Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Lonely Lake

Swans on a Lake

Today proved to be a sad day to walk around one of our local lakes. A couple of years ago swans were reintroduced to the lake. Two pair were donated and each pair took over a different side of the lake. They were beautiful. They quietly sailed along the lake chasing off squirrels, visiting dogs and especially Canada geese.

The first year one of the pair had three cygnets. Unfortunately they did not survive. No one was ever sure if it was the hawks, turtles or other critters but some thing was removing these big adorable babies.

Then one of the swans crossed the road and was hit by a car. The survivor was taken to our local zoo so it could find a new mate.

The pair that remained ruled the lake. They could prevent people from crossing the bridge, they guarded the shore, they were aquatic royalty!

The swans looked beautiful. They would float pass the buildings and statues making everything look just a little bit more special. Then two months ago one of the swans was again hit by a car. The remaining swan was scheduled to be removed and transported to a lake not near a road. However, the swan refused to be caught. Yesterday the swan was also hit by a car.

Swans are large, impressive. They mate for life, or at least a long time. Some have been known to live beyond thirty years. Sadly, not these swans.

So they tried. They provided good food and supplements. They provided housing and even a fenced in area in an attempt to protect cygnet. They made sure one section of the lake was ice free all winter long. However, the lake use to be in the country, the area is no longer rural and that made all the difference in the world.

So tonight the lake was still, quiet and lonely. There are still two white ducks who call the lake home. Flocks of Canada Geese camp out on the lake. However, the Second Era of the Swans is over. They were regal and they added a special elegance to the lake. When the Creator made swans, “it was good”.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Chaldean Church in Iraq
Chaldean Catholic Priest Martyr

So, during my prayer of Thanksgiving I mentioned the plight of the ancient Christians in Iraq. They are the folks still speaking a form of Aramaic, that language spoken in the time of Jesus.

The video I found is of a funeral in Iraq. The voice you hear singing is the voice of Father Ragheed Ganni. On June 03, 2007 this Chaldean Priest and three deacons were driving home after celebrating mass at Holy Spirit Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul Iraq. Their car was stopped by terrorists/sectarians/gunmen (the choice is yours) and they were forced to declare their submission to Islam. When they refused they were gunned downed. The congregants pray not for revenge but for repentance.

For 2000 years this tiny community existed side by side with their Iraqi countrymen. Since the 600s they lived next to their Islamic neighbors in relative peace. Not today, not during this civil/sectarian war.

I am reminded of Gandhi who said, “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind”.

The song the late father sings is a hymn to the Holy Mother. In translation he sings:
We honor you with hymns O Mother of God, you are the pride of the whole earth, because the Word of God whom the Father sent, chose to take His human body from you. The generations call you blessed, all nations and people's honor you and ask for mercy by your prayers. You are a generous earth in which plants of joy always grow

These ancient Christians are leaving Iraq. After 2000 years of uninterrupted cultural contribution to the land of Babylon, Ur and the Chaldeans, they are leaving. After living side by side with the followers of the Prophet they are leaving. This is not a Christian-Islamic battle. All over Iraq neighbors are fighting neighbors. Shia and Sunni are fighting each other, Turkish Kurds are endangering Iraqi Kurds. This is a nation in chaos. This is a fight to control what is left after the war ends. This is a fight this tiny community can not hope to win or even engage in.

The fear among anthropologists is that once they leave their communities and are relocated in various small communities around the globe the culture will die. The people will live, but the spoken language of Jesus, the descendant culture of the early church and of the apostles will cease to exist. There is far too much suffering, loss and destruction in this ill thought out war.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Native American: 23rd Psalm

A couple of years ago I was attending the Disaster Mental Health Institute conference in Rapid City South Dakota. I was a presenter and I was excited. I was excited to be presenting, I was excited to meet all of the other attendees and I was excited to be in South Dakota. We saw the Black Hills, Crazy Horse Memorial and of course Mount Rushmore.

I met disaster mental health responders from Bangladesh, Thailand, Mongolia and Turkey. Their stories and experiences were incredible.

During my free time I visited the The Journey or the Sioux Indian Museum. It was wonderful. While there I picked up some pictures of Native American interpretations of the Last Supper, the Trinity and of Jesus and Mary. They were great. I also bought a copy of a Native American interpretation of the 23rd Psalm. The video above is a version of that interpretation.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks in an Imperfect World

Today is our national day of Thanksgiving. The world is boiling over in a big ole heap of trouble and yet if ya got eyes, ears, a nose or fingers finding reasons to give thanks is easier than getting water from a melon. So, my humble prayer of thanksgiving…

The city of Atlanta and much of the southeast are almost out of water
In a land and time of man made drought and potential human relocation
We thank You for giving us a southeast that was blessed with ocean, rivers, tributaries, with water

In a time of unanswered genocide in Sudan
Of chaos in Somalia
Of starvation in much of Africa
We thank You for gifting humans with the ability to survive in the desert
For gifting humans with a sense of right and wrong and the ability to do the right,
Of gifting humans with Africa, the home of origin for all of us

In a time of growing stress and danger for the remaining Christians of Northern Africa, especially the Copts of Egypt
In a time of persecution and exile for the ancient Christians of Iraq,
We thank You for the early churches of the Middle East and Africa that nurtured and formed us
And we thank You for the diversity of the early churches that are part of the Body of Christ

In a world that knows war in too many places,
In a world that knows war both modern and impersonal and traditional and face to face
We thank You for providing us with models of Peace-makers from so many traditions and faiths

In a world that faces mass extinctions, rising sea levels, and loss of resources
We thank You for giving us eyes and ears, hearts and minds
So perhaps we can react, in time, in love
To preserve what You so generously gave

For all of this and for children and laughter and sunsets
we say

Thank You

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pink, "Dear Mr. President" and the Culture of Life

So I bumped into Pink’s new video, “Dear Mr. President.” I think it is powerful but inadequate. I watch it and it is beyond me how so many Republican politicians were able to sell themselves to the American voters as Pro-Life. Pro-fetus, sure, pro-geriatric, yep, but Pro-Life…I don’t think so. There is a lot of life going on between the beginning and the end. The death penalty, war, denying global warming and ignoring the destruction of the environment are not pro-life actions.

I am reminded of the late Cardinal Bernardin from Chicago. He called for a "consistent ethic of life". This "seamless garment" position called for respect at all stages of the life-span. He saw modern technology as posing special threats in the form of euthanasia, abortion, war and capital punishment.

Bernardin believed that life must be consistently valued from conception to death, natural death. He went on to draft the pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response." The document challenged the morality of a nuclear defense. His seamless garment included the death penalty, war, poverty, extreme economic polarization, it included quality of life issues.

Pope John Paul II in his Evangelium Vitae or Gospel of Life (1995) spoke of the sanctity of life, all life, again, from beginning to end. He addressed the very issues the ancient church fathers struggled with, abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia. The late Pope stated, “The culture of life means respect for nature and protection of God's work of creation. In a special way, it means respect for human life from the first moment of conception until its natural end." The "protection of God's work in creation" includes so much more than just the two poles of a continuum, it includes living and living in relation.

This “Culture of Life” as opposed to a “Culture of Death” has been the focus of intense debate in the U.S.. Specifically, the challenge has been to define the boundaries of the construct, who can claim to be functioning out of a culture of life? It seems, to some, to include not just respect for life, for life to continue, but also addresses quality of life. Poverty, discrepancies in health care, ecocide have all been addressed under this umbrella concept first stated by Pope John Paul II and then popularized in the U.S. by Cardinal Bernardin.

So, back to Pink! The video addresses this broader sense of Culture of Life (I am talking about the song not the singer). If you tell me it is one-sided and partisan, I agree. If you tell me that by the definitions above very few politicians of either party can honestly claim to be Pro-Life, I agree. If you tell me the video is rude, well, it is the music of youth for youth. When was that not the case? One of the most conservative societies in world history, the Ancient Egyptians complained in their hieroglyphics that the youth of the day had no respect for their elders! So yes, it is rude.

I think it is powerful, moving and inadequate. It should also be addressed to Madame Pelosi, to Democrats elected to make a change and as of yet have not, to career politicians and bureaucrats that serve themselves and not their country. What is not clear to me is if Pink is able to convey to her viewers her support for the military while expressing disdain for her Commander-in-Chief. It would be at cross-purposes to attempt to support our military and hurt mourning family members at the same time.

Pink, the video is a good start. You speak truth to power, now hold all of our leaders responsible for their part in our hurt.

Giving Thanks for Saint Theodore Guerin

Last Sunday we had a special Mass at the Cathedral. It was in honor of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. She is our first saint from Indiana. She is the founder of the Sisters of Providence Mary of the Woods order. She is also the foundress of St. Mary of the Woods College.

Mother Guerin was French, very French. Her father had served in Napoleon’s navy. She was born in 1798 in Brittany France. Two of her younger brothers died t an early age. Her father was murdered by a bandit. She knew about suffering and she knew about surviving. She also knew how to be stubborn.

At age 20 she asked her mother for permission to join a religious order, her mother refused. She again made the same request five years later and her mother finally agreed. She joined the Sisters of Providence and took her perpetual vows in 1831.

She became a gifted teacher and a healer of the sick. Skills that would prove to be invaluable in the wilderness of Indiana.

The young nation of the United States was on the move. The wilderness was moving west, all the way to Indiana. Immigrants were an important part of the expanding nation and its expanding economy. Vincennes Indiana had played an important part in the states history. It was a political, military and trading center for French North America. It then became part of British North American and was part of the territories belonging to the colony of Virginia. In the 1832 it was the seat of the Diocese of Vincennes.

Bishop Brute was tasked with serving the needs of Catholics for the entire state of Indiana. This was no small task. The state was a magnet for immigrants from Ireland, France, and Germany, many who were Catholic. Bishop Brute requested a religious order from Europe to serve the needs of the growing Catholic population.

A physically fragile Sister Guerin was asked to head this important mission. After much prayer and discernment she agreed. She then made a three month journey. After traveling by ship, train, and wagon she and five sisters arrived in the wilderness of Indiana near Terre Haute in Oct. 1840.

From humble beginnings she showed why she was the right choice for the job. She learned English and negotiated with businessman. She founded the St. Mary of the Woods College. She farmed, raised crops and cared for livestock.

She established schools in Jasper, Vincennes, Fort Wayne, St. Peter’s and Terre Haute Indiana. She worked to establish centers in Illinois. She opened two orphanages. She opened additional schools in Evansville, North Madison and Columbus Indiana. She became the “Mother of the Catholic School System in Indiana”. The Order's schools expanded to include Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. We celebrated her accomplishments at the cathedral because she had founded a school on the Cathedral Square. She is part of our history.

At the time of her death there were 67 professed sisters, nine novices and seven postulants.

Pope John Paul II described Mother Theodore Guerin as "a perfect blend of humanness and holiness". Last year Pope Benedict completed the canonization process and she was declared a Saint. Last week our Diocese celebrated and gave thanks for a Hoosier Saint who faced prejudice, wilderness and adversity and still managed to make a significant contribution to her adopted nation.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Yep: 100 Wins in 10 Years!!!

Yep, The Cougars did it. They got their 100th win in 10 years, the first ten years. The number 5 nationally ranked team did it by defeating the number 6 nationally ranked team. USF beat St. Xavier 42-13. St. Xavier was the first team the Cougars ever beat and now for a little gestalt....ta,da, they are the 100th. History is made!

Now, on to the playoffs!

100 Wins in Ten Years?

Well, today we play St. Xavier University. They are from the south side of Chicago. My wife has heard my mantra. “They only recruit football players from a 40 mile radius because when your a Catholic college from the south side of Chicago 40 miles is more than enough”. They impress me, they are great. I will be one of the few people at the game today that will be happy no matter who wins. If we when, yeah, that is really what I am hoping for. If they win, well, I’m from Chicago. If we can’t win then better them than anybody else.

Still, today is an exciting game. It is the last game of the regular season. We are ranked number 5 nationally in the NAIA and St. Xavier (also the Cougars) is number 6. We both lost only one game. We both lost to Ohio Dominican this year. We lost to Ohio Dominican 30-20, St. Xavier lost to them 42-41! Home field advantage during the playoff season is at stake for this game.

However, there is something else just to make the game more interesting. Should we win today it will make history, not just NAIA history but all college football history. We will be the first team to win 100 games in 10 years. All under the leadership of coach Kevin Donley. The first year we won 2 games. After that we were at least conference champion every year. The last three years we went to the National Championship. 2001 was the last year we lost more than one game in a season. The loss to Ohio Dominican this year snapped a 54 game winning streak.

However, this one is even more personal. We have played St. Xavier four other times and won each time. However, they are a powerful, excellent team (did I mention they are from CHICAGO!). They were our first win as a team, it would be nice if today they were also our 100th win.

100 wins in 10 years, that would be an accomplish that is staggering. It is also simply impossible to say it without smiling. Go ahead, try it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Lector: Take Two

Well, I did it again. I was the Lector at church. This was only my second time. I was far more familiar with what I was supposed to do. Still, just as nervous. My ears rang, my face was red but when it was over I was happy to have been part of the Mass.

Our cathedral is beautiful. Father Jim is an articulate, devout priest. However, the best part for me was the first reading. It was beautiful. It was a reading from the Book of Wisdom 11:22-12:2

Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
Or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
And you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
And loathe nothing that you have made;
For what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
Or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
For your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
Warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
That they may abandon their wickedness and believe in

Mission San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano

Well, Cathi is back from California. I missed her. I am happy she got to vacation with her friends and celebrate a birthday. I am happy she got to see L.A., Hollywood, San Diego, Venice Beach and Tijuana Mexico. Still, I missed her and I am glad she is back.

Cathi took a tour of the Mission of San Juan Capistrano. This is the 7th mission in California and was a Franciscan Mission. Spain and then Mexico had 21 such mission in California. The Spanish established them to curb the rising influence of Russia in North America. The Franciscans used the mission to convert the Indians.

The missions were confiscated by the Mexican government. When California became part of the U.S. the missions were given back to the Catholic Church by Abraham Lincoln.

Cathi said she loved the place. It was tranquil, fragrant, and beautiful. We plan on eventually visiting the missions together, as a pilgrimage.

Cathi brought me back a small statue of St. Francis receiving the stigmata. Two years ago I stood at the site at Le Verna where that occurred. That saint continues to influence the world. But then, at a time when we are killing our planet and killing one another we need that saint.

I will have more about her adventures once her photos come back. In the meantime I have to listen to her tell me how the food here just doesn’t have as much flavor as the food in California. She is correct of course, except when I do the cooking!

Levi Kreis: We're Okay

Love Em or Judge Em?

Recently a colleague told me about his encounter with a number of young men and women. He said these were remarkable folks, bright, responsible, and well-rounded. The kind of folks parents hope their kids grow up to be. All that they had in common was that they were gay, lesbian or a friend of someone who was gay or a lesbian. Oh, and that they had all experienced homophobia. What especially bothered me about this story is that many of them had been harassed in the name of religion.

Now I get that theology and dogma is not the product of individuals, you can’t just believe what you want and then say it is the church. I get that. I also know there is a distinction between theological responses and pastoral responses. Pastorally we are called upon to do one thing, love. You want to disagree with these folks than do so. However, that is not an excuse to not love or at least tolerate and certainly it is not an excuse to be cruel and judgmental.

I find myself wondering why ABOMINATION is always written in capital letters. I find myself wondering why it is written at all. Whenever I see that word on a placard I am pretty sure the holder is focusing on someone else.

I like St. Paul who said, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief .“—I Tim. 1:15. Paul was talking about parent-killers, prostitutes and slave traders and still described himself, not them, as the chief sinner.

Jesus hung around with the folks who struggled in life, the folks who lived hard and didn’t look or smell nice. Francis sought out the lepers and Paul found a warm welcome not from the elite in Athens but by the less desirables of Corinth. So who are we to be judging? We are supposed to be caring.

The people who inspire me the most are the folks who get their hands dirty, who do the real work of finding Jesus in the trenches, not the burbs. Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer come to mind. And now I want to be very clear, I am not comparing GLBT folks with prostitutes. I am talking about people of faith who “faith” through acts of love instead of pointing fingers. I am thinking of my friends Jim and Judy in Thailand who have made it their life work to help get young girls out of prostitution. I am thinking of Emmaus Ministries in Chicago that works to aid male prostitutes. Not judging, just loving.

The problem with folks looking at someone else’s sin is they ignore their own. How can I know that your sin is greater than mine? Why would I spend time focusing on that instead of caring about you or at least caring about me?

Why would I even think that one aspect of an individual is the sum of the person? What does attraction tell me about charity, politics, responsibility, intelligence or anything else about a person?

Francis got it right, we are all brothers and sisters, all of us. So, how should we treat our brothers and sisters?

Bill Sullivan: Right Man, Right Job

Well, I’m feeling kind of proud. My old shelter manager from Hurricane Katrina is doing what he does best, bringing order and compassion to chaos and hurt. Bill Sullivan has responded to Hurricanes Ivan, Charley, Katrina, and Rita. Bill is the DeSoto County Red Cross branch manager.

Well, he is in California responding to the wildfires. However, he isn’t just in California, he has been appointed the National Red Cross assistant mass care administrator in the San Bernardino headquarters. He is responsible for the running of 14 Red Cross shelters in San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties.

According to Red Cross reports, the wildfires have burned more than 500,000 acres of Southern California. Bill described the fire as a “super firestorm, like a train coming in on fire." Bill is aware he is working in a desert, a desert drier than normal. The area is covered with natural kindling, the Santa Ana winds may pick back up, the situation is dangerous.

I worked with Bill in Citronelle Alabama. He was a joy to work for. I know Bill to be a funny, compassionate, problem-solver. He is a team player who focuses on the task and not on who is getting the credit or the glory. I am sure he is the right man for the job.

And now I hear he is mixing it up with the Hollywood stars, you go Bill! He coordinated with some stars during the relief effort. That includes Mario Lopez, who is currently known from "Dancing with the Stars" but is also familiar to many folks who have watched "Saved By The Bell." He also worked with Elizabeth Rohm from “Law and Order” (O.K., so I am a little bit jealous!)

Bill Sullivan you are one lucky man, but then, you earned it. I wish I was there working along side of you. Keep up the good work, people are depending on you.