Fridays With Francis, January 9, 2015: New Rad Infinitum Writer Melissa Maleski, the Magi, and Mothers

advocacy, culture, justice, spirituality

Editor’s note:  Please join me in welcoming writer Melissa Maleski to her new weekly feature on rad infinitum. We’re very happy to have her rounding up the weekly activities of Pope Francis.  The spiritual leader of a over a billion people, “the People’s Pope”  has captured the attention and imagination of millions others with no formal relationship to the Roman Catholic Church (myself included) through thought, word, and deed.  Melissa brings an insightful Catholic perspective to my own Protestant fandom, and will no doubt add greatly to our experience of Francis’ leadership and unfolding legacy.  – CC

Melissa Maleski

Pop your personal bubble before you suffocate in it. That’s pretty much what the Holy Father is telling us in the New Year. In stark contrast to the Magi, who traveled far outside of their comfort zone, Pope Francis called out those who have hard hearts and fall into a narcissistic cycle of fear, pride, and vanity. This cycle, says the Holy Father, gives the illusion of self-sufficiency, but really locks a person inside himself. The Magi, by opening themselves to something far beyond their knowing, find God and themselves.

Like the Magi, Pope Francis holds up mothers as wonderful examples of people traveling outside of themselves and being better for it. The Holy Father does not mince words about how he views a mother’s value:

“To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war,” the pontiff told pilgrims during his Jan. 7 general audience address.

Before anyone brings the snark about the Church valuing women only as far as they are actively breeding small nations, read what Pope Francis follows up with: “In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society,” he said.

And in case his words don’t quite sink in, the Holy Father’s decision to elect cardinals from the fringes of the world puts practice to his preaching. Cardinal-making stalwarts, like the United States, did not see any gains in the new election. Many of the new cardinals come from countries that never had a cardinal before, bursting the College bubble for the first time in a long while.

On a lighter note, the Holy Father raffled off personal possessions to raise money for the poor and rubbed elbows with Lara Croft.


The Columbus Day Thing

advocacy, culture, Italian, Italian Americans, politics

Remember when Kay lambasts Michael about “this Sicilian thing?”

My Southern Italian roots are Campanian, but you get the point.

I hate the nickname of the Washington, DC football team.  I think it’s a slur and shouldn’t be used.

I hate the Columbian Exchange.  I hate how Columbus himself thought of and treated indigenous people.  I hate how many of the actual founders of this country felt about the indigenous people of this continent and the indigenous people of Africa.

I want a progressive, literary Italian-American to tell me how to feel about October as Italian Heritage Month.

But I also want progressive WASPS, Italian-Americans, and everyone else to be honest about the degree to which Anti-Italian and Anti-Italian-American tropes are widespread and acceptable in everything from journalism to children’s television.

I get it.  We’re white. But we’re not named Smith or Jones or Rogers or some other thing from the Shire.  We are without a doubt privileged because of our whiteness, even if our whiteness has only been wholly accepted in the third or fourth generation. We’re not hated the way other non-WASP people are, but we’re still gangsters and clowns and cartoon plumbers.  As originally olive-skinned, non-Anglo whites, we benefit from the disassociation of “American” from white.  Columbus Day was meant to cast us in proud contrast to other whites, Anglo whites, the same ones casting us as idiots, wop-shaming us as a matter of practice and policy.  Columbus Day is full of these kinds of ethnically, racially charged ironies.  As human beings, Italian-Americans ought to despise the evils inherent to the Colombian Exchange. I’m sure most of us do.  We struggled as Other for over a century, a situation mitigated and frustrated by our fringe position within canonical whiteness. Here we share much with Irish-Americans, even if they had an easier time WASP-passing sooner because of language and hue.

How should we celebrate our historical struggle without becoming the locus of marginalizing power ourselves?  Should we get a pass on Columbus, or should we lead the charge in finding an alternative icon for ourselves, for the spirit that brought our ancestors here, and our shared belief in what American can be regardless of what it sometimes is?


Allentown won’t have its ‘miracle’ without affordable housing

advocacy, economics, justice, politics, spirituality, writing

Please click through to my recent op-ed in The Morning Call.


“In the wake of John Tarbay’s death at the Hamilton Street Bridge, just yards away from the Allentown Rescue Mission and not far from other agencies, a familiar chorus from social service providers and even some activists is likely to emerge: “Someone like John just didn’t want to come inside,” or “John was a ‘rough-sleeper.’ We tried,” or “John was this, that, or the other. John couldn’t live by the rules of society, or didn’t want to.”

All of those things may be true.

With the worst winter in memory finally behind us, it’s tempting to let the calls that more be done for Allentown’s and the Lehigh Valley’s homeless subside. It’s tempting to forget that “not being able to live by the rules of society” is obviously another way of talking about mental health, and mental health issues are the reasons most folks are on the street…”

Read more:

100 Homeless Tent Cities Across America? Try 1000. Maybe More.

advocacy, economics, justice, politics

“the shelters…there’s just not enough room.”

The guy who says “this is a conscientious choice” (people LOVE living in tent cities!) is part of the problem.

100 tent cities across America? Try 1000. There are at least 3 in the Lehigh Valley. I doubt we own 3 percent of this issue.

And yes, the City of Allentown is shutting them down, even though there’s really no place for people to go.


Deconstructing Philanthropy

advocacy, culture, justice, politics, spirituality

Let’s make it irrelevant.  Let’s replace it with #justice.

Does Mark Driscoll Plagiarize? Why I Sort of Don’t Care.

advocacy, culture, Jesus, justice, spirituality

A few days ago, Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia made news for calling an openly gay pastor.  I’m proud of them for that and for many other things.

The same day, I saw a post on Religion Dispatch about Mark Driscoll’s alleged plagiarism scandal.   I can’t and don’t condone stealing, but I don’t know enough about what happened to even begin to guess what Driscoll did or didn’t do or mean to do.

If you don’t already know it, there are bigger problems with Driscoll that center on his penchant for misogyny and tropes of rhetorical violence. To some, he’s controversial because he’s loud and because he curses.  Very conservative Christians take offense to his working blue, but not to the things he says about gender roles or LGBT people. I don’t mind a preacher who curses every now and then.  Both Jesus and Paul knew the power of a well-placed “asshole” or “bullshit” (look it up if you don’t believe me).   Tony Campolo channeled all of this long ago with his pithy and scandalous truth about the word shit.

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

Some conservative Christians care more about Driscoll’s cursing than they do about the high rate of suicide in the LGBT community and about the ways views like Driscoll’s (effeminate boys should be roughed up and set straight) and theirs contribute to the literal and figurative beatings so many people are forced to take.  I call bullshit on that, and Jesus does, too.

I ‘m writing a new manuscript, part memoir, part manifesto about these kinds of things.  At Religion Dispatch I said:

I won’t speak to the plagiarism issue, but MD’s stance on gender roles and homosexuality are far more alarming than his “cussing.”

“Christian” ought to be synonymous with with radical inclusion and true equality. The Jesus I follow is. So often that kind of sentiment can sound haughty, elitist, judgmental, but that’s not my intention. I just feel like I have come to know a Jesus who radically stands up for the marginalized, beaten down, and oppressed and who undercuts the entire system so many of our institutions and churches embrace. Upward mobility means nothing. The celebrity pulpit means nothing, or worse, it’s all too often vanity. Radical calls for justice, peace, reconciliation and a totally up-ended relationship with power…these are the hallmarks of what he called the Kingdom of God. It can be so. Imperfectly, yes, but better than it is. We have a long way to go and much work to do.

A few folks voted those comments down.  That makes me sad, but I understand this much about it:  Christians following Jesus to the very real ends the earth, to the very real core of his teachings and living in the very real fellowship of his kingdom as experienced through the light of freedom his radical vision for society demands, we so-called “liberal” and sincere followers of the peasant-teacher of Palestine, we must do a better job of engaging the kinds of Christians many of us used to be.  Take Phil Robertson.  His faith in Christ is most likely beautiful, but his understanding of what Scripture is and how the gift of it bears witness to truly good news is flawed, not because he’s an evil man but because there are bridges too far in all of us.  So too among many in the mainstream of the aging evangelical movement, even as post-evangelicals or mainline Christians in rising generations search for places where they can seriously follow Jesus and seriously question their traditions, their churches and themselves, all without having to believe that homosexuality is sinful or that all without Christ are destined for literal, conscious, eternal torment.   The good news is supposed to be good, and it is.

Jesus teaches an ethic in which no bridge is finally too far and more bridges must be radically built.   His life and death command a fundamental deconstruction of upward ladders and spirals and other things that separate human beings from each other.  Breaking down barriers and breaking down walls will find us on the wrong side of religious, political, and economic institutions and institutionalisms.  It will never call us to victimize.

Plagiarism?  That’s not a victimless crime, but compared to some of the things we know Driscoll has willingly done, I’ll admit to some real ambivalence.  You might even say I don’t give a shit.