Friday, May 22, 2020

Quote of the Day

The President said today that he will “override the governors” and force states to allow churches to open. Churches should not be opened (or closed) by order of a president, but because it is safe to do so. To open churches before it is safe would needlessly put more lives at risk. And that would be the opposite of pro-life. Governors and religious leaders should follow the advice of public health experts and epidemiologists to help prevent the spread of infection and preserve life. Everyone wants to go back to church, including me, but not at the risk of increased infection and death, especially among the most vulnerable.

Churches are indeed essential for Christians, and the desire to worship together is a holy desire. But holy though your desire may be, it's not just about you and your desire. It's about protecting the other person, especially if you are, like many people, asymptomatic. Wearing masks, maintaining social distance and even not gathering in churches protects the other person.

There have already been confirmed cases in Texas and Minnesota where Catholic churches have opened and the priests were found to have been unknowingly infected. Coming into contact with their parishioners, and exposing them to infection, may end up causing deaths, especially among the most vulnerable – the elderly, who often make up the majority of churchgoers.

I'm not sure why this is so hard to understand. If you have the measles and a doctor says, “Don't go to church because you might infect a woman who is pregnant, ” you don't rail at your doctor for “impinging on your freedom.” You listen to the doctor, make the sacrifice, and stay home, as a way of protecting the other person.

All these preventive actions are ways of caring of the other person – that is, ways of loving.



Related Off-site Links:
Minnesota Church Groups Divided on Govenor Tim Walz's Orders – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune May 22, 2020).
Minnesota's Catholic Bishops Say They'll Defy Walz's Limits on Church AttendanceMPR News (May 20, 2020).
Not Attending Church Won't Kill Anyone, But Rushing to Reopen Might – Jennifer Brooks (Star Tribune, May 22, 2020).
Pro-Trump Doctors to Promote Reopening States Despite CDC WarningsDemocracy Now! (May 22, 2020).
Churches Obsessed With Their Right to Reopen Are Missing the Point – Peter W. Marty (The Christian Century, May 18, 2020).
“I Dissent”: David Haas on Re-Opening Church – David Haas (Pray Tell, May 14, 2020).

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Hope and Beauty in the Midst of the Global Coronavirus Pandemic


NOTE: The following was first published at The Wild Reed on March 14, 2020.


I went shopping today with my friend Deandre and saw for the first time what I'd only heard about or seen pictures of on social media: large areas of empty shelving in grocery stores and signage from store owners announcing to customers limitations of quantity of certain goods – namely toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

It was all very surreal.

And I couldn't help but think of Doris Lessing's novel, The Memoirs of a Survivor, about a woman's experience of a society crumbling as the result of an unspecified disaster, referred to as “The Crisis.”

In film director David Gladwell's 1981 adaptation of Lessing's novel (described by critic Albert Johnson as “a cinema journey full of discovery”), the main (and nameless) character/narrator is luminously portrayed by Julie Christie. (For my reflections on this film, click here.)

Of course, the event that is causing growing unease and panic around the world is not, as in Lessing's novel, "unspecified." No, for us in 2020 the event is the coronavirus pandemic, one which, globally, is unprecedented, and which here in the U.S. is about to get much worse because of the incompetence of the Trump administration and the lack of any real public health system.









Doris Lessing's The Memoirs of a Survivor is generally considered a dystopian novel, a story of end times.

Yet it can also be read as an allegorical tale of new beginnings. This is most resolutely symbolized in the salvific appearance of the mythic “Cosmic Egg” toward the end of both the novel and its film adaptation.

Writes Sharon R. Wilson about the significance of this symbol:

In Lessing’s revisioned creation myth, the Cosmic Egg requires human co-construction: the narrator mirrors her creator. Without the narrator’s journey through the wall and without her work to clean and order the chaos – work that matches that of the painter and gardener – presumably this egg could not open. As well as being a witness to the death and rebirth of the world, Lessing’s unnamed narrator is an active participant in its recreation.


I find this analysis of Lessing's novel, one that reflects the mystic path, to be both beautiful and hopeful.

And in recent days I've come across a number of writings by people who, in responding to the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, also offer beauty and hope.

Some of these writings are by people I know – friends and/or colleagues. Others are by well-known thinkers and authors. All reflect the beauty and wisdom of the heart, the seedbed of hope.

__________________________


[N]othing feels stable. One month ago rumors rumbled, this week everything is shutting down. Within these last few days it has felt as if we were dropped into the plot of a sci-fi movie, where the viewer can see more broadly the entire scope of the problem and knows it is going to be bad. On screen characters are only beginning to sense the severity and react in fear. I hear the word, “surreal” quite a lot these days.

This morning I walked out of a bakery and into the familiar sound of honking just above my head. I looked up to see two geese preparing to land on a nearby pond. As I hopped into my car and headed down the highway, I was immediately gifted by a spectacular sunrise. It evolved from velvet purple, to azure blue to a popping bright yellow. As quickly as it arrived, it morphed to a calming lavender and ducked behind a bank of clouds.

When it seems as if nothing is the same, that everything is changing, as if there is no solid ground beneath you, take a deeper look. The birds are coming back to their summer homes, the lake ice is melting, the sun continues to rise and set in a predicable rhythm of grace. Regular life is still happening. Look beyond your (very normal) fear into the depths of your own heart. There you find stability. In that place, find peace. See grace.

And out of THAT heart space of stability, peace and grace . . . live.

Over this season you will find more posts than is normal for this space. I invite you to come, check in and breath. Take good care of yourself and those whom you love. And, be kind to each other.

– Andrea Wichhart-Tatley
Within
AndreaTatley.com
March 13, 2020



If we imagine we live on some isolated little island, we are living in a fool's paradise. What happens over there affects me here.

My own well-being depends on whether I let you fall to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, telling myself that your life is none of my responsibility. If I let you be sick and without medical treatment, I myself will end up paying a price – as I will if I let you go without education, without food, without a job.

The butterfly beats its wings on the other side of the globe and the weather on my side of the planet feels the effects.

A global pandemic shows us that we are all connected to each other, all related, all kin, all in it together. And that we will not have lives worth living on this planet until we begin to recognize our interconnectedness.

William D. Lindsey
via Facebook
March 14, 2020





If we view ourselves as besieged victims who need to go into hiding, then we will cultivate fear and hoarding. If we view ourselves as a community working hard to protect the most vulnerable among us, then we will cultivate courage and helping. Mindset matters.

Len Niehoff
via Facebook
March 13, 2020



I was thinking this morning about how rapidly things can change. A week ago, I bought a new mattress at Macy’s. The sales person stood to shake my hand at the end of the transaction and I said, “Ah, no. We are supposed to be training ourselves not to shake hands now that the coronavirus has arrived in the U.S.” At that time, there had been five confirmed cases. We sort of laughed as we awkwardly attempted the elbow bump and he said, “Well, you are my first elbow bump of these new times.”

I left the furniture store and went to Trader Joe’s, where I leisurely shopped, overhearing the few other folks also shopping casually discussing things like what to purchase for dinner or what cheese to serve to guests gathering later that night. It was calm, the shelves were well stocked. I even bought a few hyacinth bulbs. And I probably touched my face 14 times without giving it another thought. It almost seems inconceivable that that was only a week ago in light of how much has changed in our world since then. That salesman might not even have a job this weekend as the stock market tanks, businesses voluntarily close for a few weeks in an attempt to “flatten the curve,” and people’s priorities shift from purchasing furniture to stockpiling toilet paper and disinfecting wipes.

By week’s end, my Facebook feed was full of photos of completely empty shelves at Trader Joe’s as the urge to hoard food and essentials became harder and harder to resist as the numbers of confirmed cases rose exponentially and the inevitability of self imposed isolation came into sharper and sharper focus.

As I was preparing the bedroom for the delivery of the new mattress later this afternoon, I was actually thinking how risky it feels to have strangers come into my “clean space” and what I would do if they arrive coughing and appearing unwell. I was pondering all this, and marveling at how long 24 hours can feel in a time of such uncertainty, when I flipped on the light in the dining room and discovered my hyacinth bulbs had bloomed. It sort of felt like the Universe was challenging my conclusion that everything that changed so quickly this week was in the negative column.

Alright Universe, you win. Sometimes rapidly changing things can surprise us with amazingly beautiful results. I hope you are surprised by beauty sometime this weekend as well.

– Amy Gabriel
via Facebook
March 14, 2020



As the world has slowed down in almost every experience of what the marvelous Sister Jenna calls “a global pause,” I’m having my most precious experience: a couple of days with my daughter India. . . . The coronavirus is reminding all of us to savor what we have, to go deep at a moment when we’re not as free to go wide. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal said that “Every problem in the world stems from [humanity’s] inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

We are being forced to be quieter than usual, and hopefully even in our sadness we will discover deeper wisdom. God knows there’s a lot of it to discover, about ourselves, about our country, and about our world.

What are we doing with our lives? Not how long will they be, but how meaningful will they be?

And who that we love can we love a little better, a little deeper?

These are the questions which emerge in the quiet, that remind me of this line from Rilke: “Let me not squander the hour of my pain.”

Marianne Williamson
via Facebook
March 13, 2020



Italians are beating the social isolation imposed by the country's coronavirus lockdown by taking to their windows and singing in unison, with videos of the phenomenon racking up thousands of views online.

Since Monday, a series of decrees from the Italian government have drastically limited citizens' movements, with vast swathes of the economy shut down and people instructed to leave the house only when strictly necessary.

All cultural events have also been suspended, prompting some celebrities to start organising online performances and museums to put virtual tours online.

Another attempt to boost morale has now come in the form of impromptu music at people's windows. One recording in the Tuscan city of Siena has been viewed over 600,000 times on Twitter.

. . . Another social media initiative has seen Italians put up signs outside their homes saying "andra tutto bene" or "everything will be OK". The slogan is accompanied by a picture of a rainbow – often drawn by children at home as school is cancelled.

Italy has been struck by the worst European outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with more than 17,000 cases and 1,266 deaths.

– AFP News Agency
March 13, 2020







Video of quarantined Italians singing to each other across deserted streets from their windows, balconies and doorways during the coronavirus lockdown is as beautiful as it is haunting.

David Allegranti, a writer for Il Foglio newspaper, shared footage of residents’ stirring rendition of a local folk song in the northern city of Siena on Twitter Thursday night.

“This video is touching,” Rome-based Allegranti told HuffPost via email on Friday. “The first time I saw it I started to cry.”

Allegranti said a friend sent him the footage, although it wasn’t clear who actually took the video that has now spread across social media. Twitter users were equally moved by what appeared to be an impromptu communal singsong.

. . . There were reportedly similar scenes of neighbors spontaneously singing together in Wuhan, China, in the initial days of the outbreak there.

– Lee Moran
Excerpted from “Quarantined Italians Sing Together
Across Empty Streets In Hauntingly Beautiful Video

The Huffington Post
March 13, 2020



Surviving this crisis will take a shift in mindset, and that’s tougher than we think – especially when we’re afraid.

Fear and anxiety can drive us to become very self-focused. This global pandemic is a real case of “getting sick together” or “staying well together.”

Our choices affect everyone around us. There is no such thing as “individual risk” or “individual wellness.”

This is the ultimate reminder that we are inextricably connected to each other. Turning away from collective action right now – as tempting as it is – will only generate more pain.

Owning and embracing our global interconnectedness (from a safe distance) and thinking about others as we make choices is, ironically, our only path to safety for ourselves and the people we love.

We can all get really shitty really fast when we’re afraid. I get it. I’m using deep breaths along with my personal mantra: ” Try to be scared without being scary.” Feel free to borrow both – they can help.

It’s also really normal for everyone to be on our nerves: The people who aren’t following the rules, the 10-second hand washers, etc. I get that too. TRUST ME.

But, like it or not, we just can’t give up on people. We’re all we have.

Stay awkward, brave, and kind. Love each other. Spread calm.

Brené Brown
via Facebook
March 13, 2020






For the vast majority of people nationwide and worldwide, this virus is not about you. This is one of those times in life, in history, when your actions are about something bigger. They are about someone else. They are about something greater, a greater good that you may not ever witness. A person you will save who you will never meet.

You may be healthy, and your kids may be healthy. Your parents may be healthy. Everyone around you seems fine. And all the things you planned and the 2020 spring you thought you were going to have has been completely undone. You have to work from home. Your conference is cancelled. Your semester is over. Your work is cancelled. It all seems fast, and out-of-proportion and disorienting. You look at each action and think – but it would be okay if I did that. It’s not so big. We worked so hard. They would be so disappointed.

Your losses are real. Your disappointments are real. Your hardships are real. I don’t mean to make light or to minimize the difficulty ahead for you, your family or community.

But this isn’t like other illnesses and we don’t get to act like it is. It’s more contagious, it’s more fatal – and most importantly, even if it can be managed. It can’t be managed at a massive scale – anywhere. We need this thing to move slowly enough for our collective national and worldwide medical systems to hold the very ill so that all of the very ill can get taken care of.

Because at this time of severe virus there are also all of the other things that require care. There is still cancer, there are still heart attacks, there are still car accidents, there are still complicated births. And we need our medical systems to be able to hold us. And we need to be responsible because our medical systems are made up of people and these amazing healthcare workers are a precious and limited resource. They will rise to this occasion. They will work to help you heal. They will work to save your mother or father or sister or baby. But in order for that to happen we have very important work to do. ALL OF US.

So what is our work? Yes, you need to wash your hands and stay home if you are sick. But the biggest work you can do is expand your heart and your mind to see yourself and see your family as part of a much bigger community that can have a massive – hugely massive – impact on the lives of other people.

I remember the feeling of helplessness after 9/11 and after Hurricane Sandy. I remember how much people wanted to help. I remember how much generosity of spirit there was about wanting to give, wanting to be helpful, wanting to save lives. And many of you have had experiences since then – whether it was a mass shooting, or the wildfires, or floods. There have been times you have looked on and wondered how you could help. And now we ALL have that chance.

You can help by canceling anything that requires a group gathering. You can help by not using the medical system unless it is urgent. You can help by staying home if you are sick. You can help by cooking or shopping or doing errands for a friend who needs to stay home. You can help by watching someone’s kid if they need to cover for someone else at work. You can help by ordering take-out from your local restaurants. Eat the food yourself or find someone who needs it. You can help by offering to help bring someone’s college student home or house out-of-town students if you have extra rooms. You can help by asking yourself, “What can I and my family do to help?” “What can we offer?” You can help by seeing yourself as part of something bigger than yourself.

When the Apollo 13 oxygen tank failed and the lunar module was in danger of not returning to earth, Gene Kranz, the lead flight director overheard people saying that this could be the worst disaster NASA had ever experienced – to which he is rumored to have responded, “With all due respect, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”

Imagine if we could make our response to this crisis our finest hour. Imagine if a year or two from now we looked back on this and told the stories of how we came together as a team in our community, in our state, in our nation and across the world.

Your contribution to the finest hour may seem small, invisible, inconsequential – but every small act of ‘not doing’ what you were going to do, and ‘doing’ an act of kindness or support will add up exponentially. These acts can and will save lives. The Apollo 13 crew made it their finest hour by letting go of the word “I” and embracing the word “we.” And that’s the task required of us. It can only be our finest hour if we work together. You are all on the team. And we need all of you to shine in whatever way you can.

– Gretchen Schmelzer
This Can Be Our Finest Hour – But We Need All of You
GretchenSchmelzer.com
March 10, 2020



Conversations will not be cancelled.
Relationships will not be cancelled.
Love will not be cancelled.
Songs will not be cancelled.
Self-care will not be cancelled.
Hope will not be cancelled.

May we lean into the good things that remain.

Jamie Tworkowski
via Facebook
March 13, 2020



And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed.

And in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

– Kitty O'Meara
via Facebook
March 16, 2020



UPDATES . . .

It is shocking to think how much the world has changed in such a brief time. Each of us has had our lives and communities disrupted. Of course, I am here in this with you. I feel that I’m in no position to tell you how to feel or how to think, but there are a few things that come to mind I will share.

A few days ago I was encouraged by the Franciscans and by the leadership team here at the Center for Action and Contemplation to self-quarantine, so I’ve been in my little hermitage now for three or four days. I’ve had years of practice, literally, how to do what we are calling “social distancing.” I have a nice, large yard behind me where there are four huge, beautiful cottonwood trees, and so I walk my dog Opie every few hours.

Right now I’m trying to take in psychologically, spiritually, and personally, what is God trying to say? When I use that phrase, I’m not saying that God causes suffering to teach us good things. But God does use everything, and if God wanted us to experience global solidarity, I can’t think of a better way. We all have access to this suffering, and it bypasses race, gender, religion, and nation.

We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.

But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole. This, I must say, is one of the gifts of television: we can turn it on and see how people in countries other than our own are hurting. What is going to happen to those living in isolated places or for those who don’t have health care? Imagine the fragility of the most marginalized, of people in prisons, the homeless, or even the people performing necessary services, such as ambulance drivers, nurses, and doctors, risking their lives to keep society together? Our feelings of urgency and devastation are not exaggeration: they are responding to the real human situation. We’re not pushing the panic button; we are the panic button. And we have to allow these feelings, and invite God’s presence to hold and sustain us in a time of collective prayer and lament.

I hope this experience will force our attention outwards to the suffering of the most vulnerable. Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness. It takes two. There has to be the lover and the beloved. We must be stretched to an encounter with otherness, and only then do we know it’s love. This is what we call the subject-subject relationship. Love alone overcomes fear and is the true foundation that lasts (1 Corinthians 13:13).

– Richard Rohr, OFM
Love Alone Overcomes Fear
Center for Action and Contemplation
March 19, 2020



[T]his will change us. It must. All plagues change society and culture, reversing some trends while accelerating others, shifting consciousness far and wide, with consequences we won’t discover for years or decades. The one thing we know about epidemics is that at some point they will end. The one thing we don’t know is who we will be then.

I know that I was a different man at the end of the plague of AIDS than I was at the beginning, just as so many gay men and many others were. You come face-to-face with mortality and the randomness of fate, and you are changed. You have a choice: to submit to fear and go under, or to live with the virus and do what you can. And the living with it, while fighting it, is what changes you over time; it requires more than a little nerve and more than a little steel. Plague living dispenses with the unnecessary, lays bare whom you can trust and whom you can’t, and also reveals what matters.

. . . Plagues destroy so much – but through the devastation, they can also rebuild and renew.

– Andrew Sullivan
How to Survive a Plague
New York Magazine
March 20, 2020




See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Prayer in Times of a Pandemic
An Infectious Disease Specialist Weighs-in on Covid-19
A Prayer for the Present Moment
Move Us, Loving God
You, O Comforter, Are Ever Near
The End of the World as We Know It . . . . . . the Beginning As We Live It
As the Last Walls Dissolve . . . Everything is Possible

Related Off-site Links:
The Shape of Love in a Time of Contagion – David R. Weiss (Full Frontal Theology, March 12, 2020).
Psychologist Offers Tips to Calm COVID-19 AnxietyKARE 11 News via Allina Health (March 11, 2020).
Managing Stress During Coronavirus Outbreak – Shai Plonski (via YouTube, March 13, 2020).
Lizzo Leads a Mass Meditation Amidst Growing Coronavirus Concerns – Sandra Song (Paper Magazine, March 13, 2020).
Coronavirus Offers a “Blank Page for a New Beginning” Says Li Edelkoort – Courtney Mares (De Zeen, March 9, 2020).
We Can Waste Another Crisis, or We Can Transform the Economy – Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos (Jacobin, March 13, 2020).
Late-stage Capitalism Primed Us for This Pandemic – Bob Hennelly (Salon, March 15, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Can Lead the Fight Against Coronavirus. Joe Biden Can’t – Branko Marcetic and Meagan Day (Jacobin, March 13, 2020).
People Are Fighting the Coronavirus With Mutual Aid Efforts to Help Each Other – Lucy Diavolo (Teen Vogue, March 16, 2020).
Facing COVID-19 With Community Instead of Fear – Lornet Turnbull (Yes! Magazine, March 10, 2020).
A Pandemic of Love: Deeply Adapting to Corona – Jem Bendell (JemBendell.com, March 18, 2020).
Why Coronavirus Is Humanity’s Wake-Up Call – David Korten (Yes! Magazine, March 18, 2020).

BREAKING: God Tests Positive – David R. Weiss (Full Frontal Theology, March 16, 2020).

First and last image: Amy Gabriel.
Image 2: Julie Christie in Memoirs of a Survivor (1981).
Image 3: Deandre Dwyer.
Images 4-6: Michael J. Bayly.
Images 7-8: Screen caps from Memoirs of a Survivor.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

John Gehring on Why Catholics Should Participate in LGBTQ Pride Parades


The Wild Reed's 2019 Queer Appreciation series continues with the sharing of author John Gehring's recent Washington Post op-ed, “The Case for Why Catholics Should March in LGBT Pride Parades.” (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

As you'll see, Gehring penned this op-ed in response to Roman Catholic bishop Thomas Tobin's recent statement that given the church hierarchy's teaching on homosexuality (i.e., the “disordered” nature of same-sex attraction and the “sinfulness” of any physical expression of such attraction) and its opposition to marriage equality, “faithful” Catholics should not support or attend LGBTTQ Pride events, events which Tobin says, “are especially harmful to children.”

Following is author John Gehring's thoughtful response to Bishop Tobin.

_________________________


Fifty years after patrons at Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn refused to be silent and sparked a civil rights movement for gay Americans, Pride events are a familiar tradition in many states. Parades, teach-ins and panel discussions throughout June affirm the dignity of people who have been historically marginalized and continue to face discrimination.

While religious leaders take part in LGBT Pride Month celebrations, a Catholic bishop’s tweet last week provoked contentious social media debates about whether faithful Catholics should attend such events, given the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and teachings about homosexuality.


A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ “Pride Month” events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.

– Bishop Thomas Tobin (@ThomasJTobin1) June 1, 2019


As a Catholic who loves both my church and my gay friends and family, I’m sickened by this expression of hypocrisy, homophobia and fear-mongering. At a time when the Catholic Church is struggling to reclaim moral credibility after systematically covering up decades of child abuse, the idea that a Catholic leader would declare Pride events “especially harmful for children” reveals a stunning lack of self-awareness.

This is also a particularly tone-deaf and false assertion, given that Bishop Thomas Tobin served as an auxiliary bishop in Pittsburgh in the 1990s, one of several Pennsylvania dioceses included in a devastating grand jury report that found that more than 300 priests were credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children over several decades. In an interview last summer, the bishop said that monitoring clergy abuse was outside his scope of responsibility at the time.

Tobin would have been smart to stick with his plans to quit Twitter last summer, when he described the platform as an “obstacle” to his spiritual life and an “occasion of sin for me and others.”

Catholics who attend Pride events are reclaiming their humanity and honoring the basic dignity of those they love in response to a history and culture where gay, lesbian and transgender people have often been discarded by their religiously conservative families and rejected by churches. Those who consider themselves “pro-life” Christians can’t ignore the reality that sexual minorities are disproportionately at risk for self-harm and targeted for violence.

The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force interviewed more than 6,000 transgender and gender nonconforming people from every state and found that 41 percent reported suicide attempts (compared with 1.6 percent of the general population). High percentages reported bullying in school, harassment on the job, and physical and sexual assault. At least 26 transgender people were killed in the United States last year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Eighty-two percent of these victims were women of color, and most were younger than 35.

Last Saturday in Dallas, the body of Chynal Lindsey, a black transgender woman, was found by police, at least the fourth black transgender woman killed in that city alone in the past three years.

Any Catholic bishop who doesn’t understand that context, and uses his digital pulpit in ways that wound instead of heal, contributes to a culture where stereotypes are reinforced, discrimination is blessed and extremists feel emboldened to violence.

Catholics who rallied to Tobin’s defense claim he is simply expressing church doctrine. This is a deficient argument that, at best, reveals a limited, mechanical understanding of church teachings and, at worst, distorts it in ways that do real harm.

In his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis urges Catholics not to view church doctrine as merely “stones to throw at people’s lives.” This attitude, the pope wrote, reveals “the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the church’s teachings.” While the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage and any sexual relations outside of a marriage between a man and a woman, the catechism of the Catholic Church also states that gay people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” When a bishop describes a Pride event as dangerous for children, those words threaten to demonize and stigmatize LGBTQ people, a form of unjust discrimination that the catechism forbids.

The good news is that while Tobin received a lot of attention, his views reflect only a vocal minority of church leaders. A developing pastoral theology – modeled by Francis when he meets with transgender individuals and same-sex couples – has encouraged more priests and bishops to build bridges with LGBTQ communities. This requires humility and listening rather than finger wagging.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, of Newark, two years ago welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBTQ Catholics to the city’s cathedral. “I am Joseph, your brother,” the cardinal told the group. In a 2016 interview with America magazine, a Jesuit publication, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy described language in the church’s catechism that calls homosexual relations “intrinsically disordered” as “very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally.”

Catholics from parishes in cities such as Chicago, New York and San Francisco have taken part in Pride rallies over the years. But even in more conservative and rural places, there are Catholics who demonstrate solidarity. Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., sent a letter to the city’s first Pride Interfaith Service in 2017 that applauded the celebration as “a commendable outreach to people in the community who too often have suffered discrimination from people of faith.”

In the Christian tradition, pride is considered to be one of the “seven deadly sins.” Any follower of Christ should be wary of extreme self-indulgence and excessive individualism. So how can a Christian reconcile that with the libertarian atmosphere at some Pride parades?

Similar to the way that expressions of Black Pride in the 1960s were in response to the oppressive injustice of white supremacy, LGBTQ Pride events were created as safe spaces for people who have reason to wonder whether their bodily integrity will be respected when they walk down the street in some communities.

As a straight white male, I don’t experience that reality. By judging an expression of liberation and joy at a Pride event that some might consider flamboyant and excessive, I would be castigating from a place of comfort and privilege. In my deficit of empathy, I would not go to the margins, where Jesus spent his time. Being vigilant against the human temptation to be prideful is not the same for me as it is for a black transgender woman who fears being beaten up if she turns the wrong corner or who can be legally fired from her job in more than two dozen states because of her sexuality or gender identity.

Before Catholic leaders stand in judgment of Pride events, they might try a more Christian response and be willing to walk in the discomfort of another’s experience.

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, and author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church.




See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Gay Pride: A Catholic Perspective
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview
Catholics Make Their Voices Heard on LGBTQ Issues
LGBTQ Catholics Celebrate Being “Wonderfully Made”
Same-Sex Desires: “Immanent and Essential Traits Transcending Time and Culture”
Remembering and Reclaiming a Wise, Spacious, and Holy Understanding of Homosexuality
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Worldwide Gay Pride – 2017 | 2016 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007
Responding to Bishop Tobin's Remarks on Marriage Equality
On the First Anniversary of Marriage Equality in Minnesota, a Celebratory Look Back at the Important Role Played by Catholics
The Journal of James Curtis

Related Off-site Links:
Catholic Composer Pens Inclusive, Pro-LGBTI Song for Pride Month – Stefania Sarrubba (Gay Star News, June 8, 2019).
Listen to the LGBT Person: A Response to the Vatican’s Gender Theory Document – James Martin, SJ (America, June 11, 2019).
Five Trans Catholics on the Vatican's Rejection of Their Gender Identity – Eloise Blondiau (Vox, June 12, 2019).

Image 1: David McCaffrey (Twin Cities Pride, 2007).
Image 2: Michael Bayly (Twin Cities Pride, 2012).


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Rethinking Shepherds and Sheep

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of July 21-22, 2018.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it’s my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

Today’s lessons from Jeremiah and Mark, as well as Psalm 23, are on the Good Shepherd with some passing inferences to sheep. When I met with the Word Team last week to discuss these texts, I learned that the faith formation students in our 5th to 8th grades were critical of this image as a metaphor for our relationship with God. I don’t blame them. Who wants to be compared to dumb sheep that get bossed around by a know-it-all shepherd that supposedly has our best interests in mind? More importantly, hats off to our young people for being critical thinkers and not passively accepting these ideas. That said, what I would like to do today is offer an alternative perspective on sheep and shepherds which might allow us to approach these readings differently.

So, first off, what about these dumb sheep? Are they really so dim witted? When I was younger, I enjoyed a comic strip by Gary Larson entitled the “Far Side.” One of the recurring themes in this strip was the inversion of humans and animals in the intellectual hierarchy, with the idea that animals might actually be much smarter than people thought them to be. Most farmers would concur that sheep really do need to be herded. But, as per Gary Larson, what if the sheep are just channeling their mental energy somewhere else than the everyday practicalities of life? They may look like mindless fluffy eating machines in a pasture, but what if they are really spending their time solving physics equations and can’t be bothered to think about where they are going?

As a quintessential absent-minded professor, I must confess that I have some sympathy for sheep. You may or may not know that I can be pretty spacey. I can get lost in thought and literally become oblivious to where I am and what I am doing. My wife claims that I fortunately found the one and only profession where such a talent is prized: academia. But such a tendency can put a strain on one’s marriage. While there are literally hundreds of family stories in our household about me doing spacey things, I will just share one particularly egregious vignette to illustrate the problem. In the mid-1990s, my wife, Julia, and I were living in Harare, Zimbabwe where we both worked for the international NGO Save the Children (UK) on a large hunger mapping project. We lived in a small, rented cottage behind the main house on a larger piece of property. The property was fenced and gated, which meant that you always had to open a gate before going up a very long drive to our cottage. One day, we were coming home from work and I happened to be driving. As we approached the entrance to our place, Julia got out to unlock and open the gate so that I could drive through. Now, on that particular day, I must have been thinking about something – trying to solve some sort of problem in my head. As such, and very unfortunately, after driving through the entrance I didn’t stop for Julia to get back in the car, but just kept on driving to the back of the property where our cottage was located. I pulled up to the cottage and I looked over to the passenger seat and I was thinking where did Jules go? I literally had absolutely no idea where she went. I got out of the car and started walking back down the driveway when I saw Jules trudging up the hill. I said, very honestly, where were you, where did you go?

Julia, fortunately, has stuck with me. And that’s a good thing. Not just because she keeps me on track with the practical aspects of life, but because she also nudges me in the right direction on so many other fronts. To wit, we recently met a young Ugandan man at Cabrini named James. James had introduced himself to the congregation at the end of the service. After mass we said hello, chatted during coffee hour, and then offered to drive him home. As we got in the car, Julia discretely said to me: why don’t we invite James home for lunch, isn’t that what someone in Africa would do? And to this, I am ashamed to say, I hesitated. I was probably thinking that I had some “really important” thing to do that afternoon. But we did invite James over for lunch and we had a wonderful conversation, learning that James was here for a month as a medical student at the U and that he had come to Minnesota via connections with an orphanage we serendipitously already knew about in Uganda called the Blue House. My point here is that Julia nudged me in the right direction in this particular moment as she has at many other times in our relationship.

Most people don’t like to be compared to sheep because the implication is that we are simple minded followers. But what if the sheep metaphor is just a way of acknowledging our human potential for waywardness? Whether we are pensive, distracted, or worried, we can wander off course and we need good shepherds in our lives to nudge us back in the right direction.

Just as we are re-imagining the meaning of the sheep metaphor, I would also like to examine our conception of the good shepherd. What I want to argue is that we come to our understanding of the good shepherd via our own cultural understandings of this idea.

What is the stereotypical American understanding of the qualities of a good shepherd or herder? The US, as we know, is a majority urban/suburban nation. Increasingly there are very few Americans who have first-hand experience with animal husbandry and farming. As a kid who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, I probably was first introduced to the idea of the good shepherd in faith formation. I also encountered shepherds and herders in children’s story books. My take-away was that shepherds were above all protectors, they guard the flock from bad things like wolves. In American folklore we also have the iconic cowboy whom, by the way, we often forget is a herder. In fact, cowboys have been so abstracted from their herding context that we tend to focus on their protector role above all us. They almost always carry guns. They are rugged individuals who know best, are only accountable to God, and they protect us from danger. These are the American ideas we often bring to the good shepherd metaphor in today’s readings. We need a good shepherd to protect us from bad things out there, the good shepherd is only accountable to God, and we are lost without such a protector.

My experiences in West Africa with herders shed a different light and interpretation on this metaphor. As you may now, my wife Julia and I met in the Peace Corps in the 1980s in Mali. I served in a small, rural farming community of 200 people in southern Mali. This farming village of Bambara people also had, at its outskirts, 3-4 hamlets of herders composed of another ethnic group called the Fulani. My social life outside of work largely consisted of hanging out in the evenings with young male village friends drinking tea and chatting. There was a Fulani herder man name Sadio who used to come and join us some evenings. Despite the fact that some of the farmers teased Sadio for always smelling like milk and cows, I gradually developed a friendship with him.

As I began to learn the Fulani language, I spent more time with Sadio and his family. I learned to milk cows by hand and even spent a couple of nights in the bush with the herders and the cows. Herding was not an easy life. During the rainy season, the young men would take the cows far away from the village so the animals wouldn’t get into people’s farm fields. The herders didn’t eat very well, consuming mostly milk and some grains. The mosquitos were rapacious in the evening and the social isolation was challenging for these young men in a society where human relations meant everything. These herders tended to the cows like their children, carefully removing ticks from them in the evenings so they would not catch diseases. Above all, however, I learned that the herders’ main job was not to protect the cows from predators because there are almost no big predators left in this part of West Africa. No, their main job was to keep the cows out of farm fields. This task could become very challenging in the fall when the rains stopped, grass cover declined, and the crops were still in the field before the harvest. Hungry cows that see green in a distant field can be extremely determined to get there and eat as much greenery as possible. Allowing cows to wander astray could lead to serious altercations with the farmers in the area - and a potential for conflict that could sometimes escalate to violence.

In sum, the West African view of a herder or shepherd is quite different than the American one. Here the cultural reading of the metaphor is not that of the great protector. Rather, it’s a humble, hardworking person who tends to the health of his or her animals and adroitly steers them away from trouble, even if the instincts of the herd are to satisfy their hunger by feasting on a farm field – an event which would undoubtedly lead to conflict.

I want to conclude by suggesting that we can potentially use these different understandings of shepherds and sheep to sift through today’s readings. After reading and re-readings today’s passage from Mark, I was struck by how Jesus led by example. He mostly taught/led/shepherded by the way he lived his life rather than didactically telling people what to do. In Mark, we see how his active compassion for the masses and the marginalized was a lesson to others. Jesus’ ideas about how to live differently were revolutionary for his time. His thoughts on living in community, loving thy neighbor as thyself, & welcoming the outcast constituted a new “way.” Jesus, to the chagrin of some of his followers, was no gun toting, ruggedly individualistic cowboy with righteousness on his side, riding in to save the day. Rather he, like the lowly West African herder, was trying to lovingly shepherd people along this path to longer term peace and happiness.

Lastly, what to make of the penultimate sentence where Mark writes that the people who came to see Jesus “were like sheep without a shepherd”? Yes, we can read this as simple-minded people who were lost. But we can also read this as people who were mature enough to recognize that they needed a little help getting back on track or staying on track. Furthermore, these people didn’t just flock to anyone. They had choices. There were plenty of other prophets around at the time exuding strength, who were quick to lay the blame at the feet of others, or who promised material wealth. No, they came to see Jesus and I am guessing they did so because they recognized in him a different kind of wisdom. Indeed, these lessons about thoughtful sheep and the good shepherd are helpful guidance for the long but important task of making heaven on earth.


The author may be contacted at moseley@macalester.edu or may be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/WilliamGMoseley

Monday, March 5, 2018

Lessons in Power, Humility & Collective Learning

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of January 20-21, 2018.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it’s my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

I would like to start with a brief story that was shared by the New York Times columnist David Brooks when he gave a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer. In that talk, Brooks tells a story about President Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was fighting the Civil War, one of his early general-in-chiefs was General George McClellan. President Lincoln sought to see McClellan because he wanted him to fight a little harder, so Lincoln invited McClellan to the White House. But McClellan wouldn’t come, so Lincoln went to McClellan’s house. Lincoln arrives at McClellan’s house and the butler indicated that McClellan was out. Lincoln said that this was okay, he would wait. I little while later, McClellan came in the back door and went up the stairs. Lincoln waited for another 45 mins and the butler came down and said I’m sorry but General McClellan’s is too tired to see you. So this is the president of the United States sitting in the living room. He is with his assistant John Hay who says this is an outrage, he is insulting you. And Lincoln says it’s okay, I will sit here all day if I can get him to fight harder. Now Brooks’ point in telling this story is that it illustrates a man who is at peace, patient and persistent. Lincoln, the president and arguably most powerful man in his country, had no problem putting aside his ego for a higher cause, in this case unifying his country and putting an end to the horrendous practice of slavery.

What I am going to suggest today is that our readings have a lot to say about power, and more specifically, the insights and knowledge that is generated when power is inverted and humility is practiced. For that matter, I would argue that a significant portion of the gospel readings are actually radical and unconventional lessons for those who hold power and privilege. This seems more important than ever given the current #metoo movement, aimed at exposing abuses of power, and the temperament of some of our current leaders who lack sufficient peace to practice a Lincolnesque or gospel story approach to power.

In today’s Gospel reading from Mark, we learn about Jesus’ early ministry, a time when Jesus is assembling his disciples. More specifically, Jesus is walking along the sea of Galilea and he encounters several fishermen. In each case, he calls to them, midstream in their work, to stop what they are doing and follow him. And, remarkably, they do. They stop casting or mending their nets and follow him.

My initial instinct when reflecting on this Gospel reading was to focus on the disciples. How did they process this call and respond so quickly? But this is not where I am going with my reflection today, because I was drawn back to Jesus and his simple act of walking along the shore and recruiting followers. There is a certain humility involved in having to recruit one’s own followers. In my mind at least, great teachers don’t have to actively recruit because their reputations precede them - and followers or students just go to them. In fact, this is what happened in last week’s Gospel reading from John. In this instance, two disciples of John the Baptist approach Jesus and ask where he is staying. These disciples took the initiative and wanted to be with Jesus.

But while last week’s story featured a regal and wise Jesus – to whom followers flocked, the Jesus in today’s readings is much more humble, a guy who chooses to pound the pavement in order to attract followers and develop a community. This version of Jesus is also fairly consistent with many of the other stories passed down to us in the gospels.

From day one, Jesus’ very existence seems to be an exercise in humility. For starters, the gospel stories are about an almighty and all powerful God who decides to lurk among us in human form. If you were impressed by Lincoln’s ability to patiently wait in General McClellan’s living room, then what about God stepping down from her heavenly thrown to be among us, and with us, in our often crazy world. From there forward, Jesus’ life and comments - as shared in the gospel stories - are often unconventional lessons in how to practice leadership. In fact, Jesus often frustrates his followers by not exercising authority in the traditional way or fawning before conventional power.

While we traditionally think of Jesus as transcendent, all knowing and wise, I want you to imagine for a moment that perhaps Jesus, the teacher or rabbi, was a co-learner with his disciples. In other words, maybe his disciples were less followers or students in the traditional sense, and more members of an active learning community facilitated by Jesus. As such, perhaps divine insight or the divine itself is co-produced and among us – rather than an external force.

This idea is a hard thing to wrap one’s head around, the notion we are part and parcel of the divine. In today’s Old Testament reading from Jonah, we learn how Jonah wrestles with this in his own comical way. Jonah, after spending three days in a whale or giant fish, gets burped up on a beach after he agrees with God to go to the city of Ninevah. Jonah, the reluctant prophet, is to tell the people of Nineveh to repent or they and their city will be destroyed. Amazingly, the people listen to Jonah, change their ways and God does not destroy the city. But, ironically, Jonah is disappointed that God does not destroy the city because he thinks it makes him look bad because he foretold the end of the city and then it did not happen. Jonah can’t get his head around the fact that he was part of the divine process – people listened to him and they changed. Jonah can’t get beyond this me-centric idea that he is an autonomous actor that exists outside of the divine, rather than an active participant in the process.

So how does inverting power, practicing humility and co-producing the divine potentially play out in our own lives? Let me share a brief story with a couple of caveats. First, this is not to suggest that I have it figured out, but to imply that even very flawed people like myself can engage in such a process. Second, I realize that I am blessed with extreme privilege given my race, gender, economic status and education. As such, I likely can pursue ways of inverting power differently than those with less privilege.

My story dates from the time when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, West Africa in the mid-1980s. I was stationed as an agricultural volunteer for two years in a small community of 200 people. I was the first volunteer to live in the community and they welcomed me with open arms. I suspect, however, that they also had a lot of ideas about me and how I would pursue development. I was white, from the United States, the richest country on the planet at that time, and presumed to possess a lot of relevant technical knowledge. Some aspects of my life were perplexing to my village, including my desire to live with a local family, eat local food , wear local clothing, and learn the local language (all of which were part of the Peace Corps approach and philosophy at that time). But other aspects of my life were completely consistent with their expectations for an American, including some of my possessions, such as a short wave radio and a motorcycle given to us for work. Early in my Peace Corps tenure I used the motorcycle a fair bit to get around. The young men in my village really liked the fact that I had this motorcycle. It was relatively small by American standards, but actually quite large, flashy (painted red) and substantial compared to the local mopeds. I believe they liked the bike because it conformed to set of expectations for young males or machismo.

Early on in my tenure as a volunteer, an unfortunate incident occurred which even further endeared me to my young, male, village friends. One lazy Saturday afternoon, I was in my courtyard doing periodic maintenance on my motorcycle (I think I was cleaning the carburetor). After completing this task, I wanted to merely start the engine to see how it sounded – not to drive anywhere. Well, for reasons that I have never been quite able to figure out, the motorcycle immediately began to rev at full speed, and engaged, with me on top of it. I then proceeded to literally race, at a terrifyingly high speed, in the wheelie position, straight through the middle of town. The miracle is that I didn’t injure myself or anyone else, somehow managed to hit the kill switch, and the motorcycle decelerated, and turned off three quarters of the way though my small village. I then got off the bike and walked back to my house, trembling after what had just happened. Back at my house all of my young male friends were clapping and cheering. I was one cool cucumber for that fleeting moment. In their minds, I was like the Sylvester Stallone’s character Rambo and I had come to live in their village.

The problem was that the motorcycle represented power and wealth – and it put distance between myself and members of the community, especially older people and women of all ages. So after a few months, I made the decision to park the motorcycle. I would use it once every few months to go to the capital city some three hours away, but the rest of the time I would walk or ride a bicycle. Of course, this was deeply disappointing to my young male friends. If I had this symbol of power and wealth, why not flaunt it? However, over time, this decision yielded tremendous results, especially when combined with my insistence that I was a facilitator rather than a development expert who had all of the answers. I just became Mambi (which was my local name). I was the American guy who lived in the community, spoke the local language, hung out in the evenings drinking tea with his village friends, and who liked to talk to old people and work on gardening projects. I proactively decided to let go of the trappings of power and it enabled me to do better work by learning from my village friends. This led to tremendous personal growth and to shared development efforts rather than imposed ones.

Let me end with a couple of thoughts. First, while there is a lot in the Christian tradition about justice for the poor, marginalized and disenfranchised, Jesus had just as much to say about the exercise of power. In fact, Jesus’ life is a lesson in how to lead differently by building a community of learners and leaders, rather than exercising top down control.

Second, places like Cabrini can and do model different approaches to power when they engage in learning and spiritual growth as a shared exercise. When we hear someone on this podium share a reflection, this person often imparts the thoughts of an army of people behind them. Our liturgist feeds us relevant background information, we hash out our ideas with the Word Team, we talk it over with our spouses, and they critique our rough drafts. While I am the messenger when I share reflections, and take full responsibility for any poor word choice or potentially offensive comments, anything of value that I have to offer almost always comes from this community that helps me shape a reflection.

Lastly, let us just imagine that Jesus operated in a similar fashion. Perhaps his pearls of wisdom, handed down to us as his parables and stories, were the result of a collective and shared process of co-learning with his disciples. This makes his stories our stories. These are stories which offer insights born of unconventional leadership, the inversion of power, humility, and the embrace of the wisdom of everyone. Indeed, we are all people of God. Thank you.

The author may be contacted at moseley@macalester.edu or may be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/WilliamGMoseley

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Archbishop Bernard Hebda Has Embraced Minnesota – and His Flock

– Brian Peterson, Star Tribune
By Jean Hopfensperger


NOTE: The following is excerpted from Jean Hopfensperger's October 11, 2017 Star Tribune article/interview. To read By Hopfensperger interview with Archbishop Hebda in its entirety, click here.


Archbishop Bernard Hebda did not see it coming. The day the Vatican announced he would become the Twin Cities’ new archbishop, he stood before a hastily prepared news conference inside the Cathedral of St. Paul and quipped that if he’d been warned, “I would have brought a better suit and made sure I had a haircut.”

His sartorial selection was the least of his worries on that day last year. The gregarious Hebda, sent to Minnesota months earlier for what was to be a temporary assignment, was suddenly in charge of an archdiocese reeling from a priest sex abuse scandal, bankruptcy, criminal charges filed by Ramsey County, and distrust in the pews. The previous archbishop, John Nienstedt, had resigned under controversy.

More than a year later, the ship has reached calmer waters. The Pittsburgh-born prelate has gained a reputation for spiritual and intellectual depth, thanks in part to degrees from Harvard University and Columbia Law School as well as working 13 years at the Vatican. Although he was being groomed to be archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, when he landed here, Hebda is now planted firmly in his 800,000-member Twin Cities archdiocese. He has embraced Minnesota living, including the Minnesota State Fair, Basilica Block Party, Red Bull Crashed Ice race and countless parish festivals. This interview has been condensed from a longer discussion with the archbishop.


[. . .] Have you met Pope Francis?

I’ve only met him a handful of times. I had the chance to meet him when he came to the United States [in 2015]. I had introduced myself as the coadjutor in Newark and as the [temporary] administrator in St. Paul and Minneapolis. He said, “I know. I did that to you!” That was a great laugh. I think it’s amazing with all his responsibilities, he has a sense of what’s going on.

And when I was sent to Newark, I just happened to be in Rome with a pilgrimage group [and met him]. I said “Do you have any advice?” He said “Talk talk talk. Listen listen listen.” It was great advice in Newark and great advice here as well. When we were doing those listening sessions, that’s what I had in mind.


You landed here as the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese was making national headlines for a sex abuse scandal. What were the toughest decisions you made?

Some of those major decisions were when we were entering into the settlement agreement with Ramsey County. (The county had filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failure to protect children — a first in the nation.) Trying to discern what was the right path. I think part of it was being willing to recognize that we had hurt people in the past and being willing to say that, which I think made some people nervous. Certainly some lawyers. But at the same time it seemed the right thing to do. And as we were in discussions with the Ramsey County attorney’s office, that was important for them that we would do that.


When lawyers revealed that more than 400 clergy sex abuse claims had been filed over the three years ending in May 2016, you looked a bit shell shocked. How did that affect your faith?

It didn’t really shake it at all. It did give me a strong conviction that the task here is not only to prevent abuse but also to sustain our priests in a way that they’re able to lead healthy lives.


Have you met any survivors of clergy sex abuse? What did you learn from them?

The first thing I’ve learned is that no two survivors are the same, that you can’t lump people into one category. Especially with those that I’ve been working with recently, it’s learning from them how the past abuse continues to have an impact on their lives — whether it be in their marriages, whether it be in their relationship to God. And then in a positive way, to know there are many [survivors] who are really committed to helping the church not only do better but also to reach out to others in a way that’s helpful.


So there’s a group of survivors you meet with regularly?

There’s a little group, and I’ve met with them. Other people on my staff meet with them more frequently. Some of it is just individuals, as well, who just want to come talk to the bishop. Often they have suggestions for what we need to do moving forward in a positive way.


What is the best and hardest part about being an archbishop?

The difficult part is when you’re asked to lead a church that you don’t really know that well. It obviously takes time to get to know not only the people but also the history, and what’s distinct about it. And to see how the limited gifts God has given me were intended to help the church. I had the experience when I was sent to Gaylord, a rural diocese, and then when I was sent to Newark, a very urban diocese. In each of those cases you’re kind of plucked out of your comfort zone and then asked to lead.

The good part is you have the opportunity to see how it is that the Lord uses your gifts, how the Lord guides his church even in difficult times. One of the things that I’ve seen is that in spite of the great needs that we have, we also have people who are really very well prepared to begin to address them.


[. . .] The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015. What are your priorities for an archdiocese on more stable financial footing?

During the listening sessions [held last year with area Catholics] we heard about the need for transparency and we’ve already been trying to address those things. People were concerned that we need to do more evangelization. So the question of Catholic schools is pressing. One idea we’ve talked about here is a diocesan synod. It would be a way to get broader input on our priorities. It’s a huge undertaking. That would be one of the first things we want to do, and would set the stage moving forward.


Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Just that I’m really happy to be here. Granted this isn’t all about my happiness. But I really felt very welcomed here, even by those people that disagree with some of the things that the church might teach. Even in some of those difficult conversations with survivors of abuse, I always get the sense that people are interested in really entering into dialogue. For me, that’s great.


See also the previous posts:
A Message from Archbishop Hebda Regarding President Trump's Executive Order on Immigration Ban
Bernard Hebda Named Archbishop of Twin Cities Archdiocese
Twin Cities Catholics Get Rare Chance to Make Archbishop Recommendations to Vatican
CCCR Representatives Meet with Archbishop Hebda

Monday, August 28, 2017

Who Are We In This Charlottesville Moment?


By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of August 26-27, 2017.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it’s my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings. I have always been enamored with the human side of Jesus. I know theologians have long debated the exact nature of his divinity, and some scholars and church officials over the centuries have sought to minimize or erase his human side. I prefer to think of him as someone fully human that achieved great insights.

In today’s Gospel reading from Mathew, Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that I am?”and then more directly “who do you say that I am?” What is going on here? To be clear, most Jesus seminar scholars believe these are not the words of Jesus, but the construction of Matthew, written some 80-90 years after Christ’s death. As such, what these words likely reflect are the conditions of a budding institution in this period and the struggles of a community to portray Jesus. They may also, I would argue, give us some insight into the human side of Christ, a person whose very human questions may be particularly relevant to us today.

I can imagine at least three possibilities for ways to think about Jesus’ questions. First, is this a moment of self-doubt for Jesus? Is he wondering what have I gotten myself into, where is this going, who am I, and what am I to do? Or, second, is he concerned about what others think about him? That is, is he essentially asking what are the popular kids saying about me? Or, lastly, does he already know the answer to these questions and is he simply querying his disciples’ understanding?

I’m skeptical of the second and third possibilities. I believe that Jesus was sufficiently grounded that he would not have been too concerned about what others were saying about him. The third option, that Jesus knew the answer and was simply probing the disciples, seems to be the favored explanation by several scholars I read in preparation for today’s reflection. But this explanation annoys me. In large part because what follows is Peter’s response: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Here Peter purportedly gets it right with his mentor, effectively becoming the class brown noser (and can’t you just imagine the other disciples rolling their eyes while this happened). Jesus then goes on to say that Peter “is the Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.” He is promised the keys to the reign of heaven, and furthermore, considerable power: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” It’s this text that often has been used to justify the church hierarchy, as well as the authority to determine who is welcomed and not welcomed into the divine. This foundation for institutional power makes me uneasy and I also question whether Jesus, a fierce critic of the religious authorities of his day, would have ever spelled out so clearly a vision for institution building.

I like the first explanation, that Jesus is asking these questions in a moment of self-doubt. For me, this is a particularly human moment. Here we have the most grounded of people, a man with powerful spiritual insights, essentially asking his friends, who am I? Where is this all going?

Who am I, who are we? What are we to do in this particular moment? I have been thinking a lot about these questions recently, especially in the wake of the events two weeks ago in Charlottesville, VA. At that time, neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched. They carried guns, burning torches and shouted slurs of hate. Then one in this group got in his car and drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, wounding dozens and killing a young woman. Our president then vacillated, alternating condemning and excusing what happened.

The first part of what happened is not that unusual. As a kid in Chicago in 1977, I remember neo-Nazis marching in the suburb of Skokie, Illinois, a predominantly Jewish community. While the community sought to bar the march, the Supreme Court upheld the neo-Nazis right to free speech and allowed the march to go forward. No, the expression of hate is not new. But the unabashed violence which ensued in such a public space in Charlottesville, and the way our president reacted, is different. Our president equivocated in condemning those who perpetuated the violence that day, violence committed in the name of hate.

Who am I? Who are we? What are we to do in this particular moment? Part of me wants to focus on the failings of the president and, like the Matthew community, focus on institution building. We need strong institutions that endure over time so that less than perfect individual leaders do not drive our collective train off the rails. I get why the Matthew community wanted to build a church. I understand why we need government institutions that transcend individual propensities.

But I am not sure if this is where Jesus would have focused his energies. To be clear, Jesus was not shy about calling out the failings of those in power. This is also a theme that runs through the Old Testament. In fact, in today’s reading from Isiah, we hear about Shebna, the manager of the palace, who is prone to excess, and is therefore removed in favor of Eliakim. But, as we learn time and time again in the New Testament, Jesus’ focus was more often on the community, on teaching people how to live together, how to love, how to forgive one another, and always welcoming the outcasts into the fold.

Like the human Jesus, it is natural to ask at a difficult juncture who we are and what we are to do. I believe Jesus would have held the perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions, and then encouraged us to love, forgive and welcome the alienated and those troubled by hate. Of course, loving and forgiving those afflicted by hate is no easy task, especially when they commit acts of violence. But love and forgiveness can come from unexpected places. The father of Heather Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville, VA, said that “people on all sides need to learn to forgive each other.” He then said, “I include myself in forgiving the guy who did this . . . I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.' I hope that there comes a positive change in people’s hearts, in their thinking, in their understanding of their neighbor.”

I don’t know, if put in a similar situation, I could be as forgiving as Heather’s Dad. I am, frankly, challenged to understand and forgive white supremacists and racists. It helps me to start with empathy, to imagine myself in the shoes of such a person. This is not to condone their thoughts and actions, but simply to try to understand how one could get to this place.

If I’m honest, I must admit that my maternal grandmother was a racist. She was a hard scrabble woman who grew up in western Pennsylvania and was the first person in her family to get a college degree when she became a registered nurse. Unfortunately, my grandmother also would occasionally make racist comments, which thankfully, my parents would challenge. My parents would also take me aside after the fact and explain that her comments were wrong and inappropriate. I loved my grandmother unconditionally, yet I also knew that she had this inappropriate, racist side. But what if my parents had not challenged her, what it they reinforced what my grandmother had said? This helps me begin to imagine that I could just have easily been raised a racist. As the character Mrs. Pell in the film Mississippi Burning said: “Hatred isn’t something you’re born with, it’s taught. At seven years of age, you get told it enough times, you begin to believe it. You believe the hatred, you live it, you marry it.” This allows me to begin to understand & empathize with those afflicted by hate. This is not to excuse any violent actions, but I can imagine myself being in their shoes, full of rage. Seething with hate and resentment is not healthy for oneself or the community. In this case, I would need help. I would eventually be grateful for those who reached out to me from other side.

President Obama has said that “while we are taught to hate, we can learn to love.” For example, “Life after Hate” is a non-profit in Chicago, founded by a former skinhead, which works with former neo-Nazis to help them shed their hateful ideology. This group shows people love and compassion, exposes them to the people they once hated in productive and constructive ways, and helps them build self-confidence. Groups like this are showing us a different way forward.

In conclusion, we are a Christian community. We are all human. We are all imperfect. While we need to hold each other accountable for our actions, we also need to empathize, forgive, and help people to learn to love, even in trying times like these. While we should expect appropriate behavior from our leaders, we must also acknowledge that they may be a symptom of deeper problems in our community. Jesus calls on us to welcome and forgive the estranged and the lost. It is in this healing of uniquely human problems that lurks the divine – the essence of Christ.

Thank you.

I may be contacted at moseley@macalester.edu or may be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/WilliamGMoseley. I am grateful for the input I received from the Cabrini Word Team, and the valuable feedback from my spouse, on my thinking in this reflection.