Friday rain. With a week-end of more rain and the deluge of the wicked and the lost is upon us. First in slow drizzle and a myriad of betrayals. The drip, drip, dripping of half-truths and lies until soaked and chilled we are. Defiled and chilled.
You would be hard pressed to find an institution more intensely focused on symbols than the Roman Catholic Church. Its liturgy is a tapestry of symbols, ornate, beautiful, compelling, richly textured by all five senses. Hence, it is inconceivable that the pontiff did not know with whom he met and embraced in the person of Kim Davis. She is a symbol for the denial of human rights to Gay persons as Gov. George Wallace was a symbol of denial to full citizenship to African-Americans. In 1963, Gov. Wallace stood at the entrance of the University of Alabama, defying the federal government’s order to move and allow Black students entrance into the university. He refused and like Kim Davis, asserted legal arguments for defying the federal government’s order. Was his act an act of conscience? of course it was and like Kim Davis’ act of conscience, a misguided and corrupted conscience. That the pontiff met her in secret alerts us to the fact that he knew what she represents. Can you imagine the pontiff meeting with George Wallace soon after his blocking the school house door and offering the excuse that he meets with a lot of people? Please. This kind of excuse is an insult to our intelligence.
Once again we are subjected to the vile news that a man with a gun has shot down ten people and wounded tens of others. He apparently took glee in singling out Christians to kill. And yet, the Christian Right, the NRA and just good ole patriotic Americans feel no pang of conscience when something like this happens. We are defiled and chilled. This is The Mocking of Christ, as depicted by the Fifteenth Century artist, Matthias Grünewald. Look at who carries out this mockery in that painting. They are upright citizens, they are good old boys, they are the upright religious brigades. How awful. How shameful.
I have no political stratagem to offer. Just a lament and cry for God’s mercy in our lives and in our world. Today, find time to listen to a Kyrie. Get alone in a quiet place and pray. For we are a corrupted people whose hearts, like a branch infested by insects, are hollowed out. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
now edited to include a statement about Pope Francis’ secret meeting with Kim Davis.
When you begin your speech to Congress with references to Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, then you have sent a very loud signal to everyone that you are a pope of peace and justice. Indeed, Pope Francis even used that phrase as he used a velvet hammer on the noggins of a Congress that has used up most of its vital energy devising ways to overturn the Affordable Care Act. I had thought progressive Catholicism to be nearly extinct but in one speech and then in a whirlwind of activity aimed at uplifting the marginal and at-risk, this pontiff has single-handedly revived it.
Mind you, as a Baptist (and let’s keep in mind that of the three individuals noted above and referred to by the Pope as models of what it means to be a Christian citizen, King was the Baptist clergyman in the list), and as someone then who believes strongly in separation of Church and State, I do not believe the pope should have been invited to speak to the Congress. We would never, ever consider inviting an Islamic Imam of a country like Iran to speak before the Congress and that is as it should be. But allowing the pope to do so merely obfuscates the separation and is a dangerous thing to do. Why? Because our founders knew personally how terrible a thing it is when religion and state combine in their efforts to control people. The Church armed with the power of the State and the State armed with the rhetoric of God is flat out dangerous and comes very close to blasphemy. But leaving this important issue to the side, what Francis said penetrated the brassy patriotism of a deformed Christianity pawned off by politicians who resemble goats, not the sheep brought into the kingdom for their acts of justice and compassion. The cynical invitation to bring the pope here as a way of embarrassing the President–much as bringing Prime Minister Netanyahu before Congress to embarrass the President–backfired. Francis blessed the President for his efforts on behalf of immigrants and the uninsured while declaring to the Congress that they should take their moral lessons from three progressive Christians: Day, who was a pacifist and resisted WW1 and set up soup kitchens in NY to feed the poor and unemployed; King who denounced racism and led America’s second revolution, the Civil Rights Movement; and Merton, a contemplative monk who with his pen denounced the Vietnam War and worked for peace and interfaith understanding.
This is a special pope, a Jesuit with a Franciscan heart of service to the least of these.* It was a joy to hear him and watch him and he reminded me, a Baptist, why I find Catholicism to be so beautiful and rich in both history and liturgy. May God bless his efforts and the efforts of all those who seek peace and justice in our world. And may the Congress of the United States, sent to serve the People of the United States, move past religious rhetoric and do its utmost to live up to the sacred documents of the United States–its constitutional guarantees and Bill of Rights. ~See you Sunday
*So now I need to add an asterisk to the statement that Pope Francis is a special pope with a Franciscan heart. What a deflating disappointment to know that this pope who cited peace and justice warriors like King, Day and Merton and seemed compassionate for the least of these actually sided with a homophobic, misguided clerk from Kentucky. Yes, she has a right to be a conscientious objector but CO’s bear the consequences of such objection. She should not be clerk of a court anywhere. Those on the right who compare her to Dr. King are delusional for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that King worked tirelessly for the freedom and human rights of all people. Kim Davis is a homophobe who loves Jesus. And the pope just smeared his own remarkable visit with us in the United States by his embrace of her behind closed doors. Shame, shame, shame. Dear Gay Brothers and Sisters, God bless and keep you. You are fully human and thus, you should have all the rights and privileges of being a human being, including marriage. I, like you, am so disappointed . At the same time, we welcome you into our church!
Pope Francis is about to impact the greater Washington DC area like a snow storm or Direcho. People are being encouraged to stay indoors and off of roads. Religious news should be covered by meteorologists at this point.
The man who took on the name of St. Francis as his moniker has been shaking up the Vatican. His humility, his deep and authentic concern for the poor, his articulate defense of the earth and concern for climate change, his commitment to simplicity in his personal life and of course, his devotion to God are compelling qualities and we should take a moment to listen to him and seriously consider what he would say to the Catholic Church in America and Christians in general.
But of course, there is a deep divide between the Pope and his church and Protestants. We are not welcome to eat at the Table of our Lord and that because of theological differences. Those theological differences are complex at times and they have endured over millennia. The same can be said of all the issues Francis has chosen to address. His gift, it seems to me, is his direct and simple devotion to the love of Christ so that, for example, instead of waxing philosophically about the poor, this man invites the poor, the hungry and the prisoner to dinner and he even washes their feet. Such simple acts of devotion have a way of clearing the decks. That is why a simple act of devotion by this pope could have a far-reaching, dare I say, even earth-shattering, effect on Christians globally: when he invites me or any other Protestant to receive the bread and wine of the eucharist instead of singling me out, with my arms crossed to the priest to identify myself as someone worthy of being blessed but unworthy of the Lord’s supper. When he does that, the Church Universal (catholic) will radiate with reconciliation. I pray for Pope Francis’ success and safety. May his visit here leave us better people, more humane and just. And one day, may all of us sit at the table of Christ as authentic brothers and sisters. ~See you Sunday