statues, history writ large

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Statues, as with any art, are seldom neutral. Images frozen into stone, marble, bronze or wood are more than a reproduction of an actual person or event.

the medium is the message

We stand before seemingly unchanging massiveness,  firmly grounded and soaring above us. Physical immutability etching a permanent message for the ages.

And yet, messages can change. Sometimes they must change. Should statues and monuments reflect that change?

 

history is not neutral

Many of us learned history by memorizing facts from a text book. The facts we learned depended on the dominant view at the time. For example, as a child I learned of heroic Jesuit missionaries martyred by the savage Iroquois. The historical focus was on courageous colonizers of foreign lands, who brought civilization and Christianity to uneducated natives.

Today, there is an increasing awareness about the dark side of colonialism. European domination and empire building led to enforced assimilation, loss of cultural and linguistic identity, pillaging of natural resources, slavery and war after war after war.

In my university studies, I learned the importance of historical criticism, the need to judge sources carefully. Who is recording the history? What sources are they using? What is their ideological leaning? The most important lesson I learned is that history is never without bias. The honest historian will acknowledge their own bias while trying to be as objective as possible.

But, history is never completely objective or neutral.

historical bias in the church

Some of the most blatant experiences of historical bias can be found in our churches and cathedrals. If history is written by the victors, than those same victors and their followers wanted to make sure we remembered them in all their glory. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is filled with tombs and monuments of military heroes. Massive statues of the apostles stare down at you as you walk the nave of St. John Lateran in Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica itself is dizzying in its proportions. Statues of saints and popes tower over us lesser humans.

The effect of these historical edifices, at least for me, is an “in your face” shout out to patriarchal leadership. If we, in the present, are standing on the shoulders of giants, then those shoulders are predominantly men. And they are GIANT…or at least their egos were.

sinners and saints

As history is read more critically, we learn that many of our saints were more sinner than than we realized. Our heroes were more scoundrel. The fact is that our public squares and worship spaces are filled with monuments to historical figures who have an odious past; who have no place in the public square. Their pasts were whitewashed by faithful scribes. Their looming presence chiseled in stone.

The question is what do we do with them?

Sometimes destruction is necessary for societal healing. Tearing down monuments of toppled tyrants and dictators can be both cathartic and necessary. The problem is, that one person’s tyrant can sometimes be another person’s hero. There is no easy answer.

education and dialogue

As with all controversies, education and dialogue is vital. The more heated the controversy, the more difficult it is to reach a consensus. Often, a consensus will never be reached. What to do?

One solution is to acknowledge the controversial past of the person or event with a plaque, or other educational method, explaining the controversy and encouraging dialogue and education.

Another positive action is to put money and resources into statues and monuments depicting those who have been denied a place in history,

  • Those who have been silenced.
  • Those who have been erased from history literally and/or metaphorically.
  • Those whose backs were broken to fill the purses and feed the egos of the “giants”.

Today, we are experiencing a resurgence of nativism, racism and white supremacy; evils that we thought were safely locked away in the annals of the past. We are watching, horrified, as history is repeating itself.

We cannot erase history. We must remember the evils of the past in order not to repeat the horrors in the present.

 

Here is an older blog post reflecting on the photo attached to this article…a woman in the the church

 

 

 

 

 

love of law vs law of love

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“To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40

When I was growing up, being a catholic meant following all the laws of the church. These laws were presented as black and white directives. Our faithfulness as catholics was measured by our faithfulness to these laws. Here are some examples:

  • obligatory Mass attendance
  • obligatory head coverings for women and girls in church
  • obligatory confession before receiving communion
  • obligatory fasting before receiving communion
  • avoidance of all things Protestant, including bibles, books, services, spouses, friends
  • no eating meat on Fridays

An obsessiveness with the law often lead to strange debates. What constituted a head covering? Can a kleenex replace a hat? How late can one come to Mass and still observe their obligation? How early can you leave? Is taking medicine before Mass breaking the fast?

The ever present threat of mortal sin fed our obsessiveness. If we died in the state of mortal sin, we were told, we would face an eternity of hell fire. Fire hurts. It hurts like hell! Avoiding such horrendous punishment became the goal of every good catholic.

And yet, even as a child, I couldn’t understand how missing Sunday Mass was on the same moral footing as murder. Since both were considered a mortal sin, either could send your soul to hell. Really? Would missing Mass put me on the same fast track to damnation as, say, an Adolph Hitler?

Perhaps it’s because of this illogical equating of man-made laws with God’s laws that many of these laws eventually fell to the wayside. The greatest gift of the Second Vatican Council was to sieve through the detritus of rules and regulations in order to focus on faith as a living organism. Being a catholic became less about following rules and more about relationship; with God, with each other and with the world.

Love of Law vs Law of Love

Jesus wasn’t a fan of pharisees who put their love of the law before love of those they served. Despite Jesus’s own admonitions, pharisaical obsession with laws continues in our church today, and is perhaps the greatest cause of division.

For example;

Our liturgy is meant to be the “source and summit” of the church’s prayer life. Instead of focusing on prayer, some liturgists spend time and energy fighting over correct words and actions. Instead of celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity, battles are fought over worship styles, vestments, music, and church decor.

Another example;

Our belief in the dignity of life from conception to the grave has been co-opted into a single-issue culture war by extreme pro-life advocates. They judge politicians and political parties solely on their stance for or against abortion rights. They fight to deny free and easy access to birth control (which is proven to reduce abortions) in the name of religious freedom.

These same pro-life voices are often strangely silent when it comes to promoting universal health care, welcoming refugees and immigrants, guaranteeing living wages, assisting low income families and other social justice issues.

Obsessive adherence to or promotion of laws should never trump the basic law of love.We are blessed with a pope who never tires of preaching about love as the most basic core of our faith. Loving God must translate into human love, or it is meaningless. Love means we care for each other. Love means we work for justice, equality and peace for all. Love means we fight for laws that ensure basic human rights for everyone.

The law of love is so simple. It doesn’t require extensive discernment or study. All that is needed is a touch of empathy…

Do unto others

as you would have them

do unto you.

 

 

I believe in…the communion of saints

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On All Saints Day, I find myself thinking less of big-name saints and more of dear friends and family who have died. I truly believe that these good women and men, whom I was blessed to know and walk this earth with, have now joined that glorious communion in heaven. They are now members of the All Saints Club. They are my personal saints.

Then comes All Souls Day. This is the day to remember our dearly departed and pray for their souls. Oops! Do I have my feast days mixed up? Is my theology screwed?

Many, I suppose, would say Yes and proceed to guide me to the requisite section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that teaches about purgatory and the need to pray for souls. (CCC 1030-1032) We cannot presume eternal salvation, they would tell me. Only God knows if our loved ones have, indeed, attained heavenly glory. Even good people die with traces of sin that need purifying, and it is only through our prayers and actions that they can eventually be welcomed into heaven.

There was a time when I believed in purgatory. It made logical sense. It seemed a fitting place for those of us who tread the path between sinner and saint; definitely not hell material, but not quite ready for heaven. I was taught as a child that reciting three rosaries would free one soul from purgatory. Wow! I could do that? Cool!

On the other hand, it’s easy to be sceptical. The church’s teaching and promotion of purgatory opened the gates to abuses in the form of indulgences, a way to purchase a fast track ticket to heaven for yourself and your loved ones while filling the church coffers. These “Fear-Instilling Fund-Raisers” were wildly successful over the years, financing the building of massive churches and funding crusades.

Hubby was always a purgatory sceptic. His favourite argument was the gospel story of the good thief.

good thief

Jesus never said, “see you soon” to the good thief. He said “TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” This, hubby argues, is proof of the boundless love and forgiveness of Jesus. It’s a hard argument to deny.

I no longer believe in purgatory but I do believe in the communion of saints. (Oops, my cafeteria catholic roots are showing! 😉 ) The communion of saints assures me, in my grief, that those I loved and are now gone from this earth have not only entered into a new and more glorious existence, they remain united with us in spirit across time and space, between heaven and earth.

Along with Mary and all the saints, our loved ones now pray with us, pray for us, and pray for all those we offer up in need of God’s mercy and love.

I still pray the traditional prayer for the dead. The words are comforting and come easily to the mind, heart and lips when I hear news of someone who has recently died.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, Let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Yes, today I remember my family and friends who have died.

With faith, I believe that they have joined that glorious communion of saints in heaven.

With hope, I believe that one day we will be united in God’s presence forever.

With love, I believe that this is the greatest of virtues. Love knows no bounds. Love transcends time and space. Love binds us between heaven and earth.

Love never dies.