Even demons believe

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James 2:19

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,
But when your return, it’s the same old place,
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace,
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace,
Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.

P.F. Sloan, Eve of Destruction

I am a person who is easily attracted to wisdom traditions. I love Christianity, but I also enjoy reading works from each of the world’s major religions and secular philosophy. I feel like I take away something worthwhile from all of them. This has been the case ever since I was young. My crazy mother was all about getting me to read great literature, and had me reading books like Candide in middle school. By high school, I was reading Kant and Leibniz. That’s probably how I ended up a homeschooler, if I think about it. I’m now the crazy mother.

*pauses to let that moment of clarity sink in*

What is less easy is holding fast to one’s beliefs when your community profoundly disappoints you. If you ask younger generations why they do not go to church on a regular basis, most will likely not tell you that it is because they are unbelievers who think they will derive nothing from religious discipline. They will tell you that they are “spiritual” in their own distinct way, and that’s probably true. What they don’t want to do is share a pew with people they perceive as hypocrites or listen to a hypocrite minister deliver a sermon.

The purification of the church is a theme in pretty much every religion. In Christianity, this is a function of the Jewish diaspora historically. The church fathers were not people with fixed audiences, but missionaries who carried the message to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire, and who circulated among their social networks for the sake of holding believers accountable.

I was talking to a neighbor recently who was deeply invested in bringing me over to her purely political interpretation of current events. For this person, everything that is happening lately is one colossal battle between good and evil. There are the on-message team players (good) and everyone else (evil). I suspect there are a lot of people like her out in the world now. They are the same people who are going to call the police because your kid is playing out in the front yard during the quarantine. And they will furiously slap their own back for doing it. Because they are on the “good” side.

This kind of behavior – trying to bully people into believing something they otherwise do not believe, often for good reasons – has been ubiquitous online for years now. But the coronavirus is giving the worst actors an excuse to bring that behavior into their real-life interactions. I expect that after a few weeks of this behavior, communities are going to be deeply divided with a very durable form of hatred and contempt. People are going to remember this event and who said what for the rest of their lives.

I responded to her by explaining that in times of crisis, my main concern has always been maintaining my purity of mind. This is true both intellectually and spiritually. You cannot be a good investor if you allow people to bully you out of facts. Moreover, you need to be able to seek out situations where the consensus is wrong, because that is what is ultimately profitable. I have not watched the news for weeks now, but instead consume primary sources and raw data for all things. Instead of listening to Fox News or CNN summarize data, I look at the data. Guess what? Both Republicans and Democrats believe a lot of bullshit things right now. And I stop talking to toxic and political people as much as I can.

Do you know how difficult it is to talk to someone who relies on NBC for literally all information about the world after you have sat down and parsed models? Don’t even try it. Just walk away.

Watching this kind of pettiness play out – now, and across all the years that social media mob mentality has been a feature of our existence – has given me a great deal of sympathy for the early church leaders, who lived with the constant risk of being persecuted and having their lives destroyed for the simple act of believing something different than their neighbors. It is not difficult to think the world has gone absolutely mad when you are surrounded by people without a smidgen of intellectual humility.

I’ve watched the little church ladies in our neighborhood and online defend hoarding essential goods and even participate in it. They get into physical shoving matches in the grocery store over canned goods. But ooooh do they love Jesus.

I’ve watched little church ladies in our neighborhood and online shrug off millions of people losing their jobs. As someone with a background in finance and economics, it’s almost worth a shrug to me too. In June they get to see how much their pensions have been destroyed, so until then it’s them versus the whippersnappers.

I’ve watched fellow homeschooling mothers gloat about all the other children who have experienced the government laying waste to their education. Many of them shrug off job losses too, because they’ve been housewives so long the real world has become an abstraction to them. It’s frankly kind of disgusting.

And all of these people, at the end of the day, blather about God and how other people’s misery is God’s plan. As if simply invoking the idea of a deity is sufficient to relieve them of their own agency. It’s like listening to a bunch of Joel Osteen bots, with the implication that other people are experiencing misery because they are of lesser metaphysical status and can be redeemed solely by expressing gooey thoughts about Jesus on Facebook. This is everything sane people hate about organized religion, and it’s why the church fathers keep trying to bring people back to the basics of faith and compassion.

The Bible is very clear about what to do in situations like this. Guard your own purity of mind. Care to live justly even when it is inconvenient. When other people hoard, share. When other people gloat, hide. Separating the pure of heart from those who are invested in the madness is not something that is only happening out in the world. It happens in the pews too, unfortunately.

One small place of enchantment

I do not understand how anyone can live without one small place of enchantment to turn to.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

John Muir

For after all what is man in nature?  A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either.  The ends of things and their beginnings
are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret.  He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed.

Blaise Pascal

I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

John 14:18

Pruning and weeding as frames of mind

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.

George Washington Carver

Adam was a gardener, and God, who made him, sees that half of all good gardening is done upon the knees.

Rudyard Kipling

For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:21

Pathology is a relatively easy thing to discuss, health is very difficult.  This, of course, is one of the reasons why there is such a thing as the sacred, and why the sacred is difficult to talk about, because the sacred is peculiarly related to the healthy.

Gregory Bateson, Ecology of Mind

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I have started reading Robert Pogue Harrison’s most incredible book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that the book is an inquiry into the influence of the idea of a garden and the activity of gardening on our souls. If some particularly important figure in western civilization has mentioned a garden, it is explored thoughtfully and in ways you might not have anticipated in this book. I’m not finished with it, but it is already one of my absolute favorite tomes. I’m not too modest to suggest that’s saying a lot.

As I am aggressively uninterested in the nonsense that is dominating current events at present, I have spent days tending my gardens. The tasks for today were planting fruit trees and pruning all of the dead growth that goes along with whatever passes for “winter” in Florida. The act of pruning gave me ample time to consider how perfectly gardens serve as metaphors for “the human condition,” as Harrison would say.

I loathe pruning, so it’s a good thing one only has to engage in the practice a couple times a year. Have you ever tried to prune bougainvilleas or rose bushes or fruit trees with thorns? My bougainvilleas in particular – though not very old – have thorns the size of sewing needles. You can pick whatever tool you choose to cut them down to size, but they will still inflict some pain. These plants fight back and it’s heroic.

Pruning is an essential activity, however. Gardeners prune for several reasons. One, to get rid of dead or damaged branches. Two, to create room for new growth. Three, to make the plant beautiful and pleasing to behold. And four, to have the plant grow on your own terms – to not damage your house, impede a pathway, and so on.

You can probably see where I am going with this. “Pruning” as a behavior is also essential to a healthy human existence. Like plants, human beings cannot flourish when constrained by dead ends.

I recently stumbled upon my neighbor out weeding her flower beds. Her yard is mostly a matter of professional landscaping and not flowers or vegetables that mean anything to her. I am helping her change that, however. It had not occurred to me until she complained that all she does is weed her yard that her idea of maintaining a garden is entirely limited to eliminating weeds. That’s unpleasant indeed.

She asked me how it is that I do not spend all my time in the gardens weeding. Do I have some secret? Are my beds lined with that plastic sheeting they sell in garden centers? Do I know of some awesome chemical?

I told her that her main problem is organic – that she doesn’t plant enough of what she likes. Have you ever thought about why you weed a garden? It’s the same logic as pruning – you are eliminating that which competes with positive growth for resources. The best way to eliminate weeds is to suffocate them with plants that you do like. Plants that fight back. I don’t have a lot of weeds because I have been known to plant 300 impatiens in a single afternoon. Weeds can’t compete with hundreds of flowers that derive their name from their impatience to spread and reproduce.

It actually requires less effort to be surrounded by beauty than it does to be surrounded by negativity.

I have adopted this practice in my life as well. I have become shameless in cutting off social relationships that fill me with anxiety, anger, or other toxic emotions. I don’t do social media anymore. I don’t hate-follow people or the news. As far as my life is concerned, all of these are just weeds and crossed branches that need to be eliminated.

Instead, I try to fill as much of my daily life as possible with things that are beautiful and good. I devote time to reading good books, going hiking or kayaking, sitting outside with a cup of coffee and listening to the birds, teaching Elise how to play soccer. Just sitting outside soaking up the sun. It’s not that difficult to smother the bad stuff with good stuff.

The garden is an excellent metaphor for living because the Garden is the primeval classroom for human activity. It’s our holy education on how to exist well in this world and enter into a positive relationship to what is transcendent, beautiful, and good. It is the space, physical and intellectual, that routinely brings us back to first things – to “paradise,” which literally means and enclosed park.

Red Canna, Georgia O’Keeffe

Ash Wednesday

You remember too much,
my mother said to me recently.

Why hold onto all that? And I said,
Where can I put it down?

Anne Carson, The Glass Essay

This is one of my favorite poems, with a line that has pretty much become my mantra: “Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.”

Ash Wednesday

T.S. Eliot

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond
repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

IV
Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

No, the church does not have to change to remain “relevant”

One refrain I get deeply exhausted with is the notion that “churches have to change to remain relevant in the modern world.”

The people who say such things usually want their church to behave more like a political party than a religious institution. (Like Pope Francis, who would prefer a Marxist church to the Roman Catholic Church.) The change they want to see is not theological, but cultural. For example, they want the Catholic Church to embrace abortion or LGTBQ rights or to allow priests to marry. Most probably can’t articulate the theological arguments behind the church’s positions. But even the ones who can don’t care about theology.

What really gets me about this statement though is that it is demonstrably, empirically false. Churches that become more liberal experience rapid declines in attendance (and giving), not increasing attendance and more “relevancy” in their communities. This is the lesson of every denominational schism in recent decades.

Take, for example, the rapid decline in the Evangelical Lutheran Church:

According to projections from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Office of Research and Evaluation, the whole denomination will have fewer than 67,000 members in 2050, with fewer than 16,000 in worship on an average Sunday by 2041.

That’s right: according to current trends, the church will basically cease to exist within the next generation. 

Or the Presbyterian Church USA, which continues to have entire communities leave as the church becomes more liberal:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continued to lose members in 2017, extending a pattern that has persisted since the mid-1960s. At the end of the year, church membership totaled 1,415,053, a decline of 67,714 members from 2016.

At the same time, a five-year period of unprecedented losses neared an end as net membership losses returned to previous levels over the last 50-plus years. The larger losses between 2012 and 2016 were brought on by the dismissal of about 100 churches (and their members) each year to splinter denominations after the 2010 General Assembly voted to allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as church officers and the 2014 Assembly voted to allow same-gender marriage.

“It is clear our unusually large losses between 2012 and 2016 are directly related to churches dismissed to other bodies,” says Kris Valerius, manager of records and statistics for the Office of the General Assembly.

From 21 churches and 4,718 members dismissed in 2011, the number jumped to 110 churches and 33,659 members dismissed in 2012. That pattern continued until 2017, when the number of dismissed churches fell to 45 and the number of members dismissed dipped to 6,910. The PC(USA) currently has 9,304 congregations, 147 fewer than at the end of 2016.

You can go all the way down the line with liberal denominations and liberal seminaries. They are not more “relevant,” they are headed for extinction as a matter of fact, not opinion.

The Catholic Church has seen dramatic declines in attendance and giving in the era of Pope Francis, and it’s not because Pope Francis is too conservative for people’s tastes. It’s because people WANT tradition and history. You know what has been growing in the Catholic Church? Attendance at traditional Latin Mass.

This is not rocket science. As people move closer to postmodern worldviews and moral relativism, they see less reason to practice a religion. The first generation post-schism starts going to church less. The second generation becomes a religious “none.”

Another reason for that trend is that the schism rarely stops with one issue. The church splits over gay rights, for example, but ends up talking about environmental sin. So the folks who started off just wishing that the church would not be cruel to gay people wonder how the church became so far gone. Meanwhile, in the conservative churches, things continue exactly as they did before and no one is having an existential crisis. Their kids are more likely to marry in the church (or marry at all) and have kids baptized in the church (or have kids at all).

You have watched this happen in the Democrat Party in the United States at-large too. White Baby Boomer liberals led the charge to change religious institutions toward less traditional positions and practices. Their millennial kids are not religious at all.

You either commit to a tradition or you don’t. You either subscribe to religious discipline or you don’t.

There is not some magical middle ground where you can simultaneously believe in a wisdom tradition and have a postmodern understanding of truth.

Canon vs secular law in the bankruptcies of Catholic dioceses

I’ve written a lot about financially distressed Catholic dioceses and how the financial structure of the Catholic Church insulates the Vatican from accountability. I came across this very interesting article about how dioceses have started moving funds and property into charitable trusts as abuse lawsuits have piled up.

Is it a coincidence of management or a conspiracy to shelter assets from victims? Is it just or desirable to allow alleged victims to go after the assets of schools and other auxiliary charitable causes of dioceses, essentially forcing them out of business over the behavior of an individual clergyman – transferring the damages from individuals to the entire community? Some of these claims involve priests who are no longer alive or allegations that are decades old and can’t be proven or disputed effectively. These are the sort of problems the courts have to sort out.

There seems to be considerable debate over whether this is legal or not. Some scholars argue that the dioceses adopting the charitable trust structure is unrelated to the abuse scandals, and is more about the church stepping into the modern era of nonprofit finance, which can be quite complex.

Any institutional bankruptcy attorney will tell you, however, that if you do this in anticipation of a bankruptcy filing for the specific purpose of sheltering specific assets from specific creditors, it’s likely to be considered fraudulent conveyance.

Pragmatic Catholic dioceses are still likely to adopt the structure because bankruptcy proceedings can drag on for so long that victims are likely to settle anyway. The movement of assets to trusts is a sample of what they are dealing with that puts creditors in their place before the legal fight even begins. By the time the issue is settled, so much of the proceeds will be going to lawyers’ fees that the fight isn’t even worth it.

At any rate, I found the discussion on the collision of canon law and secular law from a historical perspective fascinating:

With millions of dollars at stake, lawyers for dioceses and victims have taken to courts and conference rooms to decide whether money should be allocated to victims or sustain the Church’s ministry. There, they reference two legal codes to answer the question:

Who owns the Church’s property?

Debate about the structure of dioceses did not originate with clerical sex abuse lawsuits.

In the late 19th century, many state legislatures addressed the gap between how secular and canon law view the Catholic Church’s property. They developed the idea of the ‘corporation sole’ for dioceses – allowing bishops to control financial matters, while still allowing the next bishop to take over once his predecessor died or moved dioceses.

“It’s almost like a feudal structure,” said Marie Reilly, a law professor at Penn State who studies the intersection of bankruptcy and canon law. “You needed a way for the king to survive as a political entity so the property of the kingdom wouldn’t pass to his heirs but would remain property of the crown.”

Reilly sees the corporation sole as a ‘centralized model,’ where all diocesan entities are pooled together, and the bishop controls it all from the top.

Meanwhile, in the ‘decentralized model,’ schools and parishes exist as individual corporations or trusts. Instead of directly controlling church entities, the bishop serves as a trustee and the pastor or president of the smaller entity as the trust administrator.

The centralized model is more prevalent in older dioceses on the coasts, while the decentralized model was established in newer dioceses after laws began to define more clearly the status of non-profit corporations.

While both the centralized and decentralized models attempt to realize what is written in canon law, Reilly told Crux that she thinks the corporation sole model falls flat.

“The bishop doesn’t own parish property, property belongs to the juridical entity that acquired it,” she said. “So, when a parishioner or somebody makes a donation to a parish, that property belongs to the parish.”

That is why some dioceses decided to reconfigure their corporate status over a period stretching from roughly 2006 to 2012, including places like Erie, Pensylvania. In the process they moved from a corporation sole, the ‘centralized model,’ and transferred parishes into their own charitable trusts, a move which diocesan officials say better reflects canon law.

While it might look like parishes and other entities belong to the bishop, the diocese and parishes are separate juridical entities, meaning they own different things.

Dr. Kurt Martens, a canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America, said the bishop might oversee the activities of a parish, comparing the system to checks-and-balances, but is bound from doing more by canon law.

“The bishop, canonically speaking, does not own, through the diocese, the assets of a parish,” Martens said in an interview.

While canon law clearly separates bishops from parishes, the argument under secular law is more complicated. As a trustee, the bishop has secular authority over the parish charitable trust, a detail which diocesan lawyers contest is beside the point.

“The distinction between [diocesan] assets and parish charitable trust assets is not eliminated simply because the bishop is a trustee of a parish charitable trust,” said John Fessler, a lawyer for the Diocese of Erie.

The possibility for a bishop to control parish assets in secular law is outweighed by canon law, Fessler explained. Instead, the pastor and finance council of the parish, as trust administrators, would make financial decisions on behalf of the charitable trust.

“[The bishop] is the trustee of the parish charitable trust, he’s not a dictator,” Fessler said.

I also found this academic article from O’Reilly on the battle between canonical and secular legal frameworks, which goes into much more detail. It’s quite a fun topic for finance geeks.

Why Republican governors are choosing to keep their refugee resettlement programs

Elise on the playground with a refugee girl from the Congo.
These little ladies were inseparable.

Tucker Carlson – whose views I increasingly cannot stand – had a segment last night trying to “explain” why it was that most Republican governors have decided to continue and even expand refugee resettlement in their states. Of course, he didn’t know the answer, but he was perfectly fine leaving his audience with an outright lie.

Carlson found it counter-intuitive that Republican governors would choose to continue accepting refugees after President Trump signed an executive order last September that refugees could only be resettled in a jurisdiction if both state and local officials were on board. After all, some current and former Republican governors, including 2024 hopeful Nikki Haley, had lobbied aggressively for this measure. This was their opportunity finally to be free of the social and financial burdens refugees pose to local governments, and they rejected it.

Carlson concluded that Republican governors eventually decided to accept refugee resettlement programs for the financial assistance that accompanied them. Their motive was money, pure and simple, he suggested. As if getting $20,000 in aggregate to help deal with the costs of these programs were some serious consideration. Anyone who has worked in state government can tell you that’s not even a rounding error in the budget of a small agency, let alone something that would drive major policy decisions. It was a ludicrous and offensive claim, and honestly, I have no idea why conservatives continue to put up with Carlson’s bullshit anymore.

The reality of the refugee debate is that resettlement groups in the US primarily receive assistance from churches and religious groups. I know this because I have a lot of personal experience with these programs. My daughter and I volunteered with an ESL program for refugees coming over from the Democratic Republic of the Congo through the Catholic Church for a while. It was one of the most enlightening and fulfilling things I have ever done, and I highly recommend contributing to these causes.

The media loves to portray the refugee issue as a left-versus-right fight, and it’s not. It’s pretty much entirely a right-versus-right issue, with people who like and support Trump generally agreeing to disagree with him on this particular issue.

I guarantee you that very few of those lefty keyboard warriors on Twitter talking about Trump’s “Muslim ban” (most refugees coming into the US are not from Muslim countries – the US is nothing like Europe) have never lifted a finger to help refugees in their lives. It’s the gun-toting, Jesus-loving, Republican voters who are contributing their time and personal wealth to help with resettlement programs and they perceive these to be serious, life-altering causes.

Last year, 2,600 evangelicals participated in a drive to pressure Republican governors into continuing to accept refugees. These folks had established organizations devoted to helping refugees come over to the United States, and had worked aggressively through the bureaucratic maze across years to reunite families. They were not happy at all with the idea that their efforts would be destroyed:

The evangelical refugee resettlement agency World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical organizations seeking comprehensive immigration reform, led an effort this past week to send joint letters to 15 state governors.

The letters call for the officials to permit the continued resettlement of refugees through the U.S. refugee admissions program in accordance with Trump’s Sept. 26 executive order giving states and localities the ability to block refugee resettlement. 

So far, 17 of the nation’s 50 governors have indicated that they will continue to allow refugee resettlement in the U.S., according to World Relief.  

One of the letters, which was signed by 294 evangelicals in the state, was sent to Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey before he gave consent last Friday to refugee resettlement in Arizona’s borders. 

Another letter, signed by 136 evangelicals in North Carolina, was sent to Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper, who gave his consent for resettlement in the Tar Heel State to the U.S. State Department on Tuesday. 

Other letters were sent to governors in California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. 

The letter warned state leaders that disruptions to the resettling process in their states could impact the “reunification of many families who have been waiting years to be reunited.”

The letters stress that if states block resettlement in their borders, families looking to be reunited will likely exercise their right to move to those states once they are resettled in the U.S. 

But in doing so, the letters stated, refugees will be forced to “move away from vital employment assistance, language acquisition and cultural adjustment resources offered by their resettlement organization.”

“Refugees can best integrate into the U.S. and quickly become financially self-sufficient when supported both by their family and by a local resettlement office,” the form letters state.

“As our state’s governor, we urge you to keep the option open for local communities within [the state] to continue to receive newly arrived refugees. As always, we are committed to praying for you as you lead our state.”

The letters received a combined total of 2,669 signatories, including 659 on the letter to Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee, 340 on the letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and 231 on the letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. 

“After being forced to leave their countries to escape war, persecution or natural disaster and being legally allowed entry to the U.S., the last thing refugees should have to experience is being denied access to communities in which they wish to dwell,” World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said in a statement. “Halting the resettlement of refugees to states will disrupt families and could lead to the end of vital ministries by local churches.”

The Congolese refugees we worked with were all very good and very kind people. Their lives had been displaced by violent conflicts over natural resources that are primarily used by people in rich western countries. (Those smartphones we love so much are ruining a lot of lives.)

They had taken enormous personal risks to come here with their children. Most of those children had not known any life beyond a refugee camp, though one family I met had been previously settled in Russia before coming to the United States. Their kids spoke a few African languages, French, some Russian, and were learning English through our program and public schools. It used to kill me when I’d hear adults talking down to them like they were stupid.

In many cases, the fathers had remained behind so their wives and children could have the opportunity at a new life. This is a horrible fact of refugee life in the United States. In many cases, these refugees are getting resettled in public housing projects, where they see gangs and drugs and often do not have a father figure to anchor them. But stuff like this gets completely lost in the idiotic propaganda wars coming out of Washington. That makes the roles of Christian groups even more important. (It’s also important to the lives of the US-born kids in the same projects.)

The amount of help these churches provide refugees is incredible. They offer English classes. They help them get their kids registered for school and work as liaisons with government agencies and social workers. They provide transportation to doctor’s appointments and to the grocery store. Heck, they even teach the refugees how to shop at a big-box grocery store, which is a phenomenon they have never seen. They provide them with food because benefits do not go very far. They help them obtain clothes for all of their kids, winter coats, and toys at holidays. And beyond all that, they are just there for them through whatever comes up. Volunteers went to refugee weddings and baptisms.

With all of the political division in this country, a lot of “aggressively online” people live in a world of caricatures. This is also true for people who only get their news from one news source. It’s not unique to the left, either. The fact that Tucker Carlson does not understand who is helping refugees in this country means he probably interacts with more liberals in the DC area than conservatives personally. He likes them, in theory, but he’s not visiting their churches.

You don’t have to be some open borders, “we are a nation of immigrants, so let everyone in” nut to support refugees. You can believe that the country should do a better job of vetting refugees and still believe refugees are worth helping. You can believe that locals should have a voice in accepting refugees and simultaneously hope they choose to help. There is room in this country for a continuum of beliefs on any subject, but especially on immigration.