Pope Francis building his prophetic address to Congress around four Americans — Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton — was brilliant. Here were some of my favorite moments from the Pope’s speech.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind.
But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.
We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. … We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.
I almost missed it! Sure, I knew that the world is a huge mess. There’s Putin and Iran and China and a myriad of fears fueled by fear mongers. There’s massive uncertainty about the roller coaster ride of the stock market! And, I don’t mean to be trite, but as all Chicago Cubs (an American Major League baseball team) fans know, there’s also the fact that this current Cubs team has a good chance of breaking “the curse of the goat” by making it to the World Series – their first since 1945.
During the last week or two of August a few people asked me about Shemitah. I knew about the goat curse of the Cubs but here I am, a Christian minister, and I had no idea about Shemitah, so I had to look it up. Before I looked it up, silly me, I would have believed you if you told me that Shemitah was a new electric car or another new raw fish craze, like sushi. But then, finding out Shemitah was now presumed to be another “sign of the end” I had a few more conversations with people who were 1) really worried about all of the doomsday predictions for September 2015 and 2) others were really worried that their family and friends were buying up freeze dried food and moving to the middle of Kansas to get ready for Shemitah.
Shemitah refers to an old covenant mandated cycle I am well aware of, but until now, not by that name. According to the old covenant, Shemitah is a seven year land rest for the land, and “at the end of every seven years you must cancel debts” (Deuteronomy 15:1). The last day of the Shemitah this year is September 13.
According to the current doomsday prophecies and their prognosticators, since September 13 is on a Sunday, then either Friday, September 11 or Monday, September 13, the U.S. stock market will crash. But I don’t get it – they are all saying the Dow Jones will crash. But the United States is in massive debt to the Chinese. So, wouldn’t it be just as logical to predict that President Obama will sign another executive order, and declare that the entire United States will now live by the stipulations of the old covenant? That would be convenient, wouldn’t it? Then, wouldn’t it make sense that Obama would then inform President Xi Jinping that because of Shemitah the United States has no debts to China whatsoever. Won’t the Shanghai markets crash and won’t the Dow Jones soar?
It used to be said that silence is golden; however, it is also been said that all that glitters is not gold; It can be counterfeit. In 1965 Simon and Garfunkel sang about a silence that,”… like a cancer grows.”
In the current 2015 federal election campaign in Canada, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence about speaking of current criminal justice policies and prison conditions. Careful not to upset the public, one might hear about policemen being hired, but not about the fact that Mr. Howard Sapers, the Federal Correctional Investigator (ombudsman), who for over a decade has faithfully and courageously monitored Canadian Federal prison conditions, has essentially been shown the door by the Harper government. Click onto his official web page, www.oci–bec.gc.ca, and you can find his reports repeatedly calling for more enlightened crime policies and for more just and humane conditions in Canada’s prisons. His last report of May of 2015 disclosed the continued overuse of solitary confinement, which is disproportionately and inappropriately used for managing mentally ill, aboriginal, and black people; the number of Caucasian inmates’ in solitary is steadily declining. That’s dehumanizing, unjust, and smacks of corporate racism to me. Sapers’ reports’ recommendations for reform and action have been regularly ignored in Ottawa. As we know, the Harper government, having run on tough law and order values rhetoric since the beginning of its mandate, has objectified criminals as collateral for a strategy for winning votes from victims and a fear-conditioned public. Mr. Sapers’ latest report it seems paradoxically to be no longer convenient to the powers in portraying inmate-bashing as an effective moral model for dealing with crime in regards to public opinion. Official Conservative crime policy has not really been about people and the common good it seems; it’s been more about politics, and silence is golden in politics when politics demands it.
But does the church cry out in the wilderness or streets that in Christ our warfare…. against crime and drugs etc…. has been accomplished? Admittedly the ombudsman’s reports, when aired or published, don’t usually get much attention in Canadian society, church included. I can’t recall Sapers’ moral concern for prisoners’ conditions finding their way into many sermon notes or theological journals. I must admit there is aired some concern for their souls. Concern for the criminal, like the enemy, since the creation of the modern Westphalian state (1648), is left up to the care and mercy of the state’s coercive power which basically exists, it seems, to preserve itself. Most citizens in our disconnected society, therefore, don’t need to think long and hard about loving the socially distant prisoner and enemy very much, having lost their sense of co-humanity with them. A prevailing sentiment seems to be that a short prayer for their soul, and for a few prison ministries is adequate; their fate is left up to the state and God’ sovereign will do justice; not much to do here for human responsibility to other humans. Having lost the meaning of biblical justice to legal positivist hermeneutics, the public does complain fervently when punishment by the state is not seen to be severe enough. Sadly there have been politicians who are pleased to follow public opinion and silence inconvenient truths. But, as Simon and Garfunkel imply, the sound of silence will speak for itself.
Now, silence in the body of Christ about corporate injustice sounds alarmingly like collusive silence to me. We in the institutional church are not called to be political in the partisan sense, but we are called to speak our prophetic mind; to speak out against the injustice and abuse of the poor and needy; justice for the plight of the widow and orphan, and for the refugee and prisoner. The great commandment and Christ’s sermons on mount and plain, demand it. We certainly do need an intelligent hermeneutic regarding our underlying cosmology and doctrinal thinking that impact our social cognition and social action. However, as a social institution in relation with the neighbour, it is ethics, love, that is the ultimate mark of the church, not doctrine.
Increasingly in our individualistic consumer society, we may have lost a sense of covenant, relational, identity with the poor and enemy. Salvation has become a narrow search for personal salvation, a rescue from feared eternal perdition. Western liberalism’s concept of negative freedom legitimates legislation and coercion as a legitimate defense against threats to personal choices so as free autonomous citizens can achieve and enjoy what they desire. Ideologically of course there is also silence due to political philosophical forces that wish to keep religious values out of public discussions, seeking mythical neutrality. Deliberative democracy in a Rawlsian and Habermasian way, its public moral discourse, is important when done intelligently, respectful of those holding opinions of other than our own; but neutral discourse is not sufficient. Public moral conversation is anemic without transcendent values and prophetic voices. What is required is for the followers of Christ to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We will need to become aware of the shadow side of our own biases and prejudices, develop our moral insights, and speak the truth in love to a world that no longer hears the voice of God, that has lost the light of God’s direction for peace, good order, and the common good. We live in a time in history, I think, when the social-political conditions, much like those of the first century, is a time in when we are called to be worth our salt in all areas of life.
How often have you found yourself drifting away while listening to a monologue?
When the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy says that Scripture has one divine author and that it is wholly and verbally God-given, without error or fault in everything it states … it basically tells us to shut up and listen. There is no room for dialogue here.
However, so many who have bought into this approach to scripture have found themselves drifting away amidst the continual drone of a monologue that does not involve them.
God delights in conversation. He wants to hear what you have to say. In fact David tells us of a God so intrigued by us that he knows our thoughts from afar. He even observes with interest our sitting down and standing up. It is almost as if he is in love! (And you are welcome to replace the ‘he’ with a ‘she’.)
Not only does God delight in direct conversation with us, he gives us ample room for conversation with one another. For God is not simply interested in making us understand him, but in helping us understand ourselves. And so the scriptures are full of such conversations … dialogues that often reveals more about us, than what they do about God.
For instance in Job 42:7 God enters a conversation that has been going on for more than forty chapters already. Speaking to Eliphaz, God says that he is angry for “…you have not spoken of Me what is right…”
So here we have a scripture in which God disagrees with what was said about him in scripture!
According to this scripture, God Himself does not agree with everything in scripture.