For some, demonstrations are a symbol of the 1960s. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act did not become a reality because of luck or good timing, but through the relentless effort of African Americans and people of many cultures who demonstrated in the streets, in restaurants, schools and other areas off limits to African Americans. This was "holy work" because it was a model of nonviolence, prayer and a refusal to demonize those who upheld segregation.
"We have inherited a big house, a great world house in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Hindu, a family separated in ideas, culture, and interests, who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Pope Francis is portrayed as a radical on the environment. In a talk at the Italian University of Molise he expressed his concern about the environment as "one of the greatest challenges of our time." He said, "...When I look at so many forests, all cut, that become land that can no longer give life...this is our sin, exploiting the Earth. This is one of the greatest challenges of our time - to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation." This is not only a sin, but "our sin," "the major sin of our time." A papal letter about humankind’s relationship with the environment will be published this year.
For some, the election of the country's first African-American president demonstrated the end of or the reduction of racism in the United States. I believe that theory had a short life. The examples of racism in our culture remain numerous.
When President Obama gave a State of the Union address early in his presidency a representative in the chamber shouted, "You lie!" Never in the history of such an important gathering did white presidents experience such disrespect. This representative received the largest donations for his reelection than ever before. At the last Republican National Convention a delegate threw peanuts at an African-American cameraman and shouted, "This is what we feed the animals!"
The sound I have often heard in the last few weeks is a collective sigh of relief that 2014 is almost over. This year has challenged the strongest person of faith and greatest optimist. The terrorism of ISIS fighters, violent rhetoric from North Korea, an Ebola outbreak, and ever escalating gun violence challenge us each day. We often respond with petitions, phone calls to legislators, a national demonstration in New York or Columbus, Georgia and prayer. Our voices and resilience remain important.
I love the Christmas season. The spirit of the season is energizing, with parties galore, neighborhoods enveloped in lights, music that lightens the day, but above all, generosity that touches many lives.
Christmas is the season when we notice the homeless and poor more than any time. Go to any grocery or shopping mall and a Salvation Army volunteer is ringing a bell. Parishes and stores sponsor angel trees, with the opportunity to sponsor a family in need. Even with a generous response to all the requests for donations, nonprofit groups are falling short of reaching goals. The Salvation Army has only reached half of its goal, with three days left until Christmas.
After the United States Select Committee on Intelligence released its report last week, reaction was swift and passionate. The Seattle Times described the 500 page summary report of atrocities as "cringe-worthy sadism, done in the name of national security that ranks among America's most sickening actions."
Fear and anger are natural consequences of the 9/11 attack on the United States. For many citizens the response was one of sacrifice and generosity - our better angels were on display. Political leaders and CIA authorities ignored their better angels and determined to do whatever deemed necessary to punish Al Quaeda and end terrorists' threats. After 9/11 international laws were ignored.
One vote. That's what it took to defeat the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline bill. Of course, this controversial issue is not going away.
Is anyone communicating with facts? Those who support the pipeline continue in mantra-like form to proclaim that the pipeline is good for the economy. Is it really? The Courier-Journal reported that the creation of the pipeline would only produce 35 permanent jobs, another report indicated a maximum of 50 jobs. The pipe used in the pipeline would be produced in India, not in the U.S. The oil would go to other countries.
Recently I received word that a former co-worker from Chicago died. As tributes arrived, I was moved by one that described his devotion to the homeless. He was always prepared to meet homeless men and women on the street, giving them hats and gloves. In Chicago winters they are vital! He also carried $5 McDonalds gift cards, perhaps providing the only food for the day.
He made eye contact! I say that because that often does not happen with many people. It is easy, on a busy day, to walk on by. Perhaps the most important response is to make eye contact, even if we don’t give a donation. Unfortunately, the homeless are not disappearing; in fact, 610,042 people experience homelessness on any given day in the United States. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 23% of the homeless population are children.
The post mortem on the 2014 elections will soon be in editorials in papers around the country and flooding the airways. Political ads have been especially negative, even mean-spirited. Since I am often in the car, I frequently turn to the classical music station to remove the toxic air coming from the radio.
Any discussion of the election must include a discussion of the ill-advised Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court. This decision in 2010 permitted unlimited corporate and union donations to be considered political free speech. The court allowed groups to refrain from disclosing their identity, and have become known as "dark money groups" who can spend unlimited money to support or unseat a candidate. The court opened the floodgates to contributions. In fact, over $4 billion has been spent to date.