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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Road Back

I was watching a rerun of one of my favorite movies, "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" the other night. I know. A real "chick-flick". Mother-daughter stuff. The way women relate to each other.

Stay with me, now. It's not what you think.

It was a throw-away line in a scene between Siddalee Walker, played by Sandra Bullock, and Shep, her father, played by James Garner.

I can't even remember the context - I think Siddalee is just learning the extent of her mother's mental illness and is coming to terms with their rocky relationship.

Her father says, "Ah, the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

She laughs and asks, "Yeah, well what's the road back paved with?"

"Humility," he says.

That's more than just a great line, you know?

I have come to learn that the most powerful words in the English language are these, "I'm sorry."

If said with authenticity and true humility, they can begin to mend a broken heart, heal a broken relationship, or place one on the path toward reconciliation.

If it is not, however, if it is said in a perfunctory or insincere manner, it can make matters worse. Much, much worse that whatever the initial situation involved.

I'm not talking about the kind of apology you probably gave to one of your siblings when your mother forced you to, "Say you're sorry. Now. Right now."

I remember those. Hand on hip. Left foot tapping. Shoulders slumped. Looking off into the distance. Barely audible. "So'reeeee . . . ."

I'm not sure how I feel about the apology that was issued by the student newspaper at Notre Dame. The viciously anti-gay "cartoon" above appeared in last week's edition and the editor has apologized.

If you can 't read it, it says, "What's the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?"

"No clue," says the guy in the second frame.

The answer is in the third frame: "A baseball bat." The punchline in the cartoon was originally going to be "AIDS," but the artist "didn't want to make fun of fatal diseases."

Right. GLAAD is on the case.

The Observer’s editor, Jenn Metz, relayed a tearful apology by phone to the folks at GLAAD. She explained that she was not present when the decision to run the cartoon was made, and that she was incredibly upset that others on staff had made that decision.

An apology printed in the paper included the following:
The editors of The Observer would like to publicly apologize for the publication of “The Mobile Party” in the Jan. 13 edition. The burden of responsibility ultimately lies on us for allowing it to go to print. 
There is no excuse that can be given and nothing that can be said to reverse the damage that has already been done by this egregious error in judgment. 

Allowing this cruel and hateful comic a place on our pages disgraced those values and severely hurt members of our Notre Dame family — our classmates, our friends. For this, we sincerely apologize. Unfortunately, the language of hate is an everyday reality in our society.”

Makes me think of myself when I said, "So'reeee" when my mother was standing over my shoulder.

". . . no excuse that can be given . . ." Well, that's right. Unfortunately, however, one was given in the last sentence. " . . ."the language of hate is an everyday reality in our society."

That's a true enough statement, but I think it diminished the "sincere apology" in the immediately previous sentence. Sometimes, you should just let an apology be sincere and let it go, because, as the statement also says . . .

". . . noting that can be said to reverse the damage that has already been done . . ."

Well, I'm not so sure about that.

Now that the "cartoonist" (who has not yet been named) whose not-so-good intentions have nevertheless dug himself and the university into some fresh hell, the only road back is one paved with humility.

Actions speak much louder than words. The President and Dean of the University of Notre Dame - a Roman Catholic school NOT run by the Jesuits, by the way, but an "independent Catholic university" founded by the order of the Congregation of the Holy Cross - needs to put some Christian principles into action.

Some questions need to be seriously explored and prayed over. Like:

How can a school whose founder, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., said, “This college will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country,” actually embody that vision? 

How can a school, a university of higher education which espouses Christian values, create an environment where that kind of attitude is simply not tolerated and a "cartoon" like that would never "slip by" when the editor wasn't looking?

Can a Roman Catholic institution which holds a theology that homosexuality is "inherently disordered" still take responsibility for the violence that position can produce while maintaining its theological position with integrity?  How can they use their "independent" status to do some good?

I'm not talking about 'humiliation'. I'm not talking about 'shame and blame'.

I'm talking about humility. Big difference.  Humility means accepting the truth about yourself - warts and all - the good, the bad and the ugly.

I don't know about you, but it takes an enormous amount of humility to admit the truth about something good about myself - sometimes more humility than it takes to admit the truth about the bad stuff about myself.

It's a long road back from the hell that was created by this vicious assault on the children of God as well as the image of God we have in Christ Jesus.

It begins with "I'm sorry." But, I think, it continues from there.

Actions speak much louder than words. The actions taken by Notre Dame in the weeks and months ahead will demonstrate the kind of humility required to follow the commandment given to us by Jesus:

"Love one another as I have loved you."

UPDATE:  University president apologizes.  
“The University denounces the implication that violence or expressions of hate toward any person or group of people is acceptable or a matter that should be taken lightly,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president.

In accordance with Notre Dame’s Spirit of Inclusion, a formal statement adopted by the officers of the University in 1997, at Notre Dame “we prize the uniqueness of all persons as God’s creatures” and welcome " all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality."

Further, “we value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community. We condemn harassment of any kind” and “we consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish.”

The University respects The Observer’s status as an independent, student-run newspaper and appreciates that the editorial staff has issued an apology in its January 15th issue and that the cartoon’s authors also have expressed their regret. Notre Dame administrators will work with the Observer staff, as they say in their editorial, to “move forward, and….to promote…a culture of acceptance and support for all.”
Read it all here.   It's a good start.

Thanks, GLAAD!


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Very true, dearest Sister! And it will take Time and the will to overcome ones own deficencies. And it's not easy.

PseudoPiskie said...

Assuming the person who submitted the cartoon is known, what should be done? I think I'd like to see the person quietly dropped from the university. Quietly is impossible however. Once a name is known the bigots have a hero...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Absolutely NOT easy, my brother. Humility is very hard work.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

That's certainly part of the problem, PseudoPiskie - not creating a martyr. Martyrdom tends to create and have a life of its own. That has nothing to do with what needs to be done, in this case. Humility on both sides is in order. Not a call for blood or another victim.

Bill said...

My first reaction is that I take it from whence it comes. In our pursuit of maturity there is an age where sick jokes are understandable. I remember a joke from my childhood which asks if Johnny can come out and play ball. Johnny’s mother answer’s “You know Johnny has Polio> to which another kid says, “We know; we want to use him for second base”.

I guess it was funny in 1955 when I was ten years old and sick jokes proliferated in my age group. But this is college, not a bunch of ten year olds giggling in a school yard. Because of the age of the average college attendee, and because it is college, after all, and because it is one of the better colleges where you do have to know something to get in, then I can’t believe that the cartoonist didn’t know what he was doing. Whether it was done for cruelty or shock value really doesn't matter.

I don't think it warrants tossing him/her out of college but I do think that the demonstrated lack of maturity should not be rewarded with a place on the school paper.

IT said...

"Objective moral evil"
"grave disorder"
"ideology of evil"
"doing violence to children"

That's what the Roman Catholic hierarchy says about GLBT people. Not a surprise if it's internalized.

SCG said...

A very good commentary. And I had the same reaction to that last line of the "apology". Just because "everybody does it" doesn't make it OK.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

@ Bill - The upside is that hopefully, some of these students will start to think for themselves. Hey, it could happen.

@ IT - I get the others, but what the heck does "Objective moral evil" mean, anyway? Sounds like projection to me.

SCG - Sometimes, some people trip all over themselves and make matters worse.

SimplySuzi said...

The three cartoonists involved have issued an apology. It sounds sincere and seemed to reflect the humility you were speaking of. I hope it's authentic and that these young people will have learned an important lesson.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, SS, I did see that apology. It didn't ring sincere as much as it sounded like they suddenly woke up from a beer stupor and discovered that they were standing in their soiled underwear for the entire world to see. I think it's a good first step toward reconciliation and wholeness. I would believe the sincerity of their apology if they put something good into action - like maybe volunteer their talents to do some educational promo for the LGBT student group. You know?

JCF said...

Thing is, I could SWEAR I heard that joke---and/OR its AIDS variation---circa. 1982.

I'm willing to BET someone handed down that joke to the students...

...which, of course, doesn't excuse them in the slightest. It merely points out the "traditional" (traditio, "handed down") nature of bigotry.

Remember that, all: as the PropH8 defendants (Perry v. Schwarzenegger: the "Olson/Boies" case) talk about how hetero-privileged marriage is "traditional". Feh!