“We are not Blue States, We are not Red States, WE ARE THE UNITED STATES.” President Elect Barack Obama
“We lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” President Joseph Biden
I have withheld my personal opinions for months depending on the scriptures to lead me in my reflections. And yet, I will still follow the scriptures for many references in this reflection, “Where Are We Heading?”
If you have been watching or listening to the news especially since the election of President Biden you have by now become very familiar with the half-truths, lies, and misguided commentators. “And the Truth will set you Free…is that still true, honestly I have my doubts. We are a very divided country where Red States and Blue States are not united about most everything. At every turn we hear about constant conspiracy theories, recounts, disputed certified election results, stolen election etc. People refusing to get the vaccine which has proven to save lives and prevent over run hospitals; and yet this craziness continues to the point where people who need the hospital for emergency surgery find no room available for them. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The problem with this command by the Lord, in our age is that a very large number of us don’t love ourselves, so how is it possible to love and care about someone else? “Love one another, as I love you.” Jesus has set a very high mark for us to seek and very few of us ever achieve it. This must be our goal and our call to love and serve others or we are for sure doomed. Jesus’ time on earth was not a peaceful one; unrest with endless wars over disputed lands, power grabs by the wealthy, as the poor grew poorer, and the rich became filthy rich. The time of Jesus was not a joyous one and yet He taught us about patience, concern for others, going to your enemy and making peace, sharing what you have with those who have not, laying down your life for your enemy, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We have become so tribal that we cannot even carry on a civil conversation with others who might not think like I do, act different from me, speak a different language than me, have different colored skin than mine, have different customs than mine. We were once called, the great “melting pot.”
From our feeble beginnings we fought our enemies, welcomed the stranger to the land of the free. WE built a country where the American dream came to exist. Shortly after our independence we fought against ourselves, north and south, just like in Jesus’ time wanting not to share in the dream but to take it away from others, here in began the struggle for power, wealth, domination, slavery, inequality between the sexes and the whites over the persons of other colored skin. We were founded on freedom, liberty, and justice for all. We refused to have taxation without representation. We formed a Republic where all are created equal, given equal opportunity; you could dream your dream and make it come true. It didn’t take long before the golden dream slowly eroded, we have become lost in the wilderness of self-centered thought, words and actions; an attitude of “me first, what Pope Francis calls, “Individualism.” This has become a large part of our society today; elections are disputed unfairly, without cause; we have fallen apart because we couldn’t remember the command from Jesus, “Love one another as I love you.”
WE have lost our ability to have different points of view, to have civil debate over our differences, and working towards compromise is betrayal of the worst kind and must at all costs be put down. All of us have lost sight of the original goal when we formed our first government, a Republic, an experiment in Democracy of self-rule. We now wage war on ourselves; husband against wife, child against parent, parent against child, neighbor against neighbor. Not exactly Jesus’ words but close enough. We have lost our ability to see that we have more in common than we see, we have lost the vision of a better society than what we grew out of; and yet here we are at each other’s throats, many calling for civil war. How far we have fallen. Do we even realize, are we even aware, have we even noticed, do we even care? We are at a major reflection point, democracy hangs by a thread, does anyone feel some responsibility to help reverse this movement of hate motivated by fear, power motivated by greed, self-will propelled by anger, I want what you have and will do anything to get it. How very far we have fallen. Will we have the courage, strength, and desire to move beyond own selfishness and self-centeredness? I fear that perhaps we have moved so far apart that a middle common ground maybe too late to seek and find.
I am a person of HOPE. As a Catholic priest, I am called from the community to serve the community; to be a leader, to help lead us back to Jerusalem, the citadel where our savior was crucified, died, buried and Raised to New Life, thus conquering death.
We are Christians, believers and followers of Jesus Christ. In following Him we are to live a life of compassion, seeking understanding of others, healing our neighbors wounds, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger; living a life of service to others. We ask, "who is my neighbor?" Jesus' response - everyone is your neighbor. He commanded us, "Love one another as I love you." We know where we are supposed to be heading, but finding it almost impossible to get turned around and heading back in the right direction to Jerusalem.
We are called by our baptism to be missionaries, taking Jesus' message to all people, God has no favorites. All are children of God and therefore we are sisters and brothers.
Now let us go and live out our baptismal promises that we renewed just a few days ago.
Nationalism has become a cancer on our nation and our world, dividing us. Nationalism is not Patriotism; it is the opposite. Patriotism is about inclusion, acceptance of differences that don’t diminish us; rather they make us stronger. We started as 13 colonies with many differences that united us into a growing nation to where we are 50 states today. However, we have chosen Individualism, that looks to satisfy only my needs and want with a belief system that I have created. That in practice is selfish where only my truth matters This indifference to others divides us into Red States and Blue States as well as in many other ways.
Jesus showed us a better way, a united way for we are the United States of America – E pluribus Unam – out of the many one. We stand at a reflection point, if we are honest with ourselves, then each person in this land must ask themselves – am I for myself alone; what I want and to hell with all others…who do not ascribe to my way of thinking, my beliefs?
We are on the edge of not only losing our democracy, we are on the brink of self-destruction. An unknown author once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We are at this point. Nationalism cares nothing about others, only power and control over others; an attitude of all must conform to my way of thinking and doing. Nationalism gave rise to Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Stalin in the Soviet Union, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Castro in Cuba, Xi Jinping in China, Moon Jae-in in North Korea only to mention a few. Nationalism is on the rise across our planet and our country.
Patriotism is stronger when we recognize our differences as gifts, contributing to the whole - making each one of us better; in the spirit of shared knowledge, acceptance, passion, concern, kindness; where all are included because if anyone or any group is left out, pushed aside, then we are all lesser for our blindness and cold hardened hearts that have turned to stone. Cold, hard hearts are not a characteristic of true Patriotism nor of Christianity.
Nationalism has its roots in hate and fear. It is natural to fear what we don’t know. Let me use myself as an example. When I was flying over a country in the South Pacific that I had been preparing myself for many years to enter into the Iives of the people I was about to walk on their soil. To be open to learning about their culture, their beliefs, their sacredness, as Yahweh said to to Moses from the burning bush, “Moses, take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.”
Bro. George, we were both members of the Society of the Divind Word, and good friends, we came up on the island. I became so scared, started crying, and thinking - I’m going to get speared to death and be shipped home to my mother in a wooden box. Praise God, I didn’t give into that negative fear for only a short period of time. I had promised myself before I left home, for Papúa New Guinea that I would learn to speak the language as the people do, no shortcuts; to that end I spent a lot of time making a fool of myself with the school kids trying to say one thing and it came out as meaning something else. The kids would start laughing themselves silly. It taught me to have a sense of humor if I was going to get through this period of learning their unwritten language. At about six months into my two year term, I had grasped the language fairly well. That’s not the end of the story. I was driving to town to get supplies for the clinic, diesel for the generator, and some western food that gets shipped in from Australia. I was with the two nurses and our cook, I thought I was saying one thing and it totally came out wrong. The young women starting laughing and slapping my back to the point I had to pull over, I too was laughing so much .
The first six months were the hardest in every way possible, I had made a lot of mistakes and felt insecure, becoming short-tempered,angry, and quite honestly felt that I just wanted to go home. Upon reflection I found I had tread on their sacred ground in an unholy way. However, it woke me up and I changed my ways. I would some nights go to a nearby village, sat on the ground with the tribel elders, keeping my mouth shut, respectfully listening to them recount the ways of their religious beliefs, rituals, and social order. They have a highly developed culture that had been handed down for generations. I was on holy ground, and I knew it.
When my two years were at an end, I was preparing to leave the mission and the people who had welcomed me and included me in their circle had gathered to see me off. I didn’t want to go for many reasons but primarily because of one act of the chief of the tribe; he pulled a bird of Paradise out of his headdress and gave it to me. I felt one with this new family that had so totally accepted me. As I had grown to accept them without fear or judgement, respecting their ways I had come to experience they had also come to respect me. As we drove away I remembered back to those first images and feelings I had when I first saw the land that had now become my home, I felt very sad and cried. I could hear the women wailing, they don’t cry, they wail. I looked back and saw that the women were beating their breasts, it was a loving sign that for them I was dying as they would never see me again. They too were sad to see me go, as were the children with whom I had learned so much and spent a lot of time laughing with. I still 43 years later sometimes cry and become so emotional that I can recount colors of their laplaps that men and women wear wrapped around their waist and breasts, the bright sunlight shining on the grass that made it glow, the sky at night being totally black, I felt I could just reach up and touch the infinity of blackness that wrapped around me and I felt safe. I said a prayer of Thanksgiving to God who had brought me to this land just out of the stone age, to these beautiful people who had welcomed me and made me part of their families tribes.
Do you now begin to understand how beauty, friendship, caring, and compassion can blossom when we open our minds and hearts up to others who are not of the same skin color, the same language or even religion as mine can tear down walls that separate, that cause us to be fearful and make wrong judgements about others who are not of my tribe and falsely call it “nationalism”. Nationalism builds walls instead of bridges, makes wrong judgements about others instead of being open to see that we have more in common than what divides us. Those who are lost in their nationalistic beliefs kills any possibility of openness to welcome others differences; it kills the soul, that which makes us one in God as brothers and sisters. I believe in hope that we still have a chance to turn this negative judgmentalism and individualism that is pushing us to the edge of loosing our way of life for the past 230 years. True Patriotism begins with an open mind and heart to see beyond our differences, works towards a more just, cooperative and all inclusive people - E Pluribus Unum - “from the many comes one” - people that embraces our differences not as something to fear and hate, rather that each ones uniqueness is a creation of God in whom we are all created.
Let us resolve, to face our fears that cause us to hate, see with eyes wide-open the goodness that is in all of us. Let us resolve, to see that which binds us together makes us stronger and richer in self-giving; willing to put others needs before my own. We will build a better union with liberty, and justice for all people. Let us hear the words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King in that ‘ol negro spiritual… free at last, thank God I’m free at last. We all long for freedom, however freedom doesn’t come easily, it has a high price to achieve.
In the words spoken by Jesus Christ, …go forth to all people of every land and nation to love them as yourself. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “for it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned and in dying that we are reborn to new life”…to become our true self, our God self as we have been created to be. These days what is most important to me, knowing that I have less days than I have already had, is to unbind myself from the trials of this world, set my eyes and my heart to do what I so strongly believe in my heart that God has called me to do - to live my life in total unencumbered dedication to serving the Will of God dedicated to building up God’s kingdom of justice, peace, acceptance, and love right here on earth and this country we all call The United States of America. Where everyday we can have thoughts and actions that lead us into our darkside; rather than by the Spirit of God who is unconditional in love, that heals our wounds of indifference, gives us a new path of working together for the common good of all people.
In the words of an unknown author, “Don’t ask whats important, inspire it.” When I was young I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. God chose me to be his servant priest. Forty years later, I have followed this calling to the best of my ability, always on the path dedicating my life to be better in my service to people in who’s eyes I see the image of God.
Father Dennis Rausch