Why are some people so opposed to refugees coming into our country? Why do some see them as a threat and believe that it is acceptable to treat them as somehow less than fully human?
These questions point to a source of major suffering in our world now.
There is something of a mythology associated with the perceived threat posed by frightened, desperate people entering our country.
The deeper problem, though, is that we are clinging to a far too limited and frankly obsolete understanding of what a family is. It is this narrow vision of what makes a family that is keeping us stuck in fear of whoever we perceive as “different” and conflating “different” with dangerous.
We need to radically expand what we mean by the word “family.” Our definition of what makes a family has been far too narrow for far too long. There has been a strong tendency to think of family in terms of those who are our blood relatives as well as those who we are related to through marriages. This has been our means of determining who “we” are and who “they” are.
Although a traditional extended family is more expansive and inclusive than the traditional nuclear family of biological parents and their children, it still leaves us with a perspective that invites us to see everyone else as non-family. In others words: not one of us. As soon as we recognize someone as “one of us” or “not one of us” we quickly decide how we will treat that person based on which category we place them in. We human beings have a long history of social programming that predisposes us to give preferential treatment to those we see as “one of us” and a heightened sense of suspicion toward everyone else.
There are, of course, additional dimensions of the “one of us” family paradigm. We may identify with our professional colleagues as our “work family.” We can also attribute a family-like affiliation to various other kinds of groups that we have at some time been a part of: schools, sports teams, the military, political parties, clubs, fraternities, sororities, etc.
So there are some added circles of inclusion with respect to who we regard as family but even so, there are always those “others” who are outside those circles who do not get included in any way as part of “us.”
Have we reached the limit of expanding our definition of family or is there still somewhere else to go with it?
Although it may seem that we have reached a dead end with respect to how we understand the meaning of family, we have actually come to a closed door rather than a solid wall. This door can be opened and we can step through it and enter what lies beyond it.
Stepping through this door requires the proverbial leap of faith. This step is the acceptance of the idea that everyone and everything is our family. There is no one and nothing that isn’t a family member. There is no human being anywhere on this planet that isn’t your brother or sister. There is no animal or plant that isn’t a relative. The land, the water, and the air are members of the same family to which we all belong.
This is actually quite realistic and practical when we remember that a central truth common to all families is that every family shares a common point of origin. They all start somewhere at a particular time. Maybe this is why lovers reminisce about where and when they first met. It matters.
Human beings all share a common point of origin on our little blue planet. We have been referring to her as Mother Earth for a very long time. This is where we all started. We human beings all share 99.9% of the same DNA. That’s how much we are all more alike than different from each other. If we allow our vision to be a bit more expansive, our home planet and our home solar system all originated from the same recycled stardust. On a cosmic level we all come from the same raw material.
So much changes when we realize that we are all part of the same family.
We realize that “othering” a family member just doesn’t work. We cannot escape our relatedness. Competing with and defeating a family member just doesn’t feel right. Competition somehow becomes less interesting while cooperation becomes very interesting.
We realize that generosity and compassion are sensible and natural. Giving something good to a family member becomes an act of giving to oneself. Receiving from a family member is a gift back to the giver.
We have no need to be afraid of refugees. It is they who come to us afraid and needing our help. They are our brothers and sisters.
We are all children of the Ultimate Mystery. We are all members of the same family.
The following was written by Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy:
The Institutional Churches’ Moral Charade Regarding Gospel Nonviolence Marches On!
“Dear military Ordinaries and military chaplains: As you carry out your mission to form the consciences of the members of the armed forces, I encourage you to spare no effort to enable the norms of international humanitarian law to be accepted in the hearts of those entrusted to your pastoral care,”
“The Second Vatican Council calls those in military service ‘custodians of the security and freedom of their people.’ The servants of Christ in the military world are also the first to be at the service of men and women and of their fundamental rights,” said Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace Oct. 31, 2019, as he met with military chaplains from around the world as they participated in a formation course on international humanitarian lawhosted by the Vatican.
This same Pope Francis in an address to the International Theological Commission on January 15, 2014 said,
“The definitive revelationof God in Jesus Christ makes every recourse to violence in God’s name ultimately impossible. It is precisely because of [Christ’s] refusal of violence, because of his having overcome evil with good, with the blood of his Cross, that Jesus has reconciled men to God and each other”
On August 19, 2013, he said,
“The true force of the Christian is the force of truth and of love, which means rejecting all violence.Faith and violence are incompatible! Faith and violence are incompatible! But faith and strength go together. The Christian is not violent, but he strong. And with what strength? That of meekness, the force of meekness, the force of love.” – Pope Francis, (8/19/13)
How about instead of the Pope telling the military bishops and priests that they should work diligently to assure that “the norms of international humanitarian law to be accepted in the hearts of those entrusted to your pastoral care,” they be told by that they should spare no effort in assuring that the norms of the Sermon on the Mount, the norm of Jesus in the Gospels,, e.g., “love your enemies,” “put up your sword,” “love one another as I have loved you ,” accepted into the hearts of those entrusted to your pastoral care.
Pray tell what are the “norms of international humanitarian law” in regards to the mass slaughter of human beings in war. “Humanitarian laws of war” is an oxymoron. (Oxymoron is derived from the Greek ‘oxumoron’ meaning “pointedly foolish.”) The “norms of international humanitarian law” are as porous, as slippery, as wide open to indefinite interpretation as the norms of Catholic Just War Theory. They are the Deceiver’s tool to get people to believe that war can be conducted humanely, just as Christian Just War Theory is the Deceiver’s PR tool to get Christians to believe they can be good and faithful disciples of Jesus as they go forth to slaughter people named by politicians “the enemy.” The norms of international humanitarian laws of war are something Jesus never taught or could never teach because war intrinsically requires violence and enmity— even if done according to the norms of international humanitarian laws. And, violence and enmity are forever outside of what a person committed to obedience to Jesus, to Jesus’ “new commandment, love as Jesus loves,” could ever morally participate in.
How about a Vatican formation course for military bishops and priests on the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels and His Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies?
How is a person a servant of Christ in the military and to military personnel unless he is telling the truth that Jesus taught to at least the Christians involved in the military world, that is, in the world where people spend their life’s time learning to kill and killing other human beings on the command of others or ordering such killing. The truth of Jesus, as Pope Francis once proclaimed, is “Faith and violence are incompatible! Faith and violence are incompatible…Thedefinitive revelationof God in Jesus Christ makes every recourse to violence in God’s name ultimately impossible.” So why didn’t the Pope say to the Catholic military bishops and priests of the world gather before him:
“Dear military Ordinaries and military chaplains: As you carry out your mission to form the consciences of the members of the armed forces, I encourage you to spare no effort in teaching that “Faith and violence are incompatible! Thedefinitive revelationof God in Jesus Christ makes every recourse to violence in God’s name ultimately impossible;” teaching it so thoroughly that this truth of God and Jesus be accepted in the hearts of those entrusted to your pastoral care.”
I do not know why the Pope refused to speak this clear truth of Jesus, which he full well knows, to the military bishops and priests. But what I do know is that if he refuses to vigorously proclaim this teaching of Jesus to the very people who are ignoring it, disobeying it, defying it and calling their bracketing out of it faithful Christin discipleship, to whom is he going to proclaim this teaching with vigor and authority? Dorothy Day?
Today’s podcastis about St. Edith Stein and the miracle that led to her canonization on Oct. 11, 1998. That miracle happened back in 1987 to the daughter of our frequent guest on the podcast, Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. Twenty-one years ago today, Fr. McCarthy con-celebrated the canonization Mass of Edith Stein in Rome with Pope Saint John Paul II (pictured below). I am excited to share this story of a miracle, which is always a story of hope. Moreover, my wish is that this story has the same affect on you that it did on me: It prompted me to take another look at Fr. McCarthy’s life and his life’s work, and to take more seriously that message of nonviolent love of friends and enemies which he has spent his life trying to communicate to the Church.
In an interview with EWTNabout her book Edith Stein: A Spiritual Portrait, author Diane Marie Tartlet says: “[Edith Stein’s] whole life was an adventure and she realized that our life of the faith is not boring. If we really have surrendered ourself to God, every day becomes one of surprises, one where we are realizing God’s presence in others in our lives in various situations. There are no coincidences.“
The story of the miracle of Edith Stein illustrates in a vivid and compelling way these truths about “the life of the faith,” specifically the life of faith of Emmanuel McCarthy. Listen to the podcast today and you will understand that the story of the miracle of Edith Stein begins years if not decades before the medical anomaly of 1987. You will walk away believing that, indeed, “there are no coincidences.” The connection between Fr. McCarthy and Edith Stein was no doubt planned, encouraged, and inspired by God, and what happened to two-year-old Theresa Benedicta McCarthy in March of 1987 was nothing less than a kind of pinnacle in, or culmination of, the life of the faith that her father had lived: The miracle seems to have been linked with Fr. McCarthy’s ability to see God at work in certain situations, and his willingness to live a life that, like Stein’s, went deep into his faith, entailing sacrifice, surrender, and surprise.
Unfortunately, in the interview with EWTN, there is no mention of the miracle that made Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. And perhaps at first glance, that is not surprising: Ms. Tartlet wrote a book about what Edith Stein did when she was on Earth. Maybe she didn’t have the time in the interview to discuss what she did from heaven. Maybe she didn’t know.
But similarly, in this lecture on Edith Stein given by Father Barron, now a Bishop in the American Catholic Church, there is no mention of the young American girl whose miraculous healing led to Edith Stein’s canonization. And maybe at first glance, that’s no surprise either. It is only a ten-minute video after all.
Now in this lecture about Edith Stein given at Boston College, the lecturer does mention (in an aside) that some of in the audience might have heard of the young girl, Benedicta McCarthy, who was miraculously healed through the intercession of Edith Stein, and that she interestingly enough lived right there in Boston at the time; but he does not mention the fact that her father was a Catholic priest, also born and raised in Boston, who had given his life to preaching and teaching the ways of peace, just as Edith Stein had said she wanted to give her life for peace. He had even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. You would think that background to the miracle might be, well, something of note.
If you have been listening to the podcast since we started publishing it back in May, you know that we frequently talk about Gospel Nonviolence with Fr. McCarthy, and the fact that this message — the message of Jesus’ nonviolent love of friends and enemies, which Jesus preached by word and by deed — seems unwelcome in the institutional Church. Many times on the podcast we have discussed the strange ways (which become obvious once you have “eyes to see”) that the institutional Church de-emphasizes, minimizes, or cuts out this message of nonviolent love entirely, leaving most Catholics ignorant of it, if not outright hostile to it.
Seen in this light, the act of omission of the background of the miracle of Edith Stein, and its connection with Fr. McCarthy, an American priest, by those Catholics who want to talk about Edith Stein seems to me — how shall I say? — not entirely coincidental or accidental. Can you imagine if the canonization of a saint resulted from the miraculous healing of the daughter of, say, the founder of 40 Days for Life? Do you think anyone on EWTN, when talking about that saint, would fail to mention that miracle?
In the podcast, Fr. McCarthy tells the story of when EWTN flat-out rejected the video below when he sent it to them years ago, because, they said explicitly, their channel only airs “Catholic content.” The video below is a conversation between a Catholic priest in good standing with the Church (Fr. McCarthy), another Catholic priest in good standing who was the Catholic Chaplain to the bomb crews who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Fr. George Zabelka), and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, a 1976 Nobel Peace Prize recipient — a pretty stellar line-up!The description is as follows: “Coming from different backgrounds and witnessing injustice and violence first hand, each participant describes how they were converted to Gospel Nonviolence. They also discuss the urgent need for the Christian Churches, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, to return to Jesus’ teaching of nonviolent love of friend and enemy.”
According to EWTN, this is “not Catholic.”
In my opinion, this is “a problem.”
Part of the story of the miraculous healing of Fr. McCarthy’s daughter Benedicta through the intercession of Edith Stein (Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross) must include the ways in which the Catholic media has chosen not to explore this side of the miracle: the fact that it happened to the daughter of a Catholic priest who has been more or less ostracized by the institutional Church for teaching Christian nonviolence — for decades — and the ways in which that Church fails to educate people about this aspect of the Catholic faith.
As a result, we did not have enough time in the podcast to talk about Edith Stein herself to the extent that I wanted to, though we did talk about her life a bit. In the end though, there are many resources, books, websites, videos, for learning more about the holy person of St. Edith Stein, her radiant intellect, her painful conversion (in the sense that it upset her mother), her empathetic heart, the adventure of her life and her tragic death at the hands of Nazis. (Many if not most of those Nazis, we must not forget, considered themselves Christians, and for some reason never had eyes to see the glaring contradiction between following the Prince of Peace and supporting the atrocities of the Third Reich, either by their words, their deeds, or their silence. Must we not ask ourselves if Edith Stein’s martyrdom was not one result, of similar millions, of the Catholic Church’s failure to preach Jesus’s message of nonviolent love of friends and enemies for 1,700 years?). I suppose I felt I had to use the time on the podcast to try to address the strange and enduring lacuna: that part of the story of the miracle that is rarely, if ever, told, the “before” of the miracle — the decades worth of a life lived in faith which led to that moment of healing and the glorification right here on Earth of God’s omnipotence and His infinite mercy.
There is an “after” to the miracle, too, which seems to me a bit sad and disappointing. Yes, Fr. McCarthy did have the opportunity to con-celebrate the canonization Mass with Pope Saint John Paul II in 1998, but the miracle has not opened the eyes, ears and hearts of many Catholics in the way it could — in the way that it opened mine, or I should say the miracle has not been allowed to open the eyes, ears, and hearts of many Catholics in the way that it could, mainly because the Catholic press, especially in America, has been and continues to be absolutely uninterested in reporting on it, and continues to treat nonviolent love, which was the love of Edith Stein, which was the love of Jesus Christ, as merely an odd, infrequent and eccentric choice on the part of exceptional or exemplary Christians rather than as a central tenet of Jesus’s teaching, not to mention the oldest tradition and teaching on violence in the Catholic Church.
It wasn’t until I saw the ABC News Special called “It Takes a Miracle” that I began to wonder if I shouldn’t pay a bit more attention to this Father McCarthy character. It remains sad to me that I had to find out about this miracle, and its connection with this priest, through a secular media outlet, and from an old bootlegged copy of the ABC special on a CD in a dusty jacket, handed to me by a friend of Fr. McCarthy’s, rather from my own Church. At the time of this writing, the YouTube video of the ABC special only has 184 views, and the dynamite conversation (rejected by EWTN as “not Catholic”) only 277! Imagine what would happen if EWTN and National Catholic Register and other such outlets would merely allow its viewers to consider the tradition of Gospel Nonviolence in a serious and studious way!
In addition to listening to the podcast, I highly recommend watching the ABC News special (above) as well as reading the one thing Fr. McCarthy ever wrote about the miracle: “Pondering a Miracle and the Living Mystery Beyond It” (below). More resources on Edith Stein can also be found here at the Center for Christian Nonviolence.
Finally, below are some photographs that Fr. McCarthy has allowed me to share with you. In her interview with EWTN, Tartlet says:
“[Edith Stein’s] whole life was an adventure and she realized that our life of the faith is not boring. If we really have surrendered ourself to God, every day becomes one of surprises, one where we are realizing God’s presence in others in our lives in various situations. There are no coincidences. She almost says it’s a pity for those who are content to live a life of superficiality. Because once you start going deep, life becomes an adventure.”
The interviewer nods and responds: “But many people are afraid to go deep because they are afraid of what their adventure might be.”
One wonders if, by omitting, minimizing, or flat-out rejecting Jesus’ teaching of nonviolent love of friends and enemies, EWTN and other mainstream Catholic media outlets are themselves spreading a “superficial” Christianity because they are “afraid to go deep,” and afraid of what that adventure might be.
Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us! Pray that we can follow your example in ceaselessly seeking the truth, that we never be satisfied with anything less than the truth, and that the Christian Churches will return to Jesus’ teaching of nonviolent love of friends and enemies, and thereby find the true peace of Christ, and bring that peace to the world.
“We have seen [the power of nonviolence] happen during the ‘Second Russian Revolution,’ August 19-20, 1991, in response to the attempted Soviet coup. The coup was overcome by hundreds of thousands of unarmed citizens. Some, as in resisters were martyred by the tanks. Hundreds, then thousands of other citizens encircled the Russian Parliament Building in Moscow as a civilian defense force shielding Boris Yeltsin and other elected leaders from an imminent military assault. All afternoon and evening on the second day of the coup, loudspeakers blared warnings to the people that tanks were rolling toward the building and planes filled with paratroopers were preparing for an airborne assault. Yet the people kept coming. In fact a further three-pronged assault was currently being mounted against them. It was to include K.G.B. agents who had infiltrated the crowd within the building, helicopters bearing shock troops, and elite units prepared to rush into the building from twenty-four subterranean entry points whose existence was unknown to Yeltsin supporters. A Tiananmen Square in Moscow was averted only by the moral force of the resistance and the noncooperation of soldiers who refused to murder their Russian brothers and sisters.
One exemplar of the moral force which prevailed over the coup was Father Aleksandr Boris, an Orthodox priest and member of the Moscow City Council. Father Boris prayed with the civilian defenders, baptized them for their nonviolent mission, then confronted their opponents in an equally prayerful way. He went from tank to tank, distributing 2,000 Bibles to the soldiers who were expected to assault the Parliament. Only one soldier refused a Bible. Father Borisov then gave another 2,000 Bibles to the people on the barricades. Finally he took part in a key meeting with Patriarch Alexis of the Russian Orthodox Church who then made a proclamation that any soldiers who fired on civilians would be excommunicated.
It was this moral force, embodied in the lives of thousands of willing martyrs (‘witnesses’) to the truth, which rendered the Soviet coup impotent.”
The Strongman says “My way or no way” to the Different One. He demands conformity to his way “or else”. He sees and understands only in absolutes. Black or white. All or nothing. Total Good or Total Evil.
The Strongman always sees harmful characteristics in the Different One and refuses to acknowledge them in himself. The Strongman declares himself to be highly intelligent and rational. Whoever disagrees with him is obviously wrong. He projects his extremism onto the Different One who is thus framed as the threat to society that must be contained, converted, excluded or eliminated.
When anyone dares to challenge the virtues of his Empire, the Strongman wastes no time in attacking whoever has blasphemed in any way. The flag must be stood for and the anthem must be sung. No dissent is acceptable.
The Strongman thrives on the fear he cultivates in his followers as he presents himself as fearless in the face of the looming danger. He is the Only One who can stand up to the Approaching Evil and defeat it.
The Strongman craves uniformity that fits his vision of reality while at the same time he desperately needs someone to oppose him so that he has someone to fight with. He has no idea what to do if he has no one to attack.
The euphemism of the “strongman” has been around for a long time. It has been a way to refer to the leaders of nations who operate as ruthless dictators. It’s a code word for despot or tyrant.
It may be tempting to imagine that the individual Strongman is the only problem and that his elimination solves everything. If only it were so easy! The real problem is that the Strongman is only the most visible representative of an evil system. It is this system that supports his power. The reality of this system is more dangerous and more powerful precisely because of its comparative invisibility. We tend to see people not social systems yet social systems have the quality of magnifying whatever people put into them. They also tend to organize people into their framework.
The Strongman System poses a very real danger to many. There is not much real debate about whether or not to oppose it. This system and its figurehead must be opposed because of the extreme dehumanization it imposes on everyone, including its proponents. The Strongman System is inherently exploitative and sees human beings as well as the rest of the Natural World as mere resources to be taken and used for its own purposes. This is the system that strives to crush one’s spirit. It is anti-Love.
The real question is how to oppose the Strongman System.
One option is to “fight fire with fire” which amounts to being empowered by our own fear and hatred and attempt to use this energy against the Strongman System. This is a dangerous option because it defines the framework of opposition in terms that are extremely familiar to and comfortable for the Strongman System. It knows very well how to fight within this context. It has an enormous “home field advantage” and in all likelihood is eager to have the fight on these terms and on its “home turf.” Even if this approach “succeeds” it is dangerous because of the toxic levels of hatred and fear that those engaged in such an opposition group would be exposed to in the process. The real danger is in the replacement of the original Strongman System with a newer version of the same thing. We risk becoming the evil we are trying to overcome.
Love is the radical alternative to the dubious approach described above. Love is the means to the desired end that is not contradictory. We don’t get to a loving place by hating. We get there by loving. When we adhere to the principles of Love and act accordingly we are no longer on the opponent’s “home field” but instead we have determined the framework of the conflict. We force him to meet us on our turf and on our terms. He will not be comfortable. The Strongman System will bring its materialistic power to bear against the followers of Love. Those who follow Love will bring their spiritual power to bear against the Strongman System.
What does it really mean to love one’s oppressor?
Arguably the most difficult of all commandments to follow is the one where we are directed to Love Our Enemy. This is very counter-intuitive for most of us. We may find ourselves pleading “Oh God! Do I really have to?” hoping that we will receive some sort of divine dispensation. This directive offers no such loophole.
Perhaps first we should be clear about what this kind of love does not mean. It does not mean that you have to like the oppressor or condone his behavior. It is not affectionate love. It also does not mean that we must comply with the oppressive system that the strongman manages. It is not submissive.
So what does it mean?
I believe that this kind of love contains a crucial understanding of the deeper nature of who we are as well as the real identity of the Strongman. This love recognizes that the Strongman is, in fact, profoundly ill and spiritually lost. It is through this kind of love that we comprehend that the Strongman is trapped in a form of deep suffering. Love sees that the cruel oppression of the Strongman is the projection of his suffering onto those around him. This is his futile attempt at escaping his agony. This agony is likely compounded by a very deep sense of shame that prevents him from acknowledging to anyone how much internal pain he is experiencing. In understanding this, those who are oppressed can act from a sense of deep and powerful compassion. This loving compassion allows one to see how sick and lost the Strongman actually is and then to act accordingly toward him. This compassion is possible because of our recognition of him as one of us. He is our lost and suffering brother.
What might this type of action look like?
I think it looks a lot like the way a good doctor interacts with a sick patient. The doctor’s first goal is to “do no harm” which means not to cause any new damage or in any way to worsen the patient’s condition. That translates into nonviolent noncooperation with the dictates of any oppressive system. We don’t enable someone who is caught in the cycle of a destructive addictive process. At the same time, we take great care not to shame or humiliate the patient who is already suffering. If laws are unjust and dehumanizing then submission to these laws becomes a form of enabling the suffering addict-Strongman. Enabling is a violation of “do no harm.”
This kind of radical love seeks to very actively promote healing in the one who is sick and suffering. This healing process flows out of the awareness and acceptance of who we really are as beings.
There is an established view that we humans are an incredibly complex arrangement of sub-atomic particles that fit together in just the right way such that we live, learn and have awareness of ourselves and the world around us. In this paradigm we mysteriously transcend the inanimate and non-conscious nature of our sub-atomic particles to reach a state of animated life and consciousness.
There is an alternative perspective that states that our fundamental reality is consciousness itself and that energy and matter are secondary to that consciousness. This brings us into the realm of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s assertion that: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” If this is in fact true, it has staggering implications for all of us. It says something crucial about who we really are. It points us all to our sacred identity as manifestations of the Source of Ultimate Love. It would mean that each of us is part of a vast spiritual family within which there can be no strangers. It would also mean that differences of culture, religion and nationality are largely superficial and insignificant and can no longer serve as excuses for conflicts.
In the language of traditional religion: Each of us, without any exceptions, is a Holy Child of God.
This is the basis and rationale for loving the Strongman. He is a Holy Child of God just like the rest of us. He is no exception. He has become trapped in his sickness because he has so detoured away from who he really is that he has become lost. We have a family responsibility to help him rediscover his true identity because we are his brothers and sisters. Giving him hatred will not help. Giving him punishment will not help. What will help him is this Radical Love. This Love says “We know who you are behind that mask. You can take it off now. It’s time to come home.”
How are we to deal with people who come to us from the homes they have left behind?
These people are strangers to us at first. He or she is the Unknown Person and at this point we know practically nothing about this Stranger. Maybe we know something of his or her homeland’s reputation or maybe all we know is what this person looks like to us. Until there is initial contact there is no real knowing of the person and no meaningful shift can begin toward “de-strangerizing” the Unknown Person. Before we can actually know the Stranger as a fellow human being it is all too easy to project our own fears onto that person.
Perhaps the most common thing to imagine, as well as perhaps the most understandable, is to see the Stranger as a threat. This is a bit of ancient survival programming we have inherited courtesy of our distant ancestors. We modern people might be tempted to Boo and Hiss at our primitive ancestors for burdening us with this innate fearfulness but let’s not. Instead let’s honor them because the truth is that without their survival skills we wouldn’t be here to reflect on this issue. We, their descendants, need to recognize that bit of ancient programming for what it is: A once-upon-a-time necessity. The mistake that we must avoid now is to use this relic of human programming as if it is today’s cutting edge technology.
One of our characteristics as human beings is our inherent capacity to transcend our primitive instincts. We are built to learn and grow from our mistakes and slowly evolve toward becoming more enlightened beings. As a species, we are a work-in-progress, thousands of years into a process that is still quite incomplete.
Growing up requires us to move beyond our primitive Fear-based orientation to life. We need to mature into a Love-based orientation to living in our world. Embracing a Love-based mode of being and interacting does not mean that we no longer get scared. We cannot simply delete the old programming. Like it or not, it is part of who we are. What it means is that we no longer have to be limited by fear as we live our lives. As we increasingly move into a more mature level of consciousness we have greater access to our intrinsic capacity for Love-based interactions with others.
None of this means that we suddenly throw all caution to the wind. It means that we move through our situations with appropriate care based on a rationality that naturally emerges from healthy love.
As we return to our hypothetical Stranger, we need to make contact with this as yet Unknown Person in order to have actual observations to take the place of our primitive fear-based fantasies. A meaningful question to consider is: How shall we choose to initiate contact with the Stranger?
The most reasonable way to make contact with Strangers is to welcome them as potential friends. Yes, we still need to be aware of possible dangers and observe proper caution as we start making contact but this choice represents the best way to utilize our own freedom for maximum advantage. If we initiate our encounter with the Stranger in a benevolent fashion the probability is that the Stranger will reciprocate. If we treat him or her as a threat it is likely that he or she will respond to our fear with fear of their own and start seeing us as a threat as well. This ultimately leads to preparation for the anticipated attack.
Perhaps our greatest “sin” is our willingness to de-humanize and demonize our fellow human beings. Under the right conditions it becomes tempting to reduce the Different Other to some sort of Offending Impediment to our way of life. Part of this temptation may also include a component of righteousness that can (and too often does) reach the level of the Arrogant Assumption that one is “doing God’s will” by de-humanizing the Different One. There is, however, something vitally important that needs to be recognized: It is entirely possible to escape from the prison of fearing and hating the Different One and emerge into what can legitimately be called a state of recovery. This involves an initial process of step-back-from Untruth and then a step of move-toward Truth. At first this recovery can be understood as a growing awareness and conscious rejection of the lies previously assumed to be truths: the mental-trap illusion of “Us vs. Them” and the associated false belief that there just isn’t enough of what we all need so someone will have to do without (“and it’s not gonna be us!”). It is also becomes a process of discovering what is actually true and consciously moving in that direction: every one of us is very human and we are not nearly so different or separate from each other as we once thought. There is also enough for all of us if we are willing to let go of our fear and the greed that emerges from it.
Our fear of the Stranger is solvable and it is solved by becoming aware of the Truth. The Truth, in this case, comes as the answer to the question of who we and the Stranger really are. In each case the answer is the same. Each of us, without exception, is a Sacred Child of the Ultimate Mystery. We all come from the same Original Source of Creation regardless of whether one prefers to think of this as the story of the cosmic “Big Bang”, the Genesis story or any of the countless creation stories human beings have been sharing with each other for thousands of years. If we can accept this perspective, the Stranger is nothing more than someone at a costume party who has not yet taken off their mask and allowed us to see their true face. It may help them to do so if we are willing to show them our true face first.
Finally, it is not so much a question of who the Stranger is but rather a question of who we are and what kind of people we want to be in relation to that Stranger. What are our intentions? Do we want them to be afraid or do we want them to feel welcome?
How would we want to be treated if we were the Strangers?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to figure out which Jesus is being reclaimed in the recent much-ballyhooed document, Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis (attached below). But, what is clear is the Jesus that the document presumes to reclaim is not the Jesus of the Gospels who was Nonviolent and who teaches a Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies. Not once in the entire Reclaiming Jesus document is Jesus’ rejection of violence by word and by deed in the Gospels mentioned, although the document gives a list of things that must be reject based on Jesus teachings and His being Lord. Nor is it mentioned that His disciples are called to follow Him and reject violence. So the document communicates that a Christian, whether American or British, who has reclaimed Jesus as the document prescribes could join the American or British military and bomb the be-Jesus out of human beings designated “enemies” or designated “collateral damage” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
The idea governing Reclaiming Jesus and around which its authors state the entire document is composed and validated, is this: “Jesus is Lord. That is our foundational confession. It was central for the early church and needs to again become central to us. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar was not—nor any other political ruler since. If Jesus is Lord, no other authority is absolute.” Neither I nor any other Christian could reasonably disagree with this. It is in fact the theological basis for proclaiming and adhering to Gospel Nonviolence. The Gospels themselves in which Jesus teaches, lives and dies in the Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies—and which Gospels the Catholic Church teaches in its Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution Revelation (sec 18-19), “faithfully hand on what Jesus Chris, while living among men really did and taught for their eternal salvation” —are the historical root of Gospel Nonviolence. But the profession, Jesus is Lord, is the theological root of Gospel Nonviolence, because if Jesus’ authority in matters of Christian faith and morals is not absolute, then He is just another guy conjecturing about the manner in which life should be lived or how to be saved from eternal death.
The Reclaiming Jesus document goes on to say, “What we believe, i.e., Jesus is Lord, leads us to what we must reject. Our ‘Yes’ is the foundation for our ‘No.’“ It then goes on to list those matters that Christians must say, ‘No’ to and rejected on the basis of their, ‘Yes,’ to Jesus is Lord. The given list of what must be rejected because Jesus is Lord is this: “white nationalism and racism, misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women, language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God, the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life, any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule, “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.”
It should be noted, and noted well, that while their document states, “If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not,” these Christian peace activists from the U.S. and Britain and their document do not reject Christian participation in Caesar’s violence and war because Jesus is Lord. This is bizarre since the Lord Jesus’ rejection of violence in the Gospels is unambiguous. It is strange since the authors respective countries are two of the greatest purveyors of violence in the world historically and today. It is gravely disingenuous since the Christians in their societies did and do most of the violence done by each country. Reclaiming Jesus and proclaiming Jesus is Lord in such societies should at a minimum mean rejecting participation in the legal and illegal, romantic and sorted violence of these societies and their institutions that incarnationally follow the way and use the means of the violent Caesar rather then the Nonviolent Jesus. It should mean at least this because,
“Jesus taught that violence belongs to the Reign of Satan, and that men must expel violence if they wish to liberate themselves from the Reign of Satan. If Jesus did not reject any type of violence for any purpose, then we know nothing of him. No reader of the New Testament, simple or sophisticated, can retain any doubt of Jesus’ position toward violence directed to persons, individual or collective, organized or free enterprise, he rejected it totally. Jesus in no way accepts violence as a means of controlling violence.
Jesus presents in His words and life not only a good way of doing things, not only an ideal to be executed whenever it is convenient, but the only way of doing what He did.” (Quoted section is from the Catholic Biblical scholar, Rev. John L. McKenzie.)
It is, however, not surprising that no mention is made of reclaiming the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels. Some of the authors of this document were formally on Barack Obama’s, aka Barack Obomba’s, spiritual consultation team. And, one the authors is the episcopal chaplain of the British royalty—a gene pool that has never existed, cannot exists and does not exists without gargantuan amounts of violence being employed to sustain it and to protect its unholy and promiscuous accumulation of luxury wealth in the face of thousands of human beings writhing in pain and unnecessarily perishing daily because they lack the few cents to procure the needed food or medicine. The hording of luxury wealth in a world where billions do not have the bare necessities need to live can only be defended and sustained by violence.
If a Christian were to truly desire to reclaim the Jesus of the Gospels—the only Jesus there ever was or will be— it takes no literary skill to say,
“What cannot be done without violence cannot be done by a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus. A Christian cannot follow Jesus’ “new commandment ” to “Love one another as I have loved you,” and use violence to do good or to fight evil.”
But this is exactly the Jesus that this document and its peace activists authors do not want to reclaim, any more than the institutional Churches of Christianity want to reclaim Him. Both want a “Jesus” who endorses violence so they can carry out their plans to make the world a better place by using violence, whatever their plans may be.
So which Jesus is this Reclaiming Jesus document trying to reclaim? It is trying to reclaim—or more accurately trying to propagandize— a “Jesus” that never existed in history as a person—a violent liberal-Constantinian Jesus. But a violent liberal-Constantinian “Jesus” is no more the reality of the Person revealed and proclaimed in the Gospels than is a violent conservative-Constantinian Jesus. They are mirror images of each other in terms of the means they use to respond to evil and to promote the good. What each calls Christian love is saturated with violence—that is, with that phenomenon that “Jesus teaches belongs to the Reign of Satan.” It is Christians and their Churches that almost universally confess faith in a violence-endorsing “Jesus” that are the source of this time of crisis. The spiritually malformed Christians Trump, Obama, Clinton, Bush, Merkel, Blair, Putin, etc. are but blips on the screen of the crisis.
It is the institutional Christian Churches and their deceitful leaders, who gave them—hardwired nurtured them—and billions of other Christians into the mind-style of justified Christian killers and liars under the pretense of helping them put on the mind and truth of Jesus, who are the cause of the crisis. It is absurd to believe that implementing a new agenda for the betterment of humanity via a new version of a violence endorsing “Jesus” can solve this crisis. The violence-endorsing “Jesus” illusion is the crisis in the Church and in the world.
The Jesus that must be reclaimed to solve this crisis is the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels with His Way of Nonviolent Love, without exception, of friends and enemies. The Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels is Lord. Believe it or not. His authority is therefore absolute. Believe it or not. Jesus presents in His words and life not only a good way of doing things, not only an ideal to be executed whenever it is convenient, but the only way of doing what He did. Believe it or not. And, that Way unequivocally rejects violence, even when, indeed most especially when, ordered by Lord Caesar. Believe it or not.
Let this new evangelization program, as well as all new evangelization programs of all Churches, be in fact new and reclaim the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels from the deceitfully concocted and institutionally propagandized illusion of the violence justifying, endorsing, supporting Jesus, that has brought so much evil and misery into the world and prevented so much good from being done.
Here is Jim Douglass’s “Letter to the American People,” which is good to read today on the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was one of only three journalists who attended the whole four week trial in 1999, which found that MLK was murdered as the result of a conspiracy that involved the U.S. government.
“What I experienced in that courtroom ranged from inspiration at the courage of the Kings, their lawyer-investigator William F. Pepper, and the witnesses, to amazement at the government’s carefully interwoven plot to kill Dr. King. The seriousness with which U.S. intelligence agencies planned the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. speaks eloquently of the threat Kingian nonviolence represented to the powers that be in the spring of 1968…Thirty-two years after Memphis, we know that the government that now honors Dr. King with a national holiday also killed him. As will once again become evident when the Justice Department releases the findings of its ‘limited re-investigation’ into King’s death, the government (as a footsoldier of corporate power) is continuing its cover-up – just as it continues to do in the closely related murders of John and Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X.”
I delivered at 6 P.M. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1993, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. at 6 P.M. at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. The talk was an attempt to reverse what had become a prominent trend when discussing Martin Luther King, Jr. over the previous decade, namely, the systematic minimizing, downplaying, ignoring and disparaging of the absolute centrality of nonviolence in his life and work. It was as if, even those devoted to him and his work, as well as those who desired him to be a patron saint of their peace and justice cause, wanted no part of the essential dimension that nonviolence held in all his programs and pursuits of peace and justice. In this amnesia inducing process, Dr. King’s historical memory was beginning to mirror the historical memory of Jesus, that is, he was becoming a person with a multitude of admirers and fans, most of whom wanted no part the nonviolent love of friends and enemies that was axial to his whole existence. However, Martin Luther King, Jr. without his total and unreserved commitment to nonviolence to the very end of his life is not Martin Luther King, Jr., any more than Jesus is Jesus without His total and unreserved commitment to nonviolence to the very end of His life.
My address at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968, seemingly had no effect in stopping the systematic presentation of Dr. King with little or no reference to the all encompassing place nonviolence actually held in his life and in his social justice efforts. Yet, here are the words of Martin himself:
“In recent months several people have said to me: ‘Since violence is the new cry, isn’t there a danger you will lose touch with the people and be out of step with the times if you don’t change your views on nonviolence?’ My answer is always the same. Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. That is what I have found in nonviolence. I’m committed to nonviolence absolutely. I am just not going to kill anybody, whether it’s in Vietnam or here…The stage of history is replete with the chants and choruses of the conquerors who came killing in pursuit of peace.”
A violence endorsing Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is as absurd as a violence endorsing Jesus. Fundamental human integrity, decency and honesty insist that a truth for which Martin and Jesus daily and ultimately laid down their lives should not be calculatingly bracketed out of the memory of their lives by those who are the institutional gatekeepers for preserving the remembrance of them. But if the gatekeepers of their memory are self-serving deceivers via deliberate omission, then the individual person must speak clearly the truth, that nonviolence was pivotal to and irremovable from each of their lives. He or she may not have the bull horns that an institution has at it disposal. But he or she has power. The power of saying that 1+1= 2 to those who are trying to double cross humanity by saying 1+1= 5. They have the power of truth.
Take a moment and consider the attached reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr. from twenty-five years ago on this day. It might be helpful in clarifying the place of nonviolence in some life and death matters that are universal to humanity—including you and me.