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Saturday, December 10, 2022

the hood

                              

 

the hood

    for me

    is what franciscans wear

    what drew me to them.

 

think of it.

 sixth grade

christmas midnight mass

first year serving mass

              st. mary’s hospital

two franciscans appear

              deacon and subdeacon

              (sisters wanted solemn high mass)

              never saw one before

                     I liked the hood

                     neat!

 

three years later

            high school seminary

            lots of hoods

            I reflect

                you know,

            hoods invite

                 could grab them

                        from behind

                 these are guys you could

                        grab from behind

                        stop in their tracks

            I like that

            I want to be like that.

 

why?

who knows?

            something in me?

a leper stopped francis in his tracks

            changed his life

            go to the bottom

                        be like the carp      

                        feed on the bottom

            who cares what the neighbors think

                        where you find Jesus

                        where Jesus finds you.

 

francis in a broken down church

            crucifix in a broken down church

                 a leper church

            but this time a message:

                 Build!

            OK

                  said francis

            I will build

            I need stones

                  Give me stones

                  and off he went.

           

            false start

                  nobody hurt

                  some buildings fixed

                  but new direction

            build people

            build up souls

                  broken down souls

                  bottom again

no wonder anyone can stop these guys

                  in their tracks

 

 why me?

            background?

            questionable grandfathers

                  one suicide, other probably alcoholic

            yet loving parents

                  parents without pedigree

                        alcohol and suicide ruin pedigrees

                   did they find Jesus on the bottom?

                        did Jesus find them on the bottom?

            maybe they taught me

                        go to the bottom

                        Jesus will find you

 

so I like the hood

            foolish motive for seventy years of living

                  but it held up

            don’t even wear the hood that much now

                  but it’s there

                   someone could stop me in my tracks

             good way to live

 

actually,

            not a half bad way to accept death

                  pulled from behind

            get stopped in my tracks

                  hope by Jesus this time   

 


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Pews

Church pews are the single greatest obstacle to the Eucharistic liturgy as envisioned by the Second Vatican Council.

For the last two or three summers, excepting the Covid-limited years, we friars here at Holy Cross Friary have shared our Eucharist each weekday on the covered patio between the two buildings that make up our friary. Some years ago we bought fifteen or twenty outdoor furniture chairs to accommodate the people that began to join us. We were tired of dragging dinner chairs out of our two houses.

But this past summer even the new chairs were not enough, and we were dragging dinner chairs out again. People say they love sharing the Eucharist with us and with one another in that setting. This is what liturgy should be.

Of course, with the coming of autumn, the weather has driven us indoors, but even more important is our desire to use the University chapel for those weekday Masses so that students might be welcomed. But as soon as we return to the chapel, what happens?

All the congregants scatter. It is like what physicists call “Brownian motion,” where molecules seek the greatest distance from one another in any given space.

I have a dream.

In the dream we would remove all the pews in the chapel and replace them with reasonably comfortable chairs. We would move the altar from its platform and put it down on the floor in the midst of the chairs.

We would have to have enough chairs to accommodate larger groups, but surely that obstacle could be overcome. We would set up enough chairs to seat the number we expect, just as we have done on our patio. If more come, we could easily take some out of the storage space and use them.

Movable chairs would require labor to place them and clean under them. Since a typical weekday Mass draws at most twenty-five people, that would not be a huge project. Even the Sunday Masses draw only fifty or sixty people. It would be a rear occasion when enough chairs would have to be used to fill the chapel.

But the arrangement would place the worshippers within speaking distance from the presider, and close to one another. This is what I think is attractive about our summer patio Masses.

I shudder at the thought of removing those beautiful pews—such fine wood, over a hundred years old.

But does keeping them sacrifice a living liturgy to dead wood? The pews were put there when the couple of hundred students at the College were required to attend Mass, at least on Sundays. The only time I have seen the chapel full in recent years is for special occasions: the night when we bless all the college athletes, and graduation time. This past May the chapel was not full even for the graduation Mass.

But could we afford such a change?

The wood in these pews is magnificent. Maybe we could cover the cost of removing them, re-carpeting the floor, and replacing them with chairs just by selling the wood in the existing pews. Each pew has planks fourteen feet long and some feet wide. Finding a buyer might require patience and widening the search, but when some people are salvaging wood from old barns, others might salvage it from pews.

The Eucharist is a living form of worship. Many beautiful churches in other places have become museums. Ours are headed in that direction.

Beauty is wonderful, but prayer with one another is even more wonderful, and prayer in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus is heavenly.

I would mourn the loss of our pews. But I would mourn more if they were to burn in a church fire, or get eaten by termites in a boarded-up building.

Furniture should serve life, not strangle it.

 

 


Sunday, July 3, 2022

Abortion is tearing our country apart

 

Abortion is tearing our country apart.

Few people see abortion as a positive good. That includes many of the women who choose to have an abortion. Yet our politics have forced us into two camps. Both sides of the issue are to blame.

Those of us who are Catholic Democrats do not see abortion as a good thing. The issue is not whether abortion is wrong, but whether it is a good thing for the state to make it illegal.  It is possible to argue that some behaviors are evil but that getting the state to punish them creates more problems than we wish to accept.

There are countries that make prostitution legal. There are countries that make use of any kind of drug legal. There are excellent arguments on both sides of those issues, but countries have made the decision that the lesser evil is on the side of permissiveness.

Our own country experimented with making alcohol use illegal. Few people saw alcohol addiction as good, but eventually the country decided that the lesser evil was to permit alcohol use. We have gradually developed ways of dealing with alcoholism better than making alcohol use illegal.

There are better ways of dealing with problem pregnancies than making abortion illegal. We can support women, and men, who find themselves pregnant. We can support them socially and financially. Many  groups such as Birthright have been doing heroic work in support of such people. But when a problem is so massive that private initiative cannot effectively deal with it, we use government support, no matter what it costs. We do that with floods and fires and hurricanes, and now with Ukraine. We need to do it with our own people who are pregnant. Whether the pregnancy is their own fault or not is not the issue. They and their unborn children are ours, and we take care of our own.

We are not heartless people who care only for fetuses but not about women after their children are born. We are not heartless people who see fetuses as a form of maternal disease. We are people who have gotten ourselves into polarized camps by leaders who are too willing to fight rather than to talk. We need to talk, and talk some more, and recognize that our opponents are human just like us, moral people just like us, and not as cocksure about their rightness as our leaders are trying to make us believe.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Lattices

 

Lattices

    A lattice is a structure around which climbing plants can grow. The image suggests an inanimate thing, the lattice, providing a means for a living thing, a plant, to flourish.

    Churches are lattices.

    A church provides a structure within which people can experience God. The life is in the people and their experience, not in the structure.

    Take the Catholic Church. It provides places where people can gather, and gathering is essential for experiencing God. It provides a script for behavior when the people gather (liturgy). It provides resources that can enrich the experience (Scripture and theology). It structures experience around life events: baptism, Eucharist, burial.

    Within the structure, all kinds of different experiences occur. Some people experience God through mysticism, some through concrete acts of service to others, some through a regular routine of prayer. Many withdraw from the lattice but continue to find God through faint memories of the stories of God.

    People who have never had the experience of the structure never benefit from what the structure can provide. They are like athletes who grow up without coaching, and whose abilities may or may not ever fully develop, or like musicians who have not had people around them who will nurture their musical abilities. Some such people will overcome their disabilities and develop a relationship with God in their own way. Many, perhaps most, will not.

    That is the cause for regret on the part of us religious people. We are like people who love music and regret that some people never get to experience the goodness of musical experience.

    The regret is the motive for what we call evangelization. We do not evangelize for the sake of numbers—statistics about church membership and ritual attendance are misleading. We who manage the structures are managing wood and nails, not living things. God is moving in our structures, we hope, and sharing abundant life. Our role is to let plants grow.

    We of the structure are human beings, which means that we are sinful. We develop pathologies of structuring. We fall in love with controlling other people, or with pride in creating beautiful buildings and objects. We love creating rules, because rules are one way for us to gain power over other people. Rule breakers get ruled out of conversations. We get into fights with other religious people, sometimes even to the point of using violence. This is especially true when we merge our lattices with political lattices, whose function is to keep us at peace with one another. Church and state merge, and the structures smother life instead of promoting it.

    For some reason we church people got the idea that we have to control the world in order for people to come to God. No. We just have to provide the lattice and get out of the way.

 

A poem

 

Weeds

 

have sympathy for weeds

            flowers out of place

true, not so pretty

            don’t look like flowers

            have to look close

but persistent

            even in sidewalks

 

God works that way

            life out of place

often not so pretty

            have to look close

we church people are sidewalks

            weeds are life



Monday, February 14, 2022

Our Stories

Notice I titled this “OUR” stories.

MY story is important. It is who I am. But OUR story is also important.

The problem is that our society, and most “modern” societies are so individualistic that people no longer have stories that give them a sense of belonging. People grow up being told that they can do and be anything they like, without reference to other people. They are not given stories that locate them in a larger context.

Two events are grounding this reflection of mine. One is the blockade created by truckers on the Canadian border of the U.S. There is fear that the idea will be picked up and replicated all over the country. Truckers are the ideal carriers of such a vision. They occupy a special place in popular imagination. They pilot huge rigs, symbols of American power, and they are loners, on the road alone day after day—the American dream.

But if they have no group story that can locate them, that can give them a sense of belonging, something like this protest will provide that. It is a cause beyond themselves. The Canadian truckers are crusading against an oppressive Canadian government forcing people to accept vaccination. They now have a story, a cause. Finally, life has meaning.

The other event grounding my reflection is a book I have just begun to read. It is by two Mennonite people struggling with the stories of their peoples. The story of one of them begins in Ukraine, when the Russian government, in the early days of the Communist revolution, forced their Mennonite ancestors to flee the country. They “settled” in western Canada. The word “settle” is important in their narrative, because their settling displaced other peoples who occupied the land before them. Their story is a combination of personal history and place—Ukraine and Canada—and the “songs” that have given meaning to the journey of all the peoples. Their book is a plea for taking seriously physical places, the physical surroundings from which one has grown, as well as the stories of other peoples who occupied those same physical spaces.

Places are important. Much of the energy behind Trumpism is resentment against an economy that destroys the places that give people roots. Rural America is being hollowed out, and with it, the family stories that tell people who they are. People left behind see Donald Trump as leading a protest against the system.

The authors of the book use three tag-terms to keep all this together: “landlines,” the physical places that have grounded their stories and the stories of their ancestors; “bloodlines,” the physical and cultural histories of their peoples; and “songlines,” which they describe as “liberative traditions that inspire practices of justice and compassion.”

What intrigues me about this book, which I have just begun to read, is its grounding in the experience of indigeneous peoples. The recent “Amazon Synod” which Pope Francis convened, made us think about the importance of people all over the world who have been thrown away as useless relics of the past, including the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rain forest. But those peoples have not gone away.

The book is Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization, by Elaine Enns and Ched Myers. I got it on Kindle.

Back to the truckers.

Too many of our fellow Americans are spiritual truckers, driving all over the landscape without a story to tell them who they are.

This morning I was praying Psalm 105. The psalm is the story of a people who began with an enslaved person, Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, and continued through Moses, who led the people from Egyptian slavery into freedom in the promised land, where they, sadly from our Christian perspective, benefitted from appropriating the places and properties of the people who were living in those places before. The story of the conquest of the chosen land by the chosen people is a story of genocide.

But it is our story. Our own American story is a story of genocide, and our American forebears carried it out with the same ideological fervor that must have inspired the biblical actors, or at least the bibical authors who told their story. “God willed it” they would have said, and even if they did not have God in mind, as most of them probably did not, the term “God” functioned just as successfully for them as for any pious believer. Our truckers probably also would say “God wills our action,” even if they do not have God in mind.

In this context, it is useful to think about the term “God,” and to reflect on the merits of having a more disciplined story about God than the wild and unbridled gods that inspire truckers and so many others in our country, such as predatory investors who crush local cultures all over the country. Surely those investors too will say that the gods want them to do it.

We as a people need to take seriously the physical places where we live and have lived, and the stories of the people who have made us who we are. Then we need “songs” that will inspire us to create greater justice in the midst of the chaos that we have created.

Not a new situation. That is why generations of our ancestors kept telling the stories to their children. We need to take up that custom again. Our people wander in a wilderness of loneliness and hunger for meaning.

Our churches are a place that should be telling these stories. Evidently our churches have gotten away from doing that. The stories are not being communicated. No wonder church membership numbers are down. We are not reminding our people who we are.


Monday, November 15, 2021

Catching up

         It has been a while since I have posted anything on this blog. People may wonder if I have died.

But I haven’t.

I now view my last entry, on Afghanistan, as another example of my tendency to be over-optimistic. The Taliban seem to be just as backward-looking as they were thirty years ago, and just as unwilling to re-assess their view of history. Surely all the Afghanistan women who are now educated will make a dent in their behavior, but I always under-estimate the power of violence to restrain efforts to change things.

The main reason for my delay in posting, though, is that two other projects have intruded on my time. One is my desire to wrap up my history of my Franciscan province. The other is my becoming a member of a small writing group. The other members are professional English teachers. They do poetry, and poetry has not been my favorite form of writing. But I have been trying it.

Here is my last contribution to our weekly meetings. Editorial notes: The piece is a take-off from Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” “Eleanor” is Eleanor Roosevelt.

 

The Pursuit

 Francis Thompson,

old Catholic hero

God as bloodhound

striking metaphor—

caused Eleanor to say

“best dog story ever”

 

my experience:

I’m the hound

chasing God

always just out of reach

sneak here,

          just missed

leap there,

          too late

  

psalms?

          thousands of years

          millions of users

years of

          chant, recite

words, words, words

God in there somewhere?

                    think so

                    never sure

 

maybe someday

          pursuit will pay

till then

          best I can do.

  

JZ

2021-11-09

 


 

 

 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Thoughts on Afghanistan

     “There is no military solution to the problems of Afghanistan. Only a political solution will give good results.”

That is what I have been hearing for some time now.

What have our few remaining troops been doing in Afghanistan these past few months? We have been continuing to facilitate violence. We have been using all of our famed technological skill in helping Afghan soldiers kill and destroy the Taliban. Why should we continue to do this?

The Afghan military, trained and supported for these many years by our courageous military, just “melted away.” Were they cowards?

I don’t think so. I think they used the departure of U.S. forces as the occasion to make their own low-level political solutions to their country’s problems.

The Afghan government fighters probably joined their military for the same reasons that our young people join our military: it seemed like the most promising way for them to make their way forward in a world that did not offer them many other alternatives. They took orders from leaders who had only their own welfare in mind. The war was a place to make lots of money. Billions of dollars were sloshing around. Those leaders had every incentive to keep the war going. More billions would come. Once the U.S. pulled out, they could flee the country with their billions.

It is true that our presence in the country opened up opportunities for many people, especially women. Hopefully those gains will not be totally lost. But the gains were being propped up by fruitless violence.

If anyone outside the Taliban knows what is going on in Taliban circles, it has to be Afghan people. Are the Taliban a totally foreign invasion, spawned in Pakistan for Pakistani political purposes? Or are they partly Afghan citizens disillusioned with their government’s unwillingness to promote a truly political solution to the country’s problems? We can hope they are the latter.

If the Taliban turn out to be just another organization grounded in violence, the Afghan people face a grim future. But if the Taliban have some grounding in the Afghan population, the removal of U.S. support of violence might open the way for more nonviolence.

One policy mistake that the U.S. is likely to make is the same mistake that we have made for the last hundred-plus years in Haiti: make sure the country’s new government gets no outside support. If we do that, we will contribute to the creation of another failed state. Or we will create another Cuba. China and Russia will move in with support that is not likely to promote the kind of society we wish for everyone.

Surely one of these days we will learn that the technology of killing and destroying is not the cure-all that our STEM-focused culture finds so tempting. There is much profit to be made in inventing and producing new forms of violence. It takes just two things to keep the system going: a military-industrial complex geared to inventing and producing more clever ways to kill people or to defend our people against being killed by other people. This trend keeps going in spite of evidence that our technology can be frustrated by the simplest of technologies (e.g. improvised explosive devices). It also requires a public that accepts, without question, the principle that anything that threatens our country’s existence requires unlimited financial support. Anything in the budget is negotiable except defense.

And then there are our nuclear weapons. We are still spending billions to “upgrade” our nuclear weaponry, with the knowledge that coming generations will have to spend billions more to get rid of what we create. In the meantime, one error and humankind could be destroyed.