In this week’s gospel readings we meet John the Baptist, known far and wide as a great prophet. Yet, John rejected the accolades of greatness while pointing to the one who was greater than he; one whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. (John 1)
What John did was something so basic; acknowledge the greatness in another. Acknowledge that others are greater than you. Acknowledge that you are not the greatest! This is not only basic human wisdom, but a basic truth of life.
We use the term “greatest” to describe someone who is truly at the top of their field. Yet, greatness is as fleeting as the present moment. World champions and records are replaced with new champions and new records. Past heroes are overshadowed by new stars. Also, being talented or great at what one does does not guarantee greatness in all aspects of life.
We begin 2018 still reeling from 2017. We fear the damage, already experienced and potentially to come, of a person who has been handed enormous power and responsibility while believing that they, and they alone, are the greatest.
Trump’s delusional rants about his greatness expose him as the fool he is. His claims are easily debunked and become fodder for political satire. We laugh at his audacity, but his overblown ego is dangerous.
Do you remember learning that pride is the greatest sin? Pride really does lead to numerous other evils. When “I am the greatest”, then…
All others are lesser than me. Their lives have little or no value.
The role of others is to serve me and my interests.
I am accountable to no one.
I do not need to seek the wisdom of others, for I know all.
Flexibility or change of thought is a sign of weakness.
All who challenge my greatness are my enemies.
I am the sole possessor of truth. All others are liars.
The old adage states that pride comes before the fall. Mary sings the praises of a just and loving God in her Magnificat. She sings of a God who cares for and rewards the poor and humble. My prayer for 2018 is that we will be blessed with the necessary wisdom, energy and hope to make her words come true.
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.
I began this catholic dialogue blog on December 8, 2010. This anniversary came and went without my notice until I sat down to write about Pope Francis’s Tweet below.
I was a big believer in the internet and social media as tools for uniting humanity and networking for good works. Today, I’m not so sure that I share Pope Francis’s optimistic hope for “spaces that are rich in humanity”. The internet is becoming more inhuman and inhumane as the years go by. Malicious software and malicious humans prowl the net spreading misinformation and attacking all in their path.
And yet, there is still good to be found. There are voices speaking out for justice, peace and equality. Calls to unite for resistance. Ideas to ponder. Reflections to encourage. Experiences to share.
I embraced the internet early. VERY early. Hubby arranged for a dial-up connection for me as a birthday present. We were one of the first families in our small town to get connected. I can’t remember the exact year. It was some time in the mid 1990’s. What I do remember is the excitement of hearing the other-worldly sounds of the modem connecting through our phone line. If you’re nostalgic for the old martian sounds, here’s a brief walk down memory lane:
The connections and downloads were painfully slow and tied up the phone line (a serious issue in our family of seven.) The initial subscription came with a 30 hour/month limit. But, I was hooked. At the time I was completing distance courses in theology, and was eager to check out resources online. I ventured into a catholic chat room, eager for good discussions and a chance to test my knowledge. I didn’t expect the depth of passion (obsession!) of some participants. This was my first encounter with militant apologetics. I quietly sneaked out the back door and did not return.
My work in Marianist leadership began in 1997, when I was elected communications co-ordinator for the Marianist Lay Network of North America. The internet was brand new. Friends in the social justice world were quick to criticize the inequality of access to online communications, but I firmly believed in the potential of networking across the miles, languages and cultures.
As I transitioned into international leadership, the internet became even more vital. Relationships and friendships were formed through emails. It was such a joy to eventually meet email friends face to face at meetings. International communications became easier as more and more countries were connected online. Language became less of a barrier with online translating machines. Documents and news were sent back and forth in seconds.
The internet was also the spring-board for my humble writing journey. First, the blog. Then came the wonderful invitation from Maureen Weber at the Prairie Messenger to write a column for the paper. This was soon followed by an invitation from Dennis Coday to write for the NCR Today blog. Sadly, life circumstances curtailed my writing in the past few years, but I owe a debt of gratitude to both Maureen and Dennis for their faith in me.
Today, the ideas are many but the writing is still sporadic. The internet is both friend and foe. It provides me with countless resources to read and ponder each day, but it also consumes my time, my mind, my energy and my creativity. Just one more click! Just one more article! Just a quick check for updates!
The hostility of online writing and discussion boards keeps degenerating into mindless ad hominem attacks, even from people that I otherwise admire. Much needed dialogue is replaced with echo chambers; like-minded people whipping each other into a frenzy of anger and hatred at the “other side”. Our short attention spans bypass serious, in-depth journalism to click on the latest outrageous comment, usually without context or back-ground.
Several times over the past few years I’ve been tempted to “get off the grid” completely. No Twitter. No blogging. And yet…
I believe in the adage of praying/pondering with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. It is important to stay up to date on current affairs. Hiding our heads in the sand does not make the bad news go away. I can, though, try to control when and how much I read the news.
Each day, whether I write or not, people find their way to this blog. These readers come from around the world. Sometimes (often) they are connecting to past writings. They make their way here via search engines, looking for articles on various “things catholic”. Some stay and read a few extra articles. (Thanks, WordPress stats!) So, catholicdialogue.com will continue to plod along. Perhaps, hopefully, it will regain some its past energy. What paths will it take as it enters its 8th year? I don’t know.
For all who have followed faithfully for so long…
For all who have been kind enough to stop by for a quick visit…
For all who have been generous enough to Like or comment on a post…
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.