You Decide… You Really Do!

YOU be the judge. I could too easily come across as cynical. Who wants to put up with my cynicism?

Here are two news stories that greeted me this morning. They came totally independent of one another. Yet, they collided big time in my morning waking to consciousness.  I’d be curious to know if you see any connection and whether you see any reason for concern.

The first story came from my hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Hearld. Though I moved from Omaha in 1978, it will always be home and I enjoy staying connected with what’s going on there. Today the paper reports that the buy-out for fired University of Nebraska football coach, Bo Pelini will be $128,009 for the next 46 months.

I guess the sum seems smaller if reported in monthly increments rather than a lump sum ($5,888,414.00). The positive spin on the story is that this is less than it might have been — I guess that’s good news!

Because Pelini got a job coaching at Youngstown State in Ohio, Nebraska will “save” $21,991 each month on what the Huskers would have had to pay if he’d not landed another coaching job. Whew! Saving nearly $22,000 each month is a really good thing, right?

Yes, Coach Bo got fired last year even though he again led the Cornhuskers to a 9 and 3 season! If my memory is correct, the team won at least nine games in each of the seven seasons that Pelini coached the team.

Nebraskans take their college football serious! Nine wins for a team in the Big Ten Conference which can boast of the #1 national championship team just wasn’t good enough! Sadly, Nebraska fans are neither unique nor exceptional!

Then comes a seemingly unrelated story, not from the World-Herald but from completely different source. New statistics from the Pew Research Center show that between 2007 and 2014, the number of Americans who identify as Christian dropped by nearly eight percentage points, from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. Yes, an 8% drop in seven years!

At the same time, Pew’s 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study [link] found the number of people who are religiously unaffiliated — either atheist, agnostic or simply “nothing in particular” — has grown by more than six percentage points, from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent in 2014. Yes, fast approaching one-fourth of the population.

You be the judge! Do you see any connection between these two stories? I don’t mean to suggest that football causes one to loose one’s faith — though on football Saturdays in Lincoln you might very well get that idea! I remain curious, however, whether these two seemingly unrelated reports might be pointing at the same social phenomenon! Are they two sides of the same coin?

Again, no one wants to read a cynical rant! So, I leave the ball in your court (mixing my metaphors!) with a final observation. We are currently building a new football stadium in Minneapolis for the Minnesota Vikings at a cost of more than $1,000,000,000.00 — yes, more than a billion dollars!

It’s hyped as a catalyst for economic development. In fact, a new urban park in the heart of the city — dubbed The Yard — will provide a grand approach and view of the imposing architectural monument. The park is being praised for providing a terrific venue for the many pre- and post-game rituals associated with NFL football.

Time was when Cathedrals were built on the town square! Omaha’s St. Cecilia Cathedral — my family’s church and where I went to grade school — sits atop the highest geographical ridge in the city and is visible from as far as thirty miles away. The Cathedral of St. Paul is similarly perched above the Minnesota State capitol.

You judge! What are our core values? What’s important to Americans? Honestly speaking, where do we choose to worship on weekends? Who is our god?

 

Being of Some Earthly Good

Back when I was doing ministry with the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation — could it really have been more than 25 years ago! — bands of mostly young people traipsed through on service trips. Most came at this time of year with eagerness, generosity and a good dose of naïveté. With a critical attitude that frightens me today, I came to harshly judge the value of such trips smacking of cultural imperialism.

I ranted about others painting Grandma’s house when the responsibility really belonged to her own kids. I cynically dismissed the students for coming from privileged suburban schools to further polish their already exaggerated egos at the expense of people I had come to know as colleagues and friends.  Yes indeed, I could be pretty cynical and harsh!

Such angry judgments embarrass me now.  They have also been found to be unfair and unfounded. There is solid evidence for the power and potential of service. Michelle Sterk-Barrett, at the College of the Holy Cross, is an expert on the issues of best practices in preparation, execution, and the processing of often life-changing encounters.

Sterk-Barrett’s research shows that service experience has a huge impact on both faith formation and citizen engagement. She’s found that service changes students’ world views and self-concepts in critical areas:

  • Students who perform some kind of sustained service during their education discover that social problems are far more complex than they’d previously assumed.
  • They develop a powerful sense that an individual can improve conditions for those who suffer and can influence social values.
  • They discover a level of social concern that changes them into people who identify themselves as engaged, potential community leaders who want to make constructive change.

In contract, Strek-Barrett’s study found that students who did not engage in service experienced no change in these qualities, values or characteristics.

Rather than harshly dismissing well-heeled kids from the ‘burbs, Sterk-Barrett helped me see their generosity as an “eye-opening experience” for them. She states what we all know:

[Many parents] have made decisions that prevent our children from knowing those facing injustice in the world. In a desire to have our children have access to the best educational opportunities and minimize the potential for them to live in unsafe environments, we have collectively segregated ourselves, so that it’s nearly impossible to know and build relationships with people living in poverty.

The result of this segregation?  Stereotypes that perpetuate the misconception that people in need are fundamentally inferior to those of us who have been “successful” in traditional terms.  Service, if done well, has the power to change individuals who change the world.

My conclusion 25 years later? We need many more, and better, service opportunities — and not just for students, but for seniors and every citizen in between! It’s never too early or late to start.  Let’s all get out there and “be of some earthly good.”

Doing something for others — for which we do not get paid — has been shown to be a pretty good indicator of human character!

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This reflection is heavily dependent upon an April 10 article on the website Crux by Kathleen Hirsch. I heartily recommend her article which you may access [here].

A God Not Created in My Own Image

True confession: I’ve got quite a way to go. My spirituality may be accurately described as a faith seeking justice. To me, the fact that God became human in Jesus unequivocally expresses what God has in mind for us.  I quickly fall into a trap: thinking transformation of the world is my/our responsiblity rather than God’s doing!

We’ve all seen the bumper stickers: “If you want peace, work for justice!” The same is expressed by the southern Black Baptist pastor I often quote: “Sometimes our faith is so heavenly minded its no earthly good.”

God in Christ has no other purpose than to restore this creation to what God had in mind in the first place. Mature Christianity understands that we are designated as primary agents in the implementation of God’s plan.  But, my recurring challenge is to align myself to God’s plan, not God to mine!

Today I am confronted — like smack-dab in my face — with the inadequacy of my way of seeing things. I’m long on the justice imperative — I really fall short when it comes to expressing God’s mercy. Honestly speaking, I’m fixated on my conception of “justice” and stingy with extending mercy (except when I am the recipient and the one in need of understanding or forgiveness).

Today Pope Francis proclaimed a “jubilee year” exhorting people like me — indeed the entire Catholic Church — to get with God’s program!  We are to refashion ourselves as a people, not of judgment or condemnation, but of pardon and merciful love. True confession: this would require a much deeper change of my “standard operating procedure” than I’ve been willing to accept to date.

Francis names my challenge: “The temptation … to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step.” He may just as well have had me in mind when reminding us of Peter’s question about how many times its necessary to forgive. We all know the answer; I have perfected the practice of keeping it at arm’s length!

Francis acknowledges the Bible’s frequent use of the image of God as a judge. But he cautions, “Such a vision … has not infrequently led to legalism by distorting the original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value.”

Francis explains, “Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation … One can see why, on the basis of such a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life, Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the law.”

And here’s something to mull over: “If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God, and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected.”

“In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us … and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.” Truth is, I’ve heard that so often and in so many ways its like water off a ducks back!

“The Lord asks us above all not to judge and not to condemn,” states the Pontiff. “If anyone wishes to avoid God’s judgment, he should not make himself the judge of his brother or sister.” Ouch!

The Pontiff (word means: bridge-builder) not only challenges us personally but exhorts the whole church to “become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”

Recalling the action of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, Francis reminds, “The walls which too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way, … a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning.”

Let’s be honest… this is pretty radical stuff! I thought Lent and all that “conversion” talk was finished for the year. If we really take this Holy Year talk to heart, it will require a complete re-boot of the way I live my faith. I won’t speculate what this might mean for “standard operating procedure” at your rank-and-file church down the street!

Change isn’t easy. I sort of like my well-worn faith-practice, thank you very much!  I prefer the God I’ve created in my own image!

In this, I am grateful God’s justice is tempered by mercy!

_______________

Francis’s proclamation runs over 9,500 words.  I acknowledge my dependence on two articles for papal quotes cited above.  I am especially indebted to Joshua J. McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter [link] and to a lesser degree, Cynthia Wooden of the Catholic News Service [link].  I recommend both articles for excellent summaries which exceed what I have attempted here.

Giving Pause

Boston has long been my favorite American city — yes, it surpasses San Francisco. Graduate study at the Boston Theological Union remain four of the happiest years of my life. My affection is bolstered by the fact that my maternal grandmother, Annie Elizabeth Casey, was born there. Currently, a nephew and his wife are raising their two daughters in the metro area.

A nephew from South Dakota will be fulfilling a bucket-list dream of running the Boston Marathon in a couple of weeks. Back in grad school it was still possible for weekend runners like me to jump into the race without an official registration. I did just that at the beginning of Heartbreak Hill to pace a housemate in his quest for a personal best time. So, I’ve had the thrill of crossing the finish line in Copley Square even though I’d run only six of the 26.2 miles!

As a nation we were all traumatized by the tragic bombing at the finish line two years ago. Personal association with the city as well as my years as a runner made me feel the pain in an acute way. Remember how Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended after being found hiding under the tarp of a boat in someone’s driveway? Well, that all occurred at the family home of my niece-in-law’s best friend from college.

Now 21 years of age, Tsarnaev has been found guilty on thirty counts associated with the bombing, seventeen of which carry the possibility of capital punishment. The young man’s defense never contested his participation in the bombing that ultimately killed four and seriously injured hundreds more. Having been convicted of his crimes, the jury now turns this next week to consideration of his sentencing.

Last week the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts came out strongly in opposition to imposition of the death penalty in this case. Citing the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2267), they remind us that cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are “rare, if practically nonexistent.” [link]

Church teaching allows using force to stop an aggressor, and accepts that such force might sometimes be lethal. Nevertheless, this argument cannot be invoked to defend the death penalty. The reason is simple: with the death penalty, people are being killed not for current acts of aggression, but for something that happened in the past —  they are already held within circumstances that prevent them from doing more harm!

Longtime readers of this blog know of my strong opposition to the death penalty as well as our family’s personal association — my cousin’s son was sentenced to death for murder.  Here is a [link] to my earlier post.

All that aside, evidence is incontrovertible that capital punishment simply does not serve as a deterrent. It is clearly applied in an arbitrary manner with people of color and poor people bearing that disproportionate cost. Lists of innocent people whom we have executed — before exonerating evidence or judicial malfeasance has come to light — are staggering.

Yes, a big part of my heart remains in Boston and I proudly tout my family associations. I have reveled in the Boston Marathon for decades and remain outraged by the death and injury caused by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s self-acknowledged actions. All this having been said, I am left with two nagging questions:

How can there be any social value in the death of another young man? How would his state-sanctioned execution be anything more than retaliation and revenge? To my mind, it is a sick sort of reasoning that concludes yet another death constitutes restitution or can in any way be restorative.  Such is a pretty base perversion of “justice.”

Finally, a group of 400 Evangelical Christian and Catholic leaders issued a joint moral condemnation of the death penalty during Holy Week [link]. My final question: Does it make any difference that the one whose Resurrection we have so recently celebrated, as the source and promise of our salvation, was the subject of a state-sanctioned execution?

Should this not give us pause?

Trampling Out the Vintage

In the bright morning sunlight of March 24 1980, a car stopped outside the Church of the Divine Providence in San Salvador. A lone gunman stepped out, unhurried. Resting his rifle on the car door, he aimed carefully down the long aisle to where El Salvador’s archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, was saying mass. A single shot rang out. Romero staggered and fell. The blood pumped from his heart, soaking the scattered hosts.

Romero’s murder was to become one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the cold war. The motive was clear. He was the most outspoken voice against the death squad slaughter gathering steam in the US backyard.

The US vowed to make punishment of the archbishop’s killers a priority. It could hardly do otherwise as President Reagan launched the largest US war effort since Vietnam to defeat the rebels. He needed support in Washington, which meant showing that crimes like shooting archbishops and nuns would not be tolerated.

But US promises to bring justice came to nothing. With no trigger-man, gun or witnesses, officials claimed lack of evidence. The fall-guy for the killing, Major Roberto D’Aubuisson went on to become one of El Salvador’s most successful politicians.

Irrefutable evidence now suggests that Washington not only knew far more about the killing than it admitted – but also did nothing to investigate for fear of jeopardising our war effort. Vital evidence was ignored. Key witnesses, including the most likely gunman, were killed by the would-be investigators.

But as Americans understand deep in our bones and express when we sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”,

Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the lord,
He is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He hath loosed his fateful lightning
of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

Justice may be excruciatingly slow rather than a “terrible swift sword.” But, justice will be done! This very week, a Florida judge has paved the way for the deportation of a former top Salvadoran general accused of overseeing widespread torture and murder, including the notorious killing of several Americans during the country’s civil war.

Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova served as El Savador’s defense minister from 1983 to 1989. Prior to occupying the nation’s top military position, Vides was the commander of El Salvador’s infamous national guard. He has been living comfortably in Florida for the past twenty years.

While serving as its commander in 1980, the national guard murdered four American chruchwomen working in the country at the time. Americans Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Jean Donovan — three religious sisters and a lay missionary — were gunned down on December 2, 1980.

The decision this week by the Florida judge marks the first time a US court has determined a senior foreign military official could be deported on human rights violations since the passage of a 2004 law aimed at barring such violators from seeking refuge in the United States.

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

Having been vetted as a “martyr for the faith” by the universal church, Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified by the Catholic Church during a public celebration held in the central plaza of San Salvador on May 23, 2015.

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. 

_____________

The Morman Tabernacle Choir offers what is arguably the most moving rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Rebublic [here]

I am indebted to British journalist Tom Gibb writing in
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 March 2000 for the introduction to this post and facts about Romero’s death.  You may read his complete article [here].

Enough With Polite Pleasantries!

Most of us squirm when politics or religion come up in conversation. We are taught from a young age to be “polite”. We learn to stay with amicable and amenable pleasantries lest we be deemed rude or, worse, even crude. Any hint of conflicting opinion or suggestion of contentious topics is a sure way to get your name nixed from future invitation lists.

Such etiquette is all the more intensified by the average American’s simplistic interpretation of “Separation of Church and State.” Live and let live! Isn’t every thought or perspective equally valid? Who am I to judge?  Leave religion out of it!

“My, what lovely weather we’ve been having… Oh, what a cute outfit you are wearing… You look great, you must have gotten away this winter… You know what my silly dog Jeb did yesterday… Yes, I’d love to see photos of your grandkids!…  How ’bout them Cubs!…  Did you have a nice Fourth?”

We all know the schtick! And, yes, there are settings like wedding receptions and picnics in the park when keeping the tenor festive is the order of the day. There are also volatile situations, as when a lot of alcohol is being consumed, when it is prudent to steer clear of matters that could create an ugly scene.

But politics and religion touch on the stuff that really matters. My experience confirms that not talking about them over time leads to a pretty boring conversation.  It’s hard to sustain much of a relationship on trifles and trivialities.  Too much avoidance of hot-button topics and I don’t mind at all being scratched from that invitation list. Life’s just too short and too valuable to fritter it away!

So here is something to chomp on… Unemployment is at a remarkably low 4% in Minnesota. The Dow broke 17,000 this week and continues to set record highs. Wouldn’t you think politicians running for reelection would be touting the economic recovery? But they are not!

Though no longer under-water, home values remain flat for most of us. More people have found jobs, but most workers have not seen their wages rise or “real income” make much inroad into the cost of living. Candidates aren’t talking much about our robust economy because the average American hasn’t felt that much robustness.

“Polite” conversation and a cultural preoccupation with “self-reliance” precludes much honest self-disclosure. But more and more people are beginning to see the facts and speak the truth — fully 95 percent of the nation’s income growth since the recovery began in 2009 has gone to the wealthiest 1% of Americans. Corporate profit trumps the interests of workers who make these gains possible.

The promise of  the American dream plays out as a recurring nightmare for far too many Americans! The soaring Dow has yet to be reflected in the average American’s paycheck. “Recovery” only trickles down to most of us in our dreams.  As the Gipper said so well, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

If you have read this far you are probably in a different sort of 1%! By now, 95% have probably hit the “close” icon, such is our preoccupation with polite pleasantries and propensity to ignore the facts.  But we Americans evade contentious topics and have learned — to our peril — to steer clear of politics. And never, never bring religion into the conversation!

Sorry, but Kneading Bread is about spirituality, a spirituality grounded in the incarnation of a God in time, flesh and community!

Faced with the harsh realities too many face in our increasingly global economy, what is a Christian to do?

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Source for data showing 95% of income growth going to the top 1% of Americans is from a September 2013 report by University of California economist Emmanuel Saez.  The ten page report is available [here].

A Story, a Sonnet, a Song

Our family’s deepest roots in America reach to May 7, 1842 with the arrival of Timothy Hannon at the Port of Boston. He was the son of Daniel and Mary Hannon born in Ballinadee, County Cork Ireland on August 10. Conflicting records indicate his year of birth as either 1818 or 1822.

Timothy married Julia Mahoney who had been born in Ireland in 1823. Their modest, unsung lives portend a quintessential American family story.

Timothy and Julia’s wedding was celebrated on February 18, 1849 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in South Boston. They became American citizens on December 17, 1850 with the filing of Timothy’s naturalization papers.  The 1850 census states that neither Timothy nor Julia could read or write. Each would die of tuberculosis — he in 1860 and she in 1885.

Coincidentally, it was in 1885 that Hugh O’Brien was sworn in as Boston’s first Irish-born mayor. The city had long been controlled by native-born “Yankees”—most of whom had a stereotypical view of Irish immigrants as poor, ignorant, undisciplined, and under the thumb of the Catholic Church.

But the Irish-born population of Boston was exploding, growing from 2,000 in 1820 to 7,000 in 1830. By 1880, more than 70,000 Irish lived in Boston. The year Julia Mahoney Hannon died and Hugh O’Brien was elected mayor, the Irish were over 40% of the city’s population — the largest group of foreign-born residents and outnumbering the native-born Yankees.

The Statute of Liberty, iconic symbol of immigrant aspirations and America at our best, was dedicated in October, 1886. Even now, the sonnet by Emma Lazarus that graces the base of Lady Liberty expresses the sentiment of every family seeking a brighter future in America:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Finally, [here] is a link to the Cantus rendition of Oh God of All the Nations. Set to The Finlandia hymn by Jean Sibelius, the lyrics were written by American poet, Lloyd Stone. Sometime during this holiday weekend treat yourself to the two-minute You-Tube video link above.  It has become my favorite patriotic song and has been known to bring me to tears.

Happy Birthday, America!  May we be true to our story, our promise and our best selves.

“Fondly Do We Hope”

I remember well the first time I ever saw my Dad cry — I had been pestering him with my childish naiveté to tell me about life during the Great Depression. Even up to her death just shy of 98, Mom would euphemistically recall those first years of their marriage as “Those Dirty Thirties.”  Our nation has faced tough times before.

Our nation has serious issues to address today. Our political process sputters just above dysfunctional.  The verb “to govern” seems to have disappeared from our lexicon, leaving us with politicians rather than leaders. Yet, we should worry about our rabidly anti-government rhetoric poisoning — perhaps precluding — the formation of a needed and healthy patriotism among our children.

How do we purge the nastiness that has taken hold of our national character? We retreat to isolated enclaves in defense of the solitary rights of private citizens, forsaking the solidarity of common citizenship. Like spoiled children we obsess about individual rights rather than accepting personal responsibility for self and others. With narcissism cloaked in the rhetoric of Ayn Rand we facilely assert “freedom from…” leaving “freedom for…” holed up in the National Archives.

Yes, our nation has faced tough times before. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated hardly more than a month after delivering his Second Inaugural Address. Perhaps his concluding words are as fitting for us on this Fourth of July as they were when he first spoke them to a war-weary nation:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Musings of An Old Fogie

Too many elders become cynical and fearful as they observe inevitable change occurring within a dynamic culture. I never want to be like that or be dismissed as an “old fogie”. However, I must confess deep concern, worry and skepticism about where our country is headed.

This past weekend we had a terrific weekend at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI centered on the Junior Recital of an extraordinarily gifted young woman. Meeting Elena’s friends was delightful and reason for great hope.

This same weekend a grand-niece was graduating from San Diego State. Yes, amid all the wild fires – only most recent evidence of the climate change which is dramatically transforming what had been considered one of the earth’s most ideal climates. My nephew reported that temps were near 100 in a region where most homes haven’t bothered with air conditioning.

I desperately do not want to be an “old fogie” trapped in fear and cynicism. I am determined to remain hopeful, happy and optimistic. How are we to live with the tension, the very concrete evidence that gives reason for serious concern for our children’s future?

If ever there was a time, we are in need of dusting off what have classically been called the Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude! Only these seem an adequate antidote to the worry and skepticism even a casual look at “reality” would generate.

A case in point comes from a bastion of conservative American culture, The Wall Street Journal: The class of 2014 is holds a very dubious and discouraging distinction. They’re the most indebted class ever. [link]

The average graduate with student-loan debt leaves with an obligation of $33,000 they need to pay back. Even after adjusting for inflation that’s nearly double the amount borrowers had to pay back 20 years ago. A little over 70% of this year’s bachelor’s degree recipients are leaving school with student loans, up from less than half of graduates in the Class of 1994.

Apparently wanting to avoid the old fogie moniker as well, The Wall Street Journal reports: “The good news for the Class of 2014 is that they likely won’t hold the title of Most Indebted Ever very long. Just as they took it over from the Class of 2013, the Class of 2015 will probably take it from them.”

The Cardinal Virtues were initially articulated by Plato in The Republic and expanded by Cicero. Christianity picked up on them through Ambrose, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The term “cardinal” comes from the Latin cardo or hinge; these virtues are considered cardinal because they are the basic virtues required for a virtuous civic life.

This old fogie cannot help but look around and be concerned about some pretty significant fraying in America’s “social contract” around civic virtues such as prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Perhaps this is what The Wall Street Journal sees as well.

Never having been accused of being “conservative”, I cannot help but think of the Preamble to our Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I worry – in fairness – whether we are passing on what we old fogies received.

Until Death Do Us Part!

The botched execution in Oklahoma, in conjunction with a conservative estimate that 4% of current death row inmates are innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted [link], should ignite moral outrage. I am grateful to live in a state that does not resort to the death penalty. And, I’d be proud to compare Minnesota crime rates – or any state that does not impose the death sentence – with states that do at any time!

Sadly, nothing is likely to change. Too many seek revenge and retribution and tenaciously hold to disproven beliefs that the death sentence serves as a deterrence – it doesn’t! All it does is to give expression to a vindictive impulse within a fearful populace.

I admit personal interest in the topic – my cousin’s son Peter was sentenced to death for a contract murder I have no doubt he carried out. Only a minor fluke in Constitutional Law enabled his sentence – begrudgingly by Nebraska legal officials I might add – to be commuted to life in prison. My previous post on this topic is available [here].

Yet, with a persistent and perennial hope that things can actually change, that societies like individuals can mature and become more enlightened, I dust off “Ten Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty” first published in 1982. Perhaps something in Mary Meehan’s collection of arguments will provide the tipping point for America to finally claim some civility and sanity in our execution of justice. 

1. There is no way to remedy the occasional mistake. 

2. There is racial and economic discrimination in application of the death penalty. 

3. Application of the death penalty tends to be arbitrary and capricious; for similar crimes, some are sentenced to death while others are not. 

4. The death penalty gives some of the worst offenders publicity that they do not deserve.  

5. The death penalty involves medical doctors, who are sworn to preserve life, in the act of killing. 

6. Executions have a corrupting effect on the public. 

7. The death penalty cannot be limited to the worst cases.

8. The death penalty is an expression of the absolute power of the state; abolition of that penalty is a much- needed limit on government power. 

9. There are strong religious reasons for many to oppose the death penalty. 

10. Even the guilty have a right to life.

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You may read Mary Meehan’s 1982 article in it entirety [here].