Courage, Hope, and Confidence

17 January 2020

During the first semester of the 2019-2020 academic year, I taught an introductory course about the four Gospels. The class participants were a group of thoughtful and inquisitive retired men and women. It was a delight to be with them. (I have just been invited to teach it again next autumn to a larger group of Dutch-speaking participants.) The course had a double focus: (1) understanding the various Christian communities back then and how each Gospel interpreted and applied the message of Jesus to their life situations; and (2) asking how the message of the Gospels speaks to us today in our concrete life situations. The course was a good experience for me as well – enabling me to review my own understanding and appreciation for Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. A kind of spiritual exercise and rejuvenation….something all historical theologians need, regardless of their age and background.

This year — with so much polarization, hatred, and fear — the image of Jesus in the Gospel of John speaks to me in a special way.

Contemporary scholars suggest that the final composition of the Gospel of John dates between 90 and 110 CE. An oral tradition of eye-witness recollections of the “Beloved Disciple” evolved and began being written down around 90 CE. The final editing of the text came 10 to 20 years later, giving us a gospel composition date of between 90 and 110 CE. The location was most likely Ephesus.

We don’t know who the “Beloved Disciple” was. There is quite a variety of scholarly opinions: a truly unknown disciple, or the Apostle John, or James the brother of Jesus, or even Mary the Magdalene.

The Johannine Gospel differs from the Synoptics in style, content, and perspective. It omits, for instance, a large amount of material found in the Synoptic Gospels, like the temptation of Jesus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and the institution of the Eucharist. What stands out in the Johannine Last Supper is the washing of feet and Jesus’ exhortation “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” (John 13:15)

The Johannine community understood well the complexity and problems of religious polarization. In the 90s of the first century a “parting of the ways” between Jewish and Christian believers occurred. Early Christians no longer went to synagogue for the basic reason that more and more Christians were Gentile converts and the distinction between Jewish and Christian belief had become clearer. John 9.29 describes how “the Jewish people had agreed that if anyone confessed Jesus as the Christ or messiah they were to be excluded from the synagogue.”

What deeply attracts me in the Johannine Gospel is the message that Jesus is the Wisdom of God and a man of courage, hope, and confidence. Today, in our social interactions, there is such a great need for wisdom, courage, hope, and confidence.

I see texts that speak loudly and clearly to our contemporary life situation. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches (John 15) committed to love one another. We need one another: the community of faith. The branches cannot survive without the vine; but the vine cannot survive without the branches. The primary presence of Jesus is in the community. Jesus promises that his Spirit will be with us. (John 14:15-16, 15:26, 16:15) The Spirit will not abandon us. Yes we live in frightening times, but there is no reason for debilitating fear.

In the Synoptics the stress was on Divinity taking on humanity. In John, however, we see another emphasis: humanity taking on Divinity. God is truly with us: in the very heart of our being. A powerful revelation.

Yes indeed….Some of the old images of God no longer speak to contemporary people; but God has not abandoned us. Nor should we abandon God. We simply need to reflect on better ways of conceptualizing and speaking about our experience of the Divine. Source of our courage, hope, and confidence. Something for serious contemplation…. Something for shared faith stories…. Something for Lenten reflection…. (Lent begins this year on February 26th.)

With its hopeful focus, the Johannine account of the crucifixion does not stress Jesus as one who suffers, as we saw for example in Mark 15.25–39. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is the one who is exalted, “lifted up” in his moment of glorification. In John 13 to John 16, Jesus prepares his disciples for his imminent departure followed by his “high priestly prayer” in John 17. Here we see a very strong and confident Jesus. “I have glorified you on earth and finished the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, it is time to glorify me…” (John 17:4-5)

The final Johannine chapters contain the accounts of Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. The Jesus who stands before Pilate is strong. On the way to Golgotha Jesus carries his own cross. He does not need the help of a Simon of Cyrene as we saw in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Jesus here is strong and confident. We saw that actually in Jesus’ garden experience after the Last Supper. Roman soldiers and temple police come to seize him. “Jesus, knowing full well what was about to happen, went out to the garden entrance to meet them. Stepping forward, he asked, ‘Who are you looking for?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. He replied, ‘I am he.’” (John 18:4-5)

May we all find courage, hope, and confidence in the Spirit of Christ. We have not been abandoned. A few weeks ago, I stressed the importance of prophetic witness. I stress that again today. Our witness is not just to speak, but to act: to be courageously active supporters of one another, offering hope for people today, and confidence that love is stronger than hatred; and that honesty is more effective than political deception and falsehood.

With courage, we move forward…..

Jack

War Wisdom

8 January 2020

(I usually post a reflection on Friday. Due to current developments, I post this a couple days earlier.)

In January 2003, I was invited to meet with a group of about twenty US Army and Air Force chaplains at a US base in Germany. I often met with them for what were called “days of recollection.” This time the presentation and discussion were about the “Just War Theory” and what was already being seen as an impending US invasion of Iraq. (That happened of course in March 2003.) As I explained the main points of the traditional understanding of a just war, one young chaplain became very restless. Rather emotionally he called out to me: “If I understand what you are saying, it would be immoral for the US to launch a war in Iraq.” Very calmly I said: “Yes. I think it would be immoral and unjustified.” I looked around the room. Just about every chaplain there was shaking his head in agreement. The young chaplain then said, with great restlessness, that he could not be a part of such an invasion and didn’t know what to do. Then an older chaplain, whom I have always greatly respected, said: “Young man pull yourself together. I was a chaplain in Vietnam. I understand just and unjust wars. Your responsibility is not to implement government policy per se but to travel with your soldiers and be with them in their own difficult journeys.”

Now, with President Donald Trump’s decision to kill the Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, those just war reflections jump back at me, with fears of a major military escalation. What is morally legitimate and responsible international behavior these days?

As I explained to the chaplains back in 2003, the traditional just war theory defines four conditions that must be met in order for a war to be just:

1) The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.

2) All other means of putting an end to the initial problem must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.

3) There must be serious prospects of success.

4) The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

The first consideration, I would suggest, is not whether an act of war is just but whether or not it is wise. I remember the remark of the American writer, Issac Asimov: “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” A January 3rd editorial in the New York Times, titled “The Game Has Changed,” expressed it this way: “The real question to ask about the American drone attack that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was not whether it was justified, but whether it was wise. Many pieces of the puzzle are still missing, but the killing is a big leap in an uncertain direction.”

My second consideration would be that the traditional four-points just war theory totally ignores our contemporary situation. With today’s atomic, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction can there ever be a “Just war”?

Today, we need to explore and implement other ways of resolving international conflicts. We need to reinforce and collaborate with international organizations like the United Nations. We need to see that the function of the military is not to make war but to maintain peace.

I resonate with the January 3, 2020 statement by Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA:

The decision by the Trump Administration to assassinate Iran’s General Soleimani on Iraqi soil, reportedly by drone strike, has only succeeded in escalating tensions in the Middle East and put in jeopardy the lives of innocent men, women and children who will bear the brunt of back-and-forth retaliation between the US and Iran. This is another in a long string of failures by this administration to pursue diplomacy and act with prudence in addressing the complicated problems of the region, many of which have been exacerbated by or are the direct result of decades of bad decisions undertaken by the US in the Middle East.”

Yes. We are moving into a new decade……We must “beat swords into plowshares” and pursue peace. This is not just pious rhetoric. It is now our practical life or death reality. I think 2020 will be chaotic, unpredictable, and enormously consequential.

Jack

Human Experience & Critical Thinking

January 3, 2020

Over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I was fortunate to be able to enjoy the company of family and good friends as well as to re-read some of my favorite authors. Among them, Aldous Huxley (1894 –1963) the philosopher and writer. He was born in England but spent the last twenty-six years of his life in the United States. Many people remember him for his science-fiction novel Brave New World, in which he describes a futuristic society, called the World State, that revolves around technology and efficiency. In this society, emotions and individuality are programmed out of children at a young age; and there are no lasting relationships.

My favorite Huxley quotation is “Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”

Huxley’s observation is my starting point for 2020.

I hope in 2020 that I can help people seek and discover the truth. I hope other people can help ME discover the truth, that is so often hidden or totally distorted in news reports, in political rhetoric, in pious religious platitudes, and of course, in social media. Today I better understand Huxley’s fear that truth can be drowned in a sea of rhetorical irrelevance. (Perhaps he was thinking about political campaign rhetoric as well? We will certainly have a lot of that in 2020.)

Ignorance may not be bliss but it helps the ignorant feel good and surrender themselves to authoritarian leaders who gradually take control of their faithful followers, by negatively labelling and denigrating those “dangerous people” who are anchored in historical observation and critical reflection. We used to think that a written sentence had a level of verifiability to it. It was true or not true. Or at least one could have a meaningful discussion about its truth. Today, within popular political and religious movements, we see climate-change deniers who value only a climate of “alternative facts.” For them, verified information is “fake news.”

I find social media, like Facebook and Twitter, increasingly problematic. Yes of course one can find truth statements there; but they are too often intertwined with bizarre fabrications or gross distortions of the truth. When they get repeated again and again or are “shared,” the phony becomes accepted truth. Twitter for example makes it easy to pick a passage out of context, denigrate the author, and broadcast the erroneous phrase or sentence to the tweeter’s sympathetic audience. Such tweets too often become a form of hate speech, fomenting racial prejudice and violence.

It won’t happen of course, but I often wish people would document their assertions and quotations. I will try to do that and be careful to not just repost an attractive observation without checking it out. It is called critical observation and critical thinking. Critical observation and critical thinking give leaders credibility. We don’t need and we don’t deserve leaders whose only talent is making loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue.

Our big challenge in 2020 will be selecting and promoting leaders who have credibility and sending the others to the sidelines. Certainly far from center stage….

Effective change occurs when people with credibility not only speak knowledgeably but actually make changes happen. Nice words are not enough. We need to support, defend, and encourage them. We need to defend and support young change agents like Greta Thunberg.

We need to build communities of trust with truth-speakers. We need to courageously denounce the purveyors of false information and absolute lies. And….we need to practice civility and respectful dialogue with those who have a different perspective. Not always easy. The aim is not to convert but to learn how to live together. No one has all the truth. We are all truth-seekers.

Safe travels as we journey into 2020…….I think it will be quite a ride.

Jack

Jadleuven@gmail.com

Christmas 2019

December 20, 2019

Dear Another Voice Friends,

My very best wishes for Christmas 2019, and the soon-to-arrive New Year 2020, which will bring new adventures, new hopes, and new opportunities for all of us.

The message of Christmas is our New Year’s challenge: to believe and to act on our beliefs. We believe that truth is stronger than fake political rhetoric and falsehood. Being a bully is destructive and demeaning. We are all our neighbors’ brothers and sisters, even when community harmony is difficult to achieve and maintain. Our human climate is threatened. The survival of humanity — everyone’s human dignity and worth are at risk. Yes our ongoing challenge this Christmas and in 2020.

Once again, I send my Christmas and New Year’s greetings with a reprint of T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi.

My fascination with the U.S./British poet began some years ago, when I was a junior in high school. The poem was Ash Wednesday, written by T.S. Eliot shortly after his 1927 conversion to Anglicanism. Here Eliot focused on his own spiritual journey. I was becoming aware of my own spiritual journey back then….Eliot once commented that he had a “Catholic cast of mind, a Calvinist heritage, and a Puritanical temperament.” (I thought well I am the product of a “mixed marriage.” I have a solidly Catholic education and formation, my father’s critical mind, and his Protestant DNA.) In college I was fortunate to meet Eliot’s friend, Robert Sencourt, who gave a lecture about Eliot and his poetry. He also gave more insights into Eliot the believer.

I owe the inspiration for my blog to lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem Little Gidding: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams once remarked, “Eliot never wanted to present religious faith as a nice cheerful answer to everyone’s questions, but as an inner shift so deep that you could hardly notice it, yet giving a new perspective on everything and a new restlessness in a tired and chilly world.”

In a tired and chilly world, may we all find and share new and life-giving perspectives…..

The Journey Of The Magi by T.S. Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

———-

Thank you for traveling with me this year. Thank you for your friendship and support. I hope to return in early January after taking time for holiday celebrations with my wife, family, and friends.

Jack

Spirited Community

December 13, 2019

Last week, one of my suggestions was that we encourage people to share their faith stories. A few days after that blog appeared, one of my readers sent me a very personal email about his own faith journey. With his permission, I share a few lines:

“I spent August driving a Land Cruiser the 900 miles from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma, Tanzania over dirt roads. My priest friend and I stayed in villages along the way praying, singing, eating, staying with, and talking to the poor. Mud huts with thatched roofs. A five star hotel meant that your five gallon bucket at the head of your bed was full so you could shower, wash your cloths and flush the toilet. Tanzanians are the most beautiful, happy, peaceful and loving people on the planet….For a month I lived in the presence of God, receiving the sacrament almost every day….

“I have returned to my (home) city, one of the wealthiest in the United States….Now that I am back in my cozy setting, I am having trouble acclimating. I have not gone to mass since August. I have no desire to be with the people of my rich parish most of whom voted for Trump. These are not my people. To support a church that does not care for its nuns, covers up sexual abuse, and to have to listen to inane sermons based on a 19th century ethos, has no appeal for me…..

“I had an epiphany several days ago: how could I be so close to the church in Tanzania and so far from her here in the States? In Tanzania I was with the true church, the loving people of God, the mystical body of Christ. What I have here is a hierarchy that is more concerned with power and prestige at the expense of the message of Jesus. The priests in Tanzania do not wait for their day off so they can go golfing with the good old boy’s club, as they are too busy feeding the souls and bodies of their flocks.”

My correspondent described a church which is a community of believers. His email reminded me of an observation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so appropriate for this time of the year: “As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.”

The awareness of Divine presence goes to the heart of Christian community. The early Christians were animated by that awareness, before a kind of self-protective religious rigidity began to set in. Perhaps we need to re-visit the originality of the early followers of the Way of Jesus.

Most English translations of the New Testament use the word “church” to translate the Greek word “ecclesia” which generally meant a “community called together” a “convocation.” It would be far better and more correct for us to use the word “community” rather than “church” to capture the life-style of these early Christians: e.g. the “community” in Corinth, the “community” in Ephesus, etc. There was no uniform or monolithic reality in their community life. Jesus did not establish a church. He gave no institutional blueprint for the organizational style of his followers. The early Christian communities had great freedom. They had no set ritual forms for the sacraments. The communities were charismatic and creative. Men and women, who headed households, presided at celebrations of Eucharist. In the second century, Tertullian, the early Christian author from Carthage, wrote about the early Christian communities: “See how these Christians love one another.”

As the early communities grew and Christianity spread far and wide, a need developed for a kind of quality control process to make certain that the communities had qualified and well trained leaders. Ordination was introduced as a way of selecting and designating qualified community leaders. It was NOT understood as conferring special sacramental power for “confecting the Eucharist.” And we know that the historical Jesus did not ordain anyone. He probably had no inkling or understanding of ordination.

The early Christian communities selected, as well, overseers, who visited communities to see how they were doing and to provide guidance where needed. In Greek they were called “episcopoi.” Our English word “episcopal” comes from that. The better translations of the male minister “episcopos” or the female minister “episcopa” are “overseer” and “supervisor.” Quite often however the words get translated into English as “bishop.” I would like to think of “bishops” as user-friendly supportive overseers….

After the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, called by the Roman Emperor Constantine, Christianity was well on its way to becoming a highly organized religious institution. The church-now-institution demanded that the faithful accept and profess official doctrines, like the Nicene Creed. Curiously, the Council of Nicaea said nothing about spirituality.

Religious institutions have their value; but they are a MEDIUM not the MESSAGE. They exist to be of service and not to be served.

In 380 CE, the emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity, specifically Nicene Christianity, the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christian groups not accepting Nicaea were deemed heretical. They lost their legal status; and they had their properties confiscated by the Roman State. The official church took over Roman governmental structures (like dioceses) and Roman imperial court pageantry and rituals, especially by the papacy. Bishops became, as well, regional civil judges. Liturgy and sacraments became more standardized. Christians gradually began to seek and exert power over people. Women were edged to the sidelines. A clerical culture, with varying degrees of ingrained prejudice against women, began to take center stage. (Unfortunately, self-serving clericalism then and now undermines the credibility and ministry of zealous and wonderfully pastoral ordained ministers. Contemporary morale among Catholic ordained ministers (priests) is now very low. A very sad situation.)

Richard Rohr describes well the shift from spirited community to rigid institution: “I believe there is a deep dilemma and contradiction at the heart of institutional Christianity. Maybe it is even a necessary one. All I know is that it can only be resolved by authentic inner experience, prayer, mysticism, or dare I call it, spirituality. I am convinced that religion, in its common cultural and external forms, largely protects the ego, especially the group ego, instead of transforming it. If people do not go beyond first level metaphors, rituals, and comprehension, most religions seem to end up with a God who is often angry, petulant, needy, jealous, and who will love us only if we are ‘worthy’ and belonging to the correct group. We end up with the impossible scenario of a God who is small, and often less loving than the best people we know!”

Historically, every Christian reformation – and there have been several — has tried to regain the spirit and creative life and ministry of the early Christian communities.

That indeed is our reformation challenge today.

+++

In December, I make my annual appeal to people who would like to help keep Another Voice alive and well. Your contributions help me stay online, upgrade software and hardware as necessary, and to subscribe to theological and historical resources that help me stay up to date. I greatly appreciate your support.

You can contribute in any of the following ways:

(1) A USA dollars check made out to John Dick and sent to:

Dr. J. A. Dick

Geldenaaksebaan 85 A

3001 Heverlee

Belgium

Or a USA dollars transfer via ZELLE and sent to: jadleuven@gmail.com

(2) Or a US dollars bank transfer to my US bank account:

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If you have any questions, please contact me at: jadleuven@gmail.com

A big thank you!

SPIRITUALITY

December 6, 2019

For many years, I have been actively involved in Catholic Church reform movements, advocating for a church that accepts men and women as equals, that is not run by an authoritarian old-boys club, and that is LGBT supportive. I write and lecture as well about the dangers of rigid fundamentalisms and advocate as well for an historical-critical understanding of Sacred Scripture.

That being said, my current focus is the need for a New Reformation. Not just in the Catholic Church but in all Christian traditions.

And central to the New Reformation is spirituality.

Some people equate spirituality with religion, but the two are different. Religion is the medium not the message. Healthy religion should promote spirituality; but it doesn’t always happen. A lot of contemporary people, like the “nones,” are, in fact, turned off by institutional religion and proclaim that they are “spiritual but not religious.” People hungry and thirsty for spirituality are searching for satisfying and solid nourishment. Too often, in many churches, they are finding the cupboards bare or the food unsavory.

In Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel, Jesus cries out: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.’’ (John 7:37-38) Jesus’ call is significant. People do thirst for more. Thirst for justice, for truth, and for compassion. They thirst for the Divine.

Spirituality connects people to the Divine. To the depth of Reality. It provides peace and harmony in our lives. Spirituality goes to the very essence of what Christianity is all about. Spirituality is not something added on top of our Christian life.

Spirituality should be our way of life – in LIVED awareness of the Divine Presence, the Sacred, the Ground of Being, Emmanuel, God with us. There are many ways to describe the depth of Reality, just like there are many ways to describe what it means to love someone and to be loved. Some of the old images of God may no longer speak to contemporary people; but God has not abandoned us. And we should not abandon God. We simply need to reflect on better ways of conceptualizing and speaking about our experience of the Divine.

I still remember the comment from Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the UN: “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder the source of which is beyond all reason.”

Our communities of faith – like our schools, study groups, and our parishes — should be centers of excellence where people speak courageously about their awareness of the Divine Presence through personal shared faith stories, through drama, music and art. And through deep reflection. We should invite and welcome the questioners and the seekers. We need to listen to young people at the start of their adult lives and to older people, confronting their life transitions.

Regardless of our place in the human journey, The Gospels remind us that God lives and walks with all men and women: all races, all nationalities. God is not focused on gender or sexual orientation. Matthew 25 is very clear: “’Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Christian spirituality is committed to the search for truth within a healthy multicultural and multi-religious pluralism.

Christian spirituality sees no conflict between faith and reason, between the heart and the intellect, between belief and knowledge.

Christian spirituality, of course, is the message of Advent and the Joy of Christmas!
______________________

Once again, in December, I make my annual appeal to people who would like to keep Another Voice alive and well. Your contributions enable me to stay online, to upgrade software and hardware as necessary, and to subscribe to theological and historical resources that help me stay up to date.

You can contribute in any of the following ways:

(1) A USA dollars check made out to John Dick and sent to:

Dr. J. A. Dick
Geldenaaksebaan 85 A
3001 Heverlee
Belgium

Or a USA dollars transfer via ZELLE and sent to: jadleuven@gmail.com

(2) An international bank transfer in Euros sent to my Belgian account:

BNP Paribas Fortis Bank NV
Warandeberg 3
1000 Brussels
Belgium

Account of John A. Dick
SWIFT CODE: GEBABEBB
IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

If you have any questions, please contact me at: jadleuven@gmail.com

Giving Thanks

November 28, 2019

Today and for this week, a Thanksgiving poem by Alberto Álvaro Ríos a US academic and writer from Arizona. In 2013, Rios was named Arizona’s first poet laureate; and in 2014, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

When Giving Is All We Have

Alberto Ríos – 1952-

One river gives

Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.

We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.

We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,

We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,

Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,

Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.

Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you

What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

Spirit Wisdom

November 22, 2019

This week some words of wisdom from my theologian friend, Joseph Martos, in his excellent book: HONEST RITUALS HONEST SACRAMENTS.

One might conclude that the material world encompasses all of reality from sub-atomic particles to entire galaxies, but the fact is there are realities that cannot be detected by our five senses or by any of the devices we use to extend them. How much does love weigh? How tall is justice? How wide is compassion? Such things cannot be measured in any usual sense. Yet they are real.

Visitors to poor countries sometimes remark how happy the children are even though they do not have the toys and gadgets owned by most American children. The reason seems to be that they have caring parents and extended families within which they feel wanted and cherished. They have a sense of belonging, an awareness of community, and a sense of identity that comes in part from having responsibilities that contribute to the family’s well-being. These are important but unmeasurable realities in the lives of such children.

We tend to overlook the importance of such realities by giving them names such as values or ideals or customs or mores. But these unmeasurable realities are the ones that make our lives human and happy. Family, friendship, acceptance, respect, purpose, responsibility, love, forgiveness, courage, fidelity, trust—such things are real but they are not measurable, and they are not material realities. In that very basic sense, they are spiritual realities. Spiritual realities can be experienced, and they can be felt to be more or less intense, even if they cannot be measured.

When we begin to think about these larger issues, we enter the realm of what makes us human, and what makes life worth living. We are into the realm of relationships and commitments, values and ideals, purposes and principles that rocks and trees do not have, and that lizards and birds cannot begin to imagine. We are into the realm of spirit.

May the Spirit be with all of us!

Jack

Latinos Leaving the Catholic Church

November 15, 2019

In what some see as a landmark decision, the American Catholic bishops, during their Fall meeting this week in Baltimore, have elected Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). He is the first Latino to hold the highest leadership position in the American Catholic Church. The the 67-year-old Mexican-born bishop has been a strong advocate of immigrant rights, and public supporter for newcomers as they face growing restrictions by the Department of Homeland Security and other US federal agencies.

For many years the US Catholic bishops have looked to Latinos/Latinas to maintain a strong Catholic presence in the United States. Now however, they are confronted with a new US Catholic development: Latinos/Latinas, in growing numbers, are saying “Adiós” to the Catholic Church.

Ten years ago, according to the Pew Research Center, 57% of US Catholics were Latino/Latina. Today that figure is 47%, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2019 report.

Curiously, we see as well a rise in the number of American Latinos/Latinas who are becoming Muslims. In 2009, only 1 percent of Muslims identified as Latino/Latina. By 2018, it was 7 percent. The American Muslim Association of North America, based in North Miami, says heavily Latino/Latina South Florida in particular is home to a rising number of Latino/Latina Muslims.

Why the Latino exodus?

In part, the decline of Catholics among Latinos/Latinas reflects religious changes underway in Latin America, where evangelical churches have been gaining adherents in a region that historically has been overwhelmingly Catholic. It also reflects religious changes taking place in the United States, where the Catholic Church has an ongoing problem of loosing adherents through religious switching/conversion, and, especially among younger people, through the growth of the religiously unaffiliated.

Latinos/Latinas leaving Catholicism have also reacted against a perceived ongoing clerical sexual abuse problem, a belief that most priests are gay, and a growing religious impersonalization as parishes, due to a shortage of priests and falling parish membership, become larger amalgamations of closed but formerly open churches. Larger churches handle crowds but do not create personalized communities. Latinos/Latinas are drawn to smaller born-again, Pentecostal, or evangelical Protestant communities where people know each other and form networks of friends. They seek as well a personal and direct connection with God, without the interference of an institution or clergy.

The phenomenon of Latino/Latina departure covers a broad spectrum. The recent changes in religious affiliation are broad-based, occurring among men and women, those born in the United States and those born abroad, and those who have attended college as well as those with less formal education. The changes are also occurring among Latinos/Latinas of Mexican origin (the largest single origin group) and those with other origins.

The departure changes, however, occur primarily among Latino/Latina adults under the age of 50. Among Latinos aged 18-29, virtually all movement has been away from Catholicism and toward no religious affiliation: joining the “nones.” Among those aged 30-49, the movement has been away from Catholicism and toward evangelical Protestantism or no religious affiliation. Among Latinos/Latinas ages 50 and older, the changes in religious identity are not statistically significant.

Latinos/Latinas, like other Catholics, are also showing and reacting to a kind of Catholic fatigue. They are tired of weakened Catholic credibility, tired of the slow pace of change about issues of women in ministry, sexual abuse, and now a fierce polarization between supporters of Pope Francis and those, like the US Cardinal Raymond Burke, who are convinced Francis is a dangerous heretic destroying orthodox belief. Since the late 1970s, conservative Catholics and evangelicals have also become allies in the culture war that has shaped American partisan politics. (Since the 1970s non-Latino/Latina white Catholics have voted majority Republican while a majority of Latino/Latina Catholics have voted Democrat.)

Yes I call it “Catholic fatigue.” A contemporary fatigue-generating example: In their November 12th meeting, the US bishops have voted to approve close to 300 new hymn texts for the Liturgy of the Hours. The US bishops must now receive confirmation from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, which can take months or a year to process. Hymn texts are certainly a pressing issue these days…

Among the other issues considered on November 12th, there was much discussion about new materials to complement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the USCCB’s long-standing guide to help Catholics form their consciences in public life, including voting. Pondering the 2020 election, the bishops voted to approve the new version, including an addition that abortion is the preeminent social issue of our time. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the outgoing president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, observed that global warming is an important issue but not urgent. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t live in Venice.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles urged the bishops to promote social media in their dioceses as one way to re-link young people with the Catholic Church. He said the church is losing young people in greater numbers and must face the challenges of how to get the religiously unaffiliated young people, back to the Catholic Church. He presented a three-minute video on the issue; and his presentation led to a discussion that lasted for more than an hour. Bishops from across the country are in agreement that the issue is of great concern. They shared ideas for bringing young people back to the church, which primarily involved more and better catechism instruction and an increased devotion to the Virgin Mary.

As a friend wrote this week, “The ultra conservative men and their followers are about to drive me from the church, along with clericalism and the pedo scandal. I am not able to set these basic things aside and still be a practicing Catholic. I love my friends in the church, but my own fragile spirit has taken a beating for years.The little time I have left on this earth, must be spent in joy filled peace.”

And so, we continue on in our faith journeys.

Jack

Political Religion

November 8, 2019

Re-reading a bit of political philosophy, I came across a 1939 quotation by the French philosopher Raymond Aron (1905-1983) who warned of ‘notre époque de religions politiques.’ If Aron were around today, he would have much to wrote about.

It is certainly no secret that the current presidential administration embraces its own brand of religion. The president speaks often of his defense of “Judeo-Christian values,” while far-right Christians like Secretary of State Pompeo and Vice President Pence have become powerful and long-serving officials in the administration. To what degree their values are genuinely Christian, however, is a question worth considering…..

Billy Graham (1918-2018) the renowned USA preacher who died last year, aired regrets later in his life about having “sometimes crossed the line” in his involvement in politics. His son Franklin has no such regrets and continues to strongly support the policies and person of the current US president. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 13,800 people attended Franklin Graham’s early October evangelistic Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina. Current polling still reports an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals who consistently express approval of the president’s handling of his job since his 2017 inauguration.

Franklin Graham calls the Trump impeachment inquiry an “unjust inquisition,” and claims that the Bible directs Americans to pray for the president. He also made a special plea last week that Americans purchase a “Pray for 45” T-shirt being sold through his organization’s website, for only $15.99. In an October 31st anti-impeachment Facebook post, Graham stressed: “Pray for President Trump today, for God to give him wisdom, protection, and guide each and every step he takes. I pray that he and Melania will sense the presence of the Lord through this unjust inquisition.” Ironically, despite Graham’s ardent opposition to the impeachment inquiry into Trump, he was one of the most vocal proponents of impeaching former President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. Apparently sexual deviance is ok for a Republican president but not for Democratic president?

The extreme Christian right promotes a very selective kind of gospel.

Paula White, a televangelist based in Florida and personal pastor to President Trump since 2002, has now joined the Trump administration in an official capacity. “When I walk on White House grounds, God walks on White House grounds…the White House is holy ground,” she said recently. She will work in the Office of Public Liaison which is the division of the White House overseeing outreach to groups and coalitions organizing key parts of the president’s base, and giving religious groups more say in White House decisions. White wrote and delivered the invocation at Trump’s January 2017 presidential inauguration in Washington, becoming the first clergywoman to lead the inaugural prayer.

White, who preaches the “prosperity gospel,” asks Americans to make a donation to her ministries to honor the religious principle of “first fruit,” which she said is the idea that all firsts belong to God, including the first harvest and, apparently, the first month of one’s salary. “If God doesn’t divinely step in and intervene, I don’t know what you’re going to face” she said. As the President prepares for a second term political campaign, he cannot afford to lose support from the religious conservatives who voted for him in 2016 in significant numbers. He is hoping that his spiritual advisor, Paula White, can help make it happen again. White is weaponizing religion for political success. She told the New York Post recently that the impeachment investigation “wears on” Trump. Nevertheless, she is unconcerned about his 2020 reelection chances: “I’ve never seen the base more energized than it is now.”

In other news this week, the Evangelical Christian Pastor, from Tennessee, Perry Stone, has claimed that Democratic lawmakers “have demons in them” and are “trying to place hexes and curses” on President Donald Trump. Stone, who founded Perry Stone Ministries and is described as a best-selling author, made the claims during a Thursday night prayer meeting last week. He argued that Trump’s demon-possessed political opponents are “trying to place hexes and curses on President Trump.”

“I have never, in any nation of the world … seen people raised up with demons in them [like] in Washington,” Pastor Stone said. “They have demons in them. You can look at their eyes when they almost start foaming at the mouth,” he said. The pastor then took aim at Democratic House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, claiming that the representative’s “eyes get as big as saucers and it looks like he is having a seizure when you bring up [Trump’s] name.”

Stone also sells a meal package on his ministries’ website. He calls it the Lord’s Supper, and claims if you buy it from him you’ll be healed of any sickness or disease.

These “Christian” characters undermine and distort authentic Christianity. In Luke 4, we hear Jesus saying:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.”

Unfortunately, strongly politicized segments in various American Protestant and Catholic churches today look away from justice for the disenfranchised. They love especially themselves and love only those neighbors who meet their approval.

We do need prophets and a new reformation.

Closing reflection: Over 10,000 migrant children are now in US government custody at 100 shelters in 14 states. Political religion? The Gospel Message here?

Jack