Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cringing and Gliding

I haven't had much to say the last few days.  Not sure why.  Maybe it's the reality of school, which begins tomorrow, looming.  This will be my last year at UCLA, finishing up my MFA in Screenwriting. And I'm entering into it with a certain, perhaps naive sense of peace.

The thing about this work -- at least for me -- is that there's lots of opportunities for fear and the self-crazy. I hate to admit it, but here's how things work, at least inside me:  you struggle to get somewhere -- an internship, a manager, work, whatever. And maybe you do get it, maybe you don't.  Then you hear about friends who win an award or get a great job.  And part of you cringes.  Even if you've gotten some great things going yourself, part of you instinctively goes into a panic.  It's a strange inverse to having a friend die and as a result thinking about your own mortality.  Seeing other people succeed makes you afraid that you're getting left behind, and you won't.  It's ridiculous, it's horrible, but that's the way it often is.

So, normally at this point -- especially entering my 3rd and final year -- I should be panicked and crazy.  What's going to happen, is it going to all work out, blah blah blah. And it's not like I have any more real certainty than I did a year ago, though I do have a little more experience, and some friends now in the business who have been amazingly encouraging and helpful.  I really couldn't ask for more -- though again, let's be clear, if I hear about a friend getting ahead of me, I will instinctively think I should be asking for more. (Again: welcome to the crazy.)

And yet here I am, looking out upon the coming quarter with a spooky ease. Maybe it's sort of like the older Jesuit who, when asked if he ever thought of leaving the Jesuits, answered, "Leave? Oh God no, it'd be too exhausting."  Maybe at this point I'm just too tired to worry!

Whatever it is, I'm not complaining.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stormy Weather

In Melbourne they say if you're not happy with the weather, just wait a few minutes.  They have 4 seasons in every day. 

That's the thing about weather -- it passes through. 

It reminds me of my emotional life at times.  You can get so angry, or upset, or distressed about something -- and then a few hours later it's all blown over, like it was never there.  

When you're in the storm, it's like driving onto a packed highway --  you have absolutely no indication that anything is going to clear up. It could be this nightmare forever.  And then, all of a sudden you turn a corner and it's smooth sailing.

In the thick of it, I don't know about you, but I immediately go into a sort of primal mode, hunting for some solution that will make me feel better --- venting, raging, fighting, eating (O Lord, please, may I fill this hole with chocolate?).  And that's understandable, but often not necessarily helpful (though if it's Cadbury Old Gold dark chocolate, it's pretty much always going to help at least a little).  Someone over the summer said to me, the damage I do in sending a raging response email is directly proportional to how good I feel in sending it.  The sweeter I feel, the more the damage.  Totally true, isn't it?

Maybe pain, discomfort are meant to be "savored" just like all the good things -- that is, experienced without running away, even wallowed in.  Not that that attempt at acceptance is going to make it any easier, but it renders us more grounded, and less able to blown and buffeted by our need to overcome the discomfort, like the damned before strong winds in Dante's Inferno.

The safe haven we look for -- a lot of the time, it comes to us, rather than us to it.

And speaking of Stormy Weather --  ladies and gentlemen, Miss Ella Fitzgerald.

4 new minutes of the West Wing!

If you missed the West Wing -- well, you might still after you watch this, but it is a great little reunion moment, and one that talks about a voting issue that I for one had never heard of.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Getting Out, Pt. 2

Getting Out

The last two days I've had the air conditioning on, for only the 2nd and 3rd times since I moved to California 2 years ago.  At LMU we live very close to the coast, so even if it's 100 degrees downtown or in the Valley, it's generally going to be about 75 here.

But it's been hot the last week or so, and humid, too.

So yesterday I was basking in the artificial cool of my room.  And I continued to bask all day, only to discover when I (finally, ahem) went outside, that it was actually really nice out.  Locked in my refrigerator, I had missed out.

There's a parable in there...

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Real Work

The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
~ Wendell Berry ~

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What Do You Want in a Homily?

One of the things I'm finding after being a priest for a while, is when it comes to the homily you really have to ask yourself, what am I trying to do here?   Because it's pretty easy to get sidetracked.

What do I mean by sidetracked? Well, for instance, the homily that's about providing a solution to a problem.  You see a problem in the world or in our lives or in the Scriptures and your homily is your attempt to tell us how to (re)solve it.

There's nothing wrong with this as an approach from time to time.  Except, I don't know, do people really come to Mass for answers?

I can see that one line getting excerpted and taken around the internet for a spin.  Ah, the love it will spawn.

But I'd say one of the problems in our church today is too many of those holding the mike thinking they've got all the answers. Or that they're supposed to.  It's true, a lot of graces come with the holy oils, but that ain't one of them.

And confusion, mystery -- these are biblical things. The sort of moments that break through the great ongoing data stimulation/monologue of our lives and make us stop and say, wait, what now?

Of all the evangelists, it's Mark that knew that better than anyone.  His is the gospel that ends without a resurrection. The women go to the tomb the morning after the Resurrection, and the stone's been pushed away, and they're told by a person in white that Jesus has gone. And the women are so freaked out, they run away and don't tell anyone.

I think that's a part of what a homily is for: not to smooth it all out for us, but to name, uncover, provoke, wonder.  They probably shouldn't run away screaming, but if they leave wondering what the heck was that all about, well, they may be a little bit closer to God than they were when they got there.

Or maybe I just had a bad Sunday.  You tell me.

Friday, September 14, 2012


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky 
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on the stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and the fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No More Waiting for Gun Control

Over the summer, I was deeply affected by the gun related deaths in Aurora, Colorado and Wisconsin.  In many parts of the world, including Australia, they simply can't comprehend our resistance to gun control of any kind.  In fact, in 2001 an incident similar to the recurring American story of "armed person walks through a building/town killing people" led Australia, under a conservative leader, to institute strong gun control measures.

I don't know what to do to help the situation. But I do know that I want to help. So, I've started a Facebook group called "No More Waiting for Gun Control" where people can post the stories of people who have been injured or killed by gun related violence.  It's not a place for debate or a place to talk about the perpetrators of violent crime.  I think of it more as an ongoing vigil that tries to let the dead speak a word to us about the way our world should be.

If you're interested, look it up on Facebook.  I also tweet under "popculturpriest" and try to post gun-related stories with the hashtag #nomorewaiting or #nomorewaiting4gc. We also try to go to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of politicians and post stories of gun-related violence from their part of the world.

I have no idea if doing something like this will ever make a difference. It's a work in progress.  If you feel frustrated with the state of things in our country, think about joining us.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Obama: What I Want, What I Have...

This is the President I want...

Some days, it feels like this is the President I have...

Monday, September 10, 2012

...To Live in this World...

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Mary Oliver
 (from American Primitive)

A Boy Can Dream

 I'd be happy for just one of those, thank you?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

An Article about the Conventions

After my weekend rant (sorry if I lost you there, had to get it out of me), I wrote an article for an Australia magazine called Eureka Street about our conventions. Here's a link.  I swear, it's more tempered than my blog. Also, a little humor.  Speaking of which:

Real picture. Look at the bikers on either side.  Joe Biden, what are you doing?

Jesus, Leave Sponge Bob Alone

Went to an evening Mass this weekend. The priest talked for over 20 minutes -- mate, what are you thinking? You're a nice guy, but stop already.

When we walked in, there was a sponge, like this, in the holy water font:

Have you seen this? I've seen it at a couple places, and honestly, I can't figure out the rationale for the life of me. Is it supposed to be hygenic? Because pressing your fingers into a sponge that is brown with the dirt of a thousand fingers is much healthier than a little container of standing water?

When it comes to sacraments and sacramentals (things that are not sacraments themselves, but are nonetheless understood as ways we come to experience God's grace -- holy water being exhibit A), you want people to be exposed in as immediate and full a fashion as is possible. You don't want a middle man. You want to get out of the way and let God work his mojo.

No, the other mojo.  (But extra points if you get the reference. Yeah, baby!)

Liturgists and pastors, you really can't get much more diluted (also filthy) a sacramental than to actually dissolve holy water in a ratty sponge! Put it back in the storage closet or store it in a pineapple (again, extra points...) and let us have our moment with God!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Barack, Stop Talking and Fight

I don't know that I've ever written about politics on this blog. It's definitely not my general interest.  I find American politics by and large debilitating, and I find when you start talking about it it only makes people crazy.

But I was frustrated with what I watched last night, and I want to rant and rave a bit.  I'm going to be pretty equal opportunity in who I criticize, so if that's going to frustrate you, you might want to turn away...

I've been stewing after the President's speech last night. And I say this as a Democrat. I have no time for the politics of hate and fear that the leaders of the Republican party have been dishing out of late (and by late I mean the last 12 years, more or less). I think their basic strategy of opposing everything has completely demoralized the country and while I support the Tea Party as a way for people to express their frustration, politically I think it's been taken over by some pretty destructive forces.

But I listen to the President speak and I'm struck by on the one hand, yes, I want a world guided by the principles of fairness, of helping the underdog, and above all of we're all in this together.  I believe in that as the good.  

And on the other hand, I'm not sure he's making that happen.  He said over and over last night that we have this choice to make, and the choice is basically between fear and hope, between community and individualism, between progress and stagnation. But does he really represent the first half of those equations? It's quite an astonishing claim for anyone to make, if you think about it, let alone a President whose country remains mired in recession; who hesitates to push through basic gun control legislation even after one of his own Congresspeople has been shot; and at a fundamental level lets himself get pushed around by not just the Republicans, but the business community, the gun lobby, Israel, you name it.  

Yes, he saved the auto industry, as I heard over and over last night. Of course, no one was saying the other half -- the auto industry needed saving not just because of the financial crisis but because of incredibly poor management that had gone on for a long time.  Much like the financial community, which he also saved and has since continued by and large in its shockingly rapacious ways.

More importantly, he got through health care. (Why didn't he mention that?)  He's also been great on the international stage, and given back to the United States its moral authority. Which is huge.  So don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the man hasn't done good things.  When you put him alongside Bush, there is no comparison.

But I have to say, on the issue of the economy and unemployment, which for me is the fundamental issue in this election, I don't see him offering any solutions. From a practical level his speech last night amounted to "Stick with me, because we have great things planned." And that's just not good enough.  What are those things? And how are you going to get them through Congress?

He's entered into almost all the major issues -- unemployment, the debt ceiling, bonuses for billionaires, health care -- far too late.  He relies on some pretty pat tropes -- how many times have we heard him say "It's going to be hard"?  -- without ever digging deeper.  When has he shown an appreciation for just how hard it has been, for example? Certainly not last night.  

To me it has long appeared like he really needs to have his back against the wall before he really digs in and starts fighting. And that is such a terrible way of proceeding. Because even if you are as incredibly talented as he is, it means a lot of anxiety for us and probably a higher rate of failure than would otherwise be true.

Again, I'm a Democrat. I think anyone who is thinking of voting Republican has to answer some hard questions about to what degree the Republicans' style of opposition has been responsible for how slow the recovery has been, and whether they're ready for the extremists in that party to have a hand at the wheel. Because as moderate as Romney may seem, if he gets into office those guys are going to be running the show. That's what he signaled in picking Ryan.

But -- and this is probably the first time I've felt this way -- weaving words is not enough. I want to be reminded of who we are as America, but that narrative has to be grounded in a day to day willingness to fight for its realization. I see that pursuit within individuals in our country, people sacrificing for their families or their communities, people sacrificing for strangers. I'm just not sure I see it in our President.




I must say, I have never loathed my own accent more than when in Australia.  That flat, nasal twang alongside the playful kineticism of the Australian dialect is like listening to a cat yowling in heat. When Paul talked about clanging cymbals, I think he had us in mind.  (I would be willing to bet he visited the Midwest. And then he wept.)

And some of the differences you don't even notice until you're back. I went to Mass last night at our community, and over and over again I heard "Ay-men," and accent on that "Ay".

Australians don't pronounce the word that way.  For them, it's the dentist's bit, open your mouth and say Ahh-men. And whether it's because the vowel is short rather than long, or the accent is on the last syllable rather than the first, or something else, the word presents quieter somehow, not in volume but in intensity. When you say "Ay-men", you're taking a stand, you're making a public commitment.  When you say "Ah-men", you're more accepting something that's being offered, you're acquiescing.  It's the difference between "Yes" and "Let it be so."

It would be dangerous to use that one word to draw any conclusions about the differences between Australian and American culture. Ridiculous.  And yet, as I watched bits of the Democratic National Convention last night, the President's evangelical style, the audience's hunger to leap up in adulation -- all of which is pretty puzzling for Australians -- I couldn't help but think that perhaps there is more to this than pronunciation.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I got back from Australia today. I was intrigued to find, after a few hours, that it felt as though I was sitting on a floating dock.  The floor rocked back and forth. Gently, mind you. In fact I even thought, maybe this is an earthquake? Just, you know, the long and gentle kind. A My Pretty Pony earthquake.

But it's the jet lag, I'm guessing, combined with not much sleep in the last 2 days. And, perhaps, the fact that I've spent a lot of the last week on ferries traveling Sydney Harbour.  The inner ear is a funny thing, and mine tends to remember water very well, and very long.

Whatever the reason, it's not a bad metaphor for the feeling of dislocation that comes with returning to the States. I've been gone long enough that I had forgotten my room, if that makes any sense. That even as I could never quite figure out which side of the car to get into (much to the amusement of my friends), that the idea of the steering wheel on the left just seems wrong. Wrong and dangerous.

And I can't help but think, as I sit here at 10pm writing this, wasn't it moments ago just noon in Sydney? Truly, moments ago. How did I get here? And actually, where am I exactly?

And the table on which this computer rests rocks gently.  And the floor curls up and down. And my body feels like at any moment it might float away.