Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Quilt

And I never really was able to tell you.
That's why I'm telling you now that you can't hear.
It ain't gonna be the same around here without you.
And I'm holding back a flood behind one tear.
And we'll go down to the post-mortem bar,
And catch up on the years that have passed between us,
And we'll tell our stories.
Do you remember when the world was just like a carnival opening up?
from the movie "Longtime Companion"
This Saturday, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. Of all the tributes to those we've lost, none is more profound to me than the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Perhaps because of the manner of its creation, it seems to radiate with life, as if the souls of the deceased imparted some of their grace upon the quilt's fabric. It may not have been conceived as religious art, but it is sacred nonetheless.

I only saw the Quilt once, when a portion of it was displayed on the Berkeley campus while I was a student there, but just looking at photographs of it stirs something inside of me. It reminds me so much of the Communion of Saints tapestries at the Cathedral here in Los Angeles. Both are tangible expressions of what I mean by "Family of the One", that we humans are siblings, not strangers.

And that is the worst tragedy of AIDS, past and present, that so many of those who died were ostracized and stigmatized. At the moment they most needed to feel part of a larger family, they were thrown away, like the lepers of old. The saddest panels on the Quilt are the ones "For those who died alone." If we do nothing else on Saturday, let us set aside our fears and judgments and vow that none of our brothers and sisters will ever die alone again, that each will know their family's love.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Enough

Yesterday, I encouraged you to proclaim: I have enough. Well, here's a practical way to do just that: Redefine Christmas
... a movement that re-imagines the way we look at gift giving during the holidays. In addition to the things we enjoy shopping for and giving every year, we often feel compelled to spend money and time on gifts with little meaning. Gifts which are soon forgotten. Rather than giving in to the convention of giving, we can give out – by redirecting some of that money to charity.
Consider giving your friends and family members donations to their favorite charities in their names. And ask your loved ones to do the same for you.
Giving this way is more personal. It's easier. And it can be more meaningful – to the receiver, the giver and the countless people and organizations who are truly in need.
Their website makes it easy to help others get their share of enough. What better way to give thanks, than to share our blessings. Let us all have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Poverty & Consumerism

“It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with cold, so that they can hardly hold themselves upright ... You are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God?”
... St. Chrysostom is not St. Francis. He does not ... give away all that he owns -- or urge his listeners to do so. That would be easier to dismiss ... He just insists, with ferocity, that Christians give away every single drop of excess. Chrysostom’s requirement is not absolute poverty, but a trickier, sometimes more elusive, ideal: enough.
Tomorrow, local TV news will be full of stories about charity Thanksgiving dinners for the poor and homeless. Only to be replaced the next day by stories of people being trampled at the Black Friday opening of some big box retail store. The real tragedy is that we will pat ourselves on the back for the first images and shake our heads at the latter ones, when we should be thoroughly ashamed by both.

In a nation as prosperous as ours, why the hell should anyone be poor or homeless at Thanksgiving? And given that so many of our brothers and sisters are suffering in this way, how the hell can we be so obsessed with getting a bargain on meaningless toys and gadgets? What is wrong with us that we feel so little shame about this?

Poverty is not some strange disease for which we haven't discovered a cure. It is the natural byproduct of an economic system driven by greed. That is what I see in both the Thanksgiving and Black Friday news stories: greed. We believe it is acceptable for some to live in unnecessary luxury, while others scrape by. Throwing a few dollars or volunteer hours at the poor may cover up the stench and assuage our meager guilt for a short time, but it does not erase the stain on our collective soul.

"Family is about sharing all that we have, not hoarding it. We do not earn anything; it is all a gift from our Parent."

It is time to stop defending an economic system and start standing up for our brothers and sisters. All we have to do is say: I have enough; I've had my fill and I don't need any more; Let someone else have their fair share.

I know, easier said than done. As Taylor-Coolman says, "Chrysostom’s requirement" is tricky and elusive. I am certainly no expert at it. But truth is truth, even when it goes unacknowledged or is being proclaimed by a hypocrite. And the truth is this: "The gifts of God" belong to all of us, not some of us, and our Parent wants each of their children to have enough. Can we create a society that honors and lives by this truth? Not a snowball's chance in hell. But that's not really the point now, is it?

"It is time for us to embrace our family, even though we will fail, and probably fail miserably. This is another paradox of our Creator. We can never truly be one family in this life and yet they compel us to try, they demand that we make the attempt."

At the end of the day, it's not about ending either poverty or consumerism, it's about standing with our brothers and sisters.

"Yes, this path will be terrifying. It is uncertain and full of risk. But we owe it to our family to embark upon the journey. It is who we are and why we were created: to love our family, all of it."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Who Would Jesus Kill?

I imagine that military service was a common theme in sermons last Sunday in honor of Veterans Day. I wonder, though, how many pastors were willing to delve into the morality of war itself. Probably not many, given that the average American is blissfully disconnected from the wars currently being fought in their name.

We can bury our heads in the sand, but the death and destruction will not go away so easily. War is the most utterly asinine behavior; the idea that we can resolve conflicts by killing people. It's pathetic and juvenile, and we cannot resist it.

I recently watched "The Kingdom", a movie about an FBI team helping to investigate a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. One of the early scenes is a briefing where they learn that a fellow FBI agent was killed in the attack. The team leader consoles one of his colleagues by whispering something to her. Eventually, the team tracks down and kills the man who planned the attack. As he is dying, this elderly man also whispers words of consolation to his granddaughter. At the end of the movie, we learn that the wisdom imparted by both of these men is this: "We are going to kill them all."

At the end of the day, it's all about revenge. We can theorize about just war criteria all we want, but it's just a cover for simple playground vengeance. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and we think he's the naive lunatic! Absolutely asinine.

"It is past time that we recognize this family of the One, this fellowship of the One. They are tired of us ignoring, neglecting, and tarnishing it. This family is our Creator's greatest gift to us and we spit upon it constantly. Enough!"

Enough indeed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four More Years

In his victory speech last night, Barack Obama spoke words of truth that we need to hear, whether you voted for him or not, if we are to come together as a family:
While each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.
... Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated ... But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future.
... The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government.
... We are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.
Mere rhetoric, or a real and genuine vision of who we are and who we can be?

"[Family] is not an organization to join, but a fellowship to accept. It is who we are at our very core. Family is birth, death, and all the joy and tragedy in between. We may run from it at moments, but we will never truly be apart from it."

"Family is about loving one another, not using one another. Family is about sharing all that we have, not hoarding it ... Family is about supporting our siblings, not controlling them. Family is about hope, not fear."

Obama himself defined hope as "that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting." Such hope tells us that regardless of who you voted for, we are family and we have an obligation to embrace one another, no matter the hardships it might bring or how little we may accomplish. Such hope is the best gift we Americans can ever give to our global family.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

So whether you cried tears of joy or heartache last night, or just shrugged and went to bed, let us hope with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. We have elected a brother to lead us for the next four years who is far from perfect, but who sees us as we truly are and who seeks to help us become the family that we were meant to be. Let us hope in him and in ourselves.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reading Links - October 2012

"Public witness and Catholic citizenship"
Charles Chaput, Catholic Philly

"Were we able to welcome a fellow Jew, a registered sex offender, to pray?"
Fred Scherlinder Dobb, The Washington Post

"You Teach Us Our Faith"
Timothy Dolan, The Gospel in the Digital Age

"Multitasking is not your friend"
David Ousley, The Rector’s Chronicle

"At skid row karaoke, they are all songs of hope"
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times

"Bedroom Window Spirituality"
Michael Rossmann, The Jesuit Post

"Shared Grace: Encountering Vatican II at a Methodist College"
Matthew Shadle, Catholic Moral Theology