This is the letter I sent to the Principal of Covington Catholic High School, Park Hills, Kentucky, after their students mocked an Elder from an American Indian Tribe in Washington, D.C. Since that time both the school and the Covington Roman Catholic Diocese has issued an apology: “We extend our deepest apologies to Mr Phillips,” the statement read. “This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.”

Dear Principal Rowe,
Catholics (and all Christians) from across the country and life of the church were shocked by recent actions on the part of your students involving the free exercise of speech by a Native American tribal elder. The combined behavior of disrespecting an elder, discounting the religion and values of another culture, and wearing uniform MAGA swag – hats and shirts – and chanting “build that wall” is a disgrace to all of us.
Surely you of all people know that none of this is consistent with Catholic moral teaching and practice. The values of a MAGA rally are not equivalent to Catholic values. None of this is taught in the catechism. It is not the way of Jesus or the great examples of the faith. And Pope Francis would be heart broken by this.
Where did we go wrong? Where is the moral instruction of the parents? Where is the teaching of the Priests and the Religious? Where were the teachers and school officials? Did they witness this? Did they endorse or enable this? Who provided the students with matching MAGA hats and shirts?
In a time in which the credibility of the Church has been stretched to the breaking point this incident has smeared the public witness of the Church and Catholic education one more time.
The rest of the nation and Church is waiting to see what you will do.
Respectfully,
Tim Carson

 

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The Apple of Christ

Posted: January 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

The sunlight shows up early
and takes its place
for a sabbath day liturgy.

The high priest, a solitary girl,
carries the sacrament like
a pearl of great price.

The apple of Christ moves by
the still, watching dog, as the
bird choir sings for unseen spring.

The long wait of two Americas

Posted: January 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

Ever since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of the United States, following the appointment of his Cabinet and administration officers, the shock that this ever transpired at all has been replaced by a different kind of shock, that the worst could come true, treasured values trashed, democratic structures impaled and gutted, and long-developed programs turned back toward the prehistoric past by people tasked with doing exactly that. The wildly biased tax bill for the rich, the travesty and fantasy emergency at the border, our sullied reputation in the league of world nations,  all these came into being in only two years. What takes years to build can be torn down in a day. The list is long and I don’t have the stomach to recount it all. But I do have one concern.

With the revelation of deep corruption, criminal activity and treason, things many of us suspected from the beginning, the tide is turning rather quickly toward indictments and the revelation of high crimes and misdemeanors. I am fairly certain that the revelations of the Mueller probe will be utterly damning. Renewed hearings in the House of Representatives will reveal what the President’s protectors have covered up until now. And as a result I think it is reasonable to anticipate a resignation or impeachment. It needs to happen.

But my concern is this: I do not believe that everyone knows this, not by a long shot. I am fairly certain, just by sampling propaganda on the far right and hearing people talk, that a fairly large percentage of the American people, those who drink out of only one news well, are fairly unaware how all of this is about to collapse. They have been fed another narrative, another version of reality for so long that what is actually transpiring is missed by them. This smokescreen is intentional, of course, because propaganda machines intend this brainwashing and discrediting of media and news sources – other than their own – as a way to control and secure their power.

My fear is that when the worst happens, when what is absolutely necessary occurs, some 40% of Americans will be caught flat footed. Some of the least thoughtful – the ones who filled the Trump rallies – will run for their guns. I think we are in for a mighty social upheaval. I believe the ousted President will foster it. I anticipate the worst.

To be sure, our democracy has endured much before. We are still standing. But this time the acid has been eating away from the inside-out and the worst that could be was authorized at the top. And all those who made Donald Trump possible, protected him and advanced his agenda where it benefited them, are culpable.

As in most things, the Karma van finally shows up, many times late, but its load delivered nonetheless. This delivery is a big one. It will not be pretty.

When the German people were filled with Third Reich hubris preceding and in the early years of WW II, they couldn’t see what was about to come down the road at them. They could only hear the propaganda and swim in the river of group hysteria. But soon enough their foes stalked them like a wounded beast, from west, east, and south, until their cities burned to the ground and they crawled in their own destruction.

Just two years before the end they did not see that fiery judgment coming, even though plenty of people were saying it was on the way. That’s what is going to happen right now. Many of our neighbors will be shocked and devastated. They won’t understand. They will be furious. Until they wake up.

What to do for each other, regardless of blue, red or purple? How do we reclaim our common humanity, much less the rule of law, democracy and patriotism? How do churches that attached themselves to the wrong regime repent and turn around?  I think we need to be planing in advance. Regardless of who and who did not drink the Koolaid, we all need to be part of the healing after the storm. And there will be a storm.

Let justice come. Then healing. And then, Lord, carry us forward with a new vision of what we can become. We need it. Badly we do.

Drip, Drip, Drip, Drip

Posted: January 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

The dampness usually drives us in
to our dens, our houses, to covered spaces and fire,
but not today, for the call
is to the wild spaces, at least more wild.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

Before wetness turns hard and white
it pours off the bill of my hat
and delivers me from the given path
the prescribed one made for feet and wheels.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

The woods seize my attention
take me as their own, toward a different way,
made by the animals, bark scraped by antlers,
trails carved by eons of passing, grazing, searching.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

One trail gives way to two, three, more,
there is never one, but many,
and knowing which to take
is only known by watching, walking
until, finally, there are not many, not even one,
because sometimes there are none.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

The dry creek bed is slimy with new rain, mud
and tracks, but these are not hooves, but rather paws,
big paddy paws, and I count them until they disappear:
one, two, three, four, five.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

All nature is falling and rising, branches rotting,
even the huge trees, yanked out of earth
like weeds. Their roots pose naked, twisted,
full of stories and I almost avert my eyes,
and they say: nothing is forever, not even me,
but I am beautiful.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

The loop I walk is not mapped, except the new one
I make, all the way down the ravine, slipping,
scooting to the bottom, tripping on vines,
pants snagging on thorny brush, climbing over logs.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

The watershed veins are carved in the earth
like open wounds, waiting because they have time,
receiving the offering from the sky,
flowing out toward the river,
flowing without knowing why or for whom.

If you can’t find God here
then it’s not going to happen anywhere else.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

In the Middle of the Street

Posted: January 8, 2019 in Uncategorized

Guest Blog by Colleen Colaner

colleen colanerWe had just finished a dance party. A really big one with songs that kept coming and two little girls with their most impressive and joyful moves. Sweaty and tired, and with their dad out of town for the week, I needed to figure out how to fill the next 2 hours of the night before bedtime. “How about ice cream?” It was a bribe really, a way to get the girls out of the house and to run some errands and fill the time. Two minutes later, we are rolling. First to drop off a book at a friend’s house, next to drop off those overdue DVDs at the library. They were watching Peter Pan on the minivan DVD player. I told them we had to return it and they begged me – “NNOOOOO, MOMMY! Please don’t! We love it!” Fine… let them have it tonight. What’s another day? I’ll return it tomorrow. Okay, on to ice cream from the grocery store (and to grab those other few things I needed. Classic sneaky mom trick.) Wait, why did I go down Stewart instead of the straight shot down Broadway? Oh well, more time with Peter Pan, guess.

I find myself on our old street, the road I lived on for 5 years, the road I had traveled a million times. Even in the pitch black, I knew this road like the back of my hand. But this is new – a black silhouette in the middle of my lane. Is there a work crew? Not in the middle of the night… It’s a woman, just standing there. The image is creepy, haunting. I slow the car and she wanders to the middle of the street. She’s barefoot, wearing pajama shorts and a T-shirt. I roll down my window and ask if she’s ok. She’s crying. She doesn’t answer me. My daughters – 5 and 9 years old – know something is off and start asking me questions as I ask her questions. Camille rolls her window down too. A million thoughts emerge all at once: Is she dangerous? Is someone trying to hurt her? Are my kids in danger? How do I protect my children and help her at the same time?

She just keeps walking slowly, almost in a trance, crying. I ask her rapid-fire questions: What is wrong? Are you ok? Are you hurt? What do you need? Can we help you? I receive in turn only a blank, tearful expression. Her face – I’ve never seen such anguish, despair. She looks at me, through me really. I need to get her attention and get her off the road. Four or five cars are lined up behind me and I can tell they are getting impatient. “Honey, you are in the middle of the road,” I say. She has just a moment of clarity. She looks right at me and says, “I know. I want to die.”

Oh shit. This is really serious. What do I do? I’m scared, but I don’t want my kids to see me scared. What am I supposed to do in this moment? My mind racing, I look at the car across the street who has also stopped, the southbound mirror to my northbound. “Zoe?” I call out. She looks up. “Colleen!” We wordlessly make a plan. She crosses the street and gets into my minivan. The girls see her, “ZOE!” they shout for joy upon seeing their beloved babysitter. She distracts them and calms them while I call 911.

After giving them the directions I say, “There is a woman in the middle of the street who says she wants to die.”

“WHAT?!” Essie shouts. She didn’t hear the woman when she said it, but she heard it now. Her first exposure to the idea of suicide. Her innocence protects her still though, as Zoe tells her that the women is sick and getting some help. Essie thinks she can relate – sometimes her stomach hurts really bad, and she feels like she might die too. Her little bubble, still intact. I can’t let that bubble burst open tonight. Not yet.

The 911 dispatcher is perfect, by the book, confirming my location, asking me all the questions. Goddamn it, why can’t I get this iPhone to unsynch with the minivan audio system? The 911 dispatcher is being piped through sound system, cancelling out the Peter Pan audio. I’m fumbling with the phone and answering life-and-death questions. Fuck it, the girls will have to hear this. Hopefully, Zoe is more interesting to them than the phone call.

I try to give the clearest, most succinct answer to her questions:

“What is she wearing?” “PJ bottoms and t shirt.”
“How old is she?” “I think she’s in her 50s.” Essie: “No mommy, she was in her 70s.”
“What is her hair color?” “She’s blond.” Essie: “No mommy, she has grey hair.”

Essie is listening to every word. We see different women, though: I see a blond woman in her mid-50s, suicidal. Essie sees an older, grey-haired lady who is sick with something like a stomach ache. Please let her keep her bubble through this night, I think to myself.

I stay on the phone with 911, but the woman is still in the street. Cars are beginning to swerve past us, erratic traffic patterns to get through the stopped street. I have my flashers on, hoping to slow them down enough. It’s so dark though. She slowly, desperately moves through the street, so many near misses to cars. “Mommy, why do you keep saying ‘Oh my gosh’?” I guess I’m reacting more to the situation than I realize, and Essie doesn’t miss a single thing. Please don’t let my children watch this woman get hit by a car tonight.

911 asks more questions: “Does she have any weapons?” “Is she trying to hurt anyone else?” Shit, I didn’t even think of that. SHIT, Camille’s window is still down! The dispatcher tells me to approach her slowly if I want to approach her but that I don’t have to approach her. I think about getting out of the car, but I have my girls with me. If I get out, they may follow me, running into the street themselves. Or they will be scared seeing me in the street, or maybe I could get hit myself. Shit – how do I help her and protect them?

A Subaru parks in front of me, down just a couple driveways. A kind, gentle soul walks towards me. I tell him I’m on the phone with 911. He overhears a bit more of conversation and sees the woman and I see him connect the dots. He stands with her in the street, waving cars around her. He finally gets her to the side of the street. She walks down a few driveways, standing there, cold and alone. He checks in with us and tells us we can go if we want, that he’ll wait with her for the cops. I’m shaking at this point. I don’t think I can drive. He gets it.

I see the police sirens in the rear-view mirror. They are almost here. I don’t hear them though. Right, they don’t want to scare her. I look up and see a friend coming out of his house with his wife and dog. Oh yeah, he lives right here. It naturally takes him a minute to figure out who I am as I walk towards him, but he gives a gentle side hug when he sees that I’m crying a little. I fill him in and tell him how happy I am to see a friendly face. We stand together and watch the cops slowly approach her, create a little circle around her but not too close. Subaru guy is standing next to her, and the cops are asking her questions. She becomes hysterical, the crying escalating, a desperate scream leaves her frail body.

This is a woman at the edge of her humanity. She is surrounded by a community of strangers, all of us hoping, trying to help her remember what’s here on the other side of this desperation.

I realize it’s time for me to go. She doesn’t need an audience to this torment. The police are better able to help her – they have training in this, right? And my shaking has stopped, so I give my friend one more hug and get back in the van. The girls are having a great time with Zoe, “COME WITH US TO GET ICE CREAM!” they shriek in unison. We make a plan to meet at the grocery store. I drive away, police lights and desperation in my rear-view mirror, thrust just like that back into my beautifully mundane life. The girls argue over which ice cream to get. Camille wants ice cream sandwiches, Essie wants sherbet. “Whatever, let’s get them both. Life is too short,” I say. Zoe follows us back home, there’s another dance party, we eat ice cream, I put the girls to bed with kisses and I love yous. I hear Camille crawl into Essie’s bed even though she isn’t supposed to, and they fall asleep together, both bubbles still intact. Thank you, God.

I lay in bed well into the wee hours. I see her face in my mind again and again, remember the outline of her body standing in my lane, the desperate scream she cried out as the police engaged her. Did I do the right thing? Did I protect my girls enough? What happened to her to make her so devastated? Will she be ok? Did she get help? I check the local news stations on Twitter – no reports of a death. That’s good, right?
 
The thoughts keep racing: Why did I drive that way – the wrong way – to the grocery store? What if I wouldn’t have seen her? What if I would have hit her in the black of night in the middle of the road? Why was it that Zoe, my friend, and Subaru guy converged in that moment around her?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. I’m left with the aftermath of this cosmic, divine interaction, and with the realization of the fragility of the human mind/body/soul. Of the importance of helping one another and protecting our children. Of the great care that we must take of ourselves and others. And of the supreme connection we all have to each other, even and maybe especially in the most desperate of moments.

On the canvas of history indelible moments are painted with dramatic strokes. They stand out from the background as memorable landmarks. These public events are not necessarily pleasant, though they can be. Most often they leave people with a sense of urgency, concern, anxiety, or even rage. That’s why they are noticed and remembered.

When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States a distinctive geologic formation rose up out of the desert floor. It cannot be ignored. The impact on our country has been immense, and when I say our country that includes our people, political institutions and global standing in the world. During the past two years we have witnessed the de-construction of the United States in multi-various ways by people placed in key positions specifically tasked with throwing the switch.

The Republican party as we knew it no longer exists. In its place are those who abandoned core Republican values and converted to the POT – the Party of Trump. The super majority in the Administration and both branches of Congress sat most often in silence, sometimes facilitating the agenda of a President who threatened to tweet them into oblivion if they did not submit in lock step. Though the GOP stopped being the party of Lincoln at least by the Civil Rights movement, by now the GOP is lost even to themselves.

Democrats and other groups resisted this political movement because of the outrage that materialized on multiple fronts every single day. The accusations are familiar: The President is incompetent, corrupt, traitorous, divisive, and panders to billionaires while pretending to care about white blue collar workers. Sexual escapades were handled with cover ups and hush money and the use of campaign money perhaps even supplied by Russians.

The religious right, who Trump mobilized as a part of his base by promising judicial appointments, altered their identity forever by taking a morally neutral stance on anything and everything the President says or does. They have destroyed any hope that young people will affiliate with evangelical forms of Christianity ever again. This permanent blemish broke out on the complexion of the religious right because they aligned themselves with blind loyalty with an amoral autocrat.

Right now you are thinking about the damage done to our strategic military and economic alliances. You are remembering decisions that put corporate profit ahead of environmental protection each and every time. You are wincing at the lies told the American people about a tax bill that gave a massive windfall to the super rich as ordinary Americans benefited very little. You are thinking of the gigantic deficit this created while plans to cut Social Security and Medicare were ready to go. You will ask me to consider the disastrous effect of the tariffs. You are thinking of the systematic ways that people’s health care was ripped from them with a return to the bad old days of no protections for pre-existing conditions. You will remind me of the red herring of the proposed border wall, a promise to his base that you don’t want fulfilled, the ruthless actions taken against migrants and their families, and a persistent rhetoric about caravans and filthy, bad people. You will show me photos of kids locked up in cages and remind that resources have not been provided for more border personnel and judges. And finally you will show me a list of all indictments of this administration’s officials from the campaign forward and the exit of every person who could have brought real experience and sound judgement to the Administration. There is no one left to really steer the ship except for an oligarchy, a family empire.

I am aware of all these things and am as offended as you. The damage to our country has been immense and will take years to correct. And so, you ask, why would I speak in terms of the opportunity that Donald Trump and his sycophants have created?

This is an opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves and the world the resiliency of our democracy, to show how a people devoted to freedom, justice, equality, law, peace, compassion and prosperity can rise out of the worst of times and reclaim their destiny. In a world tilting toward tyrants and fascism we can change course and provide a hopeful example that will truly encourage the nations. How?

Every current generates its counter-currents. This painful time has clarified who we are, what we really stand for, our true values:

  • With new leadership … we can re-envision our place in the family of nations as we work on a global level to address the thorniest challenges affecting us all – security, climate change, peace-making and economic interdependence.
  • With new leadership … we can re-envision ourselves as a Statue of Liberty nation, a land of hope for immigrants, with better processes in place for legal immigration and the recognition that our nation needs immigrants as much as they need us.
  • With new leadership … we can re-envision ourselves as a Pledge of Allegiance nation, with liberty and justice for all, a renewed commitment to abandon all forms of discrimination and to provide full opportunity for all citizens under the law.
  • With new leadership … we can re-envision ourselves as a Declaration of Independence nation, as we stand independently from every other foreign power, protecting our sovereignty, making sure players in other nations do not determine our decisions.
  • With new leadership … we can re-envision ourselves as a nation of the Constitution and its Amendments. We will recognize the place of all the co-equal branches of our government and how real checks and balances will bring accountability under the law.
  • With new leadership … we can re-envision a proper relationship between church and state with government leaders not utilizing religious leaders for their own purposes and religions not abandoning their moral values in order to be close to the levers of power.
  • With new leadership … we can make some things normal and expected – available high-quality health care for all, an excellent well-funded educational system top to bottom, a functioning and improving infrastructure, and incentives for a flourishing 21st century economy.
  • With new leadership … we can re-claim our commitment to a balance between protecting the environment and encouraging economic development, moving past an either-or to a both-and.
  • With new leadership … we can honesty deal with income disparity, establish a more progressive approach to taxes, reward people and organizations for hard work and success, and extend compassion to those who are most challenged by ability or social position.

In the most hopeful scenario we may, in ten years or less, remember how the people of the United States rose above the adversity of these days and claimed our new way forward. No nation, no people, are stuck in time. Life is always shifting and moving and changing. We will not look like we did a century ago. Nor will we always look like we are now.  If we claim our foundational values and denounce that which is beneath us, there is yet hope.

Søren Kierkegaard once said that life can only be understood by looking backwards and lived by looking forwards. Now is the time to do both. And even though it sounds outrageous, Donald Trump may have provided us with our greatest opportunity to do just that.

La Posada – the Mexican Christmas celebration – remembers how Mary and Joseph could not find a place in Bethlehem. The drama is accompanied by all manner of delicious foods, pinatas and song.

At the culmination of La Posada party goers stand outside the home where the party has been prepared. They are dressed in costumes and two persons are elected to play the parts of Joseph and Mary. Those inside the house represent ones inside the inn including the Innkeeper. They sing back and forth to one another:

Holy Family: In the name of heaven, I ask you for shelter for my beloved wife can go no farther.

Innkeeper: This is not an inn, get on with you. I cannot open the door, you might be a rogue.

Holy Family: Do not be inhuman, show some charity and God in heaven with reward you.

Innkeeper: You may go now and don’t bother us anymore, because if I get angry I will beat you.

Holy Family: We are worn out, all the way from Nazareth. I am a carpenter named Joseph.

Innkeeper: Never mind your name, let me sleep. I’ve already told you, we won’t open the door.

Holy Family: We request lodging, dear innkeeper, for only one night, for the Queen of Heaven.

Innkeeper: If she is a queen who is asking, why is it that she is out at night, wandering so alone?

Holy Family: My wife is Mary, she is the Queen of Heaven, she will be the mother to the Divine Word.

Innkeeper: Is that you Joseph? Your wife is Mary? Enter pilgrims, I didn’t recognize you.

Holy Family: May the Lord reward you for your charity and may heaven fill you will happiness.

Innkeeper: Blessed is the home harboring on this day, the pure virgin, the beautiful Mary.

At this point the door is opened and those outside enter as all sing:

Enter holy pilgrims, pilgrims, receive this corner, not of this dwelling, but of my heart. Tonight is for happiness, for pleasure and rejoicing, for tonight we will give lodging to the Mother of God the Son.

We might find this holy family differently today, in different garb and circumstance. We might call them migrants, refugees, displaced persons or the caravan. They come to us the same, sojourning out of desperation and carrying only hope. They sing at our door. And what do we sing back?

Let me tell you something: We can talk all we want about bringing Christmas back and playing carols in shopping malls. We can wage wars over placing a Christmas creche on the courthouse lawn. But if we don’t notice that Mary, Joseph and Jesus are travelling our way, if we miss La Posada, if we do not discern just who the singers are on our doorstep, then all the rest means absolutely nothing.

Don’t dare light a Christmas candle while they still huddle outside the door, or worse rip the family apart and separate it after their long journey. Because if we do, it is not Christmas we keep but something else altogether.