Fridays with Francis, January 16, 2015: “Ideological colonization” is The Enemy of Peace

spirituality

Melissa Maleski

Canonization announcements. Statements on fundamentalism, terrorism, religious freedom, the environment, contraception, marriage, the economy, and diplomacy. Trips to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. And that is just a portion of what the Holy Father was up to this week. There is a theme interwoven in all this, embodied by two related statements. These two statements are not found in any of this week’s news, but they summarize nicely the point Pope Francis is trying to make. The first one is: Peace and self-sacrifice are inseparable. The second: Ideological colonization is the enemy of peace. 

The phrase ideological colonization just emerged today, and it’s an immediate favorite of mine. Short and unassuming, once completely unpacked this phrase has the potential to knock you on your butt. Colonization, as a word, implies displacement. One thing comes in, another must be removed to make space. Forests fall so that buildings may rise. Settlers arrive and natives scatter. Rarely does colonization leave the displaced unscathed, if a continued existence is permitted. Applied to ideas, colonization is the overtaking of one idea by another. Pope Francis’ calling out of Fundamentalist terrorism introduces us to the concept of ideological colonization through its most recognizable strain. It’s fairly obvious that forcing your world-view on others via slavery, beheadings, and bombings won’t foster peace.

Where most people started to get squeamish was when Pope Francis called out the softer strain of ideological colonization. It is much harder to articulate, and spreads itself across multiple subjects, but in general is characterized but a fundamentalist zeal for relativism. There is no other belief than the rightness of all beliefs, I’d say it goes. Many of the topics Pope Francis spoke on this week are tainted by this soft strain of ideological colonization. His remedy lies in the repeated call for peace.

This is not your average call for everyone to get along and play nice. Speaking to princes and paupers alike, Pope Francis made it clear that real peace can only come when you run to people, not over them. And fostering real peace requires a sacrifice of self. It requires you to consider the dignity, the needs, and the rights of others before yourself. Economic systems are only as ethical as the most marginalized person they help. Freedom of speech is not really free when it offends the dignity of the subject of speech (dignity should not be confused with pride here). In the nicest way possible, Pope Francis is telling us that if what we say, do, and believe is primarily for the benefit for our selves, we are not working for peace.

The move to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra and Blessed Joseph Vaz reinforces Pope Francis’ particular message of peace. Both men were missionaries who left the comforts of their lives to tend to the spiritual and material needs of others. Their blatant example of this peace is the direct counter to fundamentalist terrorism, and our inspiration to find opportunities in our daily lives to bring real peace to the world.

Until next week, I challenge you to do two things: bring real peace into your life at least once a day, and leave a comment here with your perfect catchphrase for the Holy Father’s special message of peace. Because special message of peace is just long and boring. I need you guys to help me do better.

 

 

About this feature:  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 through thought, word, and deed. Writer Melissa Maleski brings an insightful Catholic convert’s perspective to the general themes (culture, politics, spirituality, art, and more) Rad Infinitum covers, and will no doubt add greatly to our experience of Francis’ leadership and unfolding legacy.

 

 

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.

 

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:

Thinking About Chicago

culture, music, spirituality, writing

 

This is an except from something I wrote a few years ago.  Below it is a Spotify link to the song.

It’s possible to encounter O’Connnor’s stories (you never really just read them) without explicitly discerning her deep, abiding belief in literary art as Christian vocation or her mission to show, as she said, “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.” Clear as day about these motives in her essays and letters, she’s almost never so obvious in her fiction. Perhaps because she uses the evangelical cosmologies of her neighbors as Tolkienesque proxies for her own traditional Catholic systems it’s easy to infer a sort of distance between O’Connor’s art and faith where she in fact saw none. In the same way, it’s possible to listen to Stevens’ biggest hit, “Chicago,” without immediately sensing the plaintive Christian hymn at its core, but “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “Oh God Where Are You Now?,” “The Lord God Bird,” “To Be Alone With You,””God’ll Ne’er Let You Down”… well, these and others comprise a body of work that, like O’Connor’s, raises and answers questions about what makes art “Christian.” Like O’Connor, Stevens operates outside of expectation: his confessional work is among his best, but you’d never call him a Christian artist the way, say, Amy Grant is a Christian artist.

Today is Casimir Pulaski Day; Because of Sufjan and Slavery, I Offer This

culture, justice, politics, spirituality, writing

It’s mostly an Illinois thing, but there’s also an important Lehigh Valley connection.  I wrote about this a few years ago, but because I love Sufjan Stevens and hate injustice, I’ll tell you about it again:

Pulaski was a Polish noble and general who helped the American colonies win their independence from Great Britain by training and leading American soldiers throughout the Revolution.  Pulaski died from wounds sustained during the Siege of Savannah, and is remembered today as a proto-typical Polish-American hero in many Polish-American communities.  Though his holiday is mostly celebrated in Illinois, two years ago I discovered a connection between the Duke and the Lehigh Valley’s very own Bethlehem, PA.

I was walking around the grounds of the old Moravian settlements in Bethlehem and come upon this grave in the historic Moravian Cemetery:

A few yards away, I found this historical marker, explaining Duke Pulaski’s role in defending the early settlement and the fact that women from the Moravian community created the war banner he carried into Savannah, an even later llionized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem at the Consecration of Pulaski’s Banner.

Reconciling the image of pacifist Moravians sewing banners meant for war is one thing.  But Cornelia’s grave made me hot with rage and then it made me weep.

When I got home, I wrote the piece below.  You need to know that Bethlehem, PA, was founded by pacifist Moravians (who were fleeing religious persecution) in 1741 and christened for its namesake on Christmas Eve.

CORNELIA
NEW YORK
1728-1757
MULATTO SLAVE
(THE HORSFIELD’S)
1755 RECEIVED INTO THE CHURCH

What scandal, these Moravians, these Peace Church nuns and friars rending martial banners? Duke Pulaski, their protector, marches to Savannah, is recalled in Illinois among the Polish and in the frontier psalter for his sword. How ancient, their Count’s mission, in its context on the Lehigh, infant, pre-incarnate by their Christmas City’s namesake — Bethlehem, Palestine?

Cornelia, theirs in life, (the Horsfields’), not her own or God’s, sewn in Pennsylvania with the city’s founding mythos. December 24, 17whatever. Theirs in death, the Horsfields, these Peace Church nuns and friars.

The Gospel of Mark as Sudden Fiction

culture, spirituality, writing

Sudden fiction is another term for flash fiction, but the two aren’t simply synonymous, at least not to my ear.  Don’t read too much into the title of this post.  I’m not making some argument that the Gospel of Mark ought to be thought of as fiction or non-fiction by modern definitions.  I’m talking about effect.   Where does the writer mean to take us, and why?  How do we know?

The Gospel of Mark is short, but it’s also very sudden.  Replete with “immediatelys,” the narrative is constantly moving.  Like a good short story, it feels meant to be read in one sitting.

I’ve just finished a sudden read in this manner.  My sudden thoughts follow.

In Mark, Jesus is concerned with telling anyone who will hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is here, and that this news is good.

Often, his message gains traction through healing and exorcisms (these may or may not be the same).   He is clearly opposed to entrenched religious systems and values, but not to the teachings of Israel’s prophets.  His je ne sais quoi  has precisely to do with his vision of God and God’s kingdom in the context of Rome’s empire, Herod’s puppet vassal, the Sanhedrin’s religious hegemony, the temple-merchants’ guild and the common-place fiefdom of first-century mores, beliefs, and expectations often beguiling his disciples or other parts of the general public.  Often, those outside his immediate circle understand him best.  He is arrested, tried, and crucified quickly.  He even dies quickly.  His tomb is found empty, and his followers are instructed by a heavenly presence to meet him, the Risen, in Galilee.  No big deal.  Biggest deal ever.

We shouldn’t be surprised.