Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

The Red-head Down the Street

06-07-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Envision yourself as a twelve- or fourteen-year-old kid again. You come home and your mother says, “I don't want you playing with that red-head down the street.” You say, “why not?” And all she says is, “because she is a red-head that’s why.” What do you do? You have only two choices as young kid: either disobey your mother and get punished for it or buy into her craziness.

That’s basically the choices we have at this point as so many of our overlords play the role of the crazy mother. The Salon owner in Dallas chose not to buy into to the craziness and opened her business. She did it after her employees told her they were going to serve customers in their private homes so they could earn a living and take care of their families. The owner told them not to as it was unsafe during the Pandemic. So, instead she opened her shop so her staff could work in a safe environment, social distancing in place, face masks, proper sanitizing after each customer etc. She chose to play with the red-head down the street. She was arrested and sent to jail.

There is always the option of “go along to get along.” You don't really believe the craziness but you go along with it so you don't suffer the crazy mother’s wrath. And that is probably for adults at least, the most dangerous position to take. Because when you do that you risk surrendering your principles, you live within a lie and you in essence collaborate with the craziness and in the end compromise your humanity.

The late Vaclav Havel, who led Czechoslovakia out of the darkness of Communism wrote poignantly about this in an essay entitled, “The Power of the Powerless”. In it he describes the greengrocer living under Communism, who puts in his shop window a sign that reads, “Workers of the world unite!” He does it not because he necessarily believes it but he doesn't want trouble. He thinks, what matter, its nothing but it keeps the crazy mother off my back. And if he doesn’t believe it, he hides his cognitive dissonance by telling himself, “what’s wrong with Workers of the world unite, anyway?” In essence, Havel, says, when the grocer does this, he is in effect saying to his overlords, “I am obedient, and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” So, he lives within the lie.

Havel asks, “what if the greengrocer refuses to go along to get along?”

“…one day something in our greengrocer snaps, and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those of his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity…His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth”.

What if he stops putting the sign in his window? Well, he will suffer the consequences. The state may revoke his license to operate or he will have bricks thrown through his window. His kids may not be allowed to go to the school they want to, or to any school at all. People will “cancel” him on social media, issue death threats to his family. In the end the grocer by refusing to go along to get along will become a threat to the system. But by not buying into the crazy mother he will have lived in the truth and persevered his humanity.

For Havel and his era, the slogan was “Workers of the World Unite.” For us and our age, the slogan we are asked to put in our Shop windows among others, include, “No justice, no peace.” It’s certainly true and it sounds good but too often it is actually empty rhetoric, mouthed by politicians who want more power. If not, then how was it possible that in a place where every elected official incorporates some version of “No justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter” in their politicking, and with all their “morally enlightened” policies, sensitivity trainings and cognitive biases awareness seminars the worst form of police brutality could still take place? Obviously, they did not put their slogans into practice but used it to signal their moral superiority. And the voters went along with it, it sounds good, makes you feel good to vote for a slogan that rings true and elect people who are on “the right side of history.” But George Floyd is still dead, killed in a highly progressive utopia. Time to take the sign out of the Shop window.

So, the next time you are told not to play with the kid down the street because she is a red-head, ask yourself if you are willing to live in the lie or accept the consequence of the crazy mother?


Fr. John B.