A dear neighbor-lady of mine by the name of Romaine (yes, like the lettuce) Root asked me to post this letter. I’ve lived down the street from Romaine for about 20 years and we often talk while she’s sweeping the street outside her house (actually, she mostly complains about the new neighbors and the ‘Kennedy Compound’ brick monstrosities replacing the modest frame houses on the street...I listen). She asked me to ‘do those fancy link things’ and paste a few quotes into the letter for her. I did the best I could. I hope it’s the way you wanted it, Romaine.
Dear Pope Francis,
I’m just an older lady from the northwest side of Chicago but if I may...
Because I’ve been a Catholic my whole life and, mostly because I like you, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Rush Limbaugh’s been spreading filth and lies about you. Why? You’ve hit his sore spot: capitalism. But I'm getting ahead of myself. You might be asking, Who is this Rush Limbaugh character and what’s his beef? Since you probably don’t have time to Google him, I’ll save you the bother. He’s a former drug addict with a radio talk show. What’s new, right? Regardless, this guy’s boxers are in a tight little wad about a few things you said in your apostolic exhortation and, now – get this -- he’s taking credit for you being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
This is phenomenal. I can't tell you the number of people -- I don't, frankly, believe this. I can't tell you the number of people who have gotten hold of me today who think the pope was named Man of the Year because of me. That the media decided they hated me more than the pope. That TIME Magazine hated me more than the pope, and therefore it was a thumb in my eye.
To be fair, Rush admires Catholicism. He mentions that a few times in a rant broadcast in November. But what he doesn’t like is some upstart non-European Pope spouting off about capitalism because, as we all know, Rush Limbaugh is the King of Capitalism. Or the Pope of Capitalism. Is that heretical? Is that even the right word? Regardless, he wouldn’t want to step on Christians’ toes or, even worse, Christian capitalists’ toes. For God sake, just look at the picture of him on his website -- with his smoldering cigar and equally smoldering, if not rotund, devil-may-care good looks.
Now, I'm not a narcissist and I don't think everything's about me, but I can't tell you the number of people who've sent me notes: "Do you realize you made this happen? If you had not said a word about this, they would have picked somebody else like Snowden or take your pick." Who knows, ladies and gentlemen.
Who knows, indeed. In fact, we may never know.
Out of your nearly 5,000-word message -- a message that covered everything from human dignity, poverty, economic injustice, nonproliferation of arms and nuclear disarmament, organized crime, responsible and equitable use of natural resources – Rush takes issue that you, leader of the Catholic faithful, one of the most powerful men on earth, call capitalism into question.
Just so you know, he said,
Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as 'a new tyranny' and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church. ... In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the 'idolatry of money.'
To be fair, you do level a gut-punch to capitalism by saying,
One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.
There it is, Pope Francis. That's what popped the wheels off Rush’s capitalist cart. He got all worked up and started throwing around words like Marxism, socialism, liberal socialism, modern-age Democrats (as opposed to the heart-of-gold Democrats of days-gone-by), and went on to say that there are ‘91.5 million Americans not working in America today’ (to be fair, Pope Francis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ report on December 6, 2013 quotes 10.9 million unemployed Americans...but who’s counting?).
The way I see it is this Rush Limbaugh’s got his head so far up his wide behind that he can’t see the forest for the trees. I’m mixing metaphors and phraseology, here, but for God’s sakes, what’s he talking about?
I’ll tell you what he’s talking about...
He’s takes little bits of truth and tumbles them around until he gets them to the size he wants and then spits them back out. He’s taken this really beautiful message you’ve put together and turned your words around and made them sound like you’re saying something evil. He’s putting words in your mouth, Pope Francis, and I’m betting that putting words in the Pope’s mouth is not something that will get him a free pass to heaven.
He’s reducing these really important issues to midget-sized ideas for people whose brains can’t expand enough to think for themselves. A ‘sound bite’ I think they call it.
It’s not tasty.
I didn’t finish high school but I read a lot and one of my favorite historical figures is Thomas Jefferson. This is a quote I have on my refrigerator:
The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.
As you probably know, Pope Francis, that's a quote from one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States.
Regardless, Rush Limbaugh and his ilk don’t understand one of the fundamental principals of Christianity. Christianity has always been about living like Jesus. And Jesus loved all people, lived simply and shared what he had with others. In Matthew, Jesus counseled a rich young man to give up his belongings and distribute his wealth to the poor. In Luke, he tells a rich man that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
All indications point to Mr. Limbaugh's outsized and plain-wrong beliefs preventing him from passing through that needle.
I’m just saying...
Now, I have nothing against capitalism as long as it's managed by responsible leaders. And there are good, decent corporations out there that employ thousands of people and act ethically. I worked in the lamp factory over there off Ravenswood for forty years. They treated me good. They gave us bonuses and lunch breaks and we had a fine time until they sold the land to some developer who ended up building homes that three or four regular homes would fit in. But that’s not my concern. My concern is that you know what Rush is saying about you. And, during this holiday season, when I’m feeling generous and dropping coins into the Salvation Army bucket at the Jewel, I just want to say that I get it. I get what you’re talking about. I see the injustice in the world. I see the crazy lady who roams the neighborhood pushing around her shopping cart in the sub-zero cold. I watch NBC Nightly News and see those folks all over the world – and right here in the United States – just scrambling to get by. I see the fat-cat corporations ruining the environment and pulling the wool over the eyes of the little guys. And, when I see all of this, it just makes me even prouder that you're taking them on. I’m proud that the Vatican has finally come to its senses. I’m proud to be a Catholic.
I just wanted you to know the score.
And I wanted you to know that me and my girlfriends, a group of us who get together at the Golden Apple every Friday, feel the same way (although, Georgie, whose son is a gay man, doesn't like the Church's stance on gays...but that's an entirely different letter). Don’t let some bully like Rush Limbaugh take your thunder, Pope Francis. You deserve to be Time’s Person of the Year. You’ve got the right message, the message this world so badly needs to hear: be kind, be responsible, share with those less fortunate, respect every living thing.
It's a good, decent message and, if you repeat it enough, it just might change the way people think. And, eventually, the way we act.
And that would be a wonderful thing.
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