To Tell the Truth

“The truth will set you free.” John 8:32

I’m never a fan of lying. My students know that one of the worst things that they can do to me is to lie to me and that I value their honesty above all things. Even when they wish to criticize me, I tell them that I’d rather know the truth, even if it might hurt my feelings or be harsh.

We might think that we’re doing someone a favor, by lying, but we really aren’t. A priest-colleague of mine once said that he hates when his parishioners lie through their teeth when he knows that his homily was awful that day. “I would much rather hear, ‘You know, you were really off today.’ Because I’m never going to get any better otherwise and I won’t know if I am really resonating with the community.”

Lying, even under the best intentions, is always a tool of evil. Here’s one example:

In college, I was on a date and some of the guys on my floor saw me kissing my date late into the evening in my dorm room. They made certain assumptions about how the evening ended. One asked what my date’s name was and told me he knew what dorm she lived in because she lived next door to friends. I wouldn’t reveal her name and told them to stop making assumptions about what went on between us.

They pressed further and badgered me for about a half hour about it. To get them off my back, I simply made up a name. That satisfied them and I thought I preserved my friend’s reputation.

Except another woman who lived in my date’s dorm had that name. And the guys spread rumors that I had a liaison with her. She was justifiably furious at me. In lying, I was trying to save someone else’s good name and instead had damaged another’s. It was awful. And it was my fault.

Lying is always a tool of evil.

Ron Rohlheiser, OMI, the great North American theologian and the President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio says this about lying:

The unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit begins with lying, with rationalization, with the refusal to acknowledge the truth. But we don’t commit this sin easily, overnight, the first time we tell a lie. We commit it down the line, through a sustained series of lies, long after we first told a lie to our loved ones and began to hide important parts of our lives from them. The soul warps slowly, like an old board soaked too often in the rain. It’s not the first time it gets wet that makes the warp.

We commit the sin against the Holy Spirit when we lie for so long that we believe our own lies. If we lie long enough, eventually light begins to look like darkness and darkness begins to look like light.

His whole article on this is worth a read.

But it’s almost a given that we expect our politicians to lie to us. Either side of the aisle seems to take this given for granted. My favorite show, “The West Wing” has the chief of staff, Leo McGarry even say “I’m a politician, Ainsley, of course, I lied to you there.”

While I’m sure the past administration has lied to the American public, the current one seems to be making an art form out of it. How many outright lies has Sean Spicer told in his first press conference alone and then in a second one tried to back up his own deceptions? His colleagues seemed to have trouble defending him and all the President could say was that Spicer was a “superstar.”

Soon, I fear, this administration will have people think that the following things are true:

1) Climate change is not caused by human-made carbon emissions.
2) Immigrants are people we should keep out of the country.
3) We should drill in Anwar with no regard for the migration patterns of the animals that reside there.
4) All Muslims are a security threat to Americans.

And I shudder to think about what else becomes part of the daily attitudes of people who take what the President feeds them and digests it as “truth.”

As many know, I worked as a producer for a right-wing political talk show. The host, Bob Grant, was an incredibly nice and generous man. And we could barely agree upon the time of day. But regardless, there was often a lack of critical thinking not only amongst his audience members, but among others I knew.

“I heard that on the Bob Grant show…so it has to be true.” That’s an actual quote from a middle aged man who was the uncle of a friend of mine. He was semi-educated, but he essentially took anything Bob said as law.

Rush Limbaugh would often say “I will interpret the news for you.” Essentially saying that we are too stupid to understand the complex political landscape that exists. And this is the hope of the current administration. A soundbyte culture that simply accepts whatever they say as truth is what we have to fear more than anything else.

Today, I will vow to tell the truth. Not only about lies I see come forth from politicians on either side of the aisle, but also to tell the truth when it is difficult. To challenge my own assumptions. I had a spiritual director who would often ask for evidence of negative feelings about myself that I would reveal to him–and often it wasn’t there. I was able to see God in the truth, the truth that I was actually beloved by God and others and that my own failings or shortcomings weren’t all that I was.

We need to hold this administration to something we ask under oath in our American courts to the simplest of witnesses.

We need to ask them to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

So help us God.

Jesus’ Inauguration

Today’s the inauguration …have you ever watched it? Such fanfare….a lot of pomp and circumstance.

I might say that our gospel today is kind of Jesus’ inauguration. He calls his first 12 disciples and he does it with great fanfare for the time. He goes up the mountain to do it—where everyone can see him.

Mountains are awesome, huh? This summer I climbed into the mountains in Slovakia and it was amazing. I have to say two things happened to me on the mountain…I felt small…because of the awe-inspiring views. And I felt energized and powerful. If I could climb this mountain—well, then, what else could I accomplish? Mountaintop experiences are great, no? Maybe you’ve had one? An immersion trip, a retreat, local service experiences, deep prayer.

And as great as those are….you actually have to come off of the mountain at some point! And we hope that you now live each day as someone changed by that experience of what God offered to you….to come down into the real-life, day to day, nitty gritty of the hard work that must now be done—to be the hands and the feet of Jesus.

And I might suggest, that our President needs to come off of the mountain as well! I’m sure that being elected President and today’s ceremony are mountaintop experiences. But governing is not a mountaintop experience, say most who have done it. Governing is choosing. Governing is making deals and being disappointed sometimes in what you had to compromise. Governing is listening to constituents and experts and being moved and persuaded by their stories to the point that you use your power to do something about that for the betterment of society. And Governing is most of all, humbling—because you realize that you can’t accomplish everything that you want to do.

So President Trump needs our prayers but he also needs our voices and our passion. And when we provide that we also should realize that we are responding to God’s call. On the mountain God reminds us that we are not powerless, and that no matter who might be in our elected positions of power, it is ultimately up to each of us, to respond to the call to be the body Christ for others in the world. To respond with love to those who many deem too hard to love: the poor, for the immigrant, for the unborn and its mother, for our LGBT community. All those who simply need us to be God’s face for them. And no President can ever change that.

And we can’t let our fear get in the way….My colleague, Lu Firestone has a great line that she uses often: “Nobody is ever converted by fear.” Because that’s not a real conversion!

Our first reading today tells us that the way people responded to God’s law in the Old Testament is now obsolete. We no longer respond to the law because we think God is going to punish us. No, we no longer respond out of fear, but rather out of love, Love for God and God’s love for us. That love pours forth when we receive communion from this altar each time we come here—where God offers us His very self, in a mountaintop experience so that we might be changed. This love propels us out of fear and is stronger than even death and can drive us out of our of darkness and into the dawn of new possibilities.

So do not be afraid.

Instead come off the mountain…and get to work, my fellow Americans.

And your work is to do one thing and one thing only….. Respond to all things, not out of your fear, but instead with great Love.

Scalia’s Timeless Wisdom

Thinking a lot about Justice Scalia today…who at the very least was a great character and charmed the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who was his best friend) and Elena Kagan (who really liked him in their short time together on the court). The world needs more “brilliant characters.”

His philosophy that we should always look at the constitution as the founders intended seems short-sighted to me but not without merit. There is many a Bishop who looks at Canon Law and the Catechism in much the same way, not a living documents, but ones frozen in time, to which allegiance must adhere. His honoring of the founders, in this way, to me, meant that he found all the wisdom necessary in those great men. Again, perhaps short-sighted but a philosophy nonetheless.

I respected his dedication to this philosophy and could predict his reactions often to the cases that would come before the court and there was some comfort in that and it brought it’s own sense of wisdom to balance out those who would bring damage to the constitution by amending without legislation.

His thoughts that we should not “amend” the constitution as the wind blows is also laudable. It should take a lot to overturn the “wisdom of the ages”, no less than an entire legislature considering this, a law changed or a constitutional amendment passed. He often found genius in our system, leaving certain matters to states, federal legislation and even local authority. Needless to say, Justice Scalia thought the Supreme Court should be a last resort for cases, not a political test case for ideas already offered by great thinkers whose thoughts are reflected in present laws and followed by our local courts all over the country.

For those of us who believe the constitution to be an evolving document, as I do, we would well to listen to Justice Scalia’s hesitant nature about paying attention to the limits of the federal constitution and interpret for the present where possible, but also require nothing less than amendment where needed today. We must not merely to change the law to suit our needs, but rather to also uphold the wisdom we have come to know with certainty, wisdom not yet, available to the founders in their day. This may have been Scalia’s one downfall in not honoring future wisdom, but staying trapped in the past of the founders’ wisdom alone.

The truth is that we need both, the wisdom of the past and the wisdom of the present age. Honoring wisdom and putting that into words and laws that we can direct others towards is not only a way to seek truth, but also a way to love wisdom, not merely the nostalgic past that Scalia loved a bit too much and that too often we love not quite enough.

Not merely our lawmakers in congress, nor just those on the present courts should heed this love of wisdom, but so should those in church governance. While God alone is the source of all wisdom, the writers of scripture, though inspired by God, are also limited by their time. So too, the writers of Canon Law. But we also need careful balance to these matters. Ones who seek both the wisdom of the past, the wisdom of the present and the wisdom to uphold, well…a merged wisdom, honoring both past and present. We too need to rely on the church, that is the people of God to raise the issues of the day, and not merely to say “who cares about the past” but to say what in our past still honors our present and what in our present is capable of adding to, not subtracting from, our ageless wisdom.

Conversations at the Gym

So I’m slowly getting back to the gym after a few nagging injuries. I actually won a free membership to a local gym that I’ll not name here, but suffice it to say it’s been a nice place to work out with two great trainers.

Often I take my shower after my workout and get dressed quickly and leave. I don’t particularly socialize much at the gym with the exception of my trainers and the others in our group. And as men might attest, we usually don’t talk in the locker room as a general rule unless we are well known to one another. It’s not exactly good etiquette to strike up a conversation with a naked stranger!

But the other night…this one really disturbed me.

I was standing at my locker, partially dressed after a superior workout, when a guy came into the locker room. We were alone. He said to me,

“Boy you would think that with global warming, it would be warmer out, huh?” (Temperatures in Buffalo dipped into the high 20s this week)

I replied, “Yeah, getting nippy, huh? I guess winter is here after all, but we’ve been pretty lucky so far.”

“Well, yeah, I forgot…it’s a hoax this global warming. And the President says he’s going to fix it, just like he’s going to fix the economy and the health care system.”

“MM” was my brief Democratic response.

He then added:

“Well, what do we expect? I mean the twin towers fell because of THEM and then we elected one of THEM!”

I’m facing away from the guy at this point and it was like a record scratched in my head.

He went on:

“I mean these (expletive) Muslims! What do we expect the President to do? HE IS A (EXPLETIVE) MUSLIM! They should all die with a (Expletive) piece of pork in their mouths!”

I thought better of engaging this guy. Ken Dolan, an old radio colleague, once taught me a valuable lesson when one of our co-workers was acting irrationally. “THAT guy, doesn’t get it! And you just can’t argue with someone who doesn’t get it. So just walk away.”

And so I started to. But my sense is that the guy got the idea that I was less than pleased with his remarks. So to intimidate me he said, “Oh, just so you know, I’m a former Marine.”

“Oooooh a Marine. You are so scary!” that thought went through my mind. And my sense is that he’s not a former marine and that he’s inventing that. But it took all of my energy to walk past this guy without saying a word other than “Take it easy.”

Which when you think about it, is exactly what he needs to do.

It’s amazing how many people think that the President is a Muslim and even if he was, that doesn’t make him a terrorist or sympathetic to Al Queda or any other fanatical group. But to be accurate, Cathleen Falsani delivered this amazing interview on Barack Obama’s religion in 2004 where he even kind of invites Falsani to his Christian Church in Chicago. Here’s a snip:

I’d be spending an enormous amount of time with church ladies, sort of surrogate mothers and fathers and everybody I was working with was 50 or 55 or 60, and here I was a 23-year-old kid running around.

I became much more familiar with the ongoing tradition of the historic black church and it’s importance in the community.

And the power of that culture to give people strength in very difficult circumstances, and the power of that church to give people courage against great odds. And it moved me deeply.

So that, one of the churches I met, or one of the churches that I became involved in was Trinity United Church of Christ. And the pastor there, Jeremiah Wright, became a good friend. So I joined that church and committed myself to Christ in that church.

Did you actually go up for an altar call?

Yes. Absolutely.
It was a daytime service, during a daytime service. And it was a powerful moment. Because, ti was powerful for me because it not only confirmed my faith, it not only gave shape to my faith, but I think, also, allowed me to connect the work I had been pursuing with my faith.

How long ago?

16, 17 years ago
1987 or 88

So you got yourself born again?

Yeah, although I don’t, I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I’m not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I’ve got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.

I’m a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt. I’m suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.

I think that, particularly as somebody who’s now in the public realm and is a student of what brings people together and what drives them apart, there’s an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.

Do you still attend Trinity?

Yep. Every week. 11 oclock service.

Ever been there? Good service.

I actually wrote a book called Dreams from My Father, it’s kind of a meditation on race. There’s a whole chapter on the church in that, and my first visits to Trinity.

Do you pray often?

Uh, yeah, I guess I do.
Its’ not formal, me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it.

Al of this is of course, beside the point. Hatred for an entire group of people continues in factions. I’ve worked closely with an Imam here in Buffalo and I love our Muslim students here at Canisius. They are some of the more peaceful people I know and many are dedicated to peacemaking in so many different ways. They know and fear terrorism, just as we do.

But yet the hatred for Muslims continue.

So let us pray for tolerance, for peace and for God’s sake…for accuracy.

Who’s the Hero of the Government Shutdown?

It’s a guy you may have never heard of named Barry Black. He happens to be the Senate chaplain and he’s the VOR.


He’s a 7th Day Adventist Minister, a PhD in Psychology and a retired rear Admiral in the Navy.

Check him out on ABC’s This week:

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Dahlia Lithwick has more on Slate:

he’s been unloading fistfuls of rhetorical whoop-ass upon the folks who have cavalierly broken the government the way little boys burn ants. Black, who has been chaplain for the past decade, has used the crisis of the shutdown to say to the government what the rest of us have long been thinking: “Save us from the madness,” he begged God in one prayer. “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable,” in another. Last week, after hearing of the delay of benefits for military families, Black prayed, “It’s time for our lawmakers to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” before asking God to “cover our shame with the robe of your righteousness.”

Yikes! This guy is really eloquent at speaking truth to power and he’s got the pipes of a James Earl Jones too.

Let’s hope that the news of this madness finally stopping actually happens.

Government Held Hostage

Art imitates life today with this scene from the West Wing.

Pope Francis has been calling us to mercy and it seems there are far too many in the government who are less than merciful. Placing a last second rider to end or delay Universal Health Care to the budget is simply wrong, unethical and it holds the government hostage to partisan politics. In the end, the poor once again get screwed and the loyal civil servants at the bottom of the ladder that simply want to go to work get furloughed, losing days upon days of pay. Oh and each day that we stay closed, costs the economy about $1 billion dollars a week.

Obamacare has nothing to do with this continuing resolution. The republican-controlled house has failed the American people by shutting down the government because they don’t like a health care program that is not even at the center of the continuing resolution. I don’t vote with straight lines. There are good and bad politicians in both parties. However, I think everyone should consider this the next time congress is up for re-election.

Saner voices need to overcome this stalemate. Lines cannot be drawn in the sand. What’s best for the American people is to approve this continuing resolution and to simply stop playing politics.

And so we pray, for those who are out of work today, we pray that you can support your family and can be back to work soon. We pray for our leaders, our President, our congress that they can get past the dysfunctional relationships that have developed and become all that we hope government can be.

Or that we can at least do better than this. May the Holy Spirit help these people discern what is truly just and best for our nation. Amen.

David Kuo RIP

David Kuo, the former associate of the White House’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives in the Bush Administration who wrote a scathing book about how the administration failed to live up to their promises for the office, died from brain cancer last Friday at the much too young age of 44.

We were “virtual” colleagues, meaning I never met him, but admired him and would occasionally share comments with him on Facebook.

My former colleague Bill McGarvey interviewed him on some time ago. The whole interview is lengthy but Kuo had a lot of interesting things to share about evangelicals, republican politics and politics. He also touched on charity and how he thought churches should fast from political messages from the pulpit for two years.

BH: The Republicans have had control of the Supreme Court for decades and they’ve also controlled the executive and legislative branches for a long time and yet so much of the ‘conservative’ far right’s agenda hasn’t really come to pass.

DK: Yeah, you look at the social statistics over the last 30 years and you see fluctuations up, fluctuations down, but the number of abortions today is if not the same, a little bit higher than it was in 1973. Certainly, cohabitation among heterosexuals is through the roof, rates of marriage are down, divorces are certainly up from where they were in 1973 although down from their peak in the 1980′s. But part of the reason they are down is because people are not getting married. (laughter)

You’ve got teen pregnancy, teen suicide, a really large host of social pathologies here and they are impervious to political calculations but we have made politics God and we have substituted the hard work of God for the relatively easy work of politics. At the end of the day, it is easy to fight a political fight, because it is clear. It is defined. You raise money, you attack your opponent, you turn out to vote, you win, and you lose. It’s clear. It’s defined. But God…it’s that line from Blake, ‘We are here to learn to endure the meanings of love.’ How much harder is it to sit in stillness in a secret place and to receive the unconditional love of God? I know I just suck at it. I know I need it desperately. But how hard is it? You talk about having intimacy issues? Hello!

Amen! David towards the end of his life was much more comfortable in the silent stillness. He met God intimately as he fought his illness and enjoyed the time he had left with his family. One of his final facebook posts touched me immensely.

Favor? Do something outrageous today – give way more than reasonable to a homeless person, take the family out for an ice cream dinner … and serve only ice cream. Call someone you hurt and ask forgiveness, call someone who hurt you and give forgiveness … And send me a pic.” ~ David Kuo June 26, 1968 – April 5, 2013

I did all of those things and then sent him a picture of Marion and I out at dinner (We ate something special–but because it was freezing here in Buffalo, we skipped on his ice cream suggestion. David would have said I understood the “spirit” of his request.)

Rest in peace, David. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May David’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Koch to God: How’m I Doin’?

The longtime mayor and NYC personality Ed Koch died early this morning of congestive heart failure. He was the mayor when I was a child living in suburban Yonkers and throughout my teen-age and early college years from 1978 until 1989 when he was ousted in the primary by David Dinkins who went on to be mayor besting Rudy Guilani that year.

Koch won for the first time in 1977 when the city was in financial demise. People were abandoning the city and the mayor Abe Beame was looking to the federal government for a bailout prompting the famous Daily News headline: Ford to City: Drop Dead. That summer was the huge blackout which led to rioting in the streets especially in places like the Bronx, a stone’s throw from my hometown of Yonkers. It was also known as the “Summer of Sam” where David Berkowitz the so called “Son of Sam” was murdering couples in parked cars, mostly blonde women with their suitors. Berkowitz was found in Yonkers and was actually the mailman in the neighborhood where my father worked. The city was thought to be a dangerous place and the subway was often filled with young people playing their boom boxes loudly. Howard Cossell while announcing the Yankee game saw rioting in the Bronx and famously announced “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning.” Koch ran for mayor on a platform that called for “law and order” running to the right of his opponents on that matter but staying liberal on most other items.

Koch was a no-nonsense mayor. He realized the way to run New York was to “kick butt and take names”, a style emulated by both Rudolph Guiliani and now, Mike Bloomberg. Koch brought the city back from financial decline and made it a safer place to be again. People began to move back into the city. Koch took on striking transit workers by standing on the Brooklyn Bridge and directing bike traffic himself.

After he left politics he ran a long time radio show on WABC Radio, one of that station’s only liberal voices. He was always funny and direct. He dabbled in television on NY 1 and other local TV stations and often wrote columns supporting Israel in the Jewish Forward and other liberal leaning papers. My favorite line of his was each time a radio caller would say “You were a great mayor! You should run again!” Koch would say “Nope, the people threw me out and now the people must be punished! (or occasionally he’d say “must suffer.”). He endorsed republicans as well as democrats. I remember how he threw support behind Al D’Amato for Senate because “the guy gets things done.” D’Amato was a long time Senator who people called Senator Pothole because he’d often take calls from constituents and bring smaller issues they were facing to be taken care of.

Koch, in my opinion, was a great mayor. He was a character and a true New Yorker, despite being born in New Jersey. He refused the Giants a permit to hold a ticker tape parade in the city for a time because they played their games in the Jersey Meadowlands. He had unwavering support of Catholics and loved his own Jewish faith. He’d proudly sit at St Patrick’s Cathedral and counted Cardinal O’Connor as a close friend.

He famously asked people “How’m I doing?” constantly. And today I’m sure when he sees God face to face, he’ll get to ask the Lord that same question. For myself, I think he did just fine. A documentary starts in a few days entitled “Koch” and it looks awesome.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor. After eight years of corruption, and a term of the clubhouse, you tried competence…and it was marvelously good.

We Must Not Stay Silent

Close to 30 dead…most of them children…Suburban Connecticut…

The words haunt us all. Children somehow makes this worse as if killing an adult makes it somehow easier to take. Newtown…a place people move to because it’s supposedly safer.

None of it makes sense to any of us. A sadistic person, apparently only 24 years old is the killer. Someone known to those inside the school. A man the same age as many of my students, with a name close to a student who dropped my class earlier in the year. Who knows why, as if knowing why might make it easier to understand. It doesn’t…it never will.

When things are senseless to us we ask the question “Why?” Why does God allow such horror? HOW can God allow such loss of life?

Friends on Facebook write words like “speechless”, “too early for words.

NOBODY deserves to die at the hands of another, a senseless crime and a horrible death. Deaths too soon, much too soon for children. Sacred life, all. Taken unjustly.

Evil wants us to be muted. Evil hopes fervently that we stay silent. Evil hopes to stun us so violently that we are unable to rise above the violence of today and speak in the name of peace and justice.

It’s hard to believe that God can redeem this…that God can embrace each child, each person, killed and make them whole once again. After all, a violently planned murder, 30 counts of murder, an open and shut case…makes sense to nobody.

Larger than Columbine. Blitzer reports. And we thought evil could not do worse.

We need to believe that evil does not rule the day today. God is greater than all of this. While we are sitting in sadness and parents and families sit with the senseless and horrifying loss, evil laughs at our silence.

So I write…and I hope you will too. Write more than your fears and your stunned disbelief. Write about redemption and hope and light overcoming darkness. Write about how God doesn’t think this is OK. Write about how God cries with us at each murder. God, a victim of murder Himself, hanging from a cross at the hands of another, cried in pain and cries again today.

Write about that. Speak about that. Preach about that.

We need that voice, but often settle for the voice of vengeance.

If anyone understands their pain it is Mary, seeing injustice, even with the knowledge that Christ’s death saves us, the pain doesn’t stop for a mother who watches her child die.

And vengeance is our first reaction, a natural thought. We quote the bible’s “an eye for an eye” forgetting that the line refers to limiting violence not promoting it. It stopped people from butchering others when they were hurt or violated by another to a lesser degree. “No MORE than an eye for an eye.”

Stopping the cycle of violence begins with our voices. Voices of hope, that hope beyond hopelessness. This hope brings us into belief, fervent belief that God can and does redeem all evil, especially when we see how much destruction evil can bring.

Gun control, anti-violence campaigns, cable news will tell us all of these angles. As if evil will be stopped, by any of these political initiatives.

Jesus reminded us that “the poor you will always have with you.” Perhaps he meant that the world will always be broken. A world where parents lose children because they sent them to kindergarten, we’re THAT broken.

My wife works in a school. I can’t imagine her not coming home simply because she taught children. Evil is trying to make us afraid, fearing that we can’t overcome this. That God doesn’t care.

And because our world is broken, it is indeed in need of God’s healing. And it is up to us to speak. LOUDLY…

Because this is not OK. This is not of God. And that God somehow, someway is able to redeem the worst of all of this evil.

Ghandi, a man of peace, reminds us that we need to be the change that we want to see in the world. And may our voices rise today…to remind all that we are not defeated by hopelessness and that in our deepest heart, we long to be a people of peace.

My heart goes out to all of those who lost loved ones today. For Christmas presents that go unopened and for parents who have hearts full of rage and anger at the senselessness of it all. Indeed, God is there longing for peace, holding your child, all the children, all the dead. They now know peace. A peace we can only hope for. A peace that children remind us is within our reach, if we only believe. A peace that is truly awesome to believe can be ours. A peace we need to pray for today so that no child’s voice can ever be stilled again by gunfire, but can instead, sing with great hope.

Will Bishops Lose Their Tax Exempt Status for Pushing for Romney?

From the Religion News Service:

A public watchdog group is charging the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with openly politicking on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and it wants the Internal Revenue Service to explore revoking the hierarchy’s tax-exempt status.

“In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

“If the Catholic bishops would like to continue receiving the tremendous tax benefits on which they rely, they should follow U.S. law and stay out of American politics,” Sloan added in a statement last Friday (Nov. 2) announcing the complaint.

Sloan argued that last-minute appeals by numerous bishops had crossed the line into electioneering. She named several prelates, including Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., a fierce critic of President Barack Obama, who ordered his priests to read a letter at all Masses on Sunday that sharply criticized Democratic policies and warned that Catholics who voted for those policies would endanger their eternal salvation.

A few thoughts here:

The first is that the USCCB doesn’t endorse a particular candidate as a body. Individual bishops who represent a particular diocese are another matter. One stated that Catholics voting for the President would put their soul in jeopardy. Others put pressure on Catholics to vote against the President for his stances on abortion, gay marriage and the HHS mandate (or the issue of religious freedom). Meanwhile on the other side, many black protestant churches openly touted the President and are far more apt to make such statements. Billy Graham openly plugged his preference for Governor Romney and one small non denominational church posted “Vote for the Mormon, not for the Muslim.” Interesting that this last one is both partisan and incorrect.

The question, as regards this particular situation, places individual Bishops and/or clerics in the crosshairs and it looks like someone will be holding them to greater accountability.

It seems to me that Bishops and other clerics need a media expert who can be a bit more covert about their intentions. For example, one should name an issue, not a candidate. One should call on the fallacies of BOTH candidates if they name one over the other. The USCCB often touts that they don’t endorse any candidate and perhaps that mandates all bishops to use the same language.

Lastly, I have two final points. One is that the hatred for the President from the right wing holds no bounds both within and outside of the church. That needs to change within the church or we will face having to work with the government from the cheap seats. Governing is choosing, governing is compromise–by design. We are not going to win every time in our efforts with the executive branch or with the other two branches of our government. Abortion will not be illegal overnight and health care packages may indeed not be mindful of our positions on contraception. But that merely puts the ball in our court to decide what we might do, despite those obstacles and more importantly, how we might do that peacefully.

The second and final point is that we play into the hands of the militant secularists when we endorse a candidate by name. We have a great responsibility to keep issues that we are concerned about in front of all the candidates, but in doing so, we cannot afford to trade an endorsement of a particular candidate in exchange for their aligning with our moral values. No, we need be more vigilant than that, because campaign promises are fickle and often unrealized. Our role in government is advisory and the body of Christ votes of their own God-given free will. And most often they vote for their candidate despite the ranting of those who think they know the state of our souls, or the assumption that they vote to endorse an immoral act. The militant secularists, those who wish to sideline religion altogether from public life are indeed winning. And they do so, because just a few people are downright dumb.

What role should the church play in politics? A huge one. The church, that is all the people of God, should be lobbying our own leaders to take a firmer role in assisting those who caring for the poor. We should become peace negotiators, like former President Carter, and be able to play that role publicly and with firm resolve for ending war. Imagine Cardinal Dolan negotiating peace at the United Nations! We should build homes for pregnant teens down the block from the abortion clinics so women think twice about making that decision and then we should support them with the full weight of our wallets. We should care for our environment and fight for the rights of immigrants. But we should do it all without regard for particular individuals and political parties.

In fact, we should do it on our own. We should do it to the point where all Governments call us and ask our advice and offer us some help because we set the standard of excellence in these situations despite the obstacles that are put in our way. We should do it because God calls us to it.

And we should do it so that they will know that we are Christians. How will they know? Because they will see us working with great love.

And not with partisan hatred.