am saying. Consequently, when Brian Doyle sent me a pleasant electronic note saying I had misunderstood him, and asking that I moderate “An Easter Blog” I was surprised that he had actually read it. However, while my misunderstanding of his poem leaves me a little disappointed in myself, I am more than willing to set matters straight as best I can in the spirit of Brian’s gracious request – and to send the offending blog to computer oblivion. I have written enough about debunking in other places so that it doesn’t seem necessary to write about its perils where it has not even occurred, and I certainly don’t want to be guilty of constructing and then knocking down a house of straw – besides I think it better to try to be honest than to make a point. But so that you can get a feel for what I am talking about, here again is Brian Doyle’s poem:

Some Thorny Questions About the Resurrection

And I don’t mean theological or ontological or scriptural or
hermeneutical questions,
I mean real questions, like did he have to pee like a racehorse
after three long days?
And what’s the first thing He said when He woke up, did He say
where’s my wallet?
Or did He say sweet mother of the Lord, that is absolutely the
last time I drink wine?
Or where is my posse? Or who are these two men in white at my
head and at my feet,
Are they hospital orderlies or nurses from the nuthouse or navy midshipmen or what?
And when Mary of Magdala didn’t recognize Him, and thought He
was the gardener,
Did He want to say, my God, Mary, the gardener, do I look like
a shaggy botanist?
And did He think boy, I would give my left arm for some fresh
grilled fish and bread,
Or man, when a guy gets wrapped for the tomb do they use enough
linen and spices.

And between you and me I am sure that there are also many other
things Jesus thought
The which if they should be written every one I suppose that
even the wild world itself
Could not contain the books that should be written. Like where
did he get a decent cup
Of coffee that morning? And who paid for it? And why was He
razzing Peter so much?
And when he saith unto Mary, woman, touch me not, was that a
personal space issue?
Or was she one of those people who when they touch you it
tickles even if they do not
Try to tickle you? You know what I mean? And when He appeared
along the lakeshore
And on the road to Emmaus, had He, you know, borrowed a shirt
and a pair of pants?
of all the hints and suggestions in the Gospels that Jesus may
have had a few brothers,
That’s the tiny hint that seems revealing to me, don’t you
think He might’ve swung by
His brothers’ apartment and nicked a shirt and left a note:
dude, I’ll make it up to you . . .

I had understood Brian Doyle’s poem to be an attempt to debunk the bodily resurrection of Jesus – not necessarily the resurrection, but the bodily resurrection. Debunking I said, seems to me to be a tricky business. Any theory of the resurrection is, of course, open to criticism, but it is helpful to keep in mind that no theory is the event itself. The legitimate debate and honest discussion of the various theories can be helpful but debunking, it seems to me, is counter productive in that it is distracting, misleading, tends toward superficiality, and magnifies our own personal emotional issues. This was, then, the trajectory followed by “An Easter Blog.” After the blog appeared Alliee DeArmond at the Word Shop sent me one of those rare reader responses saying that she didn’t think Doyle’s poem was an attempt to debunk the resurrection at all. She said that I should read Brian’s poem “Leap” which is full of faith – is all about faith. Alliee’s point, as I understood it, was that anyone capable of writing “Leap” had to be a Christian believer. However, Alliee was not able to explain to me what exactly she thought it was that Doyle was attempting in “Some Thorny Questions About the Resurrection,” and to even the casual observer of modern Christianity it ought to be obvious that many priests, pastors, theologians and lay people identify themselves as Christians, and are people of spiritual depth, without believing in the resurrection – bodily or otherwise. I know a Presbyterian pastor, whom I consider a friend, that crosses her fingers behind her back whenever the Apostles’ Creed is said. My family and I attended an Episcopal parish for about a year where the priest and lay leadership believe Jesus now lives only in the sense that as we remember him we are inspired and encouraged to live in a beautiful way. My son-in-law, who is Jewish, suggested they might prefer membership in a synagogue – there it is possible to participate in and to experience wonderful liturgy, and to believe pretty much what one wants about God without all this messy stuff about Jesus. The Christian Century even introduced Doyle’s poem as one he had penned, “while musing on the resurrection.” Consequently, I thought the poem had to do with the resurrection, and did not automatically prove either the presence or absence of any particular religious, or spiritual, faith. Then Brian wrote me a pleasant electronic note saying:

Larry, I happened across your note here, and I write with a smile to say that I am not in the least debunking the resurrection. God forbid (so to speak). I was trying the verse, actually – to make Him real, a man, a guy, us rather than the icon, the cold lifeless name used as a bullet, an excuse for blood and greed. The more we try to remember He was us, the better, seems to me. The holier, actually.

I appreciate Doyle helping me to understand his poem as a musing on the incarnation rather than the resurrection, and I think he is entirely correct. Jesus is often seen in such an “unnatural way,” as so ethereal, that he has no connection with the reality of human existence; indeed, is even distorted in such a way as to diminish authentic human existence. Conservative Christians frequently find it difficult, as J.B. Philips put it, to distinguish between “God become human,” and “God pretending to be human.” They sometimes embrace the ancient heresy of Docetism while thinking they are defending a high Christology. Furthermore, as I write these words I am nearly finished reading Brian’s Leap: Revelations and Epiphanies which does a wonderful job of showing faith in God, faith in Christ, in all its naturalness – it is a wise, creative, and lively book that is profoundly orthodox in a thoroughly modern way.

Still, I wondered why I had so misunderstood Brian’s intention. Because I thought it might be a generational thing I asked several people who are young and bright and educated and with it what they thought was the intent of the poem. All of them appreciated the humor. Some of them said, “Well, it’s about the humanity of Jesus. It’s about how Jesus had to think about the same ordinary things we do – Jesus was one of us.” Others said, “He is obviously attempting to discredit the resurrection.” As I have continued to reflect and to ask for the opinion of others I have come, not so much to any conclusions as I have to a couple of tentative observations.

A Humanities professor I asked about Doyle’s poem noted that the resurrection accounts are all about appearances to the disciples, and not about any physical object so that this becomes an odd space in which to focus on bodily details. By focusing on bodily details the poem almost inevitably, so it seems to him, tends to subvert any sort of belief in a bodily resurrection and therefore may reasonably end up being interpreted as an exercise in debunking – even though that is not what the author has in mind.

From a slightly different angle I would suggest that picturing the humanity of Jesus by focusing on the resurrection appearances is problematic in that it is in those very appearances of Jesus as the “glorified Lord” (as one who has transcended death whatever that means) that we are the least able to feel a connection with his humanity. Furthermore, by attempting to emphasize the humanity of Jesus in that space Doyle is forced to view the Easter event more as resuscitation than as resurrection. It is as if Doyle is thinking of what someone who had been in a coma for three days might have thought upon regaining consciousness. My schoolmate, Michael Queen was in a terrible automobile accident right after high school. He was in a coma for days. His mother sat with him the whole time, and when he finally came out of the coma the first thing he said was, “What are you doing here?” He could, I suppose, just as easily have asked: “Mom, can you get me a cup of coffee?” Or, “I know you’re upset and disappointed, but I promise! That’s the last time I will drink hard liquor.” We can relate to all that – to a resuscitation experience, but resurrection is of a fundamentally different order. Resuscitation means that one’s previous life as a finite person is resumed; resurrection means that another kind and level of existence has been entered. I personally believe the resurrection real but don’t think this necessarily demands materiality. The New Testament makes a clear distinction between Jesus’ pre-resurrection body and post-resurrection body. Jesus’ pre-resurrection body was ordinary, fully human, and mortal. His post-resurrection body was transformed, immortal – “glorified” if you will. In order to really work Doyle’s poem has to rely on an understanding of the Easter event as a resuscitation, something I doubt Doyle actually thinks, because that, humanly speaking, is what we can most identify with. And once the shift to a resuscitation perspective has taken place the poem is susceptible, in spite of Doyle’s higher intention, to being understood as debunking. What Brian Doyle was attempting to do is just difficult to artistically and intellectually pull off in the space in which he chose to work. I suppose how successful he was will depend on how readers as a whole interpret the poem, and by Brian as he assesses how well he communicated what he wanted to communicate.

I have also been thinking about the film “Blade Runner” in connection with Doyle’s poem. This is a 1982 film with a dystopian Los Angeles in November 2019 as its setting. Genetically engineered beings called “replicants” – smarter and stronger than human beings but indistinguishable except by a highly sophisticated test of emotional responses that even humans might fail – are manufactured for work, pleasure and war by the Tyrell Corporation. But slowly the film obliterates even this distinction until the viewer recognizes the full and sacred humanity of the replicants — who bleed when cut, who cry in sadness and sorrow, who feel affection and anger, who hunger for more life even as they suffer from “premature decrepitude,” and who are ultimately capable of experiencing that universal love and ineffable gratitude for life which is, I believe, an experience of God; and, therefore, the greatest and highest experience of being human. In the “Blade Runner” world I might ask whether asparagus makes a replicant’s pee smell funny – like it does mine. But that would be a question about chemistry, about physicality, about animality, not about our common humanity. I have been accused of being a priest who has lost his faith, a leftist and a communist, and a devil. It is not in wondering where I might find a good cup of coffee that I feel a profound sense of human solidarity with Jesus, but in hearing him called a bastard, a drunkard, a demon. I would think that the temptations of Jesus, or the cleansing of the temple, or his weeping by the grave of Lazarus would provide good material for a poem on the humanity of the Christ.

Well Brian, as I look at how much time I have spent thinking on “Some Thorny Questions About the Resurrection” I guess, even though I got it all wrong, I did find a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction in it. From the beginning I thought it clever and genuinely funny, your friends must delight in your company, and I am sorry that it didn’t help me to a deeper and more appreciative sense of Christ’s humanity, and of my humanity, and our humanity all bound up together. I sincerely hope others do – fully realize your stated intention. And, although I am something of a Hobbit, I hope that sometime we meet face to face – whether on this or the far shore.

THE ARCHBISHOP’S APOLOGY
FATHER LARRY

Do I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?
St. Paul to the Corinthians

I have been thinking about apologies. And just now I remembered a cold winter morning in Amarillo, Texas, snug in our little garage apartment, when Brenda, my wife of only a few months, said in that matter of fact way of hers that I have come to value over the years, “Why is it that if we argue I always say I am sorry and you never do?” I can’t remember having much of a response at the time. I probably should have just come out with the truth and said, “Because you are a better person than I am.” However, while I didn’t really have a reply at the time, I did begin trying, from that moment on, to say I was sorry when I became irritable or lost my patience. And since that day I have always meant it when I told her I was sorry, not because I necessarily thought I was entirely wrong about something but because I have always loved her and have regretted anything, spoken or unspoken, that might indicate other wise. But as I say, I don’t know much about apologies. I don’t remember apologies being offered very often in my family as I was growing up. Jeff, our son-in-law, makes the grandkids apologize when they, as is inevitable with brother and sister, exchange unpleasantries. But apologies were seldom made in the family in which I grew up. If someone got angry it was understood they would soon be over it, and that just because they were angry didn’t mean they didn’t love you. Apologies were thought to be for those times when one was deliberately and particularly hurtful, and it was believed that they ought to express a heartfelt regret – otherwise they were both pointless and meaningless. So maybe my lack of understanding about apologies has to do with the way I grew up.

However, the main reason I have been thinking about apologies lately has to do with the one made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to the Catholic Church in Ireland. Archbishop Williams got quite a noisy and angry reaction when in a BBC interview he said of the sexual abuse scandal and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland: “An institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing its credibility – that’s not just a problem for the church, it’s a problem for everybody in Ireland.” Williams said that an Irish friend had recently told him, “It’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down a street wearing a clerical collar.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, head of the largest Catholic diocese in Ireland and second to Cardinal Brady probably the most powerful Catholic voice in that country, criticized Archbishop Rowan Williams’ remarks saying:

Those working for renewal in the Catholic Church in Ireland did not need this comment on the Easter weekend and do not deserve it. The unequivocal and unqualified comment in a radio interview of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, that the Catholic Church in Ireland has lost all credibility, has stunned me. I have to say that in all my years as archbishop of Dublin, in difficult times I have rarely felt personally so discouraged as when I woke to hear Archbishop Williams’ comment.

Archbishop Martin’s words would be ludicrous if not for the gravity of the real issue – the grotesque sexual abuse of children.

If the Archbishop of Canterbury’s frank, obvious, and truthful comments are more discouraging to Archbishop Diarmuid than the stories he heard of the sexual abuse of children, in his pastoral care, by priests under his authority, then – I don’t know. I just don’t know. The Catholic Church has done everything it can to deflect the awful truth. In his sermon, at Easter Mass, in St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, referred to the scandal of sexual molestation as “petty gossip of the moment.” The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher for the Papal Household, compared criticism directed at the Catholic Church over the issue of systemic paedophilia to anti-Semitic attacks on Jews. Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, opposed the defrocking of a California priest who was a repeat sex offender. Ratzinger asserted he was concerned about “the good of the universal church.” This 1985 letter bearing his signature puts the lie to the claim that the Pope played no role in blocking the removal of paedophile priest. What we now know is that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, including the Pope, has resisted doing the right thing in favour of maintaining an illusion of sanctity for over fifty years. And that is not only devastating for Irish Catholics and for the Irish people, whose religion is such an integral part of their society and culture as a whole, but it is a blow to the faith and work of the world wide Christian community of which the Catholic Church, contrary to its delusional arrogance, is only a part.

What I am suggesting is that Archbishop Rowan Williams was entirely correct and acting appropriately as a world Christian leader in his remarks regarding paedophilia and the Catholic Church — a horror that is systemic in nature rather than a problem confined to individual clergy. The Medieval character of the Catholic Church is in most respects no one’s business other than the Roman Catholic Church. If it wants to kill itself with the archaic demand of priestly celibacy that is its concern. But if it brings disrepute on all Christians and destroys the faith of those struggling to hold on to their belief in a gracious God by its ongoing and systemic practice of evil, then it is open to a response from the truly universal church. If its bishops want to take a stand on a political issue, like birth control, as a moral question they should be entitled to do so. But if they threaten a congressional representative or senator with excommunication if he or she does not follow the dictates of the Catholic Church when considering particular pieces of legislation, then it becomes the business of every citizen. The Roman Catholic Church has been called on its ancient hubris and does not like it one little bit.

I find Rowan Williams apology disturbing. He has the power to speak truth to power. It is a power that needs to be used humbly and judiciously, but there are times it does need to be used. Archbishops Williams’ remarks may have hurt the prickly sensitivities of Catholic bishops and cardinals but it did them no harm. Indeed, his words constituted an act of grace in that they held up a mirror in which the Catholic Church had, and still has, the opportunity to see itself clearly, however painful that may be, and to make what may be difficult, but significant, decisions and changes – beginning, not with a political and face saving apology, but with a sincere, deep, and Christian repentance. By apologizing what the Archbishop of Canterbury has done is to allow the Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals and the pope to wriggle away – to look away so that the Catholic Church does not have to face itself.

I also find the Archbishop’s apology somewhat disconcerting in that, unlike his initial statement, it tastes more like politics than truth. If people, at least in America, put up a howl over something someone says, then it is impolitic and there is immediate pressure for an apology – that’s the politically correct thing to do. For example, there is the drunken lout who yelled out at President Obama during his State of the Union Speech: “You lie!” The next day the Republican leadership insisted he apologize – which he did. But then he went on to raise money from all the whackos who thought him a hero for being rude and obnoxious. His apology was self-serving, insincere, and dishonest. He would have shown more integrity either by sticking to what he yelled at the president, or renounced his rudeness and its negative impact on civic life. I would have appreciated it more if Archbishop Rowan Williams had calmly and cleanly stood by his remarks in the BBC interview, or repudiated them, rather than weakly “regretting any hurt he had caused.” I think that at this juncture in the history of the Anglican Communion, and global and ecumenical Christianity, what we need is more forthrightness and less politics.

In his Letter to the Galatians St. Paul tells of an ecclesiastical incident that may be especially pertinent here. He writes, “God isn’t impressed with mere appearances and neither am I. . . When Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line” Canterbury is the equal of Rome, and when Rome is wrong she needs to be withstood to her face for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the world, for the sake of Christ in the world.