Archive for September 2012

Don’t Lose Hope

September 30, 2012

The Archbishop of Newark just sent a pastoral letter, addressed to over 1 million Catholics in his archdiocese, demanding that Catholics who support marriage equality refrain from receiving Holy Communion. This is stunning beyond words, a cannibalizing of conscience and a totally wrong use of the eucharist.

Depressed? Maybe the sickness must grow worse.(T.S.Eliot)  Well, Leonardo Boff, one of our great theologians has some consoling words…

Encouragment for Those Disappointed with the Church

 Leonardo Boff 

 There is great disappointment with the institutional Catholic Church. A double emigration is happening: one is exterior, persons who simply leave the Church, and the other is interior, those who remain in the Church but who no longer feel that she is their spiritual home. They continue believing, in spite of the Church.

It’s not for nothing. The present pope has taken some radical initiatives that have divided the ecclesiastic body. He chose a path of confrontation with two important episcopacies, the German and the French, when he introduced the Latin Mass. He articulated an obscure reconciliation with the Church of the followers of Lefebvre; gutted the principal renewal institutions of Vatican Council II, especially ecumenism, absurdly denying the title of “Church” to those Churches that are not Catholic or Orthodox. When he was a Cardinal he was gravely permissive with pedophiles, and his concern with AIDS borders the inhumane.

The present Catholic Church is submerged in a rigorous winter. The social base that supports the antiquated model of the present pope is comprised of conservative groups, more interested in the media, in the logic of the market, than in proposing an adequate response to the present grave problems. They offer a “lexotan-Christianity” good for pacifying anxious consciences, but alienated from the suffering humanity.

It is urgent that we animate these Christians about to emigrate with what is essential in Christianity. It certainly is not the Church, that was never the object of the preaching of Jesus. He announced a dream, the Kingdom of God, in contraposition to the Kingdom of Caesar; the Kingdom of God that represents an absolute revolution in relationships, from the individual to the divine and the cosmic.

Christianity appeared in history primarily as a movement and as the way of Christ. It predates its grounding in the four Gospels and in the doctrines. The character of a spiritual path means a type of Christianity that has its own course. It generally lives on the edge and, at times, at a critical distance from the official institution. But it is born and nourished by the permanent fascination with the figure, and the liberating and spiritual message of Jesus of Nazareth. Initially deemed the “heresy of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24,5) or simply, a “heresy” (Acts 28,22) in the sense of a “very small group,” Christianity was acquiring autonomy until its followers, according to The Acts of The Apostles (11,36), were called, “Christians.”

The movement of Jesus is certainly the most vigorous force of Christianity, stronger than the Churches, because it is neither bounded by institutions, nor is it a prisoner of doctrines and dogmas, founded in a specific cultural background. It is composed of all types of people, from the most varied cultures and traditions, even agnostics and atheists who let themselves be touched by the courageous figure of Jesus, by the dream he announced, a Kingdom of love and liberty, by his ethic of unconditional love, especially for the poor and the oppressed, and by the way he assumed the human drama, amidst humiliation, torture and his execution on the cross. Jesus offered an image of God so intimate and life-friendly that it is difficult to disregard, even by those who do not believe in God. Many people say, “if there is a God, it has to be like the God of Jesus.”

This Christianity as a spiritual path is what really counts. However, from being a movement it soon became a religious institution, with several forms of organization. In its bosom were developed different interpretations of the figure of Jesus, that were transformed into doctrines, and gathered into the official Gospels. The Churches, when they assumed institutional character, established criteria of belonging and of exclusion, doctrines such as identity reference and their own rites of celebration. Sociology, and not theology, explains that phenomenon. The institution always exists in tension with the spiritual path. The ideal is that they develop together, but that is rare. The most important, in any case, is the spiritual path. This has a future and animates the meaning of life.

The problem of the Roman Catholic Church is her claim of being the only true one. The correct approach is for all the Churches to recognize each other, because they reveal different and complementary dimensions of the message of the Nazarene. What is important is for Christianity to maintain its character as a spiritual path. That can sustain so many Christian men and women in the face of the mediocrity and irrelevancy into which the present Catholic Church has fallen.

Ed. Note: This article was first published on Leonardo Boff’s website.     

Israel and Bonhoeffer a status confessionis

September 28, 2012

My friend Murph told me  that the King of Jordan was on Jon Stewart   the week of September 24.He stated that “until Israel and Palestine are settled (Pun intended) the rest of the Middle East is at risk.”

Many people believe this and refuse to be marginalized by Israel firsters whose main justification for its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians seems to be.”Why pick on us—why not the Sudan. Syria etc.” It is a fatuous argument which basically admits  “Yeah, we know it’s not nice but look at other countries’ behaviour.

The King of Jordan is nearer to the truth.This shocking treatmenrt of a largely Muslim people, surrounded by other Muslim countries cries out for justice.The resolution of this one-sided conflict would dampen temperatures in the whole Middle East.

For Christians it appears to me a status confessionis a make or break issue. The church of Jesus Christ must side with the oppressed people where Jesus locates himself. The Latin expression comes out of Nazi Germany and the witness of underground “Confessing” Church of which the brilliant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a key figure. Appalled by the collusion of much of the church, its silence over the demonization and oppression of Jews in Germany, the confessing church stated, there is no two sides to this issue. The identity and the integrity of the church depend on siding with the victims. Failure to do so is to betray the gospel. It is literally a matter of faithfulness.He himself was martyred by the Nazis in April 1945.

Bonhoeffer put this stance  in dramatic terms to his Lutheran seminarians  told his seminarians the day after Kristallnacht (Nov 11, 1938) , “Only those who cry out for the Jews can sing the Gregorian Chant.” Ironically enough the Hebrew Scripture reading for that day was one that Dr King used to quote: “I hate, I despise your festivals … but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5: 21-24)

Make no mistake.It is not to justify violence in Israel/Palestine. But it is to lend solidarity to the just cause of the Palestinian  people—for their right of return, for the return of lands taken in war. All of these are covered in UN resolutions ignored for far too long

It is the “Christian” nation, the USA which is  not only betraying the hope for peace here. For Christian s in the USA justice for the Palestinians must be  a status confessionis..


Jim Malone a different bishop

September 26, 2012

In 1977, in Youngstown, Ohio five thousand people lost their jobs in one day. That city was the second largest producer of steel in America and Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s closure on a Black Monday  was the dramatic harbinger of rust bowls in Middle America. Steel mills began closing in record  tossing thousands of people out of work. 40,000 jobs all together disappeared crippling the local economy.

Unlike today’s bishops the Vatican ll cadre of that period  was  deeply immersed in the lives of their people. They  actually did something about it. Bishop Jim Malone cobbled an ecumenical coalition together to fight back. It was a model of inter-faith collaboration and its mantra was “the purpose of economic life is to serve the common good and the needs of people.” 

The Carter administration seeing the total agreement of all Ohio politicians agreed to pony up $100 million to buy the plants They were to be run as worker owned co-ops. For whatever reason the Carter admin pulled back the  money and the decline set in all through middle   America. The economy has never come back.

Malone was not unlike other Vatican ll bishops of the time. At 17 he had seen his dad come home in Youngstown with a broken head from a union challenge to ownership. The lessons were not lost on young Jim. As a young bishop he also breathed in the liberating fumes of Vatican ll where the Church was encouraged to  make  “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the men (sic) of this age… those of the followers of Christ.”

Many great bishops threw themselves into the labour struggles of their day.

Today it is another matter .There is such an absence of episcopal voices in this area as to be almost scandalous.The purview of these men appears to be limited to the confines of the church. None of these men to my knowledge has ever seen a picket line. That absence speaks volumes.

As Fr Richard McBrien stated in 2010:

If anyone wants to know why there has been so much hemorrhaging from the Catholic church in recent years (the Pew Study of U.S. religions has put the number at 3 in 10) and why there is so much demoralization among those who have thus far remained, we need look no further than the general pattern of appointments to, and promotions within, the U.S. hierarchy over the past three decades.

NHL lockout: A pox on both houses

September 23, 2012


It is  difficult for people to understand the work stoppage in the National Hockey League.

Canadians  seem to be caught on the horns of a dilemma. They love their hockey.It is seen as a significant part of our cultural DNA.It is almost as if they were being deprived of necessary oxygen. Many have a hard time of conceiving a long winter without the hockey fix. Americans of course have a serious addictio to football. But this only gets you to January.

On the other hand. most  Canadians are generally stunned that  people making so much money are striking, thus denying the put-upon fans a significant part of their lives. They seem to be asking,”what world are these people living in?” during a time of economic turndown when many have been downsized. They know the landscape but do not know how to proceed in this new moment.

Every country has their version of SOMA the fictional narcotic consumed by the denizens of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Sports has always filled the vacuum in people’s lives.People seem to place great importance on this escapism. Marx reminded us that sad is the country or people who need such heroes who need these vicarious outlets..

Sports has too often filled this existential void in people’s lives,”Bread and circuses” as the Roman writer Juvenal called the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome. Give the people welfare and diversions. Canada is particularly sad in that the national broadcaster the CBC gives Don Cherry a platform to spout  his noxious opinions—his support of war and dislike of foreign-born hockey players.

In 1994 the last stoppage many fans said that is it, I am done with these people.Most came back.The addiction remained.They needed the narcotic and in Toronto the evergreen hope of a Maple Leaf resurgence.

They could not find an alternative to the Saturday Night existential neurosis.

I watch with sadness—at a Gary Bettman, the shill for the owners making $8 million a year and Don Fehr, the players’ man  $3 million…both grossly overpaid. and living in a bubble.

But that’s capitalism, a terrible system, one which rewards escapism, waste and injustice.

As far as pro sports cultural critic Lewis mumford said it  best in the 40s:“Sport is one of the least effective reactions against the machine.”

A cruel Tory government

September 21, 2012

As Jim Loney so eloquently states in his Facebook posting, this is a sad day to be a Canadian. Imagine deporting a woman with her Canadian born kids, a woman who refused to fight in that awful illegal and immoral war in Iraq. The sane war that now PM  Harper and Flaherty and Mike Harris so ardently supported. We now have a compassionate deficit in this country. Under Pierre Trudeau we were an enlightened nation which   allowed both draft-dodgers and Vietnam deserters to immigrate freely. 50m,000 americans with a conscience came here.They made a great contribution to our national life

Alexis Pavlich, a spokesperson  for uber Catholic Immigration Minister dismissed Rivera’s claim  in these terms :“These unfounded claims clog up our system for genuine refugees who are actually fleeing persecution.” Rivera had applied to stay permanently on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.


Loney spoke for many of us:

It was a very sad day to be a Canadian. Saying goodbye to Kim in the playground of the school her children attend, her children running wildly about the play structure, friends gathered around her, everyone fighting back tears, one of those moments when you feel everything changing, turning, infinite momentous, when you feel like everything should just STOP but it doesn’t, it won’t, it can’t.Kimberly Rivera, a soldier who laid down her gun and said no to war. A woman of conscience, courage, open-hearted goodness. A woman getting ready to be taken into custody because Canada’s Immigration Minister was deporting her.The hard boot of the Conservative government stomping down on a witness of conscience.

We can’t let this happen again.

Nicky Rico, mille grazie amico !

September 20, 2012

Nick Rico for 50 years has been doling wisdom on the ball diamond. At 84, he still is vibrant and enthusiastic. We had a chance to say mille grazie last night. 60 did so. A few remarks on the event.

I look out on this room tonight and I do not see

Jim Ridley                  Freddy Fess         Mel Legg

Alfie Payne                Sam Luchetta       Charlie Hughes

John Gartley              Jack Spafford       Kenny Baycroft

Eddy Terry                  Dick Krol

Jimmy Warden           Jack Wilson

and you can name others, people who we played with and against, people who coached you —those who shared our passion for The Summer Game.

An evening like ths is simply the ever-present reminder that we pass this way but once and as Horace’s (died 8 BCE) ’Latin phrase puts it so well  Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero – “Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future“.  The ancients with their primitive health care, their vulnerability to a host of diseases we’ve long conquered, really understood the brevity of life.

in another of his odes in words you all remember from your grade 12 Latin, the wise Horace said     Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus” (“Now is the time to drink, now the time to dance footloose upon the earth”).

People today often fall prey to the cult of youth so prevalent in our culture. We can not existentially grasp that we will not live for ever…so we put off many important things like relationships and acts of gratitude.

Seneca another Roman (died 65  CE) wrote wisely: 

The majority of mortals, Paulinus,1 complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live. Nor is it merely the common herd and the unthinking crowd that bemoan what is, as men deem it, an universal ill; the same feeling has called forth complaint also from men who were famous. It was this that made the greatest of physicians exclaim that “life is short, art is long;”it was this that led Aristotle, while expostulating with Nature, to enter an indictment most unbecoming to a wise man—that, in point of age, she has shown such favour to animals that they drag out five or ten lifetimes,4 but that a much shorter limit is fixed for man, though he is born for so many and such great achievements.It is not that we have a short space of  time, but that we waste much of it.

 Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment>of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it….

Males of course are not very good at expressing our affection for each other…that is why the Creator graced us with wives, companions and significant others.We all need help to get to the heart of the matter, to what really counts.

In a forthcoming book about my downwardly mobile life in teaching i wrote in the preface

Gratitude has been absolutely central to my life and teaching. Looking back at the beginning of my 8th decade, I realize how it showed itself in teaching. I never stopped laughing and enjoying the variety of people who sat in front of me. The diversity of humanity overwhelmed me. The goodness inspired me.

i mean where else but in team sports, and I believe it is most germane to baseball because of the measured pace and the summer clime,  do you get to meet and savour so many personalities?

It was our peerless leader Carmen Bush (below with Archie French) who set the festive board for us, who made us realize that the  game is simply the place where we meet as fellow humans in relationship; that the post-mortem was just as important as the score board , that friendships crafted between foul lines were the really important things.

The poet Gwendolyn Brooks phrased this beautifully when she wrote:

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.

Our friend Nick in his remarks last night reiterated his oft stated belief that he was just passing on Carm’s personalist philosophy which touched so many.

He gave all of us permission to come on the stage and pass the wisdom on to another generation.

A warm evening with fratello Niccolo.

The fundamentalist President

September 15, 2012

More evidence  of the staggering incompetence of George W. Bush and his administration has arrived in Kurt  Eichenwald’s new book 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars lays it all out for us to see. Two points here.

First Bush and his hopelessly incompetent Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice absolutely failed in their prime duty of protecting the American citizenry. In short they repeated;y ignored cogent warnings about of Al-Qaeda’s intention of attacking the US homeland. So obsessed were they with Saddam Hussein were they that they missed repeated warnings of the ultimate attack.

This was well known, now it’s chapter and verse.

My interest in this book is in the shocking revelation of Bush’s phone call to a disbelieving French PM, Jacques Chirac. He rightly expressed doubts about Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction.

What follows is staggering. Bush launches into a wild interpretation of end times nonsense from the Book Of Revelation.

“Jacques, you and I share a common faith. You’re Roman Catholic, I’m Methodist, but we are both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible. We share one common Lord.” Then Bush actually  believes  that “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East. Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase His people’s enemies.

This is so bizarre and frightening that it should pit the fear of God into these fundamentalists who are being taken seriously in the US. The crazies as Chomsky has repeatedly said now have a place at the table.

Chirac rightfully is gobsmacked. He looks at his staff and says, “Does anyone know what he was talking about?”

They consult somebody who actually is biblically literate and  he  writes a report for Chirac  explaining these biblical  references from Ezekiel and revelations (they are players in the Armageddon scenario so dear to many fundamentalist

Chirac’s response when he reads all this is simple , “I’m dealing with a fanatic, and I’m not going to make, you know, national security decisions for France based on someone—you know, the president’s interpretation of the Bible.”

Americans voted for this  biblically illiterate man. He had his finger on the Doomsday trigger.


Chicago:the war on unions continues

September 13, 2012



“Let’s be clear — this fight is for the very soul of public education, not just only Chicago but everywhere.”

So said Karen lewis, the head of the Chicago teachers union.

She is exactly right.

The attack on teachers is an attack on organized labour taking place in the USA with little resistance by Democrats. Corporations are slobbering over the chance to break into the lucrative education market.This means breaking uniuons and living wages ; it means the tex book industry; in effect it means the race to the bottom for workers and more money for corporations.The union movement is all that stands between poverty and a midle class existence.

The Catholic bishops should be on the picket line with the workers. They are nowhere in sight. They have not analyzed the situation correctly. It is about the dignity of the human person, the right to collective bargaining ; the right to a living wage and the defence of the poor. all of these used to be staples in the Catholic firmament.

Chicago teachers are the canaries in the colal mine.They are sick of the real problems in public schools are going unaddressed.Those issues  are about poverty, resources for all kids, equity and a decent shot at life..This can not be solved by rote testing and privatization.

Theresa Moran points out in The Progressive that  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his kids to a private school  with three libraries and seven art teachers. “But half of Chicago public schools don’t have full-time art and music teachers, 98 don’t have playgrounds, and 160 don’t have libraries. Crumbling facilities sometimes have asbestos insulation poking through the ceilings. One teacher told me her South Side school shares a psychologist with four others. Students traumatized by a string of shootings this year join a growing waitlist to receive the healing they need.”

What is happening in Chicago has ramifications everywhere.It is about corporate power versus people and community power. Demonizing teachers as “greedy, fat cats” is not only wrong it is evil. It obfuscates.Emmanuel is a pricularly noxious characyer whose real job now is running Obama’s super pac. He sends aides to mneetings and negotiates in the press. He is a water carrier for his buddy ARne Duncan ,the US cazar on education—a first rate privatizer and cahrter school booster.

One University of Illinois study says Chicago teachers work 58 hours a week, grading papers at home, tutoring students before and after school and meeting with parents. Teachers also often provide snacks and supplies to pupils who arrive hungry and ill equipped for class.

And let’s not lose sight of this: most of these kids are black.

Keep your eye on this.

Chicago teachers rebel at neoliberal agenda

September 12, 2012

The  fall school term in Chicago’s public schools began with a teachers’ strike.2 9,000 teachers have withdrawn their services.Only 6 of 49 articles have been agreed to. on this the third day of the strike.

To understand this regrettable state of affairs one must look to the shocking appointment iof non-teacher Arne Duncan as Obama’s education czar and former head in Chicago.Duncan represents the toxic wave of standardized testing as  virtually the sole benchmark of student achievement.

And now we have the foul-mouthed Chicago mayor and dual Israely citizen, Rahm Emmanbuel taking time off from organizing an Obama superpac to put it to the teachers.

Matt Farmer a parent poined out that Emmanuel’s own kids are in the elite Chicago Laboratory  School. It’s akin to Mike Moore pointing out in his Fahrenheit  9/11 film that only one of 450 Congress people had a child in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

In the Lab school we have the makings of a rouded education–art, music, good libraries.The Chicago public system is being starved iof these as the testing mania leaches time from curricula (15 whole days in Chicago!)and teachers are “teaching to the test.” This is education? If this system were in Ontario people would never stand for it.It’s bad enough that there is not enough opposition to the awful testing mania but at least in our system there is decent funding for all schools.

On Amy Goodman’s brilliant radio show Democracy Now (10 AM at 89.5 in the Toronto regon) Pauline Lipman professor of Education Policy studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago put the whole megillah in context.

Chicago, she pointed out, “was the birthplace of the neoliberal, corporate, top-down education reform agenda—privatizing public education, closing and sabotaging public neighborhood schools, high-stakes testing, paying teachers based on test scores—that whole agenda. And Chicago is now the epicenter of the fight back against it.

What happens here in Chicago will really have an implication for whether we are able to turn back this national agenda. And the eyes of the country are really on Chicago today.”

More tomorrow.

Labour Day part 2

September 6, 2012



Unite against Austerity” was the Labour Day theme. By my reckoning, not a bad one.

The corporations sitting on a pile of dough certainly take the theme seriously. They are very austere investors.Last week they open ly laughed at Finance minister Jim Flaherty when he asked them to open their pockets

I walked with Librarians, Ironworkers, Nurses, Power workers, Energy workers, hotel workers, even Labour for Palestine had a banner, OSSTF which seemed to have more marchers than the Catholic  teachers. Why is this?

There were many thoughtful signs like “We are all affected,” “Children are in crisis”, “We didn’t cause the problem.”




Earlier in the week the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren  caused an uproar with what I would have thought was the obvious.

“Nobody does it by themselves.”

Republicans hate this and immediately began to mock Warrren who said:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.” 

Obama earlier made the same point:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Romney supporters were in a frenzy. No, Romney built Bain Capital by his lonesome.No, he took corporate welfare in every state he was in. Romney saved the Salt Lake City Olympics—by himself, of course.

Not counting the $250 million the Feds  kicked in.

Where do these guys get off with this nonsense?

So Labour finds itself almost on its own. Unions are struggling—to keep workers from racing to the bottom. Like the latest American takeover of Zellers. Now Target comes in—and fires all the retail workers.You know what’s next. A drop in pay for everybody. TARGET loves the US where 7% of the  private sector are unionized.

If you are in a union, you make a minimum $5.00 an hour more. If you are in a unionized country like Europe you do not have extremes of rich and poor.

In Canada under the Tories unions are under attack. It is more difficult to do any advocacy work now.

It is very sad to see Toronto’s Catholic bishops virtually absent in their defence of unions. They were nowhere to be seen on Labour Day.