About “Irish Slavery”

This is not a political column. A political column would say:

BLACK LIVES MATTER!

But I am not a liberal. Holding a sign is necessary, but not nearly enough.

This is a radical religion column.

At issue: There is a section of my ancestral group who makes a big deal about Irish people having been slaves in the U.S. This is not literally true. You can find details in history books, or you can talk with your grandparents, or Snopes.

What gets my goat are white liberals who are outraged that any white person should claim having been oppressed, or who are, in their opinion, exaggerating. As though degrees of hatred and suffering are a bickering point. Thereby ignoring the roots of oppression.

You probably know this: In 1847 a movement called “Irish Lives Matter” would have been revolutionary, and more than a little helpful. The British decided that Irish, being poor and Catholic, were not quite human, and so were free to send in military, steal land, create wealth during the famine, and then they, literally, drove carriages to their estates passing corpses and people dying on the roadsides. Irish lives did not matter. Not because they were Irish, but because the structure required our being crushed, as they were crushing black Africans.

One group of people recognized that Irish lives mattered. The Choctaw people of Oklahoma sent relief money to Ireland during the famine, just sixteen years after white people force-marched them on the Trail of Tears. (This year Irish people sent respirators to Native Americans ignored by our white supremacist government.)

Conservatives use the phrase “All lives matter,” as an excuse to ignore blatant systematic racism. Don’t let them usurp the truth of that statement.

With apologies for those of my ancestral group who see solely through the lens of their own experience, think a minute. Are some trying to downplay the oppression of blacks by displaying their own? Illogical, but probably.  Was there a time when the British should have been confronted with an “Irish Lives Matter” uprising? Yes.

When I see the face of an elder black woman who has battled through hardship and hatred, who has come up loving and strong, I see my grandmother’s face. In that moment, I do not care which woman suffered more. My body aches. What I do know is that  Black people are rising up again against injustice and everyone of us must join together to radically change a structure that depends on the crushing of Black people.

The lesson, as BLM has been trying to make clear, is that Black lives matter right now. The system that requires their oppression needs more than defunding. When that happens, no one need fear that they will be next, re: the wisdom of pastor Martin Niemoller.

These are the things I learned from my family, Jesus, Buddha, from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Choctaw nation, innumerable others who embody the universality of living things. The universality  of suffering, unnecessary suffering. Of the sacredness of social justice.

If you are are tempted to comment that Blacks suffered more, or Jews suffered more, or Native Peoples suffered more, or that group is exaggerating, or this group isn’t suffering as much as it did before, you’ve missed the point.

The impossibility of encompassing it all, comparing it all, doesn’t matter. When humans come together and say, “Never again,” we can rest. And tell each other our stories.

But I’m not holding my breath.

“Kindred Spirits” County Cork, Ireland
thanking Choctaw Nation for famine relief in 1847

[A version of this column appears in The Ashfield News , MA, July 2020.]

Touching the Water: A Poem

Rev. Kate Stevens led a prayer circle in solidarity with Standing Rock Water Protectors. A bottle filled with water from the Missouri River at Standing Rock and local sacred waters sat in the middle. Kate put her hands on the bottle and everyone touched someone who was touching someone who was touching the water.

Touching the Water

For our ancestors, wise and unwise

..

Their blood flows like water through time

and settles for a while in our veins,

warm and nourishing and

with a long blood memory.

..

There is no “my blood” to sacrifice or

“my water” to drink,

no “this blood”

“this water,”

only blood

only water.

..

The Jew said,

Hath not a Jew eyes,

organs, dimensions, senses,

affections, passions,

healed by the same means,

harmed by the same weapons,

warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer

as a Christian?

If you prick us do we not bleed?

..

Only one blood to spill

One water to sail upon

One blood remembering all as it flows through us,

as we struggle to forget.

One water aware of all as it flows around us,

as we flounder in forgetfulness.

..

One sacred duty for our very brief time here:

Remember.

 

Explaining Post-Jesus Christianity to Liberals

Slightly Revised edition

post-jesus-bus

by Rev. Kellie Banter, preacher to the 1%.

(Republican Church and its enforcer Donald Trump. Bible by Ayn Rand)

Chapter One: Blessed Are the Rich, for They Inherited the Earth

Jesus insisted that the poor would inherit the earth.  He was wrong.  The rich have inherited the earth. It is all theirs. They can chew it up and spit it out if they want, as they do. Let’s just call it a bad financial forecast.

I’m not a rich person right now, but The American Dream may still hit me a home run. In the meantime, I am preparing the ground for my arrival in the Promised Land. For example, I’ll vote with Post-Jesus Christians (aka Republicans) on their budget plan once they get one. The only people who would increase taxes of rich people are those who have given up  hope of ever becoming a rich person.  That attitude is both un-American and communistic.

Chapter Two: The Donald Trumps of Their Era

On one web forum, I made the mistake of referring to the twelve disciples as “poor fishermen.” Almost before I could click “send,” I got a response from a student of the Bible: “The twelve disciples were the Donald Trumps of their time.” Apparently, they each owned three houses and had many servants. Who knew? This revelation turned the New Testament right-side up for me.

When Jesus said he would make the twelve apostles fishers of men, they thought he was letting them in on a new mortgage lending scheme. Imagine their horror when he started antagonizing potential customers by insulting them, and trashing competitors‘ tables outside the Temple. Some people just can’t take a little free market competition.

The Apostles kept trying to show Jesus the error of his ways.  He got impatient with them, but they never lost patience with him. Until the inevitable happened.

They weren’t surprised when he got the death penalty; that’s where people like him end up. You didn’t see them holding signs, “Crucifixion is Murder!” or “Torture is Against God’s Law!”  Everyone knows the best way to avoid the death penalty is to get rich. Jesus was not much of a role model in this regard.

Chapter 3:  All Kinds of Sickness that You Clearly Deserve

(Matthew 4:23) “And Jesus went about all Galilee… preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”

Tell me this: if Jesus could actually heal the sick, why is there any sickness left?  He told his followers to go heal the sick. They didn’t have much luck, so they invented health insurance.

Jesus told us we must heal the sick, the poor, the hungry, no matter who they are… a kind of Judean Obamacare.  No profit there. Repeal that.

I used to think that the Kingdom of God was a  land filled with all kinds of people from all over the world and their pets, laughing and eating and sharing desserts.  That was before Ron Paul painted a new picture for me. At a past Republican debate, he preached the new Post-Jesus Christianity: the Kingdom of God is where we step over people who are in comas because they were too stupid to get health insurance.  After all, fair’s fair and freedom is freedom.  He didn’t actually call it Post-Jesus Christianity, but those who have ears shall hear.

Next month: Blessed Are the War-Makers for They Get the Spoils

 

 

 

An Embarrassing Hero

I saw Dorothy Day at a Mass one afternoon. She sat in a front pew with her head bowed in prayer. I had the same contradictory reaction to her that I do now, forty years later.

Her uncompromising belief in pacifism inspired everyone I worked with in the Catholic Left, activists who worked for the end of the American War in Vietnam, and for a shift in America’s attitude toward war. She is best known for her work with desperately poor people, opening Houses of Hospitality to feed and house the most marginalized in Depression America, and after. She constantly confronted the Catholic hierarchy in their neglect of the Christian message of social justice. Her stand for pacifism was absolute. Christians, she said, had no other choice.

That afternoon, what I saw in her bowed head was a piety and submission to authority that made me cringe. She once said that if the Cardinal told her to stop printing her Catholic Worker newspaper, she’d shut it down immediately. The idea of totally obedient and will-less devotion to a religious authority is a destructive medieval hold-over. It is an infantile approach to church. She was devoted to that obedience.

However, to categorize Dorothy Day as totally obedient or will-less or infantile verges on the ridiculous, and counter to everything we know about her life. So Dorothy Day, enigma, paradox, embarrassing hero, haunts my spiritual life.

This year, when a pastor was arrested for feeding homeless people outdoors in Fort Lauderdale, I swear I could see her right there. She goes to Palestine; she’s in jail for acts of social justice. She is working at the Food Pantry. She is insulating walls to protect the creation she loved. She is striking with fast-food workers for a living wage. She is an unfailing guide for social justice.

But, a spiritual guide? Yes: “How can you not believe in God when there are so many beautiful things?” she asked her lover. Her beliefs about the sanctity of voluntary suffering? No. Her rigidity about women’s roles and about divorce? No. Her humbleness before church authority? No. Her humbleness before God? Yes.

I gave up this year. The only way to deal with a ghost is to face her. I’m reading what she wrote and what is written about her. I’m sitting next to her before God. The result: her paradox is becoming more pronounced – not what I was hoping for. Now the paradoxes in my own soul are clearer to me. Wandering in the celtic knot of Dorothy’s life is making me recognize the knot of my own life. Celtic knots are mysterious and beautiful, however unsettling to live with.