Go Pope!

Pope Francis Washing Feet on Maundy Thursday

“Love one another,” said Jesus on the night of the Last Supper, and as a sign of that love he washed the feet of his disciples. Pope Francis broke tradition and washed the feet of women last night. Given the great commandment of love, how could Jesus be displeased?

Go Pope!

HuffPost Religion’s report follows here:

ROME — In his most significant break with tradition yet, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of two young women at a juvenile detention center – a surprising departure from church rules that restrict the Holy Thursday ritual to men.

No pope has ever washed the feet of a woman before, and Francis’ gesture sparked a debate among some conservatives and liturgical purists, who lamented he had set a “questionable example.” Liberals welcomed the move as a sign of greater inclusiveness in the church.

Speaking to the young offenders, including Muslims and Orthodox Christians, Francis said that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service.

“This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the group, aged 14 to 21, at the Casal del Marmo detention facility in Rome.

“Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us,” the pope said. “This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service.”

via Pope Francis Offers Holy Thursday Foot Washing To Inmates In Casal Del Marmo Jail PHOTOS VIDEO.

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Looking At Democracy

The Illinois Humanities Council and the MacArthur Foundation are sponsoring a contest for media pieces on the subject of strengthening democracy.

So where do you start?

It’s long been the view of Religion in the Balance that what ails the body politic are the fundamentals on which politics are built: an operationalized view of human nature and the end (as in purpose) of human life; how the liberty of the individual, and the responsibility of the individual to the community, are balanced; how those who have power and voice in a society treat (in word, deed, and policy) those who are relatively powerless and voiceless.

Rodney King once famously said (paraphrased), “Can’t we all just get along?” King’s plea was for the peaceful co-existence of different races, and therefore something we should all desire. In the context of democracy writ large, however, the answer to “Can’t we all just get along?” is a resounding “No”– thankfully. We shouldn’t expect, or even want, to “all just get along,” because plurality, diversity, and disagreement are our strength. Unanimity– broad, society-wide unanimity– is just another word for totalitarianism. It would be troubling if we were all getting along without conflict– it would be a sign that either we were snow jobbing ourselves through widespread self-deception, or that we were being coerced into unanimity by an outside power. Both are false, and symptomatic of a society in deep decay.

The genius of our democracy is that we hold as an ideal (if not always in practice) that we can live peacefully– and actually compromise– with people with whom we disagree: people who do not share the view of human nature that we do; people who do not pursue meaning in life the way we do; people who balance individual liberty and communal responsibility in society differently than we do. The genius of our democracy is our ability to use this difference and diversity as a strength.

Re-learning how to use conflict creatively is the most important beginning we can make, to strengthen democracy today.

Capitalism and Its Discontents

We’ve been considering different themes  in Eugene McCarraher’s “Morbid Symptoms”  (Commonweal, November 2012). The last one to mention is his critique of capitalism. Coincidentally, this month’s feature story in Foreign Affairs is an evaluation of capitalism: “Capitalism and Inequality”, by Jerry Muller.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, and then with the decades-long rise of China and India through their participation in the Western-dominated economic order, criticizing capitalism feels like swimming against the tide of history. Surely the way that the Cold War ended, combined with the last quarter-century of unprecedented wealth creation, prove that capitalism is above reproach?

McCarraher dowses us with a bucket of cold water. “Wake up!” he shouts in muscular prose: capitalism comes with huge costs to the material of the world, and to the spirit of humanity. How could we fail to see that an economic engine which harnesses the power of human avarice to drive it, will inevitably grind us down, diminishing and deflating our sense of what a human life means. Are we made for the Love of God, or for the market? We are socialized to live as though we are made for the market– ie, that we are commodities– and it takes an act of will to choose otherwise. Market-thinking dominates our culture; how could it not penetrate our most basic understanding of who we are, and what the purpose of life is?

Muller is less radical. He sees chronic insecurity as the inevitable result of capitalism, since the dynamism of creative destruction brings continual change. His conclusion: don’t dismantle the welfare state, but strengthen it, because too much insecurity will lead to rebellion. Enlightened self-interest would suggest some level of re-distribution of wealth, in order to increase social stability.

While Muller and McCarraher have fundamentally different points of departure, both see serious flaws in laissez-faire capitalism. The system, while ascendant, is not above reproach– and without critique and correction, it contains the seeds of its own destruction. It may be said of capitalism as an economic system, as Churchill said of democracy: “It’s the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Which is to say that capitalism, like democracy, is not the holy grail. It is not our salvation.

The Church Called America

Eugene McCarraher (“Morbid Symptoms,” Commmonweal, November 2012) makes reference to the “church called America”– which he understands to be separate from, and significantly different from, a Christian church. In making this distinction, he identifies one of the faultlines in American culture today. That faultline is the point of collision between two continent-sized ideas: one, that God’s good will for the world is co-extensive with American economic, political, and military principles and practices; and two, that God’s good will for the world is co-extensive NOT with any state or nation, but with a person whose self-sacrificing love revealed a divine, redeeming, inexhaustable Love at the heart of all.

This gets messy. Why can’t it be both, some may say: why can’t Jesus be the Savior AND America be the light, lately arrived on history’s scene, to show the world the way of God? Why not both?

Because we are human. Perhaps there is such a thing as “American exceptionalism,” but even if there is such a thing, it does not apply to our basic fallen nature: power corrupts always; pride leads to overreach always; nothing is purely good, ever.

McCarraher is criticizing the US Roman Catholic bishops for conflating the way of Christ with the way of American consumer capitalism/militarism, but the criticism applies to all who have authority in Christian churches (hello, self): we need to draw more clearly the lines that locate the God of Christ at work in the world, and the lines that locate the god of America at work in the world. We may imagine a time when those lines corresponded, but that time is not the present time.

To say so, is to make possible a love for both God AND country, with a love that is appropriate to each.