Oscar Romero became the Arch Bishop of San Salvador in 1977, at the age of sixty.
He was assassinated three years later.
He was murdered because her refused to give up his ministerial work on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised people of his country, killed for speaking out against the abuses they suffered at the hands of the ruling class, conditions of systemic poverty and virtual slavery with no recourse to the law or justice of any kind; they endured forced internment, torture and the imposition of the State in their religious life, including denying them the right to worship and receive the sacraments. Oscar Romero stood against these abuses and for that he was martyred.
Saint Romero was considered to be a scholarly and aesthetic man whose appointment to the Arch Bishopric was intended to be un-controversial and un-threatening to the political regime of El Salvador.
They were wrong.
Once he was elevated to that position of trust and authority he began to speak out against the abuses of power he witnessed the people enduring every single day.
In his sermons, his writings and his radio program he spoke out against them:
“In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs–they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands…. But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.”
Saint Romero bore witness to these atrocities while they were happening and because of it he was murdered.
Soon we may be called to stand-up and bear witness to the abuses of our own government, against the dismantling of our democracy, the abandonment of constitutional government and human rights abuses not seen in this country in generations.
I purchased my first jazz album in 1986, Round Midnight by The Miles Davis Quintet.
I had been encouraged to listen to jazz by a man named Howard who I met Uptown, in Minneapolis, and who has remained a friend throughout my life.
I had a couple of other Miles Davis albums in a collection of records I shared with my friend Josh, Bitches Brew and Kind of Blue, it was through these albums that my eyes were opened to this uniquely American art form, and to Miles Davis, who remains its greatest practitioner, having transformed the genre numerous times throughout the course of his life.
I saw him play at the Orpheum theatre in Minneapolis, in 1988. My mom and I went together with my Josh, outside of the venue we talked with a couple of other friends of ours from the neighborhood Sean Pike and Greg Fox
Even though this was not my favorite era of his music, it was the greatest performance I have ever seen and I regret that I missed an opportunity to see him play a second time, in 1991 shortly before his death.
In 1993 I was on a flight from L.A. to D.C. and the man who had been his bass player, Joseph “Foley” McCreary sat next to me on the plane. I was wearing a T-shirt with Robert Johnson printed on the front, Foley’s had a depiction of Miles. I told him that I had seen him play, he told me that he was on the stage that night, we talked for a couple of minutes before he tuned me out, but he gave me a copy of his recent release, Seven Years Ago, Directions in Smart Alec Music, which featured a tribute to the memory of miles and some unbelievable guitar work by Prince, and he got off the plane in Ohio.
During that trip I picked up a copy of Miles’ autobiography, co-authored with Quincey Troupe. It was fascinating.
Miles dished up all the good stories on everyone he ever played with, it was a deep lesson in American history. He didn’t pull many punches, including critical reflections on himself.
By 1993 time I had fallen in love with the album, Sketches of Spain, I was not surprised to read that Miles considered this the most difficult album he had ever recorded. He offered an anecdote about it in his biography, saying that an old Spanish cattleman had listened to it, and when it was finished he felt compelled to go out into the field and fight a bull, that is how deep this music spoke to the Spanish soul.
In 1988 Miles Davis was knighted by the King of Spain, inducted into the Hospital Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights of Malta and Rhodes, and two months before his death he was knighted in France and inducted into the Legion of Honor.
In his biography he mused that being knighted allowed him to enter seventy some different countries without having to pass through customs.
In 2008 I was taking classes at Saint John’s School of theology, in Collegeville Minnesota. I was in the kitchen early one morning when one of the monks was coming through the tunnel from the monastery, which is famous for its music studies program.
The monk was humming the tune for Bye-Bye Blackbird, one of the songs from that first Miles Davis Album I ever purchased. I caught the tune and named it as the monk was passing by me.
He gave me a questioning look, and I informed him about my discernment. He had no idea what I was talking about, informing me that it was the tune of a song written in the era of the troubadours, between the 10th and 12th centuries, and was associated with the Cathar Heresies of Central Europe…that made me smile.
Today is Labor Day, a great national holiday, a day set aside for the American worker and to celebrate the ordinary citizen.
This day is meant to honor laborers, it is a day to honor work. It is meant to be a day of rest, repose and respite, but this year it is a day that we must acknowledge our collective anxiety as there are twenty million Americans unemployed, out of work and uncertain of our future.
I spent most of my life working in the hospitality sector. Now I am self-employed but my clients are mostly restaurants, this year many of my friends and colleagues have had to shutter their businesses, close their doors, cut their hours, reduce their staff change their business model to account for the global pandemic COVID-19.
There are millions of workers that have the day off this year who would rather be working. We have had too much time off, but the nation is not ready to reopen.
Our chief executive has abdicated the responsibility for managing this crises, preferring to pretend that it will go away on its own.
It will not.
Each of our fifty states has a different plan to handle the pandemic, some governors have followed the president’s example, abdicating their responsibility, putting it off on local governments at the county and municipality level. Some of these governors have taken even more draconian steps and signed orders that limit what local governments can do to protect their people and find a safe way to live, go to school, engage in commerce and move forward.
Today we count the number of dead at 190,000 and climbing.
On Memorial Day we were poised to cross the 100,000 threshold. Ninety thousand more Americans dies over the summer, and it did not have to be this way.
It does not have to be this way, but it will continue to be this way until we have leadership that acknowledges the scope of the emergency, and puts together a plan to manage the crises.
The economy will continue to struggle, the stock market notwithstanding, a million Americans will file new claims for unemployment every week, the unemployment rate will continue to hover around ten percent, Americans will not return to work for as long as the status quo remains the same.
The unemployed American worker needs relief. The House of representatives has passed a bill to provide. The Senate has opted not to address and the president is actively working against it.
We need the Hero’s act to pass to provide this relief, we need to keep those who are still working, working, we need it to help those who are not working return to work. We need it so that American families can keep a roof over their heads, keep the lights on, keep gas in the car, and keep food on the table
We need leadership, or we need a general strike!
Happy Labor Day my brothers and sisters, lets due the right thing!
Sometimes I get ahead of myself, I think we all do at times, we project what we want to see, over and against the reality of what is, as in the title of this piece.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta; the patron saint of doubters.
In truth, the Church has named Mother Theresa the Patron Saint of World Catholic Youth Day, and that is fair: in her time the good mother inspired many young people, providing that inspiration through her life of austerity and selflessness; she inspired many of us to good things, to want to be good people, to emulate her in that way.
She was a tiny woman, but she was strong. She inspires through her strength and her commitment to her ideals, despite the painful realities that she experienced and despite her understanding that the suffering she sought to ease would never cease, and her knowledge that the suffering of the world has no end.
We must be like the wise mother and pray for strength, pray for wisdom, for understanding and perseverance. Mother Theresa did not expect that by praying for these things God would transform her, or that God would give her supernatural powers, but that the act of praying would fortify her, that it would give her the strength she needed to get through the day, her day, each and every day.
Mother Theresa was sainted for her life-long commitment to the good, to serving the poor, for setting an example of patience and endurance; for setting such a strong example that if each of the rest of us were able to approximate a small degree of her fundamental stance toward justice and compassion, to give a small part of ourselves over to the healing of the world, the world might stop spinning in its spiral of violence and in that moment we might see something of the true glory that belongs the God of peace and mercy and grace.
It is right and good to praise God, the creator of the universe, because creation is miraculous and mysterious, and beyond the scope of human comprehension.
And while it is right and good to praise God, to doubt God’s purpose in the world is not a sin. Mother Theresa taught us this, she taught that doubt it is a natural movement the heart, beating within the breast of a person who loves, of someone who confronts the pain and suffering in the world and subsequently falls into despair.
It is not sinful to doubt God or God’s purpose in the world, neither is it sinful to doubt the traditions of the Church, its doctrines and decrees and decretals.
The Good Mother taught us this, and so let us be clear about a few things:
God is not a giver of victories. God has no enemies. In God, within whom all things exist and have their being…there is no conflict.
It is not God’s justice that is shown in the work of human beings, it is human justice, and when human justice approximates the justice of God, it is expressed in mercy and compassion and that is good, The Good Mother taught us to aspire to things even in the midst of human misery and despair.
Pope Francis, canonized Mother Theresa on September the 4th, 2016, on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, her feast was celebrated for the first time and from that day forward, on the 5th of September, which is today.
Christians of every stripe, and non-Christian alike, remember Saint Theresa for her desire to embrace all people, no matter how flawed or marginalized they might be, and all people will remember this brilliant woman, servant and sister, this theologian; they will remember her for her brilliance which grows even greater in her afterlife.
God chose her, as God chooses all of; God chose her from the beginning, to receive the sanctifying spirit, he created her in the divine image, placing within her a seed of the eternal Word to enliven her. God made her this way, in the same way that God makes everyone, but what made the sainted mother different from most of the rest of us was that she saw the truth of it clearly, and in seeing it she understood her purpose in the world. The Good Mother saw the divine image in the people she bent down to serve, she saw the face of God in the poor and the sick, in the blind and the leper, she saw God suffering in them and she responded with the love God had instructed her in.
Mother Theresa is famous for her service and her impressive life, and the inspiration she gave to millions of people, and when I reflect on the life of Saint Theresa of Calcutta, it is her memoirs, which were published after her death, which had the greatest impact on me.
Saint Theresa struggled, like all of us do, with the sense that God had abandoned her, She felt at times as if God had abandoned the world. She managed to do the good works she did, to serve the Church and all of its members, to fulfill her commitment to her order, to lead them; to make of her life a daily sacrifice even in the midst of her own profound doubt and great personal suffering, as she experienced the suffering of other’s (which she shared).
In consideration of her experience she lived with a deep-felt sense of alienation from God.
Saint Theresa persevered in goodness even in the face of her doubts, she admitted to the pain that she brought to others, even as she tried to serve them, she confess and ask forgiveness and they allowed her to lead them. She bore witness to the suffering of the world, she held God accountable for it in her heart, and yet she still followed the calling of the Spirit despite her indictment of the divine, and that is why she will be known as the Patron Saint of Doubters.
Mother Theresa was different from the disciples who followed Jesus and witnessed his miraculous life. Her example of how to fulfill the Christian life in the face of the deepest doubts is what makes her life exemplary, a life that will continue to shine on us long after the sun has collapsed and human beings are scattered throughout the galaxy.
We will carry the memory of Saint Theresa of Calcutta with us, as a light shining in the darkness.
There is something historically significant about her relationship to her doubts that we would all do well to be mindful of. We see it reflected in the history of Christianity in India, which has always been connected to the missionary work of the Apostle Thomas, who is in fact the patron saint of doubters, who struggled to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, and did not accept it until he placed his own fingers into the wounds Christ bore, the wounds which still marred his body even after he was reborn.
My mother had a beautiful edition of The Hobbit, hard bound in a green case with gold leaf and gilt pages. There were lovely illustrations in the book, and maps drawn by the author himself.
I pulled it off the shelf when I was in the third grade and I read it. Then I read the Lord of the Rings, followed by the Silmarillion, his Unfinished Tales edited by his son Christopher, and then a biography of the man himself.
Before I began to read his other works, I began to re-read those books. I read them all, many times over: eight, nine, ten times.
I remember a sensation I had on my third time through the Silmarillion, I experienced a heightened sense of understanding that came to me because I had become a better reader. It wasn’t just that I was re-reading the same material, but my vocabulary had expanded and I was able to comprehend more of the material.
The picture was filling in and the world that Tolkien created was coming to life.
I added his smaller lesser known works to the corpus of material I consumed, when I was still in the seventh grade I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Beowulf. These works resonated with my other reading interests, such as the collected and various tales of King Arthur, they also put me in touch with the broader tradition of the Viking sagas.
Then I began to read books about Tolkien and Middle Earth written or compiled by other authors, The Tolkien Companion, the New Tolkien Companion, along with various encyclopedias, bestiaries and anthologies depicting the arms and armor of Middle Earth.
Reading Tolkien put the idea in my head that I wanted to be a writer. Reading his work over and over again gave me a deep appreciation for the care and the craft he put into the work of devising his fantasy world.
Through Tolkien I came to have an early appreciation for the power of myths, their malleability, and the potential that we have as creative people to fashion our own myths and communicate them to the broader world.
Through his writing Tolkien dramatized the basic conflicts he saw at work in our civilization, conflicts between the bucolic and pastoral life with the forces of industry that seemed to be destroying the planet, the disasters of modern warfare and the suffering they visit on the world.
The collected stories of Middle Earth are a form of social criticism that is more relevant than ever in the twenty-first century.
I was in the Marvel camp, and the Avengers were my crew.
The Black Panther was an Avenger, but he was not in the regular part of the line-up. He came around when the team was in trouble, he would help them get out of jam.
He was a super-soldier, like Captain America, only different he powers came from another source, something ancient, something spiritual, something magic and African. He seemed to be the equal of Captain America in nearly every way, and Chadwick Boseman personified him perfectly.
I woke to the news of Mr. Boseman’s passing and it made me really sad.
Watching the news I saw a number of tributes to him and the sadness has not passed, it sticks around because Mr. Boseman did something unique through his portrayal of the Black Panther, something he did not achieve in his portrayal of Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and James Brown; in the persona of the Black Panther he became a living icon.
He appeared in four Marvel movies as T’Challa, first as prince then as king of the mythical African country of Wakanda. The movie, Black Panther became the first superhero movie to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, it was nominated for a total of seven, and won three.
Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa was the reason (as far as I am concerned).
One of his co-stars referred to him as regal, and I absolutely agree. He was positively regal, he walked like a king, not like the head of some sick old dynasty, but as a leader a person of substance, confidence and compassion.
His work generated the movement hashtag Wakanda Forever, he inspired people, and he is already missed.
He was a born and raised in South Carolina, a graduate of Howard University, a husband and a hero.
Augustine of Hippo is arguably the most influential Christian writer of all time, with the possible exception of Saint Paul whose epistles are the earliest Christian writings, and which delineated for the nascent church its primary creeds and basic beliefs concerning who Jesus was and why his life and death were meaningful to us.
It is possible that Augustine is more influential than Paul because Augustine’s interpretation of Paul’s letters have dominated Christian thought since his time.
Augustine’s life spanned the mid-fourth century to the mid-fifth century CE. He entered the Church just at the Christianity was completing its transformation into the official religion of the Empire, and the indispensable administrative apparatus of the same. Saint Augustine’s fixed that transformative process into the structures that we recognize today.
Augustine was midway through his career as a public servant before he converted to Christianity, entered the priesthood and was made a bishop.
All of which happened in rapid succession. It only took him four years to go from priest to bishop.
His mother was a Christian, but his father was not, and his father had wanted him to have a regular career in the traditional Roman mode of life. Augustine adhered to his father’s wishes for a time, but at the beginning of the fifth Century the Empire was in a process of conversion and all of the good jobs were going to Christians. Eventually he converted, only after becoming convinced that he would have a good career in the Church, and would only encounter dead ends outside of it.
His gambit paid off, they put him on the fast track to Bishop.
Augustine was a prolific writer, in the modern day he is most famous for his Confessions, and his magnum opus, The City of God.
He worked tirelessly against heretical groups like the Manicheans, the Pelagians and the Donatists.
He penned the controversial doctrine of creation ex nihillo, as apart of his seminal teaching on original sin. In addition to this, he gave the Church its teaching on sacramental theology, and he argued for the authority of the Church in all matters private and public.
His theology would dominate Christian thinking up until the scholastic period, but Saint Thomas Aquinas, the most influential of the scholastic theologians leans heavily on Augustine for nearly all of his views, which is to say that Augustine continued to exercise an indirect influence on the church as the preeminent standard of orthodoxy.
Scholastic theologians often deviated from the logic of Augustine, but on the occasion that they might draw a different conclusion from Augustine, they often ran afoul of the hierarchy.
By the time of the protestant reformation, both Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that their work represented a realignment of the church with Saint Augustine, and Saint Augustine’s theology continued to dominate protestant thinking.
In my own work, Saint Augustine stands as my principle opponent.
His doctrine of original sin, his doctrine of double predestination, his teaching that torture can be considered a form of charity if it brings someone to the point of conversion are anathema to the way, and represent a stark contradistinction to the life and ministry of Jesus.
Saint Augustine of Hippo has the title of Angelic Doctor of the Church, but he was a villain, he was brutal and cruel, and a hypocrite of the highest order. He should be read in that light.
Huineng lived between the mid-seventh century and early eighth century CE. He is the author of the Platform Sutra and is the principle proponent of the doctrine of sudden enlightenment.
He was a Chinese Buddhist of the Southern Chan school, which became known as Zen Buddhism when it moved across the waters to Japan.
Huineng was a lay person, according to the legends which pertain to him, upon reading the Diamond Sutra he attained a state of perfect enlightenment and was able to expostulate his understanding of the teachings of the Buddha to Hongren, the Fifth Ancestor of Zen. Even though Huineng was considered to be an uneducated barbarian Hongren chose him as his successor over the monk who had been groomed to fulfil that role.
Huineng’s Platform Sutra recapitulates all the major teachings of Chan Buddhism including the Diamond Sutra, the Lotus Sutra and the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana.
Huineng taught “no-thought” and the purity of the “unattached mind” which comes and goes freely, functioning fluently without any hindrance.
The principle of “no-thought” does not mean that a person is not thinking, but that in the state of “no-though” the mind is a highly attentive to its immediate experience, unentangled by the exigencies of the past or the expectations of the future.
The state of ‘no-thought” is understood as a way of being, wherein the mind is open, non-conceptual, allowing the individual to experience reality directly, as it truly is.
Huineng criticized the formal understanding of Buddhism which suggests that the individual must devote themselves to a life of quiet contemplation, likening it to the same trap that the Gautama Siddhartha the Buddha sought to free people from when he taught them that they did not have to endure innumerable lifetimes and countless rebirths before they can be free from the wheel of life.
Huineng’s teaching on sudden enlightenment is a doctrine of liberation such as that taught by the Buddha when he instructed the people that they could experience immediate release by following the five-fold path.
The Buddha was a liberator and Huineng cast himself in the same mode.
Huineng taught this: When alive one keeps sitting without lying down. When dead, one lies without sitting up.
Observing that: In both cases, one is a set of stinking bones!
Asking the most important question: What has any of it to do with the great lesson of life?
When I was given my first Koan to meditate on, my teacher offered me the old cliché:
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
In the spirit of Huineng I understood the Koan to be meaningless and I replied: There is no sound.
He insisted that I answered to quickly, suggesting that I must meditate on the Koan further, which was unnecessary because in speaking from the immediacy of our experience we are able to understand that one hand does not clap.