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

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[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.

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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://www.matthewfox.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Rev.Dr.MatthewFox) and Twitter feed (@FCSCreationSpir).

 

Heads on Fire Reactions to Gay Marriage SCOTUS Decision

The Supreme Court has spoken—and quite eloquently—about the right of all Americans to marry whom they love.  Implications abound well beyond the American border.  Remember that last month the Irish citizenry, so long captured by a Catholic theocracy, voted overwhelmingly for the right of all Irish to marry whom they love.  Over 80% of young adults in the US favor gay marriage so that might tell us something of the future.  It seems something is afoot—and it is setting the hair of some very vocal Christians on fire.

Self-proclaimed Christians living in the past, people now with their heads on fire, are providing perpetual fodder for late night humorists.  Here are a few raging firestorms: Presidential candidate Rick Santorum promises he “will not honor any decision which will force us to violate our clear, biblical understanding.”  (What is so clear a Biblical understanding since the same book that condemns homosexuality also condemns eating shrimp and proposes stoning adulterers?)  Bobby Jindal, another self-appointed theologian and presidential candidate shares his wisdom: “The Supreme Court can’t overrule God.  This ruling paves the way for an all-out assault on religious freedom of Christians.”  Comments Bill Maher: “they’re’ such drama queens, aren’t they?”  He addresses these concerned ones and says: “You do realize that this is not mandatory.  You don’t have to have sex with another man—it’s just an option now.”

Of course the spokespeople for religiously institutionalized homophobia are also incensed.  Bishop Thomas J. Tabi of Providence, Rhode Island assures us that homosexual marriage derives “from the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the church of God.”  The US Catholic bishops rushed to the podium also.  They tell us that for the government to declare that two people of the same sex “constitute a marriage” is “profoundly immoral and unjust” and that the decision constitutes a “tragic error” that endangers the “common good” and “especially that of children.”  This comes from a group that has a bit of a moral monkey on its back when it comes to endangering children seeing as it could not protect them from pedophile priests and hierarchical cover up of the same over decades.

Does it really think that anyone is listening any more to its hypocritical rants about sexual morality aimed at a sexual minority that is, in fact, well represented (though fully closeted) among its ranks?  Has it learned nothing from the Irish vote on homosexual marriage?

Of course presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, also a clergyman representing his brand of Christianity, has taken up the microphone.  It is “like repealing the law of gravity” he assures us.  The Supreme Court is “an imperial court” like the British crown of old and “we must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”  To the barricades!  Where is Paul Revere when we need him?

But isn’t that the task of the Supreme Court?  To “resist the tyranny of the majority” against the minority?  Where was Huckabee when Citizens United  and the Hobby Lobby decisions told us that corporations are persons and that corporations have a conscience?

Speaking of Citizens United, Supreme Court justice Antonio Scalia chimes in of course. After this decision, the Supreme Court itself, he tells us, is “a threat to American democracy.”  (Maybe, if he has a conscience, he should quit then.)  And Citizens United, which he enthusiastically supported and that defined “money is speech” and that opened the gates to billionaires dictating our legislators and judges is NOT a threat to American democracy?  Scalia has a large family, lots of very Catholic kids.  I have often wondered: What if one of them was gay?  What would it be like being a gay son or daughter of Justice Scalia?  Send prayers his or her way, please.  And fast.  And furious.  Maybe there should be a fund-raising app to support the gay or lesbian daughter of Justice Scalia.

Supreme Court chief Justice John Roberts embarrasses himself by saying that the decision had nothing to do with the constitution.  Last time I looked the constitution 1) established the Supreme Court and its rules and 2) talks somewhat unambiguously about how “all men (and presumably women) are created equal” and this means protecting the rights of the minorities and isn’t that what this decision was about?

Of course presidential candidate Ted Cruz deserves his day in the sun also.  He calls the Supreme Court “lawless” and calls out its “naked and shameless judicial activism.”  Again, no mention of the judicial activism of removing voter abuse laws from the southern states of the confederacy or naming Citizens United the law of the land.  Cruz’ fellow Texan politician (now out of a job) Tom Delay warned that if the Supreme Court ruled as it has “all hell is going to break loose.”

Well, I suppose a lot depends on how and who defines hell.  For our cultural comics, this hair-on-fire reaction is pure heaven, solid gold, endless nights of good humor.  For people stuck in tired dogmas and ancient doctrines based on no-science, this moment may indeed feel like hell.

What do I say?  I say:  “Let the Homophones huff and puff.  Love is the law of the land.  Now there is a smart judicial decision that assures love can happen for all the country’s citizens, even those who constitute a sexual minority.”

Science has spoken on the utter naturalness of homosexual love for a minority of human beings and of at least 464 other species.  This is why psychological science has for decades thrown out the silly talk of gays as “sick” or “disordered” (papal talk much favored by the opus-dei loving Pope Benedict XVI).  Let those with their heads in the sands—archbishops and politicians and presidential candidates and Supreme Court judges and all—repeat the religious exercise that was the Galileo affair of 500 years ago.  It is their right to choose to live in the past.  Let the religiously sick wrap themselves in chains of doctrine based on nothing Jesus ever preached or taught if they want to.

In the Fall Pope Francis is coming to America.  He has recently released an encyclical on global warming and the moral imperative for caring for the Earth and he has addressed it to all people of good will since, dah!, climate and the Earth are all of our concerns.  He is calling a second gathering of a Synod on the Family this Fall as well.  At the first there was a mild effort to lift some of the opprobrium the church commits against homosexuals, supported by his happy statement, “Who am I to Judge?” when asked about gay priests which seemed to hint at a slight thawing of Catholic homophobic dogma.  But the backlash from Neanderthal hierarchy was fierce.  Will he roll over and play dead, repeating ad nauseam the silly arguments against homosexuality that derive from bad interpretations of scripture and of course from the ridiculous teachings of sex (better no sex) from St Augustine in the fourth century?  Will he be able to move beyond the chains of tired and mistaken dogma?

I doubt it frankly.  I think the institutional church is crashing on the rocks of sexual issues just as an Irish poet early in the twentieth century predicted it would.  We shall see.  I wish Pope Francis well and pray for him to move on from condemnations of birth control and homosexuality and women’s rights that are so embedded in the rigid Catholic codex.  But I am not holding my breath.

The handwriting is on the wall, however.  With ever growing numbers of young adults rejecting homophobia, there are going to be fewer and fewer practicing Christians in churches that endorse it.  Was it 95 parishes that the diocese of New York shut down this past year?  Better start looking for more after this overcharged response to a court decision based on justice, common sense and today’s science.

Let everyone not wrapped in tired and disproven doctrines about sex rid themselves of anti-scientific dogmas and be free.  The law of grace, not of fear, can now blow freely.  Let us all celebrate—including those who care deeply about heterosexual marriage.  Now you have a whole new community trying to do what you so dearly say you desire: Keep marriage an alive institution.  Why not choose to help homosexuals be the best lovers and best married couples they can be—that would be a religious—or at least spiritual–commitment worth pursuing.

 

The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, 
But It Bends Toward Justice

I was among the many people profoundly moved by President Barack Obama’s quoting the prophetic words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., amidst jubilant celebrations that marriage equality is now the law of the land.

My Bible says “God is love”–not that God is exclusively heterosexual love.  SCOTUS, lo and behold!, has got it right this time and many thinking people the world over will celebrate this expansion of love that is being acknowledged around the planet.

The love that is celebrated in gay marriage is society’s love, not just that of man to man or woman to woman. We all profit from faithful love whether such joy be lived out in heterosexual or homosexual contexts. Indeed, rather than “threatening” heterosexual marriage, I would predict that gay marriage will help resuscitate a dying institution because it is bringing joy back and gratitude for love from a segment of the population that has been denied it for so long. All marriage will prosper from gay marriage.

So let us all rejoice that notions of God is Love; and Justice Matters; and Nature is God’s Doing are happening in a fresh way in the United States. And let us move on to other topics of pressing and genuine moral concern such as the fate of the Earth.

Warrior Basketball as a Spiritual Experience

I confess that I have rarely been attracted to professional basketball—more excited by football frankly.  But lately, and perhaps because I am older now (in my 75th year), and because my local team, the Golden State Warriors, are the best team in the NBA, I am allured to watching them.  That and because their play at times resembles a ballet or an art form as much as a competitive sport.  It can border on the sublime.

Their number one player, Steph Curry, voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) by sport writers and broadcasters for the year 2015 in the team’s amazing run of winning 67 games, is an artist with the basketball—not only with his dribbling and behind-the-back passes and in his jump shots from way behind the three-point line, and his often soft lay ups that float high above seven-foot defenders at one time and are off the board at another time, but in the quiet way in which he sets the tone for the rest of the team and leads them and feeds them the ball regularly often with breathtaking passes.  As well as his apparently very contented family life that features his two-year old child who likes to break into news conferences following games thereby stealing the spotlight from her father.

Much goes on in sports and one of the wonders is lessons of getting along, lessons of a common task, therefore of team work and community building.  Regardless of personality differences or role differences or differences in builds and physical stats and positions, a good team learns to get along together to get to a common goal.  That is what community is about—cum-munio—share a common task.  Team work happens and it happens constantly with the Warriors as sometimes Steph or some nights Klay Thompson or some nights Andre Iguadola stand out.  No room for envy within the team itself, rather they learn to think for the whole and play for the good of the whole and rejoice when one player is standing out one night: That’s what teamwork or community is all about.  “Collective unselfishness” is how one person described the current Warrior team.  Several star players actually sat on the bench to make room for other players to emerge this year and did so apparently with very little resentment.

The team comes before the individual—and in a narcissistic culture like ours has become, such modeling is rare.  But the Warriors team did indeed model it this year and perhaps no one more than Iguadola who won the “Most Valuable Player” award for the finals championship games coming off the bench to play fierce defense and important offense.  Interviewed about his award, he said, ‘its an honor to win the MP.  But for me, it’s not about that.  It’s about getting guys to buy in.”  And that means buying in to the team as a whole.  Character matters and they have their healthy share of the big “C.”  This shows a capacity for taming the ego that most spiritual traditions promote.

For some time I have been speaking about meditation as being a powerful way to calm the reptilian brain—and it is–for reptiles are accomplished at solitude more than at bonding and meditation puts humans in touch with the solitude (or monk) in each one of us.  So to meditate is to calm that reptilian brain and this is a very important task in our time.

But now, after watching the Warriors, I am convinced that we have another way to calm the reptilian brain (or is it just another form of meditation?).  Sports too can help calm and redirect the reptilian brain.  Sports too can be a meditation.  Why am I so sure of this?  Because the reptilian brain wants to win—it’s win/lose with a crocodile.  Athletes want to win too—that is why they practice so hard and sacrifice much to get to their common goal, a goal usually defined as winning.  But what makes the reptilian brain in sports different from the reptilian brain in war for example (or often in business), is that in sports there are 1) a spatial parameter (the ball court) and 2) a temporal parameter (the game is only 48 minutes long as such) and 3) referees and 4) a beginning and an end.   And if one loses, well, “it’s only a game.”  That is where the excitement derives: Will the reptilian brain win or lose tonight?  Which team’s reptilian brain will triumph?  Sports exercise the reptilian brain—but safely and within parameters.  And if one wins, the larger tribe, the followers of the team, go bananas and rejoice and express themselves in irrational ways that are exactly what one needs after suffering through the daily grind of work and bill payments and children’s sicknesses and all the rest that life offers on a daily and sometimes humdrum basis.

When done well, sport addresses the critical question of How Do We Tame the Reptilian Brain?  For when we can calm the reptilian brain, our mammal brain, the brain of compassion, can begin to assert itself.  The former is 420 million years old, the latter is 210 million years old.

Sport can be a medicine for our hyper-active reptilian brains.  Why do I say this?  First, because the reptile in us sees life as win/lose, one winner takes all.  One does not readily compromise with a crocodile.  What does sport do with this desire embedded in all of us to be Number One?  It plays with it.  It lets it run its course, but according to a limited parameter (think: Soccer field, basketball court, football field) and with referees or umpires to keep the “players” on track.  What this does is to allow the reptilian brain to “do its thing” but within parameters and lucid rules that all are subjected too.  Playing with the reptilian brain is not the same as making war with the reptilian brain.  In fact, it is medicine for the war compulsion.

Sports then are more than merely a “distraction” and a re-focusing of one’s energy and attention for a specific time period.  They are also a recharging of the reptilian brain but also a keeping it within bounds.  In this way, as in meditation, the reptilian brain finds its outlet not in beating up on others or conquering others but in re-learning how much of life is merely “a game” and one can lose one day and survive to start over the next.

There is a certain “high” when one’s home team wins; it puts wind in one’s sales for the rest of the day; it awakens optimism and even hope, that victory (that elusive archetype) is some times possible and even something that can happen close to home.  Furthermore, the joy and optimism gets shared when others in one’s tribe also take delight at the results.  Here too community is engendered, the community of hope and joy that pleases not only team mates but the larger tribe.  Surely this is a better use of the reptilian brain than is war?

Of course, only one team wins and ultimately only one team wins a championship—that is the definition of championship after all.  But others live on to play another day, or another season as the case may be.  And hope runs eternal (as it did in Oakland since this was the first championship for their team in forty long, draught-fill years).  And we praise those who win the day, especially if they have done it with grace and good sportsmanship.  The tribe grows larger through praise and respect for excellent play.

One cannot take delight at basketball without marveling at the athletic grace and endurance and wakefulness and fierce warriorhood that the game requires.  Such grace does not come easily but through plenty of blood, sweat, tears, workouts, hours of practice and lots of discipline.  One sees all that in the results, “by their fruits you will know them,” as one spiritual teaching once said.  This is a special gift that came our way this season from the Warriors, a gift of grace, of the artistic genius it takes to steer a ball into a hoop and to hustle down the floor and to find the open player ready to receive a well-directed pass as well as defending a hoop by severe fierceness and perfectly timed leaping and reaching.  Watching such aestheticism and athleticism together can move one to tears.

There is also an intergenerational sharing that can take place in sports.  One’s playing days are over usually about in one’s mid-thirties and there is lots more living and watching to do.  So it’s exciting to see another generation of young adults put themselves through the rites of passage that it takes to be proficient in the sport and to show up with the same kind of energy and alertness and grace and beauty to play the game with gusto.  Thus one generation cheers on another; and both generations profit from this mutual exchange, one providing the play, the other the encouragement (and the coaching and managing and ownership also).  Sports can generate intergenerational sharing and joy and understanding.

In the grand order of things, one can easily conclude that winning (or not winning) a basketball game is of no great consequence.  But wait!  Maybe it is.  Just because leading a graceful and generous and fierce life is something we all are called to do.  It does not hurt to see one particular profession, gathering five people on a gym floor for 48 minutes over a period of several months a year, strive to do exactly that: To apply the human gifts of the athletic and the aesthetic into a 48 minute event that one spends months and years preparing for.  Such an event is archetypal, it is a mini-pattern of our lives that, granted, are the big game but that require mini-games that condense the dance of beauty and grace, effort and stamina, perseverance and community teamwork, into a ritual reminding us of our better selves, our most beautiful and community-oriented and generous and warrior selves, our reptilian brains put to the service of community and excellence here to delight and spread joy that others can participate in deeply.  The reptilian brain feeds the mammal brain in sport insofar as when there is a victory there are lots of hugs to go around.  Affection is felt and friendships are made and a sense of community is expanded.

Yes, basketball is a ritual and it crosses the line between so-called “secular” and “religious” rituals.  Spirituality links the two at times.

Another spiritual dimension to Warriors basketball (and indeed to most sport) is the role that beauty plays—the beauty of a long three pointer, the beauty of a leaping rebound, the beauty of a fast lay up or a rapid pass to the one open player cross court and more.  Beauty is very much a spiritual term—in the Middle Ages many were the mystics who called God “Beauty” and celebrated how humans are “participants in the Divine Beauty.”

Sports address two primary chakras it seems to me.  The first, because it conjures up tribal consciousness—people root “for the home team” and assert themselves in the most whimsical and loud and irrational ways.  They raise the roof in appreciation of a good shot or a defensive stop or the seizing of a championship.  They become friends to others who share their “tribal status” of this or that particular team.  This too can be a great thing for again it is playing with the tribal notion that “we are the only ones” and expands the tribe to include strangers.

Of course this is nonsense but by playing with it instead of claiming its literal truth sports allow us to be ourselves, to pay attention to the tribalism from which we all emerge.  When one tribe wins and another loses, there is glee in one camp and sadness in the other.  But ultimately one learns that “it is only a game” and people do move on.   The first chakra is about not falling into tribalism as such even while we do recognize our specific tribes but in the context of a greeter whole—that of the universe itself.  The key to the first chakra is vibration and it is no coincidence that much of the cheering elicited in a basketball game is very much of a mantra kind—“Defense, Defense, Defense” or ‘Warriors, Warriors, Warriors,” goes the crowd—the mantra evokes vibratory power which engenders togetherness.  Group mantras feed not only group tribal feelings but the soul itself.  The lower chakras are fed and nourished by such mantras.  Lessons are learned and relearned about the role the tribe plays in our lives and always has for member of our species.

Another chakra awakened by Sports is the seventh chakra which, when healthy, is about our light energy climaxing in the back of our heads and extending out to other light beings to link up with them in shared community whether these beings be ancestors or angels or others on a path of light and fitness.  But the shadow side to the seventh chakra is Envy which also recognizes the light in other beings but instead of celebrating it chooses to shoot it down or go to war with it.  Sports awaken the seventh chakra: One recognizes the talent and light in one’s opponents (even while paying attention to their weaknesses to exploit) while seeking to defeat them.  But again, one plays at this, it is temporary, and limits are set by abiding rules that forbid an actual destruction of one’s opponent.  In this way one learns to strive to accomplish one’s best and most excellent gifts and while there is competition with others, the competition is not the last word.  Envy does not rule (envy being the great shadow of the seventh chakra).  Playing superlatively does rule.

The ritual of basketball (like the ritual that other sports are) has its altars for focusing points. “Ancient as the workbench is the altar” writes one poet and pastor.  An altar is an archetype of a focusing point, there lies its power: it gets us to focus and thus brings about meditation.  What sports have is usually not an altar but two altars: That is where the competition lies: Which altar, attracting which team, will prevail?  The altar in the basketball court is obviously the hoop: That is the focus of all that goes on: Get the ball into the hoop; prevent the other team from getting to the hoop.  (In hockey the altar is a net, as in soccer; in football it is the goal line or, lacking that, the goal posts; in baseball it is the home plate but three ‘minor altars’ precede it).  Everything is done for the sake of the hoop—but there are two so each team is engaged in a struggle both offensively and defensively to get to the hoop or to prevent the other team from getting to their hoop.  Getting to the altar is an adventure, a struggle.  It takes warrior energy and excellence and skill and craft and endurance to achieve access to the altar.  Above all, it takes focus.

Ordinarily an altar represents the axis mundi or center of the universe but since in sports that center tends to be binary, it is as if each team is fighting for its own universe.  And this the cheering fans, the supportive community, sense also: It is our altar and our universe vs “their altar” and “their universe.”  A mini-pageant ensues of one tribe vs. another.  There is a satisfaction in “winning” by getting to one’s altar more frequently than the others; and there is a sadness in defeat.  But still, life goes on.  (Though in some ancient ceremonial sports the losers were sometimes sacrificed if they lost.  Thus the altar dimension to the ritual of sport was taken more literally, the altar being the place where a sacrifice is enacted.)  The struggle and the injuries that happen on the court are part of today’s sacrifice at the altar of the hoop.  It is less final than those ancient sacrificial focal points.

So sport conjures up profound archetypes among the participants and those who cheer them on.  More than ego is involved—the psyche and cosmos (symbolized by an altar or two) are at work, a struggle to engage psyche and cosmos is happening. Players offer their gifts and sacrifice much on the field and in preparation in their training and excellence to conquer, to give the reptilian brain the achievement it yearns for.  Lessons of victory and defeat are learned.  Mighty chakras are engaged.  Excellence is called for.

Is sport a mere “secular” ritual?  Or can it have more important and lasting consequences?  This depends on how we look at it.  If sport is just a “business,” then most likely it is thoroughly secularized.  But if it accomplishes some or most of the other dimensions I have named in this article, then it is very possible that the feelings of achievement and glory and the memories of beauty and artful playing, are “more than secular.”  They join the realms of awe and gratitude and beauty where the soul feeds and grows and nourishes itself and others and that the mystics call the “Via Positiva.”  Joy is aroused for many in the community. There is an intergenerational accomplishment as well since elders, who themselves may have participated in such games as young men and women, acknowledge and appreciate excellence when they see it played out by a new generation.  They cheer them on, as does Steph Curry’s father who was a professional basketball player himself.  There is a kind of ‘sacred tradition’ that is handed on from generation to generation.

Is there a shadow side to professional sports? Of course there is as there is to anything humans embark on.  Among its shadow side can be addiction, couchpotatoitis (when so much work needs doing in our culture and passion needs to come alive in compassion), hero worship that becomes an excuse for not taking on one’s own responsibilities, projection of one’s own greatness onto others, vicarious living via TV, capitalist greed, power trips and ego-trips, banishing the poor and working classes from watching live games, etc. etc.  So a “caveat” is in order, a warning to stay alert.

On the bright side, a championship run is a taste and hint of Joy and community and diversity and respect for excellence and hard work and achievement and beauty and grace that ought not be forgotten.  It is an eschatological occasion, meaning a taste of a better and fuller future.  The year 2015 for the Warriors was such an eschatological moment that led to joy for many, joy at being human yet still excelling, joy at being a team and community, joy at beauty and excellence and the marriage of art/aesthetics with athleticism, the joy of a job well done.  Thanks, Team.

Some people pontificate against the “secular” world but I am not one who is at home with a stark  separation between the so-called “secular” and the Sacred. On the contrary, in a healthy society much of what some call “secular” can be very sacred.  Grace is grace and nature can be grace.  Thus humans who do their work gracefully—and this includes those with a vocation to basketball or other sport—arouse a sense of the sacred by the splendor of their work and of course they share it with the rest of us.  This is true of our work and it is true of our sports.  If basketball can bring the sacred and the secular together—and it can—then basketball has its place among us and for good reasons.

But still, it is just a game—that is its appeal and that is its essence.  But it is a game with consequences, sometimes to the wallet but more importantly consequences for the soul.

Tip ball anyone?

 

 

Matthew Fox is a spiritual theologian and author of 32 books on spirituality and culture that have been translated into 58 languages.  The books include Original Blessing, The Reinvention of Work, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Time.  He is an Episcopal priest and resides in Oakland, California where he enjoys, among other things, Warrior basketball.

Pope Francis Speaks Up for the Earth and
Indigenous Peoples – So How Can He Canonize Serra?

I read Pope Francis’ eco-encyclical with profound hope that it will effect a turning point in the global understanding of the impact of climate change on our Mother Earth. I pray that its words will turn the corrupted hearts and minds on Capitol Hill and all places of power toward respect and caring toward the natural world, now under such dire assault.

I was pleased to see also that the Pope’s words urge an awakening of compassion not only toward the biosphere, but also to the poor and the indigenous peoples whose traditions so deeply honor creation. But as pleased as I was, I was also perplexed at the vast difference between the words of the Pope and his action in continuing plans to canonize Father Junipero Serra, who led the brutal missionization of the indigenous peoples of the West Coast of the Americas.

In the pope’s new encyclical I found these passages which surely give the lie to any justification for Serra’s canonization.

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?]

Number 146.  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 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?]

Number 158. 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 cries of the indigenous poor AGAINST the canonization of Serra?]

I think citing the pope’s own words show the complete illogic of his effort to canonize Serra and we should tell him so!

Please add your signature to the ongoing MoveOn petition to the Pope against Serra’s canonization.

In solidarity,

Matthew Fox

A Patron Saint for Colonizers and Racists?

The first pope of the Americas…a fresh voice for liberation theology, social justice, and the environment…a pope whose Holy See delegation sternly advocated indigenous rights to the U.N… we who respect the Native American peoples have been eager to see who would be the first saints Pope Francis would canonize from this hemisphere. 

Imagine the shock, grief and outrage, then, triggered by the Pope’s plans to canonize Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) during the papal visit to the United States in Fall, 2015. Today a Native American woman of a California tribe wrote me the following: “by virtue of this canonization of a conqueror, the pope has declared war on Native Peoples, globally.”

Serra is the Franciscan missionary who oversaw the colonial system of missions in California.  The news of his prospective canonization speaks volumes about Church ignorance—after all these hundreds of years—of Native American accomplishments, while reminding us of the tragic and brutal history of Christian missionizing.

It is sad that a reforming pope 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 await Pope Francis’ encyclical on Eco-theology and Climate Change, he would follow his predecessors’ example in favoring the perpetrators of colonization and genocide over the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere and their living legacy of respect for nature…a legacy that is vital to the survival of the life on Earth as we know it today.

This is a severe blow to the hopes of people looking to a reformed papacy. 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 he 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 viewpoint:

“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.

Never gaining an effective grasp of the native peoples’ languages, Serra pursued a steady course of domination. 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. Serra objected that the Indians were incompetent to govern themselves and needed to be supervised and punished by the friars…even though the native people had an ancient and well-established culture based on sharing and cooperation rather than power-over; they knew far more about raising crops indigenous to the land than did the Spaniards.

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, invoking God and Jesus and Imperial Christianity to legitimize 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 relations?

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 past century, surely we have come farther than this!

In fact, a Holy See delegation bore a stern message on indigenous rights to the U.N. just last October:

Fostering indigenous specificity and cultures does not necessarily mean going back to the past….Indeed, it entails the right of indigenous peoples to go forward, guided by their time-honored collective values, such as respect for human life and dignity, representative decision-making processes and preservation of community rituals.

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

In the pope’s new encyclical I found the passages that follow which show a complete contradiction with the misguided effort to canonize Serra a saint.  Here they are 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?]

I think citing the pope’s own words show the complete illogic of his effort to canonize Serra and we should tell him so!

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

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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://www.matthewfox.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Rev.Dr.MatthewFox) and Twitter feed (@FCSCreationSpir).

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[i] 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.

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

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

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

[v] “Holy See to UN: No discrimination against indigenous peoples.” Radio Vaticana. http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/10/21/holy_see_to_un_no_discrimination_against_indigenous_peoples/1109092

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

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

[viii] 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.

The Irish Vote—a New Pentecost for the Church?

I have been reading many responses to the significant news that Ireland is now the first country where gay marriage has been approved—and approved overwhelmingly by a 2-1 margin—by a popular vote.  I think it matters that this vote came on the weekend of Pentecost, the feast day commemorated as the birth of the Christian movement when the Holy Spirit gave the early Christians courage and wisdom to break good news to the world.  Needless to say this vote is a sea change in Irish consciousness which up to 1993 had criminalized homosexuality, and up to ten years ago was very much a theocracy under the thumb of the Catholic Church hierarchy.

What has changed?  Well, of course the revelations of priestly pedophilia and its coverup by the hierarchy as well as by the Vatican has played a prominent role in turning many Irish—and especially the young—away from institutional religion.  But so too the revelations of abuse of girls in an orphanage run by Catholic sisters that was exposed a few years ago and about which a movie was made.  But more has happened as well:  A change of consciousness; a growing up; a coming of age; a refusal to let “Father so and so” or “Pope so and so” do your thinking for you.

One response to the vote came to me in an e-mail this morning from an Irish woman living in the Boston area who is very active in trying to speak out on the low self-esteem and the alcoholism and the cover up that dominates much of Irish culture.  She wrote: “Oh, I think it is so fabulous as it represents a whole shift in THINKING!  Rather than the usual Irish judgmental, (thus shaming) view, the people opened their hearts and voted with COMPASSION!!!!  In many ways it is a terrific act of self-actualization. They are no longer controlled by a SYSTEM.”

Yes!  That says a lot.  The Irish have taken their souls back from a System, a ruling Ideology, a Religion that has flunked many tests of authenticity.  Religion is not primarily about institutions after all.  It is about the human heart and hands and our capacity for justice and compassion and gratitude.  The Irish vote was a vote by a majority (heterosexuals) voting with a minority to recognize the rights of a minority (homosexuals).  Thus it was a celebration of justice and intelligence and co-operation and caring over bigotry and homophobia.

But there have been other responses to the vote as well.  The Secretary of State of the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Paralov, called the vote a “defeat for Christian principles” and “a defeat for humanity.”  Where does he get such extreme ideas?  Isn’t justice and recognition of diversity a Christian principle?  Is not truth a Christian principle?  (Then we should seek out science to tell us the truth about human nature.)  Isn’t a sense of fairness a foundation for humanity?

Has the good cardinal read ANY science on the subject of homosexuality?  Or is he as out of touch with science on this subject as were the previous two popes, who relied on neurotic St Augustine’s sexual teachings that all love making must be justified by having babies, and who wrote diatribes against gay and lesbian people without bothering to research what science has to tell us on the subject?

I have been saying for years and I will put it in caps here because obviously churchmen have not had a thought on this subject in centuries: THE QUESTION OF HOMOSEXUALITY IS THE GALILEO CASE OF OUR DAY.  Why?  Because science has spoken (and many church men choose to hide their heads in the sand).  Homosexuality is perfectly natural for homosexuals, and homosexuals constitute about 8-10% of the human race.  AND we have counted 464 other species with homosexual populations.  So get over it.

Listen to St Thomas Aquinas, a doctor of the church, who says “a mistake about nature results in a mistake about God.”  Doesn’t science teach us about nature?  Why ignore science so blatantly then.

This Cardinal is responding just like his Italian counterparts did to Galileo’s findings 500 years ago.  Shame on him!  Has he learned NOTHING from that ridiculous church episode of hiding heads in sand when science spoke of the earth moving about the sun?

A wiser response came from a churchman closer to the scene, Diarmond Martin the archbishop of Dublin who said following the vote: “It is very clear that if the referendum is an affirmation of the vision of young people… [then the church needs] a reality check.”  Yes, a reality check is VERY MUCH in order in the church.

And it is not just about young people (who are quite wise about sexual and moral issues including hypocrisy); it is not just about homosexuality.  But it is about those teachings, bequeathed from the fourth century onwards by the neurotic St. Augustine, about sexuality in general.  The church hierarchy have lost their way in the moral labyrinth of sad and bad teachings on human sexuality.  The homosexual issue, which has come forward in our time, is just one example about that.  Birth Control is another and even more far-reaching issue since human population explosion is contributing significantly to the destruction of the planet.  But both teachings—birth control and homosexuality—derive from the same patriarchal ideology: That sex must always legitimize itself by making babies.

This is nonsense.  It is killing the planet.  One can imagine how it was important in ancient days for a tribe’s existence that children be encouraged.  That is obviously not the issue today.  Today we have to care better for the children we have and that includes caring for the planet that will house, feed, nurture, delight and embrace them and their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

That nature chooses to celebrate sexual diversity by birthing homosexuals everywhere and usually from heterosexual parents is quite marvelous.  It should give us room for thought and meditation—indeed for a reality check.  It could, if church prelates cared to learn something, spark a New Pentecost, a great awakening, a new day and a new language.  Are there any in the hierarchy who have ears to hear and hearts and minds open enough to learn?  If not, the tired old senex that the church represents will sink still further into denial, hypocrisy and irrelevance.

Speaking of denial and hypocrisy just this morning the former cardinal of St Louis, Raymond Leo Burke, demoted last year by Pope Francis from head of the highest court at the Vatican to being chaplain to the Military Order of Malta, as is his habit, spoke loudly to the issue of the Irish vote.  Saith Burke in a speech in Oxford: “This is a defiance of God…Pagans may have tolerated homosexual behaviors, [but] they never dared to say this was marriage.”  In an interview in 2013 he proclaimed that homosexual marriage “is a work of deceit, a lie about the most fundamental aspect of our human nature, our human sexuality, which, after life itself, defines us” and it “comes from…Satan.”  So I think we know where Burke stands on the subject.  Too bad he didn’t get so worked up over the sin of pedophilia as he gets over the celebration of love and marriage.  Too bad that he is still waging war against “pagans” too and invoking them to support his very menacing homophobia. Too bad that while admitting that sexuality defines us he refuses a minority their basic human rights to love and be loved. Good luck to the members of the Military Order of Malta having Burke as a chaplain.  Reality check anyone?

Tracing the First Mystical Women’s Movement: a Beguine Pilgrimage

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(Conventual Church of the Immaculate Conception)

this past May, I sent out an invitation to join the “Spirit of the Beguines” Pilgrimage and Retreat this September where I will be lecturing and enjoying visiting five different Beguinages in Belgium.  If you are thinking of joining the Pilgrimage – now is the time to sign up; Registration closes July 20.

You Are Invited……

This September I am joining Susan Coppage Evans on a Pilgrimage to Belgium to study the Beguines. Susan has an intuition that the Beguine movement, which was the women’s movement of the Middle Ages, holds some promise and insight for our times too.  I think she is on to something.  This movement was all about 1) community and 2) service.  It was not about religious authority and vow-control therefore (and for this reason it was opposed by the papacy of the time and much of the status quo) but about living authentic lives of learning, service and mutual sharing.

Today lots of groups, the “new monastics” and others, are looking to life-styles that are not just market-driven but also are not religion-bound.  Places–spaces–where learning and soul-growth happens along with service toward and with others.  Do the Beguines hold some keys to this kind of movement?  Join us on the pilgrimage, learn more about them, enter their morphic field, and decide for yourself.

 In the following article, Susan explains more about the Beguines and the passion behind the pilgrimage. Retreat attendance needs to be confirmed in June and the cost increases on June 1st – so let us know son  if you are thinking about joining us!

brugesbeguinage

The Béguinage of Bruges

 

 

Imagining and Creating
New Communities:
The Beguines did it in the Middle Ages, Can’t we now?

Our Beguine ancestors seem to say, “Yes, we did it over a thousand years ago – before all the conveniences of communication that you have today.  We found ways to live authentic, meaningful and helpful lives in community. We were not limited by our time or culture.  We made a difference and the world still needs that. Learn how you can best nourish and be nourished in community. Dream it, imagine it, and work with others to create it.”

In March of 2013, my focus was intensely on the retreat and pilgrimage to Hildegard’s Rhineland that I was leading. As the retreat came to a close, I began shifting my focus to traveling through the nearby region with my husband.  When I looked at the map and our loosely planned itinerary, which only required that we return the car in Amsterdam, I realized that our path took us right through the areas most densely populated with communities of Beguines during the Middle Ages. 

I learned about the Beguines initially through teachings by Matthew Fox and then through the writings of other spiritual writers. Something about these creative and courageous women grabbed my attention and once they had my attention they grabbed my heart.  So as my husband and I wound our way from Bingen, Germany through Belgium and up to Amsterdam, we stopped at Beguinages – many of which are now protected as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

beguinessewing.jpg.w300h191Women who were called Beguines began forming unique communities around 1200 AD. Prior to the formation of these communities, opportunities afforded women were to marry or to take vows to the Church. But during the time of the crusades, when many women were left to care for land, families and communities while men were off fighting, a new independence emerged. This independence coupled with the practical, compassionate spirituality practiced by newly formed groups like the Franciscans and Dominicans and the traditions of the traveling troubadour, gave women the courage and inspiration to live independently and with purpose.

 Beguine communities varied in their formation. Many were houses shared by a handful of women; others were large communities with nearly 1000 members. Beguines came from all backgrounds. Wealthier Beguines lived alone in their own homes within the community and provided support for houses that hosted numerous poorer Beguines in dormitory living. Beguine communities often included children – orphans and child prostitutes that were taken
in, supported, protected and educated.  Beguines were not nuns but they lived according to
their own Beguine community rules and they were free to leave and marry. At their peak, there were nearly a million Beguines and they prospered for hundreds of years, the last Beguine died in Belgium in April 2013.

 Some refer to the Beguines as the first women’s movement. Certainly, they were courageous in stepping out of traditional roles which resulted in persecution and violence. Beguine communities formed during a very fertile time in history.  As societies moved from a barter economy to a coin economy, Beguines participated in the economy. They played a significant role in the textile industry, producing lace and other materials. And as royalty realized that their wealth increased with an educated populous, Beguines were employed to teach literacy.

 The driving force behind the Beguine movement was an experiential spirituality that embodied the compassion of Christ and sought both to live in contemplation and in compassionate service.  Far from the hierarchical religion of the day, Beguines lived a spiritual life that was both humbling and empowering in its experience of unity with God. God was experienced as much as Mother as Father and as much as Mystery as Known.

 There is much to learn from the Beguines, both in their spirituality and service as well as in their courage and creativity. Personally, I am attracted to the Beguines as models of discernment and innovation. I am curious as to what forms of community need to be birthed in my time and culture. I read about and witness the dwindling of church attendance. I watch with interest as new movements develop like the New Monastics, on-line spiritual communities and “virtual monasteries”. I visit Co-Housing communities and read about New Urbanism.

 When my husband and I walked the cobblestone paths in Belgium’s Beguinages, I recognized the brick architecture from my youth. The Beguinages reminded me of the row-homes of Baltimore. Now, my imagination wanders and I imagine a community of neighbors, like the Beguines who choose to live in support of one another and of our wider community. I imagine as my husband and I enter retirement there might yet be a different type of community that sustains us and fosters (puts to work) our talents and gifts.  I imagine that sweet spot that the Beguines fostered: a community of spiritual friends that is steeped in solitude and togetherness, action and non-action, organization and freedom, study and activity.

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The Grand Béguinage of Leuven faculty club

 This September I am returning to the Beguinages of Belgium with colleagues including Matthew Fox and a small group of pilgrims to study the Beguines and to be like the Beguines in their “experiential” approach. We will visit the cobblestones of five Beguinages; we will immerse ourselves in the emotional, spiritual and physical environment of the Beguines and see what emerges for each participant. Just as the Beguinages were all independent and developed according those who lived amongst them, so will the retreat foster and support the percolation of individual ideas and inspirations.  It will be an interfaith, inter-denominational gathering encouraging each participant to lean into the wisdom and courage needed to support communities – new and old.

 Yes, there has been a lot of planning to bring forth this retreat but there has also been a sense of following – a “yes” to the calling forth.   There has been amazing synchronicities amongst newly met colleagues. It feels as if this pilgrimage is blessed by our Beguine ancestors who seem to say, “Yes, we did it over a thousand years ago – before all the conveniences of communication that you have today.  We found ways to live authentic, meaningful and helpful lives in community. We were not limited by our time or culture.  We made a difference and the world still needs that. Learn how you can best nourish and be nourished in community. Dream it, imagine it, and work with others to create it.”

 If you want to drink deep of the Beguine movement and have it influence your communities- those already birthed and those yet to be birthed, join us in September.   Register by the end of this month to be one of the 28 people, including teachers, on the retreat.   Registration information and a detailed itinerary can be found on my website: www.wholeheartedretreat.com

Susan Coppage Evans, D.Min
Graduate of University of Creation Spirituality
Founder of Creation Spirituality Communities
Retreat Leader through WholeHearted, Inc.

 

Dialoguing on Human Values with Leonardo Boff

This past weekend, I was honored to be co-keynote with the esteemed liberation theologian from Brazil, Leonardo Boff, at the Sixth Worldwide Meeting on Human Values in Monterrey, Mexico. A total of 6,000 people in attendance, with 90,000 people from 90 countries watching online (including prisoners in jails).wpid-att00002.jpeg

Dr. Boff and I were the first speakers of the three-day event: he spoke first, addressing the question of the poor and in particular the poor Earth and the way it is being treated and underrepresented in the UN and capitalism in general.

I followed, speaking on “Reinventing Education and the YELLAWE project” (they translated my book “The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human” into Spanish for the occasion). I spoke about values and education: how Einstein warned that values come from intuition and not intellect, and that our society and its education, which he “abhors,” leaves intuition out.

For me, I said, intuition is the right brain; it is mysticism and the basis of creativity. Thus the role of art as meditation in our model of education in the Master’s and Doctoral programs I developed and led for thirty years. To illustrate the impact of this approach, I shared the story of two of our adult students: Sister Dorothy Stang who was martryed in the Amazon for defending the peasants and the rain forest; and Bernard Amadei who started “Engineers Without Borders” due to having “gotten his soul back” from taking our classes.

Extending that impact, I told how these programs were the basis for the YELLAWE program that I boiled down for our inner city teenagers. I stressed the “ten C’s” of the YELLAWE program and spoke to them all, including Cosmology, Contemplation, Creativity, Chaos, Compassion, Community, Courage, Critical Thinking, Ceremony and Character Development. I showed slides of the YELLAWE program in Oaxxa, Mexico, and stressed how indigenous peoples, who are powerfully present in the Mexican peoples still, taught their young not by forcing them to sit in desks seven hours a day, but mostly by way of ceremony, which of course includes the body and all the chakras.

I was delighted by the reception we received! After Dr. Boff and I spoke, there was an hour in which he and I sat together and took a series of excellent questions chosen from a fish bowl, with three minutes for each of us to respond to each question.

While I don’t recall all of the questions we were asked, one of more provocative was: Is the Catholic Church losing ground in Latin America? Dr. Boff agreed that yes, it was. I added that institutionalized religion in general was losing ground but that spirituality was the future more than religion.

Watch the live-streamed recordings of Dr. Boff’s and my talks (and more) on the conference archive site.