An Open Letter to Pres. Trump and all political leaders, with Holy Week, Notre Dame, and the reality of human suffering

Dear Mr. Trump and political leaders, federal, state, and local:

I write to you as a simple parish priest.  We will probably never meet. I spend my days serving my community and being with my family and friends, tucked into the foothills of the North Georgia mountains.  These days I am focused on Holy Week, a time and space that calls us to become more aware of deep truths about our human existence we would normally like to avoid.

It has been fascinating and heartbreaking to watch Notre Dame burn while we work out details for the lighting of the New Fire at the Great Vigil of Easter.  At the Saturday evening service, we will light a fire to focus our attention on God’s presence, on the warmth and light that radiates from the compassionate Heart that enlivens all that is.  I am sure that it will be a surreal moment as we are reminded of how light sometimes struggles to break through darkness.

We will also listen to readings that tell our story, a story of God’s unyielding love for us and our seemingly unyielding tendency to grasp and control while also crying out for redemption and relief.  One of the truths that Holy Week reminds us of is the frailty of our human lives and our tendency to yield to the illusion of scarcity. Being human, our over-functioning egos and cravings, rather than our hearts, often sit in the driver’s seat.  When our grasping minds control, we repeat the same patterns humans have suffered for millenia: greed, violence, scarcity, manipulation, oppression, and the perpetuation of a zero-sum world view.

As I watched so many people gather and sing Ave Maria as Notre Dame burned, I remembered those moments in my life when I have experienced brokenness and pain.  This will be another of those moments in our global life when we remember where we were when we found out about the fire. Generations hold these liminal moments, and collectively they are beads on the string of our shared human existence.  And like a string of beads, they can support us in our prayer.

Moments like this–magnified by the significance of Passover and Holy Week–remind us that through an honest awareness of suffering, we can learn more about ourselves and be transformed into more compassionate human beings.  Or we can perpetuate the greedy games we have played for far too long. As humans, we are meant to be in community. We are meant to share our lives, not compete for our basic existence. For too long our hands have been clinched in greed while our hearts yearn for something more real than the illusions we have been told we should bow down before.  

When we experience moments of heartbreak, we catch a glimpse of those deeper truths of our lives.  We appreciate those spaces of honesty and compassion–however brief they may be. The spiritual practices of all great faiths offer us tools through which we can cultivate this awareness and compassion.  

In this shared moment, we have an opportunity to do something remarkable, I think.  We have an opportunity to be authentically human. We have an opportunity to stop the grasping and fear-mongering and realize our interdependence.  We have an opportunity to practice spiritual imagination rather than perpetuate the systems of oppression that have hurt so many and our planet. You, as our leaders, have the opportunity to stop and reorient, to focus your attention on the common good rather than on your own agendas and fearful posturing to appeal to your base–or our baser instincts.  You have the opportunity to cultivate peace rather than perpetuate pride.

Will it cost?  Absolutely. Some of you may not win re-election.  Your egos will experience suffering, and there is no doubt that you will be drawn into the gravity of self-preservation–a gravity that always pulls us into a black hole if we have the courage to examine our lives.  

As political leaders, you will probably experience suffering with this needed reorientation, but if there is anything that these holy days teach us it is that, through an honest examination of the suffering of human existence and practice, we discover the wholeness promised by the One who created us all.  It is time for you–for us all–to step up and practice the spiritual courage we all desperately long for.

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