Jeshua’s Peace Invites Tax Resistance

Readings for Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 3: 15, 17-18; PS 4: 2, 4, 7-9; I JN 2: 1-5A; LK 34: 24-32; LK 24: 35-48

On April 4th, 1967, Martin Luther King famously called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” That was in his “Beyond Vietnam: a Time to Break Silence.” Delivered at New York’s Riverside Church, it was perhaps his greatest, most courageous speech.  King’s words are worth reading again.

Time Magazine denounced him for it.

Despite the fact that U.S. soldiers had killed more than two million Vietnamese, (and would kill another million before the war’s end), King was excoriated as a traitor. Even the African-American community quickly distanced itself from their champion because of his strong words.

To this day, King’s speech is largely ignored as the daring truth-teller has been successfully transformed into a harmless dreamer – an achievement beyond the wildest dreams of the prophet’s arch-enemy, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover who considered King a communist.

One wonders what Rev. King would say about the U.S. today. For despite what the mainstream media tells us about ISIS, the U.S. remains exactly what Dr. King called it. It’s still the greatest purveyor of violence in the world – even more so. By comparison, ISIS is a pacifist organization.

Face it: absent the United States, the world would surely be a much better place. Even President Obama identified the rise of ISIS (our contemporary bete noire) as the direct result of the unlawful and mendacious invasion of Iraq in 2003. That act of supreme aggression (in the U.N.’s terms) is alone responsible for the deaths of well more than one million people.

And this is not even to mention the fact that our country is fighting poor people throughout the world – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and who knows where else?  “Americans” claim the right to assassinate without trial anyone anywhere – even U.S. citizens – simply on suspicion of falling into the amorphous category of “terrorist.”

Can you imagine the terror any of us would experience if enemy drones constantly hovered overhead poised to strike family members or friends because some “pilot” six thousand miles away might judge one of our weddings to be a terrorist gathering? Can you imagine picking up the severed heads and scorched bodies of little children and their mothers for purposes of identification following such terrorist attacks? This is the reality of our day. Again by comparison ISIS beheadings are completely overshadowed.

I bring all of this up because of the Risen Lord’s insistence on peace in today’s gospel reading.  As in last week‘s episode about Doubting Thomas, the Risen Christ’s first words to his disciples breathless from their meeting with him on the Road to Emmaus are “Peace be with you.”

Last week in their own homilies about that greeting, I’m sure that pastors everywhere throughout our Great Country were quick to point out that the peace of Christ is not merely absence of war; it is about the interior peace that passes understanding.

Their observation was, of course, correct. However, reality in the belly of the beast – the world’s greatest purveyor of violence – suggests that such comfort is out-of-place. We need to be reminded that inner tranquility is impossible for citizens of a terrorist nation. Rather than giving us comfort, pastors should be telling us that the peace of the risen Christ is not merely about peace of mind and spirit; IT IS ABOUT ABSENCE OF WAR.

So instead of comforting us, Jesus’ words of greeting should cut us to the heart. They should remind us of our obligation in faith to own our identity as the Peace Church Jesus’ words suggest. More specifically, as Christian tax payers (having performed the annual IRS ritual last week) we should be organizing a nation-wide tax resistance effort that refuses to pay the 40% of IRS levies that go to the military. While it is absolutely heroic for individuals to refuse, there is safety and strength in numbers.

So an ecumenical movement to transform Christian churches into a unified peace movement of tax resistance should start today. All of us need to write letters to Pope Francis begging him to call his constituency to tax resistance – to call the UN and the U.S. Congress to stop the aggression.

Once again: there can be no interior peace for terrorists. And Dr. King was right: Americans remain the world’s greatest terrorists. We are traitors to the Risen Christ!

Focusing on a utopian interior peace while butchering children across the globe is simply obscene.

80th Birthday Reflections Part 6: Political Order

Just in case readers might have forgotten: my project in this series of reflections on the occasion of my 80th birthday is to illustrate Richard Rohr’s observation about human growth in terms of the “three boxes” into which, he says, everyone’s personal growth trajectory more or less fits. According to Rohr, if we’re lucky, the first part of life is characterized by order, the second by disorder, and the third by reorder. In those terms, I’ve been very lucky.

I’ve tried to illustrate that luck in previous entries in this series. There I briefly described how I mostly benefitted from a highly ordered life starting in a very Catholic household with loving parents. Those years included nine years of education in St. Viator’s Catholic school on Chicago’s northwest side. Then, I shipped off at the age of 14 for a monk-like, highly regulated existence in a seminary preparing teenagers for a life of celibacy and service to God. In St. Columban’s minor seminary in Silver Creek, New York, we were already being shaped to convert what we understood as pagans in foreign missions like Korea, the Philippines, Burma, and Japan. 

So far, my story has taken me from my family home in Chicago and subsequently in Warrenville, Illinois to that seminary in Silver Creek. From there I attended a corresponding college seminary in Milton, Massachusetts. I then completed a novitiate-like “spiritual year” in Bristol, Rhode Island. That was followed by four years of “graduate” scripture and theological studies back in Milton. Then finally, following my ordination in 1966, I completed my formal education with five years of doctoral studies in Rome, Italy. By then, I was 32 years old.

When I left my story off, I was in the middle of telling about those halcyon years in Rome.

My hope is that sharing such reflections might help me better understand my own journey as I enter my ninth decade. In the process, it would be wonderful if readers would also be stimulated to similarly examine their own transitions from order to disorder and hopefully to the ongoing process of reorder.

In any case, I want this particular blog entry to help me (and anyone mildly interested) better understand my own political development. Recounting its story will stretch me far beyond Rome to most of western Europe. It will then take me to more than 40 years of teaching (and learning!) at Berea College in rural Appalachia. Sabbaticals and other travel opportunities sponsored by Berea ended up peppering my journey with subsequent long stopovers in Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, India and Cuba. At each of those stops, I learned political lessons that have informed and shaped my life. I’ve been lucky indeed.

But let me begin at the beginning.

My parents were basically apolitical. As a truck driver, my father was a Teamster Union member, but he never betrayed any corresponding political consciousness. (I just remember that he didn’t like paying union dues.) My mother sometimes spoke of her preference to “vote for the man, not the party.” Together, both mom and dad claimed to be Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans. However, their leanings were clearly towards the GOP.

Apart from that, my first recollection of a significant political thought came when I was a freshman in the high school seminary (1954-’55). We were off at some sort of day of recollection at a nearby rival seminary. And older priest (I’ll bet he was about 50!) was onstage giving a keynote address. In its course, the old man remarked for some reason that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (a decade earlier) amounted to the most heinous crime in human history.

I was completely shocked. At the time the McCarthy hearings were in full swing. Anti-communism was in the air. I wondered, “Why would a priest say something so unamerican? Was he perhaps a communist? Surely no priest could be a communist.”

My question was framed like that because at the time, anti-communism was in the very air all Americans breathed. After every Mass, we all offered specially mandated extra prayers “for the conversion of Russia.”

The sentiment invaded our minor seminary with a vengeance. The Columban Fathers had just been expelled from China by the 1949 Communist revolution. So “Old China Hands” returning from “fields afar” addressed us frequently about their experiences with such evil incarnate. They told us that the communists hated the Virgin Mary and her rosary. That was enough for any of us. Nothing could be eviler than that.

I remember that during one study hall on May 2, 1957, one of my most admired teachers who was monitoring the session came by my desk and whispered, “A great man died today.” He was referring to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Politically speaking, that was the world I grew up in. I had no idea what communism was other than an anti-God, anti-Mary worldwide conspiracy by absolutely evil people.

Again, cut off as we were from the news and unexposed to any historical information other than that conveyed in standard (boring) history books, no wonder my political formation was so narrow. Everyone’s was.

It was also no wonder that when I cast my first ballot for U.S. president (1964), I voted for Barry Goldwater. I did so not only because of strict “American” indoctrination, but also because I greatly admired my mother’s brother, my uncle Ben. Of all my relatives, I thought he had the most respectable job. He worked in some capacity at Chicago’s First National Bank; he went to work in suit and tie each day. [Everyone on my father’s side of the family were laborers – brick layers, bartenders, plumbers and general construction workers. One of them was a bookie. (I remember him showing us one day his basement with a whole array of phones connected with his work.)]

So, in my desire to be more informed and sophisticated politically – more like Uncle Ben – I had long conversations with him about issues of the day. He steered me towards the Republicans and criticism of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War resistance.

For instance, in 1967, when Martin Luther King voiced his searing criticism of U.S. aggression in southeast Asia, I thought, “It might be well and good for him to speak about civil rights for blacks, but now he’s gone too far. What does he know about foreign policy and Vietnam?”

That was the state of my political consciousness when I went off to Rome at the age of 27.

And that’s precisely when political disorder set in to complement the theological disorder I’ve already described.  

(Next time: the particulars of political disorder)

Why I’m Not Celebrating July 4th This Year

Anti-Americanism

I remember in 1972, I was asked to give a 4th of July speech in some church context which I’ve since forgotten. I was a 32 year old Roman Catholic priest then. And my remarks were critical of the U.S. role in Vietnam and in the Third World in general.

Before I began however, an officer from the local VFW led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember how he prefaced his part with a long July 4th introduction. He praised the flag for being “unsullied in emblemizing mankind’s struggle for freedom, unparalleled in standing in defense of human rights and the pursuit of justice, blessed by God above all others as the flag of his New Chosen People.”

It was enough to turn my stomach.

My nausea was induced by what I knew the U.S. was doing in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Like everyone else, I knew about Mai Lai, Agent Orange, the Phoenix Program, the Pentagon Papers and merciless illegal bombings of civilians.

My revulsion was also fired by my growing awareness of what the United States was doing in the Third World in general and especially in Latin America where the liberation theology I was studying was powerfully shaping consciousness throughout the hemisphere. Its insistence on historical and structural analysis had caused a paradigm shift in my own perception. Increasingly, I was seeing the United States as the Sandinista Anthem would later phrase it, “the enemy of mankind.”

Somehow I got through my speech without having anyone walk out. I still wonder why.

These days I’m feeling even more alienated than I did more than 40 years ago. Contemporary realities have actually turned me against July 4th celebrations.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib and the use of drone technology to execute U.S. citizens and anyone in the world without due process are only part of the syndrome this time around. It’s what we’ve recently learned from Ed Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange that make flag-waving and Pledges of Allegiance so repulsive. Now when I see fireworks, I can only think of Dick Cheney and the “Shock and Awe” pyrotechnics we all saw on CNN when Our Great Country used lies and false pretenses to attack a sovereign nation that had never done us any harm. As Allen Greenspan said in effect, Iraq’s curse and crime was having huge supplies of high grade crude.

As for celebrating our Great Constitution, Snowden’s revelations coupled with a mere reading of the Fourth Amendment are enough to give anyone pause: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Yes, the Constitution’s fine; but increasingly it’s a dead letter.

Similarly, my willingness to celebrate American democracy is tempered these days by memories of the 2000 “election” of George W. Bush through the intervention of his brother who happened to be governor of Florida with the power to deliver the White House to his dear sibling. The machinations of brother Jeb and a crony Supreme Court would have been comical in any Banana Republic scenario. Having it occur in the United States was more than embarrassing. Subsequent insistence on our privilege to monitor and invalidate elections elsewhere in the world has made us the international laughing stock we’ve hoped to make countries like Venezuela and Iran.

And then there’s Republican redistricting, voter suppression, Citizens United, and the recent SCOTUS evisceration of the Voting Rights Act. What’s that you say about free elections?

The crowning glory of all this embarrassment is our country’s willingness to end life as we know it on Planet Earth by blocking every serious attempt to reverse climate change. President Obama’s recent tepid declarations notwithstanding, the U.S. persists in catastrophic denial of what every serious scientific study reiterates: we are on the road to destruction with the “America” blazing the trail.

Our country’s willingness to end life as we know it on our marvelous planet (not to mention our wars and arms industry) is reason enough to believe that Mother Earth would be better off if the U.S. just dropped off the map. Think about it: the earth would be better off without the United States’ pollution, wars and “Way of Life.”

That’s why I’ll do no flag waving or banner display. I’ll recite no Pledges of Allegiance, nor stand for the Star Spangled Banner. Patriotic speeches and other jingoistic claptrap will draw no applause from me.

It’s all gotten so bad and such a matter of public record that it might even make my VFW friend turn over in his grave.