Friday, May 24, 2013

Knowing the Dead

Memorial Day weekend is upon us. Time for grilling and shopping. And in our rush to start summer with a bang, it is easy to forget that Monday's holiday was created for a more solemn purpose: to remember those who have sacrificed in our name. It is our moral obligation as citizens, and as human beings.

To fulfill that obligation, however, we must go far beyond patriotic jingoism or "support the troops" pep rallies. We need to listen to the stories of our dead. We need to gaze into their faces in the photographs they left behind. We need to read the words written about them by loved ones old and new. We need to get to know them. They died for us after all. Is that not the least we can do for them?

And once we are done with them, perhaps we can get to know those who have been killed in our name, whether enemy or "collateral damage". They died for our well being just as much as our own dead. Is that not the least we can do for them?

And after them, maybe we can get to know those who survived the battlefield, only to kill themselves here at home. They served on our behalf too, and walked away with a broken soul because of it. Is that not the least we can do for them?

And after we have gotten to know some of these beautiful, but dead, siblings, maybe, just maybe, we will finally start to see how truly asinine warfare really is.

"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!"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Locating Hope

The priest most responsible for the Catholic landscape of Southern California, literally, is posthumously accused of child molestation. A twelve-year-old boy is arrested for allegedly stabbing his eight-year-old sister to death. Two local examples of the horrors we inflict on one another. Two more sets of victims and victimizers to join our parade of violence. It is easy to lose hope in our family, assuming we had any to begin with. And yet hope is there for the taking, if only we know where to look.

And that is our problem, for we look in all the wrong places, namely within ourselves. We seem to think that, with the right application of human initiative, we can produce hope. Charity, justice, even military force will lead us to the promised land, if only we can figure out the right combination of buttons to push. If we just have faith, the good guys will triumph over the bad guys. But what happens when they all look in the mirror and cannot tell who is who? Perhaps it is time we looked elsewhere.

"I open my eyes and I see you … I close my eyes and I hear you … You radiate in birth and death, in moans of pleasure and cries of agony, in our happiness and our pain, in the hidden moments of beings we are too proud and stubborn to truly see. You radiate from every particle of creation; for every one of them is an act of love."

Hope is embedded in every fiber of our being. But we did not put it there.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Traveling On

Dumbledore smiled at [Harry]. "We are in King's Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to … let's say … board a train."
"And where would it take me?"
"On," said Dumbledore simply.
J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", Page 722
We celebrate the Ascension of Jesus this week. Many a pastor will no doubt wrestle with where that train is going to take us. And as you sit there in your pew, ask yourself if any truer description has ever been uttered than "On"? I suppose it all comes down to another simple question: Do we trust they who built the railroad?

But of course you ask: “Where will I go?” Does it matter? To you, I suppose it does, but the answer will not satisfy what you want. You want a place, a destination. This we cannot give, because it is like trying to assign a place to us. We are everywhere and nowhere, every moment. Do you think it will be any different for you?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Forsaking the Masquerade

Another late post. Another week where the planned topic crumbles, because it turns out to be nothing more than "ripped from the headlines" garbage. Another opportunity to forsake the meaningless noise in favor of something wonderful.

Two unrelated articles: a Washington Post feature on three peace activists who broke in to a nuclear weapons facility to stage a protest; a First Things commentary on our brave new digital world's desire to turn a profit from doing good. Two unrelated sets of people and causes, yet the latter offers up the key that allows me to make sense out of my discomfort with the former: "hype masquerading as idealism".

I know, how churlish of me. After all, I should admire those who risk death to call us to peace, especially an elderly nun. And yet, and yet … At the end of the day, what have those activists achieved, other than getting a security guard fired and the government to spend more money on protection for the very arsenal they denounced. As I wrote three weeks ago, we insanely chase a peace we will never catch, because the peace within our grasp demands things that are just too frightening to comprehend.

"Hype masquerading as idealism." It happens when we forget that after all the swords are turned into plowshares we can still kill one another with the farm tools. It happens when we forget that our lust for profit has caused much of the misery we are trying to alleviate with our good. It happens when we leave the fallout from our noble intentions as a mess for someone else to clean up. It happens when we are so eager to play a part in building our chosen utopia that we fail to see the fully constructed Kingdom in our midst. It happens far more often than we care to admit.

"Why are you so anguished? Life unfolds as it should. Stop and enjoy the process ... that is why you are here, that is why you were created."

We are an impatient species. We believe that love involves action. It is a dangerous combination, because oftentimes the action that love demands is internal, not external, especially in those moments when our animal instincts and our peers are urging us to hurry up and do something already. So what will we choose to unleash: a whirlwind or a gentle breeze? And whose guidance will we choose to trust?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"Who Francis may be based on who Bergoglio was"
John Allen, National Catholic Reporter

"A Special Vocation: To Show People How To Love"
Paul Gondreau, Catholic Moral Theology

"Love, Walmart Style"
Terrance Klein, America

"Sisters live to tell their Holocaust story"
Emily Langer & Ellen Belcher, The Washington Post

"Cheap clothes have helped fuel social revolution in Bangladesh"
Stephanie Nolen, The Globe and Mail

"On Corpulence"
Kaya Oakes, Oakestown

"The Violence We Live With"
Charles Pierce, Esquire

Please follow me on Twitter (@jwbidwell) for additional reading recommendations.