Preaching Peace in the Age of DestructionNovember 29, 2015
I was so taken by Pope Francis’s expressions in the photos above that accompanied a Catholic Relief Services (@CatholicRelief) tweet from his visit to a deeply impoverished part of Nairobi where he greeted persons with disabilities. So much warmth and genuine joy! And what a stark contrast to the snarling ugly photos of a certain candidate for the U.S. president who spent much of last week mocking a reporter with a physical disability, and then denying that he did just that. Pope Francis in Africa once again reminds the world of the true meaning of servant leadership, and the contrast with the search for leadership in the United States could not be more evident.
The Pope calls for peace and honors the poor, walking unafraid into a war zone in the Central African Republic, embracing the poorest of the poor in Nairobi and Kenya. Meanwhile, in this most affluent nation in world history, some very wealthy candidates seem to embrace only the most shameful self-reverence and pandering to hate, surrounding themselves only with fawning admirers, calling for more war and destruction from the relatively safe confines of a heavily guarded campaign stop.
The candidates vow to destroy ISIS and terrorism, but meanwhile, the most heavily armed nation on earth continues to suffer extreme violence at the hands of its own citizens. The same candidates who whip their followers into frenzy over international terrorists, who pose statistically tiny threats to most American citizens, see no irony in promoting more guns with more opportunities for violence and bloodshed right here in our own communities — the real threat we all face every single day. According to Shooting Tracker, there have been 351 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, with 447 people killed and 1292 injured. Just in 2015. The most recent horror at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado was chilling beyond measure; people shot and some killed because they were seeking healthcare, a young officer dead because he rushed to help. People who profess to be “pro-life” must express abhorrence for this kind of wanton destruction of life with as much vehemence as they decry abortion.
We are searching for leadership in the age of destruction. We are searching for someone who can truly help this troubled society find peace, establish justice, care for those on the margins. But, instead, in our national politics, we seem to have only loud, self-interested rhetoric that throws off a great deal of heat but creates more darkness, not light.
The moral character of leadership has never been so starkly defined as in today’s headlines. Is leadership really the ability to stir up the most vicious passions of the crowd, to inflame hatred and mockery of other people, to show nothing but contempt for those who disagree, to rattle the sabres of war, even going so far as to imply that a nuclear weapon could be useful? Really?
Or would we prefer a leader who truly tries to understand other people, who helps the community heal despite disagreements, who does not boast about personal achievements but, instead, expresses a vision for the future that includes everyone? I always remember what the late John Gardner wrote in No Easy Victories, paraphrasing here: we need leaders to rekindle hope; the first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive, the hope that we can find our way through to a better society.
We the People deserve better from all of the political candidates. We need an end to the appallingly uncivil and irresponsible rhetoric and a restoration of some dignity and sense of the quest for a common good in this presidential campaign. Sure, we all have different views of the issues and different opinions of the candidates. The tradition of this Democracy encourages robust debate, but not irresponsible and inflammatory demagoguery, outright lies and disgraceful trashing of other people.
The candidates would do well to study the leadership style of Pope Francis to understand what has made him such a compelling figure on the world stage. The genuine delight he takes in other people, such as the persons with disabilities in the photos at the top of this blog; the courage he shows in going to some of the most fragile places on earth; the clarity of his call to elevate the poor and marginalized citizens of this earth are all evidence of what real moral leadership is all about. He dares to preach peace in the age of destruction.
If the leader does not speak the truth, who will? The leader’s job is not to pander to the emotion of the crowd, but to lead the crowd to channel that emotion toward the creation of a good and just society. Leaders with real political courage are unafraid, whether walking into war zones or zones of disagreement with their most ardent followers. We need some U.S. leaders who can exhibit that kind of courage.Read comments (0) Add Comment
Giving ThanksNovember 25, 2015
2015 has been a very difficult year for the global village. With so much international violence, terrorism, rumors of war and ongoing economic and social catastrophes in the world’s forgotten corners, we Americans should count our many blessings with a loud “Thanks and Amen!” each day. But instead, in too many ways, our domestic sorrows and conflicts seem to compete with a sincere disposition toward gratitude.
Trinity, as always, must stand out as a countercultural force for good, for hope, for charity and fortitude. We are so fortunate on this small campus to have so many amazing students, devoted faculty and staff, generous and loyal alumnae and benefactors, and steadfast friends. Sure, we have our moments of difficulty, but even in our toughest times we have the care and respect for each other that carries the day.
On this Thanksgiving 2015, let’s focus on the ways in which Trinity can be a force for social change, a powerful advocate for justice and peace in a world that seems to have too little of either. And so that we can have the strength to persist, let’s take a few minutes to count the real blessings we share at Trinity. Here’s a very short video that demonstrates all of the reasons why we must give thanks for our lives at Trinity:
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Demagogues and DemocracyNovember 22, 2015
I suppose it is a tribute to the strength of our democracy that so many prominent people can say such remarkably ignorant, ridiculous and hateful things without fear of any reprisal more serious than blustering bloggers and parodies on SNL. Honestly, I’m trying to find something hopeful in the ugly barrage of unbelievably trashy rhetoric from Those Who Would Be President. But tributes to the strength of the First Amendment notwithstanding, We the People should actually be expressing some serious outrage at the whole tawdry mess that this presidential primary season has become.
Candidates treat us like witless mobs craving more Bread and Circus spectacles — or, in modern parlance, reality television contests in which the contestants seem to vie for the most stupid, irrational statements. Many have trashed Syrian refugees who have done absolutely nothing wrong except try to flee from the very horrors the candidates are using for their own political posturing. One candidate suggests putting labels on immigrants just as we do with Fedex packages. Another candidate denies the existence of racial bias in policing. Another candidates says that if he is elected president he will order surveillance of mosques and create a national registry of Muslims. Yet another candidate said he would create a federal agency to promote Judaeo-Christian values.
Huh? Did they all skip Civics class? Do our aspiring presidents care so little for the most fundamental American constitutional principles that they would trammel them all in order to gain power? History is replete with examples of dictatorships built on fear and demagoguery pitting people against each other on the basis of race and religion.
And just today, the same candidate who would register Muslims said on national television that it was ok that a black man was beaten during his political rally yesterday. “Maybe he should have been roughed up,” declared the candidate in what must be one of the most shocking displays of callous disregard for fundmental human rights and dignity perhaps ever displayed by a candidate for the presidency.
Why are we putting up with this shameful show? Why do candidate poll ratings go up with each more outrageous display of irresponsible demagoguery and sheer hatred for people who are different from their base?
The presidential election should not be conducted like The Hunger Games. We can and should hold those who would be president to much higher standards than talk radio hosts and basement bloggers. We can and MUST establish some rational baseline for the temperament and moral fiber and fundamental respect for American legal values of those who would be president.
Yes, terrorism is horrific. What ISIS terrorists did in Paris was unspeakably awful. And by the way, who is paying attention to what Boko Haram is doing in Africa? Terrorism is a worldwide scourge that must be eradicated, yes. But careless rhetoric among American presidential candidates does nothing other than encourage the hate that fuels the terrorists. Did we learn nothing in the last 15 years in the failures we experienced repeatedly in the lost War on Terorrism? Waterboarding, by the way, was not a successful tool in stopping terrorism — despite the desire of one presidential candidate to restore torture as an American tactic.
As members of a collegiate community, we all have different opinions about the presidential candidates and their positions, and I certainly respect the freedom of every person on campus to hold and express different opinions about the candidates. Everyone can and should vote for the candidate of their choice.
But while respecting the freedom and privacy of the ballot box, as an academic leader I also believe it is incumbent on all of us in the teaching community to call out the ignorance, the deliberate mis-statements of fact, the irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric that debilitates the ability of the American people to engage in a rational debate of our options as a society. We need less heat and more light in this campaign thus far. We need to demand that all candidates tone down the hateful sound bites and ratchet-up the thoughtful dialogue that shows what a real leader will do in the critical years ahead to advance our most precious values in a complicated, treacherous world. Those who would be our leaders must show respect for the real American values of liberty and justice for all, which include human rights and religious freedom for all.
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Missouri, Iowa, and Moral Emptiness in Presidential PoliticsNovember 13, 2015
The University of Missouri is the latest flashpoint for expressions of rage over the continuing prevalence of racism in American life and higher education. Black students at Missouri and elsewhere have organized effective protests in the face of ugly racial offenses. The Missouri university president and system chancellor both lost their jobs because of their indifferent and obtuse administrative responses to racially offensive incidents on campus; however, the resignations were less about accepting responsibility for a lack of moral leadership in the face of racism and more about the economics of big time college football. The Mizzou football team used the leverage of threatening a boycott of games, raising the spectre of a potential loss of $1 million in breach of contracts, to hasten the resignations.
While students at Missouri, Yale, Claremont McKenna, Purdue and other universities have been organizing protests that decry specific incidents of racial hatred and the corrosive environments of prejudice and hatred that allow such incidents to happen, some presidential candidates stumpting in Iowa and New Hampshire are revealing a stunning level of moral emptiness on America’s continuing crisis of racism and inequality. One candidate yesterday termed the protesters “disgusting,” another said the leadership resignations were because of “the politically correct police,” and several candidates said they were “too busy” to follow the Mizzou situation. Another candidate went so far as to blame President Obama, implying that if the president were not African American, perhaps there would be no racial unrest.
Really??? Have these candidates not paid any attention to what’s been going on for the last year in America, to Ferguson and Cleveland and Baltimore and so many other places where the abominable treatment of African Americans by law enforcement authorities has provoked widespread protests and given birth to the Black Lives Matter movement? What’s happening at Missouri and elsewhere is part of the ongoing national struggle with racism, the great American original sin that just does not seem to abate.
Some of these same candidates have repeatedly expressed shocking disrespect for human beings in other ways. They talk about rounding up and sending undocumented immigrants “back” as if they were herds of cattle; one candidate actually proposed labeling immigrants like Fedex packages. The presidential candidates talk about obliterating people in other countries as if human life were meaningless; they speak with utter contempt about people who disagree with them — even each other — and with a few notable exceptions, to date most of the candidates have demonstrated precious little concern for issues of social justice, human rights, civil rights, poverty and economic inequality.
Yesterday in Social Hall, Trinity Alumna Barbara Kennelly ’58 — former member of Congress (D-CT) and distinguished professor of Political Science — gave a lecture about the current presidential campaign that triggered some excellent student questions and comments. One student asked, paraphrasing here, “How can we care about the candidates when they don’t show they care about us, when they don’t address the issues we care about?” This student and others went on to cite the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the protests at Missouri and Yale, the concerns of African American and Latina students and communities about poverty and inequality that are not addressed by many (not all) of the current presidential candidates.
Professor Kennelly, as Trinity’s first alumna in Congress, is a marvelous example of the leadership of Trinity Women in the public square — she paved the way for Nancy Pelosi ’62, the first woman Speaker of the House, now Democratic Leader, and other Trinity Women who have stepped up to take on the great issues of each era. In yesterday’s talk, Professor Kennelly challenged today’s Trinity students to follow in her footsteps, to become deeply engaged in the issues of this era, to speak out about injustice, racism and the imperatives of social justice in law and legislation, in presidential politics as well as local elections.
Trinity students, faculty, staff and alumnae have a great deal of moral leadership to offer in the current confused and often disappointing political discourse. At yesterday’s gathering in Social Hall, I heard Trinity Women speak about the issues more coherently and with more moral clarity than we are hearing from many presidential candidates. Many Trinity students are already engaged in the current campaigns and in public interest work more broadly.
As the current presidential campaign heats up, I urge all Trinity students to step up, speak out, be involved and show leadership. I welcome ideas about how Trinity can be a place for genuine dialogue, reflection and action to promote justice and equal opportunity on campus and in our city and nation.
Your comments are welcome, click on the comment link below.
Read my opinion piece in the Hechinger Report How Can Mizzou Heal?
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Remembering Professor Nancy BrownOctober 14, 2015
Professor Nancy Pollard Brown, a beloved member of Trinity’s faculty in English from the 1960’s to the 1980s, died in Oxford, England this past August. Tributes from her former students are abundant, some of them reproduced below. Trinity is planning a memorial Mass in her memory for late spring 2016. In an email to one of her former students Dr. Marianne Novy ’65, a Shakespearean scholar the University of Pittsburgh, her nephew Bob Grose wrote about Professor Brown,
“You may be interested to know that Nancy continued as an active scholar until fairly recently, still engaged on her life’s work on Robert Southwell (she would have been well into her research on Southwell when you were at Trinity). In recent decades she also spent a lot of time studying art history and undertaking related travel around Europe, as well as walking in the countryside, visiting churches and other ancient buildings, bird watching in Scotland and elsewhere, and holding court for her various networks of friends at home in Oxford. She was always eager to talk about Southwell and his period, which she was able to bring vividly to life through her finely-detailed knowledge of the politics, events and personalities of the time. I guess this reflects your and so many others’ experience of her teaching at Trinity. Totally in character, she left her body to medical science – contributing to the education of others from beyond the grave!”
Dr. Novy and Sr. Anne Mary O’Donnell ’62, SND, who also taught with Professor Brown at Trinity, wrote this beautiful tribute to her:
“We write with the sad news of the death on August 18 of Nancy Pollard Brown, Trinity Professor Emerita, born 17 February 1921. Nancy taught many students Shakespeare and other courses from 1959 until 1986. She ran Trinity’s Oxford program from 1983 to 1985 and after her retirement from teaching moved back to Oxford. She continued her scholarship on the sixteenth century English Jesuit poet Robert Southwell and other Catholic writers of his time, and published her last article in 2010. After retirement she maintained a wide range of interests, including traveling, walking, bird watching, art history, and entertaining her friends and relatives with unfailing graciousness.
“Nancy won the E. Harris Harbison Award for Gifted Teaching from the Danforth Foundation, and it was well deserved. Many students remember her fondly for her brilliance and dynamism in the classroom as well as for her extraordinary kindness and generosity to her students. We both received extra mentoring because we were going on to graduate school in English (partly inspired by what we learned from her). As each of us became seniors, in different years, she gave us (Sister Anne with Elaine Zablotny, Marianne with Mary Evans) a tutorial to prepare, nominated us for fellowships, and drove us to an interviews if they were required. But her generosity was far from being confined to those hoping to follow in her footsteps. For example, in Marianne’s senior year, she took a group of students, including several non-English majors, to Cape Hatteras over spring break to study for comprehensive exams on the beach.
“Some special memories: Sister Anne recalls that Mrs. Brown took the Junior Sisters who were English majors on tour of the Folger Shakespeare Library, especially into the Reading Room. Even today, she writes, “I remember my awe at being allowed into the inner sanctum. Over the years I visited Mrs. Brown in Oxford several times. I distinctly remember 2001 (with Sr. Joan Ferraro, ’63) and 25 July 2011 (the last time). On the latter occasion she drove herself and me to Church Hanborough for lunch at the ‘Hand & Shears’ and a visit to the 12th century church, where I took the picture here reproduced.”
“Marianne remembers ‘When we visited her in England, she gave my husband an off-the-beaten-track book when he was writing on Poussin, and this introduced a whole new direction into his work. On another visit she took me to lunch and to the Church of St. John the Baptist in Burford, and showed me the memorial of the 17th century Levellers executed there.’ “
Tessa Merdler Green ’62 sent this poem in memory of Nancy:
In Memory of My Professor and Friend, Nancy P. Brown
She was British to the bone and somebody I own
I longed to resemble.
She was scholar and teacher, lover of birds,
chiseled of feature.
She used to say her students were her “daughters” –
and so, in many ways she was mother to us. She taught us that dignity is not dead,
that the Middle Ages were not dark,
that the Renaissance was more than Shakespeare, that a professor can be humble.
Indeed she was not proud, nor did she raise her voice,
never loud, always gentle, kind and thoughtful.
Like the books she treasured she was rare.
She dwelt among the spires of Oxford
– beyond compare.
August 24, 2015
Tessa Merdler Green, TRINITY Class of 1962
Do you have memories of Professor Nancy Brown? Share them in the comment section below or send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add them to this blog.Read comments (3) Add Comment