Today is Thanksgiving, a secular holiday; nevertheless, Thanksgiving is sacred to most Americans.
Many of us write reflections on this day, posting memes that express to the world the things we are thankful for, and that is nice, conscientious, appropriate. We have much to be thankful for as Americans, and we should never forget it.
A heartfelt expression of gratitude is always welcome, even the gratitude that is expressed in general for the many things we receive from those we love, by whom we are loved, for the things we are given that make our lives more comfortable, more challenging and more meaningful.
It is never inappropriate to thankful.
To express gratitude is to make one’s self humble; it is to acknowledge our reliance on others for making us into the people we have become.
Thanksgiving is a day for humility; therefore, be gracious. Be thankful…insofar as you are able, in-so-doing you will be following the way of the wise.
In theology there is something known as the apophatic tradition. In this tradition it is understood that God, by whatever name you call the creator the universe (of all that is and all we are), that God dwells in a mode of being that is beyond human understanding.
The apophatic tradition tells us that God is shrouded in mystery, a state of being that mystics describe as the cloud of un-knowing.
According to the apophatic tradition, we are not able speak in the affirmative about what or who God is, because God, the eternal and infinite, God will not be circumscribed by the finite constructs of human thought and language.
We are not able to posit meaningful assertions about the nature of the Divine; what we are left with is the via negative, the way of understanding who God is by stating what God is not.
In keeping with the via negativa, I am in the custom of forgoing the traditional giving-of-thanks, even though I am truly grateful for my friends and compatriots, I am grateful for everyone in my life, grateful for all of those who inspire me, who love me and who are patient with me every single day.
I am grateful for you.
For thanksgiving I follow the via negative, the negative way,and express what I am not thankful for.
I am not thankful for the coronavirus and COVID-19.
I am not thankful that 260,000 Americans have died from this virus, with thousands more dying everyday.
I am not thankful that there are more than 20,000,000 million Americans out of work do to safety measures we have had to take in order to fight this pandemic.
I am not thankful that tens of millions of Americans refuse to participate in those safety measures, that they do not care for the lives and safety of their neighbors, or their families or even themselves enough to wear a mask, and keep distant from one another.
I am not thankful that the track record of the United States is the worst in the world for dealing with this crises, that with four percent of the population we have twenty percent of the deaths.
I am not thankful that Donald Trump lies about these facts and figures as a means of trying to avoid responsibility for his dismal failures.
I am not thankful for the food lines that stretch for miles in some communities this holiday season so that families can have something to put on the table to celebrate the good things in their lives.
I am not thankful that the economic relief which the entire country is in desperate need of receiving is being held up by the political machinations of Mitch McConnell the senate majority leader and his caucus of heartless, short-sighted republicans.
I am not thankful that in the Fake President, Donald Trump, continues to divide us by class, culture, color, and is desperately trying to overturn the results of the election he just lost by 7,000,000 votes, and counting
I am not thankful for their collective failure of Congress to protect the constitution, or for the individual members who have forgotten their oath of office.
I am not thankful for our failures of leadership.
I am not thankful for white supremacy, and domestic terrorism.
I am not thankful for terrorism anywhere. I am not thankful for the religious fundamentalism that drives it. I am thankful neither for the fear that spawns it, nor for the fear it generates
I am not thankful that there is hunger in our bountiful world. I am not thankful for the greed and the sloth and the bad public policy that fosters it.
I am not thankful for willful ignorance, for anti-rational, anti-intellectual, demagoguery. I am not thankful for the cultural relativism that has promoted it, for anti-objectivism, for liars.
I am not thankful for Donald Trump. I am not thankful for my fellow Americans who voted for him, I am not thankful for his allies in congress or people anywhere who continue to support him.
I am not thankful for the media outlets, the reporters, the editorialists who failed and continue to fail to take the threat Donald Trump represent to our Democracy seriously. I am not thankful that they abdicated their responsibilities as the gatekeepers of society, as the so called 4th Estate, allowing his corrupt and criminal regime to cause so much harm to ordinary people.
I am not thankful for his corruption of the rule of law.
I am not thankful for our government’s continuous assault on our population of immigrants and refugees, for the way we have abdicated our responsibility to care for the asylum seeker.
I am not thankful for these things.
I am not thankful that there is so much more to add to this list.
Did I say that I am not thankful for white supremacists? I did, but let me say it again…I am not thankful for them or their apologists, both their soft supporters and their ardent advocates. I am not thankful that they have had a seat at the table in the Trump administration, I am not thankful for the normalization of that kind of hate in our society.
As a Roman Catholic Theologian, and a student of philosophy, Saint Katherine of Alexandria is my patroness.
I have this image of her, painted by the renaissance master Raphael tattooed on my right arm.
Her legend tells us that she was born in Alexandria, Egypt around the year 287 CE, and that she died as a martyr during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maxentius c. 305.
She was broken on the wheel; she was tied to it, impaled on its spikes, and crushed beneath it as it was rolled through the streets.
Katherine was only eighteen years old but gifted with a rare intellect. She was from a wealthy family and used her fortune to hold salons where she invited pagan philosophers to debate with her and other Christian scholars on matters concerning the central tenets of the faith and the doctrines of the Church.
Katherine is always depicted in the saffron and ochre robes of the philosopher, which had been the tradition throughout the ancient Near East and Hellenistic Civilization since at least the time of Socrates (mid-fourth century BCE). It is likely that these colors, and their association with philosophy come from the Buddhist missionaries travelling west from as early as the sixth century BCE.
I first encountered Doris Lessing’s writing when I was serving in the Navy, stationed at the Naval Hospital at the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina.
I plucked one of her books off the shelf in the library, having no idea who she was or how significant her work had been to twentieth century literature.
The book I selected was from her science fiction series, Canopus in Argos, I took the first book in that five part series off the shelf, titled: Shikasta and I read it over the next few days.
Reading Shikasta filled me with a kind of existential pique. Her characters were so real, the questions they grappled were profound, especially to me at that time in my life, and the response she gave to those questions moved me.
Through her characters she addressed the philosophical questions and fundamental truths that mattered to me most:
What is the nature of reality?
What is the purpose of existence?
What is the meaning of life?
Doris Lessing did not attempt to answer these questions the way that a philosopher would, by presenting a set of propositions with arguments for and against, laid out in a treatise or an essay.
She presents them in narrative, through the choices her characters make and the consequences they face, and the way they reflect on them.
I soon discovered how influential she was in English departments all around the world. Every literature major I met was familiar with her famous work, The Golden Notebook.
As I read more deeply into her collection, I found myself more interested in her examination of more subversive topics, Memoirs of a Survivor, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, and The Good Terrorist.
It was then that I discovered how much of a radical this woman had been, and I was grateful to have been able to encounter her through her literature.
Let’s talk about Stan Lee; I cannot possibly state the significance of the debt I owe this man.
I never met him in life, but I hope to see him beyond, the Mists, past the Western Shore, on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, walking in the Green Fields.
Stan Lee colored my imagination, painting it in the ubiquitous three-color-process that was the standard format of comic books when I was a child, drawn on the cheapest—acid washed paper that money could buy.
He taught me and millions of other kids, that with great power comes great responsibility. He taught us that it is always okay to punch a Nazi, in fact, it is the duty of free people everywhere to fight against tyranny, but it is the responsibility of American’s in particular to stand up against the forces of Hate and divisive Nationalism, of Fascism whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head, and he taught us to look for it in our own backyard.
Stan Lee introduced everyone who read his comics to the classical world of Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus, as well as to Einstein and Heisenberg.
He showed us that the fight for civil rights included all people, and that we had better look around us, take stock of our friends, and make sure that we include in our group those people who are different from us, the marginalized and the meek.
Stan Lee schooled us that even mutants should be loved and respected and protected from the forces of a world fears them, from those who would seek to persecute them.
He told us in no uncertain terms that we should identify with them, the outcast and the disenfranchised, the alien in our midst. He insisted that we have an obligation to secure their rights, by any means necessary.
Stan Lee opened my eyes to the cosmos, through his imagination I took flight, I went surfing with the Alien, journeying through the heart of a black hole in an effort to understand the meaning of life, the nature of reality, and the purpose of existence. I
In the final analysis he told me that I had to be comfortable with the fact that there is no answer, that the galaxy and the universe itself is cold and indifferent, but that human beings don’t have to be. We do not have to follow our appetites, or be consumed by them. We are free and we have a choice. He taught us that the greatest thing we can aspire to, is to love and be loved in our turn, that friendship matters more than power, more than beauty, more than gold.
Stan Lee, was the bard of our day, overflowing with the gift to inspire; it was his super-power.
Today we commemorate the anniversary of the end of World War I, The Great War, the war to end all wars, we were told, though regrettably it was not.
I am a veteran, as is my father and some few of my friends (a very few).
From the end of World War I, until 1954, we celebrated this day as Armistice Day, as a remembrance of that moment in that first great-global-conflict, when the fighting stopped along the lines, and in the trenches at the fronts.
The end of the conflict was choreographed, like a dance.
It stopped suddenly, it stopped all at once.
It came to a halt at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month; as if the war had a director who yelled “cut!” And all the actors on the stage, all the pawns in the field, all the millions of people in their graves could get up from what they were doing and go home.
That is not what happened.
That never happens.
Nearly twenty million people were killed in World War I, twenty million families broken, with many millions more suffering in the aftermath.
World War I was perceived by those who endured it as so horrible that it would end war itself, end it for all time, but that would not be the case.
The gods of war are busy, always
The conflicts they sew never end, not ever
We hunger and we thirst for war
It is the constant failure of humanity
Today is the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, the patron saint of soldiers; St. Martin of the Sword.
Saint Martin was the first Christian Soldier.
It was in recognition of him, and his feast that this date was selected to bring World War I to a close.
It might have come sooner for the soldiers in the struggle, but the politicians acting like art directors wanted to wait for a symbolic moment to bring the curtain down.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it was easy to remember.
Pope, Saint Gregory the Great, the man who gave us the modern calendar, he was the man who penned Saint Martin’s hagiography. Most of Gregory’s hagiographical writings were works of fiction, either cut from whole cloth, or steeped and dyed from a the barest scintilla of truth. It is not likely that Martin of Tours ever lived, much less true are the reports of the many miracles he performed.
All the great Popes were great prevaricators, and great recipients of the penchant for falsehood.
Even if the life of Saint Martin was based on the life of a real person, his hagiography is a fiction and our celebration of him is a piece of propaganda, it is just another terrible lie, a fable penned with a terrible purpose; through it Pope Saint Gregory gave permission for Christians to takes up arms.
He gave Christian soldiers leave to march to war, a vocation which had been theretofore forbidden to the followers of Jesus, and a matter of deep contention in the Church.
The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…their will is bound like the double helix within our human nature.
There is no god of war, there are only human pretenders.
In 1954, President Eisenhower, the man who had been the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, changed the nature of the November 11th holiday; changing the name from Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day, in honor of all Veterans who had fought in any conflict, anywhere in the world.
Friend or foe, ally or adversary, we celebrate the courage of the average person, woman or man, who was willing to risk everything for their tribe, their nation or their clan.
That is what we celebrate today on Veteran’s Day.
We do not celebrate the end of war, because it seems that war itself will never end.
We do not celebrate the fictional life of a fictional saint, whose usefulness as a tool of propaganda promoted the idea that it was not only possible to serve Jesus with a sword, but laudable, and we do not celebrate the lie that peace could ever be the fruit of war.
The fruit of peace springs from a different seed altogether: from tolerance and mercy, compassion and humility…and justice, true justice.
What we celebrate today is the character of those men and women who have had the courage to enlist, to risk their lives for the sake of their sisters and brothers, whether at home or beside them in the field.
We should always celebrate that quality of character, while simultaneously naming the flaws in our own that lead us to war; fear and greed, anger and hatred, all of our calamitous attributes.
The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…the children of Aries; Fear, Panic and Strife, they own a piece of us, they reside in each of us.
We are possessed.
One hundred years after the end of World War I, we are still waging war all around the world. We the United States of America are waging war in Afghanistan, in Africa, selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, who is fighting a war by proxy with Iran in Yemen, and we are feeding other conflicts in every sector of the globe.
We are the greatest arms dealers in the world and every bullet we sell is a shiny little example of our failure.
I served in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, from 1990 – 1994.
I served during the first Gulf War, though I did not serve in the theatre of combat where we killed 300,000 Iraqi people in the space of a few months.
My father served for twenty-two years; the first four as a Marine, the next eighteen in the Air Force. Our nation went to war once during that time, in Southeast Asia where my father served multiple tours of duty, a war in which we killed over 3,000,000 people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
We have killed millions more in many other nations in the decades since then, leaving millions of families broken.
We are terrible, profligate killers, we are experts at it, we Americans.
Today The President of the United States participated in a ceremony that honors the lives of fallen soldiers, a man who never served, who lied to avoid the draft, a man without a shred of honor.
Earlier this year he ordered soldiers to disperse crowds of protesters peacefully assembled in front of the White House, they used chemical irritants and horses to move the crowd, all so he could have a political photo-op in front of Church across the street.
He assembled his generals to participate in it as a show of force.
He ordered the Defense Department to draw up plans to use the United States Military against the American People under the authority of the insurrection act because he feared widespread protest of his failure to govern.
His top generals and defense secretary made public statement that they would not allow the United States armed forces to be drawn into the president’s political conflicts. After loosing his bid for re-election he fired the Secretary of Defense and put a political crony in his place.
It remains true that every bullet we fire, every missile we launch, each of them is an admission of our failure as diplomats and as human beings.
Violence does not beget peace. Violence it begets violence; it will always be that way. Only peace and reconciliation can bring about peace reconciliation.
Love one another; pay respect to the inherent dignity of every human being, regardless of your disagreements, regardless of the pain you are carrying from your past. This is the way out of conflict.
To be free from the repercussions of our history of violence requires that we forgive one another and seek forgiveness for ourselves.
If you want to honor our Veteran’s then commit yourself to meet conflict with love, respect all people, even your adversary, this is the thanks you can give to a Veteran today.
When I was young I imagined that Halloween was for children.
Halloween was all costumes and candy and imaginary play. It was as an escape from reality, an opportunity to gaze into another world, to pierce the veil of what is real and true.
We use to go block to block in our costumes, we called it Trick or Treating, we carried pillow cases slung over our shoulders, taking candies at nearly every door we knocked on, with nearly every bell we rang.
We scoffed at the people who only handed out little bibles or tubes of toothpaste, and shunned those who handed out home-made fare, thinking they were doing something good.
We would rather have nothing at all than have those things, and they quickly found their way into the trash; all those little popcorn balls, boxes of raisins, apples and bibles.
With fondness I recall the drill that came at the end of the night, searching through our candy piles, looking for suspicious things, open packages, search for pins and needles and razor blades.
We understood that some people hated children and would slip these into the candies.
I never found anything dangerous, never once in all of those years, but the fear that there could be, haunted us for real.
Halloween is not all fun and games, though, it has a deeper meaning than we were taught as children, and a much longer history.
Halloween is not just about ghosts and goblins and friendly witches.
In the celebration of Halloween an ages old conflict is present, a real struggle between the Christian Church, and the “Old Time Religion,” the customs of the pagans, paganus, pagani, the country folkand their persistent traditions that lurk just beneath the surface of the Christian rites.
On the Christian Calendar; Halloween is All Hallows Eve, a celebration of the honored dead, of all the saints who had passed before, who have already gone to meet the maker.
For the old pagans; whose traditions are tightly interwoven with the Church, Halloween is a celebration of the dead, plain and simple, of all of the dead, of the saints and sinners who have passed from this world together.
Halloween is an acknowledgment of the dead whose spirits walk among us still, good and bad, honored or not.
In modern times the holiday has been largely stripped from its affiliation with Christianity, celebrating the dangerous, the macabre, the frightening and the weird, those qualities and characteristics that every person hides within themselves, because they are in fear of the world.
I was fourteen the last time I went Trick or Treating, and really, I was only chaperoning my younger brother then, I was not dressed up, but I took some candy nonetheless.
In that same year I remember the Pastor at my church lamenting the popularity of the pagan festival. Believing that the Christian feast should be honored above it instead, to the exclusion of anything else.
There was no fun in that, there was no fun in him. He was just an old man watching his tradition fade away, being usurped by those of another generation, by children who were less committed to the Church than he was when at their age.
In the years that followed, the number of children who go out in costumes seeking candy has declined by 25%, so the media outlets say.
Halloween is no longer considered safe or wholesome; it has yielded to the real dangers of the real world.
For me it is just another day, Halloween, I do not believe the dead walk with us. I have never seen a ghost, or any evidence of magic, as far as national holidays go, this one is an anomaly, though my maternal grandmother was born on this day.
There are real horrors in the world, we have a pumpkin colored demagogue for a president, spreading fear, night and day and lying to us at every turn. We are in the grip of a global Pandemic that is the claiming the life of an American citizen ever ninety seconds.
We are three days away from a national election where the prospect of reelecting this made man is all-too-real.
So now that I think about it, today of all days we should all be thankful that we have this day to luxuriate in the fantastic and the surreal.
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.