Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas at Ground Zero: Six Years Later

World Trade Center Memorials
Serving the Heroes of 9/11

I was busy doing a little cleaning and organizing when I came across a piece of paper. I opened it up and it was a photocopy of my security clearance tag for responding to the Sept. 11th attack on the WTC. That was back in December, 2001. Now I don’t want to sound important, I was not. I was just one of thousands of disaster mental health volunteers. The clearance simply identified where I was allowed to go. We were not allowed to keep the tags so we all made copies on our last day in New York. So, in the middle of cleaning the memories came flooding back.

Like most Americans, after the attacks I wanted to do something, make a contribution, be helpful. I took a bunch of courses. I went to Detroit and took a Critical Incident Stress Management course through the Civil Air Patrol. I took a course in disaster mental health in Indy and another course on Biological Weapons in Evansville. Still, I wanted to DO something.

I talked it over with my family and we all decided together I would go to New York over Christmas break. This was the first time Cathi and I had not been together for Christmas since 1973. Still, Cathi and the girls felt sending me was their contribution to the nation. So off I went to New York City.

As I write this it is the Feast Day of the Holy Family. During the homily our priest pointed out that while we are to honor the Holy Family this is really a day to honor the entire Christian Family. When I think of going to New York six years ago I know I was honored to have my family. I was very aware that while I was not with them I never felt closer to them.

As I flew over Manhattan to the airport I saw the tug boats going from lower Manhattan to Staten Island. I did not know at that time that all of the debris from Ground Zero was being hauled to Fresh Kill, a park preserve. The entire setting was a gigantic crime scene. Because it was toxic workers walked around in HazMat suits. Because it was a crime scene there were soldiers on site. Because birds tried to take material away rocket flares were routinely set off. The site was so large it could be seen from the International Space Station. I just looked down and saw boats.

I checked in at headquarters, under the Brooklyn Bridge. I was briefed and then sent with my fellow workers by cab to our hotel in upper Manhattan. It was nighttime and when we drove past Ground Zero all of the construction lights were on. Work at the site was continuous. The lights set off a gigantic blue glowing ball around the site. It looked like a bad sci-fi film set.

Our hotel was two blocks from Central Park. At the end of our block was the Russian Tea Room and Carnegie Hall. Times Square was in walking distance.

We were all given different assignments. One worked at Pier 94. This is where folks who had evidence of DNA brought it to the site to have a death confirmed. If that occurred they received an urn with from soil from Ground Zero. The place was huge and had clergy from every conceivable faith. They also had a memorial wall made by volunteers from the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Another peer worked at the Big White Tent at Ground Zero. This was an enormous tent and respite center for the Firefighters and construction workers who wee doing the difficult work of body and body part recovery. My friend worked the night shift. We were told that when we arrived the fires at Ground Zero were officially declared “put out”. However, that was not true, they burned all night and the smell was horrible.

I worked at Service Center One. This was six blocks from Ground Zero. When I arrived my ears and throat were hurting. I was told that was expected, it was from Ground Zero. Luckily it only lasted a day.

Our job was to support the workers who processed the financial needs of clients. The clients were workers, students, residents of the area who lost everything because of the attacks. Their needs were great and their requests were often modest.

We had a small white tent across the street from our center. This was a waiting room. It was December and cold. We had a heater in the tent and coffee but it felt like the 1930s. This was New York and we always had translators to help us. There were at least three different Chinese languages spoken, numerous Slavic languages, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Pashto. I don’t know what we would have done without our translators.

The area was fascinating. To the south was Ground Zero and Battery Park. Next to us was Tribeca and to the immediate north was China Town. A block away was Nino’s. This was a free restaurant for volunteers served by volunteers. People from all over American came here. The firefighters sat by themselves. The police, Salivation Army, Red Cross, guards and construction workers mingled. The entire place was covered by hand made cards from children from all over the world.

I went to Nino’s for lunch on Christmas Eve. A lady at the door handed me a small gift wrapped box. I said I could not accept it. I was told it was not for me. They recognized that everyone there left family behind. It was pearl earrings for Cathi. They were honoring the folks that made it possible for us to be there. I was deeply touched.

It was difficult work. The stories we were told were graphic and stuck with you. We often needed time alone to recover between clients. Two stories that were vivid without being explicit stick out for me. One was of a college girl calling her mother to assure her she was OK. Her mom turned on the television, saw the towers fall and the phone went dead. It was an entire day before the mother found out her daughter was alive. This student reminded me of so many of my own students.

The other story was an old man who was crying, telling me of the horrible, slow death he imagined his friend experienced. One of the folks waiting in the tent was an engineer who overheard us. He walked up to us and explained to the older man that because of the physics involved his friend death was instantaneous. Three months after the day and this old man found some relief and peace because his friend had a better death than the old many originally imagined. That is when I knew we were at war, when we were talking about good deaths.

One night we had a Christmas Party in a loft for all of the volunteers. People from all of the U.S. singing God Bless America, it got to me. I kept thinking it felt like a scene from the old WWII films. Then we all started to sing White Christmas and I left.

Christmas night was spent at a local volunteer’s house. We had a wonderful meal and talked about the sadness of New York.

Christmas Day was spent at Ground Zero. Families arrived to spend time with their unrecovered. Police were there to relieve the firefighters for the day. Families sang, placed cards on walls, hugged and cried. The site was 16 square blocks and took four and a half hours to walk around, almost all in silence. There was no doubt this was holy ground. It had the DNA of people from around the world. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu, men, women, leaders and servants, gay and straight, uniformed and civilian, the world was united here in death. Everywhere there were memorials, candles and people praying. It was the longest and most solemn Christmas of my life and I was glad I was there to serve.

What I did not recognize at the time was this was also the beginning of my return to Christianity and more surprisingly, to Catholicism. It was the beginning of a number of conversions. There were soldiers all over. The anthrax scare was still going on. I knew the world I knew had changed forever. I started thinking of our campus as a safe place. Not safe from airborne pathogens, just safe from fear. I did not recognize at the time that my job was becoming not just a place where I worked but an extension of my home.

Everyday we received the New York Times. In it they carried pages and pages of obituaries. The goal was to cover everyone who died in the attacks before January 1. It made the people real. Between the realness of the deaths and the soldiers everywhere I knew we were in a dangerous world. I knew we would do whatever it took to keep us from more attacks. I knew that was not nice but it was what folks did when they feared for the safety of others.

I began to think about how we had not changed as a species over the centuries. War and violence continued to escalate in ever vicious cycles. Century after century and we had not changed. I knew we needed forgiveness, we humans needed forgiveness. Slowly it became clear I was not talking about “them”, I was talking about “me”, and I needed forgiveness.

One night after a long day at work a fellow worker and I went for a walk. We went to Ground Zero and then to St. Peter’s Catholic Church. It was on the edge of Ground Zero. Inside people were lightening candles. The service was the Feast of the Holy Innocents but clearly focused on the Innocents who died right behind the church wall. Thirty years earlier Cathi had told me I should consider becoming a Catholic and I laughed. Who wanted to be a Papist? However it was becoming clear I loved ritual, sacraments meant a great deal to me, candles, memorials, order had meaning for me. I was beginning a journey and did not realize it.

I met many folks from the Middle East and from Islamic countries. They mourned the loss of the WTC, they wore American Flags. They spoke of their love of America, of freedom and safety and I knew they were not responsible for these horrible events.

When I got back home I began to study about the life of Francis of Assisi. I began to appreciate “respecting the unique dignity of each individual”. I valued a devout Christian who respected the leader of the Islamic world. The journey was continuing.

So, cleaning the house and coming across a piece of paper has sparked a lot of memories. That is good, I do not want to ever forget that Christmas. The memories are powerful, of clients and students, diversity, friends, food, smells, dreams and nightmares. However, what I remember most was people coming together from all over to help and support one another. And I remember a man from Egypt crying and asking why someone would do this to his home. We are all in this together.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christian-Islamic Relations here and in Nigeria

Ochi Agha Nke Eluigwe: Abu Catholic
I am a Muslim

Last week I meet with a priest from Nigeria. We talked about many things. One of the things we touched on was the need for respect for diversity. He told me that when many in the Muslim world reacted to the Pope quoting a Roman Emperor about Islam people in his country responded with violence.

The priest was clear, it was not a matter of Islam being more violent than Christianity. He stated that the Christians in Nigeria did not turn the other cheek and instead responded to violence with more violence.

He was clearly saddened to report that his people (all of the Nigerians) were killing each other, terrorizing one another and destroying property in the name of a loving God.

I was reminded again of the call by Islamic leaders for a dialogue among faiths. This is critical. The voice of reason, the voice of love or at least tolerance must prevail.

I have a colleague who is Muslim. She tells me of the hard decisions she and her family make in deciding where it is safe to travel in America and in Europe. We are scaring one another and where there is fear hatred can not be far off.

In Nigeria the two fastest growing religions are Christianity and Islam. Nigeria is an important nation and it will be important for them to find ways to respect one another and to trust one another.

The Holy Father gave us an example of how to deal with this problem, by being humble and fully engaged. After his scholarly quote resulted in anger, hurt and violence he acted. He had already been planning a trip to Turkey to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I the spiritual leader of the Orthodox. He used the occasion to meet with Islamic leaders. He prayed with Islamic leaders, in a mosque. He built bridges by authentic action, prayer and love.

We, Americans, must find a way to not be defined as the nation that kills Muslims. We must have a foreign policy that is realistic but not simplistic. Our current foreign policy feeds into the recruiting plans of the very people we are trying to defeat.

What is even harder is to change our hearts. We are concerned about our safety, about the safety of our loved ones. In fear it is easy to revert to simplistic, us-them thinking. We must make sure we do not find ourselves endorsing a cultural war against Islam instead of a war against terror. This is not remotely easy. We need to participate in the dialogue moderate Islamic leaders have called for.

For my Franciscan brothers and sisters it is critical that we continue to embrace the spirit of Francis who sought out the Sultan and in dialogue they grew in mutual respect for one another. This week emphasizes how important is for that spirit of mutual respect to grow and flourish, the alternative is not acceptable.

Democracy in Kenya

Hodi, Hodi

Well, this is a difficult week for democracy. Kenya looks like it was on its way to voting out its current President. However, within 24 hours a healthy lead in election results vanished. The results are questionable. One vote tally reported 105,000 votes out of an area with only 70,000 registered voters! This sounds very familiar to me, I am originally from Chicago and in Chicago every vote better be counted. Still, it highlights how difficult democracy is to achieve and maintain.

The result, riots and violence throughout Kenya. This is sad. Kenya is one of the most developed nations in Africa. Still, it is also divided along tribal lines and people often think of themselves in terms of ethnic identities and not national identities.

Our government has staked a lot on encouraging democracy around the world. That is a difficult proposition. Democracy is not part of many nations’ history or culture. Young nations are often the result of the nation making of colonial powers so that the national identity is much younger than the ethnic division. In other places democracy is working but we are not pleased with the results. Iran is a democracy and yet we are not crazy about who the Iranians have elected. The Palestinians put Hamas in power. Democracy in Iraq threatens to be the Shia over the Sunni and Kurds. Don’t get me wrong. I believe a poor democracy is always better than an effective dictatorship or worse, the tyranny of terrorists.

So let’s pray that moderating voices in Kenya are heard. The church in Kenya needs our prayers and support. Our elected official need to hear from us and hear that we expect our government to call, forcefully, for fair elections and order. In short, let’s fervently pray of peace.

Out of Goshen and into...Pakistan?

So it looked like I was in tune with the world, as if I expected the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. I mean, just the night before my blog was about fanaticism and death in India. Now I kept up with Bhutto’s comings and goings, most America I know did. Just the day before I was listening to a report on the BBC and I was concerned that one of the assassination attempts would finally be successful. Still, I was not paying attention last Thursday morning.

Cathi and I decided to have a day trip together. We had planned to go to Goshen and Elkhart. Elkhart has a wonderful mansion, the Ruthmere Mansion that we planned on visiting.

So, it was off to northern Indiana. I did not listen to the radio and I never heard the news.

We love Goshen. It is an artist colony. It has great antique shops, great resale shops and it has the Old Bag Factory. This is, well, an old bag factory that is converted into numerous shops. We stopped for lunch. Lunch was great, the company very nice. However, we never got to Elkhart. I got a headache that just would not go away.

So we went to the Mennonite shops. One of our favorite things is to spend time with fellow peace-church folks. On our way back we went past Goshen College, a nice little peace college. Then we went past Heifer Project International. Cathi first introduced me to this simple way of helping the poor in developing nations without being condescending.

Finally, when we got home that night I checked my e-mail and then I found out, Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated. I felt sick to my stomach. I have no idea why I was shocked. She had only returned to Pakistan in mid- Oct and there had already been numerous attempts on her life. One left 136 people dead and 450 injured. So why was I surprised?

I liked her. She was the first women elected to leadership in an Islamic country. She was intelligent, had style and was sensitive to woman and family issues.

I know she had been accused of corruption during her two terms as Prime Minster. I don’t know if the accusations were true or an excuse for a coup. I know she was the best hope for democracy in Pakistan and yet had herself appointed President of her political party for life. So she was a complicated person. Still, she was intelligent and fascinating to listen to. Besides, an elected official, no matter how imperfect, is better than a dictator.

She was also brave. She knew the risks of returning to her country and yet she persisted. Her father was the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. He was overthrown in a coup and two years later hanged. Her two brothers were murdered. She knew the risk and is a martyr for democracy.

I feel bad for the people of Pakistan. It is so easy to see their grief on the news. I worry about what will happen to Pakistan. The second largest Islamic nation can not afford to dissolve into chaos. A nation with 60 to 100 nuclear weapons with sophisticated delivery systems cannot afford to dissolve into chaos. This is a scary world.

And so the world has lost a moderate leader, a force for democracy, a Harvard graduate, a voice for Islamic women and a voice for the Pakistani poor.

I am glad Cathi and I had our fun day away from a world gone mad. I am happy the world benefited from the dedication and leadership of Benazir Bhutto. And I am very sad at the loss of such a leader.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Church in India

Indian Catholic Mass

Fanaticism and terror are not limited to fundamentalist/extremists groups representing the Peoples of the Book. True, Jews, Christians and Muslims have been creative and prolific over the centuries in showing the world how to kill in the name of a loving God. However, fanatics of all faiths have more in common with one another than they do with members of their own religion who attempt to follow a faith centered on love.

This holiday season illustrated how fanaticism and hatred is a world problem. In India, in the state of Orissa Hindu fundamentalists went on a destructive rampage. When they were done 13 Christian churches were set on fire, a Christian orphanage was vandalized, a police car was overturned, trains were stopped and 3 Christians were killed. All of this occurred on Christmas Day.

Services were interrupted. Many people were wounded and an additional three Christians are in critical condition.

The tension reflects centuries of conflict between the tiny Christian population in India and the much larger Hindu population. Christians make up less than 2% of the Indian population. However, in the state of Orissa there are 100,000 Christians and 650,000 Hindus.

The state has been the center of anti-Christian sentiment for a long time. In 1968 the state passed an anti-conversion law. In 1999 an Australian missionary and his two sons were murdered. Father Doss, a Catholic priest was also killed in 1999.

The fundamentalist do not only target Christians, they also attack Indian Muslims.

One of the complaints is that Christianity is a Western religion and the product of Colonialism. However, that simply does not fit the facts for the native Christian Church in India.

St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Christ arrived in India in 52 C.E. That means that the early converts to Christianity predate most of European Christianity. St. Thomas established seven churches in India. He was martyred in 72 C.E. The Indian church was one of four Thomite churches of the east. The others included the Chaldean Church, the Edessan Church and the Persian Church.

The Indian church has had multiple influences. It was at one time subordinate to the Persian prelates. There was a time of native born bishops. Then the Chaldean Church dominated and Aramaic, the language of Jesus became the liturgical and business language of Indian Christians! During the 16th century the church came in contact with the Western churches and was infused with new traditions, liturgy and philosophy.

The church has had many transformations but can clearly trace its roots to its early beginnings with St. Thomas. Today the Syro-Malabar Church, in full communion with Rome, is the second largest Eastern Catholic.

So, back to the Christmas Day attacks. It is sad but not surprising that intolerance is part of the subcontinents tradition. Intolerance appears to be one of the shared traditions of the world. Clearly the fundamentalists are attacking fellow Indians with a proud Indian Christian tradition. The fundamentalists are not attacking Westerners or Colonialism. As in Iraq, the numbers are overwhelming. The Christians could not hope to achieve any type of success by fighting back. So now the hard part, to live a faith of love, to love one’s enemies.

The Christians in India like the Christians in Iraq, Syria and Turkey need to pray, that their Christian brothers and sisters around the world are not indifferent to the fate of the decedents of the early churches of the east.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Two Births

Two Births
Carl W. Jylland-Halverson

A cold night in ole Italy saw
the Fool for God
observing all
How the Emperor’s wife and retinue came
to mark the arrival of a royal child
with pageantry and fame

Physicians and clerics
ladies and lords
subjects high and low
Did bow and honor
such a child
in whose veins the royal blood did flow

Trumpets blared and banners flew
The criers announced the news
Dignitaries from the first estate
arrived to pay their dues

The noble Poverello noted
the stark contrast that night
between the regal child
and the long ago
prophesied arrival
of the humble child of light

My King, he said, had no place to stay
His parents poor
and rejected along the way
Beyond the City of David they came
to obey Herod and the rules
of the Roman Empire game

Two royal births touched him
only one would he recreate
to help fellow believers grasp
the significance of the birth upon their fate

To Greccio the saint made his way
to a mountain cave
and to a village people the friar had his say
A simple manger he made that old December night
Gathering animals and townsfolk
he staged the child’s birthplace right

Transformed to Wise men, shepherds and angels all
the townsfolk responded to Francis call
with new eyes their vision was made clear
They knew their Savior was truly near
On that night in Greccio “God made flesh” was real
the simple gift, the love of God, each participant did feel

On that night the Logos
Creator of the all
came to dwell upon the earth
and negate the fall

All dependent for His care
to be fed and changed
self-made vulnerable and bare
He gave up all
to be one
with the weak, the poor, the ones who gave the call

God made Flesh
the cycle began
humility to take a stand
Against a world of power, cruelty and greed
from Incarnate to Passion
but first a child lying where the animals did feed

A simple town and a simple man
came to know the Creator’s plan
the night a humble birth again took place
when a humble friar was open to God’s Grace

And so Assisi’s Fool for God
observing all helped others see
a humble birth
self-sent for you and me
A king, a priest, a judge, an act of Grace
this humble birth was Love from Love, God’s embrace

The living nativity started on the night
when a simple friar’s faith
illuminated Greccio with a love glowing bright
in thanksgiving to a Creator who choose to dwell on earth
of a Creator who stepped down from heaven and experienced a simple child’s birth

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Thank You

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Carroll College National Champion

On Dec. 1 our old nemesis, Carroll College of Montana beat USF for the NAIA semifinals This was our fourth time playing this team and our fourth time losing to them. We are a great football school, 100 wins in 10 years, three times to the National Championship , we are great. They however are phenomenal. Today they defeated the University of Sioux Falls. This was Carroll’s fifth National Championship in six years!

Last year was their rebuilding year and we played Sioux Falls who also defeated us.

Now here’s the thing, and if you quote me I’ll deny it. I really, really like Carroll College. I want us to beat them, clobber them, crush them, but in a loving, nurturing fellowship kinda way. Just so when it is over we win, they lose and we are the champs! However, if we can’t be the National Champion, I want it to be Carroll.

They are Champions of Character. When our team first went out to Montana the school gave a gracious tour of the campus and athletic facilities to the visiting players parents. Both times I saw them play in Tennessee I mingled with the Saints fans. They were nice, easy to get along with folks.

Part of the charm of NAIA schools is that they are suppose to value education first. Athletics is part of becoming well-rounded leaders. That happens at Carroll. They have been ranked in the top ten western schools for the past 13 years.

Their forensic team is ranked in the top five of all universities in the United States. Their faculty consistently wins honors and 13 of the faculty members are Fulbright Scholars.

For the ninth straight years in a row Carroll has ranked in the 95+ percentile on the Educational Testing Service’s major field test in biology. That ranking that places their biology students in the top tier of over 13,000 college and university students nationwide.

For the second time in the last four years, Carroll College has a team rated Outstanding Winner in the international Mathematical Contest in Modeling, placing them in the elite company of the other winning teams representing Harvard, MIT, Duke, Rice, RPI, CU-Boulder, UC-Davis, and 2 teams from China.

So, if we cannot be the National Champions (this year) then it is good to see another quality Catholic University be the champ. Carroll College is a school that is a winner on the field and off. Congrats Saints, just know, one of these days….

Friday, December 7, 2007

Don, Appliance Shopping and the Dead Sea Scrolls!

So today Cathi and I had to go shopping for a new stove. It just seemed like one of those jobs that had to be done, it was important to normal functioning but not at all interesting. I did like the company. Cathi and I went out to eat first and that was fun. Then on to the drudgery, appliance shopping. Well, I could not have been more wrong.

Our salesman, Don, was a friendly, easy going guy. He looked to be about my age. We talked and I made my purchase. Cathi went to do more shopping while I worked on the paperwork.

Don than asked about my name and we started talking about Scandinavia (the other Holy land!). Turns out Don lived in Sweden for a half a year. He attended a nondenominational Bible College. I am guessing he went to Holsby Brunn. He also visited Aaland Islands. These are islands that are populated by Swedes but in 1809 Russia made Sweden turn over the islands to Finland. After changes in the Russian Empire and the Duchy of Finland the islands, which wanted to return to Sweden became autonomous. I just sat there thinking, “I didn’t know that.”

So Don and I talked about faith and Scandinavia, two great topics of conversation. On a return trip to the islands Don met an aerial photographer and got a private plane trip around the island. Happened years ago and Don was still smiling. You could tell he was picturing the scenery as he recalled his adventure.

As I walked up to the service desk he told me that at the end of the six months of study he then took a tour of Israel. I asked him if he got to the Dead Sea, he had. Two days ago I did a class presentation on the Dead Sea Scrolls, I had so many questions!

Yep, he had been to Qumran. He had been to the Shrine of the Book which held the Dead Sea Scrolls. He had been to Masada. The night before going to Masada he spent the night at a Bedouin oasis.

Don and his wife had lead Bible Studies in Mishawaka. He recalled by names the professors and graduate and doctorate students from the University of Notre Dame who attended his study groups. Many of his students were from China, India and Africa.

Don was a fascinating guy. I think I will have to get to know him. This was the best appliance shopping I have ever experienced!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Call for Muslim-Christian Dialogue

I Am A Muslim
138 Muslim scholars have called for an Islamic-Christian dialogue. The dialogue is to be based on the shared foundations of love of God. This was an extraordinary step. Many faiths have clear key leaders, Islam has no unifying leader. This call appears to be the result of a building consensus that rejects a radicalized faith. 300 Protestant leaders from the U.S. have already responded positively to this call for dialogue.

The Pope has accepted the invitation and reciprocated by inviting the scholars to the Vatican. "Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely the belief in one God," the Vatican wrote in a message signed by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.

Franciscans have long had contact with Muslims. During the Fifth Crusade St. Francis went to Damietta, a city in Egypt, near the Mediterranean. There he met with “the enemy”, Sultan Malik-al-Kamil. Francis entered the camp of “the enemy” without any weapons. Francis had long ago given up a desire to be a warrior and viewed others as his brothers and sisters. It is speculated that Francis and his traveling companion, Brother Illuminato were accepted into the camp because the Muslims viewed them as Christian Wise Men.

The Sultan and the Fool for God, talked, and talked and talked. Francis talked of the joys of being a Christian. However, he did not criticize Islam or the Prophet. Instead, the Sultan was impressed with Francis and Francis was impressed with the fervor and style of worship Muslims displayed. It was real dialogue made possible by authentic and mutual respect.

And so today the process begins again. This time initiated by our Muslim brothers. The price of failure would be high. It is true that there are new Christian martyrs every day. We must remember and honor those martyrs. At the same time we must remember that Muslims do not have a monopoly on religious fanaticism. Protestant and Catholic Christians had been making martyrs in Northern Ireland for decades. Intra-Christian fighting has had a long and infamous history in almost every continent. We would not want to confuse Christians with the fanatics who have killed in Christ name. We must apply the same restraint and understanding with our Muslim brothers who have stretched out their hands to ours.We must view our brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters.

It is time to put at least as much effort into building bridges as we have all put into blowing them up. It is time to pray for peace.It is time to talk.

Friday, November 30, 2007

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.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Coming Home from Work and tobyMac!

Well, Cathi was driving me home from work. I was tired and still had my own homework to do. We drove past the Grand Wayne Center, our convention center. Outside on the marquee they were advertising the Portable Sounds tour. This is the tobyMac, Barlow Girl and Thousand Foot Krutch concert. Now I am old, a couple of years ago I qualified for AARP membership. Still, I love tobyMac’s music and Barlow Girl knocks me over. Cathi said I should skip homework for a night, and I did. I went to the concert by myself, this is not Cathi’s type of music! Three days later I was still singing.

For those of you who don’t know who these folks are, they are all contemporary Christian groups. Toby is very urban, hip hop/rap. But he does a lot of world music. It is not unusual to hear Indian melodies or Mexican sounds coming from his stage. The Barlow Girls (all three are sisters) are also contemporary, they can rock, do moderate hip hop and they can sing as if they were born in Ireland. One moment they have you swaying to a song that could have been song by Bing Crosby and the next minute the bass is pounding, the drums are keeping three different beats and everybody looks like they are going to get whiplash from all the head banging. I loved them both. Thousand Foot Krutch is a Christian heavy metal band. They did what they did very well. The audience loved them. Thing is, I just don't appreciate heavy metal, did I mention that I’m old?

TobyMac amazed me. The dancing, rapping, energy was phenomenal. Toby is from Washington D.C. originally. In fact his first successful group was d.c. Talk. He lives in Tennessee and his mixture of urban music and southern drawl just adds to the atmosphere of total celebration of diversity. His band is diverse and his music reflects the diversity of humanity. It is difficult to celebrate diversity and not feel that the gifts of diversity reflect in a modest way the gifts of the Body of Christ.

He is gaining notoriety in mainstream music. He is a nominee for an award at the American Music Awards in November. He was part of the soundtrack for Transporter 2 and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. He played all the songs I wanted to hear: Boomin, Irene, Diverse City, Cathcahfire, and Made to Love.

Cathi is right, self-care is important. One night away from work and a week later my batteries are still charged!

P.S., for another fan's perspective of the Portable Sounds tour visit Chad's blog. Chad acutally went to high school with one of the guitar players. I suspect he had really good seats!

tobyMac: Made to Love

Barlow Girls: Never Alone

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The California Wildfires

Like most Americans I am riveted by the news coverage of the wildfires in California. My wife is currently visiting friends in southern California. I am a member of the American Red Cross Mental Health services. Our chapter has approached me a couple of times asking if I could go to California. Due to work commitments that is not feasible. Still, my thoughts, my heart and my prayers go out to California at this time.

I have worked wildfires and it is difficult not to imagine what it is like in California at this time. I know each disaster is different and yet there are some commonalities with wildfires. It is a time of contradictions. A couple of years ago I was stationed 30 miles away from the fire front in Arizona and yet the smell of smoke permeated everything. The temperature was hot, 97 degrees in the early morning and rising to 109 degrees by the afternoon. Still, when the ash fell which was most of the time it looked as if it was snowing. Between the heat, the smell of smoke and the “snowflakes” it was like working in a snowstorm in hell.

During a time of stark destruction the soot from the fires makes for the most magnificent night skies I have ever seen. The sky becomes ruby red. If it was not the result of all of the pollutants from the fire its beauty could almost be a reason for celebrating.

Unlike other disasters, wildfires have a sound and sight all there own. They result in the formation of huge squadrons of planes and helicopters that attempt to thwart and then reduce the wildfire. A large air force is created on site. The firefighters on land are immediate heroes and deserve to be. However, with the army of firefighters on land and planes in the air there is a military atmosphere that occurs during wildfires that may not occur during other disasters.

During wildfires the Humane Society never sleeps. With immediate evacuations companion animals are left behind. The Society moves in to care for these frightened, abandoned and potentially dangerous animals. Livestock also needs to be moved. Wildfires occur in drought areas. So finding suitable land that can sustain herds of cows, sheep or horses is no easy matter. It requires finding land that is fresh enough for grazing, has an accessible water source, will not be further eroded by the animals and is available. It is not unusual for herds of animals to have to be moved multiple times as the fire front changes. All of this must be going on right now.

In California the fires are on the sides of mountains. While people pray for rain they had better not pray for too much rain. Without the trees erosion will quicken and with heavy rains the very real danger of mudslides increases.

I have worked in many shelters and I know the mixture of relief, exhaustion, determination, defeat and hopelessness that is played out in the shelters. Shelters can be the scene of isolated strangers living quietly alongside one another or they can be the scene of vibrant small communities that spring up throughout the shelter floor.

What is critical in wildfires is that the communities affected receive timely, honest information. This seems to be occurring. This is not Katrina. This is a massive disaster but the infrastructure just outside of the disaster is intact. People can leave and can receive services. The hard work for the people affected will occur after the mammoth job of containing and then eliminating the fire is accomplished.

I have been with folks when they return to their destroyed homes for the first time. The loss of things pales to the loss of dreams, memories and the realization that it could have been worse, there could have been loss of loved ones. Disaster Mental Health will be providing services for a long time.

Finally, my thoughts go out to all of the many, many agencies helping. Disasters are never responded to by just FEMA, the Guard and the American Red Cross. They are there but so are Southern Baptists, the Mennonite Service organization, the Salvation Army, the Adventist Community Services, Christian Contractors Association, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Church of the Brethren emergency services, Jewish Federation, Friends Disaster Services, International Orthodox Christian Charities, Catholic Charities and the Islamic Circle of North America-Relief. They are joined by so many other denominational disaster agencies. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and so many more are there. Along side these faith communities are the Americorp. Volunteers, the National Health Service Corps, prison inmates and spontaneous volunteers.

We know that disasters can bring out the worst in people. However, in my experiences, most of the time it brings out the best in people because it brings out the best people. So, today my thoughts and prayers are with the people of southern California and the many Americans from all over American that have traveled there to help them.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Greek Orthodox chanter: Cherubic Hymn

Holy Trinity Church

I am currently enrolled in our Graduate Theology program. This term I am taking Foundations of Scripture. Tonight the class had a field trip. We visited the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The priest, Father Paul C. Bebis was a gracious, articulate and entertaining teacher.

He welcomed us to his church and immediately began to teach. The area before entering the sanctuary proper represented the darkness of the world. The sanctuary was the Body of Christ. You move from the darkness of this existence into the Body of Christ each time you participate in the liturgy. So what do you do in the dark? You light a candle! Father Bebis taught us how to enter the sanctuary, with candle lighting prayers, venerating the icon, and the proper Orthodox style of praying the sign of the cross.

Once inside the sanctuary he began to teach us about the various icons. The ceiling, walls and sanctuary had beautiful icons of the Mother of God, Jesus, John the Baptist, St. James and St. George. The dome drew your attention upward to more icons.

The Iconostasis, the barrier between the sanctuary and that part of the alter the congregation may approach was simple and yet a powerful border. It symbolizes the boundary between heaven and earth but reminds me of the veil that was the entrance to the Holy of Holies. The male students were able to go through the Iconostasis, using the side entrance only, and view the inner sanctuary.

Father Bebis showed us the lectionary he read from and the rituals he used to prepare the Eucharist. We learned of the two services that take place, the Prothesis or preparation service and the Divine Liturgy or our Mass.

The differences between our two churches were clear. There were Icons in place of statues. Instead of genuflecting there is veneration of the icons. The bread is risen and the body and blood are mixed together and served by a spoon to the celebrants. The service is sung. There is no pope and the priests who are not considering becoming bishops may marry as long as they marry before they are ordained.

For all of the differences the similarities were far stronger. Body of Christ, Eucharist, liturgy, and the value of both ritual and tradition spoke of two churches that are separated by the stubbornness of people. What we share in common is far more important than what divides us. Still, the divisions are not inconsequential and good people can differ and yet respect and even care for one another.

I loved this visit. The priest was a warm, embracing representative of Christ. As we continue to read about the early church I will keep this church in mind as one of the descendants of the early Christians.

Peace and all good.