Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving in the United States has been observed on various dates throughout history. The date for Thanksgiving varied from state to state. Thanksgiving was first celebrated on the same date by all states in 1863 by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. 

          President Lincoln proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to build American unity between the Northern and Southern states. Due, however, to the Civil War (1861-1865) a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not realized until Reconstruction in the 1870s.

          In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday. 

          Thanksgiving, as a national holiday, is indeed a day to “give thanks” for the blessings family, food, and freedom. 

          Perhaps most importantly, for all of us today, Thanksgiving is day to overlook our festering religious and political polarization, forget our differences, and truly realize that e pluribus unum is not an historic ideal but a contemporary life necessity. Giving thanks is building bridges. 

          We need a lot of bridges in 2015. Not just in our United States but across the globe. And we are all gifted and called to be bridge-builders.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

As we say in the great Christian thanksgiving prayer, the Eucharist, “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God…..”

The Rage of Religious Fanaticism

The bombing of a Russian passenger jet, suicide bombers in Beirut, and terrorist attacks in Paris. The Islamic State pretends to be a new caliphate, aimed at uniting Sunni Muslims throughout the world. In fact, it is a radical fundamentalist death cult – an extremist mis-interpretation of Islam — attracting young volunteers who long for a glorious martyrdom, as they commit acts of savagery. The group has strayed from the path of true Islam, and its actions do not reflect the religion’s true teachings or virtues.

How do we solve a problem like the Islamic State?

It certainly cannot be solved by any one country — least of all the United States whose credibility in the Arab world has never been lower. Solving this problem will require long-term international and inter-religious collaboration.

Short term satisfaction with long term results? Instant military responses, after terrorist attacks, are always very tempting. No political leader can survive if he or she does not immediately respond to the aroused fears and anxieties of his or her people.

Nevertheless, as long as the primary response to fanaticism is to keep throwing bombs on people and responding with our own violence to the phenomenon, we will not solve the problem. Bombs always boomerang. As Mahatma Gandhi said, if people follow the law of “an eye for an eye” long enough, everyone will become a one-eyed person! Military action can only be one part of a broader strategy that will have to be pursued over many years.

And so my own reflections about a strategy for understanding and solving the problem:

(1) Powerful Muslim nations, notably Saudi Arabia, simply have to stop paying for and politically enabling the mosques, imams and paramilitary groups that fuel extremists and their violent perversions of Islam.

(2) Difficult to understand, as it may be, many people sitting at Boko Haram and the Islamic State really consider us as the enemy. They are convinced we in the West are no good. They are convinced that Westerners are trying to marginalize Muslims, humiliate and belittle them, and give them no justice and no rightful position in the world.

(3) Thousands of non-fanatic Muslims across the world repudiate and condemn the actions of fanatic jihadists. We need to support them, dialogue with them, and collaborate with them.

(4) In place of providing weapons to Arab countries, we must begin providing humanitarian aid: rebuilding countries, building schools, offering financial aid, stimulating and supporting local agriculture and industry, providing housing, health care, etc.

(5) We need to study, and collaborate with Muslim scholars and political and religious leaders to understand and address the very real socio-cultural issues that promote fundamentalism and attract fanatics. Far too often when a Muslim arrives at the border of a country, he or she is picked out and humiliated. Thousands of Muslim refugees are now moving – or trying to move — across Europe from Syria and Iraq. Their humiliation feeds their view of history. What is our best humanitarian response?

(6) In parishes and synagogues and mosques, we need to set up continuing education programs: better educating people about the traditions and beliefs of people in all three Abrahamic religions.

(7) We need to establish international and inter-religious institutes – like the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in the Hague – to study and better understand what promotes and feeds terrorists and to develop strategies for dealing with their anger, objectives, and goals.

None of these strategies requires or should lead to demolishing the values at the heart of democratic societies, including the free flow of people and information. Certainly banning all refugees, as some in America and Europe are demanding, would be an ineffective and tragic capitulation to fear.

Around 420 BCE, the prophet Malachi – recognized in all three Abrahamic religions – spoke these words: “Have we not all one Father? Has not God created us all? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our Father?” Good questions for sure ……. For everyone.



A day before the Paris attacks that left at least 120 dead and the country in lockdown, suicide bombings in Beirut left 43 dead and 239 wounded. The attack was reportedly carried out by an ISIS cell sent to Lebanon from the group’s stronghold in Syria. 

The Delhi-based, Indian blogger, Karuna Ezara Parikh has written a poem that has gone viral since the Paris attacks. “It’s not Paris we should pray for,” she wrote. “It is the world. It is a world in which Beirut, reeling from bombings … is not covered in the press.”

Today I am still reflecting on Karuna Ezara Parikh’s poem, which has now been reproduced on the Internet thousands of times.

She explained why she wrote the poem: “I woke this morning deeply disturbed by the news from Paris, but more amazed by the attention it received on social media. I understand Paris is a beloved and familiar space for a lot of people, but it troubled me that Beirut, a city my father grew up in, had received so little attention after the horrific bombings two days earlier. 

“It also troubled me that Baghdad, a place I have absolutely no connection with, received even less attention after the senseless bombing that took place there last week.

“Worst of all, I found the understanding of the refugee crisis skewed and simplistic. If you’ve been following the journeys of the people leaving their homes around the world right now, perhaps you’ll understand why the words SyrianRefugeeCrisis are just as devastating as PrayForParis. It’s time to pray for humanity. It is time to make all places beloved. It’s time to pray for the world.”

Next week end — following my university lcture on that subjct this coming week — some reflections about ISIS: what and why……..and what to do.


Religious Fanaticism

A few days ago an old friend in Ohio told me how happy he was that (unlike me) he still lives in the USA. I told him I am happy he is happy. “Unlike you, over there in Europe,” he said, “we don’t have to worry about Muslim fanatics.” I told him I didn’t worry about them either but that if I were living in the States right now, especially with the selection of presidential candidates in full swing, I would be more concerned about Christian fanatics. Well that launched a heated discussion that I don’t care to narrate here…. (But we remain good friends.)

          Case in point: The National Religious Liberties Conference, organized by conservative Christian radio pastor Kevin Swanson, was held this past week in Des Moines, Iowa. An array of far right activists were present, like representatives from Christian Patriarchy and Christian Reconstructionism.  

          Swanson strongly supports the hardline Christian Reconstructionist position that the death penalty for gay people is just. He said it’s ok to attend a gay couple’s wedding, only if one carries a sign telling them they should be put to death. Strange observations. Swanson gave an emotional cry about the United States, insisting “America needs to hear the message. We are messed up.” His examples: the Girl Scouts are dangerous, because their cookies “promote lesbianism.” Flooding and fires in Colorado were the result of “decadent homosexual activity” and women wearing pants; and of course hurricanes Sandy and Katrina were divine punishments of “pro-homosexual” cities. Referring to transgender people, and citing Deuteronomy 22:5, he called men wearing women’s clothing “an abomination.” Pastor Swanson also stressed that cannibalism and vampirism are increasingly acceptable. Was he speaking about contemporary America or his own Halloween fantasies?

          Nevertheless, three GOP candidates – Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee – saw this National Religious Liberties Conference as a key opportunity to put their faith on display. (Other Republican candidates were invited but declined to attend.) “Christians are under physical assault all over the world and Christian values are under assault right here at home,” warned Bobby Jindal. “Four more years of these radical left policies, we won’t even recognize our country anymore.” Stressing that a U.S. President must fear God, Ted Cruz stressed “Any president who doesn’t begin everyday on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief.” Ok fine. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister noted for his evangelical views, told the just under two thousand conference participants that, thanks to President Obama, “Our religious liberties are under assault.”

          These three presidential hopefuls (whose chances of making it to the White House, I think, rather slim) jumped at the chance to speak at Swanson’s two-day conference. Do they really resonate with many of Swanson’s extreme ideas and those of other conference speakers?

 A selection — of other positions expressed at the conference: 

                The Rose Bowl parade would be much better with a float where gay people get stoned to death.

                 Natural disasters in Colorado were likely caused by gay people and women in pants.

                 The movie Frozen makes kids gay.

                 Gay people deserve the death penalty.

                 Gay people are like serial killers.


                  American Christian fundamentalist fanatics are scary people. So much of their rhetoric resonates with the National Socialism of the 1930s and 1940s over here in Europe. Televangelist Pat Robertson said last week that gay people in the United States should be forced to wear specially-colored clothing so that, in his words, “regular people would know that the person wearing the said color is a deviant sodomite and that they need to stay away from them at all cost, as well as keep their children away from their reach.” 
Right now I think Christian fanatics are more of a threat to the USA than the Muslim variety….. 

NB: Please note. I am not condemning conservative Christians. I am speaking-out against those who claim the name Christian but have absolutely no understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ! 

Twelve Irish Apostles

To be an apostle, has always meant being a special messenger. Today, November 1, twelve Irish Roman Catholic priests have issued their courageous message, calling for equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a message that should be posted and promoted in every diocese and every parish throughout the world.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3, 28)

In the Catholic Church women, despite being equal to men by virtue of their Baptism, are excluded from all positions of decision making, and from ordained ministry. In 1994 Pope John Paul II declared that the exclusion of women from priesthood could not even be discussed in the Church. Pope Benedict reaffirmed, and even strengthened this teaching by insisting that it was definitive and that all Catholics were required to give assent to this view. Pope Francis has said that Pope John Paul II had reflected at length on this matter, had declared that women could never be priests and that, therefore, no further discussion on the ordination of women to ministry is possible. In reality, Pope John Paul II did not encourage or facilitate debate on the ordination of women to priesthood or diaconate before he made his decision. Furthermore, there was virtually no discussion on the complex cultural factors which excluded women from leadership roles in many societies until recently.

We, the undersigned, believe that this situation is very damaging, that it alienates both women and men from the church because they are scandalized by the unwillingness of Church leaders to open the debate on the role of women in our church. This alienation will continue and accelerate.

We are aware that there are many women who are deeply hurt and saddened by this teaching. We also believe that the example given by the Church in discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies. It is also necessary to remember that women form the bulk of the congregation at Sunday Mass and have been more active in the life of the local churches than many men, mirroring the fidelity of the women who followed Jesus to the end, to his death on Calvary. The command of Jesus “Go, teach all nations” was addressed to all his followers, and by failing to accept the full equality of women, the church is not fulfilling this commission.

The strict prohibition on discussing the question has failed to silence the majority of the Catholic faithful. Survey after survey indicates that a great many people are in favor of full equality for women in the Church. But it has managed to silence priests and bishops, because the sanctions being imposed on those who dare to raise the question are swift and severe.

We believe that we can no longer remain silent because to do so colludes with the systemic oppression of women within the Catholic Church. So, in the spirit of Pope Francis constant encouragement of dialogue, we are calling for free and open discussion concerning the full equality of women in all facets of Church life, including all forms of ministry. If this were to happen, the credibility of the Catholic Church would gain strength, especially when it addresses women’s issues.