Race, Religion, and Empathy

Donald Trump at his June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The National Catholic Reporter reports that Trump support declines among white and Hispanic Catholics. From my perspective, that’s a good thing. This indicates that the president’s support among Catholics is trending in the right direction. But … and there’s always a “but” … that story’s sub-heading is not so positive: But poll finds he would still win the white Catholic vote. Based on a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, it seems that 57% of White Catholics still say they would “vote for/lean toward voting for” Trump. Though different conclusions may be drawn from the same data, these data continue to paint a picture that says this: White Catholics tend to value their “Whiteness” more than their “Catholicity.”

As a White Catholic who is also gay and of Irish heritage (today would be the 108th birthday of my Dublin-born maternal grandmother!), this is what I find so troubling: I and those who came before me know what it feels like to be “othered,” to be excluded, to be on the outside looking in. Thankfully, great progress has been made for Irish-Americans, though there was a period not too long ago when there was significant anti-Irish sentiment in America, and “NINA” (No Irish Need Apply”) signs often accompanied employers’ Help Wanted advertisements. Even more recently, the increased acceptance in American society of LGBTQ people has been a beacon of hope for those who, less than a generation ago, were often compelled to remain closeted about a fundamental aspect of who they/we are. The great promise of America is that there is no such thing as the “other.” Our national motto — E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One) — enshrines the more folksy sentiment that in this country, every stranger is simply “a friend I haven’t yet met.” Americans’ greatness becomes real when we practice what we preach, when we welcome with open arms the world’s tired, poor, and huddled masses “yearning to breathe free.”

And yet … when we look at our current president, and especially at our fellow citizens who so vocally support him at his rallies and online, we hear nothing but “othering” language which tries to build walls between the false dichotomy of “us and them.” Trump’s entire presidency (some might say his entire life) has been marked by using race, religion, sex, gender and ethnicity to “other” any and all who might challenge him, disagree with him, or see things differently than he. As humans, the experience of having been “excluded” is an experience that should increase our empathy, not propagate discord, disdain, and division. Empathy is the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, to see the world through their eyes, and recognize that their experience is valid and valuable. Empathy opens my mind and my heart, and leads me to embrace more deeply the truth that we are much more alike than we are different. Empathy — and my faith — tell me that, deep down, there really is no “us and them,” there’s only US.

The Morality of a Vote

Does my vote mean anything? Does it really make a difference if I check the name of Candidate A or Candidate B? Does it matter whether his/her name has an “R” or a “D” next to it?  If you think your vote has little impact, think again.

Just as surely as every elected official is responsible for his/her policies pursued and official actions taken, so too does your vote, my vote, have a moral impact.  If you voted for Donald Trump and you don’t see the link between that vote, Trump’s election, and the murder of George Floyd, then your blindness is either willful or ignorant. Either way, you bear responsibility.

In his opinion piece today, George Will lays it out pretty clearly.  In part, he writes:

“The person voters hired in 2016 to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ stood on July 28, 2017, in front of uniformed police and urged them ‘please don’t be too nice’ when handling suspected offenders. His hope was fulfilled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on Minneapolis pavement.”

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 7.48.18 PM

Trump’s Angry Tirade

Screen Shot 2020-04-14 at 5.42.32 AM“That’s just the left-wing media,” or “You need to stop watching that fake news.” Such are the baseless comments from Trump supporters whenever I’ve tried to engage them in thoughtful conversations about the current president.  When I try to explain that no, I’m not just parroting back what I’ve read in the Washington Post or the New York Times or seen on CNN; that what I’m sharing has come directly from Trump himself, I’m dismissed either with disbelief or an assertion that I’m exaggerating or taking him out of context.  Well, my Republican friends, what do you say when there’s no interpretation, no spin … just the words of Mr. Trump himself to provide full context and no exaggeration?

Yesterday’s White House briefing, ostensibly another update from the federal Coronavirus Task Force, was a sight to behold.  The paper-thin-skinned resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue apparently couldn’t take it anymore.  Apparently the aptly-titled and well-documented article from the NY Times, He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus was more than that thin skin could bear when the president was asked about it.  So, instead of spending the news conference providing reporters and the American people with much needed information about the virus’s impact on us all, the complainer-in-chief spent most of the time trying to defend himself against that article’s assertions — doing so, I might add, using a campaign-like piece of propaganda prepared by Federal workers on the our dime. The video, by the way, was instructive not so much for what it included, but what it excluded.

While this story from the Washington Post is correctly categorized as “analysis,” it accurately recounts what the “news briefing” was all about.

Here’s the whole briefing:

 

“Cheap Gospel”

Sunset over boardwalkRe: Ways of Knowing -A Fascinating Discovery

Much of what passes for Christianity today, especially that described by media too uninformed or uninterested to be more critical, is a version of that “cheap gospel” about which the author writes.

As someone who is fully western and fully American, perhaps this is why I so often feel a palpable existential angst when I look to today’s political and social and environmental landscapes.

If the experience of oppression does not teach us empathy for ‘the other,’ then we have learned little.

Lord, give us hope.

Trump, too, has blood on his hands

For millennia, faith-based principles have attempted to guide the forces of war and peace between powers and nations. I challenge any Catholic or other Christian – or any person of good will, for that matter – to educate yourself on some of these philosophical and theological principles. We do not subscribe to any version of “might makes right” or “my country, right or wrong.” We must hold our leaders and military to strict standards that reflect our deepest values.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/justice/catholic-ethicists-question-us-assassination-iranian-general

Contact Your Representatives, Urge Impeachment of Trump!

Here is my letter to Rep. Francis Rooney (R, FL 19th), urging him to support articles of impeachment.  I encourage everyone to do the same.
_________________________________________________

Dear Congressman Rooney,

I am writing to strongly encourage you to vote in favor of the Articles of Impeachment against President Donald A. Trump that are likely to be brought to the full House within the coming weeks.

I personally watched the many hours of testimony from numerous government officials and public servants, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.  I also watched the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee after having received the report from the Intelligence Committee.  Having done so, there is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Trump has abused the powers of his office and has committed numerous offenses that warrant impeachment and removal from office.

There is no doubt that such an action is extreme, and there is no doubt that the Founders of the Republic and authors of the Constitution did not envision such actions to be commonplace. However, they did have great knowledge of human nature and an understanding of how possible it can be for the systems of this Republic to be abused by corrupt or corruptible individuals.  Despite the “spin” that his supporters try to put on the facts those many witnesses presented, the facts do remain:  Donald Trump used the power of his office in an attempt to illegally withhold foreign aid for the ‘quid pro quo’ of obtaining interference from a foreign government in the current presidential election. There is no evidence Trump was concerned about “corruption” in a general sense. He was concerned primarily (only?) about the personal benefit that the withholding of this aid could provide him. What he did was use the power of his office for his own personal gain.

Truth be told, there are countless other examples of Mr. Trump doing this, i.e. using the power of the Presidency for his personal gain. His nepotism and his seeking and accepting of emoluments, his questionable of the presidential pardon — these alone would be enough to seek impeachment (as the historical record of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 clearly demonstrates).  However, his abuse of power concerning Ukraine is beyond the pale.

While I strongly disagree with you on many of your policy positions, I do believe that you are a decent and thoughtful man. I hope and pray that you will do the right thing — which, I believe, you know in your mind and heart is the right thing — and vote to impeach Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.

Thank you, and best wishes to you and yours for a blessed Christmas season.

Timothy MacGeorge

“Fear Is a Liar”

Only recently have I begun to listen to popular Christian music. As a Catholic, I’d always thought it was a “Protestant thing,” listened to by Evangelicals and Southern Baptists, not by Catholics or other mainstream Christians. We, I thought, so rightly kept our religiously-themed music in church, “where it belongs.”

My prejudice, and my practice, changed recently when a new friend introduced me to a few popular Christian songs.

This one — “Fear Is a Liar” by Zach Williams — is particularly powerful. The music video is poignant, depicting the depths of despair and hopelessness that can sometimes befall us in this life. And, I suspect, there are aspects that every one of us can relate to, perhaps all too personally. If you ever find yourself feeling like any of the three persons depicted — or feeling “not good enough … not right … not strong enough … not worthy … not loved … not beautiful” or think you are “troubled” and will “forever be alone” — I pray you will remember that these are lies, they are not true. And because we often need to be reminded of what we sometimes forget ourselves, I pray that a timely text, a caring gesture, or the touch of a loved one will remind you that you are deeply valued and unconditionally loved.

“A very acceptable time” (2 Cor. 6:1)

What we have been given is not to be kept and hoarded for ourselves, but to be passed on freely and shared, so that it may bring life to others. In my work as a therapist, it is usually the questions I ask, rather than the statements, suggestions, or “advice” I offer that are the most helpful means of effecting this sharing and the new life that rises from it.

Today is Ash Wednesday (as well as Valentine’s Day!). It marks the beginning of the Season of Lent, a “very acceptable time.” This year I choose not to “give up” some “goodie” or “treat,” but rather to make my Lenten practice one of asking questions — not of others, but of myself.

  • How am I open to the Presence of God today?
    • in myself?
    • in others?
    • in nature and all Creation?
  • What lesson is God asking me to learn from the people God brings into my life?
  • In what ways might I be “missing the mark” (which is really the Hebrew definition of ‘sin’) in my love and care for others?
  • Where are kindness, compassion, understanding, and self-sacrifice in my life today?
  • Am I truly listening to God, speaking to me in the depths of my heart — in the midst of trouble and distress, as well as in silence and calm?

The second reading (2 Cor. 5:20-6:1) from today’s Liturgy reminds us:

“Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:
In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.”