Leadership and Vision

Yesterday’s meditation from Richard Rohr, OFM provides more historical reference to the tradition of the “third eye.” Spiritual traditions of both east and west know that there is a middle way, beyond the dualistic, either/or way of seeing. One must find this third eye in order to move beyond “us and them” seeing toward deeper insight and wisdom where everything and everyone belong.

I could not help but think of both the current US president as well as the bishop of Springfield, IL Thomas Paprocki (currently in the news for issuing guidelines that prohibit Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving a Church funeral) when I read Rohr’s words below.

“One wonders how far spiritual and political leaders can genuinely lead us without some degree of contemplative seeing and action. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that “us-and-them” seeing, and the dualistic thinking that results, is the foundation of almost all discontent and violence in the world… It allows heads of religion and state to avoid their own founders, their own national ideals, and their own better instincts. Lacking the contemplative gaze, such leaders will remain mere functionaries and technicians, or even dangers to society,” [emphasis added].

Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dignity DC/NoVA — Oct. 30/31, 2010

Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2; Ps 145:1-2, 8-14; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2;  Lk 19:1-10One of the persistent themes in the writings of Franciscan Richard Rohr is summed up in the title of one of his books, “Everything Belongs.”  This basic concept – which is truly at the heart of not only Christianity, but also at the center of all great religious and spiritual paths – involves recognition of the fact that we truly grow only when we begin to move from seeing the world in a “dualistic” way to seeing it in a “non-dualistic” way. When we are able to move beyond the categories and boxes and labels that we use in almost every dimension of daily life, when we can begin to see what mystics of all spiritual traditions speak of as God or the Divine or Mystery or simply Love, then we are becoming more fully human, more fully ourselves, more fully alive.

Today’s Gospel passage tells a story in which it’s so easy to use categories and labels, to see things with “us and them” eyes.  Even commentators who write about this story and probably most homilists are usually quick to point out that Zacchaeus was a bad guy. There are lots of reasons for giving him this label and putting him in that box. By being not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector, he had opted to side with the Roman occupiers of Israel, those who oppressed his own people. Being a tax collector wasn’t just a job, but was something that he would have had to seek out as an enterprising businessman, an entrepreneur, a skilled negotiator and dealmaker. Because he is described as wealthy, he most likely had a lucrative arrangement with the authorities from Rome in which he paid the area’s taxes for the year up front, and then had the right to collect taxes from the people throughout the year; including whatever percentage markup or profit he could get. And of course, the fact that “the crowd” grumbles and refers to him as a sinner is further indication that Zacchaeus was seen as “the bad guy” and certainly not “one of us.”

Looking more deeply, however, some scholars suggest there is evidence that Zacchaeus wasn’t so bad after all. There are several indications in the text itself that suggest this. First, the Greek verb that is here translated in the future tense in the second part of this conditional sentence – “If I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over” – could also be translated with a more present, ongoing meaning, in a way that indicates that such repayment, if it were necessary, had been his practice all along. Plus, there’s the fact that Zacchaeus is committed to repaying extorted funds not just in full, nor with a 20% penalty – as would have been required by Jewish law – but rather is committed to repayment “four times over,” which is what Roman law required, but required only for those who were convicted criminals. In addition, his very name – Zacchaeus – which occurs in the Scriptures only here and two other places – comes from a Hebrew word which means, “clean, pure, innocent.”

So … perhaps in his own way, our Gospel author is trying to tell us that things aren’t always as black and white as they seem. Even Zacchaeus … the traitor to his people by his chosen profession … may actually have carried out his work in a way that was fair and considerate and respectful. This is not to say he was perfect; by no means.  Even he recognizes his need and is drawn to Jesus.  And, in the presence of Jesus to whom he is open and whom he seeks out, Zacchaeus is transformed. For his part, Jesus sees Zacchaeus in all his fullness, in the totality of who he is. Jesus sees him as both good and not-so-good; honorable yet sometimes shady; generous yet highly tempted by money; a Jew as well as a collaborator.  Because Jesus sees with the eyes of God, he is able to proclaim Zacchaeus as a man of faith and a “son of Abraham.” In the midst of what seems black and white – there really is a lot of gray!

You know, it’s be been said that if any community should be a model of inclusivity and openness, it should be ours. As members of the LGBT community we individually and collectively know what it’s like to be excluded, to be rejected, to be told we’re no good, to be told we’re bad, or that we’re sinners not because of anything we’ve done, but because of who God has made us to be. And even while much of institutional religion and many loud voices in the public square continue to demonize us, aren’t we called – in turn – to be better than that?  Aren’t we called not to exclude, but to include? Not to close, but to open? Not to turn away, but to welcome? Not to hate, but to love? Not to demonize others, but to speak the truth in charity? Shouldn’t ours be the loudest of all voices in proclaiming that not only do we have a rightful place at the table, but so too does every man, woman and child on the face of the earth?

Here’s an example of what I mean about speaking the truth in charity. Even though some of the most vocal catholic bishops – like John Nienstedt from Milwaukee – continue to speak untruths about God’s gay children and our relationships – thankfully there are people like Fr. Michael Tegeder, pastor of St. Edward Parish, Bloomington, Minnesota.  After Bishop Nienstedt and the other Minnesota bishops sent a DVD to all parishes in the state, a DVD in which same-sex marriage was described as “a dangerous risk” for society, Fr. Tegeder had the courage to speak up, saying that the real danger to marriage was not the loving unions of same-sex couples; he voiced the truth borne out by evidence from so many sources, namely that biggest danger to stable relationships is poverty and the many stresses that come to couples and who are not able to take care of their families due to lack of financial resources.

This city was a busy place yesterday [“Rally to Restore Sanity“], as it was a number of weeks back when a similar event [“Restoring Honor” rally] was held. These two rallies – representing different aspects of the political spectrum – were both held on the Mall, that place that those of us from New England would call “the common.” The common is that public space in every village, town, or city where people could gather to express their views, to hear those of others, and where everyone was welcome. Certainly many of us would find ourselves more drawn to the views expressed at one of those rallies than the other. But regardless of our views on this or that public issue, and regardless of whether we express those views in simple conversation or the voting booth, shouldn’t those conversations and those votes be rooted in our belief that we are ALL children of the one God, the one God who calls us to love others as God loves us?

Let me end by reading once again part of that passage from Wisdom, asking each of you to remember that in God, everything, everyone does belong … and that in faith, we are challenged to do our part to ensure that no thing, no one is excluded from the banquet: “For you, God, love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

Thoughts on a Rally

On Saturday (Aug. 28), I decided to ride my bike down to the Washington Mall to witness the “Restoring Honor” Rally organized by Glenn Beck.  Other than having an unexplainable sense that “I didn’t belong” and that “I think these these folks and I see the world very differently,” it’s been hard for me to articulate what I thought and felt about being in the midst of this crowd who were drawn to what I sensed was largely an anti-Obama celebration.  I realize that my sense of things was as much (if not more) an expression of my own biases than the real perspectives held by so many thousands of individuals, but that was my sense, nonetheless.

I didn’t hear many of the main speeches, but the bits and pieces I did hear were largely religious. I saw (on one of the large monitors) and heard bits of the remarks from Alveda King, niece of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the African American Outreach Director for the Roman Catholic group, Priests for Life. The part and prayer I heard dealt with abortion, but I heard no mention of or call to abolish the death penalty — one of the positions that Priests for Life espouses. I couldn’t help but wonder why?

Today’s Daily Meditation from Fr. Richard Rohr probably explains better than I can the underlying sense of division that seemed so palpable to me on Saturday.  Would that it were not so!

“We thought that we overcame racism in the 60’s; we thought the church overcame triumphalism at Vatican II, and now forty  years later we are right back into this regressive and dualistic thinking all over again.  …. this judgmental thinking will continue to happen in every group, in every denomination if we see everything with a dualistic mind.  No new emerging church will emerge very far.

The judgmental mind is not looking for truth; it is looking for control and righteousness.  For some reason when we split and refuse to receive the moment as it is, we end creating and even reveling in those splits as our very identities.  These are the culture wars and the identity politics we suffer from today.  They will not get us very far spiritually, because they are largely ego-based.”

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

(This is posted out of order, and is a homily from February 2010)

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C – February 13/14, 2010
Dignity – NoVA/Washington

Readings: Jer 17:5-8 ; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6 ; 1 Cor 15:12, 16-20 ; Lk 6:17, 20-26

One of the things that I try to keep in mind when preparing a homily is to find the right balance between the “general” and the “particular” aspects of what I might say.  By that, I mean making sure that my words are so rooted in the scriptural passages before us that the homily could almost be delivered to any community, while at the same time being very attentive to saying something – or at least trying to say something – that is relevant to the unique qualities and experiences of this particular, unique community. Obviously there are some things that those of us who preach can and do say in one setting that wouldn’t be said if we were preaching before a small community of retired nuns, or before a grammar school with young children.

Sometimes, however, a scripture passage or even just a particular line from a passage jumps out so boldly and so clearly, that this balance is upset, because that passage or that line seems to be almost uncannily applicable to the community being addressed, it would be difficult to preach the same message elsewhere.

I don’t know if it jumped out at you as it did me when I first read it, but there was a line in that Gospel passage we just listened to from Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” that hit me like a ton of bricks.  In case you missed it, let me read it again:  “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.”

Relatively speaking, there’s no doubt that you and I live in a gay-friendly part of the world.  Most of us are able to live openly and freely, with generally little fear about being known as part of the LGBT community. It’s quite probable that our neighbors and co-workers know this truth about who we are, and that this knowledge has very little consequence. There are bars and restaurants and other establishments that cater to a gay clientele, but even in those places that aren’t “gay” per se, gay men and women are accepted just like everyone else. In the more public sphere, progress continues to be made to advance the civil rights of gay people, as is evidenced by the impending legal recognition of same-sex marriage in DC, as well as the military’s movement to allowing lesbians and gay men to serve openly.

Yet, despite living where we do, there are still regular reminders from both society and Church that we are not fully accepted. Just this past week, Virginia’s governor chose not to include “sexual orientation” in the Executive Order about discrimination in the state’s workforce that new governors traditionally issue shortly after their inauguration, suggesting at least philosophically (if not legally) that it’s OK to discriminate against someone simply because he or she is gay. Several days before that, the highest ranking churchman in the U.S. issued a statement that was highly critical of the work and mission of a Catholic organization that has done so much good for over three decades in building bridges between the institution of the Church and gay Catholics. Two Fridays ago – Cardinal Francis George, who is not only the archbishop of Chicago, but is also currently the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – issued a statement that read, in part:

“No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice. Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination. Accordingly, I wish to make it clear that, like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”

While perhaps not hateful, such statements by religious leaders clearly do have the effect of saying to the wider Church community and society at large – “those people may claim to be Catholic, but they really aren’t; “they’re not….” – to use the bishop’s word – “‘authentic’ like us.” It is this kind of speech that is a perfect example of what Franciscan Father Richard Rohr calls “dualistic thinking.” This kind of thinking – this way of seeing and experiencing and living in the world – is constantly judging and labeling and categorizing. It is always thinking of terms of who’s in and who’s out; who’s superior and who’s inferior; who’s included and who’s excluded. Last September I was fortunate enough to participate in a small retreat with Fr. Rohr – a retreat sponsored by New Ways Ministry. One of Fr. Rohr’s common themes in his writing and his preaching about faith and spirituality is to encourage a non-dualistic way of seeing the world, of learning to see that – as one of the titles of his books states – “Everything Belongs.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s hard to hear such statements like Cardinal’s George’s coming from the leaders of our Church and not get just a bit angry. It hurts to know that some Church leaders think we are “less than fully Catholic” – simply because we seek to know and accept the authentic selves that God has created us to be; and in that seeking and knowing, we may have something to say that could disturb their static worldview and challenge them to see us and the world with new eyes.

This week we begin the season of Lent, the Church’s extended 40-day “Annual Retreat” as we prepare to celebrate the deepest truth of our faith – a truth that says life and love conquer hatred and death. Perhaps what we need to do is keep mind not only the words of Jesus from this passage of Luke that promises blessing and God’s presence for those are now hungry, poor, weeping and excluded, but also keep in mind the words that the editors of our Lectionary didn’t include – the next two lines from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain:  “But I say to you…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”