Friday, June 28, 2013

Abandoned Sisters

The plights of two women caught my attention recently. Carie Charlesworth was an elementary school teacher for the Catholic Diocese of San Diego. She was fired from her job because her abusive ex-husband was seen as a potential threat to the school community. Sobhana Gazmer left her rural hometown to live and work in the big city of New Delhi. She endures constant sexual harassment and the fear of rape. Two very different women, with very different lives, yet both victimized by similar sorts of men. And both let down by a larger community that failed to protect them.

It is this last point that keeps sticking in my mind, for it marks an abhorrent rejection of family. Gazmer herself seems to note this in comparing her hometown to the big city: "In Manipur, if any guy bothers you, you shout and everyone helps. In Delhi, it's a very different mentality." And unfortunately, one that appears to be shared by the diocesan officials who wrote in Charlesworth's termination letter that they would continue to pray for her, but left unstated the obvious fact that she and her children were otherwise on their own. What does it mean when even the Church refuses to live as family?

I am sure that the people of Delhi and the Diocese are good men and women who just want to keep violence from touching themselves or their loved ones. What they failed to recognize, however, is that Charlesworth and Gazmer are their loved ones too.

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

It is not easy being a family. It requires self-sacrifice. Clearly, fewer of us are willing to make those sacrifices than we would like to believe. But we can at least look honestly upon the consequences of that failure. How many Charlesworths and Gazmers must be thrown under the bus for our safety and peace of mind? How much hurt and sorrow must our siblings endure before we finally say enough already?

"Family is about hope, not fear."

Or at least it should be.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fighting Off Silence

Since the beginning of May, my weekly posts have been late more often than they've been on time. Whenever I sit down to write lately, it feels like a chorus of adults from a Charlie Brown TV special has taken up residence in my mind. There's a whole mess of reasons for this, but here's the only one worth mentioning:

"Why do you babble so much about me? So much time and energy, for what purpose? What more is there to understand about us than love? You think too much and feel too little. You talk too much and love too little. It is the curse of your consciousness. You can see enough to open the door, but not enough to find your way through it. Close your eyes and the path will be illuminated soon enough."

Sometimes, it feels like a sick joke. God has given me these words to share. And yet the most profound truth they reveal is the beauty of human silence. I am drawn to that beauty more and more each day, even as my sense of duty pulses stronger and more urgently in my very bones. It's my own personal paradox to endure and enjoy.

But grace is like that, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hunt

I finally got around to watching "Zero Dark Thirty" last weekend. I wanted to see for myself if there was any merit to the controversy surrounding its torture scenes. While there was enough ambiguity in the details and style of the film that I could understand both its supporters and detractors, I also got the feeling that all of them sort of missed the point. And that is because, as the credits rolled, I was overwhelmed by the utter waste of everything that I had just seen being depicted.

How much blood, sweat, and treasure was expended in hunting Osama bin Laden? And for what? Well, on that question at least, the movie is quite instructive. It opens with audio from the morning of September 11th. Particular effort seems to have been made to highlight the pleas and screams of those trapped in the World Trade Center buildings. We want to believe that this film dramatizes the hunt for justice and national security, but it is really just a story about vengeance.

And what did our act of revenge buy us? Here again, the movie is telling. For it ends with the lead hunter sitting on an airplane alone and emotionally empty in what should be her hour of triumph. Her soul seems as dead as her prey. Perhaps the real hunters have kept a few of us alive for a few more days, but what good is that when compared to all that has been destroyed in the name of the hunt? Love was not advanced here, only vengeance. And that is the ugly truth of warfare that we refuse to see.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Life and Death of Gabriel Fernandez

Gabriel Fernandez was just eight-years-old when he died two weeks ago. His mother and her boyfriend are the ones who have been arrested for causing his injuries, but it is the county child welfare agency that is shouldering much of the public blame for his death. Unfortunately, the outcome of such outrage, according to a Los Angeles Times editorial, "is too often a cycle of invective, firings, discipline and policy changes that may satisfy a hunger for action, but only of the wheel-spinning sort."

I wrote about such "hunger for action" last month, and here it is once again. A child is dead. Something must be done. Now! Something will be done, we will feel better, for a moment, until the next time. And there will be a next time, because we always manage to avoid the truth of such matters: We failed Gabriel Fernandez.

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

Being family means that we are responsible for one another. It means operating as a community that gets involved in one another's lives, not as a collection of individuals who simply happen to coexist in the same geographic area. It means that when one of our siblings is needlessly killed, we all share in the blame and shame.

Is that last sentence unfair or just uncomfortable? Look into Gabriel's face in the family photographs published by the Times. Have we truly done everything in our power to ensure the safety and well-being of all children? Why does our "hunger for action" only seem to materialize after children like Gabriel are dead, rather than while there is still a chance for them to escape the abuse? Is it only the social workers' fault? For me, it is the photo in which he is wearing a yellow t-shirt. That is the one whereby Gabriel asks me to accept personal culpability, no matter how minuscule, for his fate.

The Times editorial on this matter concludes thusly, "There may always be tragic child deaths. But we can do better." That means all of us. All of us.

Rest in peace Gabriel. I am so sorry that we failed you.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wealth & Comfort

How much damage does the comfortable life, well-being, do … The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us.
These words were spoken by Pope Francis three weeks ago, and have haunted me ever since. About a month prior to the pope's homily, I read about people paying tens of thousands of dollars in order to watch first-run movies in their homes. At the time, it seemed like an appalling luxury. But now, I think about my Hulu Plus subscription and wonder if there is really much difference, other than the price.

Yes, my wife and I live simply, free of extravagance, but we are certainly comfortable. I am presently writing this post from a comfortable couch in a comfortable apartment in a comfortable neighborhood. It is the typical American life. But such life is a pleasant fraud, because it demands we prioritize the maintenance of comfort over the service of God and our family. That is the haunting truth of the pope's warning.

It is also the truth lived by the pope's namesake. Just this week, my wife and I finished reading Donald Spoto's biography of Francis of Assisi, "Reluctant Saint". Something new catches my soul each time I read it, and this time around it was Francis' embrace of poverty. He rejected so much of the stuff we crave, yet still lived a life of wealth and comfort, of the kind that actually lasts. As his prayer "The Praises of God" proclaims, "You are all the riches we need." Francis had our life, or at least the medieval version of it, and then chose a better one, a beautiful one. This haunts me as well.

These truths tug at me insistently and urgently, but I am too paralyzed to follow them. How do you escape the comfortable life when it is so oppressively omnipresent, and has always been so? Francis himself was bitterly disappointed by his brothers' failure to maintain the life of poverty he so loved. "Gentrification of the heart" is an insidious disease, because even those of us who see the comfortable life for the fraud that it is just cannot seem to shake its grasp. I have let go of many wants and needs this past year, but so many remain, even if others might consider them insignificant. They haunt me, as they should. May you too be blessed with such a haunting.

Saturday, June 1, 2013