On the Death of David Koch: A Sobering Tale on the Demise of American Democracy

David Koch.  Wikipedia

David Koch. Wikipedia

Following the death of Charles Koch it seems fitting to share the article about his life's work that I wrote last year for Progressing Spirit. It is good to remember the past in order hopefully not to repeat it and to better understand what ails us as a nation.

A Sobering Tale of the Demise of American Democracy (Part I)

Historian Nancy MacLean’s book, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is scarier than a Stephen King novel or a movie such as “The Exorcist.”  Yet the former is non-fiction through and through!  The author declares she is offering up “the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance.”[1]

Chilling as it is, Democracy in Chains is also necessary reading for anyone interested in the purposeful unraveling of American Democracy that is racing ahead so furiously and that the current Paul Ryan/Donald Trump Republican party is pushing forward relentlessly.  It is a must-read for anyone asking: “What happened to the Republican Party?  Where did the Tea Party come from?  Where is it going?  What is its agenda?  What rabbit holes are we being asked to enter next?  What is the end game?”

The bottom line to this book can be summarized as follows: You can kiss government “of the people, by the people, for the people” Good Bye if the principal players in this book have their way.  And much is going their way at this time.  (How ironic that it was the first and greatest Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who left those words of government of, by and for the people, in our collective memories.)  The goal of this movement is a government of the few, by the few and for the few along with a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.

MacLean has done a masterful job of laying bare the philosophy and thinkers that lay behind the activism of the deep right movement of our generation.  She tells us whose intellectual shoulders the Koch brothers (and their countless progeny of think tanks, universities, law departments, economic departments, politicians, judges, etc) stand on and how it all came about.  The litany of institutions spawned by the Koch brothers and their wealthy donors include the following: the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, the State Policy Network, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Tax Foundation, the Reason Foundation, the Leadership Institute, the Charles Koch Foundation, Koch Industries and more. 

(One has to marvel at the fecundity of the right wing—and ask where are more progressive thinkers and corporations putting their wealth?  Where is the fecundity from the left?  Where are the scholarships for young thinkers and activists from the left?  Is all the money sitting offshore making interest for shareholders?  Is it all going to create prettier campuses for tech schools?  Where is the support for authentic values education?  I don’t see anything of that happening frankly and I have been in the field of values education for over forty-five years and that includes support for spirituality and progressive politics.  Do you?)

Among the most revered “intellectual saints” of the extreme rights movement are Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, Friedrich A. Hayet and—here lies the heart of this book’s revelations—James McGill Buchanan and his “Buchanan Center for Study of Public Choice.”  MacLean had unusual (and almost accidental) access to Buchanan’s private papers and this forms the meat of her book.  What does she find?  She puts it bluntly: The stealth agenda and supreme value is “To save capitalism from democracy—permanently.”   Theirs is “a quest to ensure the supremacy of capital.” (xxxi)

Buchanan began his movement at the University of Virginia in 1956 and relocated to George Mason University “to train a new generation of thinkers to push back against Brown and the changes in constitutional thought and federal policy that had enabled it.” (xix)  He also had in mind "a much more audacious project, one that was national in scope,” that is to train operatives who would eventually staff the Koch brother’s network of think tanks alluded to above.  Koch of course gave multi millions of dollars over the years to Buchanan and all of these enterprises.  These think tanks advised many Republican actors over the decades including Trump administration hires along with their staffs, Virginia governors, presidential candidates and Supreme Court judges.  One hire is Vice President Mike Pence who “has worked with many of these organizations over the years and shares their agenda.” (xx)  No one could say this movement has not been successful in their efforts.

Let us look briefly at the origins of this movement/cult/political-economic crusade dedicated to the proposition that democracy must not interfere with capitalism.  The movement burst on the scene in Virginia’s response to the Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education to de-segregate schools. (While it was born of racism, part of the strategy of the movement however is to never bring up the subject of race or racism and of course to deny it if someone else brings it up.)  Its roots go back to Jim Crow days and to the slave times and the philosophy of then Senator John C. Calhoun as well as to mid-fifties Virginia, that of Senator Harry Byrd, Sr. who “exhumed Calhoun’s theories of government” in his battle against school integration.  (10)

Feast on some of the wisdom of Calhoun who pronounced thus: “Slavery is an institution ordained by Providence, honored by time, sanctioned by the gospel, and especially favorable to personal and national liberty.”  Notice the word “liberty” because that is central (that and the word “freedom”) to the ideology that followed, civil war included.)  Comments MacLean: “If he [Calhoun] deemed it necessary to punish one of his workers with '30 lashes well laid on’ and a diet of ‘bread and water,’ as he did a young runaway slave named Aleck, such was his prerogative as an owner.  How he disciplined his labor force to keep his enterprise profitable should be no one else’s business.”  (9f) 

That is what liberty meant to Calhoun and its meaning is not that different in the rhetoric intoned today.  To ensure the endurance of one’s profits, the idea of a federal government was a menace.  That is what “liberty” still means to his admirers in the extreme right.  The dominance of “the aggressive few over the collective rights of the many” is alive and well in moves the red states are taking today including of course the push to limit voting rights (winked at by today’s Supreme Court which dismantled the voting rights act). (p. 5)

What is the agenda?  The goal of this movement is not merely to change who rules by achieving success in election; but rather to change the rules.  Only by changing the rules can they succeed since the majority of Americans, when they eventually wake up, do not see their goals as, well, all that American.  To accomplish this “revolution” (a word common in their parlance), their goal has to remain under wraps and as stealth as much as possible because if out in the open it would be roundly defeated in elections.  But truth telling also suffers (“fake news,” any one?) for where the agenda “could not be fully disguised, where necessary they had to be presented to the American public as the opposite of what they really were—as attempts to shore up rather than ultimately destroy—what the majority of American wanted, such as sound Medicare and Social Security programs.”  The argument put forward is that “we are protecting these programs so they won’t go bankrupt;” but in fact “the real goal was to destroy them.” (193f)

Thus the word reform is inserted whenever the truth is in danger of coming out.  Consider the recent “reform” of the tax code (the media in its intellectual laziness invariably succumbs to the language they are fed) that helped you-know-who the most and not those near the bottom or even middle of the economic ladder.  In a recent tweet by house speaker Paul Ryan he lauds the new “tax reform bill” because it increased the pay of a secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, Pa, by $1.50 per week.  (sic)  Meanwhile, the same new” tax reform bill” will allow Ryan himself a $19,000 annual tax cut and the Koch brothers an estimated tax cut of $1.4 billion and Mr Trump very likely much more than that.[2]  In their excited largess the Koch brothers, immediately on the tax “reform” bill passing, poured $500 billion into Paul Ryan’s coffers for the 2018 elections.  

How successful have the extreme right zealots been?  Consider that by 1990 “more than two of every five sitting federal judges had participated in his program—a stunning 40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.” (195)  Consider the number of laws being passed currently in state houses to curtail voting rights, increase gerrymandering, tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies, etc.  Consider the make-up of the Supreme Court and its decisions, especially Citizens United, that has opened the floodgates for inviting an oligarchy to the head of the table.  (The newest supreme court judge was chosen by the Heritage Foundation along with many other lower court judges as well.)  Consider the complete frozenness of congress to pass legislation or govern.

Not all Republicans have gone along with Koch’s efforts to take over the party and declare all who disagree with him RINOS or “Republicans in name only.”  But throwing big money into primary elections proved immensely successful over time to seize the party and to expel all non-believers in their goals.  U.S. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of the first longtime Republican senators to lose out to the movement, called those who attacked him “cannibals” who are eager to bring about “the end of governing as we know it.”  (xxvii)  Orin Hatch at first said “they’re not Republicans” and “I despise these people.”  But then, like so many others, he relented, learned the new rules of the game and came on board.  Former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio called one of their leaders, Ted Cruz, “Lucifer in the flesh.”  And of course he fled the new Republican Party, retired as leader, and gladly returned to Ohio.

MacLean warns that our accustomed mindset (and surely that of the media) where we still think in terms of Republican vs. Democrat is so outdated and knee-jerk that we are not seeing what is truly underway. “A shrewd long game blocked from our sight by these stale classifications” is happening right under our noses.  (xxviii)




Democracy in Chains and a New Religion of the True Believers (Part II)

                               Matthew Fox


In her book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, MacLean alerts us to how “the Republican Party is now in the control of a group of true believers for whom compromise is a dirty word.”[3]  Such “true belicving” as we know is usually reserved for a religion. 

What is the Koch Republican Party’s position on religion?  Koch actually compared his movement to Luther’s Protestant Reformation waged against “the corrupt hegemon of an earlier century.” (195). It seems to me that Koch & Co. are introducing us to a whole new religion—one that is secular in the fullest sense of that term, a religion of the market, by the market and for the market, a religion of might (economic might that is), makes right, the religion of mammon. 

Is what we are observing a new cult, a new version of religion where mammon rules?  If so, it would seem to echo what the late Catholic monk Thomas Merton predicted would be the “greatest orgy of idolatry the world has ever seen,” namely the marriage of materialism and fundamentalist beliefs.[4]  Buchanan evolved to call himself not just an economist but a “social philosopher.”  (115)  He also veers into theology.  Consider an article entitled “The Samaritan’s Dilemma,” where he offered a unique take on the story of the Good Samaritan.  Because “modern man” has gone “soft” and lacks “strategic courage,” Jesus is mistaken: To help another in need is not the ethical thing to do after all for it would render the other dependent, a “potential parasite” who “deliberately exploits” society’s leaders, i.e. its “producers.”  MacLean concludes that Buchanan’s theology is to “shackle the Samaritan, so to speak,” rather than to assist him.   (142f) 

Surely this is a new religion isn’t it?  Offering a new take on Jesus’ words?  How amazing that so-called Evangelical “Christians” seem eager to follow what so blatantly contradicts Jesus’ teachings.  It is curious that the new Koch Republican Party continues to court the Evangelical vote successfully since Buchanan and many of the thinkers in this cult were in fact atheists “who looked down on those who believe in God.”  (xxvii)  Koch chose “to make peace—at least in the short term” with religious types like the late Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Tim Phillips who prefer private schooling to public schooling and charity to justice.  Jerry Falwell jr, current president of Liberty University, has called President Trump the “dream president” and “one of the great visionaries of our time.”  Trump offered him the position of Secretary of Education but he turned it down.  Instead, he serves on a task force on reforming the US Department of Education. No doubt exchange of money with Liberty University (notice the title of Falwell’s school as I dealt with their definition of “liberty” in my last essay) and other pet causes of these pastors has not hurt the evangelical relationship one bit.

The new Koch Party is vaster and more accomplished than the former Republican Party (many of whom have jumped ship including George Wills, David Brooks, Steve Schmidt, David  Jolly, Nicole Wallace, Joe Scarborough, et alia.  It employs more than three times as many people as the Republican committees had on their payrolls in 2015.  From late 1990’s to today Koch & Co. have “wrestled control over the machinery of the Republican Party” mostly by offering the swift vengeance of primary challenges to anyone veering from the strict party line.  Orthodoxy is a must; heretics are to be banished.

One of its tactics is to “overwhelm” the normal political process with schemes to disrupt its functioning and, I would add, to distract the media.  Is it succeeding in achieving what MacLean calls “ends that most Republican voters do not want, such as the privatization of Social Security, Medicare, and education?” (xxxii)    She comments: “What this cause really seeks is a return to oligarchy, to a world in which both economic and effective political power are to be concentrated in the hands of a few.” (Ibid.) To do this it is necessary to disenfranchise voters and to delegitimize labor unions.

The mantra of this new cult was and continues to be “excessive government regulation of business” and they offer their own unique definition of “freedom,” a word which, like “liberty” they love to invoke as often as possible.  To them “unrestrained capitalism is freedom.” (italics hers) (xxxii)  This is the clear dogma of this religion. 

Early in the game they came to the conclusion that “the biggest threat” to their agenda came from the environmental movement (even though a Republican president, Richard Nixon, launched the EPA).  The Environmental movement was seen as a “quest for control over industry” and therefore had to be “not merely defeated, but defamed, with their personal ‘hidden agenda’ exposed.”  (195)   Climate Change Denial was and is part of their orthodoxy and was fully at work in every one of the Republican candidates for president in 2016 (and the media acted supine by not asking a single question about climate change in their so-called interviews of the candidates on television).  How thrilled they must have been when President Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord! 

To underscore the current relevance of this book consider that in early February Donald Trump was forced to withdraw his nominee to oversee the Council on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett White.  Who is White?  She is a senior fellow at the Koch Brothers and Exxon-funded Texas public Policy Foundation.  A climate denier , she believes carbon dioxide is harmless “plant food” and calls solar and wind power “unreliable and parasitic.”  Anti-science extremists and climate deniers, financially buttressed by the fossil fuel industry and “trained” in the Koch institutions of learning are being hand-picked to run our government agencies. 

Fortunately Friends of the Earth ran a campaign to shut down White’s nomination but more such nominees are springing up.  They are legion; and they keep coming, not unlike the demon that was chased out of a human by Jesus only to end up leading pigs over a cliff.

Another goal, that corporations take over the public domains of schools, prisons, western lands, infrastructure and more is well underway.  Though at first Trump and the Koch brothers were not in synch, it seems they are both marching to the same drummer now. 

Another obstacle to the group’s vision of “liberty” (meaning liberty for the rich and powerful and their corporations) was government-supported “health and welfare,” which they feel impair the “normal workings of labor markets.” Their sworn enemies are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, employer-provided pensions and insurance.  These have to go; or at least be converted to individual savings accounts. (195f)  One can see here of course the origins of the foaming-at-the-mouth attacks on Obamacare (62 efforts to kill it last count ?) which, when it came along, came under vitriolic attack as the ultimate bête noir.  Recall the summer of 2010 when a kind of reality show of Obamacare haters took to showing up to scream and shout at town hall meetings.  The fire they lit then still burns in the faithful’s hearts even though a large majority of American voters want some assistance with their health needs and more and more are seeing the issue as a “right” and not a privilege.  Just as all other so-called “first world” nations offer it.

Indeed, “Obamacare” provides a “perfect storm” for their ire since not only does it propose some health care relief for many without insurance and not only does it do so by asking all, including the young and healthy, to contribute, but also Obama was a black president.  Shouting against Obamacare is a three-for-one, with racism integrated into this unholy trinity.

As for tax policy, the belief of this cult is that voters’ “inevitable egalitarian instincts” would lead them to “redistribution.”  What is the cure for this?  The Father-Knows-Best tribe proposes “to bring about the end of the graduated income tax… in favor of a single-rate flat tax.” (196)

Another enemy is education (after all the movement was born of opposition to a “federal”  Supreme Court decision around education).  There is, they maintain, a “government monopoly” of schooling that renders  education “the most socialized industry in the world” and results in nurturing “community values, any of which are inimical to a free society.”  (Again, in their parlance, “free society” means free to be as rich as you can and as unencumbered in using all your wealth and power as you see fit.) 

Surely it is striking that “community values” constitute an enemy.  What is their medicine?  “Vouchers” are the solution to miseducation for they could be put to the use of funding enrollment in all-white private schools in Virginia as a response to Brown v. Board of Education. When the word got out to voters about what it all meant, they retired their idea temporarily.  Now it is back in vogue and out of the closet.

 (Believe me, I too am a fierce critic of American education and have spent forty years trying to offer alternatives though my solutions have nothing to do with vouchers.[5] Any accrediting board that offers credit to Koch-based schools that are committed to bringing down democracy ought to themselves be investigated.  I recall a shocking moment of truth when I asked the head of the accrediting body of WASC about twenty years ago what it would take to garner accreditation.  Said he: “If you had five million dollars you would have accreditation in six months.  We gave it to an evangelical college in southern California in six months when they arrived at our doorstep with five million dollars.” 

Another bête noir to this new Koch cult is feminism which they accuse of being “heavily socialistic.”   MacLean defines their understanding of “socialism” this way: “Any effort by citizens to get their government to act in ways that either cost money to support anything other than police and military functions or encroached on private property rights.” (196)

This book rips open the veil which is covering up what is really happening in Washington—and it is far deeper than President Trump (whom the media fetishes and fixates on breathlessly); or the Republicans vs the Democrats; or left vs. right. There is a strategy, albeit stealth, at work. A movement whose pet name for the federal government is “the American Leviathan” which is a “monster on a rampage.”  (Buchanan)  (117)  The Leviathan is of course a Biblical figure whom God would destroy at the end of time.


[1] Nancy MacLean, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (NY: Viking, 2017), xv.  Subsequent references to this book are in the body of the article.

[2] https://us-mg5.mail.yahoo.com/neo/launch?.partner=sbc&.rand=83olht1v9lk6t#mail

[3] Nancy MacLean, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (NY: Viking, 2017), xxviii.  Subsequent references to this book are in the body of the article.

[4] See Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, 203-224.

[5] See my book  The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human. And my autobiography, Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest which reports on the alternative pedagogy I have employed for some forty years of educational programs for adults and for inner city youth.

A Requiem for Notre Dame de Paris, The Soul of a Nation

The psychologist and genius Otto Rank, author of the classic work Art and Artist, said that if you want to know the soul of a nation go to its architecture first.  Notre Dame de Paris and the entire gothic revolution of the 12th century Renaissance that it encapsulates (along with Chartres Cathedral 30 miles beyond Paris), tells us much about the soul of France.  And our own souls.

It was my privilege to live and study and undergo some searing history in the shadow of Notre Dame during my three years at the Institute catholique de Paris studying the history and theology of spirituality from 1967-1970.  Yes, the “events of 1968” which brought down the government of Charles de Gaulle with students rioting in the streets within eyeshot of the Cathedral were part of those days.  (Students were also rioting in Germany, Berkeley, Madison, New York, etc., at the time protesting much that was deficient about Western academia.) 


Notre Dame was a witness to such revolutions as she was to the French Revolution two centuries earlier.  She was also witness to the energetic presence of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin as they learned at the feet of French intellectuals in a critical time of the birthing of America and its vision for a certain form of democracy. 

In what way does Notre Dame reveal to us the best side of the French soul?  First, because it is feminine—“Notre Dame” means “Our Lady” and there were more than 500 churches built named “Notre Dame”—Notre Dame de Chartres, Notre Dame de Lyons,” etc over  a period of 125 amazing years in the Middle Ages, years when the goddess last appeared in the West:  All of these Gothic Cathedrals were dedicated to the Divine Feminine.  (Chartres contains one of the most celebrated Black Madonna shrines as well.)  “La France” is feminine (Germany is masculine).  There is a priority in the 12th century renaissance for the goddess, for the Divine Feminine, who represents Beauty and the Cosmos and the marriage of the human psyche and the cosmos--St Thomas Aquinas, who lived and taught at the University of Paris for years, and was present when they were constructing the Cathedral, said that every human being is “capax universe,” capable of the universe. 

The goddess in the Middle Ages represented the poor, the outcast and the marginal ones.  That is why she was so popular.  Henry Adams in his classic work on Mont Saint Michel and Chartres emphasizes this point.  Justice was vital to “Our Lady,” justice for the poor, not justice for the legal and judicial class.  She stood with the poor, the oppressed, the “outlaws.”

Another fine example of the French soul at its best is the gift that the French made to the United States which we know as the Statue of Liberty.  There we read the following, very much in the spirit of Notre Dame de Paris and the goddess: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  

This is a philosophy radically different from the one that is currently busy at American borders caging children and separating kids from their parents and seeking to close border gateways to asylum against victims of violence and crime and poverty much of it caused by global warming and American actions in Central America.  It is a feminist philosophy that celebrates our interdependence not only with other human beings and especially the poor but also with all of creation, the “web of creation” as Hildegard of Bingen put it, also in the 12th century, the century Notre Dame’s construction was set in motion.

Paris also bore witness just a few years ago to the COP21 Accords, an effort to bring all nations together to confront global warming and the demise of Mother Earth, Gaia, as we know her.  While it was imperfect, it was a start and America signed on though sad to say a recent presidency and its enablers seek to exit this promise of a future for our grandchildren and future generations.  But that exit, by those still married to denial and afraid of facing reality, cannot happen legally until 2020.  Future, less in-denial administrations, might still heed the call and suffering of Mother Earth and join anew.

The goddess that Notre Dame represents is not a sentimental feminine but a fierce feminine, one that will and does stand up to injustice be it environmental, racial, social, gender, gender preference, or economic.  She does not shut her eyes in a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” way.  She is all seeing and often pictured (as in Hildegard’s visionary paintings) as multi-eyed.  Wisdom is that way, she is cosmic and a “friend of the prophets” and a lover of Eros and play and creativity.  She sees what is going on, she sees Reality.  Says Hildegard: “Wisdom is found in all creative works.”  

Notre Dame de Paris is one such work—with many, many expressions of creativity at its best.  Consider the stained glass.  Thank heavens much of it was spared.  I heard a commentator say yesterday that we will replace the stained glass that was destroyed.  No, we won’t.  Twelfth century French stained glass was uniquely beautiful and opaque and rich in blues and reds and we have lost the formula of how it was made.  We will never replace 12th century stained glass.  We may strive to imitate it but will never reproduce it in its full deliciousness.  Consider the music, the concerts and the singers, and the amazing organ, that has moved people for centuries.  Consider the statuary and the soaring pillars that invite your eyes upwards to take in the stars themselves.

My mentor at the University in Paris, the amazing Dominican historian and scholar Pere M.D. Chenu, author of the celebrated work, Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century.  He used to say that the 12th century renaissance “was the only renaissance that worked in the West.”  It “worked” in his estimation because it came from the grass roots—it was not top down as was the 16th century renaissance.  It derived from the young and recently freed serfs and peasants who rushed to the city to learn; it derived from women; and it derived from communes that were busy reinventing relationships and community life. 

daryl_mitchell from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

daryl_mitchell from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Consider the masculine energy of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, built in the 16th century (and paid for by selling indulgences, which had much to do with the Protestant revolt and revolution/reformation) vs. the feminine energy of Notre Dame de Paris. The former is cold with all its marble and boasts exaggerated masculine imagery (even the statues of women look like beefy men).  In contrast, the soaring verticality of the Gothic architecture lets the sun shine in, its vertical pillars imitate nature and the forest, and a delight in colors that bounce around on these same pillars as the sun moves through the day abounds. The invention of the flying buttresses (still present after the fire) made all this possible.  What a move it was from the defensiveness of the Romanesque architecture of the cold and dark Middle Ages which boasted very small windows to the light-filled spaces of the Gothic!  “God as light,” not “God as defense.”

Still today we are wrestling with these same energies of masculine control and empire building and power-over versus the feminine which is motherly, welcoming, light filled, nature based, creation centered, honoring of diversity.  Chenu used to bring to our seminar on 12th century spirituality books of the Cathedral architecture of the 12th century.  “You cannot learn spirituality without learning the art of the period” he would say.  It was also in this period that for 100 years there was no condemnation of homosexuality and sexual diversity was studied at the University, as scholar John Boswell has demonstrated in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.

Those nationalist movements of our day, now being spearheaded by Steve Bannon, the same man who put the current president into office, are grounded in nostalgia and sentimentalism and patriarchy.  They bristle at the thought of the liberation of women, much less leadership from women. They enshrine homophobia (consider Bannon’s pal now expelled from the Vatican, Cardinal Burke, who is the leader to the rebellion against Pope Francis’s efforts to reach out to gays). These movements are also rife with violence and violence, as Carl Jung teaches, is integral to sentimentalism.  Feminist sociologist Anne Douglas tells us that sentimentalism is “rancid political consciousness,” it is the organic and passionate quest for justice we are born with denied.  And feminist poet Adrienne Rich alerts us to how patriarchy invariably teaches a “fatalistic self-hatred.” 

How much of this “fatalistic self-hatred” is integral to the extreme right-wing political movements of our time?  Isn’t it both fatalistic and self-hating to deny climate change when it is already at work raising sea levels, bringing drought on the one hand and unmatched hurricanes and tornadoes and floods on the other? 

Isn’t it fatalistic and self-hating to sell and preach homophobia thus condemning a sexual minority to temptations to self-hatred?  The recent book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy by French journalist Frederic Martel, demonstrates what a profound price has been paid in the very headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in our time—a corruption of a system that includes very much the infamous Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the “sacred inquisition,’ and involves numerous past popes and cardinals and secretaries of state and more.  This book proves that self-hatred among gays is at the root of the cover-up of pedophilia as well as the diatribes of Popes JP II and Benedict XVI against gays—even when both administrations were full of gay cardinals and bishops who were busy writing and disseminating this homophobia in God’s name through multiple papal bulls and writings and more during the daytime while acting out their sexual needs furtively at night.

The 12th century goddess was not only accepting of diversity.  She was also a champion of the pursuit of knowledge and its fuller expression, wisdom.  Lady Wisdom.  Wisdom is feminine not only in the Bible but in most languages around the world.  The 12th century revolution in education that birthed the University was profound and opened the door to today’s scientific method (and came from Islam) and boasted the marriage of science and spirituality (this was Thomas Aquinas’ entire life’s work).  Sadly, this passion for wisdom and not just knowledge was deposed in the modern era.  Instead of the University being a place to go to find your place in the Universe—which was its meaning when the University was invented in the 12th century—it became in the modern era a place to go to find your place in a man-made work world. 

Academia became a jungle of opposing forces--a zoo for reptilian brains to compete to the death and to feed war machines and chemical companies.  “Academic barbarism” was Thomas Berry’s word for it.  The triumph of the masculine (knowledge) over the feminine (wisdom).  And the Earth, Mother Earth, suffers unto death. 

The Guardian  photo essay  of 4/16/19 reveals devastation and resilience after the fire.

The Guardian photo essay of 4/16/19 reveals devastation and resilience after the fire.

Is there a meaningful synchronicity to the partial collapse of Notre Dame de Paris in Holy Week?  In Passover time?  I think so.  The story of life, death and resurrection is as pressing as ever.  Passover is about liberation.  Would that we might be liberated from on-going patriarchy!  The president of France immediately called for a fund raising campaign and an effort to rebuild the Cathedral.  And it will be rebuilt—provided there is a renewed earth to build it on.  If we have only 12 years left to change our ways as a species before climate change completely takes over and dictates the future, then the Cathedral will never be rebuilt.  And ought not to be.

Maybe the death of the Cathedral as we knew it for 850 years is yet another wake up call:  To wake our souls to the Divine Feminine, to clean up the toxic masculine, to find again a new balance of the two, a balance so integral to Notre Dame where the engineering and construction and mathematical and masculine skills that made it possible are so marvelously matched with the stained glass, non-defensive lift, sunlight, beauty, coordination with nature, love of the Green Man and the Black Madonna, that characterize the Divine Feminine.  It is this kind of sacred marriage that our species yearns for today.  This is the cathedral—the inner throne within our consciousness—that must precede the outer throne or outer cathedral (“cathedral” means “throne”).  Let us work on our hearts and souls to bring this balance back.

As I wrote the day of the burning:

A building has died but what it stood for--the divine feminine movement of Gothic architecture--need not die but needs to resurrect more than ever in human consciousness.

A cathedral by definition meant the throne where the goddess sits ruling the universe with compassion and justice for the poor. Anthropocentrism, clericalism and sexism have co-opted the invention of cathedral to mean the “place where the bishop has his (usually his) throne.” This is false. The cathedral is designed to be the center of the city, it is bringing the goddess to the center of the city to bring the city alive with goddess energies and values. Cities were birthed in the 12th century with the breakup of the land-based economy and religious and political system of the feudal era. The youth fled to the cities where religion reinvented itself apart from the monastic establishment that ruled for eight centuries and where education invented itself apart from the rural monastic educational system in the form of universities. Worship reinvented itself in the Cathedral in the city and apart from the monastic liturgical practice in the countryside.


Today for the first time in human history more than 60% of humans—a great proportion of them young people—are living in cities. The Black Madonna and the “throne as goddess” motif contribute to the resurrection of our cities. They give us a center, a cosmic center, a synthesis and unity and a life-energy by which we can redeem our cities and take them back from lifelessness and thanatos. Artists gather in a city. Celebration and ritual happen in a city. Nature and human nature congregate in a city. No wonder Meister Eckhart and other medieval mystics celebrated the human soul as city and the city as soul. It is the task of a renaissance to bring soul back to city. We might even define renaissance as a “rebirth of cities based on a spiritual initiative.”  ##ViveLaCathédraleNotreDame


The Shoshone-Tongva founder of Stop Tribal Genocide, Emilio Reyes (@emiliotongva) responded to the Notre Dame fire this way: “That feeling of Notre Dame burning down is the same feeling Natives feel since 1492. That is 526 years; 365 days a year, 24/7.”  It is good that we humans share common ground with grief.  And even better that we cease to rain grief on to one another and one another’s cultures and symbols and souls, and surely not in the name of our Gods or Goddesses or other idols.  Lessons learned?  One hopes so.


Meanwhile, let us thank our ancestors and praise them for their wisdom and their quest for beauty and diversity and for justice and their brilliance and craftsmanship and caring that lasted so many centuries and delighted so many souls.  Thanks to their genius and yearning for the Divine Mother Notre Dame de Paris happened and survived and thrived and bore witness all these 850 years.  May she rise again.  May Easter happen to all our souls and all we give birth to.


A Letter to the People of New Zealand

Dear Friends,

Like others I am horrified and deeply saddened by the murders at two mosques in your nation.  Know that many are grieving with you, praying with you, and thinking of you. 

I saw this story of Omar Nabi in the paper just now and offer a response in the final paragraph.


"Omar Nabi, whose father was gunned down while protecting a friend at the mosque, said simply: 'There's no words.  People were praying, people were praying at their mosque. They got shot in the back.  This is not...this is not what humans do.'" 

Yes, our humanity is on trial.  There are no words.  Evil, like awe, renders us speechless.  The awful and the awesome reduce us to silence. This is not what humans (ought) to do (if we are to be human).   The hatred, white nationalism, racism, bigotry and conjuring up of enemies that is created by politicians, media posts, and more leads to actions that are "not what humans do."  We are losing our humanity.  Much has to change.

Hopefully this event-beyond-words will wake many up.
In solidarity,

Matthew Fox

Mary Oliver...A Remembrance

Mary Oliver.jpg

Mary Oliver was a great North American mystic.  She called herself a "praise poet," but she did not come to her sense of praise easily for she had been sexually abused by her father as a child.  The day she graduated from high school she  left home and never returned.  She says it took her years to get her life back.  "For years and years I struggled just to love my life." 

She was a profound creation centered mystic who awakens us all to the healing powers of nature.  Here are a few of my favorite lines from her poetry ( including of course her poem "At the River Clarion" which names so wonderfully the cosmic Christ and which I reproduce in my latest book on Hildegard of Bingen)

"Glory to the world, that great teacher"

"There is only one question: how to love the world"

" I want to be in partnership with the universe."

" let me keep company with those who say 'look!' And laugh in astonishment and bow their heads."

"Still, what I want in my life
Is to be willing
to be dazzled--
To cast aside the weight of facts.

Mary Oliver drank deeply from the wells of the via positiva as well as the via negativa--she talks of " the black river of loss" and of how "nature has many mysteries--some of them severe."  She urges us to do the same

Mary Oliver recites her poem; set to Phildel's Piano B.
”…When it's over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. “
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

On the 50th Anniversary of Thomas Merton’s Death

Monday, December 10th marks the 50th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s death—which has now been confirmed as a martyr’s death by the recent solid and important investigative study, The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton by Hugh Turley and David Marin (as well as by my own encounters over the years with three CIA agents who were in Southeast Asia at the time).

Photo of Thomas Merton by John Lyons, from Merton.org

Photo of Thomas Merton by John Lyons, from Merton.org

A martyrdom (consider the recently canonized Archbishop Romero or the martyrdom of Sister Dorothy Stang, an eco-saint) is not about a death any more than Jesus’ martyrdom on the cross of the empire of his day was about his death or Dr. Martin Luther King’s martyrdom was about his death.  It is about one’s life and teachings: What Good News is someone bringing into the world that so threatens the powers that be that they must hire assassins to silence the teacher?

In Thomas Merton’s case, there is much that he was preaching and teaching that we need to hear still today.  I have tried to lay that out in my recent book, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey.  Here I will summarize just some of his challenges to our awareness. 

--He stood strongly with Dr. King and the civil rights movement--indeed, he and King were scheduled to have a retreat together at his monastery along with Thich Naht Hanh the weekend King was murdered.  King cancelled the retreat offering a “rain check” in order to march with the garbage workers in Memphis.  A “fateful” decision, as Merton commented in his journal following the assassination.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

--Merton stood with those who opposed the Vietnam War and coached the Berrigan brothers about the ways of non-violent resistance.  His last public lecture, delivered three hours before his death, was entitled “Karl Marx and Monasticism”—not the most prudent of topics to lecture on in Southeast Asia at the height of the Vietnam War.

--Merton was a pioneer in the interfaith or deep ecumenism movement—which is why he took his fateful journey to Asia where he met, among others, Hindu and Buddhist leaders including the Dalai Lama,  He interacted with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Zalman Schactner, and it was in his encounters with Dr. D. T. Suzuki (who admired Eckhart profoundly) that Merton was opened up to the wisdom and power of Meister Eckhart, about whom Merton said, “whatever Zen is, it is there in Eckhart.”

--Merton stood up with Rachel Carson and celebrated what we now consider the beginnings of the Ecological movement when her book, Silent Spring, came out.  He praised her for her research about DDT and the other poisons we were putting into the soil: that explained for him the disappearance of so many birds from the monastery farm.

--Merton criticized his own church on numerous occasions, speaking of a “spiritual sickness” within it and the “glorified infantilism” that always looks to hierarchy for answers.  In an Easter Sunday sermon delivered to his fellow monks he wondered aloud if Christianity has become a “cult of the dead body of Christ.”

--Merton had an 18-month correspondence with a young and upcoming feminist Catholic theologian, Rosemary Ruether, that revealed his humility and willingness to learn from women’s experience.

--Merton’s conversion in 1958 from being a dualistic monk in the Augustinian tradition to being a prophetic Christian happened under the influence and inspiration of Meister Eckhart whom he called “my lifeboat.”

--Merton criticized the decision to go to the moon in the following language: “Even if we can fly, so what?  There are flying ants.  Even if man flies all over the universe, he is still nothing but a flying ant until he recovers a human center and a human spirit in the depth of his own being….What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from our selves?  This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.”

--Merton predicted that the marriage of religious fundamentalism and American nationalism would produce “the greatest orgy of idolatry the world has ever seen.”

--Merton wrote extensively of the Cosmic Christ such as the following: “The Blinding One….speaks to us gently in ten thousand things….He shines not on them but from within them.”

--Merton of course led a disciplined inner life and taught people how to meditate and contemplate.  Here is one definition of contemplation that he offers us:  “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life.  It is that life itself fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive.  It is spiritual wonder.  It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.  It is grateful for life, for awareness and for being.”*[1]

Speaking personally, it was in correspondence with Merton in 1967 that I was advised to pursue doctoral studies in spirituality at the Institut catholique de Paris.  It was there that I met my mentor, historian Pere M.D. Chenu, who named the Creation Spirituality tradition for me.  So I owe Merton, big time.  In a real sense all the trouble—and the joy-- I have gotten in since I owe to Thomas Merton.

This is a short list of many of Merton’s gifts to us.

Thank You, Thomas Merton!

Thank you for your life, your teachings, your wonderfully artistic writings, your courage and your death.  May we all be so alive and giving and generous.

[1] All citations are from Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journeye

On Watching the Kavanaugh/Ford Hearings

Photo: Associated Press.

Photo: Associated Press.

There were two very distinct and contrasting events on Thursday in the Senate Judicial Committee hearings considering Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and concerning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s recounting of her sexual assault as a teen ager.

The first event was Dr. Ford’s testimony, which occupied the morning.  She was amazing for her poise and clarity and strength in recalling such a sordid trauma which she was “100%” certain happened to her when Brett Kavanaugh and his sidekick, Mark Judge, locked her in a room, turned up the radio, and assaulted her.  Kavanaugh was 17 and his accomplice 18 and both were “stumbling drunk” and she only managed to escape from a full-on rape because they were so inebriated that they fell off the bed.  She gave all the signs of a victim of such dire treatment and recalled for the listeners how the incident was with her for years, created stress and inability to cope with certain situations, anxiety, a very difficult college experience, some impaired memory and a need to seek out therapy.  I found her totally convincing as did millions of other people.  Many of these other people were victims of sexual abuse themselves or the loved ones of such.

I am among the latter.  My older sister, now deceased, was a single mother and was raped years ago by a Viet Nam veteran athletic and well trained in martial arts, who climbed up on her roof and let himself in to her open bedroom window as she slept and raped her while her two young daughters were sleeping in an adjacent room.  Many other women I have known over the years were sexually assaulted and knew of what Dr. Ford spoke.

There is no question in my mind that this disturbing abuse by a perpetrator who was never held criminally responsible affected my sister, and other victims, in many ways for the rest of her life.

It was because of the vicarious experience I re-experienced while listening to Dr Ford—and how it brought back memories of my sister—that I was crying during some of her testimony.  How many other women are there out there with similar stories to that of Dr Ford or of my sister?  Many indeed. 

As a young priest and theologian I taught for four years at a Catholic women’s college named Barat College in Lake Forest, Il.  I heard many stories from these women and I remember telling a friend of mine that based on what I was hearing the per cent of women in America who are sexually attacked was not the 1 in 7 number that I had heard but more like 1 in 3.  I believe recent studies have confirmed that intuition.

Composed and moving, Dr Ford was convincing to those who heard her with an open mind.  Her testimony and questions filled the morning session and she was released to go her way, her courageous job done to speak truth to power and patriarchy about women’s stories.

Then came Judge Kavanaugh.  At the time he came on after lunch I was in my car and heard him on radio (later I saw some of his testimony on television).  Right off the bat I could hardly believe my ears.  He was shouting—I wondered, “Did I turn the radio up too loud?”, he was crying, he was lashing out at the Democrats on the committee, he was crying again, ranting and raving like a, well, crybaby, displaying a full-out foaming-at-the-mouth level of vitriol.  I had just emerged from visiting a zen monk at the Zen Center in San Francisco and the contrast between a calm and peaceful mind and Mr. Kavanaugh was like the contrast between a human being and a rabid dog.  It was a complete surrender to the reptilian brain.  Could this man possibly be fit to be a judge even on the court he is currently on – saying nothing of the Supreme Court?  Surely he has lost his chance at the highest court in the land.

He refused to answer question after question but it was his tone, his invective, his foaming at the mouth, his accusing all Democrats on the committee and even Hillary Clinton that amazed me.  He made himself the victim—not Dr Ford.  Poor, spoiled, white boy—he thinks he is entitled to the Supreme Court because he has been ambitiously seeking it for decades.  But what is behind that ambition?  And what is behind his tears?

I was reminded of Carl Jung’s teaching that behind sentimentalism there lies violence.  And Mr Kavanaugh, crying on, was surely displaying sentimentalism big time.  His tears demonstrate he is nothing if not sentimental.  Sentimentalism, as sociologist Anne Douglas wrote in a powerful study years ago, derives from “rancid political consciousness.” 

So this is what is going on beneath the crying and violent lashing out of Mr Kavanaugh: a rancid political consciousness.  Rancid because it is not about justice but about the pursuit of injustice, about the pursuit of power (or money or money or….) at the expense of others.  This is also what rape is: Not a sexual act but a power trip. 

To me it seems that after his out-of-control testimony which included fights with all four women on the judicial committee, one thing was abundantly clear: This man is fully capable of assaulting a woman and covering it up (and laughing about it afterwards which is what Dr Ford testified Kavanaugh and his buddy Judge did).  He may also have forgotten about it—she said they were “stumbling drunk” and Judge has admitted to being a serious alcoholic beginning in his high school years when he was such a bosom buddy with Kavanaugh.  Even Kavanaugh has abandoned his “choir boy” visage and admitted to excessive drinking in high school and college and refused to answer a question the committee posed about being so drunk he might have forgotten what went on.

Mr Kavanaugh, in his exaggerated response to the allegations, abandoned all pretense to being an “umpire of balls and strikes” which is how he had previously defined the judge’s role but instead came across as a completely radical and tribal Republican.  He was not alone.  Though quiet all morning during Dr. Ford’s testimony thanks to a hired woman prosecutor who posed questions to her on behalf of the Republican senators, the Senate Republicans jumped into the fray.  Most stunning was a fiery rant from Lindsay Graham who, also foaming at the mouth, shouted and denounced all the Democrats and threatened all future potential Democratic nominees with noise about examining their sex lives. 

No mention of Dr Ford from that side of the room as Republican after Republican took their time to quiz Kavanaugh to give speeches about how maligned and victimized he had been.  More sentimentalism.  (Not unlike the sentimentalism invoked around the “flag” and the “national anthem” when NFL players take a knee to protest violence of police against black citizens and the victims are forgotten entirely as the “rancid political consciousness” takes over the discussion.)

It was a breathtaking spectacle.  The reptilian brain was once again on full display.  Empathy for the accused victim, who had the courage to come and speak of her experience to the committee and to the nation, was sorely lacking by half the senators.  Sentimentalism and its cousin Violence won the day and seemed to leave the courage and integrity of Dr Ford’s story in its wake. 

But maybe not.  Maybe measured truth will one day overcome the violence of attempted rape and those who want to cover it up for the sake of political gain and those who, whether they remember it or not, are busy demonstrating the kind of soul that does indeed rape others.  Hopefully a light has been ignited for women and men alike to vote passionately very soon for a new kind of politics and a new kind of supreme court and a new kind of senate judicial committee.

One of Kavanaugh’s rants was about the word “evil”—as if he (unlike the rest of us) are not capable of doing evil.  Well, attacking a 15-year-old girl when you are a 17-year-old athlete behind a locked door with the radio turned up is evil, Mr. Kavanaugh—even if you were too drunk to remember it (I am not saying you did do it but all the evidence including your primal scream defense points to it).  But there is plenty of other evil going on that you are an accomplice to while, presumably, sober.  The evil of “Citizens United” for example that effectively ended democracy and turned government over to corporations and billionaires; dismantling voter protection for minorities; separating children from their parents because they are seeking asylum; denying climate change and turning the keys of the environmental protection over to corporate polluters.  Politics is full of evil decisions and evil decision-makers.  Evil is for real.  And humans are and can be perpetrators.  That is why we have come up with a legal system, to try to blunt the effects of evil. 

Mr. Kavanaugh, you and your Republican enablers, so closed to the searing truth of Dr. Ford’s testimony (supported by millions of other abused women), ought to grow a soul.  One way on the path is to learn to calm your pampered and patriarchal reptilian brain.  How to do that?  Meditation helps a lot.  You—and your angry white bros on the judiciary committee—ought to have calmed down and meditated before striding into the committee meeting to set fire to the place with your little boy antics and your ignoring of the truth of women’s experience.  Afraid to talk to Dr. Ford directly, they hired a surrogate to do so because to do so would be admitting the humanity of the woman before them.  You all make one ashamed to be a man.  Fortunately, I have other models of manhood and humanhood to sustain me.  I pray you get undergo some spiritual “manning up” and soon.  Real soon.

A Review of "The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation"

For years I have spoken out about how fishy the official story of Thomas Merton’s sudden death smelled to me.  I have also, over the years, met three CIA agents who were present in Southeast Asia at the time and asked them pointedly whether they killed Thomas Merton.  One said: “I will neither affirm it nor deny it.” The second (who spoke to a friend of mine, not to me) said: “We were swimming in cash at the time with absolutely no accountability.  If there was just one agent who felt Merton was a threat to the country he could have had him done in with no questions asked.” The third I met a month after my book A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey came out and he answered: “Yes.  And the last 40 years of my life I have been cleansing my soul from what I did as a young man working for the CIA in Southeast Asia in the 1960s.”

Now, Hugh Turley and David Martin offer The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation - a solid and very convincing investigation that provides what seems to be a thorough inquiry of all the parties involved including the four religious (three men and one sister who was also a doctor, falsely called a “nurse” in official documents) who first discovered the body.  

The book includes important information about the body and the room, revealing, among other things, that there was blood coming from Merton’s neck and his body was neatly staged.  How could this be anything other than 1) a gunshot wound from a silencer gun? or 2) A stab with a pick knife or something similar? The problem is, of course, that no autopsy was performed.  Now whose decision was that?

The cover up was immense, involving the Thai police (very much in league with the American military at the time); the American Embassy; the American Army; even key members of Merton’s Gethsamine monastery including the abbot and Merton’s secretary, Brother Hart.  The latter two deserve a certain leniency since surely the monastery was threatened and urged to keep silent about the facts. But to make a cover story—that Merton stepped out of a shower soaking wet and plugged in a fan and was electrocuted—is a lie and a cover up.  

Turley and Martin provide detail after detail refuting the false information that has been disseminated for five decades.  There is even a Judas figure—a Belgian monk, whose room in the retreat center was above Merton’s, and who was the last person seen talking to Merton before he entered his fateful cell.  Others report this monk acting peculiarly after the murder. Strange to tell—or perhaps not so strange—he seems to have totally disappeared. Even his monastery claims to have no idea on earth where he could be.  It would seem he is either 1) sipping mai-tais on some island some place having been paid far more than 30 pieces of silver or 2) resting not at all in peace six feet under the sod.

So Thomas Merton, Cistercian monk and one of the greatest spiritual writers of the twentieth century, died a martyr. A martyr to peace (because he was a loud voice against the Vietnam War and a mentor to the Berrigan brothers and others committed to nonviolent protest).  And he died at the hands of the American government in the very year, 1968, that Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy also suffered a similar fate.

Pope Francis, who praised Thomas Merton’s work in his speech to Congress, might want to canonize three American martyrs together and do it swiftly (since in Catholic theology a martyr goes directly to heaven): Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a prophet for social and racial justice; Thomas Merton, a prophet for peace and deep ecumenism or interfaith; and Sister Dorothy Stang, a prophet for eco-justice gunned down in the Amazon by paid thugs for large land owners and corporate big shots.

History evolves and it is ironic that today’s CIA is less an enemy of the people than yesterday’s - in fact acting in some ways a welcome buffer against today’s enemies of American democracy, whether emanating from Russia or from internal bodies beholden to Russia.  But lessons abound. First among them is what a martyr is about: As Jesus put it, “no greater love has a person than this, to lay down one’s life for their friends.”

Thank you, Thomas Merton.  Thank you Hugh Turley and David Martin for getting to the truth.  


Some Spiritual Lessons from the Rescue of the Soccer Boys from the Thai Cave

Photo(c) Picture-Alliance/Newscom, from ' Thailand cave rescue: First boys rescued from trapped soccer team " in DW.com/DeutscheWelle

Photo(c) Picture-Alliance/Newscom, from 'Thailand cave rescue: First boys rescued from trapped soccer team" in DW.com/DeutscheWelle

(also published in TIKKUN)

The world breathed a sigh of relief yesterday morning at the great news that the first four of the Thai boys were rescued from the cave where they have been trapped for 14 days.  Today four more boys have been rescued; tomorrow the rescue is slated for the last four and their coach who, we are told, is himself very weak having shared his meager rations with the kids before him. 

There are deep and even archetypal lessons in this powerful story which has captured the attention of so many people around the world and brought many people together in the midst of so much chaos and disturbance in the world.  Amidst the disunity, unity.  I wish to offer a few reflections on these lessons in this essay.

The power of the feminine

A cave is an archetype of the womb of the Earth (Francis of Assisi loved to pray in caves).  A cave is alluring and fascinating—but also dangerous and even deadly. Mother Earth’s beauty is intoxicating but it can also be dangerous; she has her own laws and must be respected—consider Pele now asserting herself in the wild volcanoes exploding in Hawaii, and the monsoons and floods faced by the boys and their coach.

A display of the healthy masculine (for a change).

In the stories of the endangered boys and the hard work of 90(!) men working to rescue them, we see a rare and refreshing story of the healthy masculine.  How many headlines are about the toxic masculine these days: Stories of the head of EPA changing all the rules so that pollution can proceed unabated again (while also pilfering tax payer dollars and blatantly disobeying laws not to alter calendar appointments and playing footsie with coal, gas and oil lobbyists, etc.).  Stories of our president and Attorney General executing a plan to separate children and even babies from their parents.  Supposedly grown men in powerful positions, denying climate change and fighting gun control. Powerful men in business, government, media, religion, etc., etc., raping and abusing women and children.


In this story of rescue we see men at their best.  Competent, skilled, courageous, generous men sacrificing for the sake of the youngsters.  One Thai SEAL even gave his life for the cause.  Men tapping into the nobility inside.  Men teaching other men (and boys) what authentic masculinity is about, what sacred masculine really means. True mentoring and true fathering on display at last.

International cooperation. 

Among the 90 men involved in the rescue, some were from Thailand; others were from the UK, Australia, the US and China.  Cooperation.  Competence.  Professionalism!  It was a humane rescue, a human enterprise, not a nationalistic or tribal one.

The usefulness of meditation

The football coach trapped with the boys is an ex-monk, who instructed the boys in meditation. This became an important dimension to their group survival as it helped them to remain calm during their long ordeal of waiting for rescue in the dark for ten days; of surviving without food; of breathing air that was far below normal richness; and even in finding their way out of the cave in the dark and murky waters with masks to breathe in.  In short, in overcoming fear (none of the boys even knew how to swim).

A call to shared humanity

Underlying the interest in this rescue are surely universal issues that unite all humans who are in touch with their humanity: our Unity created by our common experience of Suffering; and hope; and wanting to live; and the work of compassion.

There is a class dimension to this story as well.  We are learning that most, if not all of the boys, come from a very poor village and the lower class and some even from the “outcast” class of Thai society.  Some are immigrants (yes!) without papers, not legal citizens of Thailand.  Yet they are all being treated as human beings worthy of rescue and celebration.  So many countries and nationalities and races involved in the rescue.  The rescue is a snub to adultism—which reigns so mightily in much of our culture.

Rite of passage

Many people talk of the trauma these kids underwent and its likely impact on them afterwards, but I would like to look at this ordeal as a unique rite of passage.  First, they are all at the age when rites of passage are usually enacted. They have faced death in isolation with a mentor among them; they have grown up.  They have experienced rescue and liberation, even salvation, through older men demonstrating what true adulthood is about, i.e., caring for others.  They have also bonded in a deep way; they have learned skills of diving and trusting others; they have experienced how precious life is and how precarious.  These lessons will remain with them for a lifetime.

I am sure, having faced death for so many days and nights, when they emerge from the cave to experience a full breath of fresh air in their lungs and a bright sun and silver moon and hugs from family and a new perspective on life in this world, they will be inspired as never before not to take life for granted.

The beauty of the human spirit

Finally, a word about Beauty.  I cried on hearing the news of the rescue—not tears of sadness or even joy so much as tears of beauty.  It is a beautiful thing to see humans actually acting like humans.  And men actually acting like men.  “Are we our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers?”  The news from Thailand answered that question rightly:  in these cynical days, when criminal and brutal behavior by men in power seems the norm rather than the exception, the better angels of our nature prevailed.

The struggle is not over.  Four more boys and a man need to come out alive.  And there are many more challenges and struggle to fight about similar realities all over the world today.  But this moment is a good moment.  It makes one proud to be a human being again.  It is good to see men among other men striving to be good and do the right thing.  One gives thanks to the young for bringing the best out in their elders.  Hopefully they can go back to their sports and their biking and hiking and spelunking again soon, go back to being boys.  Hopefully the adults have learned lessons, lessons of hope and cooperation and caring.  Good work!

Earth Day, 2018: Some Fitting Responses and Remembrances


There are many deep ways to bear witness to Earth Day, 2018.  Surely to critique the attacks being done on Earth by our current political majority, whether withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, living and peaching denial of humanity’s abuse of the Earth, wallowing in denial and anthropocentrism and in what Pope Francis rightly calls our “narcissism” as a species—to organize and resist and prepare for upcoming elections where climate deniers and those making money off of the continued rape of mother earth can be defeated—all this is good and necessary response. 

I received an invitation to resist the current retrograde EPA that read like this: “This Earth Day, I’m thinking about half a billion dollars.  That’s how much oil companies have spent on elections and lobbying since 2015. It’s no wonder we haven’t seen Congress take action on climate change.”   To run for office and/or to support those who do and who include the Earth in their political awareness is a fitting way to remember Earth Day also.  To work to reverse Citizens United and therefore to return our disappearing democracy to a government of the people, by the people and for the people is another solid contribution.

Still another way is to read and study Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” which even scientists are praising for its breadth and depth.  Or to read commentaries on it such as my articles to be found on my web site, www.matthewfox.org.  Still another way is to read up about the Order of the Sacred Earth that was launched in a quiet way on Solstice, 2017, and will receive a fuller announcement in July, 2018, when the book appears in a public fashion.  Join the Order if your conscience so calls you and spread the news.

But another way to respect Earth Day is to look back at the violent and tragic history of those first Americans for whom Earth was reverenced and respected and holy.  As Thomas Berry puts it in his Forward to a collection of the late Catholic monk Thomas Merton’s meditations on nature, When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature,

An absence of a sense of the sacred is the basic flaw in many of our efforts at ecologically or environmentally adjusting our human presence to the natural world.  It has been said, ‘We will not save what we do not love.’  It is also true that we will neither love nor save what we do not experience as sacred.”[1] 

The Earth is sacred and the original peoples knew that.  It “invades” our very souls as Berry comments. The indigenous peoples loved the earth and respected it.  They knew its sacredness.  Therefore they are our primary teachers on this Earth Day.  The truth of their treatment by state and federal governments must not be swept under the rug or covered up with appeals to American superiority.  The truth needs to be told and meditated on and discussed and debated and acted on.

In memory and honor of this more ancient religious consciousness, two films have recently emerged, each only about thirty minutes long, that commemorate and tell the truth of the Indians of California and what they endured at the hands of the dominant and domineering culture.  To watch these films and to respond to them, to pray them, to discuss them, is, it seems to me, one of the most profound ways to educate ourselves about Earth Day and its’ deepest meanings.  It is to acknowledge the darkness and the pain and suffering that history teaches us.  It is to enter into the shadow of our culture around the deepest issues of Earth Day.  We must acknowledge the past in order to move beyond the wounds and to cease repeating the past.  These films help us do that.  They are not easy to watch.  But healing is never easy.

It is important that these films get the circulation they deserve—in our schools, our churches, our mosques, on our reservations and as an integral part of our political parties and decision-makers.

Following are my comments on these two films.  I strongly recommend one watch them as a lectio divina practice—read them like you would the Bible or any other sacred literature.  For they are part of the revelation that Earth is speaking to us today—they tell of the pain of the human soul when Earth peoples and their religions are abused.  They are truth-telling stories that push back against the heinous effort to canonize a brutalizer of the California indigenous populations.  Watch them; pray them; discuss them; ask Spirit what your proper response might be to the truths they lay bare.  This too is revelation; this too is prophetic teaching.

Film 1: Telling the Truth about California Missions

All education, all learning, is a wrestling to know the truth.  Healing only happens when the truth is told--only the truth will make us free.  In this video the truth of the California missions is put forward starkly and directly--the missions were essentially death camps and Serra was a sadomasochist.  The cultural and religious lies that have covered up this truth for far too long (including the sick idea that Serra is a saint) are pierced.  One hopes an awakening might happen and that a light is breaking through at last!

Film 2: Tears of our Ancestors: Healing from Historical Trauma

The suffering of the indigenous peoples can be a starting point, an invitation, for authentic humanity and religion to emerge.  How to approach the trauma of indigenous genocide?  How to let trauma open our collective hearts rendered cold by indifference and ignorance and cultural and religious lies?  How to bring healing to the fore? 

This moving film addresses these realities by taking us into the darkness of broken hearts and ancient wounds and efforts to heal so perverse a history.  It challenges our humanity to come alive. It gifts us with a powerful and needed exercise in truth telling that leads to making whole.  Let the confession for past oppressions begin so that healing can arrive!

Following is information for finding these important films:

Telling the Truth About California Missions (high school/college version):

https://vimeo.com/248001828  password: hoax

Tears of our Ancestors: Healing from Historical Trauma:

https://vimeo.com/252393015  password: soulwound


[1] Cited in Kathleen Deignan, ed., When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton’s Writings on Nature (Notre Dame, In: Sorin Books, 2003), 18.

A Thank You to the Young for their March of Hope and Resurrection

The student-led March for Life event that was so wonderfully attended by so many eager citizens in Washington D.C. and in so many other cities around the country and the world was a wonderful moment of Hope.  So fitting for this Passover and Easter season. 

Emma Gonzalez stands in silent tears as she observes 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence while addressing the March for Our Lives rally, March 24, 2018 in Washington, D.C. - photo by Chip Somodevilla, ABC News/Getty Images

Emma Gonzalez stands in silent tears as she observes 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence while addressing the March for Our Lives rally, March 24, 2018 in Washington, D.C. - photo by Chip Somodevilla, ABC News/Getty Images

Kudos to the young people who designed and led and spoke at this powerful gathering.  Thank you for speaking from your heart to the hearts of so many of us, elders included.  Thank you for clearing the stage of anyone over 18 years old so that we could all listen to the passion of your generation.  Thank you for challenging politicians to put conscience ahead of money and common sense gun laws ahead of ideological rancor and ranting, for going, as one speaker said, beyond “red” and “blue” posturing to looking at the country as a whole. 

Thank you for calling Senator Marco Rubio out for his selling off the lives of Floridian teenagers (whom he is supposed to represent but clearly puts second place to his love of NRA) for $1.06 each based on the $3 million plus he has taken from NRA.  Behind these smart figures is of course the larger picture: It is thanks to Citizens United that we have this obscene dependence of politicians on the whim of corporations like NRA (and countless others).  Every Supreme Court judge who voted for Citizens United also has blood on his hands as much as the politicians who take the money from NRA to do their bidding.  We need an election system that is free of money dependencies whether from the right or left.  We need a system that is paid for by the peoples’ government and excludes all other money. 

Thank you for calling lazy-minded adults to move beyond hypocritical talk of “thoughts and prayers” to actions and for spelling out what the actions are that can move us beyond military weapons in the hands of everyday citizens and beyond squelching background checks on all gun owners and beyond the recently passed bill that allows mentally disturbed to buy weapons and that invests in assisting the mentally disturbed.

Thank you for bringing morality back into the conversation—as one 11 year old black girl wisely said, “we know what is right and wrong.”  (Many politicians seem to conveniently forget that.)  And Thank You to the speaker who declared, “this is a moral issue, not a red vs blue issue.”  Would that the kept congress people could utter such a sentence and mean it and prove it by his/her actions and votes.  Thank you to the 11 year old boy who reminded us that “I deserve to grow up” and that there is such a thing as “the things that matter.”  Might our politicians meditate on those two sentences for a while--What things DO matter?  What things matter MORE than being re-elected?  And thank you for the youth who said “this is not OK” when speaking of the dangers our children face in schools and on the street due to lack of smart gun restrictions.

Thank you to Emma Gonzalez for daring to lead people in a 6+minute silence to taste and feel the time it took the shooter in Parkland to murder 17 persons and injure many more.  In doing this extended silence she courageously rendered many people in the audience ill at ease—but that is the point, isn’t it?  To get out of our ease at hearing and re-hearing the unacceptable news of still another school (or church or movie theater or Las Vegas parking lot) mass shooting..  In daring to go into extended silence this young woman was leading a grief experience with us all.  We all need to grieve and from that grieving (as in the Passover event and the Good Friday/Holy Saturday events) comes new life, courage, imagination, movements.  In other words, Resurrection.

Thank you to Jennifer Hudson and those who invited her to sing for her stirring rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Times they are A-changin.”  Speaking as an elder who was affected deeply by that same song and powerful words at a time of protest against the Viet Nam War in the 1960’s, I can say I found it a well-chosen piece to connect the oldest and the youngest generations today.  The times are always a-changin and in need of changing. This kind of intergenerational inspiration and wisdom is so needed. 

The young need to lead.  The old far too often and easily fall into cynicism—we see it in the media, in our politics, in our pulpits, in our schools.  Let the young lead for we all felt it yesterday—there is energy and clarity and courage there.  And they are leading from their sorrow and grief and that is an authentic place to lead from. They are dealing admirably with that first level of grief—anger—and instead of sitting on it or denying it or pouring it exclusively into outrage they are employing it as an energy to organize and speak out and register voters and educate the older ones about the stakes at hand.  Bravo!

In my autobiography some time ago I wrote about the need for a “preferential option for the young.”  These young people yesterday demonstrated the truth of that proposition—the young are less entangled in the corruption and cynicism of our tired institutions and the tired shibboleths we mutter to defend them; they are less invested in the past.  Therefore, as so often happens, the Spirit finds a more ready home in which to dwell and stir things up among the young.  Of course they cannot nor do they want to do it all alone.  They want and deserve the participation of the older ones, mentors and elders alike.  We need intergenerational wisdom where wisdom flows from young to old and back again.  We need the moral awakening of the young.  Hopefully this will come to bear on all our elections in the future.  This too is Resurrection.

One final point: While the young spoke out clearly and forcefully from their hearts and heads about the travesty that passes for law making in our time, they chose a specific topic to address: Gun safety.  This because they were deeply affected directly and indirectly for at least the past 17 years ever since Columbine.  And that is right and appropriate that they addressed that urgent and personal issue.  They showed how to mobilize and how to instruct and how to awaken all ages, classes, ethnicities around that pressing cause. 

But one hopes—and this will be for the future—that that same energy and outrage, anger and passion, will rise also from the young to wake up the older ones and our dying institutions around equally and even more perilous goings on such as climate change for example.  While teen agers are not huddling in a mass sending good bye messages to their parents about climate change like they had to do for an extended time while the shooter roamed the hallways in the Parkland High School, in many ways they ought to be.  The attack is less visible and less dramatic than a 6+minutes of weapons firing, but it is not less deadly.  In fact, climate change will affect far more numbers than can fit into a school in its devastation and capacity to kill off agriculture and plant life and waters and cities near the waters and numerous species that will be rendered extinct and more and more extreme weather systems of hurricanes and tornados that will affect us all. 

So the teen-led March for Life is, as they instructed us, just a “beginning.”  This is a beginning of a Moral Awakening one can hope, one that awakens all adults along with the youth, one that turns the narcissistic plunge our species has engaged in for so long into a different direction: A search for the Common Good, for community, for Justice, for Compassion which of course begins with passion.  Which the youth have exhibited in abundance.  This too is another Resurrection.  A marvel to behold.  A Waking Up that results in wise action. 

There is much to come.  Our politics need never be the same again.  Something may have died this weekend.  Call it indifference.  Call it cynicism.  Call it not caring.  Call it adultism and the tired old goats that supposedly serve us in a supposed democratic system but in fact serve idols and false gods of mammon and greed and power that are so dead they are rotting right before our eyes.

Youth leaders: You have turned your grief and anger into right action and leadership.  Despair into hope.  Good Friday into Easter morning.  Exodus into Passover liberation.  We adults are grateful and awakened.

If this isn’t Resurrection, what is?

Guest Post: Cherished Childhood Memories of Martyr Dorothy Stang

My friend David Stang shares cherished childhood memories of his sister Dorothy Stang,  "Angel of the Amazon" who was murdered in 2005 for standing up to the rapacious landlords of the Brazilian Amazon, She was a graduate of the University of Creation Spirituality; she is now being considered for sainthood as a martyr and model of sanctity.

Early Family Experiences of Dorothy Stang and Creation Spirituality


By David Stang

The noise that shook the house was a unusual summer  thunderstorm in Dayton Ohio. The lightning flashed across the afternoon sky, bright  and pervasive. Then came the loud thunder that shook the old one hundred year home.

The big wooden house shook to its foundations. We could now see the  vibrant maple trees outside due to the enormous lightning. The trees were bright and green, with their big maple leaves waving with the winds. The flashing, lightning enhanced the visual effects of the trees. The outside rain quite visible. Again and again, the house shook.

We young ones could not deny the power of nature around us and it affected our very breathing and emotions as we huddled inside the house. The storm, lightning, rain, lasted for hours. We knew to the depth of our being who was in charge of our environment. It was not us.

As the time moved on we soon began to see candles being  lit around the house, especially by the Virgin statues that Mom so loved. After the candles were lit by our Mom we saw her lay on the floor with her arms out and breathing slowly and at peace. We too felt the power of peace with our Mom’s presence.

During that period of time, we wondered how to rate what was most important, the candles, the statues, the thunderstorm, lightning, or the shaking of the house, or Mom. We could not deny the power of the shaking of the house, or the noise, or the pounding of the rain on the roof.  We could definitely feel the incredible power of nature. This power we never forgot as it entered deeper and deeper into our consciousness.

We had heard enough stories about the Irish goblins and faeries from our Mom to know that they existed, so we always wondered if that also we could add to the candles and the statues that  fit in to Mom’s  life,  and was this a different way of feeling and knowing about life. Such thoughts were never taught in school or in our catholic catechism.  

Whatever, Mom lying on the floor with her arms out, breathing peacefully had its own effect on us. After all there we were seven of us, our two older brother were no longer in the house, who were protected by Mom during this extravaganza of nature.

We however, also began to trust Nature as when the storm was over and we went outside, we could smell the energy of the incredible air, see the fresh energized ground, the new power of the trees, and our garden looking fresh and alive. The vegetables in the garden seemed empowered, enlivened by the incredible event of nature and the energized water.

The thunderstorm did overwhelm us for those past couple of  hours but our house was still standing, even though during these storms we could hear the fire trucks in the distance and hear about this or that house, or this or that garage had burned down.  We were however safe, secure and ready for the next storm and candles and Mom lying on the floor. We were appreciative of the food growing in our garden.

We young ones not only lived to even enjoy and feel the energy of the storms but were pushed outside to be with all the wonder and awe that existed outside. We were outside a lot.  We at young ages, jumped on the back of Mummas Farm trucks at 7AM to ride to the farms to pick berries, weed the land, and make a dime to help support each other during the depression. We knew what a sunburn was and suntans. We knew how to protect our backs, protect each other from strangers and behave.

We all had nice tans and good appetites even though the strawberries at Mummas were excellent, with no pesticides, we knew we needed more than fruit, though at autumn time the apples, apple juice was a taste we never forgot. Arriving back home from Mummas, we would go to our own garden to weed it and eat the green onions, carrots, radishes, green beans  and we even had a pear tree and walnut tree.

Mom would be inside preparing supper for seven of us and of course she and Dad were organic farmers (even though in those days was there any other way to farm?) and the food was healthy and none of us had health problems, such as cancer or muscle or other health issues that existed at the time. We did know that there was the existence of city people but felt excluded as we were different, with our hand me down clothes, shoes, and interests.

 Dad was a scientist who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Such a job and his skills kept us from starvation and living on the streets. He must have been good because he was never fired, even though he had the reputation to speak out strongly for his belief in the protection of Nature and against the chemicals that were beginning to appear in our foods.

Dad was a chemical engineer who believed in the organic route and regulating the chemicals that were just being invented. He took on the leadership of Montsanto that was just beginning to develop its corporation in St. Louis and Dayton Ohio. In fact he was even offered a job with Monsanto, as one of the leaders was a Catholic graduate from the same school.  

Dad would often take us on walks and educate us about what mushrooms we could or could not eat, where to find them and also about the animal kingdom that existed in our area which area was called Miami Valley. I only learned later in life that my twin brother and I were born during the time of the enormous floods in Dayton that almost destroyed the city, a city which was thriving at the time with many engineers, scientists, and inventors.

The Wright Brothers had their bicycle shop in Dayton and of course National Cash Register, General Electric, Frigidaire, and the Big Wright Patterson Air Force Base was thriving in Dayton.  A side story for those who remember, that a UFO landed in New Mexico in the 40’s. It was announced even on the radio which we all heard, and the alien bodies were sent to Wright Patterson where our Dad worked in the Analytical Laboratory where the bodies were supposedly sent.  Oh, the memories and stories of our youth.

How can one forget Winter. We did not have double paned windows or insulation in our walls. We did have heavy blankets and heavy clothes. We slept well under those wool blankets and I even remember snow on our faces one night because, of course my twin brother broke the window near our bed and Dad would not fix it immediately, perhaps to teach us a lesson.  

Mom was a sharp buyer when it came to good clothing for winter. I do not remember any of us ever having frost bite. But we loved winter and we did not need to be told to go outside. You can imagine if we preferred to stay inside how we would have driven each other crazy.

We all had hand me down ice skates, well worn skiis, though the hills were small and so we rarely used them. More importantly we had the old sleds with metal runners that could hold four or five of us and lots of children around the neighborhood and a couple good hills. We did not suffer from not having other kids to play with.

Not too far away, maybe two miles was the Miami River. During the forties the weather was colder and the river often froze over. Sometimes we could even ice skate all the way down from our house to the river. We became good ice skaters and knew how to judge the safety of the ice. We can still remember skating on black ice as it went up and down as you skated on it. Even though periodically we would hear of someone drowning in the river, this never happened to any of us as we were good judges of ice. 

At night the people who lived near the river would put on their back porch lights for us to see and even make us hot chocolate. Feeling the warm chocolate in our tummies, and the snow on our faces and the blades on the ice, for us this was heaven. I could be having forgetfulness, but I do not remember any of us complaining about the cold or not wanting to be outside. Life was full of awe and wonder for us as only children can feel such wonder.

Summer was just as wonder filled season as winter. Besides, working on the fruit farm, we were known as the Stang Gang and we challenged all the neighbors in football, baseball, and basketball.

The best players in our family of course were the girls, especially Dorothy and Norma. When the teams were chosen, Dorothy and Norma were the ones that chose the teams. The boys in the neighborhood highly respected these two girls. Also, Tom and I never had to worry about any bullies in the neighborhood hurting us.

One time as we were coming home from school a couple boys challenged Tom and I. Oh, what a mistake. Quickly two of my sisters showed up and tackled the two of the boys, the other boys ran away and the two boys on the ground quickly surrendered. I only remembered this happening once.

I am sure I could remember other stories but perhaps this gives one a picture of our early childhood. With such memories, as we get old, they become so important.

But more importantly this helps us understand the strength of our sister Dorothy who was not afraid to take on the bullies in the Amazon and was not afraid when they put a price on her head and who said, “I will not run away from my family” when she was offered the chance to move on.

Creation Spirituality was an essential part of our lives from childhood. Dorothy going to the Amazon was just another amazing part of her being with nature with the diversity of creation.

Dorothy’s time spent with Matthew Fox in California studying Creation Spirituality was an incredible experience as it confirmed her beauty as a woman, as a nature filled being, and that there were other great women who felt like her over the centuries.

Dorothy saying “I cannot leave my family,” included the forest, the animals and her relationship with all of life that existed around her. Spirituality is not whole when we exclude such thinking and people from our existence.

The ONE Sure Way to Stop Future School Killing Atrocities...

...And Not with Sissy Promises of "Thoughts and Prayers"


As a spiritual theologian who has written at length on prayer and spirituality and on the mystics and prophets who know something about prayer, I am sick and tired of the insult that is hurled at prayer every time a politician stands up to shed tears over gun violence in schools (or night clubs or concerts or churches, etc. etc) while behind the scenes he is in bed with the NRA.  

Yes, I mean you, Governor Scott; Yes, you, Marco Rubio; Yes, Paul Ryan; Yes, President Trump.  Yes, Yes to all you sissies who as are as deceitful and full of lies (such as “I love my children and grandchildren and fear for them in school”) as you are of sentimental piety feigning as religion.  

You are sissies because you are afraid of losing your job and your status, i.e. your next election, should you dare to have the courage (yes, the balls) to stand up to the NRA.  

Photo: Michael Bedell-Grefe    Huffington Post

Photo: Michael Bedell-Grefe  
Huffington Post

(By the way, is it true that Putin & Co. illegally funneled money through the NRA to help the Trump campaign[1] in the last election?  We citizens would like Congress to research that fact ASAP to help save what is left of our democracy.)  

You NRA puppet politicians, thanks to the investigative work of Bess Kalb[2] and watchdog journalists and commentators at the L.A. Times[3], New York Times[4], Fortune[5], among others, the facts are out about where your first love lies.  It is not with children of America, nor with their parents and grandparents, siblings and relatives, who are in mourning and will grieve the rest of their lives for their young ones gunned down by American citizens armed with military weapons altogether legally (thanks to you and your political priorities).

Let us review the facts that Bess Kalb and these others have gathered--as opposed to the sick, sentimental, religious pieties--around gun control in America among our so-called political leaders who, being moral midgets and religious hypocrites, think we citizens are so stupid that we are impressed by your crocodile tears and pseudo-religious mutterings about “thoughts and prayers.”  

Hypocritical prayers are not prayers.  They are lies.

Fact # 1: Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, voted against banning assault weapons and has received $3,303,355 from the NRA and holds a A+ rating in backing NRA over the years.

Fact #2: President Trump received $21,000,000 from NRA for his presidential campaign.

Fact # 3: Senator Rob Portman of Ohio received $3,061,941 from NRA.

Fact # 4: The Republican Party headquarters received $17,385,437 from NRA in the 2015-1016 election cycle alone.

Fact # 5: Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa received $3,124,273 from NRA.

Fact # 6: Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina received $4,418,012 from NRA.

Etc, etc, etc.  

These people and the many like them have blood of children on their hands.  But they do not stand alone by any means.  

Each Supreme Court judge who voted for Citizens United has the blood of these children massacred in Florida (and the eight other school shootings[6] since Jan 1, 2018 and those before) on their hands too for buttressing a system that reduces a so-called democracy to pay and play and gives corporations like the NRA the right of personhood and along with it so much more power over the choice of voting citizens.

The ONE WAY to stop the killings is not just to blow the whistle on the hypocrisy of these politicians and judges and their calling for “thoughts and prayers,” insulting as that is to people who actually pray and think.  The cause of this pathological culture is obviously the gluttony for money and the power it can buy in a so-called democracy that is no longer a democracy but an oligarchy of the rich (and those who are desperate to serve the power holders to save their political skins).  

The one solution to gun violence is a constitutional amendment that disavows money in elections.  We need public funding of our elections to send the NRA and all other corporations slinking back to doing what they consider their jobs. It’s time they quit making whores (not to insult sex workers, I apologize to them) of our politicians.  This means that Citizens United must be repealed—and Yes, we must call out the Supreme Court judges led by Chief Justice John Roberts for passing that abysmal legislation and see to it that the NRA does not choose our judges in the future by buying off the politicians who give them their positions.  

Common sense gun laws that render military weapons unavailable to non-military persons and that are favored by an overwhelming number of Americans cannot happen until the entire sick money-driven political system in America is dismantled in favor of public funding that thereby eliminates the capital that is swamping voting.  

According to the brilliant study by historian Nancy MacLean, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the goal of the radical right (read NRA and Koch brothers, et al) is “to save capitalism from democracy—permanently.”   Theirs is “a quest to ensure the supremacy of capital[7] and this comes about not just by changing our politicians or who rules and makes decisions but by changing the rules.  Which is of course where lawyers and courts and judges come in, abetted by legislators.  The sum total of this political movement and its “shrewd long game” -- which has been in progress for decades and is reaching a climax in today’s version of the Republican Party -- is “a return to oligarchy”[8] where power is concentrated in the hands of the few.  Not government of the people, by the people and for the people, but government of the few, by the few, for the few.  

But the few who are most financially powerful are not the only ones who can change the rules.  That is what a movement to add a constitutional amendment to get money out of elections can also do.  A movement of the many, those many who still believe in or yearn for a government of, by and for the people.  

One hopeful sign emerging from the carnage in Florida school shooting is the wisdom of the teenagers of the school who are calling on Congress to do something and quit insulting their intelligence with appeals to so-called “thoughts and prayers.”[9]Let the young lead this crusade to dismantle money on our politics!  Let them lead the march to congressional offices and to the social media—let the moral outrage of the young awaken the tired cynicism of our fat politicians and cynical Supreme Court judges who are willing to sell not only the young but whatever is left of our democracy down the drain for a pat on the head from NRA and Koch brothers and their ilk.  

The young were leaders in that moral revolution called the Civil Rights movement.  They filled the jails; they manifested both courage and generosity for a value that mattered.  Let them lead this new moral revolution as well.

The late monk Thomas Merton wrote over fifty years ago the following observation about guns in America.

    Man begins in zoology

    He is the saddest animal

    He drives a big red car

    Called anxiety….

    Whenever he goes to the phone

    To call joy

    He gets the wrong number

    Therefore he likes weapons

    He knows all guns

    By their right names

    He drives a big black Cadillac

    Called death….[10]

It is the lack of joy, the dominance of cynicism, the omnipresence of anxiety, the scarcity of love and of meaning that ultimately leads us to love affairs with guns and with death.  This too is work that needs doing.  Are there politicians and would-be politicians out there who want to put love first?  Like the hero teachers did at the Florida high school in taking bullets for their students?  

Who are willing to put biophilia before necrophilia?  Life before death?  Love before hate?  Joy before cynicism?  

We are waiting for you—not to lead but to follow the grass roots revolution that is coming.


[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/15/nra-russia-and-trump-money-laundering-poisoning-us-democracy-commentary.html

[2] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bess-kalb-nra-tweets_us_5a84ee69e4b0058d5565cbac

[3] http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-nra-politicians-20180215-story.html

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/04/opinion/thoughts-prayers-nra-funding-senators.html

[5] http://fortune.com/2018/02/15/nra-contributions-politicians-senators/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far  

[7] Nancy MacLean, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (NY: Viking, 2917), xxxi.

[8] Ibid., xxviii, xxxii.

[9] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/florida-high-school-students-stage-walkout-to-protest-gun-violence_us_5a87067be4b004fc3191a117

[10] 4 Thomas Merton, The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (NY: New Directions, 1977), 624-626.  Cited in Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey (Novato, Ca: New World Library, 2016), 178.


Hosted Post: Share Your Sacred Work!

Matthew Fox will be keynoting at the Creation Spirituality Communities International Gathering, April 26-29. The CSC Team is currently developing the program and has put out a call to people from all walks of life - to you -  to partner with them in this co-creative event, titled Sacred Earth, Sacred Work:



Special opportunities for you to share and collaborate!

During the SACRED EARTH-SACRED WORK Gathering, we are not just musing on a concept, we are talking about real sacred work, your sacred work - what you do every day. We created the gathering as a way to highlight how you connect with the sacredness of our planet.  

This gathering was created to discover, support, and connect your work to the work of others - and to experience how what you do is appreciated and inspiring to others.

Come to the gathering - and bring your work with you!

Activists ~  Managers ~ Teachers  
 Dream Workers ~ Conservationists  ~ Social Workers
Ministers  ~ Contemplatives ~  Business Owners  
Practitioners  ~  Spiritual Companions

We will be hosting Affinity Circles Sunday morning. Affinity Circle topics are proposed during the gathering, so that people with similar sacred work can share, collaborate, support and inspire each other.

 If you would like to be the point person for a session, please let us know. Just send us an email.

Poets, give us your insights! 
         Authors, talk about your process! 
             Artists, unveil your inner visions! 
                    Musicians, offer up your music for sharing!

Time and space is set aside during the gathering for Cohort Circles - where poets, musicians, artists and authors can meet together, set up an interactive display table with examples to share and products to sell. 

 If you would like to be the point person for your cohort's activities, please let us know. We can offer a small discount from your registration.

Just send us an email.

And Remember....

  • BECOME A SPONSOR  An unique opportunity to address and engage your community in an intimate environment. All levels of contribution available.
  • WORK TRADE POSITIONS We have a few work trade positions available  - Sponsor Recruitment, Volunteer Coordinator, Main Registration,Ticketing,Visuals and Video Curator, Workshop Management and Room Volunteers.  For more information and apply, visit our website.

We look forward to seeing you in April!


Sincere Thanks to Jeremy Taylor for his Life and Inspired/Inspiring Work


The Dream World—which is to say the inner world of all peoples—has lost a Giant, a true Leader of wise teachings around the wisdom of our dreams and therefore of our souls, our consciousnesses, our unconscious, our shadows, whether dark or bright, all that which often remains hidden but wants to be revealed and unveiled.  Jeremy Taylor is known worldwide for his books and his teachings and his workshops on Dreams. 

A student of Jung but also a witness operating from his own soul and always face to face with the pain of our troubled world, a Unitarian Universalist minister, a deep co-worker for 22 years in the Creation Spirituality schools first at Holy Names College and then at the University of Creation Spirituality, he was a beloved teacher beloved by his students and by his colleagues from whom he learned and whom he also taught and celebrated with.

One student wrote me on hearing of his death: “I took his class two times at UCS, he was so profound. You attracted such a stellar staff, I am so grateful to have met you all. Your words carry me at this darkest of times.”  She is not the only student who took Jeremy’s  classes more than once.  And she is correct that the staff at ICCS and UCS was indeed “stellar.”  Now Jeremy joins many of them who have become ancestors including M. C. Richards, Rolf Osterburg, Sister Jose Hobday, Robert Rice, Buck Ghosthorse, to name a few.

Our dreams have so much to tell us and no one I ever met, whether in books or in person, was more adroit at coaching people to explore their dreams and understand their wealth than was Jeremy Taylor.  I have met people all over the world—in South Korea, in Australia, in Europe and all over North America, whose lives have been deepened and whose deeper lives have been opened up to them by the dream work that Jeremy Taylor perfected.

These are the words that come to me when I think of Jeremy and his ever-so-fruitful life’s work:

1. Generosity.  He was so in love with his work that he gave and gave and gave again, traveling often and everywhere, in good seasons and bad, to share his wisdom.  He gave unceasingly of mind, body and soul in this process.  I praise him for his Generosity. 

2. Justice.  Jeremy was a champion for social, economic, racial, gender, gender preference justice—justice was at the heart and indeed the origin of his calling.  It was while he was conducting a workshop on racism in the early 70’s I believe in Berkeley when things had hit a strand still and the group of blacks and whites was about to disband, that in one last ditch effort to keep it going he said: “Let’s meet one more time.  Why don’t you listen to your dreams and see if we can find common ground.” 

A week later they regrouped, shared their dreams, and thus began Jeremy’s vocation.  It was rooted in healing—as he said—all dreams come to us for healing, whether personal or community healing; and therefore it was rooted in justice.  He never lost sight of that reality.

3, Solidarity.  Jeremy’s passion for justice also birthed in him a solid sense of solidarity with others who stood up to injustice.   When the Vatican came after our ICCS program at Holy Names College, an attack that lasted for twelve years, Jeremy was a stout supporter of what we were doing; he understood the political and indeed historical ramifications of the battles we were engaged in.  He wrote the Vatican on our behalf and he confronted my Dominican provincial in Chicago about the matter.  Here is something he wrote about the struggle:

Sadly, for vast numbers of people gripped by fear, and the institutions that pander to, and prey upon them, these simple truths [of creation spirituality] do not seem to be at all clear.  These seemingly elementary and self-obvious propositions of humane understanding and spiritual clarity that Matt promotes and celebrates have always been, and alas continue to be at the very edge, and in many cases even well beyond the boundaries of conventional, institutional religious dogma and collective practice.  The resistance is so fierce that we are all still called upon to put our lives and livelihoods at risk when we advocate them publicly.  For me, it is impossible not to call up an Old Testament parallel: “Joseph had a dream, and his brothers hated him for it.”

Jeremy walked his talk and showed up when times got tough.   And he showed up with energy, vitality, humor and plenty of strategies for action.  One of the heroes of the apartheid struggles in South Africa, Dominican theologian Albert Nolan, said to me during the struggle I was engaged in with the Order and with Rome: “North Americans don’t know a damn thing about solidarity.”  Jeremy Taylor did.  He was more than American.

4. A Learner and Seeker eager for truth.  Jeremy was a life-long learner.  That is what made him so good a teacher, he was very open to learning from his students.  One such student, Victor Lewis, who was in his twenties at the time, is the one who introduced Jeremy to me and eventually to ICCS.  Jeremy was recruiting Victor to attend Starr King Seminary where he taught when Victor said: “Write me a letter of recommendation for ICCS.”  Jeremy resisted.  He didn’t harbor positive feelings about Catholic Colleges.  But he did as he was instructed and it was via Victor, a bright and eager African American student, that Jeremy started to read my books and eventually joined our faculty. 

(His favorite of my books was Western Spirituality.  Why? Because, he wrote, “the evidence presented in that anthology made it inescapably clear that ‘creation spirituality’ was not just the invention of a single brilliant mind, but rather a great underground river that had been feeding and nurturing the best religious thought in any number of different religious traditions for centuries, if not millennia.”)

5.  A priest.  Jeremy was an ordained UU minister but he was also a priest in the archetypal meaning of that word, namely, a midwife of grace.  Jeremy’s life and vocation was all about unpacking the grace that dreams bestow on us and instructing others in how to do this.  This is no small achievement since people are starved still for access to the spiritual life in a culture that tends to be either wildly literalist in its religious consciousness or shut down by scientific materialism and the cynicism, capitalism and consumerism that it spawns.

These are just a few of the gifts that come to my mind when reflecting on the life and death of Jeremy Taylor.  Even his death—coming just two days after his beloved wife and life-long partner Kathy died—was special.  As Louisa Teisch reminds us, “I can understand how a person of such heart would pass by a heart attack after losing his soulmate/wife.  It is often this way with those whose souls are so entwined.”  When people who love and serve one another faithfully for many years die so close to one another it is a sign of a special grace between them.  In thanking Jeremy we thank Kathy also—not just for being his partner in life and work but for her own gifts as an artist and more.

Any death is a time of recognizing that this person’s work is finished.  But what a work and what a ride Jeremy gave to the world!  It will go on and on, like a stone hitting a pond, the circles of his giving and generosity, his passion for justice, solidarity, truth, his fecund priesthood will continue to bestow grace on countless souls and new generations even though he is no longer with us in bodily form and has joined the ancestors.  But wait for the dreams to come!


Memories of Sister Dorothy Stang and her Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(read more...)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is how Feffer sees it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sifry concludes his article this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid., p. 2

[4] Ibid., p. 4.

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

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

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

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid., p. 5.

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

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

[12] Ibid., p. 2.

[13] Ibid., p. 3.

[14] Ibid., p. 6.

[15] Ibid., p. 6.

[16] Ibid., pp. 4f.

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

[18] Ibid.

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

A Priestly Letter to Speaker Paul Ryan

Dear Speaker Paul Ryan,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox

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

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

[iii] Bergoglio 172

[iv] Bergoglio 231

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

[vi] Bergoglio 160

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

[viii] Oxley, “Pope Francis.”

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

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.                                                                                                                           

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

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

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

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

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

[xvii] Ibid., 44

[xviii] Ibid.,45                                                                                                                   

[xix] Ibid., 46

[xx] Ibid., 47


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Stang

Feb. 15, 2017



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

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

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

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

The Lion of God Archangel Ari'El


by  Matthew Fox

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dorothy Stang: Anapu: The Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas,

LaHoma and David Stang

P.S. Dorothy was murdered two months later.