Archive for Barack Obama

A Nobel Peace Prize Won Last Term, A Hope That It Can Be Earned This Term

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This morning I celebrated mass for the religious community in which I live. I am on the schedule as the presider every wednesday, but this particular wednesday brought me back to another early morning liturgy four years ago. While living in Washington, DC, during my Franciscan formation and theology and ministry studies, I happened — by chance — to be assigned to preach at the morning mass the morning after the last election. I remember the headlines of the newspapers, not just in the US, but internationally. Back in 2008 my German was a lot less rusty than it is today and I tried to keep up with at least one paper, in this case, Süddeutsche Zeitung. I recall the big, bold headline that morning after the election: “America — Rises from the Ashes.” The international community celebrated the hope and the promise that came with the election of Barack Obama in the United States. The world was worn and weary after eight years of the Bush administration’s policies, particularly abroad, and billions of the the world’s citizens looked to the US for what was to come.

The fervor and international enthusiasm led to President Obama’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize the following year. People were shocked, myself included. While I will readily admit that I too was enthusiastic about the possibilities that laid ahead, while realistic about the likely political battles that ensued (I did live in DC after all), I couldn’t believe that such a significant sign of typically lifelong achievement had been awarded so quickly. I was proud of our president, but more heartened by what I took this symbolic move to mean for the rest of the world.

And then reality set in. Two very painful, violent, and — at least in one case, if not in two — frivolous wars carried on. Mechanisms for injustice — Guantanamo Bay, international detention centers, etc. — remained in status quo; environmental concerns were left unaddressed in any significant way; and drone attacks broadened our violent imperialism internationally.

What had been the international signal of hope and peace, epitomized by the Nobel Prize, became something of an embarrassment, something that could not really be explained or justified.

Granted, the stakes were high and the absolute disregard for dialogue, progress, collaboration, and bipartisanship on the part of the Republicans in Congress, symbolized by Mitch McConnell’s now famous declaration that the GOP’s primary goal would be to make sure President Obama wasn’t reelected (its goal was not the American people by his own omission), certainly explains some of the roadblocks to achieving even more than the very important and valuable health-care reform, repealing of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the financial actions that prevented a reliving of the early 1930s. Nevertheless, President Obama and his administration need to take their share of responsibility for inaction, lack of serious engagement domestically and internationally in peacemaking and climate change, and the implementation of more domestic policies that would guarantee the rights of all people.

As a Franciscan friar, I am particularly haunted by the specter of the Nobel. Violence may be our biggest concern right now. Some will cry “abortion, abortion,” but as legal scholars and moral theologians have replied until they are hoarse and frustrated, the President of the United States has almost no ability to directly or, perhaps with a few very removed exceptions such as court appointments, event indirectly affect that law and effect the change for which anti-abortion protestors clamor. What the President does have absolute control over are executive orders that authorize drone attacks over seas, the covert engagement of elite military attacks that proceed with impunity, and other policies that directly affect domestic concerns of justice and civil rights.

At the beginning of this next term, the admitted last political office the President will pursue, I have some recommendations, perhaps more appropriately admonitions, to offer. These have everything to do with the Nobel Prize won in the last term, it is my hope that in the following four years it might be genuinely earned.

  • End the Drone Strikes — This is one of the worst scars that mar the international and moral face of the United States today. The ethical complexity of these attacks goes without enough consideration and we should end this sort of violent imperialism.
  • Seriously Address Climate Change — In the wake of Hurricane (“superstorm”) Sandy, there is no better time than the present to use the position of the President of the United States to take the lead at home and abroad in addressing the way in which our Sister Mother Earth (as St. Francis would say) is being destroyed and, in turn, is becoming increasingly in habitable for humanity and the rest of creation.
  • Move Beyond Tax-Code Solutions — Yes, the wealthy must pay their fair share, which includes changing the policies that allow the sinful loopholes that allow people who make money simply by having a lot of money to pay unjustly low rates. However, there are other ways this country needs to get its act together in terms of establishing a more equitable and egalitarian society. Can we have a new FDR-like movement? Can we shift the “anti-government at all costs” rhetoric so popular today to remember what it means to be part of a society that is not filled with individuals, but celebrates our interdependence?
  • Put the Poor First — This really follows the previous point and is as self-explanatory as possible. When you have to make a decision, don’t be concerned with what the wealthy, the corporations (which are not people, but juridic fictions), the other politicians, and the plutocrats will think or react — look at your office through the lens of the most disenfranchised, poor, and marginalized. Use your power for good and not the evil that comes with supporting those who benefit from the demise of the populous, which, by the way, is how most politicians in recent history act. Be the change that you encouraged us to believe in!
  • Education, Education, Education — By which I do not mean more standardized tests nor hedgehog policies for science and math alone. We need a citizenry that can think and, as an educator and one who moves in such circles, I can assure you that we are not, as a nation, training our young people to think today. We are training them to be mechanical reproducers of a limited pool of information. Education is both an ethical issue and a concern for national security; let’s treat it appropriately!
  • Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Nothing To Lose Now — Take strength in accomplishing and inaugurating what requires courage and conviction. You have four more years to do what you intimated that you could: so do it! Don’t let this term turn into the worthless second term of President Bush or the fiasco of sideshow politics in the second term of President Clinton. You are in a unique place, at a unique time, in a dire circumstance to make things happen — if only through authentic and inspiring encouragement and empowering of the people.

These are simply a few of the many things I would tell President Obama if, in some alternative universe, he would seek out my opinion. I am hopeful still, but then again I am a Christian and, as such, I live in Easter Hope. I believe President Obama was the right person for this office in this election, but only insofar as he is able to use these four years in ways resembling what I name here. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

Photo: Pool

Why I Do Not Support the (so-called) March for Life

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

Inspiration Amid Controversy: Van Jones at Siena College

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 8, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I was surprised to find a pack of about fifteen-to-twenty people standing across the street outside of my Friary window last evening. These folks had gathered across the Siena College campus to protest the 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr., annual speaker: Van Jones. Mr. Jones, a former Obama Administration White-House Staffer, was one of the favorite targets of (soon-to-be ‘former’) Fox News television personality Glenn Beck. Beck had continually named Jones, a relatively unknown personality on the national scene prior to Beck’s denouncements, as a communist (a former affiliation that Jones does not deny while a graduate student at Yale University) and the negative attention garnered by these repeated attacks led Jones to resign during the early months of the Obama Administration and during the peak of Beck’s TV career.

Some of Beck’s loyal adherents continued to carry the mantle of denouncement, protesting Siena College’s (a Roman Catholic private college in the Franciscan tradition) decision to invite Jones to speak. Yet, it was precisely the Franciscan tradition that College President Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM, cited as a central reason for Jones’s fittingness to deliver the MLK Annual Lecture.

Fr. Mullen noted in his introduction of Jones that in the Thirteenth Century there was a man who similarly spoke out against the injustice of society, cared for the environment and stood with the marginalized — Francis of Assisi. As a school in the Franciscan tradition, it is wholly appropriate to invite someone who similarly mirrors those values — albeit through a different expression, perhaps — in an age when the message of both Francis and those like Jones are needed so acutely.

Jones was an entertaining speaker to be sure. Peppering his address with humorous lines, often at his own expense (particularly in light of the Fox News Network’s treatment of his reputation), Jones began with a recollection of his experience in law school and what led him to become so “radical;” namely, the injustice both of an economic and racial variety in the city of New Haven, Conn., he witnessed in law school. His remarks reminded me of a line from Lawrence Cunningham’s book Things Seen and Unseen (Ave Maria Press, 2010), that I’ve quoted here before:

The newspaper reported that someone just recently paid over $250,000 for a private parking space in some exclusive part of the city of Boston. A friend of mine once said: it is not the misery of the poor but the excesses of the rich that has turned him into a radical.

There were some memorable lines from last night’s lecture. One in particular, early in the address, referred to the experience Jones has had following the Beck troubles. Jones said, “People want to talk about the controversial views I don’t have and the controversial views I used to have, but I want to talk about the controversial views I have now.”

I thought that line was particularly striking because it, in my opinion, captures the tension behind Beck’s focus on Jones. In an effort to avoid the important and, in a way, prophetic views Jones currently has about clean energy and the economy, certain commentators prefer to discredit the speaker through distraction and misrepresentation.

In a manner befitting a Franciscan lecture series, Jones, speaking about the perils of the world’s current energy issues, made this keen observations: “you live in a human civilization powered by death!” How true! Fossil fuels, he noted, are created from dead organic matter going back 60 or 300 million years. No wonder we get death on that return, pollution of the earth and asthma in the lungs of children, to name but two consequences.

Instead, Jones said in a way that sounded a bit like Francis himself, “don’t look down into some [mine], but look up at the living sun…living wind.” What an apt image to consider — “clean” or “green” energy is really an energy that gives life and renews the earth. Why don’t we harness the Sun or the wind? Why do so many continue to support, through their complicit political or social agendas, the efforts of a few to monopolize the “energy of death?”

John Paul II was correct to talk about a “culture of death,” but I don’t think he realized how true that moniker was in relation to the way we power our communities. It is now time for a “culture of life,” beginning with clean energy and nonviolent transformation of society.

Photo: Dan Horan, OFM

Obama and Romero: Planting Seeds of Hope or Raising the Veil of Injustice?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I seriously doubt that Archbishop Oscar Romero could have imagined that a sitting President of the United States of America would have ever visited his tomb when, shortly before he was assasinated, he declared in perhaps his most famous homily: “If they kill me, I will rise up in the Salvadoran People.” That his legacy, the prophetic cry of justice that has become identified with the name Romero, would draw the attention of the most powerful political leader in the world is a striking event to behold.

Nevertheless, the irony of the visit of President Barack Obama to the tomb of the slain Archbishop Oscar Romero was not lost on all. First among the critics of the President’s visit and subsequent silence on the United States’ involvement in support of the Guerílla leaders who were responsible for Romero’s assassination is Maryknoll Missionary Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch.

A National Catholic Reporter article cites Fr. Bourgeois’s position that the President’s visit was a “missed opportunity.”

for Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the visit was at best a missed opportunity. His organization, SOA Watch, revealed that Romero’s killers were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, now named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

“I and many other human rights activists were hopeful,” he said, that Obama would acknowledge “that Romero and thousands of others were killed, tortured and disappeared by graduates of this school.”

The 1993 U.N. Truth Commission Report on El Salvador found that the U.S.-armed and trained Salvadoran military had killed tens of thousands of civilians in a systematic attempt to eliminate its political opponents. Forty-seven of the sixty-six officers cited for major atrocities were SOA graduates, including the killers of four U.S. churchwomen, six Jesuit priests and hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, at the village of El Mozote.

Obama’s visit “could have been a historic moment,” Bourgeois said, one similar to former President Clinton’s rare apology for the US role in the training and arming of Guatemalan security forces that slaughtered more than 200,000 civilians.

“Obama didn’t even acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the U.S. role in El Salvador,” Bourgeois said.

Fr. Bourgeois has a good point. Indeed, if there was ever a good time to acknowledge the responsibility that the United States shares for its involvement in some of the worst crimes against humanity in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s — all under the guise of ‘spreading democracy’ — through covert support of dictators and military governments, it would have been at the foot of the burial site of one of the best known victims of the violent terror enables by the U.S. Government. But there was silence.

One way to look at the silence is to take Fr. Bourgeois’s position, emphasizing the inaction of the President and the absence of a public admittance of wrongdoing — perhaps even followed up by an action such as closing what was then known as the School of the Americas. Another way to look at the silence is to see in the moment an invitation for transformation in the heart of a sitting U.S. President.

I don’t know about you, but looking at those photos of Barack Obama beside the tomb of Oscar Romero, lighting candles in prayer and passing by the portrait of the Salvadorian ‘Bishop and Martyr’ gives me goosebumps — the good kind. It is very powerful and overwhelming to think that the President, regardless of the continued sin of omission cried out against by Fr. Bourgeois and others, spent time there when he could have done anything else.

Conversion, metanoia — the turning around — takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight and substantial changes don’t happen quickly. But isn’t it possible that this experience of visiting Romero’s tomb, hearing the story of the Archbishop’s life and death, and recalling the tumult of the people of Central America might actually be the planting of seeds of hope.

Sure, it’s easy to look at the situation in the short-term and decry inaction and silence, but when I look at my friends’ garden at the beginning of each summer I also only see dusty dirt. Come back in a few months and one sees plants growing and fruit forming on the plants. I’m not willing to give up hope that this experience might not affect President Obama in the long run.  Then again, I believe in both the Holy Spirit and the power of Oscar Romero’s intercessory prayer.

Romero continues to rise up, not just in the people of Salvador, but in all people who seek justice and peace in the world and respond to the cry of the poor and marginalized. My hope is that the seeds planted, perhaps even those unexpectedly sowed in Obama’s heart yet to be seen, may germinate into the fruit of justice when Romero will in fact rise up in the President of the United States.

Photos: Getty Images
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