Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Case for "Sanctuary"

[Edited from an original blog of mine.]

So many abuses - by persons avowedly serving God's people ....

We - the anguished and horrified bystanders to daily reports which grow ever worse - stand in sharp contrast to a Vatican hierarchy which is tap-dancing as fast as it can, trying to spin the crisis as perpetrated or enabled by anyone but them, the pope nonsensically urging laity to have absolute faith in priests, pinning his hopes on a revival of obedience to fussy old men dressed in red satin, with long trains, and people bowing to them like to idols.

And let's  not forget the story going on within our own borders:  Seeking to question and arrest aliens, people whom the good book insists be offered hospitality.  Seeking to deny to persons who love another the right to marriage and family life.  Are we too lording it over some deemed lowly or rejects?

So what's gone missing?

Well, humility for one thing.  But let's think about care, compassion, concern for the least among us.  Let's consider the concept of sanctuary.  Not just as a place of refuge, but as a virtue, a call, a commitment.  Transcending belief or unbelief.  Threading its way through politics and religions and ethics and morality, it reminds me of a series of blogs I did on Erikson's stages of development.  Using these stages, sanctuary is necessary for a sense of basic trust.  Plus, sanctuary as a virtue is indicative of higher developmental stages, particularly Wisdom.  Using Maslow's hierarchy of needs, sanctuary (considered as physical safety and psychic security) is a basic need, essential for normal human life.  Thus, sanctuary must be provided for all people.

Therapy is about sanctuary.  Though I never noticed that till Bwakfat's brilliant insight (Part II) left me pondering.  While I could easily make my case based upon the Old Testament or the New Testament, mostly I'm going to confine myself to describing a social good, a common endeavor, a ground to stand on in order to ensure the psychological and physical well-being of human persons, from birth to death, in every culture as well as in the natural world.

Sanctuary is what parents and schools and hospitals and social services, indeed anyone in the caring professions, is really engaged in.  Sanctuary is a place or process - for extending compassion and providing refuge.  It's a virtue or an ideal to strive for.  Even to fight for.  Perhaps to die for.  It's that important!

Without sanctuary, safety and trust are impossible.  Indeed, I think they have no meaning.  Without ensuring sanctuary, civic or religious trust breaks down, predators of all types are given free rein, and the small and weak and frail and elderly become nothing more than pawns, easily sacrificed to the gods of power and greed and appetite - to the twisted impulses of some who have clawed their way to positions of authority.

Sanctuary simply cannot work unless it is for all.  Leave one person or group out and you thereby violate its basic principle:  For denying safety, security, care, compassion to anyone leaves us all vulnerable to be preyed upon - maybe not now, but at some future date.

And lest you think I'm advocating that criminals get off "scott free" - not at all.  Indeed, I'd prefer prison reform too.  What great prisons we could have, if sanctuary for the human person, even the most hardened and vicious criminal, were the guiding principle.

Sanctuary for all.  If some of us were to go around Galilee (or your city) - like Jesus or maybe like the Buddha -   appealing to people's better natures, seeking to heal society, I suppose wes could do no worse than cry out:  Sanctuary is at hand!  Already in your very midst.  Come, all of you who feel burdened.  Learn compassion, seek and share sanctuary.  And you will find rest for your souls - your yearning for inner peace. 

I'm appealing to this concept, because I think instinctively the entire world is troubled and horrified by what's been done and not done within the Roman Catholic Church.  I think "sanctuary" is an implicit yardstick we're all using - when we daily face the fact that this issue is not disappearing from the news and indeed is more like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering more and more snow - headed directly for the Vatican - its expensively-dressed men demanding obeisance and a status above the law - and for the sycophants and hypocrites in their entourage. 

As I've said previously, it's not that I'm full of unfocused rage and willy-nilly grabbed onto this issue - like  one of the rings they used to hold out on a merry-go-round.  No, this crisis landed in my lap - because I care.  And like so many in the whole world, catholic or not, I simply can't turn my back on the victims (past, present, and god-forbid future) of a perverted travesty claiming to be the divinely appointed heirs of a venerable spiritual tradition.  I can't turn away!  And until this whole putrid edifice is dismantled, I too am squarely on the cross - sharing the sufferings of victims and anyone they've branded untouchables - unable to get off!
We're all upset - wondering how to bring these clerical criminals to justice - people under the protection of a so-called state, who are trying to avoid the long arm of the law by providing "sanctuary" for their own - while abandoning victims and the rest of us to our suffering (as just collateral damage).
And I'm just counting all the ways.... 

Part II,  Betrayal:  The Concept of Sanctuary Perverted

Betrayal: The Concept of Sanctuary Perverted

[From an original blog of mine. Part II of a series. ]

I love it when somebody distills a tangled series of problems into one brilliant thoughtBwakfat did that for me.  And this post is an attempt to tease out her insight (below) - one, which I think crystallizes the Roman Catholic Church's current crises (sexual abuse, abuse of authority, failure of responsibility, betrayal of trust) into one powerful overarching image .  And beyond that, I want to consider how the church, using fuzzy logic, turns the essence of "sanctuary" inside-out.  Bwakfat's insight (link now broken):
For me, the bigger issue is ... the concept of "sanctuary," the giving of protection ... It has a rich history in the church, and traditionally for the most noble of reasons. The church has kept safe people fleeing from political persecution and other injustices. That they must face the consequences of doing so, is a given, and one of the most powerful aspects of the concept of sanctuary.

What the Pope and others have done in this instance is to corrupt the concept of sanctuary, and endanger it. To me, this is unacceptable. It goes far beyond the heinous abuse of children. It's so wrong on so many levels, I have problems wrapping my mind around it.
Wrapping one's mind around it.  That is the subject of this blog.

I suspect Bwakfat is getting at the incredible hypocrisy going on.  First of all, what happens when a religion assumes the power of a state, even a tiny, so-called city-state?  Because inherent in Bwak's concern about sanctuary is a contradiction between a faith tradition calling itself "holy" as well as demanding all the rights, power, and privileges - but none of the responsibilities, I might add - of nation status.

Only one religion claims to be a nation - when it suits the pope.  And pretends it isn't - when it also suits.

Something tells me that when the Vatican began to view itself as both Holy City and nation-state it sold its soul.  It expected papal visits, for example, to be state visits.  It expected other nations to listen to its religious dogmas as if they were diplomatic messages, handed over from one head of state to another.

First a little background.

The pope resides in Vatican City.  It's a tiny area the size of a neighborhood.  With churches, museums, seminaries and residences for those who live and work there.  Whether this neighborhood constitutes a "state" or "quasi state" has never exactly been settled.  And the Vatican seems to operate according to fuzzy logic, shape-shifting according to needs of the Papal Palace at any given point.  Indeed,  one wonders if the Roman Catholic edifice isn't perched precariously upon the same fuzzy logic, the shifting sands of casuistry and dogma and self-protection that it deems an unchanging, infallible rock.  Inside this tiny enclave the Pope is a virtual Dictator or Monarch.  Though the Vatican exchanges ambassadors with most nations, it actually only holds an "observer seat" at the UN.   Nonetheless it claims diplomatic immunity and privileges.  Even asserts mystifying rights, for example the right to secret church tribunals in lieu of open courts, an exalted position above the law, and the right to meddle in the internal affairs of nations, by virtue of its claim to heavenly wisdom and the divine right of popes to expound on that. 

But let me skip over geography and history.  And go right to the matter at hand:  The pope is in the dock!  And the long arm of the law is creeping ever nearer to the Vatican, which claims the title of Holy City or Holy See, (tiny holy diocese).

And that brings us closer to the heart of the matter.

Let's consider a little parable.  A teaching story.  About Jesus.  Back in Jerusalem.  2000 years ago.
Jesus went to the Temple.  And threw the money-changers out!
He cried out, in a loud voice, that his Father's House was a House of Prayer.  That the Temple was a Sanctuary.
Not a place of business.  Not a museum.  Not a bank.  Not a fashion show.  Not a gift shop.  Not a seat at the UN.  Not a diplomatic site.  Not a palace.  Not a den of thieves.  Not a house of prostitution.  Not even a place of celibacy.  None of that!
The Temple was Holy.  A refuge of intense longing.  Of festal pilgrimage.  A place between time and eternity.  Lovingly described, over and over, in the Psalms as:  Presence of Holy Mystery
Of sacred rest.  Of peace.  Inner joy.  Beauty.  Deep contemplation.  Where the psalmist longed to spend "all the days of my life."  That kind of place.
Now this may be way more than Bwak was thinking.  But she gave me leave to ponder her words and their import.  And the more I think about this, the deeper my thoughts bore into the mire, the filthy stench of something rotting - a decay process - an institution, which has strayed far from its roots, far from the words of its anointed founder.  (Fact:  Christ means anointed)

And where are those roots today?  From acamus (link now broken) I think we find an answer:
One of the coolest people I ever met was [at] my first place when I moved out from my parents. My neighbor in this triplex was a nun who spent most of her time down in Central America. I was seventeen and was focused on partying and such, and I definitely didn't think anyone associated with an institutional church had anything to say to me that was worth listening to.

But one day I found myself talking with her out on the front steps. She told me about the work she was doing with the people down in the villages, dealing with things like clean water and government militias. I asked her why she did what she did. I can't remember what she said exactly, but she responded by saying in effect "it was the right thing to do. It is what my faith tells me I need to do."
And yet, contrary to sanctuary the Vatican is investigating and trying to intimidate these same nuns!  Women who clearly "get" the Good News, whose lives are witness to sanctuary.  Turning inside-out the very "faith" the faithful value and yearn for - as the psalmist yearned:  Lord, I love the beauty of your house; the place where your glory dwells.  And where is that place of glorious sanctuary today?  Surely not the Vatican!

The Vatican:  Place that gives abusers and their enablers sanctuary.  Preferring the love of power over the power of love.  Source of misbegotten shepherds, who have defiled and betrayed and perverted and corrupted a sacred trust - and have thereby destroyed sanctuary.

Yet there is reason for hope and I love this (link now broken) from evildoer:
Think of the pitchfork as you think of the cross.
The cross is the sign of an event, a transformation. That event was the resurrection...
The pitchfork is the sign of another event, an insurrection, the peasant revolt.
Between resurrection and insurrection there is the common ground of the event, the eruption of a new possibility which divides time into before and after. After the event one can be true to it by totalizing one's labor under its sign. The event makes life (spirit) possible to those who follow it, because it allows for the reconciliation of being and mind, which the life of submission (death) separates.
But of course, one can carry the pitchfork in vain just as one can carry the cross in vain. "by their fruits you shall know them."
This is where we are right now.  Stuck in the mud of this crisis.  Between resurrection and insurrection.  Standing on the ground of a new possibility.  

Sunday, April 25, 2010

One Foot - Stuck in the Muck

When I was a kid in the '50's - yes, I'm dating myself - all kids had real rubber boots for rainy days.  The kind of boots that fit over your shoes.  Boots that had to be strong enough to weather your walk to school - which, in our case, was a bit longer than a mile.  Catholics had to walk.  Public schoolers got bussed!

I remember one day, walking home, having to cross what seemed like a field of mud.  Probably it wasn't that big, but neither was I And one foot got stuck!  One boot rather.  I couldn't pull my foot out without also pulling the shoe.  But to do that would have meant having to put that foot - plus shoe - smack into the same mud.  So that was not a workable solution.  Not if I wanted to wear that shoe tomorrow. 

Plus, once one boot is stuck, it's so easy to get the other one stuck too.  Now, to be honest, I am truly not certain how this story ended.  I just recall the dilemma of being maybe 8 years old.  Learning what I'm just now telling you.  With one foot stuck in the muck, trying to pull it out, trying to figure out what to do.  I suspect I learned not to take a short-cut, not if it meant crossing a muddy field.  Cuz Catholics had to walk...

Or I thought I'd learned that.

But just yesterday I realized that even though I have "left" the Catholic Church with one foot, I am still stuck in Catholic Church muck with the trailing foot.  Thankfully, I didn't just leave - without first finding an island of sanity and spiritual sustenance (a church "for all people").  So at least I'm not stuck in mud with both feet!  Nevertheless the catholic muck seems to have such a hold over this one foot, like the boot like I had as a child (I think it was a red boot).  A boot which is very stuck.  Because there is just so much muck.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person, who has left what we were taught in childhood was the Church - only to find that in this current crisis, which is shaking the RCC to its very foundations, a big ache in one's heart, a breaking heart really, for all the innocent victims, all the other good people who are collateral damage to a hierarchy more bent on self-protection than vigilance to protect the innocent.  The reason I'm pretty sure is that right here at TPM (my original blog) some people have admitted as much.  And many who profess no adherence to any church are suddenly admitting they are upset at what's going on in "their" church.  It actually reminds me of people I've known who don't believe in god - till they find themselves in a jam, needing to pray hard!  This situation is the opposite, of course, or maybe not.

Maybe the concern of people like myself, who no longer identify as catholic, for the church of their youth or their schooling, has to do with a genuine desire to see a wayward institution find its way home - to the values they were taught, values they still believe in.  Values they feel are too often missing in today's world.  Values they need to see in people - leaders, especially.

So if some wonder how come I'm stuck in the RC muck, it's not because I'm sitting at home full of personal rage - just looking for a target, and finding one, continuing to rage and rage.  It's because I know this institution, the Roman Catholic Church, is part of something larger and is failing to live up to its high calling.  And I'm just counting all the ways....