A very sad little man

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A video is worth a thousand words. A push. A “get outta my way” shove. The quickly changing facial expression. The peacock fanning his tail. So much for the conversation with Pope Francis: “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” It stuck like silly putty. Or…like water off the back of a very sad little man. The President misunderstood the Pope’s quotation from John 14. “In my Father’s house there’s only enough room for me.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 26, 2017.

It feels like years ago

Already it feels like years.

It was just 13 months ago – Feb. 16, 2016 – that Pope Francis made news in Mexico after then candidate Donald Trump spoke of building a wall and making the Mexican government pay for it.

After saying Mass at the Mexican-U.S. border in February, the kindly Pope who named himself after Francis of Assisi, the advocate for the poor who prefers the Vatican guest house to the Pontiff’s palatial quarters, offered his view of the Christian life:

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.”

Francis’s statement has firm roots in Christian Scripture and the tradition. Ambrose (c. 340 – 397), Bishop of Milan, one of the four early Doctors of the Church, for instance, declared that “giving to the poor was repayment of resources bestowed on everyone equally by the Creator but which have been usurped by the rich.”

It’s not just a matter of charity. It’s a matter of economic justice.

In a June 28, 2016 CNN interview candidate Mr. Trump said that, compared to the fortune the Mexicans are making off the the U.S., paying for a wall “is a tiny little peanut compared to that. I would do something very severe unless they contributed or gave us the money to build the wall.”

Today the billionaire candidate who promised “something very severe” if Mexico didn’t “give us the money to build the wall” is President of the United States and the Pope is still the Pope. Mexico has refused to pay for the wall. The President’s proposed budget includes money for the wall while cutting funding for programs on which low and middle-income Americans depend and funding for the State Department, the builder of diplomatic bridges among nations like Mexico and the United States.

As the President spends his weekend at Mara-Larg-O  with the bill sent to the tax-payers, I recall Francis’s response to Mr. Trump’s criticism. “At least I am a human person,” he said, adding that, as for being a pawn of the Mexican government, he’d leave that “up to your judgment and that of the people.”

The judgment was made on November 8, 2017. Four months later it feels like years.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 18, 2017.

 

 

 

The Pope and Toxic Religion

Two independent but related stories on religion appeared within hours of each other.

popeatborderPope says Trump border stance is not Christian,” reads the lead headline of this morning’s StarTribune. The AP story focuses on statements by the Pope and Mr. Trump. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be,” said the Pope, “and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Donald Trump replied, “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I’m proud to be a Christian.”

This afternoon Presbyterian ministers in the Twin Cities Area received this announcement about a conference called “Recovery from Religion“:

Recovery from Religion

 

“The conference, sponsored by MICAH and the Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing, will address toxic theology, post-traumatic stress disorder and the road to healing. The conference is designed for healthcare professionals, clergy and anyone whose life has been touched by a negative religious message.”

 

The cartoon text reads as follows: “And then, boys and girls, our loving Father throws all those unbelievers into the fires of Hell where they’re unbearably tortured for ever and ever. Now who’s ready for a snack?”

Lord, save us from toxic religion! Put me in the Pope’s column!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 19, 2016.

 

 

 

Pope Francis, Climate Change, and Literacy

Long-time friend Dan Wagner attended the Vatican consultation on climate change at Pope Francis’s invitation in recognition of Dan’s work in global adult literacy education.

Click A Papal Education to learn more about the   link between, poverty, literacy, and action on climate change.

Daniel A. Wagner is UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy, Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and Director of the International Literacy Institute.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, IL, 2015.

A Papal Education by Daniel A. Wagner – Project Syndicate

In September, the UN and Pope Francis both called on the international community to fight poverty and preserve the environment. At the center of these efforts will be education – particularly one goal on which the world is still falling short: literacy.

Source: A Papal Education by Daniel A. Wagner – Project Syndicate

Daniel (“Dan”) Wagner is UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy, Professor of Education, and Director of the International Literacy Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, and a long-time friend.

Thanks to Dan’s spouse, Mary Eno, a Ph.D. practicing psychologist in private practice and friend of Kay Stewart since junior high school, for bringing Dan’s article to our attention.

Daily Riches: Without Excuse or Defense Before God (Thomas Merton)

Pope Francis quoted Thomas Merton. Here’s more thought-provoking Merton.

Richer By Far

“ …we should let ourselves be brought naked and defenceless into the center of that dread where we stand alone before God in our nothingness, without explanation, without theories, completely dependent upon his providential care, in dire need of the gift of his grace, his mercy and the light of faith. …But when the time comes to enter the darkness in which we are naked and helpless and alone; in which we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtues; in which we have nothing of our own to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light – then we find out whether or not we live by faith.” Thomas Merton

“I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne;
 and the train of his robe filled the…

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A prisoner of my own violence

Pope Francis quoted the American Cistercian monk Thomas Merton in his address to Congress.

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.”

Perhaps Mark had something like that in mind when he attributed to Jesus a grotesque instruction about following in the way of Christ. The images of Mark 9 are ludicrous, violent, grotesque.  Cut off a foot or a hand. Tear out your eye if it causes you to “stumble” — if it causes you to lead a child toward the fire of hell.  It is better to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to enter hell with two.

Author Flannery O’Connor seems to have known the genius of these jarring metaphors.

“I use the grotesque the way I do because people are deaf and dumb and need help to see and hear.”

Watching the news of grotesque crimes against humanity, we ask how anyone could behead another human being. How, indeed? And always in the name of God, in the name of righteousness, the children of light against the children of darkness.

Jesus’ words from Mark 9 were read aloud last Sunday in many churches around the world. They are as off-putting now as they were spoken into an earlier violent time, a world that was for Jesus and for Mark what Merton’s was for him: a picture of hell.

But for Jesus, the word we translate “hell” was not a place of divine punishment. It was the name of a place outside of Jerusalem. Paul Nuechterlein writes in last week’s Girardian Reflections:

‘Gehenna’ in Mark’s Greek rendering would have been ‘Ben Hinnom’ in Jesus’ own Hebrew/Aramaic. It’s the valley referred to in Jeremiah 7:30-33:

For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the LORD; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it. And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire — which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of the earth; and no one will frighten them away.

‘Hell,’ ‘Gehenna,’ ‘ben Hinnom’ is the place of human sacred violence that has never even come into God’s mind. It is our violence that we need to fear, not God’s. Jesus is speaking grotesquely of lesser sacrificial violence like cutting off one’s hand, as being better than amped-up sacrificial violence like the child sacrifice of Jeremiah’s day — or the Nazi Holocaust of our day. [bold print added by VFTE]

Self-criticism, prayerful introspection, the opening of one’s own divided heart to Divine judgment and mercy are the stuff of which heaven is made; hell would be when we remain prisoners of our own selfish violence, a place filled with people just like me.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 28, 2015.

Pope Francis and Speaker Boehner

Is it a coincidence that Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation the morning after his invited guest, Pope Francis, spoke to a joint session of Congress?

Pope Francis and John Boehner - Joint Session of Congress

Pope Francis and John Boehner – Joint Session of Congress

Before his address to Congress yesterday Pope Francis turned to the two former altar boys behind him on the dais.  He looked quickly at Vice President Joe Biden; he looked much longer into the eyes of his host, Speaker John Boehner. It was warm but it also seemed like something else – a moment between a priest and penitent?

The Speaker wiped his eyes, as any faithful Catholic would be prone to do.  He cried, as he often does, but this time as if to ask in humility, “Who am I, John Boehner, a mere altar boy, to share this powerful platform with the Holy Father? I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.”

One had to ponder Mr. Boehner’s inner turmoil listening to the Pope’s words gently reprimand leaders who forget the Golden Rule, push aside the poor, ignore or criminalize immigrants and migrants, prefer aggression to dialogue, ignore the common good for private gain, put people on death row, and refuse to act responsibly on climate change.

What do you do sitting behind the Pope?

You take out your handkerchief at the great privilege of hosting the Pontiff and the honor of being in his presence, but perhaps also because you recognize the prevalence of sin, as in Francis’ quotation from Thomas Merton (see quotation below) or his choice of the socialist Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement as one of four Americans to emulate.  And, if you haven’t already done so in your private time with the merciful Pope Francis, you might go to confession, repent, and do penance.

This morning John Boehner announced his resignation as Speaker of the House at the end of October. Preparing to speak to the United Nations in New York, one can imagine Pope Francis blessing John while lamenting Boehner’s colleagues’ loud cheering, wondering whether anyone but Joe and Johnny was paying attention the day before.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Sept. 25, 2015

Quote from Pope Francis commendation of Thomas Merton as an American example to follow:

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

[Bold print added for emphasis by Views from the Edge]

Our Common Home: Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders

Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si‘: On Care for Our Common Home has caught the world’s attention. (Scroll down for the Encyclical Letter’s opening paragraphs.)

In our view, Pope Francis and Bill McKibben of 350.org are prophetic figures, i.e., they seem to utter a Word not totally their own. So does Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT), who is, not by accident, Bill McKibben’s close friend from Vermont, and the ONLY candidate to place climate change action among the top priorites of his presidential campaign. He speaks boldly, and his message echoes the cry of Luudato Si‘ for action now for the sake of the planet. There is no obfuscation.

“The United States must lead the world in tackling climate change, if we are to make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainability.” – Excerpt from Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign priority on Climate Change and the Environment.

Religion, science, and politics each deal with reality, superstition, and obfuscation. The Pope’s call for global action requires political legs to make it walk. Political engagement is not optional at this moment in the history of planetary development. In that regard, no other presidential candidate is so clear on climate change and sustainability as Bernie Sanders. No other candidate speaks with such passionate conviction or knowledge. Pope Francis is a man of God, a modern John the Baptizer appearing in the wilderness, following the lead of Bill McKibben, the scientific consensus, and The Pontifical Academy of Sciences’s research and counsel.

The Pope’s position on nature, born of a more ancient wisdom than the mechanistic “man over nature” view of postindustrial society, is thoroughly catholic, the0logically classical, and steeped in scientific research.  “Man over nature” and “history over nature” are figments of our imagination. Nature always wins. We ARE nature and nature is us.

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

[1] Canticle of the Creatures, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, New York-London-Manila, 1999, 113-114.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN. July 28, 2015

Verse – I’m Still a Presbyterian

I have made a new “Friend” on my FaceBook:
It is Francis, the Pope–you can look;
But he never will “Comment”,
Or will “Like” what I present,
He just Pronounces and quotes the Good Book.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 14, 2015