Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Beloved of God: Letting Go of Ego

I have been keeping a journal for some time, but since I started this blog as a vehicle for articulating my thoughts on life as a Christian, the journal only receives attention when I feel somehow disconnected from God and from who I really am. I wrote the following entry yesterday.

July 30

I wonder if I am becoming more aware of my ego when it is in control. I am thinking more and more often that I have to let it go and to accept what God has planned for me. I spoke with Richard on the phone last evening and we had one of our nice conversations about God and spirituality. He asked me when I felt connected with God and I had to honestly answer that the occasions were not as often as I would like. I did think at the time, as I was scrambling for an answer, that my ego is the biggest obstacle to allowing awareness of God within and around me to flood my consciousness. I simply must let go and be like the tree that accepts its lot and keeps its beauty and nobility and its joy.

One of the biggest banquets for the ego takes place in the dining hall of relationships. Why do we see others as “the other” and not as “us”? Why do we relate to those around us in dualism rather than as brothers and sisters equally “beloved of God”? Why do we have to judge and blame and point our mental fingers rather than modeling the tree that welcomes the wind and the rain and the sun patiently, stoically, and without complaint or agenda?

It probably doesn’t matter where we begin: with humility, with love, with forgiveness, just as long as we begin to see that these “virtues” are the reality of God and that everything else—materialism, conflict, superiority and inferiority, dominance and submission—are illusion. From illusion comes suffering and pain; from reality comes joy. From illusion comes grasping and struggling and rushing and stress; from reality comes silence and peace and creativity.

We must see who we are, without guilt, without shame, without pride, without defensiveness. We must accept who we are—who God made us to be—with humility and gratitude and love. As Henri Nouwen said, we are not what we do and we are not what others think of us. We are the beloved son and daughters of God; we are God’s beloved.

I think that I should write like this every day so that I am constantly reminded of these truths until they become part of me, until I see who I am, who God made me to be. I will forget, again and again, as I do now, but what is important is that I know I forget and in knowing, I bring myself back to God.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Modern Church Irony

Just when I think I do not have anyone or anything to smack at on my blog, the editor of the local diocesan paper gets on the mound and offers a pitch that no self-respecting batter can resist swinging at.

In an editorial in the most recent issue of The B.C. Catholic Paul Schratz trumpets the entry of the paper into the age of social media. BCC is blogging and tweeting, has its own Facebook page, and has just launched a new website "that will allow us to get local stories online in real time.”

Schratz cites a recent study in the U.S. which shows that “churches are not taking advantage of social networking.” He quotes the owner of BuzzPlant, an Internet marketing company:

“American churches have millions of people on their rolls who do not feel connected today because churches, as a whole, have failed to effectively connect with them as times dictate.”

I suspect that Mr. Schratz does not recognize the delicious irony of the statement he quotes.

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Anglican High Mass

This past Sunday I attended my first Anglican service, at St. James church in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The service was actually a Tridentine high Mass, sung in English, with celebrant, deacon, and sub-deacon facing the altar. There was enough incense to make the Dalai Lama’s eyes water.

I was most pleasantly surprised and relieved to find at the front of this beautiful church pamphlets containing the entire text of the liturgy of the Mass, along with instructions to stand, sit, and kneel at the appropriate places. The pamphlet also contained information about the music performed during the service, as well as what was essentially the church’s Sunday bulletin.

Sunday Mass at the Catholic church I attended for four years was partly a social occasion for many of the members of the congregation, largely made up of Filipinos. There were lots of greetings, chatting, and laughter. Not so in the Anglican church. In the church pamphlet, on a page headed “Before Mass,” is written: “You are encouraged to take the opportunity before Mass for silence, stillness, and prayer. Please refrain from talking before Mass begins.” At the end of the Mass, I was also surprised to see that there was no rush to exit the church. Even after the closing hymn was over, the members of the congregation remained in the pews to pray quietly. I was almost embarrassed to be the first to get up and leave the church.

The Mass itself was beautiful. The liturgy was celebrated with great reverence; there was no rushing through any of the elements. I was moved by one practice that is either uniquely Anglican or unique to this church: For the gospel reading, the acolytes, thurifer (constantly swinging the thurible), sub-deacon, and deacon (who is actually the reader) move into the center aisle of the church; as I was on the aisle, the deacon read the gospel—clearly and meaningfully—within a few feet of where I stood. The homily—on prayer—which was also given by the deacon, was well considered, well prepared, and relevant. Holy Communion was distributed to communicants as they knelt at an altar rail; I had not seen this practice since pre-Vatican II days.

This was my first Anglican high Mass, so I felt awkward at times because I was not familiar with the liturgy. I have also been accustomed to the larger, more lively congregations of my former Catholic church; the silence in St. James before and after Mass was a little disconcerting. Nevertheless, the community is welcoming, and from what I read in the bulletin, is also gay friendly. I will definitely visit this church again.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Father Greg Boyle

Life as a Human has just published my article "The Jesuit and the Homies: It's all about Kinship." The article is about Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who started Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps L.A. gang members learn skills and turn their lives around. Father G, as he is usually called by his beloved homies, has recently published a book about his experience in this inspiring ministry; the book is entitled Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion; I enthusiastically recommend it.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Bishop Dowling and Condoms

It seems that taking a courageous position on a controversial issue is nothing new for Bishop Kevin Dowling

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bishop Dowling, the "cappa magna," and humility

The blog of America Magazine has re-posted a piece that appeared on the site of the Independent Catholic News. The piece is the text of an address “given by Kevin Dowling CSsR to a group of leading laity in Cape Town, South Africa on 1 June." [Note: the text has been removed from the site of the Independent Catholic News but has been posted on the website of the National Catholic Reporter, with the bishop's permission.]

Bishop Dowling’s address essentially takes a metaphorical scalpel to a trend that has developed over the last 30 years in which all Church authority has steadily become concentrated in the hands of the pope and the “Curial Departments and Cardinals.” Much of this authority, according to Dowling, rightfully belongs in the hands of the People of God at the level of the local churches and of the local episcopate, and of the Synod of Bishops. The letter and spirit of Vatican II, which reaffirmed this horizontal paradigm, has been replaced by

“the mystique which has in increasing measure surrounded the person of the Pope in the last 30 years, such that any hint of critique or questioning of his policies, of his way of thinking, his exercise of authority, etc. is equated with disloyalty. There is more than a perception, because of this mystique, that unquestioning obedience by the faithful to the Pope is required and is a sign of the ethos and fidelity of a true Catholic.”

For Dowling, a potent symbol of the “restorationism” that has been taking place these 30 years was the “cappa magna” worn by Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma as he celebrated a Tridentine Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington in April. Dowling describes the garment as “the 20-yard-long brilliant red train behind a bishop or cardinal that has become one of the symbols of the revival of the Tridentine Mass.” The wearing of the cappa magna and the elaborate processional pageantry that preceded the Mass in Washington “bore the marks of a medieval royal court, not the humble servant leadership modeled by Jesus.”

Dowling laments the disappearance of

the great theological leaders and thinkers of the past…and the great prophetic bishops whose voice and witness was a clarion call to justice, human rights and a global community of equitable sharing….Again, who in today’s world “out there” even listens to, much less appreciates and allows themselves to be challenged by the leadership of the Church at the present time? The moral authority of the Church’s leadership today has never been weaker. It is, therefore, important in my view that Church leadership, instead of giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige, should rather be experienced as a humble, searching ministry together with its people in order to discern the most appropriate or viable responses which can be made to complex ethical and moral questions—a leadership, therefore, which does not presume too have all the answers all the time….

The concentration of authority in the hands of the Pope and the Vatican Curia and “the policy of appointing ‘safe’, unquestionably orthodox and even very conservative bishops to fill vacant dioceses over the past 30 years” has made it very unlikely that the College of Bishops “will question anything that comes out of Rome, and certainly not publicly.” How courageous it is, then, for Bishop Dowling, a single voice in this deafening chorus of orthodoxy, to raise it in respectful and humble dissent and to point out, however indirectly, the hubris of those who would take it upon themselves to reject the spirit of Vatican II and scorn the legacy of Blessed John XXIII by usurping the authority of the local churches and thus the People of God.

And how clever the bishop is to use the words of Joseph Ratzinger himself to demonstrate how far we have strayed from Vatican II:

Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism.

(Joseph Ratzinger in: Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II ,Vol. V., pg. 134 (Ed) H. Vorgrimler, New York, Herder and Herder, 1967).

Among the many things about this article that impress me is its call for greater humility on the part of the leadership of the Church—“the humble servant leadership modeled by Jesus.” Church leaders would do well to return to the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus so that they might learn the true meaning of humility. Surely a man who regularly ate with sinners, with the impure, and with the marginalized; who, unlike “foxes and the birds of the air,” had “nowhere to lay his head;” and who allowed himself to be subjected to the most degrading punishment of his day, has by his very way of life and death something to teach the wearers of the “great cape.”

When will they attend?

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by jdbradley

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Scott Hamilton: Jazz Standards

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival has just ended. Every year I thoroughly scour the festival brochure to see if there is anything that I and my friends might like to take in, and every year the list of possibilities seems to get shorter and shorter. What has traditionally been called mainstream jazz—and is now called “traditional”—is giving way steadily to alt/indie/noise, avant/free/improv/experimental, electro/ambient, fusion/jazz rock/nu jazz, and post bop.

I grew up with the jazz standards—“Body and Soul,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” “September Song”—played or sung by the likes of Stan Getz, Lester Young, Art Tatum, and Sarah Vaughn. To my mind, there are enough ways to improvise on the gorgeous ballad “Tenderly” to sustain one through a thousand hearings. As the old Duke Ellington tune says, "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing." Funk and fusion and hard bop just don't do it for me.

So when I look through the jazz festival brochure, I am looking for a band that will give me a generous portion of those old-time standards. And did I ever get lucky this year.

There is an old jazz club in Vancouver called The Cellar. It has been around since I was a teenager and has gone through some rough years and has changed ownership numerous times. Some time ago the club was taken over by a local musician, a tenor sax man by the name of Cory Weeds, and Mr. Weeds, who seems to have an entrepreneurial bent and a great deal of courage in addition to substantial musical chops, has transformed the old place into a significant jazz venue in the Pacific Northwest. The Cellar,which also serves pretty good food, is one of the featured venues of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

This year the name of one of the performers booked into The Cellar for jazzfest caught my eye; it was a name I was quite familiar with but had not heard in some years: tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. Hamilton was to be accompanied by a local group of stellar musicians led by guitarist Oliver Gannon.

There is something about jazz in a club atmosphere that jazz performed in a concert hall cannot match. Our table was right up against one end of the stage, so we had a great view of the musicians and could hear all the instruments—piano, bass, and drums, in addition to Hamilton and Gannon—clearly. It was fascinating to watch the beautifully expressive faces of the musicians as they played solos, accompanied their fellow band members, or simply listened as another played. On those faces was passion, humour, deep concentration, and an obvious love for the music they played and for the people they played with.

Scott Hamilton is an American, but he has lived in Italy for the past several years. Before arriving in Vancouver from Florence, he had been traveling for 38 hours. The four cans of Red Bull under the piano at the end of the evening (and the fifth we saw in his hand outside the club as we passed him on the way to the car) attested to the jet lag he must have been feeling. Yet after the first couple of choruses of the opening number—“What is this Thing Called Love?”—I knew we were going to have a wonderful musical evening. These five musicians, who had just met the previous day, played as if they had been together for years. They established a relaxed and swinging groove from the first tune that did not let up for the entire two-set, two-hour performance. Ballads, swing tunes, and blues filled the packed room with a mellow joy that the best of jazz can only inspire.

And just about every song they played was a jazz standard that I was familiar with.

God is good indeed.

Photo Credits

by guyman22

by estwo

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Un-orthodox Love

There is a wonderful blog, titled Ad Dominum, which I often visit. Recently blogger Thom Curnutte posted an impassioned and wonderfully articulate note that a Catholic friend of his had posted on Facebook in response to the anti-gay pronouncements of an acquaintance. There were several comments to this post, one of which came from Jacob, who claimed to be “a small voice of orthodoxy tarnished minimally by vice and personal agenda, guided by a spirit of love.”

As my comments on Thom’s post are rather long, I have decided to post them here rather than take up space on Ad Dominum.

I loved what Laura wrote. I believe that she speaks honestly and passionately the words that are in the hearts of most, if not all, gay Catholics. As Thom has pointed out, she has made “many fantastic points.”

And as a gay man who has left his parish in protest over the institutional homophobia he perceives in the Church in general and in particular in his own archdiocese, I both admire and envy her active involvement in her own parish.

Jacob’s response to Laura brings two issues to mind. The first is that I do not think a straight white male can in any way understand what it is like to be gay (I use the term gay here to refer to all LGBT people), let alone to be gay and Catholic. Jacob simply cannot imagine how it feels to read a homophobic article like that which was recently published in the Boston Pilot or to read the outrageously misleading “information” about homosexuality in the literature of the Courage apostolate. How could he even begin to comprehend the feelings of gay parents who are told their children may not attend Catholic school because of their relationship? So speak as he might about “female anthropology” and “the sacramental union between one man and one woman,” Jacob’s words are empty semantics to those who know that God created them gay and that the Church denies them their full humanity. There is a distinct disconnect between this profound self-knowledge—which can come from no other source than from God—and the doctrine-based arguments against gay marriage (and therefore against the sacredness of gay relationships based on love and mutual commitment) made by a straight person.

Laura has made the courageous decision to be an active Catholic in spite of the very difficult and ongoing dilemma this presents for her. The choices she has made—both to return to the Church and to be an active parishioner—can only have come after a great deal of thought and with a profound and no doubt pained awareness of the teachings of the Church on homosexuality. So I find that there is a kind of arrogance in a person who would presume to lecture, however gently and lovingly, on the “correctness” of his point of view to someone like Laura.

The second issue is this: In his response to Laura, Jacob says the following: “It’s taken a long time for me to find the humility to submit myself to the Authority of Christ and his Church and its Magisterial teaching…. I have always found that the Church has well-thought detailed reasons for everything it teaches, despite that those reasons are not readily apparent, and may be contingent upon the acceptance of something that I haven’t yet learned.” Orthodox Catholics work on the assumption that the Church was established by Christ and that it cannot therefore be in error. Only those who disagree with its teachings are wrong. This is an assumption that is supported neither by scholarship nor by reason. Even if Christ did found his Church upon the rock of Peter—and there is research that shows this in fact did not happen as it is reported in Matthew—it is simply childish to assume that either Peter, a man of weak character and little faith, or any number of his successors could be trusted to carry the pure message of Jesus to the children of God without at some point allowing it to be contaminated by the stench of greed, lust, and pride or losing it altogether in rigid institutionalism. One only has to look at the shameful mess the medieval popes made of the Church to see that what we know as the Catholic Church of those times—and of today—has little to do with the life and the message of Christ.

Christ was about love, not authority and Magisterial teaching.” In fact, his whole preaching life demonstrated his disdain for the attempts of the “authority” of his time to trump love with the Law. Why can the modern Church not see this? Why must faithful Catholics like Laura struggle daily to have their love accepted as legitimate by their Church?

I honour Jacob’s sincerity, but I have boundless appreciation and empathy for Laura’s courageous struggle and only great good wishes for her journey.

Thank you, Thom, for posting her story.