Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A NEW CREATION STORY

   I have once again rewritten the page, "A New Creation Story."  I believe this new version has more meaning and impact for our spirituality in today's society.  I especially recommend it for young people who are looking for an understanding of faith and spirituality that is relevant to their lives in today's society and culture.

Monday, February 6, 2017

SEEING THE WATER

   I remember a story told a few years ago by a commencement speaker.  I don't remember his exact words, so here's a paraphrase.  Two young fish were swimming along in a stream.  An old fish came swimming toward them.  As he approached them, he said, "The water's fine today, isn't it."  When he had passed, one of the young fish said to the other, "What's water?"

   During Vatican II, Pope John XXIII told us to "read the signs of the times."  It was his way of saying that we should get to know and understand the "water," i. e., the world, we live in.

   We therefore should take a good, clear and honest look at America today.  Our way of looking at America is to see it from within the Spirit of Christ, who dwells deeply within America (and the whole world).  In this way we will see all things from the viewpoint of the indwelling wholeness in love that is slowly and with difficulty working its way outward, ever unfolding, ever evolving, toward visible wholeness in love.  

   We see that deeply within our country, wholeness in love already exists.  And we see it working its way outward, slowly and with difficulty, toward ever unfolding wholeness in love in our country--which is what makes us a great country.

   Jesus even gave us a "Spiritual Constitution" by which we could check to see to what extent we are evolving as a great country. It is the Beatitudes.  America is a great country if it blesses: 
    the poor;
    those who mourn;  
    the meek, i.e., those who temper their righteous anger with reason and humility; 
    the clean of heart;
    those who hunger and thirst for righteousness;
    those who are persecuted because they stand for Christ and his healing, saving, self-sacrificing love for the world.

   With our "Constitution" in mind, I believe we can say that America is a great country in the following ways:

   1.  Our founding principles of unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--for all Americans.  By "liberty" our founders meant not just freedom but socially responsible freedom.
    2.  The freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights and the Amendments to our Constitution
    3.  Our sense of  youthfulness, inventiveness, innovation and progress in so many fields
    4.  The millions of American individuals and families who love one another and all people.
    5.  The millions of Americans who work to protect our environment
    6.  The millions of Americans who are peaceful and want peace for all Americans and all the world
    7.  The millions of Americans who are actively involved in working to make America a more free and loving country.
  
   America is not a great country in the following ways:
     1.  A radical sense of uncaring individuality shown by those who see all others as rivals and competitors to be defeated

     2.  Those Americans who show a deep distaste for commitment that militates against marriage and family life

     3.  A shallowness among those Americans who have not grown past the Facebook, Tweeting and Radio/TV "Reality" level of social development.

     4.  A breakdown in American education that has resulted in millions of Americans who are not properly educated, e.g., in civic knowledge and appreciation, in history, in thinking and judging skills.  One result of this breakdown is the rise of the number of people who listen to fake news and believe, act and vote with their emotions, without clear understanding and judgment.

     5.  A dehumanized and dehumanizing Capitalist system that:
         a) cares only for maximized profits
         b) is coldly uncaring for workers who lose their jobs
         c) freely pollutes the environment and expects taxpayers to pay for the clean-up
         d) skews the tax system to its own benefit
         e) helps divide our society between the "haves" and the "have-nots"

   In its present form our Capitalist system contradicts the Spiritual Constitution so much that it makes America small, not great.  From a spiritual point of view it needs a radical reshaping.  


   6A dehumanized and dehumanizing political system that is at a dangerous level of breakdown.  Our Ship of State has crashed upon rocks of incompetence, pettiness, hypocrisy, lies, delusion and hate, beginning at the highest level and traveling through society at large.  
      Millions of Americans don't even bother to vote.  Millions live in a delusional world of fake news, "alternative facts," and "honest mistakes" about massacres that never happened.  In the war that is today's politics, truth is the first casualty.

   7.  A Christian religion (not Faith) that is in serious disrepair, to the extent that it is either irrelevant to people who could bring a new birth of Faith to our country, or virulent in the hatred it preaches.
         One source of light in this dismal situation is those who proclaim that they are "spiritual but not religious."  Many young people are truly searching for deeper meaning in their lives.  They "see the water" in which they are swimming and see that it is polluted with the problems I mentioned above.  They are truly looking for a Faith that can enlighten and energize them to understand, face and solve today's problems.  Unhappily, I don't see anywhere near a sufficient number of spiritually knowledgeable and well-formed leaders who can guide them into more "saving" water.     

   I believe we can conclude that the "waters" of America today, while shining with some clear springs, are in very vital ways so seriously polluted that America is in real danger of falling apart.  I am old enough to see and feel that we are in a period that eerily resembles Germany in the 1930's.  When I see how our federal government is now operating, I remember Protestant Minister, Martin Niemoller's heart-rending words:

   They came for the Socialists...for the Trade Unionists...for the Jews...and I did not speak out.  He saw the water of his time with prophetic clarity.  Today I hear, "They came for the Immigrants, the Afro-Americans, the Poor, The Muslims, the LGBTQ community...

   Thankfully, some Americans are speaking out.  We need more, many, many more, because
in our great country the water today is dark, sad and frightening.  Along with all people of good will, we need to purify the water in whatever way we can, in the healing, saving, all-loving voice, strength and action of the Spirit of Christ.

   People are suffering.  Waiting is not an option.  May God bless America and the world through our Christ-ed voice and actions.






       
      















   

      

Monday, January 30, 2017

RENDER UNTO CAESAR...

   In Jesus' time Caesar was the legitimate political leader of the Roman Empire.  Today Donald Trump is the legitimate political leader of the United States.  

   However, to be a truly and fully legitimate leader, President Trump must enrich our political identity by touching and enhancing the better angels, the soul, of our nation.  He has to respect the soul of America and lead the nation toward ever more humanizing order, justice, good will, peace, freedom and love.  He needs to be knowledgeable of America's great principles of freedom upon which our nation was founded.  He needs to care effectively about the American people and the peoples around the world.  

   Very importantly, he needs to see the complete, overall picture of our country and the world, and then make decisions that fit together the various aspects of our country and the world in creative, healing and world-evolving freedom, justice, peace and love. That's the way to put American First!

   Sadly, President Trump has not shown that he capable of being the fully legitimate leader of the United States.  He has shown himself to be a danger to our democracy and humanity, and thus to our spirituality, which is the continuing evolution of our humanity toward fullness of life in love.  He is a challenge to our patriotism and to our faith.  

   And thus he is challenging us to make stark spiritual choice:  What shall we render to him and what shall we render to God?  The Gospels show us the way to our answer.  (Cf. Mt. 22:15-22)

   The Pharisees, looking to discredit Jesus, came to him in order to trick him into betraying Israel by giving legitimacy to the hated Caesar.  They asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar.  If Jesus said yes, he would be a traitor to his people. 

   Instead of answering, Jesus asked them to show him a Denarius, the Roman coin used to pay the tax.  It was stamped with the head of Caesar.   Take a moment to imagine this.  Jesus Christ, God in human form, was holding in his hand the image of Caesar, who claimed to be God in human form.  

   Instead of answering the Pharisees' question, Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render to God what is God's.

   What did he mean?  He was saying, "Give to his insane, humanly/spiritually illegitimate leader what is his political right to receive. Pay him his taxes because if we don't, the Roman army will annihilate us."  Jesus was facing the practical, concrete situation that Israel was facing at that time.  So he gave an answer that was sadly necessary under those particular conditions. He was not saying that we should give some allegiance to the political leader and some to God.  He was saying that we should give some allegiance to our political leaders, and all our allegiance to God. 

   He was subordinating politics to faith.  Jesus knew that everything and everyone, including the government, belongs to God.  And so did the Pharisees.  For example they knew well, "The earth is the Lord's and all it holds; the world and those who live there." (Ps. 42:1).  Kingship belongs to the Lord, the ruler over all nations.  (Ps. 22:29).  The story says that the Pharisees were amazed, i.e., confounded, by Jesus' answers.  That's because they were embarrassed that Jesus showed them to be the hypocrites they were.

   So Jesus gives us our answer to our question.  Trump or God?  We accept President Trump within the overall context of our true American patriotism, and within our overarching faith in God and Jesus Christ.  By doing this, we expect President Trump to fulfill all the requirements I listed above, which come under the requirements of both our country and our faith.  All them are of America and of God.   We render to Caesar only what is of God!  And we vigorously reject what of Caesar is not of God.

   Some Americans are saying that this means our country should be a Theocracy.  Some believe that Vice President Pence is of this opinion.  No. Our total allegiance to God does not mean that we should be a Theocracy.  It does mean that we must make sure that our faith is fully adult and up to date, so it can be relevant and effective in our country and world today.  This Blog is dedicated to presenting an adult, relevant, effective faith.   (In my next Post I'll show how Christ opens the way to freedom of religion for all people.)        

   In a previous Post I said that President Trump is a narcissist and psychopathic liar.  Now I must go beyond that sad opinion.  From my experience as a spiritual theologian and a psychotherapist, I believe that President Trump is a narcissist and pathological liar to the point of being delusional.  He is living in a world of his own making.  It is not the world of a democratic government run by laws; it is a world in which he is the supreme, unquestionable Caesar.  In his world, he does not ask advice from professional experts.  He has his own private Court, that feels free to tell the media to "Shut up!" and listen to their delusional views.

  And so, without consulting the experts that are readily available to him, he created his narrow-minded, bullish Executive Order to stop immigrants from entering the country, even handcuffing an Iraqi man who risked his life translating for our troops in Iraq.  With thousands upon thousands of people in the real world protesting, and with ACLU lawyers appealing to judges to correct the Order, he says that everything is progressing well at the airports.  

  And we remember that he "saw" thousands of Muslims cheering on 9/11; and that there were record, overwhelming thousands and thousands of people at his inauguration.  I submit that nothing that he does should be considered to be normal.  The media must look at him and report on him in the context of his being not normal but delusional. 

   Sadly, many of those who voted for him are agreeing with what he is doing.  They are mistaking process for content.  Yes, he is doing things.  But they are destructive things.

   Far too many of our legislators are being quiet and thereby abetting the President's destructive, delusional actions.  With forced calm, White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus,  trivialized the President's actions and said everything is ordinary.  And Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, sounded like one of Caesar's centurions when she issued the order, "Get used to it!"  I just heard that Trump has fired the acting Attorney General, whom he hired, for telling the Justice Dept. not to defend the immigration ban.  The White House reported that she has betrayed the administration.  "Betrayed!"  Good "Caesar" word!  Such unhinged words and acts are causing serious damage to our country's reputation and to everybody's sanity.

   Today we face a great and somber challenge.  President Trump is offering us a coin stamped with the face of a false God and demanding we give allegiance to it.  In a peaceful but vigorous way we must oppose him every time he acts like Caesar, and loudly choose allegiance to God.  

   God, please bless America!    

   

                

            










          

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

DEJA VU

   Let me begin by saying that I don't believe America will actually become another Nazi Germany or Communist Russia.  But I am afraid of what we could become.  I have the same eerie feeling that I had twice before in my life.

   In the summer of 1962 when I was studying for my doctorate in Spirituality in Rome, I went to Germany to study German.  After the course I wanted to spend some time with a German family, and my teacher sent me to live for two weeks with her family.

   She sent me with a letter telling her family not to discuss religion with me because I was a Catholic priest and they were Lutherans, and not to talk about the war because I was an American.  In spite of her instruction, one evening her father stayed up with me and told me about his experiences in the war.  He was an officer in the German army who fought--and was wounded--on the Russian front. 

   With a very heavy heart he told me of the way the German people had been propagandized by the government.  He pleaded, "Please understand.  Every day we heard Joseph Goebbels telling us the same things over and over again.  In time we all believed what he was saying."  

   As I listened to him I felt an eerie feeling as I realized as close to first-hand as possible, the human damage that Hitler had done to this man, to Germany and to the rest of the world.

   Fast forward to 1973.  Having resigned from the clergy, I was in the process of setting up a Community Mental Health/Mental Retardation facility for Jefferson Medical University.  I hired a psychiatrist who, with his wife, who was also a physician, had escaped from Communist Hungary.  He told me, "We had to escape.  We had to come to realize that we were never going to hear the truth again."

   So he and his wife arranged for friends who lived in a town on a lake across from the Austrian border to send them a letter asking them to come there because an illness had broken out and they needed doctors.  Taking just a suitcase of clothing and documents proving that they were physicians, they went to the town.  At midnight their friend took them to the lake where a man in a row boat was waiting for them.  In absolute silence they got into the boat and the man began rowing. There was no moon.  It was December and very cold.  The man rowed until just before dawn and then said he was lost.  As soon as they could see the outline of the shore he rowed over to it.

   They got out and hid in some bushes.  At dawn, they looked up and saw that they were still in Hungary and under a Communist watch tower.  They stayed still in the December cold until dark and started out again.  This time the man succeeded in getting them to the opposite shore.

   With deep feeling, he said to me, "Tony, you Americans have no idea how fortunate you are that you have the right to vote as you please.  On our election days,we were rounded up and marched to the polls where we were forced to vote for the Communist party."  

   For the second time, I felt the frightening, eerie feeling of people being deeply damaged by an authoritarian government.

   Now to the present day.  During his campaign, Donald Trump used Hitler's method to win votes.  As Hitler did with Germany, Trump declared that America was weakened, and as Hitler blamed the Jews, Trump blamed scapegoats for America's weakness:  immigrants, Muslims, blacks, the LGBT community,  "elite" liberals, and the media.  Hitler persecuted the disabled.  Trump mocked them. Hitler wanted to make Germany great again.  Trump wants to make America great again.  Sadly, many people who voted for Trump blindly agree with him and enthusiastically hate the "enemies" he has named.  I fear they can become our American equivalent of the Nazi party, going along with President Trump and not caring what he does while they wait for the jobs he said he would create for them..

   So I am again experiencing that eerie feeling that twice turned my heart cold years ago.  

   Beginning from day one of his Presidency, Trump lied to us and has continued to lie on a regular basis.  And his presence at a hallowed spot at the CIA was a disgraceful display of unfeeling-for-others narcissism.  I fear that his cabinet may be forced to follow his lead.  The Fox TV channel is profitably doing its imitation of Joseph Goebbels.  And Kellyanne Conway is offering "alternative facts" to explain what Trump is saying and doing.  If it wasn't so serious, it would be laughable.

   A particular thought troubles me:  Goebbels and the Soviet propagandists knew they were lying.  I strongly believe that President Trump does not know he is lying.  Nor does he care.  As he has already done, e.g., with the crowd count at his inauguration and the non-existent illegal immigrants who gave Hillary Clinton her 3 million vote advantage over him, he will make up reality to suit his purposes.  If he can't be stopped, he must be contained.  This is a serious spiritual problem.  Our American integrity and identity are at stake.

   We must work to create a vision of America and the world that is peaceful and all-embracing without being naive.  I suggest we go back to our Founders and begin with the opening words of our Constitution, noting how well they match the intent of the Lord's prayer for establishing the Kingdom of God on earth: 

       We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity--hereby offer the following all-inclusive vision and programs to heal our divisions and foster our common good with a special option for the sick, poor, vulnerable and outcast.     

   Early signs of a new American vision are promising.  The wondrously large number of women who marched this past Sunday were justly demanding an all-inclusive, wholistic vision for our country.  May they actively continue putting forth their blessed vision! All Americans must now keep in incessant touch with their government representatives, justly demanding that they legislate what is true and just for all.

   The media need to point out loudly and clearly every Trump lie, and call his "alternative facts" the lies that they truly are.  Kellyanne Conway and Press Secretary Sean Spicer need to be vigorously corrected every time they lie.  

   Democratic--and hopefully at least a few Republican--legislators must respond truthfully to the people's vision and just expectations.  And even to Trump's populism.  He says he is for the people.  They must push him to mean what he says. 

   All those Americans who call themselves Christians need to discover anew the true vision and teachings of Jesus and proclaim freedom, peace and justice within God's infinitely abundant love for all people without exception.

   We are at a critical spiritual point in our history--one that I never dreamed I'd experience.  The immediate future of our country is up for grabs.  We will either be led backward and downward by Donald Trump and his allies, or forward and upward by those who have the discernment and will to put forth healing, wholistic ideas and programs for the good of all the American people.  Every step of the way, it is of vital important that we the people play our active role in the fight.






   


















    

   


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

AMERICAN CATHOLICISM IS IRRELEVANT

   I write this for the church in the United States.  But I believe it is valid in other countries, in their own way.

   Recently, when Cardinal Joseph Tobin was installed as Archbishop of Newark, NJ, he said there is a chasm between faith and life.  He was right.  The chasm is caused by the fact that the Church has become irrelevant to life in today's society.  As a result, very many Catholics have confirmed the chasm by walking away from the church.   

   With some exceptions like Cardinal Tobin and Cardinal Cupich of Chicago, most of today's bishops don't understand the faith problem of church-going Catholics and the chasm created by the many Catholics who have walked away from the church.  Looking out from their clerical bubble they blame today's society.  They are unable to see that millions of Catholics have walked away from the church because they can't find a faith there that is relevant to their life in today's society.  They can't find an effective, active, adult spirituality that will help them effectively challenge and correct today's society and elevate our graced, luminous humanity.

  Between the bishops and the people, the priests are left on their own to do whatever they can.  

 What parish organizes its people to actively challenge and correct the harm that our government is about to inflict upon America, especially the sick, poor, vulnerable and outcast?  What parish is actively involved in putting pressure on those who are responsible for our sinful income inequality?  What parish is helping our public schools give our children a truly life-enhancing education?  What parish is actively involved in the ever growing need to save our environment?  All these efforts are essential expressions of today's faith and spirituality.

   Pope John XXIII and Vatican II taught us to "read the signs of the times," i.e., to see the problems, challenges and opportunities of our everyday world, and actively work to correct them where needed and thereby elevate our lives and make us more luminously human.  Today's spirituality is about our evolving in Christ so that we can build up the Kingdom of God on Earth, as Jesus prayed for.  Thy Kingdom come...   As I say in this blog's heading:  People are suffering.  Waiting is not an option.

   Most bishops are living inside their clerical bubble and do not recognize that the spiritual problems, challenges and opportunities I mentioned are the concerns of the church.  From within their clerical mindset they work to get people to come back to the church building, to Mass.  It won't work.  Those who have left know that they will return to a liturgy that is disconnected from their everyday life, with tired sermons on sexual conduct and lessons based in poor Biblical understanding and outworn theology and spirituality.  They know they will receive no meaningful spiritual help or formation for facing today's spiritual challenges as effective, spiritual adults. 

  Even worse, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has publicly stated that those who leave are "imaginary Catholics."  They are not even real, not worth the title of "lost sheep" whom the shepherd must go out and search for.  With such an attitude as Chaput's, why would they even want to come back?

   Is all lost?  No.  Today there are millions of young and young-in-spirit people of Catholic heritage who are searching for a faith and spirituality of active and effective good will and love, but without reference to the Catholic church or Catholic religion.  I call them the Spiritual but not Religious People of God.  I fully believe that they are being led by the Spirit of Christ.  They are to be encouraged in every way possible.

   Being Americans, they enjoy a strong sense of individuality.  But they also have a positive sense of community.  (The negative sense is leading young people, e.g., to "drop out" or form gangs.)  For example, they form Internet communities, tech communities, art communities, political communities, e.g., for Bernie Sanders; fan communities for their favorite performers, etc.  And very importantly, they constantly text one another.  So their connectedness already exists.

   Mature individuals know that they live and grow in community without losing their individuality.  Today's science and theology clearly show us that community is the basic, ever-evolving form of nature and of the universe itself.  Sub-atomic particles naturally form a community that is an atom; atoms naturally form a community that is a molecule; molecules naturally form a community that is an element, and so on up the scale.  God, One and Trinity, is a community of inter-related LOVE.  All our positive communities are images of God.  

   If the young seekers are encouraged to move in the right direction, they will naturally begin looking for one another and create small communities of faith and spirituality.  People like me, and this blog, will best encourage them by giving them general encouragement and leaving the particulars up to them.  We should especially encourage them to clarify and fully appreciate the norms and values of being an American, e.g., a community of people of all races, colors, creeds and social and economic standing, who live as one inter-connected, inter-related, inter-dependent people.     

    Very importantly, we need to give them an acceptable contemporary image of God, not of a monarch or judge but of an Infinite/Eternal Community of Inter-related, Inter-dependent, Ever-evolving Living Love.  Simply put, we are expressions of Inter-related, inter-connected, inter-dependent Love.  So just being who we truly are energetically unites us to God. 

   The young will not relate what they are doing to the church they have rejected.  Instead they will relate to the community they have created.  That's fine.  In time, these new communities will coalesce and grow into a new Catholic community.  By that time, "Catholic" will have come to mean, The World-Wide People of Universal Inclusion in the Loving Spirit of Jesus Christ.  It will be a People who are actively and deeply committed to working with all others of good will in building up the all-inclusive Kingdom of God on Earth. It will be ecumenically open to all People who truly want to walk with them the Way of Life and Truth that is relevant to the real, everyday world.

   I am sure that this can happen because it is already happening.  As of us who are deeply experienced in today's world must encourage the young and young-in-spirit to keep doing what they are doing.  With our encouragement and counsel in the general norms and values of life, they will supply the particulars for living a spiritually mature life in their own everyday world.  They are our only hope.

   In the meantime the church will continue to be irrelevant and our country and our culture will continue to decline.  Maybe our country, culture and church will have to hit bottom in order to rise again to new life.  Maybe our young can catch them before they hit bottom.  I don't know.  I can only repeat; they are the only hope we have.

   God bless them.