The Feast of Saint Benedict

I attended graduate school at a Benedictine university, Saint John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota. It is located on the grounds of the largest Benedictine congregation in the world; I studied theology there: Church History and Systematics.

 

The monastery at Saint John’s was home to Godfrey Dieckmann, whose liturgical reform movement in the early to mid-twentieth century had significant influence on the Second Vatican Council and changed the way worship is conducted, and the celebration of the mass throughout the world.

 

His reforms represented a return to the practices of the early Christians and the ante-nicene era.

 

While I was at Saint John’s I taught world religions at the preparatory school, I wrote my master’s thesis on the topic of universal salvation, which elicited a great deal of interest from my teachers and classmates, and my work was well regarded.

 

I took courses on medieval monastic history, monastic spirituality and one course specifically related to the Rule of Saint Benedict, from which I have taken one of the phrases that I use most often in my ongoing theological work.

 

Obsculta!

 

Which means listen!

 

It is a phrase which I use interchangeably with: Be mindful!

 

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Benedict, who purportedly lived between the late fifth-century and the mid sixth-century CE.

 

 

Be mindful.

 

What we know of the life of Saint Benedict comes mostly from the writing of Saint Pope Gregory the first, or Gregory the Great. It is not exactly a biography but rather a reflection on the idealized life of an abbot, most of which is a fiction written c. 593 CE.

 

Nevertheless, Benedict, real or imagined, produced a Rule (a guide for community living) that became the basis of western monasticism.

 

Benedicts Rule, enjoins the monk to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, a commitment to work, and a studious, meditative reflection on the psalms.

 

The life of Benedict, and the writing attributed to him has influenced the lives of thousands upon millions of people.

 

I am one of them, and I am thankful for Gregory who had the temerity to invent such a person who was noble in his humility.

 

Benedict

 

Given First 07.11.2020

Transform VII – Editorial, The Week in Review

Analysis, Commentary, Opinion

07.11.2020

 

Transform   VII

 

Former Vice President Joe Biden announced a seven hundred-billion-dollar infrastructure package as a part of his presidential platform.

 

This is a good idea, and we need to get behind it.

 

America needs a multi generation infrastructure package that creates jobs in every community across America, and all of our territories.

 

And while we are at it our territories need to become states: Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Samoa, Micronesia etc…wherever our flag flies the people living under should be citizens, and those citizens should be fully enfranchised members of the country with full representation in congress.

 

America needs this transformation.

 

We need to rebuild our highways, roads and bridges; airports, seaports and spaceports; highspeed rail, commuter rail and local rail.

 

We need this, not only to bring our dilapidated country into the future, we need it for the jobs it will create and the community that will come from those jobs.

 

We need to work on this together and we need a lot more if America is going to transform itself into a just society, one that is capable of living up to its promise.

 

We need a guarantee of equal justice before the law.

 

We need universal health care, and universal education.

 

We need full voter participation, and the guarantee that every vote will be counted.

 

We need the president to represent the majority of the people.

 

We need universal housing, and universal basic income.

 

We need a new power grid, and a green revolution.

 

We need to throw Donald Trump out of the White House and force him to stand before the bar of justice.

 

We need to transform.

 

 

Independence Day – A Holiday Reflection

I have always loved the fourth of July; the mid-summer holiday, the nostalgic look back at the victories of the Continental Soldiers, the American revolutionaries who threw off the yoke of tyranny and the oppression of kings.

 

I loved it.

 

I loved it uncritically as a child.

 

I loved it without thought or question, and a part of me still does.

 

As I grew older and learned more about the real history of the revolutionary war, the real politics of the founders, the philosophies that drove them, the numerous ways in which they were morally and ethically compromised (compromised is too light of a word), compromised by war mongering and profiteering, compromised by slave-holding and the exclusion of women from governance; compromised by religious intolerance and a greed that drove them against the First People, as I learned more about these historical-truths it became self-evident that the nation was founded on a carefully balanced set of ideals that the founders themselves did not have the courage to live up to.

 

America was founded on a compact of lies.

 

The preamble to the constitution states that all people are created equal, that all people inherently possess rights which we cannot be separated from, the foremost of which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident that these rights are inalienable, or so we are told. We are told that these rights do not derive from government, they derive from God, the creator of the universe, God the creator of every person in it, these rights do not belong to us because we are Americans, they belong to us because we are human beings and the American purpose is to defend those rights, both within our borders and around the world.

 

We have only ever paid lip service to these ideals. It was never more than wishful thinking, and today within our own borders we are trampling all over these rights, rights which belong to everyone, including, the immigrant and the alien among us, including our black and brown skinned sisters and brothers, including the working poor, and the homeless and everyone struggling to get by.

 

Instead of welcoming and protecting and sheltering the poor and the disenfranchised who have come to us for asylum, we are imprisoning them, denying them due process, dehumanizing them, abusing them, and it is breaking my heart.

 

Instead of protecting and serving the citizenry we are paying huge sums of money to police forces that kill the people with gross prejudice and criminal discrimination.

 

We have always failed to live up to our ideals.

 

The expression of these self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence, and its codification in law in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, did not at the same time abolish the institutions of slavery, give women the right to own land, to vote and other modes of self-determination, neither did it not outlaw wars of aggression against the sovereign nations of the First People. These self-evident truths, these inalienable rights, did not prevent the United States of America from entering a campaign of genocide and extermination against them.

 

The founders applied these principles to themselves and their “peers,” they used those principles to justify their separation from the dominion of the kings of England, they used these principles to protect their property after the War of Independence had been won, but they refused to extend these principles to everyone within the aegis of American power; we continue to live with those failures today.

 

The 4th of July is Independence Day, it is a day to celebrate our freedom, and our victory in the Revolutionary War, there is much to celebrate in that.

 

I am a veteran, I know that war and battle create many opportunities for selflessness and displays of courage that most human beings cannot help but admire and applaud, even though the antecedents of war and the causes of conflict are always unjust, morally vacant and abhorrent.

 

Always and without exception war represents a failure of human beings to live up to the purpose we were created for.

 

In my heart, I want to celebrate the revolutionaries, their courage, the flag which unifies us as a nation, but I find it difficult. The story of America, beginning on July 4th, is one that has many bright moments, but we are foolish, cold-hearted and ignorant if we do not at the same time recognize the millions of slaves who built our first cities, who farmed the plantations, who established our first industries and the millions of people belonging to sovereign nations that we crushed in our westward expansion, starving and killing them without mercy, displacing them, outlawing their religion and customs, erasing their languages.

 

I find it difficult.

 

Who among us, knowing that history, finds it easy?

 

You would have to be a monster to be unmoved by the tragedies that ensued after the signing of our Declaration.

 

Yesterday Donald Trump held a political rally at Mount Rushmore, a sacred site that was stolen from the First People and carved up into a monument to honor a group of men, who may have been brilliant and wise and courageous, but who were also deeply flawed and guilty of the worst crimes against humanity

 

Donald Trump did it to exacerbate the racial tension that has griped the country in the fourth year of his presidency. He held it there like a cartoon villain, bankrupt and with no good reason to continue, he did it to stroke his ego to cover up the blemish of his incompetence at handling the worst public health crises the country has ever seen.

 

The 4th of July should be a time of soul searching and deep reflection and community, forget about the flag waving and jingoism.

 

Ask yourself what it means to be an American; immigrant, refugee, stolen people, enslaved people, conquered people, vanquished people, and the revolutionary. We are the descendants of them all, the immigrant, the refugee, the stolen, the enslaved, the conquered, the vanquished; we are their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren…we are one people with a common history, and a common set of ideals we should be continuously striving to live up to.

 

We are a great nation, if and only if we remember it all.

 

4th of July

 

Given – 2020.07.04

Given 1st – 2016.07.04

Transform VI – Editorial, The Week in Review

Analysis, Commentary, Opinion

07.04.2020

 

Transform   VI

 

 

Change the names.

 

Take down the monuments and memorials.

 

Do it now.

 

There is plenty to be proud of in the American tradition, and much to be ashamed of. If we want to transform our culture into one of enduring justice then it is time for us to stop elevating what is reprehensible in our collective story and time for us to promote what is truly good and beautiful, the things that unite all of us and speak to our common humanity.

 

We must stop fetishizing the flag, the national anthem, the military, war.

 

Bravery is good. It is good that men and women are willing to put their lives on the line and even die for their brothers and sisters in arms, but war itself is reprehensible and always marks a failure of human beings to navigate the maze of their self-interest.

 

Slave holders, including men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson presented in history as the men that they were: brave, brilliant, despotic.

 

There was much to be admired in them, but also much to be abhorred and we should not shirk from our responsibility to tell their story in full.

 

What I was taught to admire in human beings was the quality of perseverance we see in human beings who have to struggle to overcome adversity, what we find in and women who rise to the challenge of their circumstances, when the world is set against them and they triumph as the underdog, while demonstrating grace in victory, humility and love for their fellow human beings.

 

Our memorials and monuments should be dedicated to men and women who display those characteristics, and it is the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised who possess those qualities in seemingly infinite capacities.

 

Just look at our “essential workers” our minimum wage-earning heroes and heroines who are keeping the economy running, the hospital cleaning staff, just as much as the doctors and nurses, all risking their lives to fight the pandemic.

 

We do no need monuments dedicated to men who broke treaties, enslaved their fellow human beings, justified that slavery with ridiculous arguments that were only intended to cover up their otherwise naked greed.

 

We do not need memorials dedicated to traitors the traitors that took our country to civil war, in order to defend their “right” to buy and sell human beings as property.

 

We do not need men and women holding office who cannot understand this, they should step down, and not run again.

 

Let’s begin the transformation of America now.

 

 

 

 

The Feast of Saint’s Peter and Paul, Founders of the Church

Not all Christians celebrate the lives of the Saints, but many do, and today is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, who after Jesus were the principle founders of the Church.

We celebrate their feast on the day of their ascension, which is most often the day of their death, in the case of Peter and Paul it is the date they were martyred, the day they were killed as enemies of the Roman State.

Their influence on Christian doctrine was greater than Jesus’, more enduring. Paul, through his letters wrote the core pieces of Christian Doctrine, and Peter was the first pope, the Bishop of Rome, and Patriarch of the Latin Church.

Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye, though Peter bore the title of chief among the disciples, Paul was the greater teacher and more closely approximated the way of Christ.

As I mentioned, Peter is given credit for founding the church of Rome, the lore of the Church tells us that he was its first bishop, this is a myth however, that title was not even in use during Peter’s day.

It is accepted as true that both men were put to death in Rome, martyred there on account of their commitment to the Church and its mission, they were mot put to death so much for the content of their beliefs, but for leading the kind of secretive society that was feared by the emperors of Rome. Christians were perceived as a threat that has to be curtailed.

Paul was a Roman citizen, he travelled broadly throughout the empire and for from his home of Tarsus. He founded many churches in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, his letters are the earliest known Christian writings, and though not all of those ascribed to him were written by him, Paul’s actual influence is imeasureable.

A casual observer of history may find this odd because Paul he never met Jesus, and prior to his conversion he was the type of man who would punish other members of his community if they were not properly observing the traditions of his synagogue, Christians were his chief target.

After Paul’s conversion to Christianity he led the mission to the gentiles, opening the teachings of the church to the masses, he made it so that a person did not need to become Jewish first in order to become a Christian.

Peter initially opposed him in this but once their dispute was settled at a meeting in Jerusalem officiated by Jesus’ own brother Saint James, the matter was settled and the gentiles were allowed the full franchise of membership in the community of the blessed.

Peter and Paul

Given First 06.29.2020

The Feast of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons

Irenaeus served as the bishop of Lugdum (now Lyons), in France. He was born c. 130 CE and died c. 202 CE, serving during the Apostolic era, and he is listed in the ranks of the martyrs of the Church, though the details of martyrdom are unknown.

Irenaeus was a prolific writer. He was connected to the Bishop Polycarp who was himself connected to the Apostle John, making him only three steps removed from the ministry of Jesus.

Irenaeus’ surviving works show how he was deeply committed to the unity of Christian doctrine. He ardently opposed the heretical sects of groups like the loosely affiliated Gnostics, as well as the Montanists, and he was among the first to argue for the doctrine of apostolic succession, positing that a bishop of the church should stand in an unbroken line of succession that goes back to the first apostles.

What is most important about Irenaeus’ work is something referred to as the Irenaean theodicy, this is why I lift him up and write about him.

Theodicy is the specific field of theological work devoted to understanding the problem of evil, and its ultimate resolution by God.

The Irenaean theodicy was the leading doctrine in the church up until the time that it was supplanted by Augustine’s teaching on original sin, three centuries later, after which Saint Augustine’s teaching became normative throughout the Christian world.

St. Augustine suggests that creation was made perfect and without blemish, and then there was a fall into sin, which came from nowhere and nothing resulting in a degree of chaos and disorder which completely separates creation from God. Whereas Irenaeus posited that the though the world is fallen it is not wholly fallen, making it so that the breach is not irreparable, putting forward that God’s plan for the resolution of evil is to slowly draw all things to the divine.

For saint Irenaeus the perfection of the created order happens as a process of assimilation, which he calls recapitulation, imagining that each individual-being is on a journey, coming ever closer to God; as we draw near our imperfections fall away.

Irenaeus’ theology, which was never condemned, provides a strong theological grounding for the theology of universal salvation which has persisted as a teaching among Christians from the very beginning of the Church, though only among a stark minority.

Irenaeus

The Big City – Editorial, The Week in Review

Analysis, Commentary, Opinion
06.27.2020

The Big City
I spent the last week in New York City.

I arrived there on Saturday morning, driving through the Lincoln Tunnel. I took the streets East through Midtown to Union Square.

On Saturday the city was still shut down, they were in Phase One, there was no sitting down in a restaurant to eat. But there was some street life, and there was curbside service for pick up, there was delivery.

The corner bars, of which there are many, those who had not shuttered their doors completely were serving drinks directly to their patrons on the street, through make-shift to go windows.

People gathered at those places where they would have gathered normally because in New York the average person lives their life outside of their apartment. Dining out, being out gathering together for their social life.

I have been travelling to New York once or twice a year for the past decade, and it is the friendliest city I can think of.

When I drove in last Saturday at about 2:30 pm. The streets were practically empty. Instead of vibrant, teaming, bustling Manhattan I might have been in downtown Minneapolis. That is how sparsely populated the sidewalks were…and the quiet, it was eerie.

Ninety five percent of the people I encountered were wearing masks. No body complained. To complain would have been unthinkable. There was a point at which New York was experience its greatest loss of life when 1,000 people were dying every day, and everybody knows someone who has passed away from having contracted the COVID-19, novel corona virus.

On Monday the city entered Phase Two, restaurants and bars opened for patio dining and limited capacity. We had breakfast outside at a Ukrainian diner, called Vaselka on 9th Street and 2nd Avenue in the East village, pierogis with eggs and kielbasa and a blintz.

It was delicious.

We were interviewed by a reporter for Univision who wanted to know how we felt about being able to dine out again; my friends were happy, and nervous and guarded. The instinctive mood was to be cautious and not let the rediscovered freedoms go to your head.

On Tuesday we went to the beach. We drove through Brooklyn to Far Rockaway. People were returning to work, the streets were busier, noisier, but still everyone was masked, social distancing, following the rules, getting along.

I saw it as an extraordinary exercise in civic mindedness, and I hope that the rest of the country can learn from it before they to have to experience the incredible loss of life in their own communities as New York has. Even on the beach where the wind was blowing hard, those people who were not wearing masks, had them ready to put on if they should get close to other people, or have the need to go into a store.

That kind of conscientiousness was not evident on the drive to New York, or back. I only saw people masked in the stores and gas stations that belonged to national chains with national policies to guide them.

During my time on the road, the virus has taken over the South and West on the United States, our fat is in the fire and things are only getting worse.

Driving – Editorial, The Week in Review

Analysis, Commentary, Opinion
06.20.2020

Driving
I set out for a drive two days ago.

I woke up in Clarion, Pennsylvania today, its a small college town near the border of Ohio.

Yesterday I woke up in Meyerville, Indiana. I started my trip in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I will be New York City this afternoon.

I am being very cautious, practicing my social distancing, wearing my mask when I get out of the car, talk to hotel staff, go into the gas station, or even if I don’t go in, if I just fill up at the pump, I wash my hands, use wet wipes and try to keep things clean.

I have not seen a lot of people wearing masks.

There have been signs asking for people to practice social distancing, I have seen greater and lesser degrees of compliance with that but in the Holiday Inn’s wear I have stayed the night. The front desk staff were not masked, and I saw guests violating the social distancing rules with them, when they did there was no attempt at correction.

The greatest degree of compliance I have seen has come from people working in national chains, I have been to the drive through at three Star Bucks and one DQ, Masks were in use there, but not at the Holiday Inn’s, the Kwik Trips, or the Marathon gas stations I have been to.

I have seen only a few other people, like me, wearing masks conscientiously.

I took the Interstate from Minneapolis to the Port of Milwaukee, I was thinking of taking the ferry across Lake Michigan, but the timing wasn’t right.

I planned my route from their to avoid highways and toll ways and that took me on a slow drive from Milwaukee through Chicago, to Meryerville, Indiana.

I drove through Waukegan, Illinois past the Naval Station where I went to Boot Camp and attended Hospital Corps School. Then I through the wealthy suburbs North of Chicago, which gave me the feeling like I was in a John Hughes movie.

Pretty quickly after that I was driving through the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago itself: Puerto Rican, Polish, Italian, and finally the South Side. It was stop and go traffic through the city, and nobody I saw, whether on the street in alongside me in a car was wearing a mask.

I get it, they are uncomfortable, and I wasn’t wearing mine in my car when I was driving, but what is happening here. Wearing a mask is a simple thing. It will work to protect you and protect others from you if you are infected.

It is uncomfortable, but it is easy.

I took back roads all the way through Indiana and Ohio, up until I passed through Akron, and got to Pennsylvania, in those places, which is trump country, I actually did experience hostility from folks because I was wearing a mask.

Dirty looks and sneers is what I was treated to. Nobody said anything to me, I’m too big for that but this is out of hand. Two hundred thousand Americans will have died from the COVID-19 by Labor Day, with no end in sight.

The ridiculous buffoon we have in occupying the oval office, the Fake President, is doing everything he can to undermine public health to fit his own misguided political narrative, and his vanity.

Instead of treating the virus as the enemy and rallying the people to fight it, he has treated public health administrators and science as the enemy and has rallied his base to work against their best advice.

It will have deadly consequences.

Saint Romuald of Ravenna

Today we celebrate the life Saint Romuald, I lift up his memory for one reason in particular, and that is this:

The man was a realist and he encouraged a sense of realism among his followers.

He was an outspoken critic of the way the lives of the saints were written about and disseminated, he could not tolerate the popular tradition of the hagiography, replete with their embellishments, miracle stories which he flatly called out for the lies that they were.

His criticism of the tradition merits our respect.

Romuald was a member of an aristocratic family, he lived between the mid tenth and early eleventh century CE. He was the founder of the Camaldolese order, in the Benedictine tradition.

He had a wild youth and was said to have given himself over to the sins of the flesh, but later he became credited for breathing new life into eremitical and aesthetic monasticism.

He became a hermit.

He is said to have founded and or reformed many monastic institutions, though not all of his work was successful.

Through the promulgation of his rule he encouraged monks under his care to lead solitary lives, engaged in mediation and the interior reflection on the self. He was interested in the process of a person’s inner thoughts. He encouraged his followers to watch and be mindful of their thoughts as if they were watching fish in a stream.

In this way he was like a Zen master.

Romuald was heavily influenced by the Orthodox practice of hesychasm, which has also been associated with quietism, both of which highlight the long standing practice of deep mediation in the Christian tradition, which puts it his teaching on par with the practices of Buddhist monks in the Himalayas and Japan.

Tell no lies about him, he was an ordinary man.

Romuald

Kinsei Musashi Miyamoto, and Sensei Clifford “Chick” Moody – Heroes

I first encountered the writings of Musashi when I was eighteen years old.

On the recommendation of a friend I went to a dojo on Selby Avenue and Chatsworth in Saint Paul, the Inner Truth School of Self Defense.

I introduced myself to the Sensei, Clifford “Chick” Moody, asked me what I was doing there, and on the advice of my friend I told him that “I wanted to learn strategy and self-defense.”

I think my response took him by surprise, it sounded a bit formal and it sounded a bit theatrical coming out of my mouth, but his demeanor changed. I think he decided he could take me seriously (at least in the moment).

He asked me to take a seat in the front of the studio to watch a demonstration, and I watched for a while as his students warmed-up.

Sensei moody was ancient already, he had two of his black belts come to the place where I sat, they proceeded to work through a series of blocks and strikes and falls. This gave me an idea of what I could expect the course of training might be at the way place.

At the end of the demonstration he gave me this bit of advice, he told me to read two authors, Carl von Clauswitz, on War, and Miyomoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings.

For the next three years I attended classes at the dojo, three hours a day, five days a week, with one on one training after the regular session on Sundays.

Sensei Moody was a sixth dan, he held black belts and weapons proficiencies in dozens of styles. He taught his own system, which he called Muashi, way of the wind, but its roots were in Okinawan Karate, the hard forms of Goju Ru and Goju Kiyokai, and he taught Ninjitsu.

Sensei Moody’s teachers were the men who first brought Japanese martial arts to the United States like Ron Duncan Jr. and Peter Irving, the children of American servicemen who grew up in Japan after World War II.

There were classes where Sensei would have us sit in sanchin while he read from the Book of Five Rings, the Go Rin No Sho. It was through Sensei Moody that I discovered the greatest practitioner of martial discipline and combat strategy the world has ever known.

Musashi, Kinsei (Saint of the Sword).

musashi-selfportrait