Memories of Sister Dorothy Stang and her Art

Sister Dorothy Stang, S.N.D.N., who returned to the Amazon rainforest on graduating from the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College, was a leader among her peasant people in standing up to privileged land owners on behalf of rural workers and in defending the Amazon rainforest. We remember her with love and honor her as our first martyr.

This article by Sharon Abercrombie was published in the National Catholic Reporter on February 12, 2015, the 10th anniversary of her death. It celebrates her exuberance, and her passion for prayer through the arts.

Painting, dancing were Sr. Dorothy Stang's lesser-known passions

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang in her dorm room in 1992 at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names University, in Oakland, Calif. (Sharon Abercrombie)

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang in her dorm room in 1992 at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names University, in Oakland, Calif. (Sharon Abercrombie)

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang’s persistent activism on behalf of Brazil’s poor and the earth is well known to environmental and social justice activists throughout the world. Thursday marks the 10-year anniversary of her death at the hands of hired guns.

We know from her twin brothers, Dave and Tom Stang, that she would often convince female security guards to allow her to camp out on the floor of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice the night before she was due to testify at public meetings.

We know that if an official denied having received one of her letters, this delightfully outrageous Cincinnati sister would walk to the politico’s filing cabinet, and much to his embarrassment, whip out the document.

Not so well known, perhaps, is Rainforest Dot’s love for painting and dancing.....

(read more...)

Stephen Bannon’s Uber-Right Religion Parked in the Bosom of the White House

He has been called the “real president,” and “the person really pulling the strings,” the “mind of Donald Trump,” “his ideological guru,” “the power behind the throne,” “Trump’s Karl Rove,” “the second most powerful man in the world,” “the world’s most dangerous man,” a “white supremacist Svengali,” a “stone cold racist and a white supremacist sympathizer” and much more. 

His name is Stephen Bannon and he is Trump’s number one man and, by his own chicanery, now a member of the National Security Council.  Having overseen the far right and race-baiting, women-hating, anti-semitic, white-supremacist-attracting Breitbart News for years, he brings a special bite to American politics and to the White House itself.  Among the headlines in Bannon’s tenure as Breitbart captain were the following:

  • “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew”
  • “Sympathy for the Devil: The Plot Against Roger Ailes--and America”
  • “There’s no Bias against Women in Tech, they just suck at interviews”
  • “Planned Parenthood’s Body Count under Cecile Richards Is up to Half a Holocaust”
  • “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”
  • “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ is Simple: Women Should Log Off”
  • “Trump 100% Vindicated: CBS Reports ‘Swarm’ on Rooftops Celebrating 9/11”
  • “Racist, Pro-Nazi Roots of Planned Parenthood Revealed”

This reads like a National Inquirer litany of headlines and that is what Breitbart is—a National Inquirer devoted to politics and so-called news (anyone looking for “fake news” would be wise to begin here.  It is discomforting of course to see a president hiring a captain of false news to place in the White House but why is anyone or any news agency surprised by the rise of fake news under this administration?).  The loud noises about “fake news” emanating from the White House appear to be 98% projection, which comes of course from a soul that has not examined itself.

By anyone’s definition of the term, Bannon is also a religious zealot.  He has a special relationship with the single most unrepentant uber-right cardinal in the Catholic Church: the former archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was demoted by Pope Francis in 2014 from his job as head of the Vatican Judiciary (like the Vatican Supreme Court).

To put Burke out to pasture for his wildly backwards ideas, the Pope made him a chaplain to the Knights of Malta.  But even there the erstwhile archbishop poisoned the well so completely that the Pope had to intervene two months ago, firing Matthew Festing, the grandmaster of the 1,000-year-old Order, who had summarily dismissed a member for daring to propose condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS for Muslim women in Myanmer who were often subject to rape by the military.

Festing was pushed relentlessly by Burke to fight back against the Pope for this dismissal.  This did not go over too well in the Vatican and the result was that the grandmaster was fired and the Pope appointed a new interim grandmaster to oversee things until the Order elected a new leader.  The Pope also reinstated the Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, who had been dismissed byFesting in cahoots with Cardinal Burke.  One influential knight said that Burke’s influence on the former grandmaster was buttressed by his increased power linked to his friend in the White House.[1]

It seems that Trump’s right-hand man Bannon met with Raymond Burke at a Vatican meetings in 2014 and they hit it off and “bonded over their shared world view,” which includes an apocalyptic vision of Islam “threatening to overrun a prostrate West weakened by the erosion of traditional Christian values.’”[2] This parallels a screenplay Bannon produced a few years ago about a United States that has been turned into the “Islamic States of America.” 

In 2006, Damon Linker wrote a book titled The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege, which exposed the right wing religious pillars of George W. Bush’s administration, promoted the highly conservative teachings of Pope John Paul II, and sought to unify traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and far-right Jews. According to Linker, Bannon “enjoys much greater proximity to power than the original theocons ever attained” and his “ideology is far more radically illiberal than [radical right wing Catholic] Neuhaus and his allies espoused.”[3] Bannon treats religious affiliation “wholly as a function of ethno-national identity” and in so doing he mirrors Putin’s support of the Russian Orthodox, thereby sanctioning an official ethno-national church. Here is one more connection between the Trump administration and Putin’s Russia—a shared religious ideology.

Indeed, when Bannon was invited to speak at a recent Vatican Congress by Benjamin Harnwell, a mutual friend of Bannon and his co-conspirator Cardinal Burke, he used the term “church militant” in his first sentence to name his vision.

Bannon is seeking to overthrow the post-World War II world.  While proposing that Bannon’s philosophy might be called “theoconservatism 2.0,” Linker opts instead for the following: “Theofascism might be more accurate.”[4]

Bannon is nothing if not apocalyptic.  He seems to envision that the United States is headed for a battle with either Islam or China that will culminate in a third world war.  His ideology is full of gloom and doom resembling the dark vision outlined in Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention as well as in his inaugural speech – the demise of America and the West, the “American carnage.” 

How excited are Cardinal Burke and the anti-Pope-Francis elements in the Vatican about the Bannon/Trump team in the White House?  Jason Horowitz, writing for the New York Times, puts it this way: “While Mr. Trump, a twice-divorced president who has boasted of groping women, may seem an unlikely ally of traditionalists in the Vatican, many of them regard his election and the ascendance of Mr. Bannon as potentially game-changing breakthroughs.”[5] 

One should remember in this context that Cardinal Burke is the one who declared that a divorced Catholic who remarries and takes communion or a gay couple who make love are the same as a murderer who commits murder.  It seems, in the twisted patriarchal mind of Cardinal Burke, that a man who gropes women and brags about it is okay to support if his view of the world is anti-Muslim enough. 

So we have Trump’s right hand man (whom some call the acting president since Donald is too busy watching TV and throwing late-night Twitter tantrums to study or read anything philosophical) playing footsie with far-right parties throughout Europe, Putin included, as well as connecting to far-right elements of the Roman Catholic Church who oppose Pope Francis with vengeance.  One bishop writing from South America called such Catholics “neurotics for orthodoxy,” and Burke is currently their leader and savior and hero. One wonders what Bannon’s relationship is to Opus Dei, the supremely patriarchal and sexist fascist order that was mightily supported by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. They love to go where the power lies and have eagerly infiltrated Fox News and other media as well as the CIA, FBI and Supreme Court, as I have documented in my book The Pope’s War.[6]

The radical traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church see the Trump/Bannon team as saviors who will stand up for traditional Catholic values and against Islam, and fight tooth and nail to resist the social justice conscience that Pope Francis is advocating. 

It is interesting that the issue that got the Knights of Malta blow-up launched was that of birth control and condoms.  Pope Francis has complained that some Catholics put all their theology “into a condom.” Clearly, he is calling out the traditionalists, with Burke (who is not a theologian by any stretch of imagination but is trained in canon law) as their leader. 

The latest news on Bannon’s buddy Cardinal Burke is that Pope Francis sent him off to Guam to perform some canon law exercise there. Sounds like a demotion from being a chaplain to the Knights of Malta.  For an ambitious cleric like Burke, this must sting a bit.  Let us pray for the people of Guam.

When Obama was in the White House Pope Francis had an ally there, but now with Trump/Bannon, a much colder relationship will exist and it is clear that very few Roman Catholic prelates in the United States will stand up on behalf of Pope Francis.  Exceptions are his recent appointees, including the new Cardinals of Chicago and Newark.  But the old guard, installed by John Paul II and Benedict, are waiting in the wings biding their time to return to power: Cardinal Dolan of New York and the two young Opus Dei archbishops of California: Jose Gomez Valasco of Los Angeles (who was pointedly refused a cardinal hat by Pope Francis, though elected to be number two man in the bishops’ conference just recently) and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco; there are a number of others.  As one Canadian Archbishop told a friend of mine several years ago, before Pope Francis came to power, “There is not one bishop appointment of the last 30 years that I can admire or respect.”

Daniel Fluette, the head of production for Breitbart, described Bannon’s meeting with Cardinal Burke as “incredibly powerful” for Bannon: following their initial encounter, Bannon directed the documentary Torchbearer, in which the Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson mulls over “the apocalyptic consequences of an eroding Christendom.”[7] The two continue their connection by email on a range of topics, including who should be Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.[8]

Bannon has been known to call Pope Francis a “socialist/communist.” Meanwhile, back in Italy, Cardinal Burke has proposed that Pope Francis should offer a “formal act of correction” for his encyclical on the family, Amoris Laetitia, because it does not condemn divorced Catholics or gay Catholics.

Burke thus is a lightning rod and champion for the rightist movement in the Catholic Church at this time.  And he has friends in very high places—such as the White House.  “Under Bannon, Breitbart News urged its Rome correspondent to write sympathetically about” Cardinal Burke, reports the New York Times.[9]  

Meanwhile, Pope Francis continues to support an inclusive church which is polar opposite to the Bannon/Trump/Burke vision.  He castigates “Savage Capitalism” and trickle-down economics.  His spokesperson has called Trump’s ban on immigrants from Muslim countries the “opposite” of the pope’s vision for fostering unity and peace and the Pope is eager to avoid a clash of Muslim and Christian civilizations which the fundamentalists are heralding.

In his speech at the Vatican (arranged by Cardinal Burke), Bannon talked passionately about a “new barbarity that’s started, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2500 years.”[10]  He is preaching this call to arms and urging of a new “church militant” in the bowels of the Catholic Church.   Yes, this is the right-hand man and to many the puppeteer of the president of the United States. 

I agree with Bannon when he talks about the “underpinning of this populist revolt [being] the financial crisis of 2008” which fueled the anger in the Tea Party and I would add in many who voted for Trump.  But the solutions he strives for, so readily apparent now after a month into the Trump/Bannon presidency, are far from those promised: Wall Street, billionaires, climate change deniers and earth-destroyers, all populate the highest places in their cabinet.  It takes an impossible act of faith to see any crumbs coming down from those tables to feed the hunger of a wounded populist population and it would take a miracle to save the Earth from the destruction that is the sure goal of the cabinet climate deniers, such as the now head of EPA who has wanted for decades to dismantle the agency he now directs and has sued it on 14 occasions.

Bannon has been given credit for the waterfall of executive orders signed by Trump in his first weeks in office, including but not limited to the disastrous action to ban immigrants from seven Muslim countries, a fulfillment of Trump’s promise in the campaign to ban Muslims.  Some see nothing but chaos in Trump’s first weeks in the White House but others, myself included, see a strategy devised by Bannon & Co. to so flood the media with words and actions and chaos that very little truly gets digested or criticized before a new barrage begins.  In other words, chaos is a strategy.  Much of it is distraction so that the real stories of what is happening will be sidelined by media’s penchant for entertainment over news.  Trump, a reality show star, knows how to entertain.  The media, slow as it is, cannot altogether grasp how it is being used. 

The rousing of the populace in defiance, as for example in the Women’s Marches, offers some hope, but runs the risk of falling prey to the wiles of Bannon & Co., as happened when a protest march was called at the University of California in Berkeley in response to a rabble-rousing writer at Breitbart news who prides himself on insulting women, gays, and progressives of any stripe.  While the school bent over backwards to allow this man his ‘free speech’ rights on campus, thousands of people expressed their rights to disagree.  But the protests were infiltrated by a small number of so-called “arsonists” who broke windows and threatened police and others.  One wonders if these extremists were hired by some outside forces to destroy the non-violent protest?

Trump’s response the next day was to threaten to stop money from coming to the University. Might the small group of so-called “anarchists” be serving the purposes of the Trump/Bannon strategy?  Might they be hired provocateurs?  If so, it would not be the first time in recent history when such things occurred.

John Feffer has authored an article with an incisive title entitled “Steven Bannon’s real vision isn’t America first.  It’s America alone.”[11] He backs it up with mounting evidence that under Trump/Bannon, in only three weeks, America has become a pariah nation to friend and foe alike.  He cites Germany’s Der Spiegel that claims Trump is “the world’s most dangerous man,” quoting the president of the European council as saying that Trump “put into question the last 70 years of America foreign policy” and comparing the threat of the United States to Europe to be on the scale of that of Russia and the Islamic State:  “Because Brussels can no longer depend on Washington, Tusk’s letter amounts to an EU declaration of independence.”[12]

Says Feffer: “Some presidents pride themselves on visiting as many nations in the world as possible.  Donald Trump, the Don Rickles of American presidents, prides himself on insulting as many nations as he can—late at night and with fewer than 140 characters.”  He poses the following question: “What does it mean for international relations when the most powerful country in the world becomes a pariah state?  Trump’s got it wrong.  It’s not America First.  It’s America Alone.  So sad!”[13] 

It could well be that Bannon & Co. are pleased with the kind of negative press that Trump is getting—isn’t this one way to get a reactionary revolution going?  And to gin favor with other crackpot regimes, Putin’s Russia included?  And to whip up all the fervent right wing factions to boiling point, including more white separatists (a favorite readership for Bannon’s Breitbart news) and others seeking to become the “church militant” with guns and all?  Might making enemies of the “establishment” everywhere, the Vatican included, be exactly what Bannon has in mind?  

Here is how Feffer sees it:

Bannon is comfortable having the United States raked over the coals by international leaders, the Trump administration ‘crucified’ in the press, and his own name vilified by protestors in the street.  To effect a thorough, bottom-to-top revolution in domestic and international affairs the United States must risk pariah status.  Such is the way new orders are born.  Nor is Bannon alone in his efforts.  He is joined by both religious zealots (like Mike Pence) and geopolitical zealots (like Mike Flynn). [14]

All of whom Trump has enthusiastically invited on his team.  Meanwhile, the Grand Old Party says nothing.  “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” seems to be the slogan of the Republicans in Congress. “What, me worry?” is apparently the new brand for the once-proud Republican Party.

Feffer concludes his essay with a very sobering but it seems to me accurate assessment, that the role of Donald Trump in all these apocalyptic goings on – a  self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one –is quite modest:

“He is not particularly religious, not particularly ideological, or particularly interested in the world beyond what his stubby fingers can grasp…. He’s old and greedy, interested only in the short con.  He wants to be admired, not reviled as a pariah. But he’s also capable of monumental self-deception, which extends to his mistaken belief that the ‘real people’ have all rallied behind him.”

…Bannon and his fellow extremists, by contrast, are in it for the long haul. As zealots, they’re willing to put up with pariah status for as long as it takes.  Make no mistake: It will get ugly.  The liberal internationalists that they excoriate as ‘globalists’ are putting up a fight.  So is the not-so-silent majority.[15] 

Meanwhile a great cleavage looms within the Republican Party when large corporations resist the anti-Muslim orders being issued by the President and Bannon.  And consumers and newly found political activists are rebelling also.  As other countries are filling the void of America’s “new pariah status,”  says Feffer, “Germany finds itself the default ‘leader of the free world.’”  Russia, China, even the Islamic State can rise over the dead ashes of an isolated America: “The Trump administration is not interested in drawing other nations to itself.  It seems reconciled to inspiring hatred.  The new crew is comfortable with the solitude of its power—and the zealotry of its vision.”[16]  

In a sobering and scary article entitled “Steve Bannon Wants to Start World War III,” Micah L. Sifry, author of The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics (Yet),” cites historian David Kaiser who met with Bannon when he was filming Generation Zero.  Bannon had asked to interview Kaiser for the film and Kaiser refused—but he did sit down with him and has since offered the following assessment of Bannon’s worldview which he gleaned from that exchange.  Bannon’s philosophy is based on the writings of “pop historians” Strauss and Howe, who posit that about every 80 years a big crisis changes things in America, says Kaiser:

More than once during our interview, he [Bannon] pointed out that each of the three preceding crises had involved a great war, and those conflicts had increased in scope from the American Revolution through the Civil war to the Second World War.  He expected a new and even bigger war as part of the current crisis, and he did not seem at all fazed by the prospect.  I did not agree, and said so.  But, knowing that the history of international conflicts was my own specialty, he repeatedly pressed me to say we could expect a conflict at least as big as the Second World War in the near or medium term.  I refused.[17]

Sifry concludes his article this way:

Bannon doesn’t just believe that we are in an existential conflict with Islam or with China.  It seems he wants to exacerbate those conflicts into a new world war.  As a believer in Strauss and Howe’s theory of history, Bannon fantasizes that he can use that cataclysm to forge a completely new order.  He is now in a position to make that a reality.[18]

In attempting to evaluate Bannon, the person behind the throne of Donald Trump, perhaps the best perspective comes from psychiatrist Erich Fromm, who wrote in response to the tragedies and perfidies of the Second World War and the holocaust. In his classic book on evil, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, he distinguishes between the love of life (biophilia) and the love of death (necrophilia).  Evil for Fromm is the choice of necrophilia over biophilia.  He offers the following observation:

Severely necrophilous persons are very dangerous.  They are the haters, the racists, those in favor of war, bloodshed, and destruction.  They are dangerous not only if they are political leaders, but also as the potential cohorts for a dictatorial leader.  They become the executioners, terrorists, torturers; without them no terror system could be set up.[19] 

It is not a compliment to American evangelicals that 80% of them voted for Trump. Did they also know they were voting for Bannon and the religious dross he carries with him?  Now they do.  How will they respond?

When I was writing about Cardinal Ratzinger I examined the psychological studies of bullies.  One can see similar characteristics in Trump.  One thing that characterizes bullies is their being cowards on the inside in spite of the bluster and threat they project to the outside world.  Thus, they also yearn and indeed need a “wolf pack” to support them especially as they march against more popular forces.  From everything I have seen Mr. Bannon is head of that wolf pack for Mr. Trump, the power behind the throne, the one to be reckoned with.  He is there because Trump very much wants and needs him there.  Bannon does not depend on democratic institutions to support him, but only on the wishes of his boss.  In fact, he is on record as wanting to destroy such institutions beginning with the press.  But Bannon is depending on people like Cardinal Burke to bless his ideologies of over-the-top apocalyptic visions. 

One hopes that the evil of which Fromm warns us is checkmated faster and earlier this time around than it was when the Germans last traveled this path in the 1930s.  One hopes the resistance—of the citizens, of the media and of politics in general (when will Republicans come on board to say No?) –will be louder and broader and deeper this time around. 

Theofascism marches on—from within the very bowels of the White House, the National Security Council, and the American government.  Will prophetic and democratic resistance stand up?  Time will tell.


[1] Jason Horowitz, “Steve Bannon Carries Battles to another Influential Hub: The Vatican,” New York Times, The New York Times Company. 7 February 2017 <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/world/europe/vatican-steve-bannon-pope-francis.html>

[2] Damon Linker, “Trump’s theofascist,” The Week, The Week Publications. 10 February 2017 <http://theweek.com/articles/679058/trumps-theofascist>

[3] Ibid., p. 2

[4] Ibid., p. 4.

[5] Jason Horowitz, loc., cit, p. 1.

[6] Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved (NY: Sterling Ethos, 2011), 106-124.

[7]. Horowitz, loc cit., p. 3.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid., p. 5.

[10] Ben Norton, “President Trump’s right-hand man Steve Bannon called for Christian holy war: Now he’s on the National Security Council,” Alternet.org. 29 January 2017 <http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/steve-bannon-christian-holy-war-islam-donald-trump-capitalism-secularism-atheism >

[11] John Feffer, “Steven Bannon’s Real Vision Isn’t America First. It’s America Alone,” Foreign Policy in Focus, The Institute for Policy Studies. 8 February 2017 <http://fpif.org/steven-bannons-real-vision-isnt-america-first-america-alone/>

[12] Ibid., p. 2.

[13] Ibid., p. 3.

[14] Ibid., p. 6.

[15] Ibid., p. 6.

[16] Ibid., pp. 4f.

[17] Micah L. Sifry, “Steve Bannon Wants to Start World War III”, The Nation. 8 February 2017 <https://www.thenation.com/article/steve-bannon-wants-to-start-world-war-iii>

[18] Ibid.

[19] Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973) 368

A Priestly Letter to Speaker Paul Ryan

Dear Speaker Paul Ryan,

As a priest who commemorates his 50th year in the priesthood this year (28 as a Roman Catholic and 22 as an Episcopalian), and as your elder, I am writing you this letter because I am worried about your soul. 

We all know you take good care of your body, working out frequently in the congressional gym we taxpayers provide for those in Congress, and that is a good thing.  But I am concerned that you are neglecting your soul.  It too requires work-outs and practice to stay healthy. 

You claim to be a good and a practicing Catholic Christian but I have serious doubts that you are.  Our Christian beliefs include these words of Jesus after all: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”  These powerful words are surely important for anyone serving in public office or any other places of responsibility, whether in government or business or church or wherever.  Yes, they even apply to your close buddies the Koch brothers, upon whom you depend so fully for your income and ideas and campaigns and job.

You see, another passage that grounds Catholicism and Christianity is found in Matthew 25: “Do it to the least and you do it to me.”  Not to mention the Golden Rule which is found in Matthew 7:12 and is reflected in some form in every world religion since the time of Hammurabi: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Now I want to ask from a spiritual and theological perceptive how you can possibly reconcile these basic teachings of the Gospels with your continued efforts to create budgets for our entire nation that do the following:

1.    Threaten to privatize and thereby destroy Social Security for elders and disabled people.

2.    Destroy critical health support systems for the sick, handicapped, mentally disabled, and homeless by effectively scuttling Medicare and Medicaid.

3.    Dismantle the EPA so that the rest of God’s sacred creation is imperiled by human narcissism (Pope Francis’ words).  Have you not read Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si that teaches everyone—believer and non-believer alike—that we humans are not here to destroy but to support creation for the good of all beings on earth now and in the future?  If you have studied this great document—as you must as a thinking believer—where is it to be found in your legislative agenda?

Another Biblical teaching is the warning that we are not to worship idols.  But Wall Street is a purveyor of the idolatry of money.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in that system.  Pope Francis has spoken to that truth also when he speaks of the “savage capitalism” and the “god of money” that dominates so much of decision-making in western culture.

Your naked efforts to give more and more tax breaks to billionaires like your supporters the Koch brothers is proof that you have up to now chosen to be on the side of the savage capitalists and the gods of money.  Have you no shame?  Have you no conscience?  Do your faith and Jesus’ teachings mean nothing to you because you are mesmerized by power and the powerful?  Do you not know—or do you simply not care—that when the uber-rich do not pay their fair share, the struggling poor and middle class must pay from their meager resources to subsidize the rich? And when the uber-rich get still more tax breaks, the poor and middle class are forced to make up the difference?

I am worried about your soul.  It is not too late to repent and start over.  It is time to examine your commitment to the values that drive your heroes the Koch brothers, who want to worship the idols of Wall Street instead of caring for God’s sacred creation, and who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to contribute to the common good.  And who buy the loyalty of politicians like you to commit sins against the poor and creation itself to make their fat wallets even fatter.  Shame on you!

Yours are not the values I learned growing up in Wisconsin (indeed, my godmother lived in your hometown of Janesville) and growing up in the Catholic Church.  How have you wandered so far off track?  Was it the ridiculous narcissistic writings of atheist Ayn Rand that enticed you to surrender Gospel morality for Mammon?  (Let me add that I admire many atheists for their ethics and morality but Ayn Rand is not one of them.  Not by a long shot.  She has rendered selfishness a virtue.)

I wish through this letter to awaken your soul.  Your sweet Wisconsin smile and gym-toned body notwithstanding, through your choices you are dancing with Evil.

The gospels teach such truths.  So too does Pope Francis who, as a Roman Catholic, you supposedly respect and listen to.  Have you listened to his warnings and his teachings lately?  Allow me to remind you of some of them.

The Pope minces no words when speaking of the divergence of wealth and poverty today.  He speaks to globalization this way: “The globalization that makes everything uniform is essentially imperialist...it is not human.  In the end it is a way to enslave the nations.”[i]  Is globalization enslaving the nations?  It seems to me that much of Trump’s success as a candidate was built around this very idea—only his solutions seem to me to be dark indeed.  What is your agenda, Mr. Speaker, about this “inhuman” globalization that is hurting so many citizens of our country and beyond?

Pope Francis says: “Christianity condemns both Communism and wild capitalism with the same vigor”[ii] and one needs to reject the “wild economic liberalism we see today” and “seek equal opportunities and rights and strive for social benefits, dignified retirement, vacation time, rest, and freedom of unions.” [iii]   Are you on board with this set of values?  Or are you in the camp of “savage capitalism?”  Why do you want to destroy the dignified retirement of American people by diminishing Social Security instead of building it up?  And to destroy social benefits for the very poor and working classes while giving tax gifts to the super rich and corporations?  And to eliminate a current health insurance program that provides assistance for many millions of people instead of improving it?

The Pope praises St. Francis because “he contributed an entire concept of poverty to Christianity against the wealth, pride, and vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time” and for this reason “he changed history.”[iv]  Are you putting obstacles in the way of the wealth and vanity of the powerful in our day?  Given your responsible position as Speaker of the House, why don’t you try to change history for the poor and neglected instead of for the 1% who are already over their heads in favoritism and success and (too much) power?

The Pope takes on the neocon preoccupation with “world terrorism” and the fear such language arouses when he declares that “human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”[v]  How important is that?  He equates economic structures with terrorism.  Yes, he is telling us that Wall Street terrorizes.  Ask any Main Street citizen: we all feel the effects of this terror and that is why many in Main Street voted for Trump, out of fear of this terror from Wall Street.  But your buddies the Koch brothers are those very terrorists the Pope is speaking of.  Yes, how does it feel to be in bed with terrorists?  And of course, Trump has turned his back on his promises to the working people and has appointed an unprecedented number of billionaires (terrorists) to head his cabinet positions.

The Pope also denounces the “flight of money to foreign countries” as a sin because it dishonors “the people that worked to generate” that wealth. [vi]  He also condemns those who hide their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid paying taxes that are so important for the common good.  What are you doing to challenge those hiding their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid taxes?  Aren’t you in a powerful position to do something about that?

Pope Francis has said: “The option for the poor comes from the first centuries of Christianity.  It is the Gospel itself.”  And he has remarked that were he to preach sermons from the first fathers of the Church on the needs of the poor, he would be called a “Maoist or Trotskyite.”[vii] Are you leading legislation that puts an option for the poor in the forefront?

He says: “Human rights are violated by...unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”[viii] Are you on the side of human rights and against economic structures that create huge inequalities?  Or are you on board to actually increase those inequalities by passing legislation that gives tax breaks to the 1% who in fact need them the least?  Pope Francis warns that “The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any human goal.”[ix]  Where do you and your fat-cat donors stand on the subject of the “cult of money”?

We need, Pope Francis says, a “balanced social order that is more humane”[x] and that resists consumerism.  Pope Francis says further that “Money has to serve and not rule.”[xi]  It is a “savage capitalism” that teaches “the logic of profit at any cost” and exploitation of people.[xii]  Where do you stand on the topic of “savage capitalism” and the cult of money?  In your very responsible position as Speaker of the House what are you doing to address these important issues—issues that touch all the people in America, especially the downtrodden and left out?  If you had addressed them before the 2016 election, maybe the strongman Trump would not have been able to tap into the frustration of as many blue-collar Americans as he did.

Finally, as a Catholic, where do you stand on the notion that corporations are people (see Citizens United and Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decisions)?  Are you in bed with the neo-fascist Catholic members of the Supreme Court who, contrary to Catholic teachings, are telling us to believe that a corporation is a person?  How could you possibly reconcile that with the teachings of the Church on the immortality of the individual soul and more?  While we are on the subject of neo-fascist Catholics, where do you stand on Opus Dei?

Unfettered capitalism is, according to Pope Francis, a “new tyranny.” [xiii] Where do you stand on this new tyranny?  What limits are you setting on unfettered capitalism by your legislative leadership?  Are you keeping Dodd/Frank laws on the books?  Says the Pope: “Today we are living in an unjust international system in which 'King Money' is at the center.”  This “throwaway culture discards young people as well as its older people.....A whole generation of young people does not have the dignity that is brought by work.”  A “diminishing of the joy of life” is the result of such idolatry. [xiv]

In his document entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis speaks bluntly as all the prophets do.  He says No—as all the prophets do.  He denounces “trickle-down” economics as “never having been confirmed by the facts” and being built on a “crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power....Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”[xv]  Where do you stand on trickle-down economics?  Have you learned from its blatant failures?  Are you aware how many Main Street citizens are “still waiting” for good wages and jobs to reach them?

Following are some of Pope Francis’ No's presented in his own words:

1.  No to an economy of exclusion....An economy of exclusion and inequality kills....Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.[xvi]

 2.  No to the new idolatry of money....While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.....Self-serving tax evasion has taken on worldwide dimensions.  The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits....Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a defied market, which becomes the only rule.[xvii]

 3.  No to a financial system which rules rather than serves.  Ethics is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative.  It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person....Money must serve, not rule!  The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.  I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.[xviii]

 4.  No to the inequality which spawns violence.  [Violence happens not] simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.  Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear.....Evil crystallized in unjust social structures...cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.[xix]

And “NO” to the despoiling of Mother Earth about whose peril Pope Francis has written an entire encyclical.  Clearly you have turned your back on the sacredness of the Earth as well: since you support for the head of EPA a man who has shouted that he wants to destroy it, while you make ridiculous mumbles about climate change that you are not a scientist.  Well, sir, isn’t that all the more reason to listen to scientists who do tell us that humans are bringing about climate change and the destruction of many, many species as well as the rising of the oceans?  How can one be a Christian and not recognize the sacredness of creation?

Where do you stand, Speaker Ryan, on these issues that the Pope raises?  How are you using your position of power and responsibility to alleviate the ills he addresses?  Isn’t what the Pope says true, that the violence the current system provokes is one reason why many victims of this system voted for Trump—and even admire his violence?  Pope Francis speaks out against an “education that would tranquilize the poor, making them tame and harmless.” [xx] And he defines injustice as “evil.” 

I pray that you may be converted and return to the teachings of Christ and the Church striving to teach in his name very soon.  Time is running out for our species and you are in a position of trust and responsibility and leadership in our country at this time.  Earn it!

Meanwhile, until you and your party pay attention at last to these basic issues, I as a Christian priest and theologian can only conclude that you are not at all a Catholic or a Christian but just one more hypocrite flaunting your bogus religion on your sleeve to garner more votes and stay in a cushy job while you sell your soul to the Koch brothers and other Wall Street misers.  People who don’t have a clue about the “weightier matters of the Law—justice, compassion, good faith!” (Mt. 23:23) that Jesus preached, and who could not care less. 

Jesus had something to say about that too, remember?  It was strong stuff.  He was speaking to you, Paul Ryan, and your fellow politicians when he said: “Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.  In the same way you appear to people from the outside like good honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness….You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.”  (Mt 23.27-28, 31).

I hope and pray that you and your fellow politicians, Mr. Ryan, so beholden to the rich and uber-rich, might heed Jesus’ words.  And if not, at least do him the courtesy of not invoking his name to justify your lawlessness.

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox


[i] Jorge Maria Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka, On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century (Image Books, 2010), 158

[ii] Jason Berry, “Pope decrying 'anesthesia of the heart' heads to Brazil,” PRI, Public Radio International. 19 July 2013 <https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-07-19/pope-decrying-anesthesia-heart-heads-brazil>

[iii] Bergoglio 172

[iv] Bergoglio 231

[v] Mark Rice-Oxley, “Pope Francis: the humble pontiff with practical approach to poverty” The Guardian, Guardian News & Media Limited. 13 March 2013 <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/13/jorge-mario-bergoglio-pope-poverty>

[vi] Bergoglio 160

[vii] Michael Warren, Jenny Barchfield, Marcos Aleman, John Rice, “Pope Francis: Liberation Theology Priest Sees New Hope for Catholic Church,” Huffington Post, The Huffington Post. 28 April 2013 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/28/pope-francis-liberation-theology_n_3173986.html>

[viii] Oxley, “Pope Francis.”

[ix] Pope Francis. "To new Ambassadors of Kyrgyzstan, Antigua and Barbuda, Luxembourg and Botswana accredited to the Holy See (16 May 2013) | Francis." Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 16 May 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2017 <http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/may/documents/papa-francesco_20130516_nuovi-ambasciatori.html>

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.                                                                                                                           

[xii] Naomi O'Leary, reporter, and Michael Roddy, editor, “Pope criticizes ‘Savage Capitalism’ on visit to food kitchen,” Reuters. 21 May 2013 <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-capitalism-idUSBRE94K12K20130521>

[xiii] Eamon Javers, “Pope Francis: Capitalism “New Tyranny,” CNBC. 26 November 2013 <http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000221701>

[xiv]  Hugh Bronstein, Reuters, "Pope Francis: ‘King Money’ system has failed unemployed youth, older people." NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 28 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/pope-francis-king-money-system-has-failed-unemployed-youth-older-f2D11670341>.

[xv] Aaron Blake, “Pope Francis denounces 'trickle-down' economics, The Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2013. 

[xvi] Pope Francis. The joy of the gospel (Evangelii gaudium): apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful on the proclamation of the Gospel in today's world. New York: Image-Crown Publishing, 2014, Kindle edition, 43

[xvii] Ibid., 44

[xviii] Ibid.,45                                                                                                                   

[xix] Ibid., 46

[xx] Ibid., 47

HOPE IS ETERNAL IN THE MIDST OF DARKNESS

This memorial essay was written by David Stang, brother to martyred activist Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDN. Reprinted with the author's permission.

Dorothy Stang, by Marcy Hall: https://www.facebook.com/RabbitRoomArts/ Used with permission from FutureChurch https://futurechurch.org No further use of this image is permitted without the express consent of FutureChurch.   

Dorothy Stang, by Marcy Hall: https://www.facebook.com/RabbitRoomArts/
Used with permission from FutureChurch https://futurechurch.org
No further use of this image is permitted without the express consent of FutureChurch. 

 

OnFebruary 11, 2005 Dorothy Stang called Colorado to talk and she said, “I cannot leave my family in Esperanza. I know that Luis and his family have just had their house burnt down, their crops destroyed and his wife and children are out in the Amazon forest with no food, blankets, or protection of any kind and there are others who are very afraid nearby. Can a Mother leave her children in such need,” she said?  I wanted to tell my sister over the phone, please don’t go to Esperanza.

“David,  she continued to talk, I am on my way to Esperanza, now,  with food, clothing, hammers, nail, saws.  For one minute though David I can smell the cool air of Palmer Lake Colorado where you live, and say hello to you. It is very hot here, humid and it is raining. I stopped at the police post to ask for assistance as there are killers where I am going but the Police  refused to help me. Thugs  have just burnt down Luis’s home and they are terrorizing the people who merely want to survive and maybe even enter into the economy of their country. The Government has approved this Project of Sustainable Development where Luis just had his house burnt down by the local Ranchers, Plantation Owners, and their armed thugs who believe they are the government. I am going to Esperanza, to show support, maybe protection and help them, though this terrible  time,  however this time I am a little nervous.” Again, I wanted to say please don’t go. Now, I am trying to pull myself together with this disconcerting  phone call as it is 4AM here in Colorado.  I could still hear the people outside Dorothy’s house laughing and joking. “ The next day Dorothy was murdered. Six shots were fired at her, at close range and all of them hit her, a 73 unarmed woman who was a known protector of the poor.

 A week after Dorothy’s murder I flew to Anapu and visited Esperanza, sat and cried at the spot where she was murdered, sat and cried at the spot where she wasburied , deep in the Amazon, surrounded by nature, beautiful trees,  falling rain, humidity, singing birds, the dirt, mud  and the people. I was surrounded most especially by the poor who hugged me, touched my t-shirt with Dorothy’s picture on the front of the shirt. They all cried, but most of all, I saw unbelief in their eyes that this person who for years fought for them, ate with them, slept with them, how  could she be murdered, they thought. She had often escaped death, prison, hunger,  and stood with them, a warrior, fearless, undaunted. She would often show up with legal documents from Belem or Brazilia, documents  to protect their homes and land. She was known to all of them, to not only fight for them personally, but also for their schools. Schools which  from the beginning she personally helped build,  over thirty schools. She would often see that their teachers were paid and even developed teacher training centers. However,  I cannot forget the local Brazilian priest, who slept at Dorothy’s grave for a week, to protect her grave from being desecrated by the local ranchers who hated her. He left her grave only after the Federal Government sent troops to protect the people and Dorothy’s grave. His hug was a greatly appreciated.

People walk 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) accompanying the truck carrying Dorothy Stang's body to its final resting place.

People walk 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) accompanying the truck carrying Dorothy Stang's body to its final resting place.

 As I sat in the Bishops pick up truck with soldiers in the back for protection, driving from Anapu to Esperanza, I was stunned to watch the driver handle the muddy road, slide down the hill and just stop right before the wet log bridge and wonder how we would cross over. The driver was  telling everyone to get out and walk over. As we slipped on the wet logs, looking at the raging river down below, we wondered how he was going to cross over with the Bishops pick up. Staring intently we watched the driver make the sign ofthe cross, put the metal to the petal and sped over the narrow wet bridge, the tail end weaving back and forth. Truly this was a marvel of driving. I thought to myself how did Dorothy a week earlier make it to Esperanza   in a tiny car during the rainy season, for we had four harrowing bridges to cross over, deep mud, and hills and valleys to climb and slide down, hoping not to slide into the river itself.  The 20 miles from Anapu to Esperanza took four hours.  I kept repeating to myself during this drive, Dots powerful  message, “I cannot leave my family.” A message so powerful it overcame the enormous struggles that I was seeing before my very eyes. Tears came to my eyes, thinking, like the people, how could they kill her, however, still  remembering Dot telling me that there were hundreds of leaders, farmers, who have been killed in the area just in the last couple of years.  As I slept in Dot’s bed that night, on the walls were pictures of those who have been murdered. On the night stand was a little shrine that she made and on the wall, next to the door, was a piece of bamboo, slit in the middle, and carved out of this bamboo was the Christmas crib set that she would touch every morning when she left her room.  Can we wonder if we would have staid true under such horrific circumstances, and knowing that many people already had been murdered? Can we not ask what strength it took for Dorothy to stay with the poor.

I mention all this to set the stage for the important question, “what happens now” in this great forest that the world needs, for   such corruption and violence does not just disappear. Over the next ten years, after 9 trials and only four people being indicted by the State of Para, the killers are after less than ten years  now free. Even one of them has been indicted again for another killing. The big rancher Regivaldo appealed his verdict of 30 years in jail, to the High Court of Brazil, and he won his appeal. For years now , he is free on appeal, even though the judge of theCourt of the State of Para clearly stated, “ Regivaldo even if you appeal, you must stay in jail during the appeal.” W e all remember  In a packed courtroom, at the trial of Regivaldo,  with one of the now free killers sitting right in the courtroom with us and with his thug friends. We all heard the verdict to Regivaldo from the Judge saying, “You will stay in jail, if you appeal.”  The Judge during the trial brought in extra policemen to protect us, as the courtroom were full of Regivaldos powerful friends. I am sure the last thing the Judge wanted wasto have  murders in his courtroom. As we left the courtroom, we sawone of the TV broadcasters  surrounded by security, for she had just been threatened by a motorcycle gang, supporters of Regivaldo, who we were told were  going to escort Regivaldo  home free. They were angry that he had been indicted.  Obviously, the trials were merely a small part of what was and is happening in and to the Amazon. We must remember that there were many others involved in Dorothy’s murder and many of the other murders of the farmers in the Amazon, all free.

As we move on to today, one does ask, who controls the Amazon today? . For example, there is a new law allowing  cutting down illegally the trees in the Amazon,  and that all who cut down trees illegally in the Amazon in the past  have been legally forgiven. Sucha horrendous law helps me to  remember one of the people who worked for years in the Amazon saying to me during the trials, David, “these trials of Dorothy’s killers are merely a distraction from worse things that will happen. ” One wonders if any good behaviors remain of all the work that Dorothy and the people did. We do hear that, the two Projects of Sustainable Development, that Dorothy and the people worked so hard to create are thriving, and others farmers are uniting to demand, their rights to own their land, seeing that the projects were able to persevere why can’t they fight for their rights. The schools are still open. The special school to educate future farmers, is still open. The seed of Human Rights planted by all those who have been murdered are growing and the memory of Dorothy and all those warriors for the people in the Amazon are still remembered even, in the midst of enormous oppression such as  pisteleiros are still haunting the forest,  and hundreds of years of  tradition that supports these  Injustices continue, so one wonders how things can possibly go forward?  Is it not the blood of those who gave their lives that keeps hope alive? Is it not those who still continue to fight for their rights that give us hope?

Changing long term habits of oppression can be so difficult. Dorothy knew very clearly the long history of oppression that she was up against and that she did as much as she did is clearly a miracle in itself.  There is a saying that, “ We must know History or we will certainly repeat it”. This we must know in order to understand why there are so many murders in the Amazon, among Indigenous People, among the poor. Historians tell us,  “When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the white sands of Guanahani Island, he performed a ceremony to take “possession” of the land for the king and queen of Spain, acting under the international laws of WesternChristendom. Although the story of Columbus’ “discovery” has taken on mythological proportions in most of the Western World, few people are aware that his act of “possession” was based on a religious doctrine now known in history as the “ Doctrine of Discovery”. Even fewer people realize that today five centuries later, the United States government still uses this archaic Judeo Christian, Doctrine of Discovery” to deny the rights of Native American Indians, to their lands. This Doctrine pervades the thinking of the rich and powerful in Brazil.

Why do I bring this document before us? The Plantations Owners, Ranchers, in Brazil still feel they have the same right of discovery, even if people live on the land they are claiming. Governments are vital to overcoming this long habit of Discovery. Dorothy was very involved with the Government of Brazil on so many levels, Education, Land, Freedom, to change this horrendous memory of the, “Law of Discovery.”  As the Federal Prosecutor of Land in the Amazon said in the Courtroom, “She did what we were afraid to do, she encouraged us to do our job.” The stories of Dorothy going to Brazilia or to Belem to help people get legal documents to protect their ownership of land  is well known. In 2005, when I went to see the Minister of Justice, I was stopped at securityat the Justice Building entrance. The security person who stopped me looked at meand said, “ I recognize you she said, you look like your sister Dorothy. I am the one who would give her permission to sleep in the hallway all night so she would be at the officer’s door when he arrived the next morning to do his job and Dorothy would get legal documents to help her people.” I saw a look of pride in her eyes as she spoke. Hopefully, this pride  is the future of Brazil, of the Amazon.

David Stang

Feb. 15, 2017

 

 

Recommended Reading: The Lion of God Archangel Ari'El by Carol Vaccariello

Frequently I have asked audiences I speak to to shut their eyes and then raise their hands if they have had encounters with angels or someone they trust has had such encounters.  Usually about 80% of the audience raises their hands.  

We need the help of the spirits or angels today not only because otherwise angels eager to help us are unemployed but especially because as a species we are doing badly and it is clear we need all the help we can get.

I am happy to share a portion of my Forward to this extraordinary book by Carol Vaccariello, on the immense support that awaits us from the angelic realms...if we are willing to ask. 

The Lion of God Archangel Ari'El

Forward

by  Matthew Fox

Reading this surprising book with its surprising ending reminds me of two encounters in my life.  The first was with the widow of David Paladin, the Navajo painter who was initiated as a shaman through a particularly painful episode as a young soldier.  Lying about his age at sixteen to get into the army in the Second World War, he was sent to Europe to fight and was almost immediately captured.  He was imprisoned not in a GI camp but in a concentration camp where he was the only Native American among the other inmates and was tortured periodically.  For example, one Christmas one foot was nailed to the floor and he was ordered to twirl on that foot for twenty four hours.  When after four years the Americans liberated that camp they found David’s comatose body—which weighed all of 65 pounds—at the bottom of a pile of dead bodies.  He was returned to his reservation in Arizona and after two years, on coming out of his coma, his elders said to him: “You have a choice.  You are a paraplegic so you can go into a veteran’s hospital where you will live in a wheelchair the rest of your life.  Or: We can try to heal you in the ancient way.”  

He chose to be healed in the ancient way so they took him to an ice cold river and threw him in over his head.  He said when he hit the water he was more angry at his elders than at the Nazis who tortured him.  But it worked.  He got his legs backed and made two pilgrimages to Mexico in back on foot.  Being an artist, he also met Marc Chagall and Picasso as a young man and Chagall said to him: “Don’t paint the stories of your people; paint your dreams of the stories of your people.”  This, he testified, gave him his freedom to be his own kind of artist.

I learned about David through his wife who invited me to contribute to an exhibit of his work after he died since, as it turned out, he had read my books such as Original Blessing and appreciated how my theology helped reconcile his Native American and Christian spiritual traditions.  Later I visited his widow Lynda Paladin in the home where they had lived and he had painted over the years and she told me this story.  “Often,” she said, “dead painters would come and visit my husband during the night and ask him to paint a picture which he did and it was their picture, not his.”  Then she left the room and came back with a picture and as soon as I saw it I said, “That’s by Paul Klee.”  And sure enough it was signed “Paul Klee” at the bottom.  “I remember the night that Paul Klee came to visit him and dictated this picture,” she said.

I share this story to remind the reader that life is more interesting and boasts far more dimensions than our culture dares to tell us.  We live in many worlds at once.  David Paladin’s elders told him late in his life that the reason he suffered so much as a young man was to initiate him as a shaman.  Shamans are often people who went through deep struggle in their youth—a shattering experience that often has the effect of shattering the psyche with the result that they live in more than one world at once.

The stories that Carol Vaccariello  shares in this moving book are of this kind as well.  Her visitations with angels is special but also very real and it bears close attention.  “By their fruits you will know them,” says Jesus.  Carol, whom I have known for over twenty years, is very real, very grounded, very hard working; she is a keen serious listener and teacher, a seasoned student and administrator.  She is committed to service and lives a simple life style of service to others.  She has lived and worked as a Catholic sister for five years; as a wife and supporter of a union organizer in Ohio for thirty years; as a Protestant pastor for thirty-one years; and as co-director of the Doctor of ministry program at my school the University of Creation Spirituality for nine years; and later at Wisdom University; she has served as an interim pastor at a number of UCC churches, often called in to resolve conflicts or to help heal wounded congregations.  Her feet are very much on the ground.  The fruits of her healthy and giving life are there for anyone to see.  The stories in this book reveal another and more hidden side to Carol yet they are stories we can all heed and learn from.  It is courageous of her to share them.

More....

On the 14th Anniversary of Sister Dorothy Stang's Martyrdom: A Memory

Dorothy Stang: Anapu: The Amazon

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 2.53.49 PM.png

(A letter from her brother, David Stang, two months before her martyrdom in the Amazon; shared with permission.)

December 6, 2004,  Marguerite Hohm and I traveled to Belem Brazil to visit our amazing Amazonian sister who will be receiving a Human Right’s Award. Winding our way through airports in Miami, Sao Paulo and landing in Belem challenged Marguerite who is in her seventies and I in my late sixties. Wethen landed in a very hot and humid city of Belem over twenty four hours later which was also a shock to our bodies as we left the States in the middle of winter. However, to our joy we saw Dot jumping up and down in the back of a great crowd with hergreat smiling face.

Sitting with Dot we quickly realized our sister  is at the center of a human right’s  storm of protecting farmers and their land and the great Amazon forest which is one of the great lungs of the world and filled with herbs, animals, people (over 22 million) and future pharmaceutical, healing products. For thirty years Dorothy has been living and working in this amazing forest. She has been working with the homeless, who are coming to this area in the millions, often standing at the bus station in Anapu to help the impoverished immigrants and their families, coming from the Brazilian cities, with food and a place to stay.

 Dorothy who was trained by her father an organic father, was now and has  been training for over twenty years,  the homeless how to live in this forest and survive and sustain the forest. Dorothy also an educator for years before coming to Anapu,  now used her talents to read the Brazilian laws available in protecting the Forest, the rights of people and the way to own land. Against this intelligent, very spiritual Warrior has been the wealthy illegal landowners and illegal loggers and many corrupt powerful people who have made billions off this very valuable forest, e.g. one tree could bring in a $100.000. These powerful people just come with their guns and their goons and forcibly remove people who legally own the land or they just kill them. The State of Para where Dorothy lives is known in Brazil as lawless and dangerous. There are also many good people, Sisters, government people, parts of the Hierarchy, who want Dorothy to be not so politically involved. The issue has become so volatile for Dorothy because the forest is being rapidly destroyed that now her life is being threatened with a known price on herhead which is a sign to the people that she will be killed. Almost a thousand people who have tried to help the farmers maintain their land in Brazil have been killed in the last ten years.

We went to see Dorothy because she was to receive a Human Right’s Award from the National Organization of Brazilian Lawyers. Human Rights Associations, Educational Organizations, Senators and Legislators who all are realizing the vital importance and necessity of the Amazon Forest were going to be present for this important Awards ceremony..

Being present  opened Marguerite’s and my eyes to what an important issue land and life is in Para and how now  Dorothy is at the center of this issue. We saw her being interviewd on several T.V. stations and by several major newspapers in this city of over two million people. Being present was one enormous education for the two of us. Important people, senators, legislators, judges, lawyers, newspaper reporters and most important the poor were greeting and looking at this 73 year old white haired, soft spoken, sister who has been awarded Brazilian citizenship, with hope, respect and love. One cannot judge the true worth of someone without traveling and seeing with your own eyes. Marguerite and I were honored to be with Dorothy who is now so recognized by Brazil and the Brazilian people. We now realized that  she is a vital person to the life of these people and to the life of the amazon forest.  We now were being told by Dorothy that millions of homeless Brazilians are looking at this huge forest for life. We were being told that Dorothy has the respect and plans to help the homeless live and sustain this forest; that the Brazilian government sees Dorothy as honest, wise, with a plan that is proven for over twenty years; that Dorothy is in the front line of this fight.

There was a large candlelight procession outside in the courtyard which then moved into the Lawyers large auditorium. Many of the people were very simple uneducated farmers, dressed very simply with their worn out sandals on their feet. As we entered, there were Lawyers with their mouths wide open as they had never seen such people in this beautiful building. We quickly realized that Brazil has deep European Elitism and these people coming with us into the auditorium were not from the upper class.

The packed auditorium with people standing in the aisles and out the door quickly overcame their shyness of being in such a sumptuous place and began to cheer and shout for joy and support of Dorothy. Dorothy brought Marguerite and I up to the podium saying “you now can see that I too have blood family, like you”. When the ceremony was over many people came up to touch Dorothy with great tenderness.

We were being told by people in the audience that they know that Dorothy will be killed. Some government people and others came up and whispered in Dorothy’s ear, “be careful for we have had our loved ones murdered.” The price on Dorothy’s head was to them very real.

 Dorothy could use your love and support. In return you will truly know you have a very famous sister/cousin/relative. When you see these movies about the Amazon, news reports, global warning reports, you can say Dorothy Stang is making a difference and we love her. 

Merry Christmas,

LaHoma and David Stang

P.S. Dorothy was murdered two months later.

 

 

 

 

 

Begin the New Year with New Hope and New Vision

Dear Friends:

See the Fox Institute's informational brochure...

See the Fox Institute's informational brochure...

With the age of Trump fast approaching, many people are waking up and asking: "What can I do to put my values forward?  How can I make a difference?  How can I offer alternative values from the dominant messages that are going to be coming at us through media and political spin?"  

Clearly our new University project called Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality offers many opportunities not only for students and staff but also for faculty and alums of previous creation spirituality programs to make a difference in a deep but positive way.  Empowerment beckons us all and what better long range investment than an alternative educational vision that embodies soul, body and body politic with values of justice, passion, creativity and compassion? 

So we invite you to do some soul searching yourself and ask how you can contribute to the Fox Institute.  By volunteering perhaps?  By promoting the school on line and every way you can?  By seeking financial support or contributing to this 5013c non profit?  By encouraging grass roots efforts?  By spreading the word to potential students and faculty and to past grads? 

Be an actor!  Take your anger or your grief or both and put them to work in the Via Creativa and the Via Transformativa!  Time to move beyond grief to action.  Let FICS be your choice of conscience.

Gratefully,

Matthew Fox & the FICS team

Leonard Cohen: A Thank You to a Spiritual Giant

12COHENJP-master768.jpg

It is Thanksgiving Day and I have set aside some meditation time to be with the late Leonard Cohen who died seventeen days ago at the age of 82, leaving us one last gift, an album called 'You Want It Darker' which came out last month. I received this album in the mail from my sister-in-law who, with the support of my brother, has endured years of physical darkness in the form of severe fibromyalgia which leaves her bedridden for most of the day. With her surprise gift of the CD was a brief note, "A gift for you: No words...I am just so sad...sending you his last songs to us. Much Love, Jean." Jean was a deep fan of Lenny Cohen as was I, and as are many.

Cohen's last words for us offer a substantive closure to the other songs he gifted us over the decades. I heard my first Leonard Cohen song in the summer of 1969 when I was walking on the beach in Biarritz, France with a friend who was on a break from studying theology in Germany. I was in the south of France renting a room on a Basque farm, where I was committed to writing the first draft of my doctoral thesis. It was dusk and we were approaching a pier that jutted out into the waters of Biarritz beach; surfers had packed up their surfboards (I learned to surf on that beach one sunny afternoon) and my friend sang Lenny's song "Suzanna" for me. I had no idea what all the lyrics meant--mystery was built into Lenny's poetry--but I felt more than I understood and I was particularly struck by the lines about Jesus walking on the waters as a sailor. Living near the ocean for the six months I was in the Pays Basque and visiting the sea daily, I just felt spoken to by Cohen's words and imagery. And this deep resonance has been part and parcel of every encounter I have had since with Cohen's poetry and song.

A few years ago Lenny Cohen drove me to do something I have never done in my life. I was booked for a flight from my town of Oakland, California to Phoenix for a family reunion, but at the last minute I heard Lenny was in Las Vegas for a concert. I canceled my straight flight to Phoenix and boarded a plane for one night in Las Vegas just to hear Lenny in concert, then went on the next day to join my family. Though my cheap seats were way up at the top of the large concert hall, I was profoundly moved--"a religious experience" I told a friend later. 

Lenny had that kind of effect on a lot of people--Jews, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics. He spoke to so many of us. How? Why? What did he bring to the spiritual search of our time?

First of all, he was a man on a search. He often plugged in to his Jewish roots whether by lyrics (David's poetry and the psalms and other Jewish stories recovered in "Hallelujah" are prime examples) or by actions (blessing the crowd in a concert in Israel, where first he praised the peace-makers of both Palestine and Israel and then ended the evening with a Jewish priestly blessing--after all he was a "Cohen" and of the Jewish priestly lineage as well as son in law of a rabbi). He also went out of his way to undergo Buddhist teachings and practices, living as he did for several fruitful years as a serious monk in a Buddhist monastery at Mount Baldy, California. He attributed a lull in his battle with depression to his Buddhist practice.

But he also invokes Jesus on many occasions including in this, his final album, when he refers to how "it seemed the better way/when first I heard him speak/But now it's much too late/To turn the other cheek." After complaining that "I wonder what it meant/At first he touched on love/But then he touched on death," he ends his poem with a Eucharistic symbol: a call to "lift this glass of blood/Try to say the grace" ("It Seemed the Better Way"). Or, in the same collection, Lenny confesses to having seen him "change the water into wine" and back again; and he calls for a treaty "between your love and mine" and how "we were broken then, but now we're borderline."
So the first observation I make about Cohen is that he is a deep ecumenist. That is, he draws on at least three major spiritual traditions: the Jewish into which he was born; the Buddhist which he studied and practiced seriously; and the Christ path. His religious sources are of a post-modern kind, he belongs to many communities at once and is learning from them and incorporating them all in an interfaith offering right up to the end, right up to his last album.

But a second dimension to Cohen's music is his raw honesty. Whether he is talking about human love and/or sexual experience, or the struggles of faith and survival and aging he is blunt and direct. In his ode to Janis Joplin, with whom he interacted while living in the Chelsea Hotel, he is both respectful of her life decisions and her death induced by drugs and her bravery and the "sweet little sound" of her music but he is also blunt about the sex they shared on his unmade bed. There is nothing hidden about the revelations of life experience from Cohen--he names it for what it is and unapologetically so. Life experiences for him open doors of revelation.

His raw honesty is true of his struggles with belief as well and here Lenny speaks to so many believers or wanna-be believers today--his is a very humble and uncertain faith. Part agnostic, part yearning, part feeling, part drawing on sources of tradition, part not--like so many others walking the earth today. For example, in his song "It Seemed the Better Way," he tells us about Jesus' teaching that it "sounded like the truth/seemed the better way/sounded like the truth/But it's not the truth today." How history and culture and life itself have resisted Jesus' teaching or set it in a context that renders it less than truthful or has seemed to move beyond it. He speaks of having "given up/ On the me and you" and how he is not alone but has traveled with others who are in the same boat (Traveling Light).

Or in his poem "Steer your way" found in the same CD, he begins by acknowledging how vapid have become religious archetypes and stories: "Steer your way through the ruins/of the Altar and the Mall/ Steer your way through the fables/ of Creation and The Fall." He warns us that the truth of our fathers may have gone stale, not only are the altars in ruins but also: "Steer your heart past the Truth/you believed in yesterday/Such as Fundamental Goodness/and the Wisdom of the Way" and he admits that atheism is an option: "Steer your way through the pain....that has blinded every View/ And please don't make me go there, /tho' there be a God or not." He does not want to argue about God's existence. The pain of the world that has "smashed the Cosmic Model" renders the argument of atheism more valid. Surely he is responding to the Holocaust (among other evils) in making this point. And just as he mocks the malls in the start of this poem, so he elaborates on the religion of consumerism when he pronounces that "As he died to make men holy,/ let us die to make things cheap." But he offers a remedy as well: to "say the Mea Culpa which/you've probably forgot...." 

Cohen wrestles with the ambiguity of faith in still another poem where he sings of leaving a younger lover. The strength it takes to let go is a spiritual trial, so much so that "They ought to give my heart a medal/For letting go of you/ When I turned my back on the devil/Turned my back on the angel too." Devils and angels play together in Cohen's mind and imagination and choosing--as in all of ours. 

Another theme that Cohen is blunt about is his growing old and his preparing to exit this life. His health was not good in his last years as he battled with cancer and his back was acting up so badly that his son had to help him finish this last album of songs. Lenny profusely praised his son, who became the producer of his last album. 

But the album is in many ways a leave-taking. The theme is everywhere: "I'm leaving the table/I'm out of the game....Little by little/We're cutting the cord" (Leaving the Table). And again, "I'm traveling light/ It's au revoir/ My once so bright/My fallen star/....Goodnight goodnight/My fallen star/....I'm running late/ They'll close the bar/ I used to play/ one mean guitar." Memories arising around his guitar remind him of his past even as his life is moving on. 

And he speaks of immense darkness, the leave taking of loved ones on a cosmic scale. His depiction of the Dark Night of the Soul is for real. "If the sun would lose its light/ And we lived an endless night.... If no leaves were on the tree/ And no water in the sea/ And the break of day/ Had nothing to reveal....That's how broken I would be/ What my life would seem to me/ If I didn't have your love/ To make it real" (If I Didn't Have Your Love). Whose love is he talking about? A friend? A lover? God? All of the above? He lays the dark night at the feet of God, it seems built in to things. "There's a lullaby for suffering/ And a paradox to blame/ But it's written in the scriptures/ And it's not some idle claim/ You want it darker/ We kill the flame." Human history seems to prefer the dark. "Magnified and sanctified Be Thy Holy Name/ Vilified and crucified/ In the human frame/ A million candles burning/ For the love that never came/ You want it darker/ We kill the flame." And of course there is a particular prominence to this message since this song is the title song of the album (You Want It Darker).

As a spiritual theologian I am completely taken by Cohen's honest and searing search for truth, for healing, for right action, for justice, for beauty, for wisdom to be derived from a variety of spiritual traditions. And I am moved by his commitment to work on himself and his honest striving. It is the very humility of his findings that speaks, I think, to the spiritual struggle of our time when in this post-modern world we are at a loss for words to express the depths of the darkness and the light that breaks through sometimes. How busy we are, consciously or unconsciously, to find a new meaning to faith and our lives, and a new faith to create building on the truths of the past and adapting them to our bitter times. We search for community.

It is not just the passing of Leonard Cohen that touches our hearts but the timing of it. He died the day before the presidential election of 2016 that plunged many into a soul-searching and a dark night and a need to hear again the voices of the poor, the outcast, the dark corners of the souls of those who feel so unlistened-to that they clapped and cheered for a man who spoke ultimately to the resentment embedded in hearts and minds left behind by an economic system that works for only a few. 

"You Want It Darker" speaks to the darkness of our times--as did so much of Cohen's work. His words do not cover up the truth--they lay it bare; they are not the least bit sentimental or sugar-coated. They speak to the utter depths of many. They offer no instant satisfaction or redemption. They are the words and songs of a genuine seeker, a man on a hunt, who is "traveling light." A mystic and prophet of the first order. 

May his travels continue for all of us to whom he spoke so directly and deeply yet so often mysteriously. Thank you, Leonard Cohen, for the gift you leave with us. And your last words, "Here I am, I'm ready Lord," spoken three times in response to the coming darkness. Your message is one of Hope. Not cheap hope; not fast-food hope. Something more real and more pressing than that. His friend and fellow artist Judy Collins wrote that he offered us "songs for the spirit when our spirits were strained to the breaking point." 

Yes, he was an honest troubadour about the very real via negativa. But he never abandoned the beauty of life either--"there is perfume everywhere," he sang. He is after all the author of the tribute to broken, cold, imperfect but ever present "Hallelujah's" and he praises love making as being a moment of the "Holy Dove" being present in every breath. He reached always for an authentic via positiva and he invited us into the same arena.

The great psychologist Otto Rank defined the artist as someone who wants to leave behind a gift. Lenny Cohen's gifts he leaves behind are generous and multiple and will continue to feed the spiritually hungry for generations to come. 

Thank you, Lenny, on this Thanksgiving 2016.

A Thanksgiving Post with Prayers for Standing Rock

Reposting with gratitude from my friend, Mexican prophet and poet Rafael Jesús González:

Even as we prepare Thanksgiving dinner and sit and say grace, the indigenous people who, as myth would have it, were present at the start of the tradition, are embattled at Standing Rock defending their land, protecting the water, the Earth itself.

Standing Rock

 Por el camino rojo y el amarillo,
 el camino negro y el blanco
venimos, nos reunimos
porque el agua es la vida y sagrada
tal como es la tierra que nos da nacer
y guarda los huesos de nuestros ancestros.
Nos reunimos con rezos y resolución,
con flores y cantos;
los que las tenemos llevamos plumas,
nuestros aretes de oro, collares de jade
para enfrentar los perros, los garrotes,
el gas lacrimógeno, prisión.
Aquí estamos para defender a la Tierra.

© Rafael Jesús González 2016


Standing Rock

By the red road & the yellow,
the black road & the white
we come, we gather
because water is life & sacred
as is the land that births us
& holds the bones of our forebears.
We gather with prayers & resolve,
with flowers & songs;
we who have them wear feathers,
our gold earrings, our collars of jade
to face the dogs & the clubs,
the tear gas & bullets, prison.
We are here to defend the Earth.

 © Rafael Jesús González 2016


Let us be mindful that in our giving thanks we must also dedicate ourselves to restorative justice and healing knowing that gratitude for what we enjoy at the expense and suffering of our brothers and sisters is blasphemous and unacceptable.

https://www.facebook.com/Labor-For-Standing-Rock-1152693268109852/?

The times are urgent and our brothers and sisters on the front-lines defending the water, the very Earth, standing in peace and prayer are being mercilessly attacked. It is a battle ground amid clouds of tear gas, showered by water cannons in temperatures below zero,

A young woman's arm was destroyed by a concussion grenade

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/standing-rock-arm-amputation_us_5834853ee4b09b6055ff01ec

and hundreds are being injured and hospitalized, some have been killed.

The URGENCY is great. Please call the following and protest:

Be thankful for life and the gifts of the Earth who bears it, be committed to its defense and work for restorative justice without which there can be no peace.

        bless - Rafael

 

Tom Hayden: A Warrior for Justice, RIP

I considered Tom Hayden a friend and a colleague. We did not get together often but we collaborated on a number of occasions, I teaching with him in a class he offered on deep ecology years ago at a community college in Santa Monica; he lecturing at my university.

When I was stepping down as president of my University of Creation Spirituality, I invited him to take over as president. He took the invitation very seriously and came up to Oakland for us to interview him and he to interview us. Unfortunately he turned the invitation down after serious deliberation, citing his need to remain free from institutional demands in order to maintain his true vocation as an activist and researcher.

We shared books we and others wrote. He was both an activist and a true intellectual because he was a relentless asker of questions. His scholarship was always directed, as is the Irish way, toward behavior and action.

When he joined the civil rights movement in the south as a young man he was beaten in Mississippi and arrested in Georgia and in jail began writing his famous "Port Huron Statement" which urged a more progressive political agenda and activism.

Tom once told me how he first got involved in the civil rights movement. As a young man growing up near Detroit, he fell in love with a woman who lived in the south. He followed her south and lo and behold! There was this thing going on, the civil rights movement. He joined in. He got arrested. His girl friend moved on. But he stayed to fight for racial justice. That is how his political career was born. And his vocation as an activist for justice remained true for the rest of his life.

He was a man of integrity who managed to swing between action and research. One long time friend and ally, Larry Bensky, commenting on Hayden's diverse career within politics and outside it, said: "He always wanted to be where the action was. He was such an unusual person, who basically lived his politics....He knew that in order to effectuate any social change it is essential to engage the system. [But] he never forgot his principles and was always true to his instincts to help those that needed help in society."[1]

To me Tom was an incarnation of the "preferential option for the poor" principles that were birthed following the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church. I think he saw it that way too as he took his church seriously and especially its call to justice that birthed the liberation theology movement following on the Council.

I remember once visiting his home in Santa Monica and on his kitchen table were spread out several books by the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff (he and I were both silenced by the Vatican and in the same year which I chose to visit him in Brazil) and some of my own along with copious pages of notes taken from said books.

Tom was not just an activist but a student, even a scholar, of pressing topics of our day including issues of the environment, economics, media, religion, and their common gathering place, politics. He was a lover of liberation theology and he was proud of the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church.

Regarding the church, he remained loyal to it if not always a practitioner thereof (three divorces did not exactly fit the bill for Catholic purity). I recall when I chose to join the Episcopal Church after being expelled from the Dominican Order after 34 years and with the intention of working with young people to reinvent forms of worship, he disagreed with my decision...but this did not diminish our respect for one another's callings.

In fact I often wondered afterwards if the revelations of the truly dark side of the church structure, including the cover up of the pedophile clergy abuse by the hierarchy, did not affect him later. We had talked about my research on the sinister relationship between Pope John Paul II and the CIA machinations to destroy liberation theology in Latin America and he pushed me for footnotes and back up. I included such documentation in my book The Pope's War which I tried to get to him, but I do not know if I was ever successful in that as he was hard to get hold of in more recent years.

Though he was a champion of clear thinking and hard pushing to change our political and economic structures, I think he may have underestimated the radical need for religion to reinvent itself. He did not seem so interested in that particular struggle as he was in the many others that he championed. Deep down his Irish Catholicism stayed with him a long time.

Our most recent correspondence was in 2015 around the pope's encyclical on the Environment and he wrote me these words:

Praise be back to you matt...i thought how much you contributed to the final encyclical over so many years of struggle as the herald of the message, and all i learned from you. For me it goes all the way back to the National Partnership on Religion and Environment -- remember that in the 90s? I met those same people in sacramento at a bishops meeting i attended on the encyclical. Takes a lifetime to get the work done, step by step. The most important thing for me about the pope is the content of the encyclical itself including the structure of its thought. I've urged people to actually read it and not "pontificate" about it. I wrote the Calif legis resolution endorsing it and urging all public agencies to study and discuss it. Definitely has had an impact in the run up to paris! We'll see. On Serra, i figured that was a trade off to get oscar romero canonized over the insane and hateful opposition of the salvadoran right. I am not sure i have all your prolific stuff, but definitely want to read. Here are some of mine which you might not have -- much love. Pope Francis Calls for Climate Justice - Tom Hayden

Hayden's mind was voracious and though a family man and an activist and a state senator and a husband to Jane Fonda and then to his current wife, actress Barbara Williams, he always found time to study and to gather his own thoughts and to write. He wrote twenty books, which is pretty amazing for an activist. And they were books of substance which also named his broad interests and concerns. Among them were the following: The Lost Gospel of the Earth: A Call for Renewing Nature, Spirit and Politics; Irish Hunger: Personal Reflections on the Legacy of the Famine; Inside the Irish: In Search of the Soul of Irish America; Street Wars: Gangs and the Future of Violence; Ending the War in Iraq; The Whole World Was Watching: The Streets of Chicago: 1968; The Zapatista Reader.

One can see in this partial list his broad interests in social justice and healing--his book on gangs was especially striking to me because in writing it he befriended gang and ex-gang members in the Los Angeles area especially, a work of courage as well as deep insight and importance.

Fellow anti-war activist David Harris said that Hayden had the "best analytical mind of anyone....He could assess a situation clearly, completely and right on the mark." Black activist Bobby Seale, who went to trial along with Hayden and six others for inciting the riots in the Chicago Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, said of Hayden: He was "really a great guy, a great organizer, a great writer"... Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin "had their antics, but Tom was more serious....He understood the problem of exploitation, he understood the plight of African Americans. He understood, the way I did, that the framework of government needed to be more progressive. He was someone we could count on."[2]

We will miss Tom Hayden. I often read his newsletter, to which he was contributing even during the last year of his sickness; it was striking for its common sense and clarity about complicated moral and political issues (and Tom always saw political issues as moral ones). One could always disagree with Tom on specifics but one always had to take his arguments seriously for they were well thought out, reasonably argued, consistent to his basic philosophy, and appealing to the heart as well as head.

Tom was a warrior--warrior for justice of all stripes, a warrior for the deep values that are to be found in the core of both the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Justice mattered to him.

The great fourteenth-century Dominican mystic and activist Meister Eckhart said the following: "For the just person as such to act justly is to live; indeed, justice is his life, his being alive, his being, insofar as he is just." Justice was Tom's life. And work. And passion. His being and his being alive. It was his spirituality. We are all better for it. Yes, he will be missed, this voice of reason and of caring and of action and passion on behalf of justice.

Truly, here was a man who "fought the good fight" his entire life long with all of his gifts of intellect and caring. Thank you, Tom. May you rest in peace and may your work and person continue to inspire us and future generations.

__________________________________________

[1] Cited in Evan Sernoffsky and Steve Rubenstein, "Tom Hayden: Student activist became longtime state legislator," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct 25, 2016, A-8.

[2] Ibid.

REBLOGGING: News from Standing Rock

I am proud to say that the author of this post, Phila Hoopes, works closely with Dennis and myself and others involved with creation spirituality.  She drove from her Baltimore home to Standing Rock, ND, last week to bear witness to the work going on at the Oceti Sakowin support camp and has just filed this important story, among others, on her blog

Spread the word--and the prayers--please.  Mainstream media is, as usual, not doing its job (any more than it did its job at the three presidential debates when not one question was asked about climate change or the environment).


Standing Rock – Setting Stories Aside,
Seeking News

There is a time when human-interest stories of strong and gentle people preparing for winter in a remote resistance camp fade before a heart-stopping demonstration of raw communal courage, made in the face of overwhelming militarized force. A demonstration documented only on social media; the most important history of our time is being made far away from the mainstream news cameras.

That’s what happened yesterday. My accustomed middle-class routine was setting in; I’d intended to spend the day blogging about the amazing people I met at Standing Rock. But upon seeing a stark, terse warning in a NoDAPL group’s feed, I spent the day frantically scouring Facebook for the latest news, trying desperately to find out what was happening and get the news to someone – anyone – who could give it the mainstream media coverage it deserves.

Urgent. Tell frontlines on all channels. Confirmed: Around 50 police vehicles on the way to front lines with 5 trailers full of atvs.
Estimates from
30 police suvs
5-6 flare beds full of atvs (5 atvs per trailer)
4-5 unmarked suvs
4-5 Cop cars probably from various jurisdictions
5-6 sand colors humvees/mraps
Get get word to frontlines
Seen 45 miles east of bismarck around 10:45
So total 60 vehicles plus 30 atvs
Plus forensic van

It was another reminder – if reminders were needed – that Oceti Sakowin is not a rainbow social gathering, much as it seemed like one, with people of all races, genders, and creeds present and pitching in harmoniously. The camp is very genuinely a strong and oppressed nation’s last stand in defense of its land and water, its people and ultimately all peoples, human and otherwise, who occupy the watersheds of the continent’s great heartland rivers and Oglala aquifer.

More....

Unarmed Water Protectors Stand Bravely Against Big Oil's Illegal Advance

On this Labor Day all people with a conscience and with love and interest in preserving the planet and its sacred waters should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Dakota people, who are being bullied once again by federal agencies and the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners oil company bent on ramming the Dakota Access Pipeline across their lands. 

The $3.8B, 1200-mile pipeline, which violates both historic treaties and federal law, is slated to transport nearly 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken oil fields, crossing the underground aquifer of the Great Sioux Reservation and the Missouri River, and threatening the water supply of millions of people, both Indian and non-Indian.   

In an ongoing effort to stop the pipeline - deemed "unlawful" by the local sheriff and Energy Transfer - thousands of unarmed water protectors have assembled in peaceful prayer camps, in the largest gathering of tribes in more than 100 years. They are joined by environmental attorneys; activists representing movements and churches including Black Lives Matter; Amnesty International; the Anglican Church of Canada and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church; pagans of several traditions; and celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Rosario Dawson, and Shailene Woodley.  Politicians including Bernie Sanders and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., have spoken up in support from Washington, D.C.

The Standing Rock Nation filed papers challenging the Army Corps of Engineers' permits for the DAPL on September 2, and the fate of the pipeline is now up to a federal judge who will rule on its legality on September 9. Nevertheless, on September 4, in a premature "fait accompli" action described as "psychological warfare," mercenaries employed by Energy Transfer attacked unarmed men, women and children of the Lakota tribes while bulldozing their sacred burial grounds and ceremonial sites. Ecologist/activist Linda Black Elk described the scene in a public Facebook post:

In a recent survey of the area, the tribe (had) found many incredibly sacred sites, including burial sites, directly in the path of the proposed pipeline. The tribe had never been allowed to survey these areas before, so they hadn't been able to document these sites.

Today, barely 24 hours after those papers were filed, Dakota Access used bulldozers to destroy those sites. It was absolute destruction. They literally bulldozed the ancestors right out of the ground, along with destroying tipi rings and cairns. They did all of this while assaulting peaceful resistors using vicious dogs, tear gas, and pepper spray. 

There's only one conclusion: they are attempting to provoke us to violence. They learned exactly how to hurt us the most and then they threw it all in our faces. They were smiling and laughing the whole time...evil grins on their faces as their dogs tore in to peaceful water protectors. It is one of the saddest and most shocking things I have ever seen. Please tell the world what is happening. 

Meanwhile, President Obama - who visited the Standing Rock Reservation in June, 2014 with promises of federal help - has been silent in the face of this injustice, despite a video plea from the youth of the tribe and a rebuke from the U.N. Permanent Council calling on the U.S. government to "comply with the provisions recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensure the right of the Sioux to participate in decision-making, considering that the construction of this pipeline will affect their rights, lives and territory.". 

When will these atrocities stop?  When will a sense of the sacred--the sacred waters and earth, the human rights of all people, the sacredness of ancestral lands -- return to our value system to supplant the idolatrous faux sacred bottom line of corporations?  We are talking about rank idol worship here and it has profound consequences for the future of Mother Earth and all her children.  Let us stand with the Dakota people in this holy struggle.   "All our relations."   All are sacred.

The Standing Rock Sioux Nation asks those who feel called to support to write to their legislators and the Obama Administration . A more comprehensive list of ways to help is posted on a number of Facebook pages. For ways to take direct nonviolent action, see NODAPLSolidarity.org

An Evening With A Saint


Yesterday I was with a saint.  Sister Abegail Nteleto from South Africa came to the Bay Area for a book signing, and since she and I shared a common publisher, North Atlantic Books, I was invited to dialog with her at a local bookstore, where she spoke of her memoir and I of the new version of my autobiography (updated after 18 years).

Abegail’s book is called Empty Hands: One Woman’s Journey to Save Children Orphaned by AIDS in South Africa and though short, is a powerful and must read book.  It is an adventure story—but a true one, non-fiction indeed—about this courageous and amazing woman whose mother died when she was young and whose older siblings moved away and left her as a child with her alcoholic father.  She was caring for the cattle at the age of six and, being a girl, was forbidden by custom and her father to seek an education.  But she was hungry for an education and at the age of 14 broke with her father and started school.  Her dream was to become a nurse but she did not graduate from high school until she was 29 years old.

Her accomplishments, once she became a nurse in her fifties, are legion—and the obstacles of poverty and racism and more that she overcame.  Adopting more children than one can count, sleeping in two rooms with twenty-something kids, kids traumatized by parents who died of AIDS, resistance from the government and more.  But she was steadfast.  She got very little sleep, developed a spiritual practice of meditating at 3AM in the morning while the kids slept, learning to receive, to let go, to forgive, to practice “empty hands.”

My response to her book was to cite Thomas Aquinas who said the greatest miracle of all is a virtuous life!  Hers has been a virtuous life (she is now in her eighties).  The Dalai Lama, among others, has recognized this by bestowing on her a special honor called the “Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award.”  So I told her and the people gathered that Abegail is a Miracle.  She has a new name now—Sister Miracle.  She smiled in her humble but strong and knowing way.

Read her book.  Know her story.  Do what she did in your own way and in response to your own calling to serve those around you .  Visit YouTube—Kulungile Care Centre.  Drink in her book, Empty Hands, and be grateful that we share the earth with a soul so sturdy and real.

An afterthought…

Joanna Macy cancelled an engagement to join us yesterday evening and I was thinking this morning how many women saints I have been blessed to know and work with in my life: Abegail, Joanna, Dorothy Stang, Sr Jose Hobday, M. C. Richards, Mary Ford Grabowski, Sr. Joan Chittister, Anita Roddick, Debra Martin,  my own mother and many more.

It is a good time for women to rise.

U.N. Postscript to Serra Canonization

Doctrine of Discovery-related Papal Bulls require redress

After the struggle by many Indigenous rights organizations and their allies to halt the canonizaton of Junipero Serra last year, and the disappointment of seeing the Spanish conquistadors’ missionizer-in-chief made a saint despite his brutal and genocidal tacticsthis news from the U.N. came as a welcome surprise:

As the result of a comprehensive shadow report by the Apache-Nde-Nnee Working Group submitted to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) resulted in the CERD Committee recognizing the Doctrine of Discovery, the Holy See’s Inter Caetera and related Papal Bulls are within the legal scope of racial discrimination under International Law and therefore require redress.

More and more it strikes me that the Serra canonization fiasco is having an ironic, unintended and positive effect. Thanks to the perseverance of the native tribes in wake of the Serra canonization, the truth is getting out and getting out in ever fuller ways.  Education is happening at many levels!

Learn more about the struggle against the canonization of Junipero Serra here:

REBLOG: A Review of Spotlight by Norbert Krapf

I saw the movie Spotlight recently and was deeply moved by its powerful acting and authentic storytelling: how a courageous team of reporters and editors at the Boston Globe exposed the Catholic Church's coverup of widespread pedophilia among its priests. Highly recommended! The following review by Indiana poet laureate Norbert Krapf, author of Catholic Boy Blues, expresses the profound effect of this film on the survivors of priestly abuse, and their loved ones. Reblogging with his permission....

SPOTLIGHT

A Review by Norbert Krapf

Finally, despite multiple medical procedures and family obligations, I got to see the impressive, powerful, and moving film “Spotlight.” The acting is excellent, so is the script and every other aspect of it, but what’s most impressive is the uncompromising truth-telling.

If you are a survivor, have a sibling or relative or friend who is a survivor, you must see this film. If you can’t believe that the Church stonewalled it and in effect betrayed survivors and its own ideals and moral, ethical, and religious principles all over again, you must see this film. I was reminded, over and over, what an ugly betrayal the cover-up was and still is. I was reminded of how I felt the sting, the outrage, the hurt, the filthy putdown of what it felt like to have the church hierarchy negate me and my fellow survivors over and over in parish and diocese and archdiocese in city after city through its denials and secret “deals.”

My fellow survivors, if you go to see this powerful and uncompromising film, do not go by yourself. I sobbed uncontrollably, repeatedly. Go with someone who cares for you, loves you, someone you love, because it will be torture to see it by yourself. Go with someone who supports you. In the company of someone who understands what you went through back then and had to go through all over again because of this later betrayal, which complicated your early pain exponentially, you will better be able to appreciate what a great service the whole team that put this film together has given us all.

This is art that serves humanity. This is truth that had to out. If we cannot face the truth, we cannot help our children. This film helps us face the truth, as hard as that may be. There is still much work to be done on this. I am eternally grateful to anyone who had anything to do with making and bringing this film out for us all to experience. This film is about the betrayal by the Catholic Church of its young victim-survivors, but child abuse and its cover-up are NOT limited to the Catholic Church, and are not limited to the United States. They are world-wide problems. I say BRAVO! to the “Spotlight” team.

May my “Catholic Boy Blues” collection of poems and the prose memoir “Shrinking the Monster” forthcoming from In Extenso Press, an imprint of ACTA Publications of Chicago, also the new publisher of the poetry collection, play their small part in speaking out against child abuse and the harm it does to us, our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants. As a survivor, I give thanks for “Spotlight” and I encourage you to see it. I hope Pope Francis has seen it, because it should help him take action; it must have made this good-hearted Pope cry.

© 2015 Norbert Krapf

Toward a more than literal and more than rational and more than capitalist Christmas!

Some people complain that there exists a “war on Christmas.”  I propose that there are three wars on Christmas going on in our time: There is the war of chosen ignorance and fundamentalist literalism that seeks to make of every Christmas story a literal truth (such folks are seeking the star of Bethlehem and all the rest by pouring over historical astronomical manuscripts)--and this destroys Christmas for many thinking people; there is the war of rationalists who, in their eagerness to prove the fundamentalists all wrong are busy deconstructing the Christmas narratives but with little or no appreciation of the profound panoply and in fact rich banquet of archetypes and meaning and poetry and art that are embedded in the Christmas stories and no effort whatsoever at reconstruction; and the third war comes from consumer capitalism which, like a great river that is flooding seeks out weak spots to fill and rushes into the vacuums left by the hard line literalists and the hard line rationalists to fill it with an orgy of spending frenzy that appeals to the basest instincts of greed, competition, avarice, gluttony and more silliness that keeps us all distracted from the deeper meanings of the Christmas season.  These are the three wars on Christmas being waged in our time. What is ironic to me is that the fundamentalists on the right and the fundamentalists on the left are in bed together—whether they admit it or not—insofar as both suffer from severe reductionism.  They both are literalists—this is what they have in common for one wants to throw the baby Jesus out with the bath (the rationalists); and the other wants to wallow in the literal waters with the baby Jesus.  Both are stuck in a literal past and both ignore the expansive and cosmic message that the Christmas stories are telling us: Stories about the coming of the Cosmic Christ (or Buddha Nature if you prefer; or Image of God if you prefer that).  Stories that are mythical in size and scope.  Stories that are more-than-anthropocentric.  Stories and the archetypes that accompany them that blast through the narcissism of our species including its preoccupation with guilt, shame, self-destruction, power, control and death wishes.  Stories that are so big that only artists can tell them.  Stories that go beyond the left brain and water and wash the intuitive brain where, as Einstein teaches, values come from.  Stories that are mystical and not merely intellectual.  Stories that live, not stories that slumber in academic anal retentive  obsessions and ego-driven power games of deconstructing.

What are some of these stories the Christmas brings alive for us?  (I stress the “some” because I will only deal with a limited number of them in this short essay.)  

  • One is the basic story of Who/Where the Divine is to be found.  A key name in the Christmas story is the word “Emmanuel.”  Biblical scholars have concluded that “Emmanuel” is the oldest name for God in the Bible and what it means is “God-with-us.”  Notice what it does not mean: Not God over us; God above us; God outside us; God judging us; God as nobodaddy in the sky; God as Patriarch par excellence; God as Judge; God as Condemner; God as mathematician in the sky; God as power-over.  None of these.  Rather God-with-us, God among us, God in our midst.  More a panentheistic God than a theistic God.  A theistic God is a God outside us, God as object.  A panentheistic God is us in God and God in us.  God among us therefore, God in our midst.
  • Another basic message from the Christmas story is the primacy of the anawim, those without a voice, those who are the forgotten ones in society.  That is the meaning of the angels appearing to the shepherds with good news to tell the whole world.  The shepherds were very much at the bottom of the cultural totem pole in Israel in the first century.  They lived among sheep, smelled like them, were not educated or literate, etc.  They are the first one, one might say the chosen ones, to hear good news about “Peace to the world.”
  • The anawim are also the children.  Then as now, children are often without a voice and are subject to adultism and the projections and projects of the adults whether their versions of societal institutions from education to economics to religion to politics.  Children are often victimized by the agendas of the adults.  But in the Christmas story we are told that Divinity is not afraid of childhood but actually chooses to young and a child and to be vulnerable and dependent as happens with children everywhere.  Christmas challenges adultism in all its forms.  It awakens adults to their capacity for participating in the evil of endangering the young.  It also shows the best way of dealing with children: Mother Mary and Father Joseph care for their young baby as every healthy and loving couple do.
  • The Christmas story also warns of the darkness to come in the life of Jesus, the price he will one day pay in taking on the Empire of the day, when it tells us that Herod, the Roman Empire’s representative in Israel, is out to murder this “savior” and puts out a decree that all new born male babies should be murdered.  And the flight to Egypt is the response to that.  Literalists want to think this journey was for real; rationalists want to throw out the whole story.  But the meaning is clear and is deeper than any effort to commit reductionism: Every son or daughter of God (and that is each of us) will awaken powers that are threatened by the message of peace (and therefore justice) preached by people of good will.  Christmas warns us that it will not be an easy task to live out one’s Divine incarnation.
  • There lies another profound teaching from the Christmas stories: Incarnation.  Literally, the taking on of flesh.  By whom?  By Divinity.  God is so in love with humanity and the Earth that God becomes one of us, light embodied, flesh, very much “God-among-us,” very much a lover and user of Earth and her many gifts to humans.  It follows that flesh is holy, flesh is sanctified, all of our chakras (including number two, our sexuality) are incorporated into the sacredness of Divinity.  None of us need regret any longer our incarnation, our fleshiness, our sexuality or the sacred flesh of Mother Earth that welcomes us and nourishes us.
  • There is a powerful affirmation of the four-legged ones and the role they play in divine revelation in these stories.  Not only are the sheep present when the shepherds hear the news from the cosmic beings, the angels; but they are also there at the manger where the Divine baby is placed--see Isaiah 1.1 which talks of how “Israel has not known me but the ox and donkey have known me.”  In other words the non-two-legged ones can be much closer to God than humans.  They bless us; we learn from them; we are not here just to use them.  That is a profound and necessary message in a time of eco-awakening such as ours.  It strikes at the heart of speciesism, the narcissistic notion that our species alone is the “people of God.”
  • The baby Jesus was born in a manger, his parents were poor, no room in the inn.  But the Cosmic Christ is born there also.  In poverty; in exile; like immigrants; excluded from the hotels and motels.  All this is a teaching also of the preferential option for the poor that the Scriptures announce and that we still have to learn and practice.  It challenges all those who stand by while strangers and those in exile suffer immeasurably trying to survive.  It is a story about justice and justice-making.
  • Christmas day is not so much a Birthday Party for the baby Jesus in the year 2015—an exercise in nostalgia certainly--so much as it is a Birthday Party for the Christ in all of us, the Buddha Nature in all of us, the Image of God in all of us yearning to Come Alive and Be Born finally, throwing off the shackles of history and fear and lack of self-worth to take on the dignity and the responsibility of being grown-ups; of being God-like; of being compassionate; of being fully alive.
  • There are many reminders of the Cosmic dimension to our lives in the Christmas story.  The star of Bethlehem is one such reminder: the heavens themselves, the cosmos, is part of the birth of each of us and part of the incarnation of each of us.  It is revelatory and can point the way to the Divine.  Science tells us that it took not just stars but supernovas and galaxies and the birth of atoms and the life, death and resurrection of multiple beings in the sky and the preparation of the earth including fine-tuning the atmosphere, for each of us to be born to this amazingly rich and beautiful and unique planet.
  • The story of the magi searching for this star reminds us that cosmology moves us beyond sectarianism and living in our comfortable boxes of religion or ethnicity or race or class for the magi were not Jews but seekers from other cultures seeking the same goal: A savior or teacher or Messiah who will remind all of us what life is truly about in its depths.
  • Wherever there are angels there is the cosmos represented for angels are cosmic beings not restricted to our planet or to human endeavors alone.  Angels accompany all creativity and certainly all new creation.  There prominence in these stories then beginning with Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and culminating with the appearance to the shepherds are part of the necessary messaging that as humans wake up to their own dignity, to their incarnation and marrying of the Divine and the human, all of creation is eager to accompany us and to praise with us.  But in the meantime we need the angels and need to call on them for their inspiration (a “muse” is another word for an angel) and guidance as we try to find our way as a species on an endangered planet.  Angels are allies, cosmic allies, eager to assist us.
  • Light and Darkness.  Christmas time is of course solstice time which in the northern hemisphere corresponds to the darkest time of the year.  So many cultures have honored this special, dark time of the year with pyramids and monuments (think New Grange in Ireland or Stonehenge or the pyramids of the Yucatan peninsula) made by intellectual genius and serious manual labor to get people to connect psyche and cosmos, honoring the dark but inviting in the light also.  In this context the “light of Christ” and the light of all of us is invited to shine not just one day a year but every day of the year, any one of which can be very dark.  Especially in the dark times is the light of Christmas to be remembered.  And darkness is the most appropriate time for the birth of the Divine.  It is a time of stillness and of quiet and from there the Christ is born.
  • The tradition of the Christmas tree, borrowed from ancient so-called “pagan” practices, is still another reminder of our interdependence as humans with the more-than-human peoples.  Not only animals but the tree people are honored at Christmas—and for good reason.  It is the ancestors of the trees after all that first emerged from the waters of the oceans and learned to defy gravity and built circulatory systems that later evolved to become our blood systems.  It was the tree people, so many millions of years older than ourselves, that taught us how to stand erect.  And proud.  And stately.  Our lighting of the tree, our decorating of the tree, our inviting a tree into our homes for a few weeks is such an invitation to move beyond our narcissism as a species and learn anew how blessed we are by so many beings that are more than human.

These are just some of the lessons of Christmas.  These archetypes do what all archetypes do: They wake us up.  Christmas is a time of wake-up.  

Recently I read a well-intentioned article about teaching children about religion that was published in a progressive Christian magazine.  But it offered a sad and scary teaching when the author wrote that stories about Jesus are “sometimes the truth and sometimes myth.”  Shame, shame!  There looms a dangerous dualism here.  Adults ought to know by now that myths are truths; they carry truths that are too big for just factoids to carry.  It would be a disaster to attempt to purge all religion of its myths.  As psychologist Rollo May points out, myths are the basis of all morality.  There is an unnecessary dualism here between "truth" and "myths."

The stories of the Nativity need not be factual but mythically they are immensely powerful.  The artists who composed them knew what they were doing--they catch the deep imagination and yearnings of the human heart for justice for the poor and in doing so offer what is in many ways the essence of the Christ path--that Good News will come to the poorest (the shepherds) and the four-legged ones (ox and sheep) will be in a privileged place and that Divinity is young--a child--not just an old, bearded fellow.  And that we are cosmic beings born of a cosmos that has loved us and we will find no peace without remarrying our psyches to the cosmos.  The Gospel writers were NOT members of academic seminars: They were ARTISTS and they wove together powerful teachings and stories from the Hebrew Bible and elsewhere including their own hearts and imaginations to create powerful works of art.  It was the Jesus event that aroused this creativity and breakthrough thinking in them.  It is an insult to throw out their brilliant mosaics based solely on a modern perspective of "facts only."  Do not underestimate the power of myth and story to move minds and hearts and thereby create metanoia or transformation.

We do not need a literalism from the left.  We and our children will be the poorer for it.  Academia, for all its accomplishments, like the quest for the historical Jesus and all its accomplishments, carries a great shadow side as well.  One that needs some uplifting regarding the deeper, archetypal, mythical and therefore truly BIG stories of our religious lineage.  

Are any of the lessons I have outlined here been truly heeded, lived out, celebrated, achieved by the human race in the past 2000 years?  Isn’t it time we begin?  Isn’t it time Christmas arrives, the Cosmic Christ arrives, finally?

 

A Renewed Plea Against Serra Canonization as Pope Francis Visit Nears

As the Pope's visit to the U.S. approaches, Native American activists in California and beyond are working harder than ever to raise awareness and stop the canonization‬ of Junipero Serra. I am sharing the latest letter from Toypurina Carac, originator of the MoveOn petition against the canonization; see the excellent article that she shares below, and if you haven't signed the petition yet, please do. ____________________________________________

Dear Supporters,

As our delivery date draws near, I am sharing a brief article written by a Professor friend in Southern California and Descendant of Mission Natives.

The Great Vatican Fraud by J. Cordero, PhD

The Vatican’s justification for canonizing Junipero Serra rests in great part upon Serra’s accomplishments. In the absence of a second miracle required for sainthood, Pope Francis counted Serra’s life’s work as a sufficient substitute. According to Pope Francis, Serra’s primary achievement was in founding the California missions where he served as a missionary and as Father President. In fact, Pope Francis praised Serra for being the “great evangelizer of the West in the United States.” From the Vatican’s perspective, then, the canonization of Junipero Serra relies heavily upon the assumption that the missionaries in California were, as Zephryn Engelhardt declared, “eminently successful,” especially in achieving their primary objective—the conversion of the California Indians.

In reality, however, Serra and the Spanish missionaries failed to achieve that goal. Based on the Spanish records kept by the missionaries themselves, less than five percent of all baptized California Indians voluntarily converted (i.e., genuinely converted as opposed to simply having been baptized) to Christianity, and the vast majority of converts held a syncretistic faith comprised of both native and Catholic beliefs. On the other hand, nearly eighty percent of all baptized natives died prematurely. In other words, five of every one hundred baptized Indians was genuinely converted, while eighty of every one hundred died an untimely death. The high death rates for Indians did not result primarily from epidemic diseases as is commonly reported. Instead, the austere living and working conditions at the missions contributed to rates of death that grossly exceeded birth rates and that consequently led to the near destruction of native populations in a manner more severe than in Baja California.

Thus, in their evangelistic efforts the Spanish missionaries fared poorly, which means that Pope Francis has merely substituted one failure for another and that the primary basis for Serra’s canonization is fraudulent.

Jonathan Cordero (Ohlone/Chumash) Assistant Professor of Sociology, California Lutheran University Chairperson of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone

Dr. Cordero will be joining a group of us next month at U.C. Berkeley to discuss the campaign to stop the canonization of Serra. It would be great if we could celebrate victory!

I need to issue an apology and correction from last week: Vinnie Rotondaro writes for the National Catholic Reporter, not the Register. I have linked his amazing article below. Our NPR interview with George Lavender is scheduled to air on Friday, 9/18/15. Our German Radio interview with Kerstin Zilm will also air sometime soon!

Our final delivery date will be this week and we are finalizing our media release. You will be the first to know when and where we are delivering the petition! Please stay connected to www.nostjunipero.com and our Kizh Nation Facebook page for updates. As of now, we are short 120 names on the petition to have reached our goal of 10,000.

We wish to extend a warm "Mahalo" and Aloha to supporters in Hawaii who oppose the canonization of Serra, as it is an insult to Father Damien of Molokai.

We thank you all, for your help in signing and sharing our petition to Pope Francis. This canonization is in direct conflict with his rhetoric, so we hope he will abandon it, before it is too late for this to tarnish his legacy of mercy, compassion and progress.

In solidarity, Toypurina Carac

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/urge-pope-francis-to http://ncronline.org/news/peace-justice/doctrine-discovery-scandal-plain-sight

Some Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis in Europe and the Middle East

The news is full every day of the disturbing pictures and harrowing stories of the hundreds of thousands of refugees bent on fleeing the awful wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, children and others drowning in make-shift boats, families hiking for hundreds and thousands of miles, fences erected and much more.  Much of the crisis was generated by the invasion of Iraq thirteen years ago by an American government claiming its justification as a response to 9/11, even though Iraq was not involved with 9/11. Germany seems to be stepping up mightily in offering asylum for at least 800,000 persons and a number of other countries are also reaching out to assist the dispossessed.  Others, not so much.  Within countries there is considerable debate concerning the loss of one’s culture, the dilution of one’s cultural identity, etc.  It is not an easy time for responsible citizens and governments to make sound decisions.  But it is such a crisis that tests the moral fiber of a people.  I have heard from my brother, now living in Iceland with his Icelandic wife, that there is much discussion and debate in the streets and cafes, etc. about the best course of action.

But in the United States I hear practically no debate and no discussion from our politicians or government employees or media.  The silence is deafening. It is as if this is “something happening over there” and not something that affects us all.  Yet because we are all humans it does affect us all and because our government did actually play a fundamental role in making the crisis happen, having created the vacuum in Iraq from our ill-fated invasion there, it is our concern.  America made ISIS possible.  

What can America do?  How many openings can we create for refugees from the middle eastern wars?  These are questions far more pertinent than How many times Donald Trump can make wild headlines for example.  Why are we not asking these questions?

The bigger question I see unfolding is that of reptilian brain (war) vs. mammal brain (compassion and kinship).  There is no question that humankind is in a profound struggle with itself about exactly this issue: Will we continue to choose the domination of the reptilian brain (example: as a species we are spending $58 per second on war and weapons)?  Or will we opt for a more dominant role for our mammal brains—which are the brain of kinship, community and compassion?   We see Europe facing that very choice at this time. One prays they do not flunk the test. Is America ready for the same challenge?  If not, why not?  

If humanity is to survive our very evolution must be marked by a choice on behalf of our mammal brains at the expense of our reptilian brains.  If we don’t evolve, we will not survive.  The present crisis is, as they say, a profound opportunity.  An occasion for growing up, for growing more fully human.  Let us not flunk this opportunity.

The Emerging Truth about Junipero Serra and the California Missions

Matthew Fox Reviews A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions, by Elias Castillo The saga of unholy injustice detailed in A Cross of Thorns left me feeling kicked in the gut, with my sense of moral outrage boiling over. Yet it is presented in subdued and sober terms, with fact after fact and story after story, building a sure case against the canonizing of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. The author, Elias Castillo, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, tells the truth of the fabled and now postcard-like missions of California, a truth that has often been hidden away in libraries containing correspondence and comments from the days of the mission founding while a myth of benign relationships with the Native Peoples has been promulgated instead.

In this book Father Junipero Sera, called by some the “Father of California,” is exposed in damning detail as the father of a system, the mission system, that systematically destroyed the culture of the indigenous peoples of California that had lived at peace with the earth and more or less at peace with themselves over millennia until the Spanish arrived. With Castillo’s new research in hand, it makes all the more scandalous the current effort, supported by two Opus Dei archbishops and the Knights of Columbus, to canonize this sadistic person who is a poster boy for colonization and for racism. Why, Why, Why is Pope Francis going ahead with this canonization? Who profits from it?

There are those who say, “Don’t judge an eighteenth-century person by twenty-first century standards.” Well, when that person is being proposed by the Pope himself as a saint and therefore a model for twenty-first century people to emulate, why wouldn’t we have the right to judge? For example, should we be imitating Serra’s penchant for beating and scourging himself both in private and in the pulpit as a glorious spiritual exercise? In his own day in fact, one member of his congregation in Mexico was so turned on by Serra’s self-flagellations that when Serra bared his chest and beat himself in the pulpit the parishioner stormed the lectern and seized the chains out of the zealous friar’s hands and thrashed himself so hard declaring “I am a sinner” that he died on the spot! Now there is a saint to be imitated, right?

Furthermore, as is clear from the author’s impeccable research, Serra was out of the loop even in his own time. For example, he preaches that the earth is the center of the universe and the sun moves around the earth—150 years after Copernicus proved otherwise! In addition, Europeans who visited his missions complained in his time that they were shocked by the treatment of the Indians.   Even fellow Franciscans of his time were embarrassed and ashamed of what he was doing. Also, the governor generals contemporary with his time complained of his death camps otherwise known as “missions” and often overrode his decisions. Decades after the governor forbade beating Indians Serra was still insisting on it in his missions.

The whitewash on Serra has been going on long enough. The facts are now out there including interviews with descendants of those who were colonized by him. Where are the Franciscans who are standing up to be heard today about this monstrous effort to canonize a Colonizer and a man who himself whipped, and ordered whipped, thousands of Indians, and whose entire theology was about getting people to heaven no matter what the cost? Surely these sons of Saint Francis have a stake in seeking an apology from the Native Peoples and letting Serra lie in his grave, don’t they? Surely they don’t want to support a lie about Serra’s holiness – do they?

Thanks be to God, our age is waking up to the evils of racism. The confederate flag is at last being removed from Southern statehouses and government buildings, after the massacre of nine people in a black church by a 21-year-old assassin whose web pages and costumes celebrated that flag. America is agreeing that the confederate flag is a symbol of all that is evil in our national history of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism in its many incarnations right up to 2015.

But the missions are the same to Native Americans of California. They are symbols of slavery and of racism just as is the confederate flag. Castillo establishes this without a doubt:

  • The thousands of Indians who were herded into the missions did not come voluntarily but were treated as slaves insofar as they were paid nothing;
  • They were free labor for decades in the building up of the missions and their lands and vineyards and cattle raising;
  • They were not allowed to return to their villages (if they tried to they were whipped and often tortured, some locked into braces in the hot sun and left without water for days);
  • They were cut off from their religion and culture and families;
  • They were forced to attend daily mass even though it was in Latin of which they understood not a word and were to kneel for up to four hours during the Mass;
  • The men were separated from the women;
  • They were often starved and close to starving, etc., etc.

Far from the mythology still reigning, the Indians and Catholics did not get along well. Why else would over 1000 neophytes try to escape from fifteen missions between 1769 and 1817—especially knowing that if caught severe penalties ensued? The author lists the numbers from each mission in compiling these statistics. In 1832 the Mexican assembly called for an end to what it called back then “the detestable system of the missions” and so many Indians fled from the missions that the “neophytes” or baptized Christians plunged in number from 30,000 to 5,000 between 1834 and 1843. This does not sound like happy campers wanting to stick around. The fact that the missions were labeled “detestable” in 1832 silences those today who say piously, “but we can’t judge the missions by twenty-first century standards.”

Castillo devotes one chapter to “Rebellion” since many Native people rose up and resisted their own enslavement. After one such rebellion at the San Diego mission the military commander asked the conquered rebel Indians why they rose up. The answer was recorded thus: “They wanted to kill the fathers and soldiers in order to live as they did before.” On receiving news of the uprising and the number of persons killed Serra responded: “Thank God that that ground has now been watered (with blood): Now, certainly we will achieve the conversion of the Dieguenos.” Strange talk indeed for a saint! (173)

The coastal Indian numbers were estimated at 300,000 when the Spanish arrived in 1769; they were 16,624 in 120 years later. (p. 200) Is that not genocide? While some of that happened after the gold rush in 1849, it began with the mission system that Serra founded. The missions, like the monasteries of the late middle ages (which St Francis had reacted against in starting his order), became vast properties where tens of thousands of head of cattle, sheep, and goats made the friars rich beyond measure. Yet, “there is no full accounting of the wealth amassed by the missions during their peak period, from the end of the eighteenth century through the early 1800s.” (194)

In August, 1833 the Mexican government secularized the missions and all their lands, making them the property of the Mexican government and stripping the Franciscans of their authority over them, though allowing the chapels to continue as places for Mass. At San Gabriel the leading friar “flew into a rage” and ordered the destruction of all the buildings and livestock with the result that tens of thousands of carcasses of cattle, sheep and goats littered the field. While he tried to destroy the vineyards as well, the Indians assigned to do it refused.

So decimated was the population of the Indians in the missions that the head Friar from 1815-1819, Mariano Payeras, wrote that history will record that the priests “baptized them, administered the sacraments to them, and buried them” and he worried about how to shelter the friars “from slander and sarcasm…for all time.” (154)   The diet forced on the mission Indians resulted in stunted and much smaller bodies as is indicted by comparing human bones at mission Indian burial sites to those not so enslaved. (155) It seems that most of the concern of the Franciscan superiors was not about the plight of the Indians but about the depletion in free labor for the missions and what history would say about the Franciscans. Well, with this book, history has indeed spoken. And it is not pretty.

For any Franciscan today to stand by idly while the pope canonizes Serra is at least as immoral an act as was the work of their sadistic forefathers. Survivors of the missions were interviewed in the late nineteenth century and “all agreed that the friars and mission life was cruel and oppressive.” (151) On July 21, 1797, a group of Indians who escaped were interviewed by the military commander who captured them on why they escaped. Here are some of their testimonies as recorded by the commander:

  • After his wife and daughter died, on five separate occasions Father Danti ordered him whipped because he was crying. For these reasons he fled.
  • He fled because his wife and one child had died, no other reason that that.
  • His motive for fleeing was that his brother had died on the other shore, and when he cried for him at the mission they whipped him.
  • He left because his mother, two brothers and three nephews died all of hunger. So that he would not also die of hunger, he fled. (152f)

This does not strike me as twenty-first century values foisted onto eighteenth-century reality. In fact, visitors to the missions in their own time were shocked by what they saw—even Friar Antonio de la Conception Horra who was assigned to head Mission Sanguel in 1798 was shocked and complained that the missions failed to teach the Indians the Spanish language. He wrote the Viceroy of Mexico: “The manner in which the Indians are treated is by far more cruel than anything I have ever read about. For any reason however insignificant it may be, they are severely and cruelly whipped, placed in shackles, or put in stocks for days on end without receiving even a drop of water.” (141) Another friar in 1797 reported why Indians were fleeing the Mission San Francisco. “It is due to the terrible suffering they experienced from punishments and work,” he wrote the governor. An investigating presidio commander wrote: “Generally the treatment given the Indians is very harsh. At San Francisco, it even reached the point of cruelty.” (142)

Diseases, starvation, filthy and crowded living conditions, cruelty and torture--but also depression killed the mission Indians. “Some may have simply willed themselves to die, unable to stand the terrible stress….Nearly half of the missions populations died each year” and to make up for such losses the friars hunted further and further to find tribes from which they could seek a new and free labor force for their plantations. (139) As Castillo puts it: “Much of California including land that was far from the coast, would be turned into a huge and profitable farming area—the legacy of the missions, albeit at a tragic cost to California’s Indians….Newly-arrived settlers were faced with twenty-one missions that were in actuality giant agribusinesses that controlled the best lands with a large pool of free manpower.” (131)

French Naval Captain Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de Laperouse, sailed into Monterey Bay on September 14, 1786. He was the first outsider to visit the missions, arriving seventeen years after the first founding. He was “appalled at the treatment of the Indians by the Franciscan friars.” And he makes explicit the slave-like conditions of the Indians “whose state at present scarcely differs from that of the Negro inhabitants of our colonies.” (110) In addition “The color of these Indians, which is that of the negroes; the house of the Missionaries…the cattle, the horses—everything in short—brought to our recollection a plantation at Santo Domingo or any other West Indian island”-- in addition to “the noise of the whip.” (109f) The alcaldes or neophytes the friars choose to carry out the priests' commands, he notes, “are like the overseers of a slave plantation: passive beings, blind performers of the will of their superiors (friars)” whose main job is to “maintain order and the appearance of attention” during church services. (112) They also beat any Indian, no matter what age or sex, who violated mission rules. The floggings ranged from ten lashes up to fifty which could prove fatal. Women were not whipped in public but were taken away to be whipped so their cries would not arouse the men to rebellion. (113) When Indians killed a priest who was especially cruel in his whipping they were caught and sentenced to fifty daily lashes each for nine days and to life sentences of hard labor. (114)

Serra established nine missions before he died and the Indians “were little more than forced labor. This permitted the missions to thrive economically, and allowed the friars to profit personally for the sale of tallow, hides, horns, wine and brandy” which they sold to foreign merchant ships. “For the Indians it signified the beginning of brutal suffering and cultural genocide. Most died within two years, with their faith, customs, and way of life torn from them.” (98)

The Spanish Visitor General wrote to Serra’s close friend Friar Palou that they should “not teach the Indians how to write; for I have enough experiences that such major instruction perverts and hastens their ruination.” (129) This too followed the methods of the slavery plantations where reading and writing were forbidden. Castillo comments that this policy endorsed by Serra “proved catastrophic for the Indians when they began abandoning the missions in the 1830s.” (129)   One Scottish visitor, Hugo Reid, was so appalled at the widespread ignorance of Spanish among the mission Indians that he remarked: “Not one word of Spanish did they understand. They had no more idea that they were worshiping God than an unborn child has of astronomy.” (128)

We thus see that “Saint” Serra set up a sado-masochistic series of death camps, perhaps echoing his own masochistic spirituality. He was anti-intellectual, anti-science, ignorant of Indian culture and history and languages, paternalistic, racist, a white supremacist. In addition, Serra was an inquisitor before he ever came to the California area having been employed as an inquisitor in the mountain villages of Mexico on his own urging.

Nothing explains Pope Francis’ willingness to canonize Serra. In his recent encyclical the Pope laments how “the disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal….It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions…When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best,” (145, 146) He calls for a “preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.” (158) Then why, pray tell, is he so hell-bent on canonizing Junipero Serra and crucifying the Natives of California still another time? Why doesn’t he sit down with the Indians whom he calls one’s “principal dialogue partners” and learn the real history of the California missions and the price the Native Americans are paying this day in terms of soul wounds and depression, alcoholism and addictions for what the sins of the fathers foisted upon them 200 years ago by Serra and his brother friars?

And why doesn’t he apologize in full for the “Discovery Doctrine” papal bulls of the fifteenth century popes who laid the legal groundwork for the slavery and mission attacks on the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas? In the “Requerimiento” document of 1513, derived from those papal bulls and read to indigenous people under the Spanish Empire (but in Spanish which they did not understand), all are instructed that the Pope is appointed by God to “govern the world” and that Saint Peter was acknowledged in his time as “Lord and King, and the superior of the universe” who was appointed to be “in charge of the human race” and that such recognition “will continue until the end of the world.” (215)

Elias Castillo offers us a different reading of history and Spanish imperialism and the religious sins that accompanied it. Sins that haunt the souls of Native Peoples to this day—and sins that ought to cry out to us all for healing. How can the healing happen without the truth? How can anyone even think of canonizing Serra after these revelations?

 

Why the Missions of Friar Serra are equivalent to the Confederate flag among Native Americans in California

The nation is embarked on a review of its soul vis-à-vis racism and white supremacy since the horrible attack on nine members of a black church in Charleston.  As well it should be.  But there is another act of white supremacy that needs the attention of all and especially Catholics. It was with very sad hearts that we who respect the Native American peoples learned of Pope Francis’ decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) during the papal visit to the United States in Fall, 2015.

Serra is the Franciscan missionary who oversaw the colonial system of missions in California.  The news of his prospective canonization is sad for what it says about Church ignorance—after all these hundreds of years—of Native American accomplishments; it is also sad for what it reminds us about the history of Christian missionizing. A Native American from California recently wrote me that “by virtue of this canonization of a conqueror, the pope has declared war on Native Peoples, globally.”

As America is waking up to the pain that the Confederate Flag represents especially to Black Southerners, it must also wake up to the fact that the missions are not pretty postcard places nicely painted in white.  They were places of enforced labor and whippings where white supremacy ruled against indigenous peoples in the name of church and empire.  What the Confederate Flag means to the South is what the California missions mean to the indigenous peoples there.  Ask their descendants!  Read three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author Elias Castillo’s, A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions to get the true story.

Serra is Colonizer-in-Chief; he is a racist; he is a white supremacist.  Why canonize him in 2015?  Native peoples are furious and for very good reason.  Among the California tribes alone who have objected are the following: the Xolon Salinan Tribe; the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel;  Cupeno; Miwok; Cahuilla; Kizh Gabrieleno; Pomo; Ohlone; Kumeyeaa; Chumash.  I am told that many casino tribes object also but do not want to be named lest their pious Catholic gamblers would no longer frequent their casinos.  It is appalling that in 2015 so-called theologians on the East coast, all white, do not bother to bring in Native Americans from California to tell the truth of what Serra & Co. did to their ancestors and the price they have paid for centuries for this abuse in the name of Empire and Church.

It is particularly sad that the first American pope ever, one who has caught the attention of millions for his efforts to cleanse the church of its sins and society of its “narcissism” and social and economic inequities, and who has actively sought the perspectives of the faithful, would be so blind to the history of indigenous peoples on two continents, and deaf to the protests of indigenous and non-indigenous Christians alike.  And it is sad that as many nations and peoples applaud the pope’s encyclical on Eco-theology and Climate Change that still another stake would be driven into the indigenous legacy of respect for nature that is so central to their spiritual tradition and to the survival of the planet as we know it today.

This is a severe blow to the hopes of people looking to a reformed papacy and a reforming pope.  Granted, Pope Francis is only human like the rest of us and humans err—as he says, he himself is a sinner.  And this decision is a grave sin indeed.

Serra’s theology was retrograde even in his own day and by standards even of his own time—saying nothing of today.  How remarkable it is that Pope Francis is on the cusp of canonizing Archbishop Romero of El Salvador who stood up to the extreme right-wing militias of his country to stand on the behalf of the poor, and is thereby choosing to rehabilitate liberation theology -- but the same Pope is tone deaf to the colonial and “enslavement” theology that motivated Serra.

What was Serra’s theology?  When Serra left Spain for the Americas while in his mid-thirties, he mused about his parents “preparing themselves for that happy death which of all the things of life is our principal concern.”  Unfortunately that was his driving ideology as a missionary to the Indians as well.  In January, 1780, thirty-two years after arriving in the Americas, Serra writes about how to treat two Indian leaders who had rebelled against the missions, and displays his already familiar theology:

“I would not feel sorry no matter what punishment they gave them, if they would commute it to prison for life, or in the stocks every day, since then it would be easier for them to die well.  Do you think it possible that if they kept them prisoners for a time, and by means of interpreters explained to them about the life to come and its eternal duration, and if we prayed to God for them—might we not persuade them to repent and win them over to a better life?  You could impress on them that the only reason they were still alive is because of our affection for them, and the trouble we took to save their lives.”

This is language of the oppressor writ large.  Serra urged his friars to baptize the Indians in prison and give them crucifixes and rosaries and dress them in tunics of white cotton cloth “in which they would die and be buried,” thus preparing them it seems for “eternal life.”  Actually, their lives were saved not by Serra but by the military governor who commuted their death sentence to hard labor.

According to Spanish law, every mission was to be temporary and within ten years of its founding each was to be handed over to Christian Indians who were also to take over as  governors of the land and mission.  But Serra (who never really learned the native peoples’ languages) objected that the Indians were incompetent to govern themselves and needed to be supervised and punished by the friars…even though the Indians had dwelt on the land for thousands of years and knew far more about raising crops indigenous to the land than did the Spaniards, and also had developed a culture based on sharing and co-operation, not power-over.

Serra also objected to being denied his practice of whipping the Indians.  Wanting to continue this practice, he wrote to the military governor Felipe de Neve that there “may have been some inequalities and excesses on the part of some fathers and that we are all exposed to err in that regard.”

Nevertheless the end apparently justifies the means because, as he puts it “when we came there, we did not find even a single Christian, that we have engendered them all in Christ, that we, every one of us, came here for the single purpose of doing them good and for their eternal salvation, and I feel sure that everyone knows that we love them.”

Really? Whipping people; taking their land; forbidding their rituals; ending their languages; locking them up in colonial church properties from which they were forbidden to leave and visit relatives and friends; destroying their culture and subsistence by hunting and gathering; introducing diseases; and bringing in soldiers who frequently raped the native women; all in the name of the Spanish “king and lord” and for the sake of the Empire—this is loving them?   This is “engendering them all in Christ?”  This is not love.  Nor is it justice.  It is colonialism writ large.  And with God and Jesus and Imperial Christianity legitimizing it.

Also, Serra himself was big on beating his body with whips and piercings.  Maybe his masochism rendered his sadism less of an issue:  “Love others as you love yourself” as someone said.  But why endorse such a person’s theology and spirituality at this time? Why, Why, Why canonize someone in 2015 who stands for such bad theology and bad intercultural values, utterly lacking the respect and humility that lie at the foundation of  interfaith?

This canonization is a scandal.  People should be flooding the Vatican with letters of objection.  It is not Pope Francis at his best.  It is not Christianity at its best; it conjures up the worst shadows (of which there are so many) in the history of the Imperial Church, a church many hoped we had left behind. With the teachings of Vatican II and the powerful teachings and witness of Archbishop Romero in the 1980s, surely we have come farther than this!

This disastrous decision puts wind in the sails of those who have learned nothing from the dark days of colonialism in the name of God and Empire, at a time when indigenous peoples around the world are facing the destruction of their lands and cultures at the hands of corporate and government militia.  The system Serra set up was paternalism at its worst: it treated native peoples as helpless children, and reinforced an other-worldly religion.

One Franciscan historian comments on Serra and the epidemics that the Europeans introduced to the indigenous peoples: “Death might wreak havoc among his hard-won neophytes, but he found consolation in his sorrow, for he had prepared them for a future life which, his religious convictions assured him, was worth infinitely more than the life they were leaving and the pain of parting.”  At a mission in Santa Clara there was a great epidemic in May 1777 but Serra’s companion friar Palou writes of how “the fathers were able to perform a great many baptisms by simply going through the villages.  In this way they succeeded in sending a great many children (who died almost as soon as they were baptized) to heaven.”

It seems that Serra and his companion friars never wavered in their compulsion to reduce Christianity to a promise of life-after-death.  Too bad that they missed their Master’s teaching of love and life fully lived here and now, the promise of the kingdom/queendom of God on earth, a place where justice flowed like a river and the prophet pictured it.   One critical commentator summarizes Serra’s mission this way:  “Clearly, if sainthood means self sacrificing devotion to harvesting pagan souls for the kingdom of god in heaven, then Junipero Serra deserves to become a saint.”

If not, one asks anew: WHY is the pope making so profound a mistake?  Why create a patron saint for colonizers and racists in the year 2015?  Why not instead take the occasion of his visit to the United States to do an about-face and canonize those thousands of native peoples who died at the hands of misguided, badly theologically trained, servants of the Empire?

Indeed, why not get on one’s knees in humble confession and ask the Native Peoples for forgiveness?

The Pope’s New Encyclical vs. the Canonization of Serra

The pope's new encyclical, wise as it is about climate change, completely contradicts the misguided effort to canonize Serra a saint.  Here are his words with my response in brackets:

number 145:  "The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal.  The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.  [Was not Serra's mission system a device to replace one ancient culture with another imperial one?  Didn't it contribute to the disappearance of a culture?  Why canonize him then?]

  1. “In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.  They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”  [Where then is the dialog with these communities and “principal dialogue partners” regarding the canonization of Serra happening?]

“For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest here, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.  When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best”. [Then why canonize someone who made it a policy to take them from their land and had no respect for how they lived on the land and cared for it for centuries before the Europeans invaded?]

“Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”  [Before the mining companies pressured them to abandon their homelands and degrade their culture the church did the same--why canonize the man, Serra, who symbolizes this very act of degrading a culture in the name of a foreign ideology?  He who is a “colonizer-in-chief”?]

  1. “The principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.....It demands before all else an appreciation of immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers.”  [Then why ignore the agonizing and loud cries of the indigenous poor AGAINST the canonization of Serra?]

If you share these feelings of grief and outrage at the upcoming canonization of Junipero Serra, let your voice be heard! Please sign this petition…and spread the word so others can do so also. Thank you.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/urge-pope-francis-to?mailing_id=29425&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=492022

____________________________________________________________

[1] Junipero Serra, letter to Francesch Serra, Cadiz, 20 August 1749, Antonine Tibesar, O.F.M., ed, Writings of Junipero Serra (Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1955) vol. 1, p. 5.

[2] Serra, letter to Fermin de Lasuen, Monterey, 12 January 1780, Ibid., vol 3, p. 424f.

[3] Francis Florian Guest, O.F.M., “Cultural Perspectives on California Mission Life, “ Southern California Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, Spring 1983, p. 31.

[4] Serra, letter to governor Neve, Monterey, 7 January 1780, Writings of Junipero Serra, vol. 3, pp. 413-15.

[5] Finbar Kenneally, O.F.M. and Mathias Kiemen, O.F.M., Introduction to Writings of Junipero Serra, op. cit., vol. 4, p. xvi.

[6] Francisco Palou, Life of Junipero Serra, C. S. Williams, transl. (Pasadena: G. W. James, 1913), p. 213.

[7] Daniel Fogel, Junipero Serra, the Vatican, and Enslavement Theology (San Francisco: ISM Press, 1988), p. 81. The author does an excellent job of presenting the facts and realities of the Serra story from primary sources and I am indebted to him for the citations presented in this article.

______________________________________________________________

Matthew Fox is a theologian and Episcopal priest who was a Dominican friar for 34 years. He was expelled from the order by Cardinal Ratzinger for, among other things, "working too closely with Native Americans" and supporting women’s, gay, and indigenous rights.  His 32 books have been translated into 58 languages and include Letters to Pope Francis, Original Blessing, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Reinvention of Work, The Pope's War and most recently Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time. Connect with him at his website (http://9f3.fb6.myftpupload.com), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Rev.Dr.MatthewFox) and Twitter feed (@FCSCreationSpir).