We all seem to have a sense of what “should be” in our personal lives, our neighbors lives, our culture, and our God.
I should, you should, we should, they should, God should, trees should, rocks should, animals should, the weather should. My boss should be nicer, my kids should be more respectful, my husband should do the laundry, my hair should be thicker, my waist thinner, my car should be a Mercedes…(deep inhale).
Have I left anything out?
We are obsessed with how our lives should be and how others should act. We calculate daily, almost moment-by-moment, what ought to be, and then adjust our lives accordingly. Let’s say I call you out on social media because, well, you’re an idiot and someone has to do it. Then, I see the next day you’ve done something even more reprehensible. You should then be arrested, or at the very least, get a huge dose of eczema right before a long anticipated summer holiday and have to wear sweatpants the entire time! There take that!
What if before you died you were given the power to enact all the most profound shoulds you have ever imagined? What would they be? This is pretty broad so let’s make three categories:
- My shoulds.
- God’s shoulds
- Everyone else’s shoulds.
My shoulds (being totally honest here…which sucks. But they probably won’t materialize anyway):
- I should be more loving and less judgmental.
- I should spend less time on the internet and more time with God.
- I should quit counting offenses against me and begin counting my blessings.
- I should be more like Jesus and less like a “Christian” who’s superior to everyone (more on this to come).
- Chocolate should not be fattening (oops how did that get in there?).
- God should not allow suffering – especially for Christians.
- God should make purgatory mandatory for non-Catholics too (no reason to keep that exotic vacation destination to ourselves!)
- God should punish all mean people – except me.
- God should ignore my pompous attitude even though it runs totally counter to everything Jesus stood for.
Everyone else’s shoulds:
- People should be more generous and less self-serving.
- Wicked people should not prosper.
- People should love and accept each other.
- My neighbor should only put his trash out on trash day and make his dog stop pooping in my yard. (Yeah, I know it’s you!)
But wait; is this truly what we were made for? Is this what fulfills us and gives our lives meaning?
It seems we have gotten so caught up in demands and rules and check-lists that we have forgotten who and Who’s we are. We need to reclaim our innate call to love because of who we are in Christ. But, we seem to have lost our way in a culture that is hell-bent on dividing us into opposing camps: those who deserve the best life has to offer and those who don’t. We have replaced decency and justice for one-upping our “enemies” and this is not a new phenomenon.
Let’s take a look back.
Did you ever wonder how the piety of Jesus’ early followers morphed into the self-righteousness we witness today; how we as proclaimed followers of Christ actually believe that mandates enacted by man were Jesus’ way of “doing” religion? I’m no Scripture Scholar (duh) but I don’t think anyone has to be to question this colossal slight-of-hand by the powers-that-be from the beginning of Christianity. And, we who have been led to assume that we are superior to anyone who does not adhere to our beliefs, have let our egos run amuck.
A for real Scripture Scholar, Stephen Patterson tells us:
“The original believers embraced Jesus’ radical social message – something we know because they were killed by the state as traitors. They were “committed to giving up old identities falsely acquired on the basis of baseless assumptions – Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (insert: black or white) – and declared themselves to be children of God.
The first Christian creed – the long-forgotten creed – wasn’t about God. It was about us. Who we are, who matters, and who deserves dignity. The first creed was a statement of human solidarity. The Jesus movement grew from a community who dared to proclaim that “there is no us, no them. We are all children of God. It was about solidarity, not cultural obliteration.”
Diana Butler Bass emphasizes Patterson’s words:
“We are all children of God. You and your neighbor and immigrants and believers of other faiths and Democrats and Republicans… and … and … and …We are all children of God. It doesn’t sound like any Christianity we know. But it is what Jesus preached. What Paul shared in his letters. And it was what the first Christians gave their lives for – a world of human dignity and equality for all children of God – where walls are torn down and bridges built in their stead. And if that’s what a “Christian America” could mean, then count me in.” (Me too!!)
Each Christian faith has creeds, dogmas, and doctrines that define them. I am going to focus here on the Catholic version as that is what I am most familiar with. If I call myself “Catholic” then I am expected to adhere to Catholic doctrine. Long ago, I learned to walk lockstep in conformity to the “rules” because, well, the Church knows what’s best for us, right? Truth be told, I loved feeling superior to others. I did not question any of it. With a straight face I could admonish you if you did not play by the rules, “Yeah, you’re going to hell. Not sorry.”
The Church, somewhere back in time determined that its “sheep” needed to be controlled. They created rules that required strict adherence to avoid damnation and the eternal fires of hell and then circled the wagons to protect their flock from the evils of the world; or more likely from discovering the truth. Which explains why the “unqualified” laity were discouraged from reading the Bible. They needed their pastors to interpret it for them, poor inept souls. The BS meter should have gone off on that one!
Back in the First Century, Saint Irenaus took it upon himself to save the poor naïve masses from the Gnostics who, “…cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them…and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth”. The Franciscan Media tells us, “Iraneus was tremendously protective of apostolic teaching, but was prompted more by a desire to win over his opponents than to prove them in error.”
So, what happened to Jesus? He seems to have gotten lost somewhere in the smoke and mirrors. Who is He to us? “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13) is the definitive question He still asks us today. Every human being who knows the name Jesus will answer that question. Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.” Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions. Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!” Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23) Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not live. Every Christian must answer the question, “who is Jesus?”
Bidden or not bidden, Jesus is always and everywhere among us. We are invited to respond to Christ’s stirrings within our very being. The purest and most perfect act of worship is to go out into the world and do what He did for others. Central to what he did was to care for the poor, the outcast, the lost and rejected, with no regard for what others would ultimately do to Him. “Do what you must,” His life would say, “I can only respond to you in love.”
We must surely ask ourselves, today in particular, if we believe in and recognize the worth of everyone. It will require all the truth and vulnerability we can muster. Have we replaced Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-16) with a sense of superiority? If we look deep inside our own hearts what will we find? As hundreds of years of racism and bigotry in this country have become a glaring reality some so called “Christians” have jumped unapologetically on that bandwagon, we have to ask ourselves where we stand.
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” Herman Hess
We are currently facing a hard truth that can no longer be ignored by any Christians, specifically (in the context of this post) Catholic Christians and the Catholic Church itself. We are in the midst of our day of reckoning. The Catholic Church’s extensive history of involvement in racism and bigotry which gives approval to white supremacy can no longer be denied. Sadly, when the Church condones these atrocities it is no surprise that some followers feel emboldened to do the same.
“I can only speak for myself, if I only teach things that make me feel comfortable, if I only teach and read things that reaffirm that I am right to be as I am in the world, then I never become aware of how I’ve both personally and systemically contributed to white supremacy. And that’s not okay.” Dr. Megan Goodwin
I will summarize these thoughts with two recent examples of the relationship between the Catholic Church and white supremacy. If you are not Catholic you’re still not off the hook. Sorry. I mean Westboro Baptist Church! So, it is still up to you to determine where your particular faith tradition stands and where you stand because this is not just a Catholic issue. Anyway…
Jeannine Hill Fletcher wrote about “The Sin of White Supremacy” which Jack Downey discusses in America Magazine. He says:
“In 1968, the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus’s inaugural public statement indicted the Catholic Church in the United States for being a “white racist institution.” The following year, Vine Deloria Jr., a champion of Native American rights, chronicled the genocidal effects of the “Doctrine of Discovery” on indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. The year after that, theologian James Cone called the white Christian ideology that undergirded U.S. slavery and Jim Crow nothing less than “Antichrist.”
Hill Fletcher offers a wrenching and meticulous genealogy of the relationship between Christian thought and racism that is guaranteed to shock, depress and enrage more than a few white readers. At the same time, others will read it and think it to be among the most obvious and historically demonstrable theses in world history.
White Catholic institutions are beginning to reckon with their internal traditions of racism, but justice will remain an ever-receding horizon without a full accounting of, and divestment from, their spoils of white supremacy….the notion that American Christianity is fundamentally committed to the equality of all humanity, despite voluminous evidence to the contrary—is the soil out of which white supremacy grew”
You can read the full article here: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/03/08/hard-truths-about-white-supremacy-america
My second example is from the National Catholic Reporter:
An article alleging that the Catholic Church has a white power faction was unpublished by Sojourners magazine (a social justice magazine no less), prompting backlash from other Catholics over the decision (and) the public resignation of two of the magazine’s editors.
The controversy surrounds the article, first published online under the headline “the Catholic Church has a visible white-power faction” and appearing in the August issue of the print magazine under the title “Harboring a Culture of Hate.” the essay was penned by Eric Martin who teaches religion at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Martin claims that when the U.S. bishops deliberated over their 2018 pastoral letter against racism, they voted to reject language condemning the imagery of swastikas, confederate flags and nooses.
“The Catholic Church, once persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan, today has a visible white-power faction,” he wrote. “As long as the bishops actively refuse to condemn its banners, they give white supremacists space to embrace their anti-Black and anti-Semitic work free of religious dissonance.”
Further, Martin chronicles a number of individuals who have promoted their faith as sympathetic to white supremacy or explicitly nationalistic in nature and that these individuals, some of whom led or have founded Neo-Nazi groups, have found a safe harbor in catholic leaders and institutions.
What I found to be a chilling reality is that Jim Wallis, the Founder and Editor of Sojourners who unpublished this article succumbed to outrage and pressure from the “Circle of Protection” of which he is a member. I was aghast when I went to their website! They define themselves as: “Christian leaders who are heads of denominations, agencies, organizations, and educational institutions. We share a belief that God expects national leaders to give priority to the needs of poor and hungry people.”
Wallis is also the author of this 2017 New Your Times bestselling book….…wait for it…
The full story is here: https://www.ncronline.org/news/media/sojourners-pulls-article-about-catholic-church-and-race-website?utm_source=AUG+14+2020+NCR+White+Sojourners+email&utm_campaign=cc_081420&utm_medium=email
Circle of Protection website: http://circleofprotection.us/who-we-are/
This may have been as difficult for you to read as it was for me to write. It challenges all of us to look honestly within our own hearts, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for the truth of our beliefs and the basis of our actions. Perhaps we don’t consider ourselves racist or bigoted, but do we have the courage to confront family members, neighbors, or coworkers, or even our churches, especially our churches, if they are? Or do we remain silent?
Right now, not some questionable far off Judgment Day, we are all being called to account for the way we have treated our fellowman. God help us if we don’t get this right.