I hate that I hurt enough to write this. I hate that I sit here, partially in tears, thinking about the division that has everything in this nation polarized. This incident this weekend is already making the rounds on the right and left, with people already camped out and digging in their positions on both sides. And until now, I’ve been doing my best trying not to become entrenched. I’ve done my best these past years trying to not let the horrid atrocities I see on the news get to me. I’ve been carefully navigating my way through each new situation, each new bit of news and its revelations with my heart still intact, hoping that sooner or later there would be a solution and we would just get back to all being united in SOMETHING.
But seeing this weekend’s horrible video of Elder Nathan Philips being taunted by a group of ‘Catholic’ kids broke me. It hurt. It made me angry and made me want to throw up all at the same time. It made me angry cause I recognize that demeanor and that sense of entitlement, and it sickens me because where I see it is in my own extended family.
I grew up Roman Catholic with blue collar, Baby Boomer parents. Thanks to my Grandparents payment of the fees and at their request, I was put in private, Catholic school. And while the school’s religious doctrine was significantly lacking compared to other Christian schools in the area, the same, simple teachings were expressed over and over. Love one another. Treat others as you wish to be treated. For what you so do to the least of my brothers you do onto me. These are the lessons an impressionable youngster like me took to heart, and I still do my best to follow them.
The same lessons weren’t taught at home. I asked my mother one time why she wouldn’t let me wave hi to a group riding motorcycles as we were going into a restaurant one time. “We don’t associate with THOSE type of people,” was her reply. My father taught me about ‘reverse racism’ and used to point out examples – anytime a black person ever stood up for themselves it was labeled as ‘acting entitled.’ The migrants (that was their name; never immigrants, Latinos or other culturally appropriate titles) that worked in the fields around our small city were ones to stay away from, because they were uncivilized, stupid and dangerous. I still remember a garage sale we had where I accidentally opened up the second garage door at the same time a family of Latinos were looking at what we had for sale. My opening the second door allowed all of the tools my father had that weren’t part of the sale to be seen. He was mad for weeks after, fully expecting his garage would be broken into at any moment.
It didn’t stop with cultural racism. When a new priest came to town, he decided to teach meditation and even did a laying of hands and prayer ceremony after mass one time for a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer. I remember her being in tears, thanking all of us who participated with hugs. I was so very excited at learning from this new priest as I knew these were things that would make me feel closer to God. But of course my parents saw it differently. They joined the group of parents that worked to get him kicked out of the parish for teaching “Buddhism”.
Of course, my religious questions continued. Dad had taught me the Nicene creed, the Catholic statement of faith, had a line that said, “Of all that is seen and unseen”, meaning that we believed in spirits and life after death. I think he wished that he hadn’t said that later, because his demeanor changed after I started asking more questions he couldn’t answer. When they became too profound, he said I shouldn’t be asking them. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” he would say, “Be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He told me I was thinking too much. I had to start taking things at face value and stop asking questions.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The beliefs I grew up with and were ‘supposed’ to have didn’t feel right to me, and so, after moving away, I studied for myself and found out that many of the things I was taught were wrong. There is no such thing as ‘reverse racism.’ People of color DO have more issues trying to live in any society in the United States because they are still dealing with the after effects of decades of laws that did not allow them to become as financially stable as whites during the Jim Crow era. I know now that many of the immigrants that come from that southern border are fleeing from horrible situations. They have nothing, and they are simply coming here to find hope and to live their life as they wish, much like my own family came from Germany, France and England many generations ago.
But you have to go back and visit sometime. And for the longest time I did go back like a dutiful child. I tried like hell not to bring anything up that would cause problems. I wanted them to be proud of who I had become and of the life I made for myself. And most important to me was that I wanted them to recognize that I still believe those things that I was taught so many years ago in that private Catholic school. Love one another. Do onto others as you would have done to you, for what you onto the least of my brothers you do onto me. Perhaps I wasn’t going to mass regularly, but I was still searching, doing what I could to find my religious place in the world and make it balance with still being accepted by my family.
It never happened. Even up until ten years ago I was still trying. I’d bring something up to my father that another minister had said and he would immediately end the conversation with, “that’s too liberal.” Months later I tried again as I found common ground in Oprah Winfrey’s talks with Eckhart Tolle. I brought up to my father some of the topics and how they connected my personal beliefs with their Catholic teachings. “She’s a reverse racist.” He quipped. The worst of it was seeing the anger he had in his eyes when I brought a book for him to read. I saw he was reading a book written by John McCain during the last time he ran for the presidency. So I brought Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” into the house. I was hoping to switch books with him so we could find some common ground. After he told me to get that book out of the house, I stopped trying.
The Familial Reality
I know now that there is absolutely no common ground with my parents when it comes to beliefs about culture, religions and privilege. The Trumpian madness has just made things more clear than I ever wanted to know. I had put boundaries on visits with my extended family because of the gross chasm of different beliefs. Stupidly, I relaxed those boundaries this past holiday season and was hit in the face with more talk about how ‘we’ are getting ripped off by ‘those’ illegal immigrants; how heaven has a wall, so we should too, and how there is no such thing as racial injustice in this country. I left the Christmas family celebration feeling alienated and betrayed, painfully aware that there was nothing I could do to change their minds, and that they had become even more feverous in their beliefs. I liken it to a cultish fervor now. And it doesn’t stop with my parents anymore. Many of my aunts and uncles share the same beliefs. Some even more radical.
I have spent the past month trying to come to terms with this new normal. I’m going to have to make tougher boundaries, because I cannot even fathom how to face the fact that my family are racists. It hurts that they are so comfortable in their privilege that they refuse to see anything else. Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, they refuse to stop looking at shadows on the wall because they like what they see. Worse yet, I will always be treated as ‘different’ when I visit. Perhaps they think I’m too intelligent for my own good, or just have too big a bleeding heart for others. I don’t care anymore. I have spent too much of my time trying to bridge a gap that no one else is reaching a hand out to help with. A gap that they claim I’ve put there myself in the first place.
Why The Covenant Catholic Incident Hits so Close To Home
I am no longer Catholic. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have feelings toward the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Yes, many atrocities have happened in the church. I don’t deny that. But there are also very good people out there that are Catholic. My Grandparents were some of the good ones. My Great-Grandparents were as well. My sister teaches in Catholic school, and although she can be a bit bossy (she’s a Virgo after all) she is still a damn good woman. My Godparents were damn fine people who raised damn fine daughters of their own. I saw one of them post on Facebook about being just as appalled as I am of this incident.
But what still hurts is I already know that my parents are echoing the language of the priests and the parents of these boys. ‘That man was pounding his drum in my boy’s face.” “Why don’t you play all of the tape so you can see the real issue here and not make it about my son who was defending himself.” “We don’t know everything that happened here, so we can’t truly judge who was at fault.” Every time I hear or read someone say something in support of the discrimination both in this situation or anything that is pro-prejudice, it’s heard in my father’s voice. Because that is what he has become, and he doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
What Do I Do Now?
There is a reason why I haven’t gone to many marches, joined a resistance organization or done anything else but donate money since these things all began. The fact of the matter is I can’t. It just hurts too much. It hurts because I know people on the other side, and these people were supposed to be the loving, caring individuals that I grew up with, and should be living the truth they taught.
Now, it’s a lot worse for me. Since Christmas I have been doing everything I can to not be overwhelmed at this new reality of boundaries I must now consider. I’ve already unfriended family on facebook, I refuse phone calls and only responded to the occasional texts. And even that little bit of communication feels uncomfortable as hell. But right now, I just don’t know what to do. Even my ancestral veneration work feels solidly off.
All I know for absolute certain is that I have to do what is best for me and my immediate family. I need to take care of myself. Those boundaries aren’t because I am being mean, not ‘listening to both sides,’ trying to ignore some ‘truth’ or because I’m just being a bitch. They are there because of the pain I feel. I may even take a break from social media for awhile, even though I don’t really want to do that as it will also cut me off from facebook friends that have been my support. I’m still figuring it out as I go, but I am damn proud of myself for recognizing where I am at and that things do need to change, for better or for worse. (And to be perfectly honest, this post is either going to make things worse if they ever see it, or make things better because I’ll feel better once it’s posted.)
The Takeaway From All Of This
If you have read through all the way to now, thank you for reading. And just please know that there is such a thing as a good Catholic, and even a such a thing as a good Christian. Know that there are also good, caring individuals out there that for whatever reason, they refuse to step away from watching a shadow of what is really going on in the world. I may not agree with everything my extended family says, but they do try to care. And they, along with many others, don’t deserve hate. Perhaps pity, but not hate. Save that for the ones who are making the speeches and performing the actions that are further dividing people.
As for me and what I’m going to do in this new normal? I’ll still keep my eye out while I’m in public, prepared for something that could go awry if someone decides they are going to go public with their racism. I’ll still donate to charities as much as I can, and I’ll still pray for justice and peace. But that is really all I can do.