The next line of the Pope’s prayer asks that we remove venom from our judgements. As I pondered these words, I thought about Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. In this capacity, she speaks to the world as a representative of the White House and its President Donald Trump. On Sunday, she announced that there would be new sanctions against Russia for their activity in Syria. She based this announcement on reliable sources in the federal government for which she was speaking.
On Monday, the White House announced that there were no new sanctions in the works. One of the President’s advisors said that Haley “must have been confused.” Since the confusion was clearly from the White House and not the U.N. Ambassador, Haley had an opportunity to respond in any way she felt necessary. She could have returned this slur on her character with venom. Instead, she replied with diplomatic aplomb. “With all due respect, I do not get confused.”
I take comfort from her approach to a personal attack and undermining of her position. She is telling her colleagues at the United Nations that she was speaking the policy that she had been given. She left unsaid, in a very gracious way, who exactly was causing the confusion.
Pope Francis in his reworked peace prayer(yesterday’s post) says that if communication does not build communion we need to recognize the latent evil in it. In the picture above, my mother nurses my little sister Patsy as I look on in love. No words are needed. But imagine this scene in public with some offended stranger chastising my mother for nursing, as has happened with someone I knew. Rather than deal with their own discomfort about a natural way to feed a hungry baby, some people speak disdainfully about it.
So often in voicing our opinion or our discomfort, we do so by condemning another point of view. “How could anyone have voted for Trump?” “How could anyone have voted for Clinton?” “Can you believe…(insert your own opinion)? How could anyone be that stupid?” Unfortunately, the United States is in the middle of an attack mode, with all sorts of people attacking others. Democracies are founded on the ideal that different opinions are healthy and lead to creative solutions. Dictatorships thrive on a single acceptable opinion.
We probably wouldn’t be quick to label such communications as containing latent evil. But if we consider that evil separates and love unites, it is clear that the Pope has a valid point. Each condemnation tears down. Each attempt to listen builds up. I am attempting to submit my words to the test he puts forward. I am trying(sometimes without success) to recognize contempt in my words and to stop using them to destroy. No matter the discourse raging around me, I can try to use another approach.
In January, Pope Francis delivered a paraphrase of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. I have copied it below, and will be writing a series of blog posts in response to it over the next couple of weeks.
"Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication
that does not build communion.
Help us to remove venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy;
may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Pope Francis, the human head of the Roman Catholic Church, had been widely criticized for failing to take seriously the accusations that a Bishop in Chile had covered up pedophilia by a priest. This past week, he admitted his failure to do so in a clear, straightforward admission that he had been wrong. He did not attack the press who had reported the story. He did not attack fellow religious who had accused him of turning a blind eye toward the Bishop. He said he was wrong. He said he would do whatever was needed to atone for his mistakes.
We all know how difficult it is to admit we have made a mistake. As small children we learn early on to shift the blame to others. Or we learn to change the subject. Or we claim we didn’t know that what we were doing was wrong. Or we said that everyone else did it. Or we said it was no big deal. But those are indeed childish responses to being called out for a lapse in behavior, judgment or speech. Uncomfortable as it is, we learn to accept that we are in fact guilty. Then we seek to do repair work.
My church is lead by a man who takes seriously the truth that we all–including himself–make mistakes. My country is led by a man who believes that he is incapable of error. His ways of dealing with his own failings are those of a child. May he find the courage to act as an adult.
While there has been a lot in the news lately about the way Facebook has been making money selling its information about users, I have not been surprised. I never thought that any of the social media platforms were in it for their benevolence. How did people think the companies were valued so highly? Yes, one doesn’t have to pay to use the platforms, but one knows(or should know) that they are giving out their personal views for free. Clearly this is a treasure trove of data that many organizations want to access.
Still, occasionally I am amused by the rapid response to something I have searched for on the internet. Yesterday I needed an image to illustrate my post about the luxury credit card we had been offered. Anyone who read it would realize that I had less than no interest in acquiring one. Still, I had found the image using a Google search engine. Later in the day, I opened a newspaper web site. Sure enough, there on the right was an offer to apply for the same credit card.
No matter what you are looking for, someone is very interested in selling you something. You would think they were tracking my every move. Oh, yeah. They are.
We recently received a small package in the mail letting us know that we qualified for the Luxury Card. The presentation of this offer, intended to impress us, had several layers and looked like an invitation to a very elaborate wedding. The material extolled the benefits of this “luxury” card and implied that we were indeed very special people to have been “invited” to receive one.
While I don’t need a bank to tell me that we are “special people,” I was intrigued by this offer. Why were they offering such benefits as a “concierge” and the ability to impress others with the distinctive look of the card? (I wanted to tell them that I have never known any store clerk to be in awe of mine or any other customer’s credit card.) If I wanted, they would rush me the new card so I could begin impressing others within the week.
Since I will read anything in front of me(I used to read the cereal box when I was a kid), I read the back of this exquisite offer. There, after noting the amazing interest rate of 24.99%, the very fine print told me that the annual fee for the card was $500. I felt extremely flattered. I don’t know anyone who pays a $500 annual fee. That would certainly make us very special people indeed!
This is our home. It is paid for. We don’t carry a mortgage on it since we were brought up in the days that told us to carry no debt into retirement. We heeded that advice despite constant advertisements over the years urging us to “refinance” to get “ready cash” to spend on “whatever you want.” A number of people we know who are our age(65-70) did just that. They “took money out of their house” to buy boats, vacation homes, trips and plastic surgery.
But of course, there is no “money in your house.” There is only the wonderful opportunity to once again carry a mortgage. And apparently not enough people, most especially us, have not jumped at the chance. Every week we receive offers to refinance. When I go into our bank to deposit money, the lovely young woman offers me a chance to refinance. I am encouraged that with a refinance my interest rate could go down. I carefully explain that since I have no mortgage, my current interest rate is 0%. Hard to beat that.
I was able to research the dismal statistics of borrowing at our age. 47% of people aged 65 owe more mortgage debt than they did in 2003. They bought into the fantasy that their home equaled “ready cash.” We just wanted to have a house to retire into. I guess I should just wear a button to the bank that says “Don’t ask me if I want to refinance.”