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David A. Sylvester
David Sylvester
David A. Sylvester is a writer and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area with an interest in spiritual growth and social justice.



No More Cheap and Easy Easters!

Apr7

by: on April 7th, 2012 | Comments Off

This weekend, the churches across this country will fill up with people who identify themselves as Christians to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Let me see if I have this right: This was a man who counseled us to “Turn the other cheek,” and “Love your enemies.”

And the United States of America is a country with the highest prison population in the world and a record number of inmates on death row awaiting execution;

A country that assassinates people at will, from drones flying at a high altitude, by push-button technology, without any legal process at all;

A country that launched an illegal war called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” that killed tens of thousands and has turned a million people into refugees;

A country that thinks owning a gun is a sign of freedom and independence and gun control infringes on “our rights.”

This weekend, the priests and preachers will proclaim the “Paschal mystery of salvation” in front of packed congregations. We Christians will join with Jesus as he celebrates his last supper with his disciples, washes their feet in a humble gesture of servanthood, then agonizes alone all night as he faces a rigged trial and unjust execution. We will kiss the Cross, the instrument of his torture and execution, and dedicate ourselves to “taking up our cross daily” and then give each other hugs over his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

You might disagree with me, but in my opinion, if we Christians left our churches on Sunday and followed Christ in action on Monday, the killing would stop that very day. In other words, it is a mockery of life, death and resurrection of Jesus to call this a Christian country.  

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Why the Defrocking of Fr. Roy Bourgeois Will Test the Spirituality and Sincerity of SOAW Protest

Apr12

by: on April 12th, 2011 | 45 Comments »

If you are following the news, you might know that sometime this week, Fr. Roy Bourgeois is going to be expelled from the Maryknoll order after more than 40 years as one of its leading members. Later, the Vatican is undoubtedly going to defrock – the word is “laicize” — him as a Catholic priest.

Father Roy Bourgeois. Flickrcc/peaceworker46

This rupture comes two years after Fr. Roy participated in an unapproved ordination of a Catholic woman as a priest. At the time, he was excommunicated as a Catholic but not expelled. Since then, some kind of unacknowledged truce seemed to prevail between Fr. Roy and the Maryknolls, even though I know Fr. Roy sent a letter last year to other Maryknoll priests asking them to come forward publicly and support the ordination of women.

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The Catholic Crisis: Part II: When faith is challenged, Catholics must grow up

Jul27

by: on July 27th, 2010 | 39 Comments »

Many years ago, when I was struggling to understand the smoke-and-mirrors world of corporate journalism, a Washington, D.C., veteran passed on to me a bit of wisdom:

When I was a reporter, an old PR pro once told me something. He said ‘You come to the press conferences and you listen, and the first mistake you make is that you think we’re lying. You discover we’re not lying. Then you make a greater mistake. You think we’re telling the truth.’ (1)

In Part I of examining the Catholic Crisis, I tried to point out the problem with this greater mistake. We examined the falsity within the partial truths of the meta-stories in pop culture, these simplistic, black-and-white constructs that make the world safe and understandable. We picked apart the assumptions blended with facts in one of last week’s news story that made it seem the Vatican thinks the ordaining of women is as bad as priests who sexually abuse children.

Now, we turn to a more difficult side of the partial truth: the way in which it is true. The truth within the partial truth poses a challenge to human understanding, because it is so difficult to face that our mind wants nothing more than to jump to quick and easy explanations, to construct meta-stories of some kind. But if we do this, we avoid the paradox that can, with struggle, force us to mature.


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The Catholic Crisis: Part I: How pop culture gets it wrong and distorts the truth

Jul26

by: on July 26th, 2010 | 5 Comments »

If you have followed the latest news, you might think that the Catholic Church has just made changes to “equate” the the sexual abuse of children with ordaining women as priests.

That’s what the New York Times told us over a week ago:

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican issued revisions to its internal laws on Thursday making it easier to discipline sex-abuser priests, but caused confusion by also stating that ordaining women as priests was as grave an offense as pedophilia.

The decision to link the issues appears to reflect the determination of embattled Vatican leaders to resist any suggestion that pedophilia within the priesthood can be addressed by ending the celibacy requirement or by allowing women to become priests.

Naturally, if you take this report at face value, as I did and many others have, including some on Tikkun Daily, you would think that the Church must be run by people who are either overtly evil or mentally ill. So I started looking into this episode. The more I looked, the more complicated it became.

Protest against sexual abuse of children by priests (flickr.cc/Steve Rhodes)

After investigating it this week, as a veteran journalist and a Catholic, I think I found the real culprit in this story. The real culprit is a spiritual virus of our times: the partial truth.

The partial truth has two lives. In its first life, it is a partial lie. It creates a false frame for the debate, makes moralistic dichotomies and leads to simplistic, destructive decisions. In its second life, it also contains some truth. The truthful side of a partial truth needs to be confronted honestly in its true depth so that understanding can develop and real solutions sought. But the lying quality of the partial truth has so confused and distorted the debate that an honest search for a solution has become all the more difficult and even derailed.


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Rethinking Economics: How Sam Daley-Harris inspires hope with citizen activism and microcredit for the poor

Jul23

by: on July 23rd, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Feeling lethargic or depressed?

Take a look at this 20-minute video of Sam Daley-Harris talking about his work lobbying for social change and advocating for microcredit to help assist the poor. You will probably get a healthier jolt of inspiration and energy than from another espresso or Red Bull.


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Why Empire is a Spiritual Disease: U.S. death squads, assassinations, and plans for perpetual occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan

Jul2

by: on July 2nd, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Three years ago, Sen. Barack Obama was sharp, forceful and eloquent in his questions to Gen. David Petraeus about the failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In a congressional hearing on Iraq, Obama did not mince words with the general:

This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake. And we are now confronted with the question: How do we clean up the mess and make the best out of a situation in which there are no good options, there are bad options and worse options?

Sen. Barack Obama questions Gen. Petraeus during Iraq hearings, 2007. (Go to 3:00 of this 9:45 minute video for above quote.)

This same candidate Obama was also confidently talking about withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months during his 2007 interviews. He defended a pull-out to two New York Times reporters, saying it would not “backfire” and discourage the Iraqis to find a political solution involving all sides of the conflict, as the critics claimed.

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Dennis Hopper: The man who showed us why America is going crazy

Jun11

by: on June 11th, 2010 | 6 Comments »

Herman Vaske (left) and Dennis Hopper in "The A-Z of Separating People From Their Money"

Dennis Hopper had an unfortunate gift for self-marginalization. He played the buffoon, the drunk, the druggie, the sex addict whose foolish behavior obscured a serious sensibility. When he died on May 29 at the age of 74 from prostate cancer, his life was once again in chaos. On his deathbed, he was divorcing his wife of 18 years, getting a restraining order to keep from seeing her. The mainstream writers, with their unfailing instinct for the superficial, remembered him as a “Hollywood bad boy,” a “rebel,” a “hellraiser.” The New York Times memorialized him for portraying “drug-addled, often deranged misfits.”

But this official record distorts, suppresses and marginalizes what the mainstream doesn’t want to see in Hopper’s work. It confuses his social and political critique, most notably in “Easy Rider,” with intentionally bizarre roles such as the psychopath Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet.”

More importantly, the mainstream writers entirely omitted some of Hopper’s most interesting and sustained efforts. In the late 1990s, he narrated and acted in three separate films stretching over nine hours of viewing time made by a German director who you’ve probably never heard of. Not only are Hermann Vaske and his films unknown in the U.S. but you can only get one of these films here – and then only on VHS and only from specialty video stores. (In Berkeley, CA, Reel Video; in San Francisco, Le Video.) It’s the first of the Hopper and Vaske trilogy called “The Fine Art of Separating People from their Money.”

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Conscience is contagious: The growing opposition of UC law profs and grads to John Yoo’s torture theories

May15

by: on May 15th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

Code Pink protests John Yoo at the Commonwealth Club. Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr

The long line of UC law school graduates approached the protest with some hesitation.

Crossing from the opposite side of Gayley Avenue on the northern edge of UC’s campus, the professors in their colorful medieval robes were the first to see the photos, the orange suited inmate, the leaflets against torture. Then some 250 students followed in their black caps and gowns, streaming toward the Greek Theater for their graduation ceremonies.

They saw once again the unforgettable images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. A color photograph of a naked young man with a black hood stretched to a metal bed frame, a man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling and in chains. And they filed past a dozen of us handing out pamphlets and orange ribbons to protest American torture policies.

These photos show war crimes. They show people seized without any process of law, held in arbitrary detention and subjected to agonizing suffering. For what? For the false confessions, inaccurate information and wild allegations that have become a staple during the “war on terror.” Some day, I’m convinced they will convict Bush administration officials, such as UC law professor John Yoo, of war crimes.

When I joined these protests four years ago, organized by the Bush impeachment group, the World Can’t Wait, we seemed pitifully few in number. Maybe six or eight of us gathered outside of Boalt Hall on the busy Bancroft Avenue. Few of the passers-by took the leaflets. We often addressed our arguments loudly and persuasively – to ourselves. It was easy to feel irrelevant and marginal. Behind us, with its imposing stone façade, Boalt Hall seemed an impressive, almost impregnable institution.

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Bravo for the Pope! He’s Facing Reality.

May12

by: on May 12th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

At last Pope Benedict XVI is moving the Catholic Church toward the truth: the victims need justice and the Church needs transformation. In this, he shows the human struggle for and against change — and the path of renewal ahead.

Last Easter, the Roman Catholic Church, my beloved church, seemed to retreat into a shell of institutional defensiveness. Some of the top clerics absurdly complained of an anti-Catholic backlash similar to “anti-Semitism” when, in fact, it was facing the cry for justice among the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests for decades.

But when you love someone, or some community, you see the greatness that lies within the heart. Every parent knows what the faith of love is like. You weep with grief over the child’s destructive behavior, but you never think these actions are the final verdict of the child’s nature. With the eyes of love, you see that your child’s destructive actions are only mistaken aberrations and that his or her inner goodness always remains the truer self.

Pope Benedict XVI during his arrival in the Lisbon airport on May 11, 2010. Credit: M.Mazur/www.thepapalvisit.org.uk.

That’s why I castigated the Church for its self-pity — a dominant Euro-centric organization of 1 billion members is not a very convincing candidate for victimhood — but also explained why I have faith in the Catholic Church. Back in April I wrote:

It is precisely at the moment of moral challenge, whether from the suffering of the sexually abused or the victims of anti-Jewish genocide, that the Catholic Church has the opportunity to show its true self. It has the powerful spiritual tools of prayer and Gospel values for uncovering the roots of the errors of the past and making the necessary changes.

It is my faith and conviction that this will – and must – happen. This is why the sturm und drang of the moment does not disillusion me. The best in the Catholic tradition reflects a pilgrim Church on the journey of growth and change.

Now it is time to acknowledge, and celebrate, that the best in the Church is emerging, at least for the moment. It is taking responsibility for its own sins, recognizing the attacks from the world are justified and that the Church needs to change.

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Governor Brewer, who are you to check for documents?

May7

by: on May 7th, 2010 | 19 Comments »

The irony of the Arizona law (pdf here) outlawing “immigrating-while-poor-and-brown” is that Arizona has 22 federally recognized native American tribes — people who suffered the onslaught of European colonists in successive waves. From the point of view of the First Nations United, Arizona’s law is based on power “established by an immigrant and illegal settler colonialist government, which has consistently relied on the genocide and mistreatment of the original peoples of this continent.”

As the first peoples of this continent, we pose this question to Governor Brewer, Senator Russell Pearce, and law enforcement in the state of Arizona, “Who are you to check for documents?”

Who indeed? If Arizonans start pointing a finger at the new arrivals, they have three fingers pointing back at themselves.

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