Monday, August 8, 2016

The World We Choose to Live In

Sunday afternoon, an overcast, somewhat steamy day on the West Side of Los Angeles.

I'm writing in a Starbucks not far from Loyola Marymount, where I live.

Suddenly I hear the young woman at a table say "Oh my God. Oh my God!" I look up to find she has left her seat and is standing nearby, staring across the store out the far glass doors.

I don't know what I said, but I must have said something, because she told me that there was a fighting going on across the street. "It started here", she said, then said it again. Like she was in shock.

I didn't know what to do, starting with, should I look? I realized everyone in the store was. A few 20 something men were smiling, the whole thing an inside joke they were sharing with one another. The rest of us just stood there, watching, and I think all of us were kind of in shock. In fact a balding man in his late 50s who seems to spend a lot of his time in here reading newspapers and working bumped into me, not even seeing me as he tried to see what was going on.

The situation was not two guys fighting, but a group of four, in the parking lot of a gas station, their sides unclear, I think mostly because my brain had gotten stuck trying to figure out what I should do.

Which probably seems like a dumb question. Like, what could I possibly do? And I'd like to say it's the priest in me that wants to hurry over and try to stop anyone from getting hurt. But honestly, it's probably a lot more the kid who got bullied as a child who still instinctively wants to lash out at his own tormentors. I don't know who's in the right or in the wrong, but I want to jump in.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like such a strange time in our country, and not just because of the Trumpocalypse -- if you're a supporter, forgive me; I get the appeal but I don't get how one overlooks the enormous number of risks him as president poses.

Last week I saw a man and a woman arguing in another Starbucks in a strangely confrontational and public way, and my mind immediately went to the possibility that one of them might have a gun. About an hour later I was leaving the shop and I heard someone behind a high wooden gate yelling, and I immediately picked up my pace, considering the terrain with an eye on what might block bullets.

And maybe that's just me. I hope so. But the fact that in the face of a bunch of guys fighting across the street pretty much everyone in this Los Angeles coffee shop was immediately in a total fog, uncertain even about those around them tells me maybe it's not.

I happend to be in London days after the United Kingdom voted to leave the E.U. And the most striking impression I had from my time there was of how uncomfortable it had suddenly become to not be white. Day after day, newspapers reported stories of dark-skinned people, many of them British citizens for generations, being harassed by whites, in some cases even attacked.

A couple weeks later, on the Australian news program Q&A, a Muslim man described to a woman recently elected on a ban-all-new-Muslims ticket how his life had changed since her One Nation began their fiercely xenophobic rhetoric. He and his family had lived in Australia for eight years, and happily so, without a problem. But with the advent of the election campaign, he suddenly found himself harassed every single day. He told the audience if this continued he feared for his wife's life.

Both through our choices and our inaction, we create the worlds we all have to live in.

In the end, someone has called the cops. Even before they arrived most of us have snapped out of it and gone back to our seats, eager to submerse ourselves back in our Twitter feeds and our newspapers, feeling the hardness of the wood under us, tasting the bitter tannins of our cooling coffee, resting in the ordinariness of our lives. What happened becomes a crazy story to share on social media, or to laugh about over drinks later with our friends.

Until it happens again.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Where I Am and Where I Was

It's been a very long time since I posted anything here. Mea culpa! I got hired about two years ago to write for America Magazine, and since then most of my (publishable) crazy thoughts have gone to them.

At some point I'd like to come back to the original purpose I used this for, which is sort of sketches and thoughts about God and the world. But it could be a while...

For now, if you're at all interested in what I'm up to, you can find me at America's Dispatches blog writing about California, pop culture and spirituality. Or I'm on Twitter @popculturpriest. 

I also just started a weekly newsletter about pop culture and spirituality called "Pop Culture Spirit Wow", which you can sign up for here.

And for those who actually still get updates from this blog or occasionally check to see its/my state of disrepair, a little something for you.

In May I had the good fortune to go to Paris. I'd never been, had no idea what to expect. Was actually kind of scared about the trip, even more than going to China, if you can believe that, just because I don't speak French and I had heard Parisians don't take kindly to that oh so American reality.

As it turns out, the people were fantastic, and I had a great time.

And I noticed something there. Their cafes -- bistros, brasseries -- all have outdoor seating where the seats face not one another but the street in front of them.

Classic French Cafe Culture 

I don't know if that sounds like a big deal but it's actually kind of extraordinary. First of all, imagine walking down the block, coming around a corner, and suddenly finding like a hundred people staring at you.

Yeah, it's kind of weird. More than once I found myself turning right around and going a different way.

But when you're the one sitting in the chair, looking out on the world, it's such an extraordinary experience. Sure, there can be a little voyeurism or maybe even objectification. But really, it's like the set up of the chairs is meant to help you see that the world around is not just something to rush through, a set of obstacles to overcome, but itself a rich source of meaning and contemplation.

I ended up spending hours upon hours each day just sitting in patisseries, watching the world go by. The rain. The cars. The passersby, like the old man who stopped with his younger date at the end of their evening together, and put his hand up to her face and kissed her on the cheek in a tender but lingering way that invited something more, if she wanted.

She politely smiled, and said good night.

And he nodded, maybe a tiny bit bittersweet but only just that. Clearly happy for what he had gotten, even just that lingering kiss.

And he crossed the street into the night.

The world -- it's so much more beautiful and interesting than we usually have time for.

A shot from my favorite place my last night in Paris. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Pope Officially Condemns Time Travel

Responding to the recent announcement of Oklahoma Archbishop Lapus Lazuli that he will attempt to travel back in time to “a better past”, Pope Francis today issued a statement denouncing time travel. “All around us are people in desperate need,” the Pope told the gathered press. “Christians in search of work should look to the present.”

Lazuli, one-time archbishop in Oklahoma City currently in residence in Naples, Florida, has become known in recent years for his comments about the virtues of the past.  “We talk of it as though it’s another world, but the era of Fulton Sheen, ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and the papal tiara is still within our reach,” he said at Mass on Easter Sunday.

“That’s the resurrection we should be fighting for.”

Trump Reveals He is “Not Even Real, You Losers”


In a speech today on the campaign trail GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump announced that in fact he is not an actual person, but rather “a mass delusion brought on by you low-energy clowns”.

“You haters don’t like me? Then how about you stop talking about me and let me disappear,” Trump exclaimed.  “Seriously, think about the things I’m saying. They’re terrific, I know, I’m super classy, but do they make any sense? Any sense at all?

“Of course not, because they’re just your fears. I am a projection of your worst anxieties. That’s why I have this hair. “

“Try it, losers,” Trump said to his adoring supporters. “Think of something else for a change. Even just for a second. Watch me vanish. Trust me, it’ll be huge.”

The room then erupted as hundreds of people shouted their refusals to stop thinking about Trump.  “We love you Donald.” “You’re real to me.” “I love being afraid.”

Eventually Trump gave in and quieted the crowd with his impossibly small hands. “You guys, you’re real bunch of head cases, you know that?”

He shrugged, smiling. “It’s great.  Really great.“

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.”


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. 
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

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"


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