Sunday, September 30, 2007

Winning Streak Comes to an End

Well, it finally happened. The University of Saint Francis Cougar football team finally lost a regular season game. Nationally ranked number 2 USF lost to nationally ranked number 6 Ohio Dominican 30-20.

That is the end of a streak, a glorious, and hard to believe winning streak or rather streaks. The last time our team lost a regular season game was the ninth game of the season in 2001. 2001, not a typo!

Before yesterday the Cougars had:

54 regular season wins
33 MSFA Mideast division wins
32 regular-season road wins

Last years graduating seniors had gone through their entire college career without losing a regular season game!

So, next week is homecoming. We will kick butt and maybe, just maybe this loss will be the wake up call that finally leads to a National Championship in December. We will see.

Go Cougs!!!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Help the Burmese? Pressure China

The pro-democracy movement in Burma is ready to crumble. The military regime shows no inclination for dialogue or compromise. The Buddhist monks are brave but can not stop the military.

So, what can be done? The challenges are formidable. President Bush is viewed, at best, as speaking from limited moral authority. The U.N. presence in Myanmar is limited. There is no desire for a multinational force to intervene.

What can WE do? At best we can all demand that China use its substantial influence to advocate for compromise and respect for life by the current regime. This will not be easy. Burma is a source of resources for China and China has shown in Sudan that resources trump human rights. However, WE are a resource for China. Both the Bush and the Clinton administrations have been reluctant to put limits on trade with China. However, WE can.

So, be clear, tell China that unless they intervene diplomatically and advocate for change in Myanmar you will stop buying Chinese products. We will boycott the Chinese Olympics. We will boycott stores that sell Chinese products. This will not be easy, Chinese products permeate our market place. However, we have to decide. What is more important, cheap, easily available products or the welfare of champions of democracy and human rights that confront violence with non-violence? This should not be a difficult decision. Simply ask, WWJD?

Goodbye Flower, We will Miss You

So, here’s the thing. This is embarrassing. People are being killed in Myanmar, genocide is the rule in Darfur and people are starving in the southern part of Africa. Polar bears are dwindling, Bush is doing almost nothing about global warming and what am I reacting to? The death of Flower.

I admit it, I watch Meerkat Manor and a number of times I almost stopped watching it because it was real, characters I found fascinating or moving died. Still, I watched and now I find out the matriarch, Flower, has died. She took a bite from a cobra to protect her young.

I never met this meerkat, she did not know I existed. Still, it is about relationships. In this case, observing her in her relationships with her clan contributed to my caring about her fate. This non-reciprocal relationship is getting to me today.

So, I could stop watching Animal Planet or I could wonder how I can have more relationships, become more aware of other creatures, fellow travelers, our brothers and sisters. Meerkats don’t know squat about me, but we (humans) sure have an impact on the world. Maybe we would consider our actions more carefully if the impact was personal and not diluted by the vastness of the impact.

Perhaps if we had to watch the fate of creatures in the Amazon Basin as the Amazon dries up, if we had to watch polar bears and their young starving to death, fish dying from a lack of oxygen, perhaps then we might be moved to action. My actions or inactions did not contribute to Flower’s death. However, because I watched her, knew of her relationships, I was touched. How much more powerful might it be to watch the impact of our behaviors on our fellow creatures?

Thank you Flower for getting to me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Interfaith: Lakota Sweat Lodge

The following log is from 05 April 2004

Just thought I’d share a powerful experience with all of you.

My youngest, Kerri and I participated in a Lakota Sweat Lodge ceremony last week. The University of Saint Francis and the local Jewish Temple had sponsored a Lakota holy man (a pipe holder) to be with us for a week. He led classes and also led students in prayer.

Students assisted in the building of a sweat lodge. According to Jerry (the holy man), his people pray to the Great Spirit in the sky and to Mother Earth. Mother Earth provides all life. He stated that the only time we are pure is when we are born. The sweat lodge is a small, low round hut. It is the womb of Mother Earth. When we complete the ceremony and crawl out of the lodge we are briefly pure again, born again!

The ceremony begins with an alter in front of the lodge. It is a long stick with eagle feathers and beaded material. Beyond the alter is a fire pit. In the fire are a large number of stones (the grand fathers). When the stones glow it is time to begin the ceremony.

Jerry says a prayer to the six directions. He uses the smudge pot to “wash” the alter. A smudge pot is a container with sweet grass (sage, tobacco, grasses and herbs) that is lit, blown out and produces a fragrant smoke. We line up and use our hands to wash (smudge) the smoke over our faces, head and shoulders. It is cleansing and prepares us for the ceremony.

We then get ready to enter the lodge. For the men that means stripping down to our trunks. Jerry has participated in the Lakota Sun Dance (he is also a piercer for the Sun Dance) and Kerri noticed his scars immediately.

The females crawl into the lodge first. There are twelve of us packed in, sitting on the floor with a fire pit in the middle. Jerry says a prayer and the helpers outside gently add half of the grand fathers to the pit. The flap is closed, and it is pitch dark. The stones make the lodge hot and dry.

There are four rounds to the ceremony. The first round we pray to the Great Spirit to join us. A drum is beat, the pipe holder sings in Lakota and prays and water is thrown on the stones. We begin to sweat profusely. There are animal sounds in the lodge. Within minutes my face, chest and stomach is a river.

Between each round there is a brief respite for those who need to go out to the cool air. The second round we pray that the grand fathers were join us and answer our prayers. The heat is almost unbearable.

The third round we each say our prayer. As we pray the holy man prays, chants and sings in Lakota. The drum is continuous. More and more water is thrown unto the stones. The temperature spikes to 400 degrees. While this is a time that some have visions I am far more concerned about not throwing up. At the end of this round I finally take a break outside. I can hardly walk.

Our last round is a prayer of thanks giving in which we thank the grand fathers and the Great Spirit for having heard our prayers. The remainder of the stones were added. The temperature spikes to its highest degree as we all slowly crawl out of the lodge.

The ceremony is followed by hugging, tearing down the lodge and Tee Pees and processing the ceremony. The previous night the guests were Jews. Half way through the ceremony they began singing in Hebrew. Jerry said that Hebrew and Lakota together was powerful in its inclusiveness.

Kerri and I spent the evening talking about our experiences, what we survived, what we felt and how we will make sense of the experience.

Jerry’s teaching often complimented Franciscan values. For the Lakota anything that bleeds red is a brother or sister. Faith is lived all day and is a way of life, not a religion. Many other ceremonies contrasted sharply with Franciscan teachings. I loved learning from Jerry and I loved this week. I especially loved sharing it with my daughter.

I plan on going to a conference this fall in South Dakota. I will be at the Disaster Mental Health Institute conference. I plan on meeting up with Jerry at that time.



Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Peaceful Defiance

So what does non-violence protest look like? We have had so many revolutions, wars of independence and coups since the end of World War II. During that time only the example of Gandhi and Martin Luther King stick out as stellar examples of faith and action standing up for the oppressed. What does it look like today? It looks like thousands and thousands of Buddhist Monks marching all over Burma for democracy and against the military regime. It looks like peaceful protest in the face of tear gas, riot shields and columns of armed soldiers.

Now is the time for Christians who preach "Love your enemy as yourself", "turn the other check", Christians who are called upon to help the powerless of society to support folks who clearly walk the talk! It is time for Christians around the world to march in solidarity with our Buddhist brothers and sisters and to say "Yes" to peaceful protest.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Interfaith: Our Buddhist Brothers and Sisters in Fort Wayne

The Buddhist Monks marching in defiance of the Burmese military regime made me think of our own, local Buddhists. We have the world’s largest Burmese population living outside of Burma. A trip to the local south side grocery would reflect that. Men in robes, sarongs, sandals can be seen shopping for produce. However, the Burmese are not the only significant Buddhist population in Fort Wayne.

The city has at least six temples. The city has Sri Lankan Buddhists, Buddhists from throughout Asia, and American born converts. The University of Saint Francis has been fortunate to call the Venerable Thalangama Devananda, head monk at the Sri Lankan “Indiana Buddhist Temple” friend. He was a participant in last years Inter-faith Dedication of the new John Paul II Center. He was an active participant in last weeks Candle Light Peace Vigil sponsored by JUST PEACE and located at our USF campus. Devananda is a popular speaker, much in demand, throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The Venerable Devananda is a man of peace, tranquility, acceptance and love. He asks not that his Christian friends become Buddhist, but rather that they find the joy in their faith that is already there. He is our brother in peace.

As our friend would say, “May you be healthy, happy and at peace”.


Marching for Peace

As Christians and as Franciscans we are called upon to be peacemakers. We are called upon to "speak truth to power", to stand up for those who can not defend themselves.

Well, read the news. In Burma or Myanmar thousands of Buddhist Monks have been marching in peaceful protest against the military government. This is not an easy thing to do, this is not without personal danger. And yet, day after day, throughout the nation, the monks in their saffron robes march, knowing full well what they may face and yet firm in their faith and dedication to the nation.

The story of Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio calls on us to get our hands dirty, to actually work for peace. It is not enough to talk about it, to pray about it, we must work for it.

So, where are our clergy, why are they not marching to stop a war that was unnecessary, poorly planned and whose mission changes multiple times? Where are the laity?

Last Friday the JUST Peace group meet for a candle light vigil at the University of Saint Francis. Like pebbles on a pond the ripples continue. Barb O’Connor received messages of thanks and support from Jerusalem, Iraq and locally. People hunger for peace and leadership.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A New Lector

So, today I did it, I was the Lector at Mass. I have only done two other liturgical readings. The first was in Rome, two blocks from St. Peter’s, the second was at St. Bonaventure University.

Both of the earlier times were because of the urging of Peter Ghiloni. Peter was the music minister at St. Bonaventure University. I meet him during our Assisi Pilgrimage. He was a wonderful guy, and persuasive and so I read.

Today however was not "A" reading, it was procession, both readings and the Petition. I was nervous. I don’t know why, I am use to teaching and being in front of people. Still, this was the Cathedral and I am still a rookie at this. I prepared for it, I went to last weeks 5:00 PM Mass and the earlier Mass today. I read and re-read and then I relaxed.

So, I think I did OK. People said I was loud, clear and looked at ease. I loved seeing the church from the alter, it is a totally different view. I like the contribution and being part of the service. I think I will like this!

Peter Ghiloni in Rome (with name tag!)

Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception

Friday, September 21, 2007

Call to Action: Save the Dugongs of Japan

The U.S. is planning to build a new airbase in Japan that juts into the sea. The airbase will be a direct threat to the continued existence of the local dugong. Because of local political changes the Japanese government is sensitive to feedback from environmentalists. The time is critical, write the Japanese government and express your concern for the welfare of these gentle marine giants. Take time to take sides, say yes to life, on this planet.

For more information on the dugongs of Japan, the planned airbase and what you can do go to Greenpeace. they will provide you with a form letter to individualize, contact information and a video fo the dugongs.



Thursday, September 20, 2007

Candlelight Vigil

Candlelight Vigil
An International Day of Peace

Come and Pray for Peace

Friday September 21, 2007
7:00 P.M.
At the University of Saint Francis

Meet at the Peace Pole near the East Campus across from Doermer Near the wooden bridge.

May Peace Prevail on Earth

Just PEACE a University of Saint Francis Peace and Justice Group

Monday, September 17, 2007

Feast of the Stigmatization of St. Francis

Prayer for September 17
Feast of the Stigmatization of St. Francis
by St. Bonaventure

O most sweet Lord Jesus,
my inmost soul
with the most joyous
and healthful wound
of Your love,
and with true, calm
and most holy
apostolic charity,
that my soul may ever
languish and melt
with entire love
and longing for You,
may yearn for You
and for Your courts,
may long to be dissolved
and to be with You.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Katrina Two Years Later: New Orleans

My Katrina: Lean On Me
I had been in New Orleans with my wife in the late 70’s. I remember the Moon Walk, the Mississippi, the Super Dome and of course the French Quarter. I desperately wanted to serve in New Orleans but that was not where I was needed. Looking back I believe I was fortunate to serve in Citronelle.

My friends, Spencer Booth and Brian Hutner volunteered to serve as mental health workers. I assured them that as rookies they would not be sent to New Orleans. So, of course they were sent to New Orleans! They stayed in a jail and worked with firefighters who had no fuel and could only give out water. The firefighters felt useless and worried about their families and their homes.

They worked with folks trapped in New Orleans. They told me that all the messages America was getting about the contaminated water was not getting to the residents. You have to have electricity to watch the news. They saw folks with fungus growing on them because they kept taking showers trying to wash it off. Mothers were giving tap water to their infants because that was all they had. My friends came back subdued, humbled by the immensity of the disaster.

I finally saw New Orleans nine months later. The Lower Ninth Ward looked as if Katrina had just hit. Schools were still closed. Police and firefighters were under staffed and overworked. The city was still only a shadow of what it had been prior to Katrina. Only the tourist areas seemed to be running normally.

I don’t know what meaning the survivors of Katrina took from this disaster. I know I have been changed.

Katrina told me what I already knew but preferred to ignore:

I/we are not in control of our lives.

We need one another

Disaster plans are only as good as their last training exercise

We need one another

We need to stop using our resources to kill people and start using them to help people

We need one another

Katrina Two Years Later: the Gulf

Hurricane Katrina Aftermath: Biloxi Mississippi
All of our residents were from the places all of America was watching on the television: Gulfport, Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Picayune and of course New Orleans.

The residents would sit around the television watching the news to see what their neighborhoods were like. It was unreal. Time after time they saw neighborhoods, their house totally under water. Bypasses were submerged, swamp boats were floating over their roofs.

We constantly worried about the outbreak of infectious diseases but we were lucky, that did not occur.

Finally they were allowed to go back to view their homes and bring back any important paperwork that may have survived. The National Guard controlled the areas. Folks were allowed to enter specific neighborhoods at 6 AM and had to be out at 6 PM. There was no power, no lights and the areas were full of debris, and safety demanded strict rules.

However, most of these towns along the coast in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama were along the same highways. That meant thousand and thousands of people congesting limited access. Our folks left our shelter at 2 and 3 AM and returned the next day after midnight. They would laugh at how unbelievable every sight was and then they would cover their faces with their hands and weep. It was a difficult day.

Many had to decide if they would ever return to home or if they would start over somewhere else in America. All were desperate for work. Some were jealous of the coverage New Orleans received because unlike The Big Easy, many of these towns received far more extensive structural damage. However, the truth was there was more than enough sorrow to go around.

My last evening in Alabama my manager was driving me back to Gulf Shores. We were a few miles from Picayune and he decided to drive over and look at what Katrina did. It was impossible. As far as you could see on Highway Ten was bumper to bumper traffic standing still. The last thing they needed was trauma tourists, we turned around. Nine month later I would be in New Orleans walking under Highway Ten. I would remember this traffic jam from hell. I would remember the client who sat on the highway pavement for two days only to have her flesh stick to the pavement when she was finally rescued. I would remember that this disaster was bigger than I could have ever imagined

Biloxi, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis and Picyune

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescue

Katrina Two Years Later: The Shelter

The shelter was in the United Methodist Church of Citronelle. The shelter became the center of my world. We worked there, constantly. The crises were unpredictable other than we knew we would always have one. While there were four of us working the shelter we were never really alone.

Rev. Kevin Krist was there everyday for hours. I thought often of his wife and kids, especially his wife. While he did what he was trained to do, care for the poor, hurting and vulnerable, his wife had the kids and the household to take care of by herself. The Rev. was aware of this and I think just knowing what his wife had to contend with was supportive to her.

Rev. Krist was a funny, caring, articulate man. He had radar for the hurting and he was a team player. It was a privilege to work with him.

While the shelter was housed in the Methodist Church all of the churches in the county helped out. They made all of our meals and they competed with one another. So, among all this suffering and loss we ate like royalty. While our supplies never arrived while I was there at least we never had to worry about food.

We had old folks, families, single adults and kids. We also had a number of folks who had lost contact with members of their family. This, besides dealing with death, was the hardest part of the job. A computer company donated computers and the local cable company gave the shelter free service. This was so the residents could go on line and search for their families. In the time I was there three different people made contact with family members. Each time was very emotional for the entire shelter.

Shelters are not supposed to allow pets. I know that was controversial during Katrina but I understand the reasoning. Think of the large shelters with thousands of people. Pets could easily contribute to injuries, the spread of tics, mites or depending of the animal the spread of illness. So, I do not believe it is a heartless rule.

Luckily, we got around it! We had a gentleman who lost everything he had in the world, except his two dogs. The Rev. decided that a site on the church property but not next to the church was no longer the shelter and he allowed the gentleman to live in his car there with his dogs. We feed him and his dogs and everybody was happy with this bending of the rules. Looking back I don’t know what we would have done had others heard about this and then started bringing their animals to the shelter.

Our hotel was five hours away, it felt like the other side of the world. So we did not use it. It is important that workers take their breaks, get days off and exhibit self-care. We were content with tiny breaks but it did take a toll on us.

Two of the workers took turns staying overnight in a bug invested motel, just to get ways from everything. I choose not to do that. I was a student in the Pastoral Counseling program at USF. I was able to escape by reading St. Bonaventure's, The Soul’s Journey into God. I actually had theological discussion with residents at 3 AM.

I did get a small “day off” of about three hours. Rev. Krist drove us over to the local Choctaw Reservation. The members of the tribe appeared to have Choctaw, African-American and Euro-American heritage. Culturally they appeared very distinct. Like every reservation I have been on, this one was poor. However, it had a great museum. Rev. Krist introduced us to the tribal minister who also told us some of the tribal history.

I was surprised to see a photo of Geronimo in the museum. I knew he was not a Choctaw, however, after his capture he was imprisoned on this reservation.

The Choctaws were one of the “Five Civilized Tribes”, they had worked hard to incorporate European technology. While the early Americans were impressed with their progress, they were more impressed with the land. And so the Choctaw also had a Trail of Tears. The Alabama Tribe is composed of descendants who hid and did not make the march or who returned. The tribe is recognized by the State of Alabama but not by the federal government. This is a people who have reason to be bitter. However, 16 years after their Trail of Tears they collected money for Irishman during the Irish Potato Famine because they stated, “we know what it is to starve”! This was a brief break from Katrina but it was powerful, I also simply enjoyed spending time away from the church with the rev.

We were very isolated. We could not leave the shelter for any extended time because the other staff members needed our help. There was not much to see in town. However, we did get visitors. Father John Coghlan for the Catholic St. Thomas Aquinas church visited everyday. He was an Irishman, complete with accent, who simply wanted to help with morale and pray with or for whoever needed it. I was able to attend his church for an hour and his congregants treated us like dignitaries.

Other churches also sent volunteers. Whenever a member of a Peace Church found out I taught at the University of St. Francis they would seek me out. They told me about how hard it is to be different in a little town, how difficult it is to be pacifist in Alabama because many interpreted that as non-patriotic. All of a sudden Fort Wayne was feeling like a major metropolitan area!

Many of the local folks were suspicious of the residents. However, many were also empathetic and supportive. My favorite night was when our teens played the locals in basketball, it was just fun.

The hardest part was hearing the details about death, loss and a future that seemed to distant to dream about.

Celine Dion talks about Katrina Hurricane

Katrina Two Years Later: Citronelle

By the early afternoon of my first full day in Alabama I was on the road to Citronelle. Destruction was everywhere, trees and power lines down, roofs gone, soldiers everywhere. Still, this was nothing compared to just an hour west of us.

This was a disaster that was as big as England. Airports were turned into hospitals, highways became shelters and cities were evacuated. I had friends who worked the New Orleans and Houston airports and who worked at the Astor Dome shelter. The shelter I was assigned to was tiny. There were 65 people staying at a shelter at the Citronelle United Methodist Church. I was one of four staff members. That meant we worked every day and around the clock.

Our shelter was tiny because the residents required the special attention and smaller quarters. Some of the folks were extremely reactive to the stress and were without medications, all had severe loss issues. For many this was their third shelter in two weeks. Our residents stayed up all night, they would have loved to sleep but sleep did not come easily to them.

Some of our folks had a difficult time modulating their anger and safety and stress reduction was a constant challenge. Many experienced death in the last two weeks. Almost all had lost contact with family and friends.

On my third night at the shelter I made the long drive back to Gulf Shores. It took five hours. During that time all I listened to on the radio were folks stating their names, where they were staying and who they were looking for. It was five hours of people desperate for answers, desperate to find their spouses, children, parents, clinging on to hope. I have responded to many disasters, I was use to people desperate for answers and yet this was different. This did not feel real, it was hard for me to imagine this was happening to my America.

Every day we called in our list of requested supplies and everyday the supplies failed to arrive. Other shelters reported having the same problem. Our shelter did not have showers. We had to go to the community park showers. Normally this would not qualify as a shelter but for Katrina we were just grateful for the space and hospitality the church showed us. We ordered a mobile shower unit. This is a special truck with showers, running waters and the staff to run it. The unit left Mobile and never arrived.

Lucky for us our shelter manager was from Florida. He responded to four hurricanes the previous year. When he called up firefighter in Florida and told them our problems they jumped at a chance to return the favor. They deputized themselves, gather six trucks of supplies (food, clothing, personal hygiene items, water, batteries, diapers, and baby clothes) and drove non-stop to Citronelle. They arrived at 5:00 A.M. and all of the residents joyfully helped us unload the precious cargo.

This was a tiny town. Many of the shelter residents were from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Biloxi. Many of the town folks responded by volunteering supplies, time and money. Some town folks were suspicious of the new residents, afraid they were being inundated with criminals.

Public Health Nurses served us everyday. All of the residents had cut feet and hands, some had burns. These were folks who escaped through making holes in their attic roofs, who walked through water that was up to their chins. These were folks who sat on Highway Ten for two days and when they stood up their flesh stuck to the hot pavement. These were people who wanted sleep but feared the images that came with that sleep.

I was an emergency replacement. The previous mental health worker had never worked a national disaster before. He lasted 24 hours and then requested to be sent home. This was not a disaster for rookies.