Richard Rohr: The Face of the Others

Jesus taught us what God is like through his words, his actions, his very being, making it clear that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is indeed a benevolent universe—at its very core.

The brilliant Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Lévinas (1906-1995), said the only thing that really converts people, the ultimate moral imperative, is “the face of the other.”

.. When we receive and empathize with the face of the other (especially the suffering face), it leads to transformation of our whole being. It creates a moral demand on our heart that is far more compelling than the Ten Commandments. Just giving people commandments on tablets of stone doesn’t change the heart. It may steel the will, but it doesn’t soften the heart like a personal encounter can.

.. So many Christian mystics talk about seeing the divine face or falling in love with the face of Jesus. I think that’s why Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) often used the image of “mirroring” in her writings. We are mirrored not by concepts, but by faces delighting in us, giving us the face we can’t give to ourselves. And, of course, the ultimate and perfect mirror is the face of God.

The early mirroring we receive from our parents is particularly important. Neuroscience now shows that the gaze between a newborn and his or her loving caretaker creates “mirror neurons” that help a person become compassionate and have empathy for others. Moreover, although none of us can demand or expect absolutely unconditional divine love from another human being, we can experience very real aspects of it. This helps us be able to imagine what God’s love is like and keeps us open to God’s love.

James Finley offers a fitting poetic image for this idea:

When God eases us out of God’s heart into the earthly plane, God searches for the place that is most like paradise, and it’s the mother’s gaze. In the mother’s gaze, she transparently sacramentalizes God’s infinite gaze of love, looking into the eyes of the infant. And when the infant looks into her eyes it is looking into God’s eyes, incarnate as her loving eyes.

When caregivers and infants gaze at each other, their brain activity increases; parts of their brains literally light up. Similarly, Finley says:

.. When God gazes at us and we gaze at God, both of us light up. God lights up in the sense of the joy of being recognized by the one that God created in his own image and likeness for the very sake of this recognition. For us it’s a moment of visceral, intimate communion or oneness that feels like homecoming. [2]

Mike Pence, Holy Terror

Are you sure you want to get rid of Donald Trump?

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

.. The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors

..  the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

.. In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

.. “I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

.. It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”
.. he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”
.. You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools.
Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary.
.. Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.

..  Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”

.. Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.”

 

Cats Are The Unsung Heroes Of Mental Health

A National Center for Biotechnology Information study found that spending time with an animal can increase the hormone oxytocin. Sometimes called the “cuddle chemical,” oxytocin increases pet owners’ sense of well-being. In addition, playing with a pet can increase serotonin and dopamine levels, two chemicals key in regulating mood disorders such as depression.

.. the fact that cats are more independent and individual than dogs is actually the very reason they make for such valuable therapy animals.

.. “We actually find dogs kind of limiting. The fact that dogs are so accepting and non-judgemental is really good and helpful in the beginning of therapy,” says Linda Chassman, co-founder and executive director of Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado. “But it’s not very realistic when you’re trying to help a client who has social skills issues or who has anxiety, problems in the family, communication issues, [or] boundary issues. The dog just kind of puts up with bad behavior, whereas the cat won’t.”

.. While working with severely traumatized children, Chassman’s cat Norman got involved in the process. Through learning what behaviors Norman wouldn’t tolerate — such as rough housing or yelling — the children began to understand how to interact in a healthy relationship.

Like humans, cats won’t tolerate all behavior, making them useful mirrors to human interaction.

.. “They have enough interest in people, but can also assert themselves. And they have quiet dignity,” Chassman says. “They won’t let people walk on them. … I just think they’re wonderful role models for good relationships.”

.. relationship role modeling can play out in couples and family therapy when clients observe how the cat reacts to what’s happening in the room:

“If you have a cat in the room, when there starts to be a fight or the tension starts to rise, it is going to get up and want to leave, or is going to at least pick its head up and signal that it’s getting uncomfortable. It’s really easy to watch the cat’s behavior and say, ‘That’s interesting, what did the cat just do?’… And then you can say, ‘Let’s see if we can have this same conversation and have the cat in the room. Let’s see if we can talk about this in a way that allows the cat to go back to sleep.’”

.. Cats aren’t just helpful for mirroring couple and family dynamics; they are also critical in helping people who struggle with mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety learn about emotional regulation.

.. having clients strive to get a cat to purr can make all the difference. Unique to cats, not only does purring provide a tangible goal for emotional regulation, it has its own health benefits as well.

.. “[Scientists] discovered that the purring frequency of cats is a hertz rate that is equal to what they call the gamma waves, which are the meditation waves,”

.. Cats also fulfill the human need for touch, especially for those whose mental illness prevents them from easily forming attachments with other people. Contrary to popular belief, cats can be affectionate and attached to their humans as well.

.. There were nights where I wouldn’t realize I was crying in my sleep and I would wake up to him licking my tears. He was my bridge back into the human world, because he kept me from shutting down altogether.

 

 

What Moderates Believe

For some people, the warriors of the populist right must be replaced by warriors of the populist left. For these people, Trump has revealed an ugly authoritarian tendency in American society that has to be fought with relentless fervor and moral clarity.

For others, it’s Trump’s warrior mentality itself that must be replaced. Warriors on one side inevitably call forth warriors on the other, and that just means more culture war, more barbarism, more dishonesty and more dysfunction.

.. The truth is plural. There is no one and correct answer to the big political questions. Instead, politics is usually a tension between two or more views, each of which possesses a piece of the truth.

.. Leadership is about determining which viewpoint is more needed at that moment

.. Politics is a limited activity. Zealots look to the political realm for salvation and self-fulfillment. They turn politics into a secular religion and ultimately an apocalyptic war of religion because they try to impose one correct answer on all of life. Moderates believe that, at most, government can create a platform upon which the beautiful things in life can flourish. But it cannot itself provide those beautiful things.

.. Government can create economic and physical security and a just order, but meaning, joy and the good life flow from loving relationships, thick communities and wise friends. The moderate is prudent and temperate about political life because he is so passionate about emotional, spiritual and intellectual life.

.. Because they are syncretistic, they are careful to spend time in opposing camps, always opening lines of communication. The wise moderate can hold two or more opposing ideas together in her mind at the same time.

.. Beware the danger of a single identity. Before they brutalize politics, warriors brutalize themselves. Instead of living out several identities — Latina/lesbian/gun-owning/Christian — that pull in different directions, they turn themselves into monads. They prioritize one identity, one narrative and one comforting distortion.

.. Moderates are problematic members of their party. They tend to be hard on their peers and sympathetic to their foes.

Antifa and the Alt-Right, Growing in Opposition to One Another

There is a cancer in the body politic. We must cut it out, or be destroyed.

.. America has cancer. On Saturday, a crowd of alt-right white supremacists, neo-confederates, and Nazi sympathizers marched in Charlottesville, Va.; they were confronted by a large group of protesters including members of the Marxist Antifa — a group that has time and again plunged volatile situations into violence, from Sacramento to Berkeley. There’s still no certain knowledge of who began the violence, but before long, the sides had broken into the sort of brutal scrum that used to characterize Weimer-era Germany.

.. The president of the United States promptly failed egregiously to condemn alt-right racism; instead, he opted for a milquetoast statement condemning “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”

New York Times journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg for having the temerity to report that “the hard left seemed as hate-filled as the alt-right”; and suggesting that all conservatives were, at root, sympathizers with the Nazi-friendly alt-right.

.. On the one side, a racist, identity-politics Left dedicated to the proposition that white people are innate beneficiaries of privilege and therefore must be excised from political power; on the other side, a reactionary, racist, identity-politics alt-right dedicated to the proposition that white people are innate victims of the social-justice class and therefore must regain political power through race-group solidarity.

But both movements had been steadily shrinking until the last few years. Now they’re growing. And they’re largely growing in opposition to one another. In fact, the growth of each side reinforces the growth of the other: The mainstream Left, convinced that the enemies of social-justice warriors are all alt-right Nazis, winks and nods at left-wing violence; the right, convinced that its SJW enemies are focused on racial polarization, embraces the alt-right as a form of resistance. Antifa becomes merely a radical adjunct to traditional Democratic-party politics; the alt-right becomes merely a useful tool for scurrilous Republican politicians and media figures.

  1. President Obama allowed the politics of racial fragmentation to fester on his watch; he repeatedly trafficked in broad generalities about American racism. Obama focused incessantly on the specter of white bigotry: “the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives,” embedded in our collective DNA. In response, an identity politics began creepily infusing the Right, with some white people embracing the mold cast upon them by the Left, creating a soft racial solidarity in backlash. This, of course, only strengthened the Left’s views of white privilege, which in turn strengthened the Right’s views of white victimhood.
  2. Left-wing media — and “objective” media — saw an advantage in highlighting the antics of racists such as Richard Spencer and David Duke. Focusing on the racist alt-right allowed the media to draw the convenient conclusion that the alt-right was a growing force in Republican politics that had to be fought through support for Democrats. Meanwhile, the media cast a blind eye toward Antifa’s violent Weimer-style rioting in Sacramento and Berkeley… shills such as Milo Yiannopoulos. That rebranding provided a convenient way of fighting the Left: “If the Left is calling us alt-right, that’s just because they hate that we stand for Western civilization!”.. [Obama] made excuses for riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. He used the shooting of Dallas police officers by a radical black activist as an opportunity to lecture Americans about the evils of racist policing. He knew that his political support came in large measure from SJWs, and he cultivated them.

    .. Meanwhile, on the right, Trump did the same. During the campaign, he ignored opportunity after opportunity to break with the alt-right. He refused to condemn the KKK on national television; he refused to condemn his supporters’ sending anti-Semitic messages to journalists; he hired as his campaign strategist Steve Bannon, a man who openly celebrated turning Breitbart into a “platform for the alt-right.” Trump saw the alt-right as convenient allies

..The mainstream Left has been increasingly suckered into walking hand-in-hand with the SJWs while ignoring the most egregious activities of Antifa; the mainstream Right has been increasingly seduced into footsie with alt-right associates while feigning ignorance at the alt-right itself.

That’s why Charlottesville matters: not only because we saw destruction and terror, but because if all Americans of good conscience won’t do some soul-searching and move to excise the evil in their midst, that evil will metastasize. There is a cancer in the body politic. We must cut it out, or be destroyed.

 

Will the Blowhard Blow Us Up?

Administration officials have been trying to reassure journalists that James Mattis, John Kelly and Rex Tillerson have a pact designed to ensure that one of them is always in the country to watch over Trump in case he goes off the deep end.

.. a Nixon defense secretary, James Schlesinger, got so worried about a cratering Nixon — who was drinking and telling congressmen, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead” — that he told military commanders to check with him or Henry Kissinger if the president ordered up nukes.

.. In all my interviews of Trump over the years, he never seemed very chesty about foreign intervention. “If only we could have Saddam back, as bad as he was, rather than $2 trillion spent, thousands of lives lost and all these wounded warriors,” he told me during the campaign.

.. His pitch was mostly about turning inward, so America could shore up its economy, security and infrastructure. “Unlike other candidates, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” he said in his maiden foreign policy speech on the trail.

.. Now, in case North Korea is too far away, Trump is threatening “a possible military option” closer to home, in Venezuela.

.. Watching Trump, 71, and Kim, 33, trade taunts is particularly disturbing because they mirror each other in so many unhinged ways. Trump is a democratically elected strongman and Kim is a fratricidal despot, but they both live in bizarro fantasy worlds where lying and cheating is the norm.

They’re both spoiled scions who surpassed less ruthless older brothers to join their authoritarian fathers in the family business. They both make strange fashion statements with their hair and enjoy bullying and hyperbole. They both love military parades, expect “Dear Leader” displays of fawning and favor McDonald’s and Madonna.

They both demand allegiance. When Trump feels he isn’t getting it or paranoia takes over, he publicly mocks his lieutenants or jettisons them. Kim simply gets out his antiaircraft machine guns and calls up his nerve-agent assassins. He had his uncle killed for, among the reasons, clapping halfheartedly, The Times reported.

“Kim understands Trump better than Trump understands himself,” Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told me. “He is only comfortable dominating and forcing others into submission. When that’s not happening, he experiences an almost physical discomfort because he feels unsafe. He doesn’t know any other way to achieve status.”

.. Proving there’s no method to his madness, Trump went after Mitch McConnell, who is literally the most important person to Trump in pushing his agenda through Congress and who, as Carl Hulse wrote in The Times, secured the president “the signature accomplishment of his young presidency” by getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed