Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Real Waiting -- Eric Garner and Advent



One of the things that amazes me
about the world we live in today
is just how ably and instantly
we are to communicate with each other.
And not just with the people we know,
but to share what we’re thinking,
what we’ve experienced
with people all over the world.

On Thursday night, for instance,
I read there were 100 million tweets
about NBC’s live broadcast of Peter Pan.
One hundred million. It’s astonishing.
(There were some hilarious ones, too, like:
“There have been better staged fights on the Real Housewives.” 
“I love this trailer for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie.”
“When kids clapped to save Tinkerbell, she was getting better healthcare than any Walmart employee.”
Or my personal favorite –
“That crocodile don’t, that crocodile don’t, that crocodile don’t want none unless you’ve got a hook, son.”

Just 12 hours earlier,
that same day on Twitter,
African Americans from all over the country
frustrated and enraged by the Eric Garner decision,
the situation in Ferguson
and so much more
began to post thousands of stories
about their own experiences
of prejudice, violence and discrimination,
under the hashtag “Alive While Black.”

“Crossing the grocery story parking lot. Cops stopped to ask me what I was doing there. I was holding grocery bags.” 

“Hit over the head with a flashlight because I didn’t RESPOND quickly enough when asked a question. I was 13 at the time.”

“was robbed at knifepoint in Charlotte. When the police came, told them what was taken, they asked ‘Why wld u have a pager’.”

“Patted down on the hood of a cop car at 9 yrs old.”

“was pulled over by a white cop for missing tags; he came to my door with his gun drawn, finger on trigger.”

“Pulled over w/ my mom. People think she’s white, she was driving. Cops asked for my ID and license ‘for her protection’.”

“Was working in retail & picked up a shift at another store. security guard profiled me over the walkie when i walked in.”

“In HS. Cops accuse my fam of stealing a lady’s purse at JCPenney—threaten my mom-purse was in bottom of lady’s stroller.”

“I didn’t return ‘free lunch’ form because my dad made too much money. Teacher said loudly: “Oh, so you know him?”

“they tried to charge my mom with disorderly conduct because she was pissed i got accused of stealing a bike she bought.”

And finally: “My father was pulled over for speeding while he was on his way to the ER...The cop didn’t believe he was a doctor.”

Alive.
While.
Black.

What’s it gonna take in this country?
What is it going to take? 
Our country’s problems with race,
it’s like our issue with guns:
Two years ago 20 children were gunned down in Newtown,  
and two years later we still haven’t gotten any sort of gun control. 
Nothing.
If not that, what’s it going to take?
Eric Garner, Ferguson –
these are not isolated incidents either.
They’re part of a long long history
of violence perpetrated and then overlooked.
And God forbid, but wait a week,
and we’ll probably see some more.   
We know this.
And today we’ve got an African American president.
And still, nothing changes.

And at some point this week I realized social outrage –
that is sitting at home, reading tweets,
posting online how upset I am--
that’s easy.
Action—step by step, pushing this boulder uphill,
like Martin did--that’s what’s hard. 

Now these sorts of themes and issues
might seem out of place at Advent.
This is more the talk of Lent, right?
Struggle, persecution, sacrifice.
But that’s only because our society
has so commercialized Christmas.
We think of this as a season of colored lights and trees and presents.
But that’s not the scriptural or liturgical sense of it.

Advent is a season of waiting—real waiting.
Real waiting isn’t about
waiting to get all the presents you put on your Christmas list.
It’s about not knowing whether you can make it
through one more day, one more hardship,
and putting our hands out, clutching for something,
something good, something new to get us through. 
It’s not about light.
It’s about being in darkness.

And hope, real hope?
It’s not some children’s story about believing
if we clap hard enough Tinkerbell will live.  
Real hope is trying to believe
when there is no grounds to.
It’s desperate and doubting.
It’s like the candle’s flame –
we burn with our aching, with our yearning for release.

To wait, to hope –
we paper these ideas over with Christmas wrapping.
It’s Jesus in the manger surrounded by animals and friendly faces.
But Jesus was born into a dangerous, divided world of occupation.
In the Gospel of Matthew
Herod had all the young boys around Bethlehem executed.
Jesus and his family were forced to become refugees. 
This is not a Christmas wrapping paper world.

Real hope, real waiting is not about pretty songs and Santa Claus.
It’s about being in the darkness and crying out.
Crying out to society, demanding justice,
And crying out to the Lord --
Crying out with anger,
fierce, hot tears in our eyes,
Rage and shame at the way we’ve been treated;
crying out in sorrow and in pain,
grief-stricken by our losses
and by our vulnerability.

In our first reading today we hear that
“Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.”
But today we cannot help but ask
WHEN GOD? WHEN?

Every Sunday we come to this table, the altar,
and we reenact the Last Supper,
when Jesus offered the Passover bread and wine,
called it his body and his blood
and said it would be our salvation.
We don’t do that each week just for us;
this isn’t just some sort of memory exercise.
No, we do it to remind God – yes, God--
to do what he did there again,
to save us.

“Make holy these gifts we bring to you,
that they might become for us your body and your blood.”
And not only that—Finish it! Bring it all to completion.
“Remember your Church, spread throughout the world.
Bring her to the fullness of charity.”

That’s what we are called to do in this world of pain and injustice,
in this dark, dark season of waiting.
To cry out with all the pain in our hearts—
to scream, to let it burn, to let it hurt,
and in this way, in this way
to wait, in this darkness,
for salvation.
For light.

You brought us to this place, Lord.
You promised us a future.
Finish what you’ve started.
Save us. Do it again.

--Delivered in abridged form at Transfiguration Parish, Leimert Park, Los Angeles, CA, 12/7/14


Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Poem for Thanksgiving: "Gratitude is a Homeless, Scattered Love"


Gratitude

A tempest threw a rainbow in my face
so that I wanted to fall under the rain
to kiss the hands of an old woman to whom I gave my seat
to thank everyone for the fact that they exist
and at time even feel like smiling
I was grateful to young leaves that they were willing
to open up to the sun
to babies that they still
felt like coming into this world
to the old that they heroically
endure until the end
I was full of thanks
like a Sunday alms-box
I would have embraced death
if she’d stopped nearby

Gratitude is a scattered
homeless love


Anna Kamienska


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Synod on the Family Document Blows Open Minds, the Doors of the Church


If you haven't already heard, the Synod on the Family released a draft document yesterday, the fruit of its first week of discussions on issues related to family in the Catholic Church.

Normally, an event like this would not be a big fuss for anyone but maybe church insiders. And that would have seemed even more likely on this occasion, when those gathered--190 bishops plus 60 others (leaders of religious congregations, married people, theologians invited to participate in the conversation) were not in fact sharing decisions made but just the themes of their discussion so far, all of which is itself preparatory to another Synod to take place in 2015.

But then the document came out. (Here it is in full; it's not very long.)

Here's a couple things that it has to say:
It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations. (I.11, emphasis mine)
Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings. (II. 20, emphasis mine)
Yes, rather than primarily condemning cohabitation or civil marriage as inadequate or incomplete, the document actually speaks of their "positive aspects", and imagines the Church as "the house of the Father, with doors always wide open […] where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems"(III.37). 

Whatever the couple's situation, they are "to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy." (III.39)


Welcome - that seems to be the key insight of the document. We start not as teachers lecturing people how to be Catholic (though of course all of that is still considered essential, too), but as hosts welcoming them as they are.

So in dealing with families dealing with separation or divorce, the Synod fathers call for "the art of accompaniment, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Es 3,5)." (III.41) "What needs to be respected above all is the suffering of those who have endured separation and divorce unjustly." (III.42) And their children "must not become an 'object' to be fought over."

Perhaps most stunning is a brief section entitled "Welcoming homosexual persons":
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony? (III.50, emphasis mine)
...Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority. (III.52, emphasis mine)
Not only does the Church here indicate, as Pope Francis famously said, "Who am I to judge?"; it considers them as brothers and sisters. Gay men and women have gifts to offer the Church; their orientation is to be valued and accepted; and while gay marriage "cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman", still the Synod Fathers seem to acknowledge that it can be a blessing to those involved.


Even in some of its more traditional sections, such as its enumeration of the issues that adversely affect family, the document speaks with a striking pastoral care:
The most difficult test for families in our time is often solitude, which destroys and gives rise to a general sensation of impotence in relation to the socio-economic situation that often ends up crushing them. This is due to growing precariousness in the workplace that is often experienced as a nightmare, or due to heavy taxation that certainly does not encourage young people to marriage. (I.6)
Or in Part II, in discussing those whose marriages have failed or who are struggling, consider this amazing passage:   
Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm. (II.23)
What the Church needs to offer in the midst of the challenges people face, say the Synod Fathers, is first and foremost "a meaningful word of hope."And not just hope, but acceptance and mercy: "the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, [must] be proposed alongside with mercy."

There's still another week of conversation to be had; and even among the Synod fathers themselves there is question about the document, with some worrying that its emphasis on gradualness-- that is, that people's journey into full communion with the teaching of the Church is often gradual and its intermediate steps should be appreciated as such, rather than looked down upon as incomplete--may cause confusion.

And even in the document there's acknowledgment that on some issues -- such as whether Catholics remarried outside the Church should be able to receive Communion-- there's clear differences of opinion and more discussion and education needed.* 

*It's hard to appreciate why this remains such a clear stumbling block for so many, when the reality and vicissitudes of divorce and remarriage are so well known to so many today. But still, the bishops' approach is eminently pastoral, laying out respectfully some different points of view and the issues within each.

Still, it's hard to overstate what's been written here. Much like Vatican II, the document speaks with a care and a spirit that well captures the kindness and acceptance we believe are always waiting for us from God, and that we hope marriage can be all about. 


It's definitely been an interesting week!







Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Belated Birthday Thank You to My Mom and the Super Friends

So, at some an undisclosed point in the last month I turned an undisclosed age in an undisclosed place. (Honestly, what am I saying, I don't care if people know how old I am. I turned 35.)

And my Mom decided to mobilize her quite significant forces to make sure I remembered this particular birthday. Which is why, starting early in August I began to get birthday cards, not just from her but from a lot of other people. Some I knew, some I did not. Some explained their relationship to me, which almost always could be summarized as "I know your mom (ha ha ha)." A few did not, like Jenny McDermott, who it turns out in addition to being my sister is someone else entirely.

So anyway, I just wanted to take a moment to offer personal thanks to each of these wonderful individuals for taking the time to brighten the anniversary of the day in which I was born, 33 years ago.

Marge, your selection of cards is almost as extensive as my mom's. (My favorite--and also somehow the most disturbing card I've ever been sent: "The crab is sorry.")

Cousin Laura, Loved the silence card. Totally reusing that. Also, I make wish for goat. Does goat come? No.

Mom: 1) Love the paper clippings. Very serial killer. 2) Love this card made from a photo of the first day Jen had to wear those glasses you and Dad bought her:
3) Also love the Mom and Dad squiggle heads. Dad's even got short hair and you curly. Hilarious.

Aunt Denny, Thank you for the nicest card of all. (And the funniest. I will find an envelope!) I love you, too.

Eileen and Paul, Cute. Real cute. (PS I am still terrified of the cup.)

Denise Joyce, I'm pretty sure you kissed my envelope. And I don't know how to feel about that.

Marrens, Thanks for the card! I have no idea who half those people are. Sister Mary Adolpha--tell me more.

Tricia Dulkoski -- Thank you, Mom's choir buddy! Sing on!

Ann Solari-Twadell, a great sentiment from Richard Bach. Thanks for it!

Patty and Chuck -- Thanks! I'm sure He did! Then he probably thought, why isn't this building condemned?

Mike and Denise -- Thanks!

Mary Jo, I want everyone to know what you sent me:
A drawing of what looks like a terrible accident or blizzard done by your grandson Declan (thanks, Declan!);
A photo of yourself at age 5 (you were so cute!);
This photo:
Used, dirty sunglasses;
A used candle that smells like vanilla that has been burnt;
An empty cigar case;
A Justin Masterson baseball card;
A packet of soy sauce;
A packet of ketchup;
A dented ping pong ball;
A small metal toy car;
A Marco Scutaro baseball card;
A baseball-shaped eraser;
A small Lego monster figure with one arm broken off;
A small tube that looks like the kind of thing someone would use to snort cocaine;
A "Game On!" wrist band;
A small broken pine cone;
6 pieces of "Tropical Twist" flavored Trident;
A box of Tropical Twist Trident, ripped open and empty;
The eye off a doll;
A basketball shaped eraser;
and the broken arm off the Lego monster toy.
Here it all is together:
Amazing. I'm just surprised it didn't also include a dirty ashtray.

My Mom also sent a care package, which included:
A light-up boomerang that neither lights up nor comes back;
Slippers stolen from the Hilton;
A glow in the dark skeleton hand that will be really cool and probably also give me cancer if I can just figure it out;
This:
(It doesn't do anything but just sit there, so I'm calling it Maverick.)
A giant fold up plastic checkers game;
A skateboard for your finger (which comes with instructions on how to do spins...on your finger);
A Zombie Sea Monkey;
A glow in the dark Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles yo-yo to go with the other two glow in the dark yo-yos you sent me last year;
Another harmonica;
Paint-by-Number plastic Sun Catchers of a Peace Sign and the word "LOVE";
Duck Dynasty stickers, including one that says "Redneck Approved";
A plastic candle that supposedly plays music if you light it, but I can't tell because the instructions are 100% in Chinese;
A homemade card with a fat police man on it.
Here it all is together:
You shouldn't have! (Seriously.)

2 Kays and a Betty -- Thanks! I loved your last album! When are you teaming up with One Direction???

Bonnie Eiffes -- Thanks! What a lovely photo!

Joji -- Thank you! Love the card. Enjoy your new archbishop; he's fantastic!

Pam and Rich -- Thank you! And thanks to your granddaughters! What a cool looking card. (Bedazzled!)


Club Sister Jo, you are never too late!

Myles and Annie -- I hard the angel singing! (Is that what an angel alert sounds like??)

Scott--Puzzle card: Best. Idea. Ever. #FTW

Mary R -- Hola, y muchas gracias! Hope Spain is treating you great. My parents are looking forward to coming.

Roberta and John -- Thank you! And you bet, my prayers are yours.

Steve and Jeanne, Thanks! Can't believe you have two boys born on the same day. They must be very very special.

(Other) Jenny McDermott--Thanks! It kind of freaks me out that you have my sister's name.

Lynn-Thanks!  (I want to say something clever here, but I threw out your card before I decided to do this! All kinds of classy, me.)

Maverick -- NO. BAD DOG! BAD.

And in case I forgot anyone -- and I bet I did -- thanks so much to you, too. You are too kind! (And kind of crazy, to boot!)

Best 30th birthday gift ever! Thanks, Mom! And thanks everybody!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Blase Cupich, the Next Archbishop of Chicago, A Man of Great Kindness


While in my Jesuit training, I spent three years teaching high school at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest South Dakota. You've probably heard of Pine Ridge; the New York Times and Washington Post love to send reporters out for week-long jaunts after which they write about how sad and desperate it is out there. They're not completely wrong, but they miss an awful lot. 

PRIMARY TABSWhile in my Jesuit training, I spent three years teaching high school at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest South Dakota. You've probably heard of PIne Ridge; the New York Times and Washington Post love to send reporters out for week-long jaunts after which they write about how sad and desperate it is out there. They're not completely wrong, but they miss an awful lot. 

When I started at Red Cloud, there was a great young Jesuit at the helm, Father Bill McKenney. He was from Michigan, he looked like Fred Flintstone (the kids at our school there actually called him that when he used to teach there) and he had endless energy and passion for the people there and our work. A great joy to live with.
Four months into my stay there, Bill died suddenly, age 38, of a massive coronary. No warning, no priors, just dropped dead.  
And, if you can believe it, the same thing had happend three years earlier; Assistant Principal Brother Denny Ryan, a Jesuit from Omaha with a wicked sense of humor and an uncanny ability to connect with even the angriest of student, died of a sudden heart attack at age 38, just after Easter.  
The months following Bill's death, we lived like zombies, shells of ourselves, working as hard as we could just to keep going, trying desperately to run away from the incredible sorrow we all felt. 
In April of that year, we had our first visit with the new bishop of Rapid City. It's a long trip, Pine Ridge to Rapid, 90 minutes to 2 hours drive, and it was unusual for the bishop to come without some liturgical function involved.  But this guy, he just wanted to come and spend some time with us, get to know us a little bit. 
I remember him walking through our community on the way to our dining room. He was pleasant, reserved. And very observant. And as he looked around, had dinner with us, heard about Bill and about all that we were doing, you could see something flash across his face momentarily. Concern. Deep concern.
When dinner was over, the 15 or so of us moved to our living room, where the bishop said a little about himself, thanked us for our hospitallity.
Then he stopped and looked us all very deep in the eye. And he paused, maybe debating whether it was approriate to speak his mind so early in our relationship. Then, with real feeling in his voice, he told us that we were all working very hard. Too hard. And that we needed to take care of ourselves.
It's been 17 years since that conversation, and I've never forgotten it or him. When you're lost in sadness like we were, to have someone see the truth and speak to it with such gentleness and love -- it was infiintely kind.
If rumors are true, this morning that man, Bishop Blase Cupich, will be announced as the new Archbishop of Chicago. How blessed that city will be.   

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Not A Hollywood Ending: Robin Williams, RIP


As a star heads towards its demise, it begins to spew out elements that are themselves the building blocks of stars and life. Quite literally, its death brings with it the beginnings of new life. 

In my experience, people are not that different. They, too, often have a way of mellowing in their latter years and nourishing those around them, even just in the quiet ways they continue to live their lives.

It’s yet another part of what makes the recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams just so sad. If you were learning about Williams for the first time the last few days, you’d think he died on top of his game, one of the few real giants in the media industry. 

But in point of fact Williams had been in a slump for over a decade, his roles generally cartoonish and rarely finding resonance. Last year he returned to television to headline The Crazy Ones, David E. Kelley’s CBS comedy about an ad agency. It had the highest debut audience of any show this fall, some 19 million people. Eight months later, it was down to 5.3 million, and the show was cancelled. 

As with so many of his recent roles, Williams couldn’t quite seem to relax into the character. He was always with the mania and the hammy and the silly voices. You almost had to avert your eyes in order to watch.

But maybe what seemed like the hack-y reuse of decades-old schtick was actually Williams fighting to re-find his footing and his voice. Just in the last eight years he had fallen off the wagon, gone to rehab, lost his older brother, divorced from his wife, had heart surgery, gotten remarried, and most recently went briefly back to a treatment center. If his performances seemed largely unmoored of late, well, so was his life. 

But that’s the case for so many people as they begin to make their way out of middle age. We rarely talk about it, but that shift is seismic, tectonic.

Who knows when or how Williams would have found his way past it if he hadn’t died, or what he would have been like in his latter years. Perhaps we would have witnessed once again that childlike wonder that so marked his performance on Mork and Mindy, or been awed by the bleak depths he uncovered in films like Insomnia or One Hour Photo. 

Perhaps he would have just become a retired elder statesman of the industry, the comedian Steven Spielberg called to come and help him laugh while he was filming Schindler’s List, the movie star who co-hosted so many Comic Relief benefits to raise money for the homeless; not performing so much any more but still reminding us of the important things: “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

We’ll never know now. All we can say is, even if he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, he clearly never stopped fighting to find a way to get there. 


May he rest in peace. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ladies, You Are So Beautiful

John Legend put out a new music video this week about a wide range of women considering themselves in the mirror. It's a really lovely piece of work.  Enjoy.