JC’s Confessions #3

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

When Stephen does Midnight Confessions, in his lead-up he often says that he doesn’t get to go to church as often as he would like and he misses one of his favorite things, going to confession. At which point, I usually think, “Said no Catholic ever!” Everyone with whom I have ever spoken about it feels that it is a stressful situation, even with a good confessor (and downright terrifying with a poor one).

For the last several years, our diocese has had a day during which every church is open for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as confession is more properly called. I confess that I find it very creepy that they advertise this on television and with billboards, as though mercy and forgiveness are commodities.

It also makes it seem as though forgiveness is only available through this sacrament, even though the church recognizes many other routes for this, such as the penitential rite during liturgy, asking for forgiveness from someone whom you have hurt, prayer, making reparations, and receiving the Eucharist. Indeed, individual confession is only required in the case of serious sin, one which fractures the relationship of the person with God.

I admit, not confess, that I haven’t gone to individual confession in years. This is partly due to a priest from my past who was so unstable I was afraid to be alone with him. Even though he is no longer a threat to me, it makes the thought of going to confession even more fraught.

What is even more difficult is figuring out how to confess my own part in social sin. I grieve that the United States is participating in violence and injustice, degrading the environment and the climate, and lacking in compassion and assistance for those most in need. We are called in our Constitution to “promote the general welfare”; my faith tells me to love and serve my neighbors near and far. Even though I try to oppose what is unjust and to help those in need, I still bear guilt for being part of an unjust system. Seeking forgiveness for these social sins feels hollow, because I am no less a part of the social system after confession than I was before it.

Wow! When I said in my standard introduction to this series that my reflections would be “more serious,” I didn’t mean to make it quite this serious.  Still, we are living in very serious times with many very serious problems confronting us daily. I can only hope that my trying to do my part in repairing the damage will join with the efforts of other people of good will to improve our country and our world.

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One-Liner Wednesday: the system

“Nothing is going to change until we stop accepting this dirty, rotten system!”
~ ~ ~ Dorothy Day (1897–1980)
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whirl within a whirl

The last few weeks have been hectic. My mom, known here as Nana, has been dealing with an increase in fatigue, weakness, and edema as the congestive heart failure progresses. The hospice team continues to be helpful with trying to re-balance some medications but there is always some amount of compromise among symptoms with relieving all of them an impossibility. A couple of months ago, we had to expand private aide coverage from overnight to daytime as well. There have been a number of issues with scheduling, though, plus a few unexpected events that have kept me in a bit of a whirlwind, not being able to tell how any day may develop.

This unsettled feeling is exacerbated by the constant maelstrom of the news. I have been very concerned about Russian interference in the United States and other nations, something that I posted about during the 2016 campaign and have followed since. The indictments that have been handed down so far as a result of the Mueller investigation are disturbing and more may be coming soon. It appears that the obstruction of justice report may be finished in the coming weeks. Having been brought up during the Watergate hearings, just hearing about the possibility of another president under suspicion of obstruction is chilling.

Then, there is Syria. And the rest of the Middle East. And North Korea. And a trade war with China.

Immigration issues. A Congress that is dysfunctional. Gun violence. Racism. Sex/gender discrimination, harassment, and abuse.  Bullying and incivility.

I could go on…

And on….

Everything feels impossibly complicated and tenuous and unbalanced. I don’t know if things were more stable in the broader world if I would feel a bit better equipped to cope with personal family issues, but I do know that it isn’t helping my mindset in the least.

 

continued response to Parkland

Since my first post touching on the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, I have continued to be impressed by the response of the students at the school and other teens. They have been speaking out strongly in traditional and social media, at rallies and public gatherings, calling on local, state, and national authorities and elected officials to protect them and the rest of the public by banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, strengthening background checks and licensing, and improving mental health services.

They are making plans for a march in Washington, DC and other cities on March 24. There are also plans for a nationwide student walkout on April 20th, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, the first mass shooting at a high school that sent shockwaves across the country.

There are some early indications that their message is having an impact on politicians. While long-time gun-control advocates are adding their voices to those of the students, some additional people are speaking out. Just this morning, I saw an interview with a wealthy long-time donor to Republican candidates, stating that he will no longer give to politicians who oppose common-sense gun control measures, such as an assault weapon ban. During a previous time when the United States did have an assault weapons ban, the rate of mass shootings was significantly lower.

The United States also has the examples of many other nations who protect their citizens from gun violence with stricter gun regulations. These countries also have better health care access, which means that fewer people in their communities have the sorts of untreated mental health problems that lead them to harm themselves and others. (I realize that most mental health diagnoses do not involve violence, but society is also served when each member has access to the full range of health and preventive services.)

Yesterday at church, we had a minute of silent prayer for the victims of the Parkland shooting. While my mind went first to those who were killed or wounded, it also went to the teen-aged gunman. Our society failed him as well. Despite numerous encounters with school authorities, police, and social services, he was left to fend for himself after the death of his adoptive mother without access to continuing mental health services. Proper treatment and enhanced background checks might have prevented him from killing and wounding so many people.

Mass shootings should not be the price the United States has to pay because of the Second Amendment. Contrary to the interpretation that some now hold, the intent of the Second Amendment was to protect the public from attack. There was no standing army at that time, so the “well-regulated militia” of which the amendment speaks was the defense against foreign invasion. Guns in more rural areas would also have been needed for hunting and for protection from bears, cougars, etc., but the right to bear arms was not intended as a blanket right for any kind of weaponry to be owned by anyone anytime. The United States already does restrict many kinds of military weapons from civilian ownership; it would not be unconstitutional to add more types of guns and ammunition to this list.

After other mass shootings, particularly Sandy Hook, it seemed that the country might have reached a tipping point where public opinion was strong enough to overcome the National Rifle Association and other anti-gun control groups.  Sadly, while there were some changes in some states, such as New York, the overall policies in the country either remained the same or became even more lax regarding gun access.

Will Parkland, with the strong voices of the teens ringing out, finally lead to societal change, the passage of gun control legislation, and better mental health care?

There is hope.

 

news response

I try to keep up with the news, both here in the United States and internationally, but it is getting more and more difficult to do, especially regarding the federal government here. It seems that every day has so many important news stories that I can only hear summary reports on most, delving into detail on only a small fraction.

One story that is more and more alarming is the interference of Russia in election campaigns, both here in the United States and around the world. During the 2016 election campaign, I was disturbed about the role of Russia in the Democratic National Committee hacking. I was also disgusted that Congressional Republican leaders blocked a unified response to the threat under President Obama.

Even more shamefully, that denial/lack of response persists both among most Republicans in Congress and with the current executive branch.

Meanwhile, more and more evidence has been found of Russian meddling in our election and many other countries, especially European ones, have experienced Russian interference as well. These countries are actively taking countermeasures, but the United States federal government is not.

Among the people, the response to the situation is mixed. Some of us are alarmed and making a point of staying informed and alert. Some companies, media, and state and local governments are putting in policies to counteract as much Russian interference as they can.

The problem is that the Republican lies about Russian meddling are believed by some of the people, making them particularly vulnerable to further foreign influence and adding to the bizarre discounting of facts and mistrust of the mainstream press that made the whole mess possible in the first place.

This division is dangerous to our society and our democracy. It appears that what Russia wants is to destabilize democracies.

I’m very much afraid that they have succeeding, in part, here in the United States.

We cannot and must not let them change our fundamental structures of government and daily life. Many of us are and will continue to fight for our American values.

We must prevail.
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One-Liner Wednesday: power

“Only love can safely handle power.”
~~~Richard Rohr
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One-Liner Wednesday: Gloria Steinem quote

“Imagine we are linked, not ranked.”
~~ Gloria Steinem

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