Friday, December 30, 2011

The Conversion of a Conservative to a Liberal

By William Bronson

Growing up, I lived in a bubble. I saw the world working fairly well. My father had a successful small business in high tech carbide tool and die making. He had started it when his employer, a subsidiary of General Electric, was going to close its repair shop, which my father ran. He made a deal that he would continue the work as a private contractor and take on other customers as well. He and his partner worked hard and the company became a success. My brother subsequently took over when Dad retired and now my nephew has taken over from him. My niece also worked for the company and her husband still does. Through all their hard work, wisdom, and diligence, the company has prospered.

I went into aviation and flew first for Northeast Airline beginning in 1966 when I got out of five years in the Navy where I earned my wings. Then Delta bought out Northeast in the early seventies. Delta was originally run by some caring entrepreneurs and we were told we were a family. Then greed walked in, in the form of some savvy CEOs. Ten years into my retirement, they declared bankruptcy as some other airlines had done, and hired people back the next day at a fraction of their salaries. Meanwhile they dumped their retirees on the taxpayers through the Pension (partial) Benefit Guarantee Trust Corp. set up by Congress for the apparent purpose of enabling bad corporate behavior. The bankruptcies were related to the ruse of corporate raiding of pension funds during good times and then finding them short during bad times.

So I learned that not all corporations are created equal. Big business didn’t play by the same rules as small businesses. Looking at big business through historical lenses, it became clear that so-called free enterprise mainly meant that they were free to enlist the services of government and taxpayers through their so-called representatives to gain unfair advantage over competitors and labor.

Looking overseas, the picture appeared even worse. Colonialism and neo-colonialism have resulted in half the world struggling to subsist on less than $2 per day, while most wealth is held by the very few.  Now globalization and so-called free trade agreements have only accelerated the distance between rich and poor.

America is not left out, with financial game playing that resulted in a crisis and bank bailouts by taxpayers who were threatened that things could get even worse. Then foreclosures became rampant due to unemployment due to nervous markets due to all of the above. Then Occupy Everywhere arrived as bright young students burdened with debt supposedly to be paid off by cushy jobs figured out they had been had like the rest of us. They are using the same techniques as the Arab Spring only instead of malicious military dictators, the villain has become the oligarchy, the same oligarchy that was responsible for the dictators. It is a money game and Obama doesn’t know which side of the street he should stand on.

I used to believe, simplistically, that if government stayed out of the way, free enterprise would create utopia and private charity would take care of the poor, especially if our society was liberally sprinkled with conservative Christian virtues.

Now to my horror, much like Frank Schaeffer, I discover that I helped enable a government which with great hubris has spent trillions creating mayhem overseas under the pretense of protecting ourselves and democracy through its escalated war on terror which has become a cash cow for the military industrial complex that Eisenhower tried to warn us against.

Having just observed Veterans Day, we were treated on all channels to a depressing litany of ruined lives by those lured into the military by promises of $15,000 signing bonuses and college educations. Now left damaged and maimed, many of them have to sort out whether they were in fact saviors of democracy or pawns in a very sick money game.

What to do now? I suppose pray that 2012 will in fact bring about some new worldwide epiphany that changes things for the better.

* William Bronson, DMin ’08, was an airline pilot for many years and author of How to Get to Heaven.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms

By Kevin G. Thew Forrester

What if Beauty rather than fear held us? What if we knew Jesus not as life’s judge, but as our “Life-Giver”?

Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms is a guide for postmodern pilgrims seeking authentic spirituality transformation. I follow the lead offered in the wisdom tradition of early Syriac Christianity, where Jesus is known as the “Life-Giver” (Ihidaya). The Beauty of Jesus is that his life reveals how “to give life.” Jesus invites us into relationships which make us alive and give us “cause to live.”

In Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms, I explore what it means for our lives to be lived from “the ground of the soul, where God’s ground and the soul’s ground are one ground” (Meister Eckhart). We revisit some of the pivotal self-defining stories of the scriptures and the lives of the saints and mystics, seeking their meaning for us when read from the experience and wisdom of our gracious at-one-ment.

I begin by developing an “integral sacramental theology,” which is a theology that recognizes the graced core of creation and deliberately respects, receives, and converses with the various disciplines that study four dimensions of existence: individual and collective, internal and external.

I then practice this integral sacramental theology as we discover anew how the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, along with the stories of the saints and mystics, invite us to be transformed, awakening to the truth of our gracious one common ground.

All too often tribal division divides Christian from Christian, as well as Christians from persons of other spiritual paths. All too often baptism is experienced as a ritual of separation and division, not conformation of union. Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms is an invitation to discover that the baptismal waters dissolve illusionary walls separating sacred and profane, pure and impure.

Along with Nicholas Cusa, the 15th century German mystic, we are invited to discover our own prophetic and dissident voice: “God…is the enfolding of all in the sense that all are in God, and God is the unfolding in the sense that God is in all.”

I introduce Spiral Dynamics and the Enneagram as rich resources for helping us to realize personally, communally, and systemically, that health and wholeness is not a matter of ritual purity, but of primordial unity confirmed in baptism.

Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms invites us all to dig deep and “mine the subterranean river of Christianity.” In the process we may well discover that we, like Jesus, are transformed into life-givers, because we, also, directly experience our at-one-ment.

What a beautiful gift it is when theology itself becomes a rich language that satisfies and enlivens anew. We are courageously drawn out again into the deep, where the grace of God invites marvelous discoveries, none more breathtaking than the realization that we, too, are beloved. Our souls awaken and know God as surely as the taste of fresh water on the tongue.

* The Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester, Ph.D., has served in the Diocese of Northern Michigan for the past ten years. He is the author of  Leadership and Ministry within a Community of Equals (InterCultural Ministry Development, 1997) and I Have Called You Friends (Church Publishing, 2003).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Of Priests, Football, and Idols

By Christopher Medeiros

Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno

The Penn State child sexual abuse scandal has been all over the news. Once again a pillar of the community, a person in power in a beloved American institution, was accused of abusing his authority and violating children. Once again the people in that institution allegedly did not only have safeguards to protect children. We are again looking at the structure of an institution (college football at Penn State) and how it may have developed in ways that may protected the abusers. Equally, or perhaps more disturbingly, Penn State college football fans expressed strong vocal support for those who allegedly knew about the abuse of children and never did anything about it.
Does any of this sound familiar? Am I talking about football or the church?

For me, someone from Fall River MA, one of the first places in the US to break the story of the widespread sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, this story is all too familiar.  In the middle of that scandal one of the parish priests I grew up with was arrested and sentenced on charges of child pornography. Also as that scandal grew the hierarchy of the church, and many faithful Catholics, believed that the abuse could be explained by looking at the horrible actions a few pedophiles, but not in looking in the ways the church itself operated as structured. It is the structure of the institution itself that allowed pedophiles to function and flourish.

Now the news is full of sensational details and questions about whether or not graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported the abuse to the police and why once head coach Joe Paterno was informed of the abuse he didn’t make sure Jerry Sandusky wasn’t fired and arrested. Penn State fired Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier on Nov. 9, four days after Sandusky was arrested. Athletic director Tim Curley and a vice president, Gary Schultz, are accused of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. Both have stepped down from their posts. In the midst of this, Penn State fans are rallying around Joe Paterno and the institution and see that the only fault is in the alleged abusers, not the system.

That questions of who knew about the abuse and who failed to report it are very important, but they are also a tantalizing distraction from looking at the ways this kind of thing can happen and can be prevented. It is clear in the “wink, wink, nod, nod” culture of college football numerous people might have known of or even witnessed Jerry Sandusky’s violation of young boys. Some people told some other people, but nobody pushed hard enough to report this to authorities and be sure it was followed through. Many people found many ways to ignore or minimize what was happening. As a result, not surprisingly, as the years passed, more and more children were violated.

Is it a coincidence that both college football and the Roman Catholic church are beloved powerful hierarchical organizations where white men have all the power and authority?  We as a society still have a tendency to create individuals and institutions that become idols which we shower with adoration and hand over inordinate amounts of power.

In today’s world the idolatry for us is not a golden calf in desert. Idolatry continues in the people and the institutions where we help foster a concentration of power in one or a few people. People we set apart and set above the rest of us. While those who abuse that power have individual responsibility when they abuse that power, we as a society have to look at the ways we create idols that are above accountability. We give people power and don’t look at how power has to be shared and kept in check in ongoing ways.

Yes, the abuser must be punished if found guilty. Yes those who didn’t report this must be held accountable, but if we are really interested in stopping this from happening again we must be wiling to look at the iconic hierarchical institutions we create.

What are things to look for?

  • Look for institutions where the relationships between those at the top with the most power and the bottom with the least power are extreme.  

    • In the Roman Catholic Church, the chasm between the laity and the people is enormous. There can be no “mass” without a priest. Individual churches have no say in what priests lead their congregations, they cannot dismiss a priest nor do they have any authority to hold their priest accountable for anything. Priests are closer to God; they have the power to act as the go-between for God and the people. Women cannot hold any position of ordained ecclesiastical power.  

    • In college football, the overwhelmingly white male owners and coaches, have lots of power and money. Under them are student assistants, like Mike McQueary, then players. These players are often young economically disadvantaged students on athletic scholarships, at schools where their academic backgrounds are far below the students they are in class with and who are many of the fans of their games. While children aren’t necessarily a part of this hierarchy, the power and money are structured such that those at top have so much power and control they are able away to get away with many things no one could. They are above scrutiny.  

    • In the business world at big corporations, is the janitor making minimum wage with no benefits while CEO and CFO make 30 million dollars?

  • Look for rigidity of power. Is power something shared, invested in different people at different times, or does it always stick to one person or one tiny group of people for long periods of time? Are roles rigid in the institution? People have different functions, different responsibilities in organizations; are those functions rigid or can people move between them? For example, could the laity at a congregation have a say about the type of liturgy/worship they do or would that be seen as overstepping their boundaries? 

  • Are there groups of people excluded from power, like women, people of color, LGBT people, etc? Are there many ‘kinds” of people holding power at different time, or does the same “kind” of people always seem to hold most of power?  

  • Is there accountability? Are there set mechanisms that monitor power? What voice do  people, at all levels within an institution, have about how power is used or misused? Are people afraid to speak up?

Let’s make sure that Jerry Sandusky has his day in court and if found guilty is punished and never has ANY access to children ever again. Let’s look what kind of culture was created that might have lead people to not report the abuse of children.  The guilt of those who allow violation of children to continue must called to account. However, if we as a society are REALLY interested in stopping the abuse of the most vulnerable, the least powerful in our world, we have to look squarely and honestly at the people and institutions we help create and maintain. We have to be sure we don’t commit the sin of idolatry. We have to be sure that we don’t create people and institutions that are so powerful, that have so much control over others and so little accountable to anyone, that they are get away with horrible abuse.

* An earlier version appeared in Christopher Medeiros’s Spirit and Flesh blog at on November 20, 2011.

** Christopher Medeiros, MDiv ’99, is the Director of Admissions and Recruitment at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.