Tag Archives: faith

Interfaith Resistance Against Nazis & Serbians Must Inform Justice Campaigns Today

I spent last weekend at the Pax Christi USA conference, reflecting on peacemaking and nonviolence for a few days – and there will be plenty to post in coming days. For now, I wanted to share two amazing stories – connected acts of nonviolent resistance given their religious tinge.

The first piece is from Waging Nonviolence, which if you don’t already read is a necessary resource for imagining a new world through peaceful means. The article shares methods of resistance by Europeans under Nazi occupation. A few highlights of the interfaith actions:

“Direct intervention and non-cooperation in Bulgaria helped to save their country’s 48,000 Jews…leaders of the Orthodox Church refused to comply with the deportation orders, staging sit-ins in the king’s chambers and even threatening to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being transported. This pressure eventually encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to stand up to the Nazis and rescind the deportation orders, saving most of the country’s Jewish population…

“Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Protestant village in southern France, were motivated by their religious convictions to help thousands of refugees escape Nazi persecution by hiding them in private homes as well as Catholic convents and monasteries.”

Aside from the absolute effectiveness of nonviolent resistance against (even) the Nazis, who are often quoted as the reason we would need war as the only solution to mass atrocities such as theirs, there are lessons for interfaith relations today. In essence, in war time, the division existing between Christians and Jews or between denominations of Christianity melted away. Orthodox Christians literally offered their lives to resist Jewish oppression, and Catholic institutions afforded a welcome that broke the strictness of monastic life.

Decades later, the Jewish community in Serbia reacted similarly when an existential threat was posed to their neighbors. The piece is about when it is ethical or proper to withhold a news story for the good of those involved, but within that argument is this story:

“The other story kept was how the synagogue in Sarajevo certified many non-Jews as Jews in order to let them pass through the lines – above ground — out of the city.  As the rabbi told me and others with a smile when we in the news finally did that story, it was the only time he can recall when Jews were not blamed for a war and that they were given passage without harm…As the animosity among the Serbs, Croats, and the Bosnian intensified, Jews were left in a unique position. Independent from each of the warring factions — they were even offered an opportunity to leave Sarajevo at the beginning of the siege of the city — the Jewish community had access to food, medical supplies and other goods during the war that were unavailable to the rest of the population

“A look at the numbers of Jews in Sarajevo before the war – compared to the number of ‘Jews’ who left the city – is a staggering difference. The ruse was clever and effectively.”

Common humanity united Europeans in resistance during both these trying periods. Though anti-Jewish sentiments are prevalent in Christian history including World War II that is not the sole narrative for people of faith. Faced with the ability to leave a war zone, the Bosnian Jewish community remained in solidarity and in active resistance. These communities did not weaken their faith by aiding others, even welcoming them in as honorary Jews or Catholics, and they did not act in spite of faith. Beautiful resistance that was powerful and life-giving was because of strengthened faith among communities!

At times, interfaith work currently seems impossible on matters of justice – like immigration or gun safety laws – because of theological and institutional difference. What if we imagined our common goals of justice, equality, and peace were so very necessary, though not comparable to combating genocide, we could put aside religious differences (though cognizant of them and in dialogue separately!)  for the good of common struggles? These two articles prove it is possible, and even desirable given their positive outcomes.

–Bob

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion & Culture

Jettisoning ‘Worthiness’ From Our Faith

Pope Francis’ comments about ‘even the atheists’ being redeemed fueled stories in the media that displayed a confusion among Catholic respondents. Even the Vatican issued a clarification that seemed to correct the pope. It raised for me a more fundamental question about why non-theists or non-Catholics being redeemed upsets the more religious among us.

I often tell friends who love to disprove atheism as a hobby it is not disbelief that threatens our Church, it is apathetic belief. For this reason, I shy away from encountering atheism in my thought. Their conscience decision to engage spirituality in such a way is largely more experiential than intellectual, and you cannot argue experience. The pope’s comments are not a challenge to atheism though, but progress in dialogue with those who differ in belief – and, perhaps more telling, a conversation starter for necessary dialogue with Catholics ourselves.

If an atheist is redeemed why should this bother the believer?

If the theist’s beliefs are objectively true, then nothing they posit in this life will affect their redemption because it is of divine origin. If the atheists beliefs are objectively true, and there is no God, then this whole discussion of Christian redemption is futile.

Except for worthiness, which is the sole reason why Catholics have been objecting to the pope’s words (and they have in droves). Faith becomes a calculus of inputs and outputs, thus being Catholic and doing all the right things is the input to attain the output of redemption. Why would anyone who does not put in the time and work gain the reward? It would seem to lessen the redemption of those of us who labored; in other words those who are “worthy.”

In this mindset then, Pope Francis admitting the reality that ‘even atheists’ are included in Christ’s redemption can be jarring – or liberating if worthiness is something you hope the Church will soon jettison.

Inclusion in salvation, present to God’s overwhelming love should be a goal we desire for every person. The Catholic mind is communally-oriented and our conception of salvation cannot escape this nor can we cast communion with every human being aside. Atheists’ redemption is included in this universal nature of redemption, and we need to overcome inflated piety or over concern with worthiness for a shift in thinking to occur.

The Church, which is all of us as the People of God, needs to shift our thinking and ask, Why are we not overjoyed when all are redeemed? Why do we fail to express unconditioned joy at the thought any person would gain salvation? Is that not the entire point of evangelizing and bringing others into a relationship with Christ – so, even if this occurs post-mortem, is it not still the final end we would celebrate?

God’s all powerful ability to welcome any and all into the Kingdom of God cannot be limited by our human conceptions of worthiness, so rather than worry we must release false aspects of our faith. We must release the idea that our worship, service, or devotion contributes to more worth in God’s eyes. We must release the idea that those who worship in other traditions or participate in no tradition, or even adamantly defame God, are some how unable to participate among God’s love in an eternal sense. Beyond just acknowledging our work does not ‘earn’ salvation, we need to practice this in our lives – doing good, but not pretending it increases our worth before God.

Our worth is already maxed out.

God loves us, every single person in their uniqueness, without failure. To speak of equal love for all does not diminish God’s love for each one, but in typical both/and fashion we live this tension. Worthiness needs expulsion from our consciousness, and a leveling in our minds of all humanity before God. Pope Francis simply stated the long-held belief that Christ’s paschal mystery redeems all – it should not have rattled the world so much, and yet mired in our false beliefs it did. Let’s move on.

–Bob

Leave a comment

Filed under Pope Francis, Uncategorized

Pope Francis the Child

Pope Francis, the Child with the other kids

A strange moment occurred this evening – the Pope made me cry.

Actually, this was not the first time a pope made me cry. Engaging the broader Catholic world since middle school, I personally knew of popes only in the repressive contexts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Tears then were from frustration and hurt about the inability of these two men, and the bureaucratic system behind them, to truly love as Christ did.

Tonight, the tears were peculiar though and the reasons behind them very different. As a blogger on Catholic LGBT issues for Bondings 2.0, I’ve closely followed Francis’ papacy as it begins. Cautious optimism accompanied an intellectualized understanding what this man may mean for Catholicism, but always kept at arm’s length from my interior life. Since March I wondered when the ‘other shoe’ would come crashing down from the Vatican, shattering the high hopes many gambled on Francis.

I often hear older friends speak of John XXIII as inspiring them in their 20s with his pastoral tone, joy and love, and openness to the world. I knew this phenomenon happened, but I could not relate in my life. I could not, thought attempting diligently, comprehend how a pope could be a source of inspiration (other than working to combat their misguided power) or contribute to my life positively. Tonight, that reality changed when I read of his actions with Italian students at Jesuit schools.

Tonight, the hope and optimism since Francis’ election came exuding out of me having pierced my interior life against all efforts to separate them. His consistency with being Catholic and challenging our world, while expressing love and pastoral care unbridled by regulation seems genuine. It seems real and lasting, and for the first time I glimpse at John XXIII’s impact on those in their 20s during Vatican II. I read these words, spoken to the students:

“When a student doubting his faith asked for words of encouragement, he likened the faith a long walk. ‘To walk is an art,’ he said, ‘To walk is the art of looking at the horizon, thinking about where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue. And many times, the walk is difficult, it is not easy… There is darkness… even days of failure… one falls…

“‘But always think this: do not be afraid of failure. Do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking, what is important is not avoiding the fall but not remaining fallen…Get up quickly, continue on, and go…But it is also terrible to walk alone, terrible and boring. Walking in community with friends, with those who love us, this helps us and helps us get to the end.’”

Throwing protocol out, Francis answered ten unscripted questions from children after calling prepared remarks “a little boring.” One student today said, “You are like a child.” It made me call to mind Matthew 19 where Jesus says of the children, at first being driven away by the religious authorities, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them: for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Maybe that is the blessing of Francis. He reached out to God’s children, spoke to them with a tenderness and simplicity we hear Jesus preach in because its roots are true love. He speaks to the difficulties faith entails in an honest way, not pretending Catholic life is always joyful or rewarding and allowing for doubt, even falling. In a world torn apart by superficiality and disposability (another theme he’s been mentioning!), Pope Francis is preaching authentically with the people in our language and speaking to those most deep and unarticulated desires sometimes best expressed through the eyes of childhood.

For the first time in my 23 year old life, a pope inspires me and calls me to more as a Catholic with his witness. Where this journey ends is unknown, and certainly Pope Francis and I do not agree on everything – yet, my hope grows because Pope Francis the Child is a companion on our common journey and not a papal father from above.

–Bob

1 Comment

Filed under Spirituality

An Apology on Behalf of My Fellow Christians

The myth of Christian persecution in America is dangerous, and it is leading to reverse oppression by a faith I love that is not just, moral, or democratic. In South Carolina a high school valedictorian ‘stunned’ the audience by ripping up approved remarks and reciting the ‘Our Father’ after speaking extemporaneously about his Christian faith. His example is merely the latest problem.

This newly-minted graduate will now go into a pluralistic world championed by the Christian Right for his  stunt, and affirmed in the corrupted notion that Christian dominance is acceptable in American society. The article in The Washington Times reports applause broke out when this young graduate began praying as a protest against the school district’s removal of prayer from graduation ceremonies. Ignorant of civics it seems, this valedictorian’s parting intellectual act was to obliterate the separation of Church and State instituted by the framers of our nation for the explicit protection of religion.

An apology is owed to the public, especially those students, family, and friends celebrating graduation at (the ironically named) Liberty High School. It is owed to everyone because unhinging the wall of separation harms each American resident, not exclusively those who are not Christian.  The legal issue, however, is not what I take issue with most – for the case could be made he spoke under the 1st Amendment or that his prayer was not government sanctioned. I leave that for the lawyers.

The underlying reason for an apology is this valedictorian’s actions were immoral, and created an injustice against his community. The Christian response is to ask forgiveness and seek healing when you cause rupture. Assuredly, this student must apologize to non-Christian and non-theist communities who should not be subjected to Christian prayer at secular, governmental events. Christians, including myself, are also owed an apology for this young man’s pretense that he acts in our name or that his actions are Christian in the least.

Since Vatican II, Catholics defend religious liberty as a right accorded to each person regardless of how they exercise it.  I recognize that this student, being in South Carolina and speaking in the language he did, is most likely not Catholic – and many evangelical Christians possess a different take on religious liberty. I speak from the Catholic position because it is what I believe to be Truth.

For centuries, the Church enacted the morally bankrupt and ineffective practices of forced conversion and “Christendom,” and while I was not alive then it appears obligation and not liberation was the primary motivator in faith. Not exactly desirable for a growing and dynamic faith community.

Pacem in terris from Pope John XXIII (expanded upon in Vatican II and all of which drew off the once-silenced John Courtney Murray, SJ) reversed how society should treat religion:

“14. Also among man’s rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public.”

Now, Catholics were to respect the right of each and every person to live out their religion, or not, according to conscience. This meant that theocracy was not desired nor should Christians  hijack public forums to make their views heard disrespectfully any more.

Enacting God’s will into law is a desired goal through the legislative process, but always balanced by a respect for the individual’s conscience – to paraphrase Peter Maurin (and add some), we seek a society where it is easier to be good and yet one that respects our free will to act according to conscience. It is a challenge we may never get right, but we cannot excuse ourselves from engaging this tension.

Growing the Christian community through our witnesses of faith and love should also be a priority in the life of each person who professes Christ, but never through oppression or disrespect. Obviously, the call to evangelize and make disciples of all nations remains – and it is one I hope to write more about from a progressive Catholic angle.

This valedictorian’s remarks, his prayer – none of these are respectful civic engagement or Christian proselytizing, and nothing he spoke was said out of love. I readily confess the Catholic faith, the one expressed by Christ through the Spirit, and I wish to draw all into it – but never by imposition of my will, only through invitation that is freely accepted. For the many times Christians impose, rather than invite we must ask the apology of all those around us.

–Bob

2 Comments

Filed under Religion & Culture

Is It Time to Resurrect the ‘Seamless Garment’?

Horrifying accounts about the practices of Kermit Gosnell have generated an important discussion about journalism in America today. That’s a discussion I encourage, and the anti-abortion movement is surely pivoting to this event in the hopes a broader dialogue will begin. It is challenging to read through the graphic grand jury report where each line and word heaps injustices upon injustices. In my mind though, the crimes of Gosnell speak not only to the need for greater defense of unborn children in this moment, but the resurrection (amid the Easter season) of the Seamless Garment.

Restoring a sincere respect for life, dignity, and creation within the Catholic community, and then hopefully evangelizing this belief to the world, is our only way moving forward. The Seamless Garment provides Catholics a framework to re-imagine our pro-all life efforts anew.

For those unfamiliar, I offer a patchwork history of this Seamless Garment philosophy. Eileen Egan, a Catholic pacifist and someone worth reading up on, first used “seamless garment” in the 1970s as a challenge to those in the anti-abortion movement who favored the death penalty. Alluding to John 19, where soldiers crucifying Jesus cast lots for his garment that could not be torn into pieces, this phrase is used to emphasis the necessary defense of each and every life.

In the 1980s, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago unified this belief in his concept of a “Consistent Life Ethic,” for which the Seamless Garment remained a metaphor. The cardinal inextricably linked the defense of life and dignity in the many causes aimed towards one end, creating a culture of life while admitting the unique nature and needs of each injustice.

Kermit Gosnell’s clinic, the Women’s Medical Society, exemplifies the utter breakdown of our society’s cloth. In this devastating clinic, countless injustices amplify one another cyclically: abortion and healthcare, poverty and racism, government failures and media dishonesty, medical ethics and institutional accountability, economic justice and the idolatry of profit, and, perhaps in Gosnell’s trial, the death penalty.

The clinic profited from its “cash for an abortion without questions” scheme that preyed on poor women, largely of color, who ostensibly saw no alternatives. Gosnell committed abortions and infanticide as “medical procedures” in a clinic lacking standards of any sort, violating women and children as a matter of routine business and sending forth those who survived with health complications, venereal disease, and emotional wounds. Oppose abortion, support choice — we all must admit the Women’s Medical Society is a creature unto itself for facilities providing such services.

Sadly, Kermit Gosnell and his clinic cannot be considered the result of one man gone awry in one building. These crimes are personal assuredly, but also structurally sinful. Our nation fails to provide adequate healthcare and social services for women with children, who turn to abortion and pay-in-cash medical clinics. Racist structures and institutionalized poverty, enriched by government policies favoring the wealthy, further exaggerate the struggles of the women Gosnell “treated.” The ideology of individualism, abhorring government regulation on the right and championing “choice” on the left, leaves us with a system where Kermit Gosnell’s can easily exploit women because no one will even inspect his clinic. I safely assume migration policies affected negatively women in his clinic, and I could elucidate for pages on how our system not only allowed, but also enabled Kermit Gosnell to wantonly kill children and women for cash.

Today, it is impossible to overcome any injustice without a united cause against all threats. The Consistent Life Ethic, once a fruitful approach for Catholics and those of faith in building up the common good, suffers condemnation from all sides. Some anti-abortion activists reject it for not singularly focusing on the life of unborn children, as it simultaneously confronts right-wing support of the death penalty, gun rights ideology, militarism, etc. Progressives cannot accept the Seamless Garment because it rejects the excessive individualism that “choice” is premised upon, and at its core the Left in America is not seeking a Gospel-based communitarian vision of society that this ethic is rooted in.

The Consistent Life Ethic requires neither that we all work on every issue, but keeps us from callously neglecting any issue. In the tradition of Catholic theology, a consistent ethic forces each of us to navigate the “both/and” of standing up for every life while keeping a focus in our individual work on issue x, y, or z, and the “both/and” of policy nuances negotiated within civil society.

If the crimes of Kermit Gosnell propel us anywhere, I pray it is towards a resurrection of the Seamless Garment. Drone strikes that devalue life against those in Afghanistan affect the unborn in our inner cities. Vilifying the poor who receive government assistance denies each person their dignity, and soon mass shootings are an all too common occurrence. Idolatrizing a gun or anything aside from God leaves no place for love to rupture through in our world. These are not directly cause and effect scenarios, but rather the cumulative impact of devaluing another’s dignity resulting in horrors like the Women’s Medical Society.

As Pentecost nears, let the Catholic community wrap ourselves in the Seamless Garment of Christ and then, with hearts ablaze and tongues speaking the language of every injustice, build a society where Kermit Gosnell’s clinics cede to the Kingdom of God enacted in a historical-temporal reality. 

-Bob

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized