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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

310: PATHS TO LIBERATION A Reflection from Brother Toby

Day 310 Wednesday January 20th, 2021

A Reflection from Brother Toby


71 years ago I was sitting waiting for a class on English History to begin. Some of my classmates were arguing about the significance of a particular recent event when the professor walked in. He listened for a moment and then announced, “History teaches us that we will never know the true importance of any occurrence until 200 years after it happens.”

We are struggling to understand the attack upon our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021. All we can do is pick up some of the broken shards and look for meaning.

One thing I feel certain about is that the people who say “this is not who we are” are wrong. This IS who we are — it is just not who many of us want to be.

For years we have known about fringe groups. I, at least, never expected that they would merge together for anything like the recent mob in Washington. Let us be clear, it was not an assault on a building, or an election. The insurrectionists were attacking the concept of democracy itself.

Donald J. Trump, and his allies, had somehow managed to bring these marginal groups together and incite them to violence at the Capitol. Who were some of these people? White supremacists joined together with neo-Nazi groups just wanting any excuse for violence, members of bizarre groups professing to have knowledge of a “deep state” of liberals engaged in pedophilia and other activities, and people professing obedience to a higher allegiance to the “Lordship of Christ” - one of whom was Senator Josh Hawley, who gave a clenched fist “salute” to the mob before it desecrated the Capitol.

He traces the “ills of modern society” back to the Christian monk Pelagius (354-418) who taught that women and men have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things. Hawley has been at war with Pelagius for a long time. In a recent op-ed piece, Katherine Stewart wrote that the views of Christian Nationalists are incompatible with constitutional democracy.

Even a corrupt sociopath president was better, in their eyes, than the horrifying freedom that religious moderates and liberals, along with the many Americans who don't happen to be religious, offer the world.

If you want to learn more about the long battle of Senator Josh Hawley against Pelagius and Joe Biden read the rest of Stewart's article — and if it makes any sense to you from a spiritual point of view, you are one up on me.

What is clearer to me are the images of a noose hanging outside the building, insurrectionists carrying the Confederate flag in the Statuary Hall, rioters wearing T-shirts that read “Civil War.” For any Black Americans in my age bracket, these are all too familiar symbols of racists trying to resurrect the “Lost Cause.” I can only imagine how our Black citizens must have felt on January 6.

Adam Serwer writes in The Atlantic that “The Capitol Riot Was an Attack On Multiracial Democracy.” He states that “True democracy in America is a young, fragile experiment that must be defended if it is to endure.” He is right. Recently, I heard Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston and hopefully soon to be confirmed as our next Secretary of Labor, speak. His parents were immigrants from Ireland and sent him to a parochial school. He remembered that when he was about eight years old he would be walking to school when a bus would arrive outside the public school with police escorts in front, back, and on the sides, to let out black students. Walsh said he knew that wasn't right. He has been a staunch and effective advocate of multiracial democracy ever since. We have to be as vigilant as Mayor Walsh.

Sam Sanders, a Black host with NPR, recently stated,

"Remember, Trump began his ascent to political power on a racist lie: birtherism. He launched his campaign for the presidency calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. His first major policy initiative was travel restrictions on Muslim-majority nations that felt a lot like a travel ban on people with darker skin. His supporters cited “economic anxiety” as their motivation, but they were driven by racial animus. Former KKK leader David Duke endorsed Trump twice for president."

As the investigations into the insurrection at the Capitol continue, the picture becomes clearer. However, there is a problem. Joe Biden, our next president, is intent on attacking the pandemic that is crippling us, doing something about the economic inequality of our people, and restoring our standing among the nations of the world. He feels that it is urgent to move forward. On the other hand the elected officials in Congress together with their staff are understandably angry that their lives were threatened by the domestic terrorists streaming into, and desecrating the Capitol. They rightly feel that accountability is essential; there must be consequences for the actions of Trump and on down the political ladder. As I write, attempts are being made to balance these two important agendas. That is the job of the people in Washington. And, what will be, will be. The question is what is our job?

Like the Biden administration, I think it is very important for ordinary citizens to look forward. It's a lot to handle and I find that having conversations with other people has helped me gain some focus. Here's where I am now —

The most important thing is to get this pandemic under control. We must each scrupulously follow the CDC recommendations; wearing masks, social distancing, hand-washing, staying at home when required to, etc. Also, to do everything we can to encourage others to do the same. Even though the administration of the vaccine may seem confusing, we should try to find out when we can receive the vaccine, get vaccinated and encourage others to do so as well.

Systemic racism is learned at a very early age. School curriculum on civics and history should be refreshed and have more emphasis in the curriculum than it does at present.

More opportunities should be found for children and young adults to get to know students from differing racial backgrounds. Care should be taken not to neglect predominately white rural areas.

Reality. I would also like to see classes designed to increase students’ awareness of misinformation and ways of finding the truth in this digital world.

Income inequality is a serious root to many of our problems. When we buy things or use services I think we should all be aware of doing so in a way that encourages the people who are struggling rather than adding to the coffers of the 1%.

I heard a man, who was the son of a Holocaust survivor, warn that what happened on January 6 reminded him of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” in 1938 when paramilitary and citizen groups in Germany mobbed Jewish businesses and homes. It was the prelude to the Nazi era.

If we all do our part, we can make sure that the insurrection at the United States Capitol will not lead to anything like that!

- Brother Toby


In This Place (An American Lyric)

There’s a poem in this place—

in the footfalls in the halls

in the quiet beat of the seats.

It is here, at the curtain of day,

where America writes a lyric

you must whisper to say.

There’s a poem in this place—

in the heavy grace,

the lined face of this noble building,

collections burned and reborn twice.

There’s a poem in Boston’s Copley Square

where protest chants

tear through the air

like sheets of rain,

where love of the many

swallows hatred of the few.

There’s a poem in Charlottesville

where tiki torches string a ring of flame

tight round the wrist of night

where men so white they gleam blue—

seem like statues

where men heap that long wax burning

ever higher

where Heather Heyer

blooms forever in a meadow of resistance.

There’s a poem in the great sleeping giant

of Lake Michigan, defiantly raising

its big blue head to Milwaukee and Chicago—

a poem begun long ago, blazed into frozen soil,

strutting upward and aglow.

There’s a poem in Florida, in East Texas

where streets swell into a nexus

of rivers, cows afloat like mottled buoys in the brown,

where courage is now so common

that 23-year-old Jesus Contreras rescues people from floodwaters.

There’s a poem in Los Angeles

yawning wide as the Pacific tide

where a single mother swelters

in a windowless classroom, teaching

black and brown students in Watts

to spell out their thoughts

so her daughter might write

this poem for you.

There's a lyric in California

where thousands of students march for blocks,

undocumented and unafraid;

where my friend Rosa finds the power to blossom

in deadlock, her spirit the bedrock of her community.

She knows hope is like a stubborn

ship gripping a dock,

a truth: that you can’t stop a dreamer

or knock down a dream.

How could this not be her city

su nación

our country

our America,

our American lyric to write—

a poem by the people, the poor,

the Protestant, the Muslim, the Jew,

the native, the immigrant,

the black, the brown, the blind, the brave,

the undocumented and undeterred,

the woman, the man, the nonbinary,

the white, the trans,

the ally to all of the above

and more?

Tyrants fear the poet.

Now that we know it

we can’t blow it.

We owe it

to show it

not slow it

although it

hurts to sew it

when the world

skirts below it.


we must bestow it

like a wick in the poet

so it can grow, lit,

bringing with it

stories to rewrite—

the story of a Texas city depleted but not defeated

a history written that need not be repeated

a nation composed but not yet completed.

There’s a poem in this place—

a poem in America

a poet in every American

who rewrites this nation, who tells

a story worthy of being told on this minnow of an earth

to breathe hope into a palimpsest of time—

a poet in every American

who sees that our poem penned

doesn’t mean our poem’s end.

There’s a place where this poem dwells—

it is here, it is now, in the yellow song of dawn’s bell

where we write an American lyric

we are just beginning to tell.

Amanda Gorman


This Land Is Your Land - Lyrics

Weeping in The Promised Land - John Fogerty

We shall be free – Garth Brooks

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