Both/and

I think I’ve finally figured something out.

At the beginning of this year, I committed to wrestling how to balance Godly anger (i.e., Jesus-and-the-money-changers) with detachment. I do not see how these coexist.

I spent a whole heck of a lot of time this summer pulling crabgrass and driving while listening to Fr. Richard Rohr’s 1993 (1992?) reflections on the Sermon on the Mount. This set of talks was mind blowing on several levels, but the thing that has really crystallized in recent weeks is this:

There are things that are genuinely, and permanently, and irreconcilably, in conflict with each other. And yet they are both 100% true, both of God.

For instance: we are called to rage at injustice in the world, to be angry with what makes God angry, to mourn what breaks God’s heart—to agitate and advocate for the Kingdom on earth—the thing we, incidentally, pray for every danged time we pray the Lord’s prayer. Jesus absolutely excoriated people who didn’t make their religious beliefs concrete. Matt. 25 and the cleansing of the temple are good examples, of course, but also think of Jesus ripping into the Pharisees for tying up heavy burdens, heavy to lift, and raising no finger to help. Clearly, to Jesus, the things of the world MATTER. Religion is totally bogus if it’s only in the head and heart. It must be lived, concretely, in the real world. (That’s the whole point of the Theology of the Body.)

Yet we are also called to remember that the only way to really follow Jesus is to bow out of the worldly system altogether. Jesus’ whole thing about the tax and Caesar was meant to say, “Quit freaking out about questions of taxation and authority. It is IRRELEVANT, because you don’t belong to this world. Who cares about the taxes?” No matter what happens here on earth, the end goal is Heaven, so what happens here… doesn’t matter?

It does matter… and it doesn’t.

It is the now-and-not-yet. The both/and.

This is what I have realized in recent weeks. I’m feeling tension because there IS tension. There’s SUPPOSED to be.

Now what do I do with this insight?

To be clear, that’s a rhetorical question. I suspect answering it will take the rest of my life.

A little less talk, a little more action

You know that saying: whenever you point a finger at someone else, four fingers are pointing back at you? (Well, it’s really three, as you can see, but…)

I think about that a lot in the context of Intentional Catholic. Anything I write, integrity forces me to turn back on myself, mirror-like.

I’ve been struggling through the Bible in a Year podcast… valuing it for the sake of hearing Scripture in a way that helps me grasp the historical context, but struggling because sometimes the commentaries really set me off. The one on Matthew 25—which is sort of the whole foundation of Intentional Catholic–pretty much gave permission for people to say “I’m clothing my naked children and feeding my hungry family. I’m covered.” In fairness, I do not believe that’s what he intended to convey, but it certainly does give tacit permission to ignore the plight of ACTUAL poverty and suffering.

Which is not to belittle feeding and clothing a family. I am up to the tips of my frizzy curls in caring for kids. It’s a real thing.

But it doesn’t negate our responsibility to the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable. First of all because keeping our kids fed and clothed is only a sliver of what keeps us so busy. The vast majority of what keeps us hopping is not essential. We could ALL cut back on some of our luxury and busy-ness and refocus some of that energy on the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable.

But as I sat there stewing and fuming over this, it occurred to me that me sitting in my house writing blogs and social media posts is not clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, either.

Here’s the thing. The conventional wisdom is that not everyone is called to everything. We are supposed to find what we, individually, are called to.

But I am an Enneagram 1, which means I’m very concerned with Getting It Right. For myself AND for the larger world. Enneagram 1s are deeply susceptible to scrupulousness. (Scrupulosity?)

The trouble is, when I, as an Enneagram 1, try to parse out what I feel most passionate about, I can’t do it. It all matters!

I have a child with a disability. Our health care system of access & payment is deeply dysfunctional and a burden on families.

My conscience stings every time I see a homeless person at an exit ramp. How dare we drive by, avoiding eye contact to preserve our own comfort? How dare people on my “Nextdoor” app call them “zombies,” as if these are not human beings with the same innate dignity as themselves?

I see the chaos and suffering that causes people in Central America to flee for the U.S.—and the way some people here villainize those who are desperate for the same security we treat as a divine right. How can I not be passionate about refugee and immigration?

I have godchildren and family members whose skin color will make them a target when they grow up. How can I not rail against those who deny systemic racism?

I had infertility that the medical community wanted to treat by slapping bandaids on it (birth control, artificial procedures) while ignoring the problems that caused it. We have a family because an NFP doctor took the time to find the root cause (PCO + agricultural chemicals in the water—how can I not be passionate about the environment?). So when I see how abortion is the symptom of a host of other problems that are systemic in our culture, how can I fail to rage at those who want to address the symptom while ignoring the causes?

I don’t know what my “one” issue is, because dang it, they’re all equally important. Thank you very much, Enneagram 1. But I can’t do everything. For years, I’ve been trying to learn to respect my limits, to create healthy boundaries.

But sooner or later you have to say “yes,” too.

So for now, I am working a shift at the Food Bank into my schedule, and exploring volunteer possibilities with Refugee and Immigration Services. Because at least there’s a known entry point there.

I am not going to stop talking. But I’m going to start mixing more action in with it.

What Dorothy Day’s views on Communism teach us about today’s conflicts

Photo by by Roman Harak, via Flickr

I want to talk about Dorothy Day and Communism. This was the original post I wanted to write about her, but I felt it needed to be prepared by the two I’ve already shared.

Dorothy Day’s stalwart both/and-ness—and the fact that she WAS a Communist before her conversion to Catholicism–gave her a unique perspective on communism, which of course was THE issue that shaped the world during much of her ministry.

And with all the talk of “socialism” today, it’s still relevant.

As I shared before, Dorothy Day believed in personal responsibility. She had no faith in changing things through the political process–she thought transformation could only come by changing hearts and minds. And she was worried about regulation because of the danger of fascism (she wrote strong words about it in the 1930s, in the era of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR). Yet despite her antipathy, she DID speak up on political issues, and those words have deep resonance still today:

“I do not think, however, that we are guilty of envy or begrudging a rich man his wealth if we point out the abuses of the capitalist system which allows one man to accumulate the most of the world’s goods while other families suffer year after year, the aching pinch of poverty if not of actual destitution.” (All The Way To Heaven, Kindle edition, 86).

Stop and read that quote again. Let it sink in. Not a whole lot has changed since then, has it? In the past 40 years, since Reagan redefined for the entire country (left AND right) our fundamental approach to taxes and government, total wealth in the U.S. has grown by $77 trillion, but almost all of that went to the richest 10% and especially the richest 1%, while the poorest families among us are all but flat.

Source: Congressional Budget Office report: “Trends in the Distribution of Family Wealth, 1989-2019,” published Sept. 2022

How can anyone deny that capitalism serves the rich, not the poor?

Here’s another quote.

“The Bishops of the Catholic Church have stated that many of the social aims of the Communists are Christian aims and should be worked for by Christians. We feel that Communism is gaining in this country, because Christian people do not protest against injustice as they do.” (Ibid., 95).

Communism gained BECAUSE Christians didn’t stand up against injustice. There’s a lesson in that for us in 2022, too.

One of the major messaging points of today’s conservative movement is that America needs to “return to its traditional Judeo-Christian values.” Or, “the Judeo-Christian values on which this nation was founded.”

I see the connection between modern conservatism and traditional Christian values on sexuality. But outside of that I don’t see much connection at all. In preparation for my letter to the bishops on the Eucharist, I read the entire Pentateuch. One of the things that struck me most profoundly was how the early nation of Israel dealt with issues of social security.

Israel was, in fact, a religious nation… unlike the U.S., which was explicitly founded on freedom of religion—James Madison viewed it as THE fundamental liberty, without which the others meant nothing.

And unless I’ve profoundly misinterpreted, in proto-Israel, religion WAS government—until they rebelled against God and demanded a king. But in those early generations, there was a tithe whose express purpose was to support the livelihood of the priests and provide for the “widow and the orphan and the resident alien.” A nationwide tax, in other words, that everyone paid in order to take care of the most vulnerable among them.

Fast forward to early Christianity. In Acts of the Apostles, no one held any property in common; they all laid it at the feet of the Apostles and it was distributed according to need.

Was it really that easy? I have my doubts. People are people, after all. Still, that was the intended foundation of Christian society.

And, um… pretty sure we can all see that that’s the literal definition of communism.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. It is eminently clear that communism, and all its lingering forms of government (cough-cough-Putin-cough-cough), are unequivocally Bad News.

But anyone who legitimately wants to claim a desire to return to Judeo Christian principles is being intellectually and morally dishonest if they ignore the parts of Judeo-Christian history that don’t line up with their worldly values. Because values of low taxes and small government are not, in fact, Judeo Christian at all, but secular ones.

In her lifetime, Dorothy Day called out capitalism AND communism, because they’re both fundamentally in conflict with Christian world view.

Dorothy Day: both/and and the power of money to corrupt

Image by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay

When I began reading “All the Way To Heaven,” the letters of Dorothy Day, I was shocked by how flamboyant and… earthy… she was as a young woman. Of course, before her conversion she was very worldly—divorced in a time before that was common; living with another man; having had an abortion. But to see her sensuality, her sass, etc. in black and white was really quite something. The early letters were way more… INTERESTING… than I expected the writings of a saint-in-progress to be.

The turn was abrupt when she found God. But once I made the adjustment to the totally different writing style, it was more spiritually edifying. 🙂

One of the gems I highlighted actually came from Robert Ellsberg’s introduction. It synthesizes a great deal of what’s in the book, so I’ll share it here. It’s in the context of how her ministry was founded on Matthew 25 (“when I was hungry, you gave me food…”). He says: “For Day, that meant not just practicing the works of mercy—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless in her house of hospitality—but also protesting and resisting the social structures and values that were responsible for so much suffering and need. The Catholic Worker movement was not intended to resolve the problems of poverty and violence in the world, but to provide a model of what it might look like if Christians truly lived out their faith in response to the challenges of history and the needs of their neighbors.” (Emphasis mine.)

To synthesize: her example demonstrates that true discipleship is not an “either/or” prospect, but a “both/and.” It is personal charity and work directly with those in need… AND a commitment to work to change systemic structures that underlie, facilitate, and even cause poverty, inequality, injustice, and (to extrapolate into today’s terms) natural disasters.

So many of our conflicts in the Church happen because we choose to ally with one side or another of worldly divisions, thus abandoning huge portions of the Gospel mandate. It’s EITHER abortion OR the death penalty. EITHER abortion OR taking on the structures that enable injustice and inequality.

And too many times, Church leaders who see the fracturing of the Gospel mandate are afraid to speak too pointedly, for fear of alienating The Money.

One of Dorothy Day’s letters was addressed to the bishops of California during a worker protest where she got arrested. The editor says they’re not sure whether it was ever sent or not. But in it, she was absolutely flaying the bishops for being afraid to stand with the workers, because of a fear of losing contributions from the wealthy who supported corporations over workers. She was saying, “How much better off would we be if the Church would get rid of all its properties and just depend on God to provide what is needed, when it’s needed?”

Not that this is ever going to happen, but it was shocking to read, because she’s right. When you’re worried about pissing people off and having them take their money and walk, you’re afraid to call them out when they need to be called out. This has been the case for years in the Church, as we have swung farther and farther toward “abortion is the only issue that matters” at the expense of the rest of the Church’s social teaching.

(Money really does corrupt, doesn’t it???? I am pointing all manner of fingers at myself here… just recognizing a reality!)

I have one last post to write on Dorothy Day, but to wrap this one up, here’s one last gem from her on money, in response to “a priest critic.”

“I do not think, however, that we are guilty of envy or begrudging a rich man his wealth if we point out the abuses of the capitalist system which allows one man to accumulate the most of the world’s goods while other families suffer year after year, the aching pinch of poverty if not of actual destitution. St. Jerome and many many Fathers of the Church, and our Leader Himself condemned the rich and no one would dare breathe the word of envy in connection with them.”

Reflecting on Dorothy Day (part 1)

This weekend, I finally finished reading Dorothy Day’s letters. My overarching takeaway is: This woman is not who you think she was. She defies categorization.

I highlighted so many passages in my e-book. So many things to reflect upon. There’s one particular facet I want to reflect upon in depth, but I think I need to address the big picture first, and give that one particular aspect its own post.

My whole life, I have assumed that Dorothy Day would take a certain approach to everything. I believed this in the years when I was a staunch political conservative and thought she represented everything that was wrong with the world. And I still believed this when I began reading this book as a person who has embraced as Godly many things I once thought misguided.

But she is way, way more complex than the general narrative about her allows her to be.

In many ways, she was shockingly conservative. In her younger years it wasn’t so obvious, because the world was still conservative surrounding matters of sexuality. In those years, her conservatism manifested as repeated acknowledgment of the Church’s (and specifically Church leadership’s) authority over her, and a repeated commitment to cease her work if she was ever told to do so. Of course, that never happened. There were many, many priests and bishops supporting her work… because it was CATHOLIC.

But as soon as the sexual revolution started, she started railing against it all. She was not a happy camper in the last couple decades of her life. She was kind of a grumpy old lady, in fact, often unhappy about the depravity of the young and the sorry state of the future. (And she didn’t like the post-V2 Mass. Although in her defense, she was complaining about it in the time just after the change, when everyone was still figuring it out and a lot of things were done badly.) She talks about how the government is not the ideal provider of services to the poor—that it’s necessary at times, but that ideally this work would be done by the Church. (Not individual Christians. The CHURCH.)

On the other hand, she had a moral code that demanded social justice, and she was absolutely, 100% rigid in following it. She participated in protests for peace, spent time in jail, stood with workers against corporations, and lived in abject poverty her whole life—never kept any of her earnings.

A big part of her code was pacifism. She opposed Vietnam, of course (rightly so). But she also opposed World War 2. I found that shocking—downright disturbing, actually. If ever there were a just war, that was it.

Her commitment to pacifism was so unshakable, she wouldn’t take honorary degrees from Catholic universities because they had ROTC programs and took government grants that largely benefited the military industrial complex.

She also raised holy hell when she found out her publisher was going to take funds from Rockefeller and Ford foundations to help archive her stuff. She flatly refused permission as long as they were involved. In part that was b/c she believed in personal responsibility (a tick in the conservative chart), but in part it was also that the Rockefellers, in her words, had a lot to answer for (a jab at corporate abuse of workers, a tick in the progressive chart).

What I hope I’m laying out here clearly is that she was CATHOLIC. Not progressive Catholic, not conservative Catholic, just CATHOLIC. Because sometimes Catholic IS progressive. And sometimes it’s conservative. And virtually all of us try to separate those two, and in so doing, do violence to the Gospel.

I begin to suspect that I have more than one more post to write about Dorothy Day… but I’ll stop there for right now.

Systems of sin are a real thing

There are several reflections rumbling around in my brain right now—about Scripture and women, about abortion.

But I promised I’d try to get more specific about the thing I only addressed vaguely last week—about getting down in the weeds and wrestling with how to apply the faith to the current context of the world.

So I think the best thing I could share this week is a reflection by Christopher Dodson, of the diocese of Fargo, North Dakota. I found it because one of my email subscriptions last week referred to “systemic sin.”

Photo by Philip Warp on Pexels.com

My faith journey in the past few years has really convicted me on the topic of systemic racism. There is so much pushback against the idea. The hullabaloo about critical race theory makes me absolutely CRAZY. The idea that we shouldn’t talk about the deep sins committed by U.S. institutions against Black and indigenous people, because it might make white people feel bad, must make God weep. One of the fundamentals of the Catholic faith, after all, is acknowledging our failures and confessing them.

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months trying to figure out how I would ask fellow whites who resist racial reckoning to think about this. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Things like redlining, lending discrimination, and the GI bill only applying to whites—to say nothing of the lack of reparations made to Blacks after abolition—have had long, long ripple effects. We, the whites, got the good side of this equation. Blacks got the bad side. The problems faced by Black communities now are direct, generational ripple effects of injustices perpetrated by systemic racism that endured for hundreds of years.

Now, none of that is my fault, or your fault, and it might not be your parents’ fault, or even your grandparents’ fault. It’s not our FAULT.

BUT.

Whose fault it is is not the issue. The point is, the consequences are here, and we, as Christians, have to deal with them.

This is not about trying to make whites feel bad. It’s just a clear-eyed, Jesus-centered, Gospel-driven, “love your neighbor as yourself” acknowledgment that I have benefited generationally from something that harmed another group of people generationally. And that still has impacts today.

And because of that, I have a responsibility to work toward fixing it.

That’s all. The hysteria surrounding critical race theory steals all the attention that needs to be on solutions, and directs it toward division and protectionism of SYSTEMS that have aided whites at the expense of Blacks. And it’s got to stop.

When I hear the words “systemic sin,” this is what I think about.

But when that term popped up in my email last week, and I knee-jerk reacted as above, I thought I’d better walk the walk and go look up the term to make sure I wasn’t imposing my own world view upon it. I wanted to see what people with more expertise had to say about it.

That’s how I found this article. Christopher Dodson is the executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, and in other articles, he addresses abortion and other subjects of importance to Catholics. He’s no radical.

This piece takes a hard look at the topic of systemic sin, specifically referencing the Catechism and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

And now I will shut up and let Dodson speak.

Many Christians, including Catholics, have difficulty understanding that “structures of sin” may exist separately from our own individual sins. I suspect that certain religious and political strains of thought in the United States that emphasize the individual as paramount contribute to this problem. The false idea that we are autonomous individuals acting in isolation prevents us from accepting and addressing the social consequences of our sins and the sins of others. (continue reading)

Christopher Dodson

Faith formed by politics, or politics informed by faith?

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I’ve developed a new morning ritual the last few months. I get up, warm my hot pack, and listen to two podcasts while doing the stretches and exercises required by a couple of chronic conditions. The two podcasts are the Bible in a Year and Evolving Faith. They’re quite different… one quite self-aware in its orthodoxy and the other quite aware of its not-orthodoxy. I think this is probably a good balance.

Sometime in my tween/teen years, I read the Bible straight through. But having it read to me as an adult is enlightening. I’m making connections I never did before. I’m understanding the relationship between different books in a new way. I appreciate Scripture on a whole new level. When you are steeped in the Lectionary, as most of us Catholics are, and liturgy people more than most, it’s really good to get a sense of the way the very familiar excerpts fit into the larger context.

The Evolving Faith podcast hits in a whole different way. More visceral, more immediate. These are people—almost entirely non-Catholics—who are wrestling with faith and the world in the same way that I am. Unlike me, many have abandoned institutional churches (though not Jesus). The podcast consists of talks from the Evolving Faith conference, which was founded by a group including Rachel Held Evans—whose work, in my mind, all Catholics should read, even though her perspective on the world came from a very different faith tradition. She has so much to offer us.

And so do the other speakers I’m hearing.

It’s a truism that faith formation is generally pretty bad… everywhere. Some blame it on Vatican 2, but I would submit that the older crowd might have known plenty ABOUT the faith, but they weren’t any better equipped to apply it to the real world. Plus, far too many quit faith formation at a certain point—graduation from Catholic school? Confirmation? etc.—so faith doesn’t always mature the way understanding does.

So then, as we interact with the world, we have head-on collisions with realities that don’t fit what our faith taught us about How Things Are Supposed To Work. At that point, a few different things can happen.

One is to deny the validity of the thing that is challenging our faith, so as to protect the faith as it stands. (I believe the focus on “Marxism” at the expense of honest examination of the ripple effects of racism is one example of this.)

Another is to admit that the faith in its current, comfortable form is woefully insufficient for said realities, and to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Which is why so many people leave organized religion, or even God.)

The third is to get down in the weeds and ask the really hard, uncomfortable questions, and deal with the doubt and turmoil and lack of clarity that come with them. To accept as your faith gets bruised and bumped. To accept the muddiness of faith in the real world, and the reality that sometimes there AREN’T pat answers. To quest, to seek, to wrestle with the hard stuff.

It’s not an easy thing to do, because basically it means you’re uncomfortable all the time. (All those fingers pointing at myself.)

But isn’t that exactly what it means to be “in the world, yet not of it?” There’s a now and not yet, a tension that human nature doesn’t like. According to one narrative I’ve been bludgeoned with a lot in recent memory, the Kingdom is Jesus, it’s not something we build. It was never meant to be on earth–only in Heaven.

But then why did Jesus tell us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN”?

This weekend, two of my kids were confirmed, and the bishop said, in essence, your words about faith are not enough. People need to SEE the kingdom of God embodied in YOU.

Which means we HAVE to get our hands dirty, working the earth around those messy subjects like abortion and immigration and racism and health care and the balance of personal and social responsibility and the common good. We have to accept that neither of our political extremes has it entirely right and be willing to take a deep breath and enter into dialogue. The world is always going to try to box us into an either/or, and we’re all susceptible to picking a side and planting our flag and failing to recognize when we’ve made that flag—or money (so much of our political discourse is about our own financial self-interest!)—the center of our world view, rather than God.

All of this to introduce a quote from speaker Nish Weiseth, because when she said these words, they rang a deafening bell in my soul:

“What we see from those previously mentioned leaders is a faith that is formed by politics, and not a politics that is informed by faith.”

If I have the energy, I’ll do more specific writing on this in a day or two. We shall see.

Signposts from Augustine and Dorothy Day

It’s been a minute since I posted here, but not for lack of spiritual journeying… just struggling with how to write it publicly. God continues to place signposts in my journey to balance Godly anger and detachment. Sometimes I don’t quite know how to balance the two.

I spent Lent reading the letters of Dorothy Day, because I thought, “If anyone has figured out this balance, she’s that one.” “All The Way To Heaven” was the recommendation of a priest friend of a friend.

In the first 40% of the book she was not at all what I expected from Dorothy Day. It’s really interesting to watch her own spiritual journey unfold. Then there comes a sharp turn. I’m still only at the 46% mark (she wrote a lot of letters!) but I am thoroughly engrossed by it all. But I wasn’t finding the nugget I was looking for–the thing that showed me how to be an activist and advocate for social justice without being angry all the time.

Then, without warning: this.

Whoa.

But, because God doesn’t deal in the obvious and the clear-cut and the black-and-white–he just doesn’t–within 24 hours, I stumbled across this quote in the front of a novel I pulled from the library to read:

Okay, then.

So… I suppose the divine message here is to hold things in tension? That this struggle is real, and inevitable, and a part of the journey?

“Outside Agitators” and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Background image by EasyGiftWizard, via Pixabay

On Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

One of the first things that struck me was that he was writing because he had been chastised by a fellow clergyman for being an “outside agitator.” Why did this strike me so forcefully? Because I live not terribly far from Ferguson, Mo., and I heard people invoke the “outside agitator” argument myself. And at that time, I didn’t know what to make of it.

That argument goes something like this: “Those protests weren’t organized by people from ___. They were organized by national organizations who shipped people in to stir up trouble.”

I don’t think I had fully realized, until reading MLK’s letter, that “outside agitators” is how the civil rights movement works.

Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a lengthy paragraph in the letter from the Birmingham jail, explaining this. But then he gave the quote above. Here it is, in context.

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.
-Martin Luther King, Jr. – Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I have to admit, it was really disheartening to realize that after all this time, despite how much honor is accorded MLK across political divides, we are still using the same arguments that were used to try to shame and discredit him and his work.

The Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a breathtakingly beautiful piece which remains every bit as relevant today as it was in 1963. Well worth reading.

Archbishop Tutu on Christian’s responsibility to address racism

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This quote landed in my email inbox this morning within the Center for Contemplation and Action’s daily reflection*. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words here affirmed the convictions that have been growing in me for the past decade and a half or so: that the political issues of our time are part of our responsibility as Christians to address.

The blatant examples of racism in the U.S. are an easy target–the way in which nationalism has become inextricably (and bafflingly!) tied to racism.

But I would argue that stopping there is the easy way out. If we make the Proud Boys et al the scapegoat, then it’s tempting to give ourselves a pass on the subtler manifestations of racism—the ones that make many of us squirm when we are forced to look at them honestly. Things like inequality of educational opportunity and funding, unevenness in the justice system from top to bottom, the generational ripple effect of redlining and discrimination in housing and the GI bill… and on and on.

The “Learning How To See” podcast episode I listened to most recently explored comfort bias—the idea that our brains reject information that makes us uncomfortable. Information that is inconvenient to us.

For sure, the idea that racism is baked into American society, and that I, as a white person, am benefiting from it, is uncomfortable! To accept that would mean that if I want to be a Christian, I am required, by my faith, to do something about it. And it might even mean working against my own worldly interests, i.e., my own comfort.

The static from certain quarters surrounding critical race theory strikes me as a perfect example of comfort bias.

Which brings us right back to Desmond Tutu, doesn’t it? What is a Christian’s response to evidence of baked-in racism? Will we lean into the discomfort and allow ourselves to be made holier by advocating for just and equitable systems in our nation? Or will we dig in to our biases and continue to “spit in the face of God”?

*The reflection carried this note about sourcing: Desmond M. Tutu, “My Credo,” in Living Philosophies: The Reflections of Some Eminent Men and Women of Our Time, ed. Clifton Fadiman (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 234, 235. Note: Minor changes made to incorporate inclusive language.