the Gospel, class, and politics

I found this passage very interesting in light of our current “cold-turkey” fast from politics and elections.  It is a passage from a book by Carlo Carretto’s, I, Francis. It is a description of the life of St. Francis of Assisi told from the perspective of Francis living in modern times.  I haven’t read the book (but think I would like to).  I found this passage in A Guide to Prayer by Job and Shawchuck (The Upper Room).  Let me know what you think.   I believe its time Christians begin to seriously rethink our perceptions of what “Gospel” might be…the Gospel is so much more than an individual soul elixir/ticket to heaven when we die.  It deals with “change of hearts” which in turn shows up in our relationship to politics, culture, classes, poverty, wealth, etc.  I’d be interested in your thoughts.

When I, Francis, heard the call of the Gospel, I did not set about organizing a politcal pressure-group in Assisi.  What I did, I remember very well, I did for love, without expecting anything in return;  I did it for the  Gospel, without placing myself at odds with the rich, without squabbling with those who preferred to remain rich.  And I certainly did it without any class hatred.

I did not challenge the poor people who came with me to fight for their rights, or win salary increases.  I only told them that we would  be blessed–if also battered, persecuted, or killed.  The Gospel taught me to place the emphasis on the mystery of the human being more than on the duty of the human being.

I did not understand duty very well.  But how well I understood–precisely because I had come from a life of pleasure–that when a poor person, a suffering person, a sick person, could smile, that was the perfect sign that God existed, and that he was helping the poor person in his or her difficulties.

The social struggle in my day was very lively and intense, almost, I should say, as much so as in your own times.  Everywhere there arose groups of men and women professing poverty and preaching poverty in the Church and the renewal of society.  But nothing changed, because these people did not change hearts…

No, brothers and sisters, it is not enough to change laws.  You have to change hearts.  Otherwise, when you have completed the journey of your social labors you shall find yourselves right back at the beginning–only this time it is you who will be the arrogant, the rich, and the exploiters of the poor.

This is why I took the Gospel path. For me the Gospel was the sign of liberation, yes, but of true liberation, the liberation of hearts.  This was the thrust that lifted me out of the middle-class spirit, which is present to every age, and is known as selfishness, arrogance, pride, sensuality, idolatry, and slavery.

I know something about all that.

I knew what it meant to be rich, I knew the danger flowing from a life of easy pleasure, and when I heard the text in Luke, “Alas for you, who are rich” my flesh crept.  I understood.  I had run a mortal risk, by according a value to the idols that filled my house, for they would have cast me in irons had I not fled.

It is not that I did not understand the importance of the various tasks that keep a city running.  I understood, but I sought to go beyond.

You can reproach me, go ahead.  But I saw, in the Gospel, a road beyond, a path that beyond, a path that transcended all cultures, all human constructs, all civilization and conventions.

I felt the Gospel to be eternal; I felt politics and culture, including Christian culture, to be in time.

I was made always to go beyond time.

from I, Francis by Carlo Carretto

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Whassup…2008

I thought the video below was funny.  It is obviously an pro-Obama video (at least obvious by the end).

However, I watched this video after reading a book excerpt by Vernon E. Jordan Jr. in Nov. 3 issue of Newsweek (The Jordan Gospel).  The first sentence is striking:

“As one born in 1935 in the deep south who saw my father and oldest brother go off to Europe and Asia to fight in World War II and return home to Georgia unable by law to vote in the white primary, I stand here today–astonished, smashed, unbelieving, incredulous–that America has come to this place and time.”

This is history of which I am totally aware.  And yet, I read that sentence and had to read it again, aloud to Susie.  It is difficult for me to imagine such a blatant hypocrisy that would condone or allow such circumstances to persist while claiming allegiance to a Nation alleging liberty and justice for all.  The place and time that Jordan finds America is one in which the three most viable candidates for the Presidency of the United States of America were a woman, a black man, and a former POW who survived 5 1/2 years in captivity…these are truly astonishing, smashing, unbelievable, incredible times.  

As I listened to the closing lines of the little video below, I tried to imagine myself, having lived in the United States my entire lifetime, experiencing for the first time an election in which a candidate of my race actually has an opportunity be elected to the office of President of the United States of America.  I could not imagine such a circumstance.  And yet I have friends who live that experience every day.  Change indeed! No matter who is elected Tuesday in the amazing process we employ to select our leader, I will be proud to be an American.  I hope that pride will never cloud my vision to the point that I fail to recognize the hypocrisies that still prevail.  I heard someone say somewhere, sometime: “Our democracy is not merely a place where majority rules, but a place where it is safe to be in the minority.”  Let’s live up to that!

“Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” –Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801. ME 3:318 

…just a community organizer…

Palin/Giuliani et. al. provided a fantastic illustration of how out of touch the Republican Party is with the poor and marginalized in our country.  To mock the work of community organizing was was almost funny if it wasn’t so sad.  You see the job of a community organizer is to bridge the gap between people who have no voice or power within the political landscape in which they find themselves.  Obama’s work on the southside of Chicago was to unify the voices of those out of work and devoid of influence or representation in the halls of the political machine.  What Palin and Giuliani smugly mocked and what a room full of middle to upper middle class white people laughed at last night were the efforts of a well-educated upper middle-class leader (Obama) to bring these “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (see poem below) into the process of our great country. That is nothing to be mocked. That is what brave men and women have fought and died for through out the history of our great country. The American idea is not about how we can live secure on our little “island” detached from all the worries of the world. The American idea is to be a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world.  At least that’s what I thought it was supposed to be.  Remember the poem on the statue of liberty?

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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