George Floyd: What Can I Do?

Blogger’s Note: This is a long post. I hope to do some shorter ones, rooted in specific Catholic teachings and principles. But I think I need to say a few things first. (Photo courtesy of a local Catholic friend, Jim Lang.)

* * * * *

For days, I have wanted to write and couldn’t—not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I had too much to say, and most of it felt too easy. I re-read an essay I wrote from four years ago, when the dead man’s name was Philando Castile, then reposted it—but that seemed too easy, as well. Something was different this time. Something more needed to be said. Something else needed to be done.

I wanted to have said something so I could stop thinking. I even sat and began to type a time or two. But the only clear thought that came, again and again, was, “What can I do?”

I also worried about saying the wrong thing. It doesn’t take long online to discover that too many people are looking for fight. I’ve seen folks advocating violence, dismantling the reputation and character of businesses and strangers, and dismissing people entirely for using the wrong word in the wrong way.

And I am prone to vainglory (worrying overmuch about what people think of me) and have a hard time letting things go, especially when misunderstood.

So I’d much rather sit this one out.

With Philando Castile, I simply described the tension in my heart and mind. This time I leaned into that tension, not looking to respond, explain or excuse, but to see, hear and learn about myself.

Something is different this time. Something more needs to be said. Something needs to be done.

What can I do?

* * * * *

I can tell people where I stand. George Floyd’s killing is an outrage, and I am angry. This should not have happened and should never happen again.

Perhaps, like me, your first instinct now is to say, “Yes, but…”

Hold that thought.

Just sit in silence with the image of a six-foot-six man, created in God’s image, dying in the street, held down by police officers who would not help him and watched by bystanders who could not. Let that break your heart. Continue reading

Pro-Life Between the Bookends

Most pro-life Christians, I suspect, would agree that every human life is intrinsically valuable. The Book of Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image and likeness, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the image in which we are made is Jesus Christ Himself. Our dignity is not in the dust from which we were formed, but in the Spirit breathed into our lungs by the Creator Himself. Our worth has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the One who loved us into being.

Many of us would not accept the argument that anyone—born or unborn, young or old, capable or incapable—is not worth saving or sustaining. Many of us believe that abortion and euthanasia are unacceptable, that suicide is always tragic, and that today, the death penalty is rarely justifiable even when it may seem deserved.

Why? Because the value of every human life is infinite in God’s eyes. Many of us believe and proclaim these truths. So why do we struggle to apply them to ourselves?

How many of us grew up wishing we were different somehow: taller or thinner; more athletic or smarter; better looking; more popular with girls, guys, teachers or parents?

How many of us carried that chip past graduation: a desire to be seen and noticed, heard and understood? A desire to prove ourselves, to be somebody, to be relied upon, to be right?

How many of us even now find ourselves wishing that we had different gifts? How many of us think that our spouses and children would benefit from someone different, or at least a better version of ourselves? And that if we were just a little more than what we are, we would be happier, they would be happier, even God would be happier?

How many of us will carry that with us into old age: the idea that we are what we can do? And if we regard this lie as truth, how many of us will leave this life feeling broken, diminished, worthless?

We Christians do not accept the argument that an unborn child’s potential disability or a newborn’s helplessness warrants termination, any more than a quadriplegic’s paralysis or an elderly woman’s inability to care for herself does. We do not accept that these people must somehow prove their worth or earn their right to life and loving care.

When we pray for human life to be valued in our culture, we reference the bookends, “from conception to natural death.” But what about our own lives, between the bookends?

Between the bookends, the same rationale applies. Our value is not rooted in what we can or cannot do. God needs nothing, from me, you or anyone else. The only thing He desires is us, just as we are. We cannot earn His love, but we don’t have to. We are made from it, shaped by it, and awash in it. It’s ours for the taking, in superabundance. He desires us: me…and you.

You have nothing left to prove. The only One who matters has already chosen you.

Are We Scapegoating the Most Vulnerable Among Us?

This past month, the adults in our parish faith formation program discussed Lesson 4 from Fr. Barron’s Catholicism DVD series, “Our Tainted Nature’s Solitary Boast: Mary, the Mother of God.” One of the consistent bits of feedback we heard when we started this video series last year is that sometimes Fr. Barron gets a little academic for the average lay audience — and as a result, the material and discussion questions sometimes miss the mark when it comes to generating discussion. In the case of the lesson on Mary, even the title warranted translation.

I watched most of the Mary video at least six times over the course of the past few weeks, and one part, in particular, stuck out to me as academic and not very applicable to the lives of most Catholics — until I thought about it in a new light.

When Fr. Barron discusses Our Lady of Guadalupe and the impact her appearance to St. Juan Diego made on Mexico, he references a two key facts:

  • The fact is that within 10 years, almost the entire nation converted to Christianity — nine million souls, or roughly 3,000 people a day, every day, for decade turned to Christ.
  • With that conversion, the culture changed fundamentally, and the practice of human sacrifice to appease the gods was eliminated completely.
Then Fr. Barron goes on a brief tangent, discussing philosopher Rene Girard’s cultural theory of the scapegoat mechanism. Briefly, Girard suggests that a dynamic underlies our cultural, social, and personal relationships that serves to restore order during periods of violence or social upheaval by assigning responsibility to a particular victim or victims. The victim is punished, cast out, or killed — and in doing this the society will find itself renewed and unified in common understanding and common purpose.

We see this idea in literature, like the gut-wrenching short story “The Lottery;” in our modern history of wars and genocides; and of course, laid bare in Christ’s crucifixion and in Caiaphas, “who counseled the Jews that it was better that one man should die rather than the people (John 18:14).” Even so, I struggled to relate this theory to our lives today, until I asked myself specifically, “Who do we sacrifice today, and what underlying tension are we trying to resolve?”

It seems to me that we today sacrifice the most vulnerable among us: the unborn, the disabled, the ill, and the dying. If that’s true, to what end do we sacrifice them? 

First, let me say that most people never decide to abort a child or to assist someone in ending their lives — nor would I suggest that those who do aren’t at the end of their ropes and genuinely desperate (though, from a Catholic standpoint, they are sadly misguided). But many of us — even many who consider themselves to be good Catholics — are willing to permit the sacrifice of the vulnerable, at least in some cases. 

Why? I would argue it’s so that we won’t have to suffer with with them.

Let’s face it: most Americans (myself included) have no concept of the way much of the rest of the world lives. Most of us have no stomach for suffering, poverty, or pain. So our society allows human sacrifice and calls it mercy. We do it for the “health of the mother,” or of society, or of the planet. We tell ourselves that we have limited resources, and it’s irresponsible to lavish them on one person, one family, or one nation (never mind that many larger families get by on less, not more, than their small-family peers). Like Caiaphas, we advocate a definite “smaller” evil to avoid an indefinite “bigger” evil. We end their suffering and ours, not by giving of ourselves or sacrificing our present to make a better shared future, but by sacrificing their future — their very lives — so that we may enjoy our present.

This really hit home for me during the recent Life Chain event. Scores of people stood along Hwy 19 between St. Michael and Albertville, holding signs and praying silently for an end to abortion — and for the courage and will to do what is necessary to bring about that peaceful end. It is an uncomfortable experience to stand, exposed and silent, for an hour, confronting one’s neighbors with the evil we permit to occur so that we may live comfortably — but even moreso, perhaps, for the passersby. One young man slowed his car in the lane nearest me, looked hard into my eyes, and pumped his thick middle finger at me — watching me over his shoulder as he passed, for emphasis. I prayed him over the hill and out of sight.

Why so much anger? Because the natural fruit of evil is guilt, suffering, and death. It’s easy to allow death in the abstract, but to be confronted with it, not in anger but in charity, hurts.

Blessed Mother, pray for us, that by your example we will say yes to God, whatever the cost, and that we may suffer well ourselves so that the vulnerable may be spared. Amen.