Terrorize and Paralyze?


All terrorists aim to terrorize and paralyze civilian life, creating a chaotic environment so they can seize power and take control. We cannot surrender. We cannot allow terrorists to turn us into terrorists.

          Christians, especially, should be people who do not allow fear to rule their lives. We know and we believe: resurrection follows the way of the cross and death. Christians can and must be prophetic people who are clear-headed and courageous. It was Adolf Hitler who said: “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”

          Terrorism can be defeated when terrorists see that their terrorism doesn’t work. It will take time and people have to work together and support one another. People can pick themselves up and move ahead. On March 22, 2016, terrorist bombs destroyed the departure hall, slaughtered dozens of people, and injured hundreds of others at the Brussels International Airport. In June I was a traveler at that same airport. In the very spot where it all happened. The departure hall has been rebuilt. It is now more attractive, more efficient, and very welcoming. This week end, more than 200,000 vacationers will pass through the Brussels airport.

          I know first-hand what disaster and alarming uncertainty do to a person. People very close to me came close to being blown apart in the Brussels bombings. Watching the news on March 22 (five days before my 73rd birthday) I was frightened and anxious. I kept saying to myself: Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Then I recalled a line from C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains….”

          Christians need to fortify themselves with and in authentic faith and virtue. Too many people these days are reverting into a form of pseudo-Christianity, preaching self-serving pseudo-virtue. They look out for themselves while denigrating others. We see them succumbing to demagoguery and mindless populism. Malfunctioning democracies should be fixed not destroyed; and people should rely on facts not popular fantasies. The thought struck me last week, for example, that most of the terrorist activity in the United States in recent years has come not from Muslims, but from “Christian” religious fanatics and white supremacists. Hardly the way of Jesus.

          Jesus of Nazareth, living and working in the socio-cultural context of his day, was a prophetic non-violent person. He was a threat of course to his contemporary vested interest people: authoritarian leaders for whom religion was more important than faith and politics more important than the men and women it should serve.

          As we confront the perplexing political, economic, and social problems of our time, we need to practice and promote authentic Christian virtue. Yes of course, people who behave in a criminal and inhuman way need to be sanctioned and restrained; but crude militarism and violence alone will never resolve our contemporary national and international terrorism crises. They will only increase and promote a more savage kind of militarism.
          The world’s wealth and resources must be used to promote human life and dignity everywhere. Why are young people drawn to zealous fanatics? Can we not promise and provide a better life for them? Many of them yearn for a sense of community not yet found. They seek and need an understanding and supportive group: people who can give them an anchor in a changing world. Can we not offer them a more humane community? Can we not enhance their sense of identity? Can we not promote their self-worth far better than political and religious fanatics?  

          We need to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless. Races and cultures are shifting around the globe. Immigration is a fact of life. It is nothing new, but has now shifted into fast motion. So how do we deal with it in a rational and Christian way? Certainly we citizens of the United States should have a keen sensitivity to immigrants and the great migrations of people. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”
          Jesus respected people and promoted their dignity and sense of self-worth. The key element in the narrative about the woman about to be stoned. He honored her self-worth. He restored her sense of self-worth. And, as I wrote in my reflection last week, the key element in the narrative of the Good Samaritan. These are not just old pious stories. They are exhortations about what should be part of our rule of life, if we really take Jesus seriously.  

          International dialogue and inter-religious dialogue must replace arrogant self-serving rhetoric. Our church communities should become centers of prayerful study and reflection. Centers of Christian excellence. What is the challenge of being a Jesus-person in our days of contemporary anxiety, change, and impending chaos? How can we be messengers of truth when all around us the media shout fabricated falsehoods; and exaggerated news stories so conveniently frighten and paralyze people?

          Franklin Roosevelt said “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Jesus more importantly said “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

 

Civility — Change — Leadership


Years before George Washington became president of the United States, he penned 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation.” His writing project was more an exercise in youthful penmanship, because he copied a translated older text, originally written by French Jesuits. Nevertheless, the focus of Washington’s observations was civility: polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior. 

A few of Washington’s rules struck me recently, as I was thinking about the current presidential campaign: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those present.”…….”When you reprove another be without blame yourself.”…… “Let your conversation be without malice or envy.”……”In all causes of passion allow reason to govern.”

Our early American leaders lived in times of tremendous social change. Sometimes we overly romanticize their lives, forgetting their environment of fear, social unrest, “Indian” atrocities, counter-reaction colonialists’ atrocities, slave rebellions, fear-mongering propagandists, intercultural conflicts, and the terrorism spread by rumors of foreign intrigue.

In a letter written to his wife, our second president, John Adams, confided to Abigail about his “fear that in every assembly members will obtain influence by noise not sense.” His letter went on to warn about the dangers of political leaders not acting with respect and decency to such a degree that the government would eventually fall apart. 

Almost two decades into the third millennium, our country and our world are changing even more dramatically. Fear and anxiety are byproducts. The pace of change is accelerating. A bit ironically, a great many contemporary people are anxiously trying to maintain their identity as their very identity itself is changing. White Christian America, for example, is diminishing as a new form of immigrant America is taking shape: multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious. For a growing number of people, however, it is also an America increasingly disconnected from institutional religion. Perhaps that is more our challenge than our danger?

Millennials have now surpassed the Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. By around 2020, more than half of America’s (USA) children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. Today 12.3% of our U.S. population is black. According to the latest projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population is expected to reach 28.6% by 2060.. ..A great mix of various cultural traditions and values. And of course one cannot ignore evolving gender and sexual identities. More than 8 million adults in the United States are lesbian, gay, or bisexual: comprising 3.5% of the adult population; and majority public opinion in the United States now supports same-sex marriage. 

Reflecting about social change in our contemporary world — the Republican and Democratic conventions, the political crisis in Turkey, killings in Orlando and Dallas, the truck massacre in Nice, the latest shopping center killings in Munich, etc. — the first word that comes to my mind is leadership. Human problems require human solutions. We all need to be leaders, working together. Otherwise we disintegrate in feverish chaos.

In our families, schools, churches, and community organizations, we need to educate and equip young people with constructive leadership skills. At the same time we need to critique and disempower those “leaders” who do not lead but control. Those people are really not leaders but self-promoting authoritarian managers. The leadership responsibility rests on our shoulders.

What qualities characterize genuine and constructive leaders? 

(1) Constructive leaders are honest and transparent. They have integrity. They neither manipulate people nor play with the truth.

(2) Constructive leaders create a vision of the future that is realistic and compelling. They are not afraid of change, but see it as a continual human challenge. They understand the changes on the horizon as new opportunities for human transformation and growth.

(3) Constructive leaders inspire and motivate. They help people engage with the present and build a more humane tomorrow. They reflect deeply on the signs of the times.

(4) Constructive leaders analyze and solve problems. They observe, judge, and act in collaborative problem-solving. Yes they are often recruited, trained, and chosen to solve problems. But they don’t do it alone. They cannot do it alone.

(5) Some people are very content to sit back and watch the world go by. Or they long to return to some romanticized former time, like the 1950s…..Constructive leaders have a higher level of perseverance. They have vision but are not daydreamers. They can be counted on to get things done. They move ahead. They don’t live in the past.

(6) Constructive leaders build on solid foundations of mutual respect and trust. They do not denigrate people but lift them up. The stronger the relationships, the better the leadership. 

(7) Constructive leaders communicate with their people. They listen to them. They stimulate and promote collaborative leadership.

We are all called to leadership. Civility is a virtue. Change is a fact of life.

The New Tribalism


ANOTHER VOICE – Posted 14 July 2016

The natives are fearful, restless, and angry…… An alarming development in the United States, across Europe, and even at the Vatican is the rise of the new tribalism. It is fierce and destructive.
The new tribalism polarizes and compartmentalizes people into friends and adversaries. Much of it is irrational. It rejects dialogue and democratic decision-making. In the USA we see “born again” politicians and evangelical Christians defending and promoting the new tribalism. Much of what they promote is politically suspect and theologically contrary to the life, spirit, and message of Jesus of Nazareth.
In summary, it is: Tribe first. Morals second. Faith forgotten. Reason out the window….
In Dallas the megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, has said he would vote for Donald Trump and “run from” a presidential candidate like Jesus Christ, because he doesn’t feel that someone like Christ is the type of leader the United States needs right now. “You know,” he said recently “I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” “Heck no!” Jeffress said. “I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.” He went on to say that he really doesn’t care how despicable a person is, just as long as they’re “tough.”
Over at the Vatican the natives are restless as well. Earlier this week, a group of 45 Catholic scholars, clergy, cardinals, and bishops sent an appeal to the College of Cardinals asking that they petition Pope Francis to “repudiate” what they see as “erroneous propositions” contained in his April 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The group of 45 argue that Francis’ document contains “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.” A key agitator in the anti-Pope Francis tribe is the U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke.
When people feel insecure or find their beliefs challenged they often succumb to dogmatic and close-minded ideologies: a kind of “circle-the-wagons, we’re under attack” tribal unity. Dialogue stops, mutual respect is scoffed at, and polarization gets firmly established. Inhuman values and behavior are applauded in the name of tribal unity. In the end chaos erupts and authoritarian leaders take control – often with religious blessings.
History is full of examples: Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler in Germany. Our contemporary daily news, of course, gives abundant and frightening reports of hard-nosed and vicious tribalism, much of it now linked to the coming presidential election campaign. Sorry to say, I don’t think the situation will improve after this month’s political conventions are behind us. It will be a long hot summer.
Tribalism ignores the dignity and value of a person and sees only stereotypes of distrusted and despised enemy people. A Trump-friendly tribe argues that gays are a threat to family life; that Mexicans are rapists, drug addicts, and criminals; that blacks are stupid and lazy. And….of course that Muslims are terrorists. Too many people believe and want to believe the Fox News stereotypes. It gives them comfort to know not “I” but “they” are the problem.” And of course “they” are changing everything.
Yes we do live in a time of dramatic and extensive socio-cultural change; but change is and always has been a part of human life, especially in the United States where “new and improved” has always been better than “old.” Except perhaps in far-right politics and fundamentalist religion.
Like it or not, the rate of change in coming years will accelerate not diminish. One can argue whether or not human nature changes; but there is no debate about the fact that our understanding of human nature has changed and grown tremendously. New knowledge brings changes in social institutions, ethical values, and moral behavior. Slavery, once blessed even by the churches, cannot be tolerated nor morally justified today. Women we know today are not inferior to men. That is an improvement and a great change from what the “Angelic Doctor” Thomas Aquinas taught, when he said that women by nature are defective and misbegotten males. (Some bishops still believe Aquinas was correct!) And of course, we know today that gays are neither innately disordered nor per se prone to immorality. And we are still discovering a lot of new dimensions to our human sexuality and gender.
New perspectives bring new understandings. They also create alarm for people who would rather live in the past.
Our challenge is to use our brains without forgetting to use our hearts. Every woman, every man, every person deserves respect and positive acknowledgement. Jesus understood that, even if some of his contemporary followers don’t.
I think one of the best scriptural texts about the evils of tribalism is Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable in the Gospel According to Luke (10:25-37). A traveler, probably a Jew, as the story goes, was robbed, stripped of clothing, beaten-up, and left half dead along the side of the road. Along comes a priest. He looks at and ignores the miserable traveler. Then another religious functionary comes along: a Levite. (Levites helped around the temple and had some political responsibilities as well.) He leaves the bleeding traveler along the roadside and moves on. Then a Samaritan comes along.
In Jesus’ day hatred between Jews and Samaritans was fierce and long-standing. “Good” Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. Jews and Samaritans were divided by racial and ethnic barriers. Different tribes. In our own days, we know very well what that means. Just stand up and say “Black Lives Matter.”
In Jesus’ parable the Samaritan is deeply moved when he sees the injured fellow at the side of the road. He bandages his wounds, puts him on his own donkey, and takes him to an inn where he will be safe and recover. Since the injured man had been robbed of everything he had, the Samaritan even pays the man’s bill at the inn and pays the innkeeper to take good care of him.
Jesus told the Samaritan parable in response to a Jewish lawyer’s question. Jesus had reminded his audience that “Love your neighbor as yourself” was part of their biblical law (Leviticus 19:18). Many of those listening to Jesus, however thought a “neighbor” meant only a Jew: someone belonging to their own tribe. So a lawyer asked Jesus: “Just who is my neighbor?”

What to do about the new tribalism:
(1) First of all each of us needs to do some serious self-examination. Have I become a member of a closed-group, narrow-minded tribe? Have I become or are my leaders more authoritarian control freaks than genuine leaders?

(2) We need to be and to support prophetic people. Prophetic people speak out. Prophetic people courageously criticize. Prophetic people are positive change-makers. A lot of contemporary political rhetoric is pure nonsense; and a fair amount of extreme religious commentary is ignorant and often cruel. Prophetic people need to say so. The Archbishop of Philadelphia has just issued new regulations for Catholics in his archdiocese. Divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, as well as cohabitating unmarried couples, must “refrain from sexual intimacy” if they wish to receive Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The archbishop from the city of brotherly love leaves little room for informed and rational discourse here. And then….. I wonder who is going to check-up to determine whether or not couples have “done it” before going to church.

(3) We do need to be anchored in Scripture and Tradition; but a proper understanding of Scripture and Tradition requires historical critical awareness and insight. A young priest told me recently that Jesus condemned homosexuality. That is an ignorant statement. Jesus said absolutely nothing about being gay or straight or about transgender people. He did say “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ exhortation covers a lot of moral behavior.

Yes the tribes are restless. We need to be clear-headed people of faith. We need to really support one another in the days ahead.

Next week some more thoughts about change……

What Young Millennial Christians Believe


As vice-president of ARCC, I am pleased to announce an important conference this coming October in the Washington DC/Baltimore area. I would appreciate your passing on the information.


 

“Changing the Conversation — The Millennial Generation: Their Values, Belief, and Thoughts about Church.”


               Date and Time:       October 29, 2016 — 1:00 to 3:00 PM


               Location:                   Best Western at BWI — 6755 Dorsey Rd, Elkridge, Maryland

Our Presenter is Todd Salzman — Professor of Theology at Creighton University

 

Todd has a PhD in Theology from the Catholic University of Leuven. He completed his dissertation in 1994, taught at the University of San Diego from 1995-1997, and came to Creighton in 1997. He has published six books and over 50 scholarly articles, and presented numerous papers at national and international conferences.

One of his special interests is the belief and ethical values of the Millennial generation.

He is married to Katy Salzman, and they have identical twin boys and a daughter.



To help with our planning, we appreciate a pre-conference registration and a donation of $5 per person, payable on site at the conference.

To register or for more information, please write:    arcc.millennial@gmail.com 


For more information about ARCC:    http://arcc-catholic-rights.net

At My Desk Again: Another Voice


For this older historian, July is a good month to resume Another Voice reflections. My travels are over for a while and I am back home a bit more relaxed and ready to observe, reflect, and type. And — of course — great changes are certainly in the air. 
          First of all a moment of reflection about today: on July 1st 1916 the Battle of the Somme began. Also called the Somme Offensive, it was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. The armies of the British and French empires at war against against the German Empire. They slaughtered each other until November 18th, leaving more than one million wounded or killed. It was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. I am re-reading Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, as my spiritual reading. Still…..today the war cries continue; and it is difficult convincing people that war never resolves human conflicts.
          As this July begins, the implications of BREXIT are breaking out. Once upon a time Great Britain may soon be just a not so merry old England: a former UK island, holding hands with Wales. On July Fourth, of course we citizens of the USA will celebrate and reflect once again on the meaning of our independence. On July 14th the French will celebrate “La fête nationale” — the French National Day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789: a key event in the French Revolution. And closer to home, this July 2016 we will know for certain the identities of the Republican and Democratic candidates for the White House. (My preference would be HC rather than DT, although many still consider DT the solution to all our problems and a stalwart Christian on top of that.) 
          After July 28th, when the Democrats conclude their convention in Philadelphia, the tempo and the temperature of the USA 2016 presidential race will shape just about everything on the Internet. Heated election rhetoric. Much of it unfortunately will be anchored in fear, anger, paranoia, and ignorance. Vices proclaimed as virtues for people seeking security in a changing world. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is getting an authoritarian new twist.
          In coming weeks I would like to reflect more seriously on the meaning, scope, and implications of our changing world: human, social, cultural, theological, and religious — and where a person really finds security today and tomorrow. A special area of reflection will be where “God” fits into change and who God is for us today.
          I would like to reflect as well on the immense problem of historical and contemporary ignorance. It really is a problem. Ignorant people (even the “well- educated” ones) are frantically working to put a mask on change and convey a false sense of security. Thinking is always dangerous, because thinkers eventually start asking questions. (I was fortunate in my education. In my first year of high school — at a seminary at that — my religion teacher encouraged me to question everything.) I suspect a lot of political propaganda from both parties, in the coming months, will be based on and promote historical and contemporary ignorance. And I know very keenly the dangers created by religious leaders who proclaim their religious falsehoods as faith.
          A third area for my reflections will be the whole area of leadership: political and religious. We have far too many civil and religious leaders, these days, who are simply blind guides. Their vision stops at their noses. One of my earlier Roman Catholic heroes, Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame University for thirty-five years, said it very well: “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Well, there is a lot of uncertain trumpet noise these days.
          More July re-launch comments……An old acquaintance said a couple weeks ago that I am really an “old leftist liberal.” I chuckled and said that words like “leftist” and “liberal” really cannot capture my take on life. Nor do words like “conservative” or “traditional.” I know as well that some friends — and even some members of my family — dislike and take issue with some of my theological and political positions. 
          I mean no offense, but I have to interpret reality the way I experience it. Everyone has to do that. 
          And we all have to practice a kind of mutual respect and tolerance based on the realization that no one has or sees all the truth. No one. No single political party. No single church. No single religion. We are all travelers on the human road, discovering for better or for worse as we move along. God is much greater than all of our religious constructions; and I think the historical Jesus of Nazareth would have been in agreement with that.  
          How would I like to be described? I am an 65+ guy — husband, father, theologian — with an historical critical approach to understanding the human journey. That journey entails interpretation, reflected experience, new discoveries, and new interpretations of old truths. I see no other way to live.
          I look forward to traveling with you once again!

(Brief comment about the attached photo: An earlier photo of my wife and me, as we were looking across the River Tarn in Albi, France — thinking about the tenth century Albigensian Crusade, a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III, in 1209, to uproot and eliminate Cathar heretics. Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian abbot-commander in the crusade, reported to the pope that more than 20,000 heretics were put to the sword.)