As the result of a comprehensive shadow report by the Apache-Nde-Nnee Working Group submitted to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) resulted in the CERD Committee recognizing the Doctrine of Discovery, the Holy See’s Inter Caetera and related Papal Bulls are within the legal scope of racial discrimination under International Law and therefore require redress.
I saw the movie Spotlight recently and was deeply moved by its powerful acting and authentic storytelling: how a courageous team of reporters and editors at the Boston Globe exposed the Catholic Church’s coverup of widespread pedophilia among its priests. Highly recommended!
The following review by Indiana poet laureate Norbert Krapf, author of Catholic Boy Blues, expresses the profound effect of this film on the survivors of priestly abuse, and their loved ones. Reblogging with his permission….
A Review by Norbert Krapf
Finally, despite multiple medical procedures and family obligations, I got to see the impressive, powerful, and moving film “Spotlight.” The acting is excellent, so is the script and every other aspect of it, but what’s most impressive is the uncompromising truth-telling.
If you are a survivor, have a sibling or relative or friend who is a survivor, you must see this film. If you can’t believe that the Church stonewalled it and in effect betrayed survivors and its own ideals and moral, ethical, and religious principles all over again, you must see this film. I was reminded, over and over, what an ugly betrayal the cover-up was and still is. I was reminded of how I felt the sting, the outrage, the hurt, the filthy putdown of what it felt like to have the church hierarchy negate me and my fellow survivors over and over in parish and diocese and archdiocese in city after city through its denials and secret “deals.”
My fellow survivors, if you go to see this powerful and uncompromising film, do not go by yourself. I sobbed uncontrollably, repeatedly. Go with someone who cares for you, loves you, someone you love, because it will be torture to see it by yourself. Go with someone who supports you. In the company of someone who understands what you went through back then and had to go through all over again because of this later betrayal, which complicated your early pain exponentially, you will better be able to appreciate what a great service the whole team that put this film together has given us all.
This is art that serves humanity. This is truth that had to out. If we cannot face the truth, we cannot help our children. This film helps us face the truth, as hard as that may be. There is still much work to be done on this. I am eternally grateful to anyone who had anything to do with making and bringing this film out for us all to experience. This film is about the betrayal by the Catholic Church of its young victim-survivors, but child abuse and its cover-up are NOT limited to the Catholic Church, and are not limited to the United States. They are world-wide problems. I say BRAVO! to the “Spotlight” team.
May my “Catholic Boy Blues” collection of poems and the prose memoir “Shrinking the Monster” forthcoming from In Extenso Press, an imprint of ACTA Publications of Chicago, also the new publisher of the poetry collection, play their small part in speaking out against child abuse and the harm it does to us, our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants. As a survivor, I give thanks for “Spotlight” and I encourage you to see it. I hope Pope Francis has seen it, because it should help him take action; it must have made this good-hearted Pope cry.
© 2015 Norbert Krapf
Some people complain that there exists a “war on Christmas.” I propose that there are three wars on Christmas going on in our time: There is the war of chosen ignorance and fundamentalist literalism that seeks to make of every Christmas story a literal truth (such folks are seeking the star of Bethlehem and all the rest by pouring over historical astronomical manuscripts)–and this destroys Christmas for many thinking people; there is the war of rationalists who, in their eagerness to prove the fundamentalists all wrong are busy deconstructing the Christmas narratives but with little or no appreciation of the profound panoply and in fact rich banquet of archetypes and meaning and poetry and art that are embedded in the Christmas stories and no effort whatsoever at reconstruction; and the third war comes from consumer capitalism which, like a great river that is flooding seeks out weak spots to fill and rushes into the vacuums left by the hard line literalists and the hard line rationalists to fill it with an orgy of spending frenzy that appeals to the basest instincts of greed, competition, avarice, gluttony and more silliness that keeps us all distracted from the deeper meanings of the Christmas season. These are the three wars on Christmas being waged in our time.
What is ironic to me is that the fundamentalists on the right and the fundamentalists on the left are in bed together—whether they admit it or not—insofar as both suffer from severe reductionism. They both are literalists—this is what they have in common for one wants to throw the baby Jesus out with the bath (the rationalists); and the other wants to wallow in the literal waters with the baby Jesus. Both are stuck in a literal past and both ignore the expansive and cosmic message that the Christmas stories are telling us: Stories about the coming of the Cosmic Christ (or Buddha Nature if you prefer; or Image of God if you prefer that). Stories that are mythical in size and scope. Stories that are more-than-anthropocentric. Stories and the archetypes that accompany them that blast through the narcissism of our species including its preoccupation with guilt, shame, self-destruction, power, control and death wishes. Stories that are so big that only artists can tell them. Stories that go beyond the left brain and water and wash the intuitive brain where, as Einstein teaches, values come from. Stories that are mystical and not merely intellectual. Stories that live, not stories that slumber in academic anal retentive obsessions and ego-driven power games of deconstructing.
What are some of these stories the Christmas brings alive for us? (I stress the “some” because I will only deal with a limited number of them in this short essay.)
- One is the basic story of Who/Where the Divine is to be found. A key name in the Christmas story is the word “Emmanuel.” Biblical scholars have concluded that “Emmanuel” is the oldest name for God in the Bible and what it means is “God-with-us.” Notice what it does not mean: Not God over us; God above us; God outside us; God judging us; God as nobodaddy in the sky; God as Patriarch par excellence; God as Judge; God as Condemner; God as mathematician in the sky; God as power-over. None of these. Rather God-with-us, God among us, God in our midst. More a panentheistic God than a theistic God. A theistic God is a God outside us, God as object. A panentheistic God is us in God and God in us. God among us therefore, God in our midst.
- Another basic message from the Christmas story is the primacy of the anawim, those without a voice, those who are the forgotten ones in society. That is the meaning of the angels appearing to the shepherds with good news to tell the whole world. The shepherds were very much at the bottom of the cultural totem pole in Israel in the first century. They lived among sheep, smelled like them, were not educated or literate, etc. They are the first one, one might say the chosen ones, to hear good news about “Peace to the world.”
- The anawim are also the children. Then as now, children are often without a voice and are subject to adultism and the projections and projects of the adults whether their versions of societal institutions from education to economics to religion to politics. Children are often victimized by the agendas of the adults. But in the Christmas story we are told that Divinity is not afraid of childhood but actually chooses to young and a child and to be vulnerable and dependent as happens with children everywhere. Christmas challenges adultism in all its forms. It awakens adults to their capacity for participating in the evil of endangering the young. It also shows the best way of dealing with children: Mother Mary and Father Joseph care for their young baby as every healthy and loving couple do.
- The Christmas story also warns of the darkness to come in the life of Jesus, the price he will one day pay in taking on the Empire of the day, when it tells us that Herod, the Roman Empire’s representative in Israel, is out to murder this “savior” and puts out a decree that all new born male babies should be murdered. And the flight to Egypt is the response to that. Literalists want to think this journey was for real; rationalists want to throw out the whole story. But the meaning is clear and is deeper than any effort to commit reductionism: Every son or daughter of God (and that is each of us) will awaken powers that are threatened by the message of peace (and therefore justice) preached by people of good will. Christmas warns us that it will not be an easy task to live out one’s Divine incarnation.
- There lies another profound teaching from the Christmas stories: Incarnation. Literally, the taking on of flesh. By whom? By Divinity. God is so in love with humanity and the Earth that God becomes one of us, light embodied, flesh, very much “God-among-us,” very much a lover and user of Earth and her many gifts to humans. It follows that flesh is holy, flesh is sanctified, all of our chakras (including number two, our sexuality) are incorporated into the sacredness of Divinity. None of us need regret any longer our incarnation, our fleshiness, our sexuality or the sacred flesh of Mother Earth that welcomes us and nourishes us.
- There is a powerful affirmation of the four-legged ones and the role they play in divine revelation in these stories. Not only are the sheep present when the shepherds hear the news from the cosmic beings, the angels; but they are also there at the manger where the Divine baby is placed–see Isaiah 1.1 which talks of how “Israel has not known me but the ox and donkey have known me.” In other words the non-two-legged ones can be much closer to God than humans. They bless us; we learn from them; we are not here just to use them. That is a profound and necessary message in a time of eco-awakening such as ours. It strikes at the heart of speciesism, the narcissistic notion that our species alone is the “people of God.”
- The baby Jesus was born in a manger, his parents were poor, no room in the inn. But the Cosmic Christ is born there also. In poverty; in exile; like immigrants; excluded from the hotels and motels. All this is a teaching also of the preferential option for the poor that the Scriptures announce and that we still have to learn and practice. It challenges all those who stand by while strangers and those in exile suffer immeasurably trying to survive. It is a story about justice and justice-making.
- Christmas day is not so much a Birthday Party for the baby Jesus in the year 2015—an exercise in nostalgia certainly–so much as it is a Birthday Party for the Christ in all of us, the Buddha Nature in all of us, the Image of God in all of us yearning to Come Alive and Be Born finally, throwing off the shackles of history and fear and lack of self-worth to take on the dignity and the responsibility of being grown-ups; of being God-like; of being compassionate; of being fully alive.
- There are many reminders of the Cosmic dimension to our lives in the Christmas story. The star of Bethlehem is one such reminder: the heavens themselves, the cosmos, is part of the birth of each of us and part of the incarnation of each of us. It is revelatory and can point the way to the Divine. Science tells us that it took not just stars but supernovas and galaxies and the birth of atoms and the life, death and resurrection of multiple beings in the sky and the preparation of the earth including fine-tuning the atmosphere, for each of us to be born to this amazingly rich and beautiful and unique planet.
- The story of the magi searching for this star reminds us that cosmology moves us beyond sectarianism and living in our comfortable boxes of religion or ethnicity or race or class for the magi were not Jews but seekers from other cultures seeking the same goal: A savior or teacher or Messiah who will remind all of us what life is truly about in its depths.
- Wherever there are angels there is the cosmos represented for angels are cosmic beings not restricted to our planet or to human endeavors alone. Angels accompany all creativity and certainly all new creation. There prominence in these stories then beginning with Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and culminating with the appearance to the shepherds are part of the necessary messaging that as humans wake up to their own dignity, to their incarnation and marrying of the Divine and the human, all of creation is eager to accompany us and to praise with us. But in the meantime we need the angels and need to call on them for their inspiration (a “muse” is another word for an angel) and guidance as we try to find our way as a species on an endangered planet. Angels are allies, cosmic allies, eager to assist us.
- Light and Darkness. Christmas time is of course solstice time which in the northern hemisphere corresponds to the darkest time of the year. So many cultures have honored this special, dark time of the year with pyramids and monuments (think New Grange in Ireland or Stonehenge or the pyramids of the Yucatan peninsula) made by intellectual genius and serious manual labor to get people to connect psyche and cosmos, honoring the dark but inviting in the light also. In this context the “light of Christ” and the light of all of us is invited to shine not just one day a year but every day of the year, any one of which can be very dark. Especially in the dark times is the light of Christmas to be remembered. And darkness is the most appropriate time for the birth of the Divine. It is a time of stillness and of quiet and from there the Christ is born.
- The tradition of the Christmas tree, borrowed from ancient so-called “pagan” practices, is still another reminder of our interdependence as humans with the more-than-human peoples. Not only animals but the tree people are honored at Christmas—and for good reason. It is the ancestors of the trees after all that first emerged from the waters of the oceans and learned to defy gravity and built circulatory systems that later evolved to become our blood systems. It was the tree people, so many millions of years older than ourselves, that taught us how to stand erect. And proud. And stately. Our lighting of the tree, our decorating of the tree, our inviting a tree into our homes for a few weeks is such an invitation to move beyond our narcissism as a species and learn anew how blessed we are by so many beings that are more than human.
These are just some of the lessons of Christmas. These archetypes do what all archetypes do: They wake us up. Christmas is a time of wake-up.
Recently I read a well-intentioned article about teaching children about religion that was published in a progressive Christian magazine. But it offered a sad and scary teaching when the author wrote that stories about Jesus are “sometimes the truth and sometimes myth.” Shame, shame! There looms a dangerous dualism here. Adults ought to know by now that myths are truths; they carry truths that are too big for just factoids to carry. It would be a disaster to attempt to purge all religion of its myths. As psychologist Rollo May points out, myths are the basis of all morality. There is an unnecessary dualism here between “truth” and “myths.”
The stories of the Nativity need not be factual but mythically they are immensely powerful. The artists who composed them knew what they were doing–they catch the deep imagination and yearnings of the human heart for justice for the poor and in doing so offer what is in many ways the essence of the Christ path–that Good News will come to the poorest (the shepherds) and the four-legged ones (ox and sheep) will be in a privileged place and that Divinity is young–a child–not just an old, bearded fellow. And that we are cosmic beings born of a cosmos that has loved us and we will find no peace without remarrying our psyches to the cosmos. The Gospel writers were NOT members of academic seminars: They were ARTISTS and they wove together powerful teachings and stories from the Hebrew Bible and elsewhere including their own hearts and imaginations to create powerful works of art. It was the Jesus event that aroused this creativity and breakthrough thinking in them. It is an insult to throw out their brilliant mosaics based solely on a modern perspective of “facts only.” Do not underestimate the power of myth and story to move minds and hearts and thereby create metanoia or transformation.
We do not need a literalism from the left. We and our children will be the poorer for it. Academia, for all its accomplishments, like the quest for the historical Jesus and all its accomplishments, carries a great shadow side as well. One that needs some uplifting regarding the deeper, archetypal, mythical and therefore truly BIG stories of our religious lineage.
Are any of the lessons I have outlined here been truly heeded, lived out, celebrated, achieved by the human race in the past 2000 years? Isn’t it time we begin? Isn’t it time Christmas arrives, the Cosmic Christ arrives, finally?
As the Pope’s visit to the U.S. approaches, Native American activists in California and beyond are working harder than ever to raise awareness and stop the canonization of Junipero Serra. I am sharing the latest letter from Toypurina Carac, originator of the MoveOn petition against the canonization; see the excellent article that she shares below, and if you haven’t signed the petition yet, please do.
As our delivery date draws near, I am sharing a brief article written by a Professor friend in Southern California and Descendant of Mission Natives.
The Great Vatican Fraud
by J. Cordero, PhD
The Vatican’s justification for canonizing Junipero Serra rests in great part upon Serra’s accomplishments. In the absence of a second miracle required for sainthood, Pope Francis counted Serra’s life’s work as a sufficient substitute. According to Pope Francis, Serra’s primary achievement was in founding the California missions where he served as a missionary and as Father President. In fact, Pope Francis praised Serra for being the “great evangelizer of the West in the United States.” From the Vatican’s perspective, then, the canonization of Junipero Serra relies heavily upon the assumption that the missionaries in California were, as Zephryn Engelhardt declared, “eminently successful,” especially in achieving their primary objective—the conversion of the California Indians.
In reality, however, Serra and the Spanish missionaries failed to achieve that goal. Based on the Spanish records kept by the missionaries themselves, less than five percent of all baptized California Indians voluntarily converted (i.e., genuinely converted as opposed to simply having been baptized) to Christianity, and the vast majority of converts held a syncretistic faith comprised of both native and Catholic beliefs. On the other hand, nearly eighty percent of all baptized natives died prematurely. In other words, five of every one hundred baptized Indians was genuinely converted, while eighty of every one hundred died an untimely death. The high death rates for Indians did not result primarily from epidemic diseases as is commonly reported. Instead, the austere living and working conditions at the missions contributed to rates of death that grossly exceeded birth rates and that consequently led to the near destruction of native populations in a manner more severe than in Baja California.
Thus, in their evangelistic efforts the Spanish missionaries fared poorly, which means that Pope Francis has merely substituted one failure for another and that the primary basis for Serra’s canonization is fraudulent.
Jonathan Cordero (Ohlone/Chumash) Assistant Professor of Sociology, California Lutheran University
Chairperson of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone
Dr. Cordero will be joining a group of us next month at U.C. Berkeley to discuss the campaign to stop the canonization of Serra. It would be great if we could celebrate victory!
I need to issue an apology and correction from last week: Vinnie Rotondaro writes for the National Catholic Reporter, not the Register. I have linked his amazing article below. Our NPR interview with George Lavender is scheduled to air on Friday, 9/18/15. Our German Radio interview with Kerstin Zilm will also air sometime soon!
Our final delivery date will be this week and we are finalizing our media release. You will be the first to know when and where we are delivering the petition! Please stay connected to www.nostjunipero.com and our Kizh Nation Facebook page for updates. As of now, we are short 120 names on the petition to have reached our goal of 10,000.
We wish to extend a warm “Mahalo” and Aloha to supporters in Hawaii who oppose the canonization of Serra, as it is an insult to Father Damien of Molokai.
We thank you all, for your help in signing and sharing our petition to Pope Francis. This canonization is in direct conflict with his rhetoric, so we hope he will abandon it, before it is too late for this to tarnish his legacy of mercy, compassion and progress.
The news is full every day of the disturbing pictures and harrowing stories of the hundreds of thousands of refugees bent on fleeing the awful wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, children and others drowning in make-shift boats, families hiking for hundreds and thousands of miles, fences erected and much more. Much of the crisis was generated by the invasion of Iraq thirteen years ago by an American government claiming its justification as a response to 9/11, even though Iraq was not involved with 9/11.
Germany seems to be stepping up mightily in offering asylum for at least 800,000 persons and a number of other countries are also reaching out to assist the dispossessed. Others, not so much. Within countries there is considerable debate concerning the loss of one’s culture, the dilution of one’s cultural identity, etc. It is not an easy time for responsible citizens and governments to make sound decisions. But it is such a crisis that tests the moral fiber of a people. I have heard from my brother, now living in Iceland with his Icelandic wife, that there is much discussion and debate in the streets and cafes, etc. about the best course of action.
But in the United States I hear practically no debate and no discussion from our politicians or government employees or media. The silence is deafening. It is as if this is “something happening over there” and not something that affects us all. Yet because we are all humans it does affect us all and because our government did actually play a fundamental role in making the crisis happen, having created the vacuum in Iraq from our ill-fated invasion there, it is our concern. America made ISIS possible.
What can America do? How many openings can we create for refugees from the middle eastern wars? These are questions far more pertinent than How many times Donald Trump can make wild headlines for example. Why are we not asking these questions?
The bigger question I see unfolding is that of reptilian brain (war) vs. mammal brain (compassion and kinship). There is no question that humankind is in a profound struggle with itself about exactly this issue: Will we continue to choose the domination of the reptilian brain (example: as a species we are spending $58 per second on war and weapons)? Or will we opt for a more dominant role for our mammal brains—which are the brain of kinship, community and compassion? We see Europe facing that very choice at this time. One prays they do not flunk the test. Is America ready for the same challenge? If not, why not?
If humanity is to survive our very evolution must be marked by a choice on behalf of our mammal brains at the expense of our reptilian brains. If we don’t evolve, we will not survive. The present crisis is, as they say, a profound opportunity. An occasion for growing up, for growing more fully human. Let us not flunk this opportunity.
Matthew Fox Reviews A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions, by Elias Castillo
The saga of unholy injustice detailed in A Cross of Thorns left me feeling kicked in the gut, with my sense of moral outrage boiling over. Yet it is presented in subdued and sober terms, with fact after fact and story after story, building a sure case against the canonizing of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. The author, Elias Castillo, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, tells the truth of the fabled and now postcard-like missions of California, a truth that has often been hidden away in libraries containing correspondence and comments from the days of the mission founding while a myth of benign relationships with the Native Peoples has been promulgated instead.
In this book Father Junipero Sera, called by some the “Father of California,” is exposed in damning detail as the father of a system, the mission system, that systematically destroyed the culture of the indigenous peoples of California that had lived at peace with the earth and more or less at peace with themselves over millennia until the Spanish arrived. With Castillo’s new research in hand, it makes all the more scandalous the current effort, supported by two Opus Dei archbishops and the Knights of Columbus, to canonize this sadistic person who is a poster boy for colonization and for racism. Why, Why, Why is Pope Francis going ahead with this canonization? Who profits from it?
There are those who say, “Don’t judge an eighteenth-century person by twenty-first century standards.” Well, when that person is being proposed by the Pope himself as a saint and therefore a model for twenty-first century people to emulate, why wouldn’t we have the right to judge? For example, should we be imitating Serra’s penchant for beating and scourging himself both in private and in the pulpit as a glorious spiritual exercise? In his own day in fact, one member of his congregation in Mexico was so turned on by Serra’s self-flagellations that when Serra bared his chest and beat himself in the pulpit the parishioner stormed the lectern and seized the chains out of the zealous friar’s hands and thrashed himself so hard declaring “I am a sinner” that he died on the spot! Now there is a saint to be imitated, right?
Furthermore, as is clear from the author’s impeccable research, Serra was out of the loop even in his own time. For example, he preaches that the earth is the center of the universe and the sun moves around the earth—150 years after Copernicus proved otherwise! In addition, Europeans who visited his missions complained in his time that they were shocked by the treatment of the Indians. Even fellow Franciscans of his time were embarrassed and ashamed of what he was doing. Also, the governor generals contemporary with his time complained of his death camps otherwise known as “missions” and often overrode his decisions. Decades after the governor forbade beating Indians Serra was still insisting on it in his missions.
The whitewash on Serra has been going on long enough. The facts are now out there including interviews with descendants of those who were colonized by him. Where are the Franciscans who are standing up to be heard today about this monstrous effort to canonize a Colonizer and a man who himself whipped, and ordered whipped, thousands of Indians, and whose entire theology was about getting people to heaven no matter what the cost? Surely these sons of Saint Francis have a stake in seeking an apology from the Native Peoples and letting Serra lie in his grave, don’t they? Surely they don’t want to support a lie about Serra’s holiness – do they?
Thanks be to God, our age is waking up to the evils of racism. The confederate flag is at last being removed from Southern statehouses and government buildings, after the massacre of nine people in a black church by a 21-year-old assassin whose web pages and costumes celebrated that flag. America is agreeing that the confederate flag is a symbol of all that is evil in our national history of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism in its many incarnations right up to 2015.
But the missions are the same to Native Americans of California. They are symbols of slavery and of racism just as is the confederate flag. Castillo establishes this without a doubt:
- The thousands of Indians who were herded into the missions did not come voluntarily but were treated as slaves insofar as they were paid nothing;
- They were free labor for decades in the building up of the missions and their lands and vineyards and cattle raising;
- They were not allowed to return to their villages (if they tried to they were whipped and often tortured, some locked into braces in the hot sun and left without water for days);
- They were cut off from their religion and culture and families;
- They were forced to attend daily mass even though it was in Latin of which they understood not a word and were to kneel for up to four hours during the Mass;
- The men were separated from the women;
- They were often starved and close to starving, etc., etc.
Far from the mythology still reigning, the Indians and Catholics did not get along well. Why else would over 1000 neophytes try to escape from fifteen missions between 1769 and 1817—especially knowing that if caught severe penalties ensued? The author lists the numbers from each mission in compiling these statistics. In 1832 the Mexican assembly called for an end to what it called back then “the detestable system of the missions” and so many Indians fled from the missions that the “neophytes” or baptized Christians plunged in number from 30,000 to 5,000 between 1834 and 1843. This does not sound like happy campers wanting to stick around. The fact that the missions were labeled “detestable” in 1832 silences those today who say piously, “but we can’t judge the missions by twenty-first century standards.”
Castillo devotes one chapter to “Rebellion” since many Native people rose up and resisted their own enslavement. After one such rebellion at the San Diego mission the military commander asked the conquered rebel Indians why they rose up. The answer was recorded thus: “They wanted to kill the fathers and soldiers in order to live as they did before.” On receiving news of the uprising and the number of persons killed Serra responded: “Thank God that that ground has now been watered (with blood): Now, certainly we will achieve the conversion of the Dieguenos.” Strange talk indeed for a saint! (173)
The coastal Indian numbers were estimated at 300,000 when the Spanish arrived in 1769; they were 16,624 in 120 years later. (p. 200) Is that not genocide? While some of that happened after the gold rush in 1849, it began with the mission system that Serra founded. The missions, like the monasteries of the late middle ages (which St Francis had reacted against in starting his order), became vast properties where tens of thousands of head of cattle, sheep, and goats made the friars rich beyond measure. Yet, “there is no full accounting of the wealth amassed by the missions during their peak period, from the end of the eighteenth century through the early 1800s.” (194)
In August, 1833 the Mexican government secularized the missions and all their lands, making them the property of the Mexican government and stripping the Franciscans of their authority over them, though allowing the chapels to continue as places for Mass. At San Gabriel the leading friar “flew into a rage” and ordered the destruction of all the buildings and livestock with the result that tens of thousands of carcasses of cattle, sheep and goats littered the field. While he tried to destroy the vineyards as well, the Indians assigned to do it refused.
So decimated was the population of the Indians in the missions that the head Friar from 1815-1819, Mariano Payeras, wrote that history will record that the priests “baptized them, administered the sacraments to them, and buried them” and he worried about how to shelter the friars “from slander and sarcasm…for all time.” (154) The diet forced on the mission Indians resulted in stunted and much smaller bodies as is indicted by comparing human bones at mission Indian burial sites to those not so enslaved. (155) It seems that most of the concern of the Franciscan superiors was not about the plight of the Indians but about the depletion in free labor for the missions and what history would say about the Franciscans. Well, with this book, history has indeed spoken. And it is not pretty.
For any Franciscan today to stand by idly while the pope canonizes Serra is at least as immoral an act as was the work of their sadistic forefathers. Survivors of the missions were interviewed in the late nineteenth century and “all agreed that the friars and mission life was cruel and oppressive.” (151) On July 21, 1797, a group of Indians who escaped were interviewed by the military commander who captured them on why they escaped. Here are some of their testimonies as recorded by the commander:
- After his wife and daughter died, on five separate occasions Father Danti ordered him whipped because he was crying. For these reasons he fled.
- He fled because his wife and one child had died, no other reason that that.
- His motive for fleeing was that his brother had died on the other shore, and when he cried for him at the mission they whipped him.
- He left because his mother, two brothers and three nephews died all of hunger. So that he would not also die of hunger, he fled. (152f)
This does not strike me as twenty-first century values foisted onto eighteenth-century reality. In fact, visitors to the missions in their own time were shocked by what they saw—even Friar Antonio de la Conception Horra who was assigned to head Mission Sanguel in 1798 was shocked and complained that the missions failed to teach the Indians the Spanish language. He wrote the Viceroy of Mexico: “The manner in which the Indians are treated is by far more cruel than anything I have ever read about. For any reason however insignificant it may be, they are severely and cruelly whipped, placed in shackles, or put in stocks for days on end without receiving even a drop of water.” (141) Another friar in 1797 reported why Indians were fleeing the Mission San Francisco. “It is due to the terrible suffering they experienced from punishments and work,” he wrote the governor. An investigating presidio commander wrote: “Generally the treatment given the Indians is very harsh. At San Francisco, it even reached the point of cruelty.” (142)
Diseases, starvation, filthy and crowded living conditions, cruelty and torture–but also depression killed the mission Indians. “Some may have simply willed themselves to die, unable to stand the terrible stress….Nearly half of the missions populations died each year” and to make up for such losses the friars hunted further and further to find tribes from which they could seek a new and free labor force for their plantations. (139) As Castillo puts it: “Much of California including land that was far from the coast, would be turned into a huge and profitable farming area—the legacy of the missions, albeit at a tragic cost to California’s Indians….Newly-arrived settlers were faced with twenty-one missions that were in actuality giant agribusinesses that controlled the best lands with a large pool of free manpower.” (131)
French Naval Captain Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de Laperouse, sailed into Monterey Bay on September 14, 1786. He was the first outsider to visit the missions, arriving seventeen years after the first founding. He was “appalled at the treatment of the Indians by the Franciscan friars.” And he makes explicit the slave-like conditions of the Indians “whose state at present scarcely differs from that of the Negro inhabitants of our colonies.” (110) In addition “The color of these Indians, which is that of the negroes; the house of the Missionaries…the cattle, the horses—everything in short—brought to our recollection a plantation at Santo Domingo or any other West Indian island”– in addition to “the noise of the whip.” (109f) The alcaldes or neophytes the friars choose to carry out the priests’ commands, he notes, “are like the overseers of a slave plantation: passive beings, blind performers of the will of their superiors (friars)” whose main job is to “maintain order and the appearance of attention” during church services. (112) They also beat any Indian, no matter what age or sex, who violated mission rules. The floggings ranged from ten lashes up to fifty which could prove fatal. Women were not whipped in public but were taken away to be whipped so their cries would not arouse the men to rebellion. (113) When Indians killed a priest who was especially cruel in his whipping they were caught and sentenced to fifty daily lashes each for nine days and to life sentences of hard labor. (114)
Serra established nine missions before he died and the Indians “were little more than forced labor. This permitted the missions to thrive economically, and allowed the friars to profit personally for the sale of tallow, hides, horns, wine and brandy” which they sold to foreign merchant ships. “For the Indians it signified the beginning of brutal suffering and cultural genocide. Most died within two years, with their faith, customs, and way of life torn from them.” (98)
The Spanish Visitor General wrote to Serra’s close friend Friar Palou that they should “not teach the Indians how to write; for I have enough experiences that such major instruction perverts and hastens their ruination.” (129) This too followed the methods of the slavery plantations where reading and writing were forbidden. Castillo comments that this policy endorsed by Serra “proved catastrophic for the Indians when they began abandoning the missions in the 1830s.” (129) One Scottish visitor, Hugo Reid, was so appalled at the widespread ignorance of Spanish among the mission Indians that he remarked: “Not one word of Spanish did they understand. They had no more idea that they were worshiping God than an unborn child has of astronomy.” (128)
We thus see that “Saint” Serra set up a sado-masochistic series of death camps, perhaps echoing his own masochistic spirituality. He was anti-intellectual, anti-science, ignorant of Indian culture and history and languages, paternalistic, racist, a white supremacist. In addition, Serra was an inquisitor before he ever came to the California area having been employed as an inquisitor in the mountain villages of Mexico on his own urging.
Nothing explains Pope Francis’ willingness to canonize Serra. In his recent encyclical the Pope laments how “the disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal….It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions…When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best,” (145, 146) He calls for a “preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.” (158) Then why, pray tell, is he so hell-bent on canonizing Junipero Serra and crucifying the Natives of California still another time? Why doesn’t he sit down with the Indians whom he calls one’s “principal dialogue partners” and learn the real history of the California missions and the price the Native Americans are paying this day in terms of soul wounds and depression, alcoholism and addictions for what the sins of the fathers foisted upon them 200 years ago by Serra and his brother friars?
And why doesn’t he apologize in full for the “Discovery Doctrine” papal bulls of the fifteenth century popes who laid the legal groundwork for the slavery and mission attacks on the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas? In the “Requerimiento” document of 1513, derived from those papal bulls and read to indigenous people under the Spanish Empire (but in Spanish which they did not understand), all are instructed that the Pope is appointed by God to “govern the world” and that Saint Peter was acknowledged in his time as “Lord and King, and the superior of the universe” who was appointed to be “in charge of the human race” and that such recognition “will continue until the end of the world.” (215)
Elias Castillo offers us a different reading of history and Spanish imperialism and the religious sins that accompanied it. Sins that haunt the souls of Native Peoples to this day—and sins that ought to cry out to us all for healing. How can the healing happen without the truth? How can anyone even think of canonizing Serra after these revelations?
The nation is embarked on a review of its soul vis-à-vis racism and white supremacy since the horrible attack on nine members of a black church in Charleston. As well it should be. But there is another act of white supremacy that needs the attention of all and especially Catholics.
It was with very sad hearts that we who respect the Native American peoples learned of Pope Francis’ decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) during the papal visit to the United States in Fall, 2015.
Serra is the Franciscan missionary who oversaw the colonial system of missions in California. The news of his prospective canonization is sad for what it says about Church ignorance—after all these hundreds of years—of Native American accomplishments; it is also sad for what it reminds us about the history of Christian missionizing. A Native American from California recently wrote me that “by virtue of this canonization of a conqueror, the pope has declared war on Native Peoples, globally.”
As America is waking up to the pain that the Confederate Flag represents especially to Black Southerners, it must also wake up to the fact that the missions are not pretty postcard places nicely painted in white. They were places of enforced labor and whippings where white supremacy ruled against indigenous peoples in the name of church and empire. What the Confederate Flag means to the South is what the California missions mean to the indigenous peoples there. Ask their descendants! Read three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author Elias Castillo’s, A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions to get the true story.
Serra is Colonizer-in-Chief; he is a racist; he is a white supremacist. Why canonize him in 2015? Native peoples are furious and for very good reason. Among the California tribes alone who have objected are the following: the Xolon Salinan Tribe; the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel; Cupeno; Miwok; Cahuilla; Kizh Gabrieleno; Pomo; Ohlone; Kumeyeaa; Chumash. I am told that many casino tribes object also but do not want to be named lest their pious Catholic gamblers would no longer frequent their casinos. It is appalling that in 2015 so-called theologians on the East coast, all white, do not bother to bring in Native Americans from California to tell the truth of what Serra & Co. did to their ancestors and the price they have paid for centuries for this abuse in the name of Empire and Church.
It is particularly sad that the first American pope ever, one who has caught the attention of millions for his efforts to cleanse the church of its sins and society of its “narcissism” and social and economic inequities, and who has actively sought the perspectives of the faithful, would be so blind to the history of indigenous peoples on two continents, and deaf to the protests of indigenous and non-indigenous Christians alike. And it is sad that as many nations and peoples applaud the pope’s encyclical on Eco-theology and Climate Change that still another stake would be driven into the indigenous legacy of respect for nature that is so central to their spiritual tradition and to the survival of the planet as we know it today.
This is a severe blow to the hopes of people looking to a reformed papacy and a reforming pope. Granted, Pope Francis is only human like the rest of us and humans err—as he says, he himself is a sinner. And this decision is a grave sin indeed.
Serra’s theology was retrograde even in his own day and by standards even of his own time—saying nothing of today. How remarkable it is that Pope Francis is on the cusp of canonizing Archbishop Romero of El Salvador who stood up to the extreme right-wing militias of his country to stand on the behalf of the poor, and is thereby choosing to rehabilitate liberation theology — but the same Pope is tone deaf to the colonial and “enslavement” theology that motivated Serra.
What was Serra’s theology? When Serra left Spain for the Americas while in his mid-thirties, he mused about his parents “preparing themselves for that happy death which of all the things of life is our principal concern.” Unfortunately that was his driving ideology as a missionary to the Indians as well. In January, 1780, thirty-two years after arriving in the Americas, Serra writes about how to treat two Indian leaders who had rebelled against the missions, and displays his already familiar theology:
“I would not feel sorry no matter what punishment they gave them, if they would commute it to prison for life, or in the stocks every day, since then it would be easier for them to die well. Do you think it possible that if they kept them prisoners for a time, and by means of interpreters explained to them about the life to come and its eternal duration, and if we prayed to God for them—might we not persuade them to repent and win them over to a better life? You could impress on them that the only reason they were still alive is because of our affection for them, and the trouble we took to save their lives.”
This is language of the oppressor writ large. Serra urged his friars to baptize the Indians in prison and give them crucifixes and rosaries and dress them in tunics of white cotton cloth “in which they would die and be buried,” thus preparing them it seems for “eternal life.” Actually, their lives were saved not by Serra but by the military governor who commuted their death sentence to hard labor.
According to Spanish law, every mission was to be temporary and within ten years of its founding each was to be handed over to Christian Indians who were also to take over as governors of the land and mission. But Serra (who never really learned the native peoples’ languages) objected that the Indians were incompetent to govern themselves and needed to be supervised and punished by the friars…even though the Indians had dwelt on the land for thousands of years and knew far more about raising crops indigenous to the land than did the Spaniards, and also had developed a culture based on sharing and co-operation, not power-over.
Serra also objected to being denied his practice of whipping the Indians. Wanting to continue this practice, he wrote to the military governor Felipe de Neve that there “may have been some inequalities and excesses on the part of some fathers and that we are all exposed to err in that regard.”
Nevertheless the end apparently justifies the means because, as he puts it “when we came there, we did not find even a single Christian, that we have engendered them all in Christ, that we, every one of us, came here for the single purpose of doing them good and for their eternal salvation, and I feel sure that everyone knows that we love them.”
Really? Whipping people; taking their land; forbidding their rituals; ending their languages; locking them up in colonial church properties from which they were forbidden to leave and visit relatives and friends; destroying their culture and subsistence by hunting and gathering; introducing diseases; and bringing in soldiers who frequently raped the native women; all in the name of the Spanish “king and lord” and for the sake of the Empire—this is loving them? This is “engendering them all in Christ?” This is not love. Nor is it justice. It is colonialism writ large. And with God and Jesus and Imperial Christianity legitimizing it.
Also, Serra himself was big on beating his body with whips and piercings. Maybe his masochism rendered his sadism less of an issue: “Love others as you love yourself” as someone said. But why endorse such a person’s theology and spirituality at this time? Why, Why, Why canonize someone in 2015 who stands for such bad theology and bad intercultural values, utterly lacking the respect and humility that lie at the foundation of interfaith?
This canonization is a scandal. People should be flooding the Vatican with letters of objection. It is not Pope Francis at his best. It is not Christianity at its best; it conjures up the worst shadows (of which there are so many) in the history of the Imperial Church, a church many hoped we had left behind. With the teachings of Vatican II and the powerful teachings and witness of Archbishop Romero in the 1980s, surely we have come farther than this!
This disastrous decision puts wind in the sails of those who have learned nothing from the dark days of colonialism in the name of God and Empire, at a time when indigenous peoples around the world are facing the destruction of their lands and cultures at the hands of corporate and government militia. The system Serra set up was paternalism at its worst: it treated native peoples as helpless children, and reinforced an other-worldly religion.
One Franciscan historian comments on Serra and the epidemics that the Europeans introduced to the indigenous peoples: “Death might wreak havoc among his hard-won neophytes, but he found consolation in his sorrow, for he had prepared them for a future life which, his religious convictions assured him, was worth infinitely more than the life they were leaving and the pain of parting.” At a mission in Santa Clara there was a great epidemic in May 1777 but Serra’s companion friar Palou writes of how “the fathers were able to perform a great many baptisms by simply going through the villages. In this way they succeeded in sending a great many children (who died almost as soon as they were baptized) to heaven.”
It seems that Serra and his companion friars never wavered in their compulsion to reduce Christianity to a promise of life-after-death. Too bad that they missed their Master’s teaching of love and life fully lived here and now, the promise of the kingdom/queendom of God on earth, a place where justice flowed like a river and the prophet pictured it. One critical commentator summarizes Serra’s mission this way: “Clearly, if sainthood means self sacrificing devotion to harvesting pagan souls for the kingdom of god in heaven, then Junipero Serra deserves to become a saint.”
If not, one asks anew: WHY is the pope making so profound a mistake? Why create a patron saint for colonizers and racists in the year 2015? Why not instead take the occasion of his visit to the United States to do an about-face and canonize those thousands of native peoples who died at the hands of misguided, badly theologically trained, servants of the Empire?
Indeed, why not get on one’s knees in humble confession and ask the Native Peoples for forgiveness?
The Pope’s New Encyclical vs. the Canonization of Serra
The pope’s new encyclical, wise as it is about climate change, completely contradicts the misguided effort to canonize Serra a saint. Here are his words with my response in brackets:
number 145: “The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems. [Was not Serra’s mission system a device to replace one ancient culture with another imperial one? Didn’t it contribute to the disappearance of a culture? Why canonize him then?]
- “In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.” [Where then is the dialog with these communities and “principal dialogue partners” regarding the canonization of Serra happening?]
“For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest here, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best”. [Then why canonize someone who made it a policy to take them from their land and had no respect for how they lived on the land and cared for it for centuries before the Europeans invaded?]
“Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.” [Before the mining companies pressured them to abandon their homelands and degrade their culture the church did the same–why canonize the man, Serra, who symbolizes this very act of degrading a culture in the name of a foreign ideology? He who is a “colonizer-in-chief”?]
- “The principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters…..It demands before all else an appreciation of immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers.” [Then why ignore the agonizing and loud cries of the indigenous poor AGAINST the canonization of Serra?]
If you share these feelings of grief and outrage at the upcoming canonization of Junipero Serra, let your voice be heard! Please sign this petition…and spread the word so others can do so also. Thank you.
 Junipero Serra, letter to Francesch Serra, Cadiz, 20 August 1749, Antonine Tibesar, O.F.M., ed, Writings of Junipero Serra (Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1955) vol. 1, p. 5.
 Serra, letter to Fermin de Lasuen, Monterey, 12 January 1780, Ibid., vol 3, p. 424f.
 Francis Florian Guest, O.F.M., “Cultural Perspectives on California Mission Life, “ Southern California Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, Spring 1983, p. 31.
 Serra, letter to governor Neve, Monterey, 7 January 1780, Writings of Junipero Serra, vol. 3, pp. 413-15.
 Finbar Kenneally, O.F.M. and Mathias Kiemen, O.F.M., Introduction to Writings of Junipero Serra, op. cit., vol. 4, p. xvi.
 Francisco Palou, Life of Junipero Serra, C. S. Williams, transl. (Pasadena: G. W. James, 1913), p. 213.
 Daniel Fogel, Junipero Serra, the Vatican, and Enslavement Theology (San Francisco: ISM Press, 1988), p. 81. The author does an excellent job of presenting the facts and realities of the Serra story from primary sources and I am indebted to him for the citations presented in this article.
Matthew Fox is a theologian and Episcopal priest who was a Dominican friar for 34 years. He was expelled from the order by Cardinal Ratzinger for, among other things, “working too closely with Native Americans” and supporting women’s, gay, and indigenous rights. His 32 books have been translated into 58 languages and include Letters to Pope Francis, Original Blessing, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Reinvention of Work, The Pope’s War and most recently Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time. Connect with him at his website (http://matthewfox.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Rev.Dr.MatthewFox) and Twitter feed (@FCSCreationSpir).
The Supreme Court has spoken—and quite eloquently—about the right of all Americans to marry whom they love. Implications abound well beyond the American border. Remember that last month the Irish citizenry, so long captured by a Catholic theocracy, voted overwhelmingly for the right of all Irish to marry whom they love. Over 80% of young adults in the US favor gay marriage so that might tell us something of the future. It seems something is afoot—and it is setting the hair of some very vocal Christians on fire.
Self-proclaimed Christians living in the past, people now with their heads on fire, are providing perpetual fodder for late night humorists. Here are a few raging firestorms: Presidential candidate Rick Santorum promises he “will not honor any decision which will force us to violate our clear, biblical understanding.” (What is so clear a Biblical understanding since the same book that condemns homosexuality also condemns eating shrimp and proposes stoning adulterers?) Bobby Jindal, another self-appointed theologian and presidential candidate shares his wisdom: “The Supreme Court can’t overrule God. This ruling paves the way for an all-out assault on religious freedom of Christians.” Comments Bill Maher: “they’re’ such drama queens, aren’t they?” He addresses these concerned ones and says: “You do realize that this is not mandatory. You don’t have to have sex with another man—it’s just an option now.”
Of course the spokespeople for religiously institutionalized homophobia are also incensed. Bishop Thomas J. Tabi of Providence, Rhode Island assures us that homosexual marriage derives “from the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the church of God.” The US Catholic bishops rushed to the podium also. They tell us that for the government to declare that two people of the same sex “constitute a marriage” is “profoundly immoral and unjust” and that the decision constitutes a “tragic error” that endangers the “common good” and “especially that of children.” This comes from a group that has a bit of a moral monkey on its back when it comes to endangering children seeing as it could not protect them from pedophile priests and hierarchical cover up of the same over decades.
Does it really think that anyone is listening any more to its hypocritical rants about sexual morality aimed at a sexual minority that is, in fact, well represented (though fully closeted) among its ranks? Has it learned nothing from the Irish vote on homosexual marriage?
Of course presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, also a clergyman representing his brand of Christianity, has taken up the microphone. It is “like repealing the law of gravity” he assures us. The Supreme Court is “an imperial court” like the British crown of old and “we must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.” To the barricades! Where is Paul Revere when we need him?
But isn’t that the task of the Supreme Court? To “resist the tyranny of the majority” against the minority? Where was Huckabee when Citizens United and the Hobby Lobby decisions told us that corporations are persons and that corporations have a conscience?
Speaking of Citizens United, Supreme Court justice Antonio Scalia chimes in of course. After this decision, the Supreme Court itself, he tells us, is “a threat to American democracy.” (Maybe, if he has a conscience, he should quit then.) And Citizens United, which he enthusiastically supported and that defined “money is speech” and that opened the gates to billionaires dictating our legislators and judges is NOT a threat to American democracy? Scalia has a large family, lots of very Catholic kids. I have often wondered: What if one of them was gay? What would it be like being a gay son or daughter of Justice Scalia? Send prayers his or her way, please. And fast. And furious. Maybe there should be a fund-raising app to support the gay or lesbian daughter of Justice Scalia.
Supreme Court chief Justice John Roberts embarrasses himself by saying that the decision had nothing to do with the constitution. Last time I looked the constitution 1) established the Supreme Court and its rules and 2) talks somewhat unambiguously about how “all men (and presumably women) are created equal” and this means protecting the rights of the minorities and isn’t that what this decision was about?
Of course presidential candidate Ted Cruz deserves his day in the sun also. He calls the Supreme Court “lawless” and calls out its “naked and shameless judicial activism.” Again, no mention of the judicial activism of removing voter abuse laws from the southern states of the confederacy or naming Citizens United the law of the land. Cruz’ fellow Texan politician (now out of a job) Tom Delay warned that if the Supreme Court ruled as it has “all hell is going to break loose.”
Well, I suppose a lot depends on how and who defines hell. For our cultural comics, this hair-on-fire reaction is pure heaven, solid gold, endless nights of good humor. For people stuck in tired dogmas and ancient doctrines based on no-science, this moment may indeed feel like hell.
What do I say? I say: “Let the Homophones huff and puff. Love is the law of the land. Now there is a smart judicial decision that assures love can happen for all the country’s citizens, even those who constitute a sexual minority.”
Science has spoken on the utter naturalness of homosexual love for a minority of human beings and of at least 464 other species. This is why psychological science has for decades thrown out the silly talk of gays as “sick” or “disordered” (papal talk much favored by the opus-dei loving Pope Benedict XVI). Let those with their heads in the sands—archbishops and politicians and presidential candidates and Supreme Court judges and all—repeat the religious exercise that was the Galileo affair of 500 years ago. It is their right to choose to live in the past. Let the religiously sick wrap themselves in chains of doctrine based on nothing Jesus ever preached or taught if they want to.
In the Fall Pope Francis is coming to America. He has recently released an encyclical on global warming and the moral imperative for caring for the Earth and he has addressed it to all people of good will since, dah!, climate and the Earth are all of our concerns. He is calling a second gathering of a Synod on the Family this Fall as well. At the first there was a mild effort to lift some of the opprobrium the church commits against homosexuals, supported by his happy statement, “Who am I to Judge?” when asked about gay priests which seemed to hint at a slight thawing of Catholic homophobic dogma. But the backlash from Neanderthal hierarchy was fierce. Will he roll over and play dead, repeating ad nauseam the silly arguments against homosexuality that derive from bad interpretations of scripture and of course from the ridiculous teachings of sex (better no sex) from St Augustine in the fourth century? Will he be able to move beyond the chains of tired and mistaken dogma?
I doubt it frankly. I think the institutional church is crashing on the rocks of sexual issues just as an Irish poet early in the twentieth century predicted it would. We shall see. I wish Pope Francis well and pray for him to move on from condemnations of birth control and homosexuality and women’s rights that are so embedded in the rigid Catholic codex. But I am not holding my breath.
The handwriting is on the wall, however. With ever growing numbers of young adults rejecting homophobia, there are going to be fewer and fewer practicing Christians in churches that endorse it. Was it 95 parishes that the diocese of New York shut down this past year? Better start looking for more after this overcharged response to a court decision based on justice, common sense and today’s science.
Let everyone not wrapped in tired and disproven doctrines about sex rid themselves of anti-scientific dogmas and be free. The law of grace, not of fear, can now blow freely. Let us all celebrate—including those who care deeply about heterosexual marriage. Now you have a whole new community trying to do what you so dearly say you desire: Keep marriage an alive institution. Why not choose to help homosexuals be the best lovers and best married couples they can be—that would be a religious—or at least spiritual–commitment worth pursuing.
I was among the many people profoundly moved by President Barack Obama’s quoting the prophetic words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., amidst jubilant celebrations that marriage equality is now the law of the land.
My Bible says “God is love”–not that God is exclusively heterosexual love. SCOTUS, lo and behold!, has got it right this time and many thinking people the world over will celebrate this expansion of love that is being acknowledged around the planet.
The love that is celebrated in gay marriage is society’s love, not just that of man to man or woman to woman. We all profit from faithful love whether such joy be lived out in heterosexual or homosexual contexts. Indeed, rather than “threatening” heterosexual marriage, I would predict that gay marriage will help resuscitate a dying institution because it is bringing joy back and gratitude for love from a segment of the population that has been denied it for so long. All marriage will prosper from gay marriage.
So let us all rejoice that notions of God is Love; and Justice Matters; and Nature is God’s Doing are happening in a fresh way in the United States. And let us move on to other topics of pressing and genuine moral concern such as the fate of the Earth.
I confess that I have rarely been attracted to professional basketball—more excited by football frankly. But lately, and perhaps because I am older now (in my 75th year), and because my local team, the Golden State Warriors, are the best team in the NBA, I am allured to watching them. That and because their play at times resembles a ballet or an art form as much as a competitive sport. It can border on the sublime.
Their number one player, Steph Curry, voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) by sport writers and broadcasters for the year 2015 in the team’s amazing run of winning 67 games, is an artist with the basketball—not only with his dribbling and behind-the-back passes and in his jump shots from way behind the three-point line, and his often soft lay ups that float high above seven-foot defenders at one time and are off the board at another time, but in the quiet way in which he sets the tone for the rest of the team and leads them and feeds them the ball regularly often with breathtaking passes. As well as his apparently very contented family life that features his two-year old child who likes to break into news conferences following games thereby stealing the spotlight from her father.
Much goes on in sports and one of the wonders is lessons of getting along, lessons of a common task, therefore of team work and community building. Regardless of personality differences or role differences or differences in builds and physical stats and positions, a good team learns to get along together to get to a common goal. That is what community is about—cum-munio—share a common task. Team work happens and it happens constantly with the Warriors as sometimes Steph or some nights Klay Thompson or some nights Andre Iguadola stand out. No room for envy within the team itself, rather they learn to think for the whole and play for the good of the whole and rejoice when one player is standing out one night: That’s what teamwork or community is all about. “Collective unselfishness” is how one person described the current Warrior team. Several star players actually sat on the bench to make room for other players to emerge this year and did so apparently with very little resentment.
The team comes before the individual—and in a narcissistic culture like ours has become, such modeling is rare. But the Warriors team did indeed model it this year and perhaps no one more than Iguadola who won the “Most Valuable Player” award for the finals championship games coming off the bench to play fierce defense and important offense. Interviewed about his award, he said, ‘its an honor to win the MP. But for me, it’s not about that. It’s about getting guys to buy in.” And that means buying in to the team as a whole. Character matters and they have their healthy share of the big “C.” This shows a capacity for taming the ego that most spiritual traditions promote.
For some time I have been speaking about meditation as being a powerful way to calm the reptilian brain—and it is–for reptiles are accomplished at solitude more than at bonding and meditation puts humans in touch with the solitude (or monk) in each one of us. So to meditate is to calm that reptilian brain and this is a very important task in our time.
But now, after watching the Warriors, I am convinced that we have another way to calm the reptilian brain (or is it just another form of meditation?). Sports too can help calm and redirect the reptilian brain. Sports too can be a meditation. Why am I so sure of this? Because the reptilian brain wants to win—it’s win/lose with a crocodile. Athletes want to win too—that is why they practice so hard and sacrifice much to get to their common goal, a goal usually defined as winning. But what makes the reptilian brain in sports different from the reptilian brain in war for example (or often in business), is that in sports there are 1) a spatial parameter (the ball court) and 2) a temporal parameter (the game is only 48 minutes long as such) and 3) referees and 4) a beginning and an end. And if one loses, well, “it’s only a game.” That is where the excitement derives: Will the reptilian brain win or lose tonight? Which team’s reptilian brain will triumph? Sports exercise the reptilian brain—but safely and within parameters. And if one wins, the larger tribe, the followers of the team, go bananas and rejoice and express themselves in irrational ways that are exactly what one needs after suffering through the daily grind of work and bill payments and children’s sicknesses and all the rest that life offers on a daily and sometimes humdrum basis.
When done well, sport addresses the critical question of How Do We Tame the Reptilian Brain? For when we can calm the reptilian brain, our mammal brain, the brain of compassion, can begin to assert itself. The former is 420 million years old, the latter is 210 million years old.
Sport can be a medicine for our hyper-active reptilian brains. Why do I say this? First, because the reptile in us sees life as win/lose, one winner takes all. One does not readily compromise with a crocodile. What does sport do with this desire embedded in all of us to be Number One? It plays with it. It lets it run its course, but according to a limited parameter (think: Soccer field, basketball court, football field) and with referees or umpires to keep the “players” on track. What this does is to allow the reptilian brain to “do its thing” but within parameters and lucid rules that all are subjected too. Playing with the reptilian brain is not the same as making war with the reptilian brain. In fact, it is medicine for the war compulsion.
Sports then are more than merely a “distraction” and a re-focusing of one’s energy and attention for a specific time period. They are also a recharging of the reptilian brain but also a keeping it within bounds. In this way, as in meditation, the reptilian brain finds its outlet not in beating up on others or conquering others but in re-learning how much of life is merely “a game” and one can lose one day and survive to start over the next.
There is a certain “high” when one’s home team wins; it puts wind in one’s sales for the rest of the day; it awakens optimism and even hope, that victory (that elusive archetype) is some times possible and even something that can happen close to home. Furthermore, the joy and optimism gets shared when others in one’s tribe also take delight at the results. Here too community is engendered, the community of hope and joy that pleases not only team mates but the larger tribe. Surely this is a better use of the reptilian brain than is war?
Of course, only one team wins and ultimately only one team wins a championship—that is the definition of championship after all. But others live on to play another day, or another season as the case may be. And hope runs eternal (as it did in Oakland since this was the first championship for their team in forty long, draught-fill years). And we praise those who win the day, especially if they have done it with grace and good sportsmanship. The tribe grows larger through praise and respect for excellent play.
One cannot take delight at basketball without marveling at the athletic grace and endurance and wakefulness and fierce warriorhood that the game requires. Such grace does not come easily but through plenty of blood, sweat, tears, workouts, hours of practice and lots of discipline. One sees all that in the results, “by their fruits you will know them,” as one spiritual teaching once said. This is a special gift that came our way this season from the Warriors, a gift of grace, of the artistic genius it takes to steer a ball into a hoop and to hustle down the floor and to find the open player ready to receive a well-directed pass as well as defending a hoop by severe fierceness and perfectly timed leaping and reaching. Watching such aestheticism and athleticism together can move one to tears.
There is also an intergenerational sharing that can take place in sports. One’s playing days are over usually about in one’s mid-thirties and there is lots more living and watching to do. So it’s exciting to see another generation of young adults put themselves through the rites of passage that it takes to be proficient in the sport and to show up with the same kind of energy and alertness and grace and beauty to play the game with gusto. Thus one generation cheers on another; and both generations profit from this mutual exchange, one providing the play, the other the encouragement (and the coaching and managing and ownership also). Sports can generate intergenerational sharing and joy and understanding.
In the grand order of things, one can easily conclude that winning (or not winning) a basketball game is of no great consequence. But wait! Maybe it is. Just because leading a graceful and generous and fierce life is something we all are called to do. It does not hurt to see one particular profession, gathering five people on a gym floor for 48 minutes over a period of several months a year, strive to do exactly that: To apply the human gifts of the athletic and the aesthetic into a 48 minute event that one spends months and years preparing for. Such an event is archetypal, it is a mini-pattern of our lives that, granted, are the big game but that require mini-games that condense the dance of beauty and grace, effort and stamina, perseverance and community teamwork, into a ritual reminding us of our better selves, our most beautiful and community-oriented and generous and warrior selves, our reptilian brains put to the service of community and excellence here to delight and spread joy that others can participate in deeply. The reptilian brain feeds the mammal brain in sport insofar as when there is a victory there are lots of hugs to go around. Affection is felt and friendships are made and a sense of community is expanded.
Yes, basketball is a ritual and it crosses the line between so-called “secular” and “religious” rituals. Spirituality links the two at times.
Another spiritual dimension to Warriors basketball (and indeed to most sport) is the role that beauty plays—the beauty of a long three pointer, the beauty of a leaping rebound, the beauty of a fast lay up or a rapid pass to the one open player cross court and more. Beauty is very much a spiritual term—in the Middle Ages many were the mystics who called God “Beauty” and celebrated how humans are “participants in the Divine Beauty.”
Sports address two primary chakras it seems to me. The first, because it conjures up tribal consciousness—people root “for the home team” and assert themselves in the most whimsical and loud and irrational ways. They raise the roof in appreciation of a good shot or a defensive stop or the seizing of a championship. They become friends to others who share their “tribal status” of this or that particular team. This too can be a great thing for again it is playing with the tribal notion that “we are the only ones” and expands the tribe to include strangers.
Of course this is nonsense but by playing with it instead of claiming its literal truth sports allow us to be ourselves, to pay attention to the tribalism from which we all emerge. When one tribe wins and another loses, there is glee in one camp and sadness in the other. But ultimately one learns that “it is only a game” and people do move on. The first chakra is about not falling into tribalism as such even while we do recognize our specific tribes but in the context of a greeter whole—that of the universe itself. The key to the first chakra is vibration and it is no coincidence that much of the cheering elicited in a basketball game is very much of a mantra kind—“Defense, Defense, Defense” or ‘Warriors, Warriors, Warriors,” goes the crowd—the mantra evokes vibratory power which engenders togetherness. Group mantras feed not only group tribal feelings but the soul itself. The lower chakras are fed and nourished by such mantras. Lessons are learned and relearned about the role the tribe plays in our lives and always has for member of our species.
Another chakra awakened by Sports is the seventh chakra which, when healthy, is about our light energy climaxing in the back of our heads and extending out to other light beings to link up with them in shared community whether these beings be ancestors or angels or others on a path of light and fitness. But the shadow side to the seventh chakra is Envy which also recognizes the light in other beings but instead of celebrating it chooses to shoot it down or go to war with it. Sports awaken the seventh chakra: One recognizes the talent and light in one’s opponents (even while paying attention to their weaknesses to exploit) while seeking to defeat them. But again, one plays at this, it is temporary, and limits are set by abiding rules that forbid an actual destruction of one’s opponent. In this way one learns to strive to accomplish one’s best and most excellent gifts and while there is competition with others, the competition is not the last word. Envy does not rule (envy being the great shadow of the seventh chakra). Playing superlatively does rule.
The ritual of basketball (like the ritual that other sports are) has its altars for focusing points. “Ancient as the workbench is the altar” writes one poet and pastor. An altar is an archetype of a focusing point, there lies its power: it gets us to focus and thus brings about meditation. What sports have is usually not an altar but two altars: That is where the competition lies: Which altar, attracting which team, will prevail? The altar in the basketball court is obviously the hoop: That is the focus of all that goes on: Get the ball into the hoop; prevent the other team from getting to the hoop. (In hockey the altar is a net, as in soccer; in football it is the goal line or, lacking that, the goal posts; in baseball it is the home plate but three ‘minor altars’ precede it). Everything is done for the sake of the hoop—but there are two so each team is engaged in a struggle both offensively and defensively to get to the hoop or to prevent the other team from getting to their hoop. Getting to the altar is an adventure, a struggle. It takes warrior energy and excellence and skill and craft and endurance to achieve access to the altar. Above all, it takes focus.
Ordinarily an altar represents the axis mundi or center of the universe but since in sports that center tends to be binary, it is as if each team is fighting for its own universe. And this the cheering fans, the supportive community, sense also: It is our altar and our universe vs “their altar” and “their universe.” A mini-pageant ensues of one tribe vs. another. There is a satisfaction in “winning” by getting to one’s altar more frequently than the others; and there is a sadness in defeat. But still, life goes on. (Though in some ancient ceremonial sports the losers were sometimes sacrificed if they lost. Thus the altar dimension to the ritual of sport was taken more literally, the altar being the place where a sacrifice is enacted.) The struggle and the injuries that happen on the court are part of today’s sacrifice at the altar of the hoop. It is less final than those ancient sacrificial focal points.
So sport conjures up profound archetypes among the participants and those who cheer them on. More than ego is involved—the psyche and cosmos (symbolized by an altar or two) are at work, a struggle to engage psyche and cosmos is happening. Players offer their gifts and sacrifice much on the field and in preparation in their training and excellence to conquer, to give the reptilian brain the achievement it yearns for. Lessons of victory and defeat are learned. Mighty chakras are engaged. Excellence is called for.
Is sport a mere “secular” ritual? Or can it have more important and lasting consequences? This depends on how we look at it. If sport is just a “business,” then most likely it is thoroughly secularized. But if it accomplishes some or most of the other dimensions I have named in this article, then it is very possible that the feelings of achievement and glory and the memories of beauty and artful playing, are “more than secular.” They join the realms of awe and gratitude and beauty where the soul feeds and grows and nourishes itself and others and that the mystics call the “Via Positiva.” Joy is aroused for many in the community. There is an intergenerational accomplishment as well since elders, who themselves may have participated in such games as young men and women, acknowledge and appreciate excellence when they see it played out by a new generation. They cheer them on, as does Steph Curry’s father who was a professional basketball player himself. There is a kind of ‘sacred tradition’ that is handed on from generation to generation.
Is there a shadow side to professional sports? Of course there is as there is to anything humans embark on. Among its shadow side can be addiction, couchpotatoitis (when so much work needs doing in our culture and passion needs to come alive in compassion), hero worship that becomes an excuse for not taking on one’s own responsibilities, projection of one’s own greatness onto others, vicarious living via TV, capitalist greed, power trips and ego-trips, banishing the poor and working classes from watching live games, etc. etc. So a “caveat” is in order, a warning to stay alert.
On the bright side, a championship run is a taste and hint of Joy and community and diversity and respect for excellence and hard work and achievement and beauty and grace that ought not be forgotten. It is an eschatological occasion, meaning a taste of a better and fuller future. The year 2015 for the Warriors was such an eschatological moment that led to joy for many, joy at being human yet still excelling, joy at being a team and community, joy at beauty and excellence and the marriage of art/aesthetics with athleticism, the joy of a job well done. Thanks, Team.
Some people pontificate against the “secular” world but I am not one who is at home with a stark separation between the so-called “secular” and the Sacred. On the contrary, in a healthy society much of what some call “secular” can be very sacred. Grace is grace and nature can be grace. Thus humans who do their work gracefully—and this includes those with a vocation to basketball or other sport—arouse a sense of the sacred by the splendor of their work and of course they share it with the rest of us. This is true of our work and it is true of our sports. If basketball can bring the sacred and the secular together—and it can—then basketball has its place among us and for good reasons.
But still, it is just a game—that is its appeal and that is its essence. But it is a game with consequences, sometimes to the wallet but more importantly consequences for the soul.
Tip ball anyone?
Matthew Fox is a spiritual theologian and author of 32 books on spirituality and culture that have been translated into 58 languages. The books include Original Blessing, The Reinvention of Work, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Time. He is an Episcopal priest and resides in Oakland, California where he enjoys, among other things, Warrior basketball.