On “doing something”

I tweeted this more than a week ago. It hasn’t gotten better.

To Israel and Gaza we added Michael Brown. To Michael Brown we added Robin Williams. To Robin Williams we added the Ferguson protests and the mindbogglingly brutal crackdowns on those protests. To that we added ISIS and a “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq. Ukraine is still erupting, has been the whole time. And last night, police shot another black man in St. Louis.

I tweeted because I was, even then, overwhelmed by words and images. I know when I say this I am speaking from a place of great privilege. Other people must live the horror. I get to sit at my laptop, talking about the sensory overload I am receiving there. Continue reading

An aside: I pray

I pray when ambulances and firetrucks roar by, spewing their siren songs.

The prayer I say is: “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, help the afflicted.” I say it in my head.

If I say it too fast, I say it again. I figure the patient in the ambulance, or the person panicking in the fire, deserves that much respect.

I say it mostly while walking in downtown Chicago. My woodsy small town does not produce quite so many 911 calls. In the Loop, meanwhile, I have been known to pray it five times in five minutes, once per emergency vehicle. 

Continue reading

The Fireside Chats: Useless

0808-0710-1617-3417A week ago, I took two trains up to the North Side to attend a fundraiser for a nonprofit. The fundraiser was a bar night. For twenty dollars, I could have all the beer and sweet potato pancakes with red pepper cream sauce that I wanted.

The bar night was at a pub that brewed its own stuff. The beers all had names that suggested political upheaval, dissidence, and misfits. They were poured from taps decorated with red stars and white skulls. I settled on an IPA called “Antihero.”

At the fundraiser, I met people whom I do not ordinarily meet. In a scene that reminded me of something out of the first half of Thomas Merton’s autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, I gave a dollar to a Communist organizer. I then received from her a pamphlet of speeches by the U.S. Communist party chairman.

The speeches contained phrases like “the woman question,” which reminded me oddly of John Paul II’s term “feminine genius.” They would likely turn out to be mirror images of the pope’s sincere and well-intended mansplaining if only I sat down to read them and put them in context, which I probably won’t. Continue reading

Quotable Quotes: Letting go

Francis turned worldly values upside down. Where others saw security, he saw only captivity; what for others represented success was for him a source of strife, an “obstacle to the love of God and one’s neighbor.” Moreover, for Francis, letting go did not end with wealth or property. He also let go of his reputation and status in society, his fastidiousness, his anger, his pride, and his ambitions–everything, in short, that hindered his ability to love. In the end he was not left barren. Rather the space in his heart previously occupied by all these things was now filled with a joy greater than anything the world could provide. His gratefulness exceeded his powers of description. Addressing his Creator, he wrote: “You are love, charity; You are wisdom, You are humility, You are patience. You are beauty, You are meekness, You are security, You are inner peace. You are joy, You are our hope and joy….Great and wonderful Lord, All-powerful God, Merciful Savior.”

–Robert Ellsberg in The Saints’ Guide to Happiness, writing of Francis of Assisi

#readwritelibrary: Shelf-Reading: Straight Talk

straighttalkI’ve started writing again for what used to be the Chicago Underground Library blog, and is now the Read/Write Library Tumblr. I did book reviews for them back in the day, and I’m doing them now, too. Actually, this time, a zine:

Straight Talk, by H. Melt, is a poetic dictionary that ponders the social identity of straightness. It offers and defines, without commentary, a series of English expressions that use the word “straight.” The implications of these expressions then speak for themselves.

See the rest here. (Also, this PDF preserved for posterity.)

An aside: The young people. Revisited.

Another version of this post appears at Young Adult Catholics.

“So why do you stay?”

On Saturday, that question was posed to me–and to the other three members of our panel–by a gathering of women religious near Boston. They had invited us (as previously advertised) to talk to them about our experiences as young adult Catholics.

It wasn’t a surprising question. We were all contributors to the book Hungering and Thirsting for Justice. We spoke from our narratives in that book: the spiritual memoirs of justice-seekers who remain in a church that, as often as not, is a stumbling block for justice-seekers. 

One of my fellow panelists said she stayed because teachings about birth control, sexuality, and women are not the whole story. There is still Jesus, the sacraments, the saints, and our rich tradition of social thought, not to mention the prophetic witness of vowed religious communities like the one that invited us.

Another fellow panelist said she didn’t necessarily think of herself as “staying” in any conventional sense of “staying.” My third fellow panelist said that after a lifetime of formation, she had a Catholic soul whether anybody else liked it or not.

I found elements of myself in all these answers. But I framed mine a little differently.  Continue reading

The Fireside Chats: Conclusion to “The Making of a Writer.” (Or, “State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III.”)

0808-0710-1617-3417(Final installment in a lamentable, long-forgotten three-part series. For those of you who were asking for it…well, you were asking for it. Alternate post title is stolen from a Bob Woodward book of the same name. Thanks, Bob.)

I did not, as it happened, go into teaching or ministry. It all dissolved.

Perhaps the problem was my living situation. My University Ministry involvement hadn’t been enough to create the friendships I sought. So I intensified my efforts by moving into an intentional community at Loyola called Agape House.

After I got in, I discovered they were all rebellious peace-and-justice hippies. After a year of living there, I had become one of the rebellious peace-and-justice hippies. (You can read about it here.) I could no longer bring myself to teach high school students about the all-consuming importance of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

My feelings were confirmed the summer after we disbanded. I worked at the Joliet diocese’s annual youth leadership conference. I tried fruitlessly to interest a group of incoming high school juniors in the Nicene Creed, which is what the diocese wanted the juniors to focus on. My effort was not helped by my drastic shift in priorities. Nor was it helped by our group leaders’ valiant yet misguided attempt to convey the Creed to spacey sixteen-year-olds through skits and stage props. I recall cardboard rocks and palm trees. Continue reading

Quotable Quotes: “Chicago was Oz”

And now he’s out here, living in Oakland for now. After graduating he tried Chicago first, but tired of constantly running into people from Champaign. They were all there, the whole school–so few make it out of the state. To most, Chicago was Oz, anything beyond it was China, the moon.

From A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

The Confessions

A confessional. Via Wikimedia Commons.

A confessional. Via Wikimedia Commons.

On a spring evening at dusk, sitting next to the fire pit with a glass of wine, my mother told me what it was like to go to confession before the Second Vatican Council.

First of all, that is what it was. There was no “Reconciliation.” There was no “Reconciliation Room.” You went to confession. You went in the confessional.

You went once a month, every month. Mom’s impression was that this was church law. But it wasn’t, not really.

The minimum rate of going to confession was pegged to the minimum rate of receiving Eucharist. In other words, once a year around Easter. But in those days, things that seemed to be law had as much force as things that actually were law.

You went on Saturdays. Mom dreaded it. She hid in her bedroom, hoping her mother would forget. It was fruitless. Sometime in the afternoon, the shout came up the stairs from the kitchen.

“Krysia!” (For the uninitiated, “Krysia” is Polish for “Chrissy.”) Continue reading