Recently I had a chat with a man who is a descendant of the famed Civil War general, Phil Sheridan, who happened also to be the commanding general of George Armstrong Custer. In our conversation about his ancestor, this man showed heart and common sense in that he did not disassociate himself from his ancestor nor deny what he had done. In fact he was quite frank in calling him a “murderer.” Sheridan killed Native Americans. That’s what he was sent to do in the West by the financial interests back East—clear the land of Indians for the railroad and mining interests and the push West. This is an America they generally don’t teach about in school or the usual history textbooks. We are all living with the “benefits” of this kind of activity, and in Lent that is good to acknowledge. In that spirit, I would like to offer 3 other presentations that foster a certain kind of Lenten acknowledgment that is badly needed. This involves the State, the Church, and the World.
So first we visit the State.
Everyone has heard about Mr. Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, so we will not go over the details of what he has done and the consequences to his life. However, recently there was a debate at Oxford (the famous Oxford Union Debates) on the merits of what Snowden did. Christopher Hedges was on the team defending Snowden and calling him a moral hero, while another team took the position that Snowden’s acts were despicable and harmful. Here is the link to Hedges’s presentation:
or you can catch it here:
As usual Hedges is forceful, brilliant, and worth listening to. There is much in what he has to say.
Next we take a look at the Global Community.
Everyone knows about the global warming controversy. There are several different arguments that have been prominent, but the one that denies that there is climate change can be discarded because that is simply a denial of the facts. However, the real argument is around this issue: to what extent is global climate warming caused by human beings and to what extent this is a kind of cyclical phenomenon. There are valid facts on both sides of the issue and it is far from settled. There also is another version of the “non-human” change: the sun is simply getting hotter. Not many have considered that possibility. The archaeological and geological record certainly shows that there were much hotter periods in the Earth’s history and that was long before any human intervention. The fact is that many environmentalists do not want to or cannot admit that even if we were acting in the most environmentally responsible way, the planet may be doomed for lifeways as we know it now. The heat would go up and up irregardless of what we do or don’t do. Where I live now, 12000 years ago it was mild and very wet with many lakes all around—you can even see where the water level was in the hillsides. But now it is a stark desert, dry and much warmer. All this happened without any human intervention. In any case, the real situation is most likely a combination of both scenarios. Human irresponsibility is probably exacerbating what might be a natural change. Now for a very cogent and thorough presentation of the “human-caused” change evidence– here is a very good presentation.
And now for the Church.
This is a complicated story, but a reasonably short report on this appeared in a recent issue of the National Catholic Reporter. Lets introduce the cast of characters: everyone knows Cardinal Ratzinger, the future pope before this one—at this point in the story he is the “watchdog” over Catholic doctrine—he is in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The other person is Jacques Dupuis, a good Jesuit theologian who had been teaching for many years in a seminary in India and who had befriended Abhishiktananda in the later years of his life. Dupuis writes a theological book which is his attempt to understand and explain, within the parameters of Catholic theology, the phenomenon of religious pluralism. The Vatican reacts very negatively toward this work. What is shocking is not so much the disagreement the Congregation has with Dupuis, but the really serious distortions it presents of his ideas and the unfairness of the whole process. Gerald O’Collins is the third person, another Jesuit theologian and friend of Dupuis, who also served as a kind of “defense attorney” for Dupuis at the various hearings,and here he gives a short account of that whole miserable episode. Some say that it drove poor Dupuis to an early death; he was so heart-broken that the official church held him suspect when he was trying very hard to be faithful both to the facts of history and to Catholic doctrine and be a loyal son of the Church.
So here we are in Lent and in great need of repentance. And this can only begin when we acknowledge our own participation in the collective sin of our state, our world, our church. But as an antitode to our collective darkness I offer the story of Dobri Dobrev. He is an elderly man, about 98 years old, who lives in Bulgaria and who has been written about in some news stories around the world. It appears some people are struck by him and his example. He is a veteran of World War II and he lives on a meager pension of about $100 a month in one room with very humble furnishings. He spends his whole day on the streets of Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia; and people spontaneously give him money. He gives all that money to orphanages, monasteries and churches. He just prays and begs and gives things away; that’s all he does but now some are calling him a “holy man.” Here is a website with some nice photos of him:
I prefer to see it in the Biblical way—only God is good; only God is holy. Some people tend to see holiness as some kind of stuff which you acquire by doing certain things; or as a reputation you get by again doing certain things. Some see it as a collection of virtues or as a concentration of this or that virtue, like humility, etc. But really, holiness is nothing more nor nothing less than another way of saying we have a manifestation of God’s Presence, God’s Reality here and now. And a true manifestation of this Ultimate Reality is also inextricably bound with an Ultimate Hiddenness because it is also a manifestation of Ultimate Mystery, so true holiness will always have some share in a kind of hiddenness which may be peculiar and paradoxical in a given situation. True holiness is always truly unique in the sense that it is rooted in the infinite and absolute uniqueness of that person and hidden in the Secret of that person’s identity. The Russian veneration of the “Fools for Christ” is in this vein. Anyway, old Dobri Dobrev is assuredly a “holy man,” a true manifestation of God and especially because he is “simply Dobri.”
But I will give Milarepa the last word, the true word for our Lent.
“All worldly pursuits have but the one unavoidable end, which is sorrow: acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings in destruction; meetings in separation; births, in death. Knowing this, one should, from the very first, renounce acquisition and heaping up, and building, and meeting; and faithful to the commands of an eminent guru, set about realizing the Truth (which has no birth or death).” ~ Milarepa