Thursday, January 29, 2009

Catholic Bishops Call for End to "Passive Genocide"

It has been awhile since I have commented about Africa. Not because it is not important or newsworthy, nothing could be further from the truth. I simply have not been blogging because I have been doing homework.

Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa have called upon the nations of the region to stop supporting Mugabe. The bishops were clear, support for the current leader would make the nations responsible for participating in “passive genocide.” The current government of Zimbabwe has ignored election results, abused the citizenry and led the nation into the worse economic crisis in the world. That is not to even mention the growing rate of starvation and disease.

The bishops called upon Mugabe to step down immediately. They also demanded all outside support for his government halt immediately. The sense of urgency simple reflect the dire straights the nation is in.

The European Union is blacklisting companies that support the regime. Secretary of State Clinton is reviewing what options the United States has to assist the people of Zimbabwe.

The bishops have acted with courage. Their position places them in personal danger and yet they acted. Now it is our turn to act.The Church needs to know we support them. We can do this in prayer, in financially and politically supporting the Church in Zimbabwee and in writing our government officials asking them to support the people of Zimbabwe. The need is great and urgent, our brothers and sisters need us.

Zimbabwean Archibishop's rallying call.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Because it falls on a Sunday this year it is not observed but is still important. I like it because it reminds us that people don’t have a conversion and that’s it, their done. Paul had a journey of adjusting, of listening to others, of learning and submitting that lasted over four years. Then and only then was he ready to be of use to the greater church.

William James talked about various types of conversion experiences. Conversion is one way that personality can change at its core. It changes how we look at ourselves, the world, the cosmos and how we then act. It changes our filter of experience.

Because Paul took time to grow in the Lord, to listen to others, to pray and listen to God he finally acted when he was ready to act. It was not about him, it was about God.
For me, today is the Feast of humility, patience and maturity. As Paul says to the Corinthians, "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." Growth takes time.

The Mass ended with “Amazing Grace”. I can think of no finer example (except Paul’s!) of conversion of heart than the story of this song. It is easy to believe change does not happen but to hold that belief requires that one ignore the world. I would rather find the examples of change and savor them for what they are, the fruit of Amazing Grace.

Chris Tomlin - Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)

The Changing American Family

Well, today was the day. Today the world watched America swear in an African-American President. It was phenomenal. The ocean of people in Washington was mind-boggling. That they all got along for the most part says something about the spirit of the day. I know everybody paid attention to the inauguration, the speech, the oath and the Balls. Me, I kept thinking about the new First Family.

Obama’s family looks like the world. It includes Africans, Indonesians, and Irish. It is a family of every shade of humanity. It includes all classes and backgrounds. In short, this is an American Family in the White House.

It made me think about my extended family. Our family includes African Americans, Russians, Scandinavians, Brits, Mexicans, Appalachians and Native Americans. It includes Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Unitarians, Pagans and non-believers. It includes school drop out and college graduates. I don’t believe any of us will ever be nationally known politicians. However, when I look at the President’s family I believe is looks more like the evolving American Family than the families of past Presidents.

Martin, Margo and Me

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a big event for the entire nation. It was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on where we had been, where we were, and what we had accomplished. It was hard not to think about changes, lost opportunities, enduring struggles. It was a time to take a break and feel proud f ourselves.

For me it was a time to think about my mother-in-law. She had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago since the 60s. She had an FBI file on her because she belonged to a radical group, a group that met at the YWCA and advocated for integration. Back then the FBI and the Chicago Red Squad had files for everything. It was not all that different from today!

My mother-in-law advocated for equality when it was difficult to do so for a white person. My wife remembers as a kid her friends saying some unflattering things about Margaret because of her willingness to stand up against prejudice. My wife was a kid then and responded the way many people do when their mother is insulted, she slapped them. As time went by Chicago still was not an easy place for folks to get along with each other. It was a city visibly divided. I was chased off a bus and down the street for wearing a Harold Washington button. My brother-in-law was beat up for wearing a Harold Washington button. And this week we inaugurate an African-American from Chicago. That is change, that feels good, that is not a little thing.

And so, I know the world will be watching Obama and his family, they should be. The nation is busy honoring the memory of Martin Luther King and we should be. However, I will also spend a lot of this week thinking about Margaret. I will be thinking about how she took my wife to a Joan Baez concert and they listened to “We Shall Overcome”, how she stood up for others when it took guts and had consequences. I will be thinking about Margaret and missing her. Thank you Margo for making the world a little bit better.

Joan Baez - We shall overcome

Down Payment on a Dream

What an incredible week the past week has been. A week ago I attended the 24th Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service at Plymouth Congregational Church. The service is co-hosted by Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County. Each year it is a powerful service that brings together members of the larger Christian Community of the area as well as members of other faiths.

This year was special. How do you not get excited about reflecting on the Dream of MLK two days before the first African-American President of the United States is sworn in? The many speakers kept it in perspective. Was the Inauguration a big event? Of curse, it was huge. Did that mean the struggles for equality in America were over? Of course not, this was viewed as "a down payment on Martin’s dream.”

The key speaker was the Rev. Vernon Graham. He had served for as the executive Director of the Associated Churches for 20 years. He increased membership, increased food pantries and spoke “truth to power” consistently over those two decades. He had initially tried to get out of speaking this year because he thought the honor should go to an African-American. Consistent with MLK’s dream the ministers of the Black churches would have none of this. Rev. Graham had made too many contributions, had been an ally for too many years. He was to be judged “by the content of his character and not the color of his skin”.

It was a wonderful night. The church was filled with folks who looked like America and not just a part of America. The music was wonderful and showcased the talent of a very talent-rich community. After the last speaker and the last prayer we ended by holding hands and singing the Black National Anthem or “Life Every Voice” followed by “We Shall Overcome.” It was the beginning of an eventful week.

LIFT EVERY VOICE: Obama Inauguration Tribute

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My First Latin Mass

Well I finally attended my first Latin Mass. I felt like had walked back into time. The pageantry, the awesomeness and the spirituality was definitely there. However, it was also highly distracting.

At times I found myself comparing it to an Orthodox Liturgy. The priest and the choir were the main active participants. Incense, a lack of instrumentation and facing the alter all reminded me of the East and of an earlier time.

However, I was distracted by the prayer scarf’s (my wife kept correcting me, I am not allowed to call them dollies!). The vestments, the lack of alter girls and my lack of active participation were all reminders that this was different. Most distracting was I kept thinking, “Michael Corleone , do you reject Satan? “I do” (machine guns fire in the background).

The church was simple. The people were pious. This reminded me of the Catholics I watched as a kid. I will return, perhaps at least once a month. However, I know that for all of the rich history and powerful sense of community worship, if this is what I was first introduced to I would not have become Catholic. I would have felt like an observer, an outsider and not a member. I would have missed the opportunity to proclaim the Creed or offer the sign of friendship. This is a wonderful connection to a larger Universal Church but I am very grateful for Vatican II.

Franciscan Traditional Latin Mass

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sometimes You Just Need a Mother

Today is the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. It is the oldest of the feast days dedicated to Mary. The title Mother of God or Theotokos is important. It speaks to the consequences of her saying “yes”. It acknowledges the Triune God. It acknowledges both the humanness and the divinity of her son born in time and timeless. So, today is the feast but I feel like have just spent the last month surrounded by mothers!

On December 8th it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Not an inconsequential moment. It reminded me of the impact churches dedicated to the Immaculate Conception had on me. Two years ago I visited the National Shrine to the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. I attended Mass twice there. It was there that I bought my first icon, the Theotokos.

Last spring I was visiting my mother-in-law in Springfield Illinois. I attended Good Friday Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It was beautiful and getting ready for remodeling. I look forward to visiting it when the work is done.

On December 14th we were in Joliet Illinois with family. I attended Mass at St. Mary of the Nativity Catholic Church. It is an old Croatian Church. It is on my favorite road in America, Route 66. It was the Third Sunday of Advent or Rose Sunday. The church obviously is dedicated to Mary’s role in the early Holy Family. Yep, mothers everywhere.

December 12th was the Feast of Our lady of Guadalupe. Statues of Our Lady can be seen throughout my neighborhood. Finally, some of our last lectures in class this term were on Marionology. I understand the Protestant concern that Mary can be worshipped instead of honored and revered. I think that is a real possibility. We face those possibilities all of the time. Rites, personalities, activities “we always do it this way-mentality”, anything can become an idol.

I also believe that Mary is powerful, not just because of the concept of Theotokos, the New Eve and the role in Salvation History. She is powerful because sometimes we just have to talk to a mother. Sometimes we need to talk to a mother who does not have the imperfections of our own mother. Sometimes we need to talk to a mother because ours is no longer with us or never was. Sometimes we need an advocate. And sometimes we are not just needy, sometimes we just want to say thank you for saying yes.