I believe…sometimes there IS only one side

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In my previous post I spoke of the need to find middle ground between ideological extremes. This is what dialogue is all about. But, what if there IS no middle ground? What if an ideology is not only wrong, but dangerous? What if there is nothing to dialogue about?

This past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, VA laid bare the ugly reality of racism and bigotry in America.

Nazi, white-supremacist, and racist ideology is WRONG. It is EVIL. There is no common ground on which to begin a dialogue.

Any decent person with a decent knowledge of history should shudder at the sight of swastikas and Hitler style salutes. The images dig up memories of one of the most horrific mass exterminations of human life, of hatred systematically acted out in the executions of millions of men, women and children.

And yet, there they were. Hitler’s ideological descendants.  Marching on the streets of small town America. Using their right to free speech to spew hatred of the “other”. Claiming that their own white, privileged lives were under attack. Flaunting the support of the man whom they helped to elect president. And, support them he did.

By claiming that “many sides” were at fault for the violence, Trump claimed a false equivalency between the alt-right, white supremacists and those who came to protest them in the name of basic human equality. Despite the back-pedalling of the White House, Trump had clearly shown where his loyalties lie. A man who based his political platform on name-calling, refused to call by name the evil of nazi, racist, white supremacy.

There are moments in history where dialogue is not the answer. When evil rears its ugly head, threatening the security of all, it must be fought. It is not the time for nice words. It is not the time for seeking middle ground.

After hearing Trump’s speech, hubby and I were both reminded of a dark chapter in our family history. One of our daughters and her friend were sexually harassed in high school. The harasser was obviously emotionally disturbed. We feared for the safety of the girls. We spoke to teachers, the principal, and the school superintendent. We went with the girls to the police to make a report. Nothing was done. The principal finally came back with a “solution”. Mediation! The perpetrator and his victims should sit down together and try to work together towards a solution.

We were gob-smacked. Mediation implies there are two sides to an issue. There WERE no two sides. The girls were innocent victims, whose school life had become a fearful hell of what might happen if this young man finally snapped.

Eventually, the perpetrator was removed from the school but our trust in the school system was broken. Any talk of respecting the safety and dignity of each student rang hollow. Words need to be backed with effective action, or they are worthless.

In his speech, Trump called Americans to unite. Unite with what? Hold hands with evil and join in a resounding chorus of Kumbaya? No. This is not a time for unity. It is a time to stand up, speak out, protest against, and do everything we can to ensure that NEVER AGAIN.

NEVER AGAIN, will good women and men sit back while madness and hatred is allowed to fester.

NEVER AGAIN, will a leader be allowed to shamelessly rally his minions to support a platform of “us and them”, a platform of supremacy for a few while millions of lives are deprived of basic rights and value.

NEVER AGAIN.  PLEASE, GOD. NEVER AGAIN.

 

 

I believe…no ideology has monopoly on truth

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We have to stop categorizing ideology in strict binary terms. Black and white, either-or thinking might effectively describe those on the extreme fringes of conservative and liberal thought, but many of us fall in the grey zone of “somewhere in-between”.

One of my first blog posts, written in January 2011, was titled the trad-lib scale.

I like to think of the ideological scale as a very long one, with lots of room between the extremes of both conservatism and liberalism. And, unless you purposely place yourself so far to the right or left that you fall off the scale, there is room in our catholic (universal) church for all.

While the article was focused on the conservative-liberal division in our church, the idea of an ideological scale also applies to the current political divisions in our world.

What if we stopped mentally placing others into two simple camps; liberal and conservative? What if we acknowledged that thoughts and beliefs can and do find a home in the middle? What if we understood that this “middle” is an awfully big space? It may be full of questions and uncertainty, but questions and uncertainty shouldn’t be feared. Truth is found not by avoiding difficult questions, but by bravely working through them. Together.

Questions help us to test truth. To clarify truth.

There is real danger in an unmoving insistence on absolute truths, whether on the right or left. Too often, the most extreme voices are also the loudest and most passionate. Passion is a good thing, but not if it morphs into militancy. It becomes dangerous when one begins to divide the world into “us” and “them” and the “them” are to be hated.

It is becoming harder to find intelligent, rational discourse. Today’s social media is simply a collection of echo chambers. From newspapers to television networks, we choose the ones that speak the words we want to hear.

I’m not on Facebook, but I have a Twitter account. It’s addictive. I log in, and spend far too much time scrolling down the list, and clicking on articles to read. I applaud those who think like me. I chuckle at witty comments. I find justification and affirmation for my liberal rightness. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the voices that are bouncing around this echo chamber.

We left-leaning folks can be just as nasty and judgmental as right-wing conservatives. Being a smart-ass myself, I know the joy of letting loose with a snide retort or a sarcastic remark. I also know the regret, wishing I had kept my mouth shut. It’s hard to take words back.

No, I don’t believe that we need to sit back quietly, or speak only in soft, sweet voices that won’t hurt or insult anyone. These times require loud, brave voices to resist the many evils and injustices that threaten the basic rights of all. These times require rational, logical minds to point out the irrational, illogical reasoning of leaders who put their own interests before those they serve. These times require dialogue and true dialogue requires courage.

Courage is required to step out of our echo chambers and help bridge the ideological divide with sincere engagement with those who think differently from us. Who knows, we might find some truth in what they have to say!

 

I believe in…the holy spirit

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The above image was the banner on my blog for 6 1/2 years. It comes from a photo I took in Rome. The street was narrow, and I had to aim the camera high to catch the lovely windows and shutters. They symbolized, for me, the call of Pope St. John XXIII to fling open the windows of the church to let the Holy Spirit blow through.

I loved this image of flinging open windows. Letting out stuffy air. Allowing fresh breezes freedom to flow, settling into surprising nooks and crannies. It was the perfect symbolism for allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe newness into stale, tightly sealed, obsessively guarded traditions and teachings.

As children, we had to memorize the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Honestly, I’ve never been good at remembering the list or being able to distinguish between them…even when I had to teach them. (Confessions of a bad catechist!) The twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit? Forget it.

For me, the image of God as Spirit, breathing, blowing, moving and inspiring is the most intimate and recognizable presence of God. I can relate to the biblical image of God being present in the gentle breeze. I love the association of the Holy Spirit with Wisdom, who is a SHE.

Marianists recite a special Three O’Clock Prayer daily, meditating on the crucifixion scene in the Gospel of St. John – Mary and John standing at the foot of the cross. There is a line in the prayer,

Holy Virgin, take us under your protection and open us to the action of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is ever present. We need to open our minds and hearts to hear Her voice. It’s what made Mary such a faithful disciple. Mary pondered and prayed. She listened. She waited. Because Mary was open to God’s spirit in her life, she was able to give her free and unconditional YES to all that was asked of her; even when she was asked to do what seemed impossible.

I believe the Holy Spirit is truly the spirit of wisdom and inspiration, and we need to have open minds and hearts to hear her voice, a voice which often surprises.

Here’s one way I used to explain the practical, daily role of the Holy Spirit to my kiddies…

Exam time was always stressful, and they’d pray mightily and ask us for prayers. I told them that they had to do the leg work first. Study!!! Sure, the Almighty could pull a fast miracle and infuse the necessary knowledge with no effort on our part, but it’s not God’s usual modus operandi. Pray for wisdom that you can study well, and retain what you need. Then, when you sit down to the exam, pray to the Holy Spirit for peace of mind and heart and the inspiration to remember the necessary knowledge that you need.

“Inspiration” is a glorious thing…

  • when a wee bit of information that was tucked away and forgotten in the dark corners of your hard drive suddenly comes to the fore when needed (I loved these “Thank you, Jesus” moments during exams… or Trivial Pursuit games with hubby!)
  • when the “light comes on” and you can visualize the solution to a problem
  • when you find the right words at the right time, gifting you with unexpected wisdom
  • when you feel at peace with a discernment
  • when you find the energy to forge ahead with a difficult task
  • when…

During the triple sign of the cross on the mind, mouth and heart before the reading of the gospel, a dear friend of mine used to quietly make the same sign on her stomach. It was her personal acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit at work in her “gut”.

We can call it “gut instinct”.

We can call it “inspiration”.

I believe it’s the Holy Spirit actively at work in our lives.