“Which way are you going?”

The title of this blog is a line from a Jim Croce song written during the Vietnam War. The song was a challenge to Americans to think deeply about our involvement in the war and all that it implied. Did we really believe that American democracy was a force for peace in the world, that if we lived up to our ideals the rest of the world would follow our example and the threat of tyranny would fall by the wayside? Or did we in our hearts believe that our best interests and self-preservation could only be served at the point of a gun?

In the wake of the awful developments in Charlottesville and the mind-numbing and morally reprehensible response of President Trump to the devastation, we are faced once again quite clearly and unambiguously with a different but equally stark moral question. Now that it is so devastatingly clear whose interests the President has at heart (spoiler alert – it is not the common good) what will we do?

The night that Donald Trump was elected President, I couldn’t sleep. The next night was even worse. I relived a childhood trauma at the very thought that the country would be in the hands of this crazy man for the next four years. What I most feared was that his slogan of “Make America Great Again” contained the implicit additional prepositional phrase -“by restoring white men to their rightful place.” By the light of day on the Thursday after the election, however,I thought that perhaps my own fears had gotten the best of me. So I wrote a letter which I sent to everyone in my email address book, calling upon all of my friends, but especially my Republican friends, to help me understand why Donald Trump won. Much of what they wrote back made sense to me. Even if I didn’t necessarily agree, I could understand how a person of good will might see things that way. Perhaps what was most reassuring was that not one person threatened to stick a knife into my bleeding liberal heart!

What troubled me a bit, however, was that none of my friends addressed the possibility that a subtle (many, I know, would say not so subtle) racism and sexism was operating just below the surface in this election. Still, I am an American before I am a member of the Democratic party (heck, my loyalty to the New York Mets is stronger than it is to the Democratic party) and so I hoped the subtext I was hearing might be lodged in my own guilty conscience. And I also hoped – and prayed – that I was wrong about the President, that his much touted business acumen (much touted certainly by himself, but not only by himself) would help us get a handle on the ever burgeoning national debt and, perhaps, find a bipartisan home in the rebuilding of our country’s infrastructure.

And then came Charlottesville. Can any reasonable person doubt now that Donald Trump has emboldened the hate-fueled racists in America? (An important point of clarification here – while anyone of any race and ethnic group can be prejudiced- because prejudice is a function of ignorance – in America, only white people can be racist. Racism includes not just prejudice, but the ability to impose one’s prejudices on others.) Is there anyone who is not sickened at the realization that not only is white supremacy ideology alive and well, but that it is actually attracting a new generation of white young men? Given the President’s unbelievable comment that there were “good people” among the Nazis and other white supremacy groups which made up this sad parade of humanity in Charlottesville, can anyone now doubt that somewhere in his blackening heart the President has at least some sympathy for hate speech? Doesn’t it seem now that “Make America Great Again By Restoring White Men To Their Rightful Place” was EXACTLY what Donald Trump meant?

There is another line in Jim Croce’s song that’s worth reflecting upon. In reference to America’s supposedly overwhelming Christian faith, Croce writes: “You say you love the baby, but you crucify the man.”

Please don’t crucify the man. Recognize hate speech and actions for what they are. Don’t confuse the spontaneous actions of a very few of those repulsed by white supremacy who unfortunately allowed their anger get the best of them with the actions of those who are committed to an ideology of hate -and to spreading it by whatever means they can.

To all Americans, but especially for those who voted for Donald Trump truly believing this was the best decision for the country.

Now that you have seen….

Which way are you going?

Jim Philipps (3rd millennial pilgrim)

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Who’s your Daddy?

I just read in the news the other day that a majority of Catholics voted for Donald Trump in November. As the shudders run up and down my spine, in the interest of Christian charity I am trying to put the best spin on this disturbing fact (for me, at least) that I can. Perhaps my Catholic sisters and brothers who voted for Donald Trump did so because they believed that was what the Pro-Life teaching of the Church demanded. (My own bishop wrote a jaw-dropping letter that was read at all of the Masses the Sunday before the election that basically said this.) Perhaps they honestly felt that Trump’s business background would enable him to address the very real and very painful economic dislocation that has resulted in so many losing their jobs as multinational corporations salivate after every last dollar and close up shop in America in pursuit of the cheapest labor force they can find. Maybe they could not see that the race-baiting which was woven into Trump’s campaign titilated that lingering racism which exists just below the conscious level for most white Americans.

Whatever the reasons, with the publication of Trump’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year and the passage of the new health plan through the House of Representatives, you are now faced with a challenge. Are you followers of Jesus first, or of Donald Trump? If you honestly did think that Donald Trump was the candidate whose policies were more consistent with Christian values, especially Christian social justice principles, then what are you going to do now that we have seen clear evidence that President Trump is supportive of removing the health care from 24 million Americans and, it would seem, using the money that will be saved to finance tax cuts, the majority of which will benefit the very rich?

What will you do now that it is clear the Trump administration has declared war on our efforts to acknowledge and combat climate change, despite the very clear teaching of Pope Francis that such behavior not only violates the Catholic principle of Stewardship (Care for the Environment) but also the principle of the Preferential option for the poor (because as temperatures and sea levels rise, as the detritus of our throwaway society continues to accumulate, it is the poor who will suffer first.)?

To quote Pope Francis, are you more comfortable with those who build walls or those, like Jesus, who seek to build bridges?

3rdMP

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“There was no one left to protest”

This is an update and paraphrase of a well known lament dating back to the time of the Nazis:

When they came for the undocumented workers, I did not protest

Because I was not an undocumented worker.

When they came for the Syrian refugees, I did not protest

Because I was not a Syrian refugee.

When they came for the members of the LBGQT community, I did not protest

Because I was not a member of the LBGQT community.

When they came for the Muslims, I did not protest

Because I was not a Muslim.

When they came for the African Americans and the Latinos, I did not protest

Because I was neither African American nor Latino.

Lastly, they came for me.

And there was no one left to protest.

 

 

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“White Men Without Feathers”

 

Recently I went to the Museum of Natural History to view the exhibit on the evolutionary links between birds and dinosaurs.  I enjoyed the exhibit very much.  The fossil bones are so exquisitely preserved that in some cases you can see faint traces of the feathers that were once associated with the living creature. Yet while my visit certainly fed my long-held interest in fossils in general and dinosaurs in particular, it also provided me with a disturbing fact.

It is very possible, if not likely, that Tyrannosaurs Rex had feathers.

Yes, you heard that correctly. T.Rex, perhaps the most famous dinosaur and certainly the most notorious predator in earth’s history was a Theropod, the group out of which birds evolved. Recent fossil discoveries have revealed that a number of these dinosaurs had feathers, and while no fossils of T.Rex (which are extremely rare ) have shown such traces, some paleontologists think that is the way to bet.

Let that sink in for a minute and you will understand the cause of my angst.  Remember that scene in the first Jurassic Park movie, when the fearsome Tyranosaurus is about to close in on the jeep? That moment when the scene shifts to the view from the driver’s side mirror upon which are written the words: “Caution objects in the mirror may appear closer than they really are”?

Now imagine  that dinosaur dressed  up like a Thanksgiving Day turkey.    It is hard for me to accept that this ancient animal which, from my first visit to the museum in grade school, sparked my sense of wonder about the natural world as well as haunted a nightmare or two had feathers and not scales. Ugh!

Of course, no one is saying that T.Rex could fly.  If in fact the dinosaur was covered in feathers (which would have resembled something closer to porcupine quills than the feathers of modern birds) they must have served some other purpose.  Perhaps they helped in the dissipation of body heat, or the preservation of warmth. Modern birds use the color of their feathers to attratk mates; perhaps dinosaurs did also.   No matter how I spin this, however, it will be hard for me to ever look at the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the same way again.    “The truth will set you free”, Garfield the cat once famously said, “but first, it will make you miserable.”

As I reflected upon all of this on my way home on the train towards my white suburban neighborhood,  I wondered if there might be a greater insight here.  It is of little importance whether I, a materially comfortable white man, can accept that T.Rex had feathers.  It is of enormous importance, however, that I can accept I don’t.

The ”feathers” that I am speaking of here are, of course, metaphorical ones.  They symbolize the aura  that has enveloped me and millions like me since birth, a covering so fine and so subtle that we (almost) didn’t notice it at all.  And so we came to accept our “feathers” as the way nature –and God (take a good look at the images of God in your house of worship next time you visit)- intended things to be.

Peggy McIntosh provides a name for these feathers: White Privilege.    In her essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, she defines it as “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible, weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.”

Ms. McIntosh goes on to specifically describe 50 different experiences of White Privilege – think of each as an individual feather in the overall covering.  Here are a couple:  “ I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed” and “ If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race”.   Speaking as a white male baby boomer who was born, has lived and will (I most sincerely hope) die among the economically advantaged I would add this to Ms. McIntosh’s definition: White Privilege includes an almost complete obliviousness to the fact that I have been born into a generation that has known more per capita prosperity than perhaps any other in the history of the world.  Yes, I have worked hard and I take pride in the success I have achieved.  But how much of that success have I really achieved?  And how much has come to me because the playing field is tilted in my direction?

The reasons for the rise of Donald Trump as a political force in American politics are complex.  Yet we would be naïve – or worse – to think that White Privilege isn’t among them.  In his subtle and not so subtle disparagement of immigrants, women, and others, buried deep within his promise to”Make America Great Again” (at least as he seems to define this phrase) is an implicit message:  White men do indeed have feathers. And we are entitled to them.

Why is it so hard for me to picture T.Rex with feathers?   Because when I do so, I feel I have diminished the creature, reducing it from something fearsome to something almost pedestrian.  Yet when I look at this situation objectively, I come to see this is not true at all.  T.Rex was what it was, feathers or not.  And either way,it was a magnificent creature. My imaginings and illusions don’t change that.  Accepting truth never diminishes us but can only enhance us.

Can I imagine myself without feathers?  Can others like me who have benefited from the “feathers” of White Privilege find the courage and the compassion needed to see in the movements towards fuller participation in American society sought by disenfranchised groups not an angry mob come to pull off our feathers but an invitation from the source of all Justice  to recognize we were never meant to have them in the first place?

Spending time learning about extinct creatures can be time well spent.  But embracing extinct ideas is downright dangerous.  In this case, it is only when one loses his feathers that he is able to fly.

 

Peggy McIntosh is associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. This essay is excerpted from Working Paper 189. “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies” (1988), by Peggy McIntosh

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Let Morning Come

“When roosters crow/like Nature’s alarm clocks/that rouse a resting Earth,/

let Morning come/with virginal blush that peeps/softly through Night’s dark sky./

As a genial Sun rises/to share welcome warmth/and light, let Morning come/

for owls returning to roost,/for farmers ready to labor/in their forests and fields./

Let Morning come with its promise/of beauty for ashes, joy for sorrow,/and a spirit of praise for heavy hearts.”
– “Let Morning Come” by Sandra H. Bounds (published in “Sacred Journey: The Journal of Fellowship in Prayer”)

Time to let morning come. For so long now I have been immersed in loss. Loss of innocence. Loss of wealth. Loss of my mother. Loss of an image and experience of God that was too small but made so much sense and gave so much comfort. Loss of a job. Loss of a sense of security. Loss of my children as they move on into adulthood. Loss of dreams of fame and glory. Loss of a certain degree of youthful optimism. Loss of faith in institutions and their ability to meet the pressing needs of our time. Loss of respect for a Church that prefers superficial comfort over genuine reform. Loss of respect for people who could have known better and done better but chose not to do so. Loss of self-esteem as I feel that gap between the man I am and the man I want to be grow to be a chasm. Loss and loss and loss and loss……

But enough of that now. Grief is not the same as despair. Loss is not always bad – is often good. My ego is a cramped place and does not give ground easily. Illusions were made to be shattered. People cannot break your heart unless you have a heart to break. Roaring wind and shattering earthquake and raging fire and flood will come but the Still Small Whisper remains present and distinct. She only awaits for our response.

And so I will respond. Let morning come. Into my life. Into the core of my being where the Spirit dwells. Time to turn away from the night; the sun shines so brightly, the breeze blows so gently inviting me forth to new adventures and new discoveries. How could I have not noticed?

I heard a rabbi once say that the reason the Bible exhorts the faithful to place the commandments on their hearts is so that when their hearts are broken the love of God might come in. The cross is not about suffering as an end in itself butas a means to conquer the night.

The fields are ripe for harvest. Time to take my place among the dancing, joyous laborers. I will not look back. I will not become a pillar of salt.

Let Morning come. For all of us.

Jim Philipps
3rd millennium pilgrim

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Scripture Reflections – Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Isaiah 49:14-15; 1Cor4:1-5; Mt 6:24-34
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

There’s a beautiful little sculpture piece I’ve seen that features a child resting in the palm of a large hand, snug and blissful. It’s a creation basedon words similar to those in today’s reading by the prophet Isaiah: ‘I will never forget you my people. I have carved you on the palm of my hand.”

There is always plenty to do and plenty to pray about as we journey through the season of Lent which begins this coming Wednesday. Leave those preparations and anticipations for another day.

For now, take a few quiet moments and imagine yourself resting blissfully and peacefully in God’s hand. Perhaps such reflections will call to mind memories of when you felt so safe and secure as a child surrounded by the love of a good family. (I pray that you are able to call upon such reflections and, if you are not, that God will lead you into a community worthy of you.) Just rest there awhile. Remember that you are loved and precious in God’s sight. That’s enough for now.

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

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Scripture Reflections – Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:35-48

One of the key themes of the Sermon on the Mount from which this week’s gospel is taken is Jesus’ exhortation (which he also lived out) to follow the spirit of the law and not just the letter. In fact, in some cases following the letter of the law too strictly could actually violate its’ spirit.

A quick primer: The “letter of the law” is what the law says. The “spirit of the law” is the value that the law is protecting or promoting. The classic scriptural example of the difference are the several miracle stories in which Jesus cures someone who is lame or blind on the Sabbath. Inevitably, this action causes tension between Jesus and some of the Pharisees. The reason: The third commandment (Keep Holy the Sabbath) strictly forbids the performing of any unnecessary work on the Sabbath day. On the seventh day of Creation, God rested from all of God’s labors. As it logically follows that we are not busier than God, so should we. The Sabbath day is reserved for worship of God and taking time to enjoy the company of others – especially those whom we love – and to enjoy the wonders of creation.

Nothing wrong with that. The problem arose, however, because the Pharisees were so focused on the letter – “unnecessary work” – that when they witnessed Jesus’ healing miracles this was the only thing they could see. Their logic ran something like this: “If the man is blind on the Sabbath, he’ll still be blind tomorrow. Cure him then.” Jesus, and all those who read the gospel accounts, see the absurdity of the argument. How could restoring one of God’s beloved to health NOT be an act of worship?

Where the Spirit vs. Letter gets more demanding for us is the way that Jesus applies it to the second part of the Great Commandment: “You shall love God with all of your heart and all of your mind and all of your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” what he is really saying is that to love your neighbor as yourself is only the Letter of the law. The spirit – the experience through which we encounter the heart of the Great Commandment – is when we love that person who does not love us.

Christianity is so much easier when we stick to the letter of the law. The problem is, it has little to do with Jesus. And can a faith that clings only to the surface of discipleship be considered a faith at all?

So, this week, let’s dig in deeper. Plunge below the surface and allow the Holy Spirit to carry you into the depths of Love. Resist the temptation to come up for air, for this is an ocean filled with the waters of life.

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
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