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Aug 16, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 57: LCWR annual meeting

Dear Pope Francis,

One of my favorite theologians, Ilia Delio, addressed the annual meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) as their keynote speaker. I think her talk was profound.

It’s also interesting that the bishop charged with the Vatican-mandated “reform” of the LCWR is attending this year. I hope he listened closely to Ilia Delio. And also that he truly listens to the women religious.

As I noted in a piece I wrote last year for the National Catholic Reporter, this situation needs true dialogue. It seems the sisters are willing. I hope you are too.

(To be honest, I think it’s Cardinal Dolan and those like him who could do with a little oversight, not the sisters. But that’s just me.)

Your friend,

Kevin

Aug 3, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 47: Nephew time

Dear Pope Francis,

My nephew is visiting this weekend. He’s six and I haven’t seen him in two months. He’s changed so much even in that short time.

Anyway, I’m doing uncle things today and I thought I’d share a poem I wrote for him on his fifth birthday.

For James, At Five
by Uncle Kevin

I can’t believe
It’s been only five years
Since we first met
And I put the tip of my finger
Into your palm
As you lay in your incubator
Glowing blue
As if the stars
And Mystery
You came from,
And were formed from
Were still cooling
As you took on your Earth-shape
Your James-shape.

I remember your stubbornness
Your determination
A firm resolve
To take hold of this world
And bend it to your will
You drove your nurses to distraction
Moving about your crib
Tearing out IVs
Pushing your boundaries
Experimenting with the world around you
To see if it measured up.

I remember your mother and father
Who loved you from before they knew God would send you
Standing watch, urging you on, modelling strength
Remember this, what they gave you, what they still give you
Your parent warriors
It will carry you through the tough times,
That echo of devotion and protection.

And then, one day, you were ours
Released into the world
Into our lives
And you shifted our focus, my focus
Onto life, and possibility
and laughter
and change.

I thank you for all the memories I have
and will have
of you.
Your large blue eyes
Deep, wise and searching.
Your contagious laugh
Your rockstar hair
Your big hugs
Your thirst to know
Everything.
Never stop asking questions, James
For that is the key to this life
To understanding.

And I hope five is your best age yet
And there are lots of splashy baths
With squirty fish and sunbathing sharks
And Yankee Doodle sung
at the top of your lungs.
I hope your days are filled with superheroes
and Imaginext
Endless aircraft carrier missions
and Crime Phone calls
Fun DVDs.
And quiet times with your mom and dad
Bent over books, learning new things.

And lots of visits to Sidney
And me.

Hope you liked that.

Your friend,

Kevin

Aug 3, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 46: Fear

Dear Pope Francis,

Fear. I’m so over it.

It seems like I’m being told to be fearful of everything these days. Don’t vote for this political candidate because she will take your rights away. Don’t vote for that politician, either, because he will be bad for the economy. Be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t believe in the right kind of God. Don’t drive, fly, drink bottled water, or even eat quinoa, because you’ll be a bad person. Don’t eat eggs; that’s just asking for a heart attack. Avoid doorknobs at all costs

If you’re Catholic, don’t you dare speak your mind; you’ll be silenced for having an opinion.

You know, it’s no wonder many of us are stressed out, anxious, eating too much, and not sleeping enough. We’re constantly told to be scared. Of everything. We live in a soup of fear.

What’s worse, we’re told to be scared of ourselves, our ideas and opinions, and the way we live our lives.

Maybe it would be worth it if fear worked as a motivator. I’m not convinced of that, however. If it did, wouldn’t we live in a happier, safer, more egalitarian world? If fear worked, would the diet and sleep aid industries be making billions? Wouldn’t pews be packed on Sunday and seminaries and convents filled to the rafters?

I know how I react when I’m afraid. I don’t feel motivated at all. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Tell me I need to lose weight or bad things will happen, and I will reach for the nearest chocolate bar. Warn me I’m not getting enough exercise, and I’ll spend the weekend on the couch playing video games. I react to fear by shutting down and going on autopilot. It’s not a way to motivate me to change.

When we’re afraid, we also make bad decisions. As a communications professional, I’ve counseled clients through some tough crises. Inevitably, a client’s first response to a perceived threat is either to adopt a bunker mentality or go on the attack. Neither posture is terribly supportive. As an outsider, I’m able to provide a more levelheaded perspective on the right course of action. The reason? I’m not amped up on fear. I can think clearly.

I think Jesus also knew fear wasn’t a winning strategy. He did not say, for example, “Blessed are the fearful.” He knew Peter would deny him three times out of fear. Even the angels heralding his birth told those poor freaked out shepherds not to be afraid.

Jesus did not operate from a fear-based mentality. His approach was one of openness, peace, and understanding. That is an attitude in complete opposition to fear. You can’t be open, peaceful, and understanding if you’re afraid — or fear mongering. Try it. I dare you. Just like I dare you not to think of a pink polka-dotted gorilla wearing a tutu now that I’ve mentioned one. See? It’s impossible. (And, you’re welcome.)

If Jesus did not embrace fear, why do we, his followers, insist on it? Why is our response to a new idea always condemnation? Why do we base our faith around a fear of going to hell rather than embracing the Kingdom of God that Jesus told us was already ours through grace?

Why have we made fear our eighth Sacrament, and a requirement for being loved by God?

For me, personally, it’s time to take fear out of my faith. Thankfully, there are good models to follow.

I recently found out that St. Francis of Assisi, who I always thought was just naturally saintly, was actually deeply afraid of lepers. But, here’s why St. Francis was a saint: he pushed through the fear, and kissed pretty much every leper he could get his holy mitts on. He didn’t let fear affect his response to others.

Now that is an evolved spirituality I can get behind. As a follower of Jesus, and admirer of Francis, I’m going to strive to give up my addiction to fear and kiss more of my own personal lepers. It won’t be easy, but I think continuing to live out of a spirituality of fear will be far worse.

For the good of the world, I fervently hope others pucker up as well.

Your friend,

Kevin

Aug 2, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 45: Reminder

Dear Pope Francis,

A short note today because yesterday’s post took a lot out of me. It was tough to write.

So, today I’ll share some Peter Mayer. I may have shared this one before, but I think you need to hear it again. Play it a few times. I insist.

Your friend,

Kevin

P.S. I have fixed the email subscribe function. It wasn’t working before, so if you tried to sign up and it didn’t work, try again.

Jul 29, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 41: Helen Préjean and seeing the Divine

Dear Pope Francis,

One of the highlights of my Masters program at the Sophia Center was getting to meet one of my heroes. She’s not a rock star, or an actor — though Susan Sarandon played her in a movie. She’s Helen Préjean, and I’ve admired her work and courage for a very, very long time. Ever since I saw the movie “Dead Man Walking,” I’ve wanted to meet Helen. Her tenacity and hard work has lead to the end of the death penalty in many U.S. states. Sadly, it still exists in others, but Helen carries on.

Meeting Helen, for me, was a truly amazing experience. You need to know she looks nothing like Susan Sarandon. She’s a short, unassuming woman with a huge laugh and an even bigger sense of humour. Every other thing she says is a joke or wry observation. She had the whole room in stitches on more than one occasion. At the end of our time together, the group ended with something called the Elm Dance, which was created by Joanna Macy. It involves standing around in a circle, holding hands, and then stepping to first one side and then the other in a sequence. It’s a little complicated and you can get off beat fairly easily. Helen and I ended up together and when she took my hand she stared up into my eyes and said, deadpan, “You know if you do this wrong, you’ll squash me, right?” I laughed, and so did she. Inside I was bowled over. I had just shared a joke with Helen Préjean!

Being around Helen you could easily forget that she journeys with some of the most despised individuals in society — murderers on death row waiting for their execution. It’s hard to love this kind of person, or show them any kind of compassion. They have, after all, allegedly taken a human life — or several human lives. Yet, if you believe that the Divine exists in everyone, no matter what they’ve done, then you need to recognize the Divine in these individuals, no matter how heinous their actions. This is a big leap, and I don’t think many can make it. I’m not sure I can. In theory, moralizing about the evils of the death penalty is easy if it hasn’t touched you personally. If someone on death row had taken my parents, my sisters, my nephew, my brothers-in-law or a close friend from me, I’m not sure I could be so even-headed about why the death penalty is wrong. In grief, you cry out for anything that will make you feel better, to fill the loss, and vengeance is all too happy to rush in. And that doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

But I claim to be a human who understands that the Divine exists in everyone, and so there’s an added calculation to do in my moralistic math. And the Divine is kind of like multiplying by zero — it cancels out every other factor. With the Divine in all of us, we’re all the same, we’re all occupying the same point on the line graph. Nobody is higher or lower. We may have made mistakes, done horrible things, but, with the Divine inside, we keep our place on that graph. Nothing can remove us.

Even as I write this I feel a kind of tension. This is a really hard thing to accept. I mean, I often go through life being irritated and annoyed by people, and think unkind things about them. How they somehow don’t measure up to me because they don’t act in a way I’d want them to. This is why Helen Préjean so astounds me: she sees the Divine in death row inmates, where I can’t manage to see it in the guy who shoves his way past me in line or accidentally knocks me with his bag in a cramped airplane aisle. If I can’t do a namaste in their direction, what hope is there for me to walk where Helen Préjean walks?

Part of that answer came from Helen when she spoke to us. She talked about how life unfolds and changes. We can’t control it, we just need to understand that nothing is constant, nothing is forever, and we live in an evolving universe. This is both scary — what do you mean I can’t control anything??? — and reassuring. If I’m evolving and changing along with the universe, then there’s hope for me yet. I can grow into embodying a consciousness that recognizes the Divine in others. I still may not like the guy who nearly takes my head off with his carry-on bag (that probably breaks the size limit, but, I”m trying not to go there), but I will recognize that he has as much right to that bit of space on the plane as I do. (I just wish he wouldn’t swing his space into my space, but, hey…). From the guy on the airplane, I will likely have to evolve quite a bit more before I can recognize the Divine in a murderer, rapist, or drug dealer. But I have it on good authority, that it’s there. So, I live in faith until I can come to realize it myself, knowing I’ll backslide into thinking nasty things about my neighbour when he smokes outside and it gets into my winnow.

The other part of that answer comes from both Helen Préjean and another hero of mine, Ann Lamott. Helen’s work to end the death penalty has not been without its trials and tribulations. Consider for a moment the people who don’t exactly like what she’s doing. There have been death threats and hate mail. One of her group had his car shot up and when the police came they claimed they could not see any bullet holes in the car at all — despite the fact that they were right there and obvious to anyone. Helen’s first protest came as the result of a series of letters to the editor she wrote about ending the death penalty — many of which never ran. Then, one day, one did and, in it, Helen happened to promise that she would be leading a protest outside a prison where someone was going to be executed. When it ran, Helen realized she now had to do it. So she did. Her entire movement has been one of fits and starts. One of her first speaking gigs was at a nursing home. Three people came to hear her. Two fell asleep. For one of her long marches, Helen had gained significant media attention, but when they got to their destination, all the reporters wanted to cover was two women who had married death row inmates and chained themselves to the courthouse. Yet, despite all of this, Helen carried on, knowing her mission was good and true. And, we now see the result of that work. So, from Helen, the answer comes that you do what you think is right, what your’re supposed to be doing in this world, and, after some trials and tribulations, things will work. They may not work the way you thought they would, but they work.

From Ann Lamott, the answer comes in the form of her two best prayers “Help, help, help” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The Divine is with in us, and as it unfolds, we unfold. All we need to do is ask for help and then be grateful for however that help shows up. Lamott’s other counsel is: Show up. Ask for Help. If all all else fails, follow directions. If we show up, trust in the Divine, and flow with the evolving universe, we’ll be OK. OK may not equal happy or entirely satisfied, but the universe doesn’t promise that. All the Divine promises is that we are here, we are alive, and we are meant to evolve, change and serve.

So, while I may not be ready to walk into a maximum security prison today and take up a journey with a death row inmate, like Helen Préjean, I can walk out into my own life and work to see the Divine in others. And that includes all the annoying people I’d sometimes wish I didn’t have to encounter. It’s the work of a lifetime, but every little unfolding is a step in the right direction.

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