I stumbled upon a blog that was shared on Facebook this morning and was immediately intrigued. Not because of the title, but because the author is a priest at a Catholic church right here in my neck of the world. In fact, it is a church that many close friends attend. I myself have been a visitor in the congregation a number of times as a kid.

I know for a fact that, like in many churches, the St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gladstone, Missouri is filled with kind, hard-working, middle-class Americans. They are salt-of-the-earth, family-oriented people who help out in their community, obey the law, and are just trying to get through the ups and downs of everyday life. They are like most of us. Simply put, they are just good folks. That’s why this blog post is so troubling to me. I encourage you to read it:

HATING THE RESIDENT PRESIDENT

By Father Don Farnan

Like many citizens of earth, some days I battle the impulse to lash out at President Trump.  I usually hold it in check with a sarcastic remark or expression of bewilderment; my grief doesn’t even register on the scale of vitriolic criticism he receives daily from coast to coast and beyond our shores.  Granted, there are plenty of reasons to not like his morality or his personality for he is, at times, rude, vulgar, and insulting.  Many of us fear that this attitude is being normalized and trickles down to our homes, playing fields, boardrooms and classrooms.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump was elected president and is fulfilling commitments he made to voters, making America great again via a strong economy, low unemployment, and tough confrontation of terrorism.  We should be grateful for the ways he fights for our country and his desire to build it up.  At the same time, we can work toward other levels of greatness: how we treat one another with dignity, teach children respect and honor, sacrifice for causes greater than our own…

Like him or not, I think we all have to admit that Trump has been attacked and derided by people in ways never before seen for the simple reason that they don’t like him—and the dislike has escalated to hatred.  Even if he invites it through his brash tactics and unapologetic style, shouldn’t we be concerned about this level of hatred?  If we respond to bad behavior with bad behavior of our own, what does that say about the world we’re helping to shape?  Similar to attacking the president, a small minority of Catholics—some with power, prestige, and influence—target Pope Francis in ways unseen before.  I pray that this is not the way of the 21st Century.

I guess some people are simply hateful and compelled to tear down.  Hating leaders—hating at all—is not a good way to operate.  Doing our part to build up our civic community and faith community is.  It’s awfully draining to spread kindness when opposite forces are so strong.  I don’t have the answer, other than the one that Jesus gave.  In His time as in ours, hatred seems to overpower love because tearing down is much easier than building up.  But Christ gives us hope that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion, respect for leaders, outreach to the marginalized, and doing our little part as best we can—these are the things that will make humanity great again and help us to build a society that, like Our Lord, can be a light to guide others in darkness.

I’ll conclude with Edgar A. Guest’s famous poem about building up and tearing down:                   I watched them tear a building down,

A gang of men in a busy town.

With a mighty heave and a lusty yell,

They swung a beam and a sidewall fell.

I said to the foreman, “Are these men as skilled

As the ones you’d hire if you had to build?”

He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed!

Just a common laborer is all I need.

And I can wreck in a day or two

What it took the builders years to do.”

And I thought to myself as I went my way,

“Just which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care

Measuring life by the rule and square,

Or am I a wrecker as I walk this town

Content with the labor of tearing it down?”

I don’t know Father Don Farnan, but I get a sense that he truly means well by writing this piece. And, trust me, I agree with a lot of what he is saying. We do live in a world that seems to be filled with hate, and this is very unfortunate. However, I’m not sure if there is more hate in the world today, or if it has simply become more acceptable — and much easier — for people to make their voices heard. Social media, as well as the mainstream news media, has become a mountain top for people to shout from, their hateful words echoing down for all to hear, regardless of whether or not we want to listen.

Though there may not be more hate in America, there certainly seems to be a growing division among our people. This, of course, is largely a widening crevice between political party lines. Lies — or at least unverified “facts” — are rolled down both sides of this same mountain, and are equally damaging (and influential) to the bystanders below.

Sadly, it is President Trump who sits at the peak of the mountain, shouting as loudly as possible in an effort to make his voice the most audible. His endless name-calling and sucker-punching fuels the division and the hate on both sides of the mountain. I’m honestly not writing about President Trump, however.

Yes, I could debate Father Farnan’s belief that “Trump has been attacked and derided by people in ways never before seen for the simple reason that they don’t like him—and the dislike has escalated to hatred.” I would ask Father Farnan to go way, way back in his memory to the year 2009. This is when Barack Obama took office. Many people didn’t like him. In fact, many didn’t like him for one reason — the color of his skin. I have heard him called words that white people will never be forced to endure. Words like monkey, coon, and nigger, to name a few. Words that can’t be taken back. I ask you, Father, does this treatment qualify as hate? Our own current president (and countless others, of course) refused to believe that Obama was even an American. Why? Simply because Trump didn’t like him. But, honestly, I’m not writing about President Trump.

I will agree with Father Farnan that the economy is doing very well. A robust economy is critical to the well-being of the United States for many reasons that aren’t often considered, including lower crime rates, healthier citizens, and even longer life spans. But I would also remind him that many regulations put in place with the sole intention of helping to protect our environment, our people, and our country have been abruptly stopped by Trump, with seemingly little or no thought about future ramifications. I hope this all works out in the end… But, honestly, I’m not writing about Trump.

I’m writing because I don’t want the good people of the United States to become accepting of “wrongs” because there are some “rights.” I don’t want us to become okay with “good enough.” Complacency leads to failure. Father Farnan asks, “Shouldn’t we be concerned about this level of hatred (towards Trump)?” But I ask you, Father, shouldn’t we be concerned with the level of hatred coming from the President of the United States of America? And this is not fake news, but words coming straight from the mouth (or fingers) of Trump.

Again, I believe Father Farnan’s intentions are good. He is encouraging “kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion…outreach to the marginalized, and doing our little part as best we can,” all things that I’m a firm believer in. However, he also asks us to respect our leaders. While I will avoid being hateful, I refuse to respect a leader like Trump. Where would we be today if our Founding Fathers had respected King George? Blind respect of a president is not only incredibly careless, but it is extremely unpatriotic.

We must avoid complacency or we’ll never improve. We must not become so tolerant that hate (even when we abhor it) is overlooked. I see good people — people I love and respect — making a conscious decision to simply look the other way every single day. Father Farnan ends his post with a poem encouraging us to be builders, which is a wonderful ideology, but two decades in the construction industry has taught me that skilled builders must keep a close eye on every small detail.

The longer we, as a nation, look the other way, the harder it will be to regain our focus. What is taking place while we are told to only see the bright side? What will we allow our leaders to get away with tomorrow? Father Farnan, please keep spreading your message of kindness and goodness, but please don’t ask us to become tolerant of a hateful man who seems intent on dividing our nation. Please don’t support a person who is continually tearing down what you are trying to build.

Please don’t look away.

A Few Words on Blasphemy Day

September 30, 2016


Today is Blasphemy Day, an international “celebration” of speaking up against religion and religious laws. I am all for the separation of church and state. I’m against any laws based on religion — laws are made to protect citizens, not promote any agendas. I’m also very glad I live in a country that allows people to stand up for what they believe in, whatever those beliefs may be. However, I don’t like any religious ideologies being shoved down my throat. Similarly, I don’t need to have non-believers shouting about how ridiculous religion is, which is what Blasphemy Day has become in many cases.

Religion is probably the world’s leading cause of war, hate, fear, guilt, and anxiety. I can’t imagine a God who would willingly put His creations through the suffering that we humans are suffocated by on a daily basis. Are we all just some school project that the Lord is working on? Are we rats in a cage being tortured by a Master, seeing what lengths we will go to in order to receive a piece of everlasting cheese? I don’t think so, but it isn’t my place to criticize those who believe. It’s counter-productive. I have better things to do.

There’s a thought that’s been regurgitated by philosophers for thousands of years, which basically states: a wise man realizes he knows nothing. This belief is paradoxical and somewhat self-deprecating…and pretty damn perfect. Count me in.

Today, like every day, we have a choice. We can criticize those who believe differently, or we can accept it and move on to fight more useful battles. Some will put their faith in religious texts, some will put their faith in science. Both of these leave plenty of room for error and modification. I will choose to put my faith in those of any religion, or lack thereof, who use their energy towards making the world a bit better for everyone living in it. If there is a God — and I can’t say that there isn’t — I think it’s what He would want; taking care of each other and our world. Let’s be good to each other. Anything else seems like blasphemy to me.

Republicans are idiots and Democrats are morons. By my calculations, that makes most of us pretty stupid — and, more importantly, pretty similar.

You can’t scroll through social media (not to mention turn on a TV) without being bombarded by hateful, politically-fueled messages. These missiles are fired from both sides of the aisle, and there is apparently no shortage of ammunition. Pick a topic of debate, and there will be numerous memes or quotes just a few clicks away that will do a wonderful job of pissing someone off. I try to ignore most of it, but I get so tired of lies or gross exaggerations being displayed as facts. Sadly, I think most of the people who make these posts assume that they are spreading worthwhile, truthful information. This is a problem, and it is slowly causing a greater divide between many of us. A divide that doesn’t need to be more than a small fracture. I don’t like getting involved in political discussions, let alone rhetoric, but I also feel like we need to speak up.

By “us” and “we,” I’m referring to most of us. Not the people constantly tweeting about their favorite presidential candidate, but the Average Joes who really just want Americans (and the rest of the world) to get along and be generally happy. You don’t hear from us often because we may not have a lot to say. Many of us are looking at Facebook so we don’t miss the pictures of our nephew’s soccer game, not so we can get into a debate about deporting illegal immigrants. In a word, maybe we are boring. People on the fringes are typically not boring. They may be certifiably nuts, but they get peoples’ attention — right or wrong — and that’s what gets spread around by social and news media outlets. No one is interested in reading or hearing about some fella saying “I believe responsible gun ownership should certainly be allowed, and that thorough background checks should also be required.” Yeah, it’s mundane to many people. Probably because most of us think that way to begin with.

You could say we are boring, but maybe a better word is rational. Sure, we have opinions, but we also know that others are entitled to their opinions, too. The last time I checked, differing opinions and mutual respect was what made this country great. The writer Dean Jackson said, “There can be disagreement without disrespect.” I know we will always have different mentalities on some topics, but I hope for the most part that we can agree to disagree in a respectful way. I truly believe that the vast majority of Americans have each others’ backs. If someone is disrespectful to you, feel good knowing that most Americans at least wouldn’t agree with their tactics.

If you are someone who feels compelled to share opinionated posts, I’m glad you have the freedom to do so. However, do everyone a favor by checking the validity of your post before putting it out there for everyone and your grandmother to see (and judge). Nothing makes a person — who is simultaneously trying to prove a point and annoy others — look worse than to spew false information. It’s dangerous and irresponsible. Especially if it’s done in a hateful way. There is never an excuse for being hateful to anyone.

Unfortunately there will always be a small segment of our population who are overly extreme in their beliefs and refuse to compromise. They are also the people who will inhibit positive change from occurring. We are all Americans and we are all human. Don’t get caught up in the trash you see on social media. Most Republicans don’t think all Muslims are terrorists, and most Democrats don’t want capitalism to cease to exist. Mostly, please don’t spread lies or hate. Let’s hang on to our dignity by always remaining respectful.

I guess I can only speak for myself, but my family and friends are both Republicans and Democrats — and I appreciate hearing their different opinions. We don’t agree on everything, but that’s okay. We all make some good points worth considering, and while we aren’t always brilliant, we are rarely idiots or morons (although everyone is entitled to an occasional bad day). Truth be told, we are all really quite similar. 

  
Humor me for a moment, and please hear me out. Let’s pretend that you love the color red. You have a sporty red car, and love to just drive around on sunny days with the windows rolled down and the radio on, minding your own business. But wait, one day someone stops you on the street.

“Whoa, hold up, buddy. What are you doing in that red car?”

“Oh gosh, I just love the color red,” you reply with a chuckle.

“Hmm, well, we don’t allow red cars.”

“Excuse me? Why not?”

“Because I have this book here, which says that anyone with a red car is evil and should ideally be killed by stoning. Cars are only intended to be the color blue, no exceptions. I can’t really kill you, but you will need to have your car painted blue immediately. Oh, I almost forgot — unless you ask for forgiveness, you will spend all of eternity in a bottomless fire pit. Nothing is actually going to happen now, but when you die watch out, because that’s when it starts.”

This conversation sounds ridiculous, yet way too familiar. Maybe I’m just becoming more aware as I get older, maybe I’m just paranoid, but doesn’t there seem to be more and more hate and social injustice in America? Specifically, hate and injustice in the name of God — because the Bible says so.

I’m not trying to insult the Bible or Christianity. I know many Christians who are truly great, caring people. The majority of Christians are like this, as with the majority of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, atheists, etc. I completely respect the opinions and beliefs that most Christians adhere to. Likewise, the Bible has countless verses that emphasize (and, in fact, demand) kindness, compassion, and love.

Unfortunately the Bible also contradicts itself. A lot. There is a growing number of people who choose to overlook the message of love, and focus on the parts of the Bible that condone the avoidance, oppression, and even persecution of those who do not believe or act a certain way. I know from repeated firsthand experience that there are many Christians who believe they will experience eternal damnation if they show any support or kindness to so-called “sinners.” Just last week, one of my lifelong friends told me that I will never understand unless I believe the way he does. “It’s a heaven and hell issue. I listen to what God tells me in the Bible.”

So, to these people I ask this question:  Can God change His mind? I’m being serious. Is it possible that the Bible needs updating? Thousands of years later, is there just a chance that God has grown wiser with age? Could He feel bad that He has caused so many of His children to turn against each other? Maybe there should be a Newer Testament, in which God declares that He is sorry for all the guilt, fear, hatred and war that Christianity has caused, and that He has decided we should just be kind and respectful of others. He might also remind us that we can leave the judging to Him.

Many will scoff at this. They will bring up the omniscience of God; that He knows that past, present and future, so why would He possibly need to change His mind? Fair enough, but why then do we bother to pray? Is it just to try to make ourselves feel better? If a baby is expected to surely die, and we pray for mercy, and the baby survives, did God change His mind and perform a miracle? If the baby dies is it because God decided not to change His mind, and therefore simply works in mysterious ways? If He knows everything, why did He create us? Why put us through this exercise if He knows our fates already? It’s like God is just watching a rerun of a horribly sad reality show. Ah, yes, here is the part where Bob sins, and then…wait for it…asks for forgiveness! Yes, Bob, you are good to go until you screw up big time in March of 2019. But then you ask for forgiveness again and everything is fine when I take your life by way of a massive heart attack in 2028…

My goal is not to question God or bash Christianity, but just to make people consider that if there could be even a razor-thin possibility that God could change His mind, then there would be nothing wrong with a mere mortal doing the same. The Bible can be followed the way Mother Teresa did, or the way the Westboro Baptist Church does. You have a choice, and either way you are following the word of God. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have decided to stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear.” Living with hate and fear sure seems like a hard life to me.

Christian extremists — those of you who feel that people who believe differently than you are not just wrong, but a threat or even evil — please consider and remember one Bible verse above all others:

Colossians 3:12,

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

This is actually a great message for any of us, regardless of our religious views. I’m far (really far) from perfect, but I want to get better. As hard as it is for me sometimes, I won’t hate the haters — but I will try to change their minds. Let’s all get older and wiser. Let’s just be nice. I’ll go first.