Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Real Church 2

Part Two of my article  "Open the Doors and See All the People" has been posted on Life as a Human.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Real Church

My article "Open the Doors and See All the People: Part One" has been posted on Life as a Human. In the article I attempt to explain that the Catholic Church is much more than the hierarchy and its scandals and stupidities.

Photo Credit

"Books and Rosary" by Susan Mogan

Friday, September 3, 2010

Victimhood or Responsibility?

I have been thinking about the economic crisis in the United States* and wondering about responsibility. Perhaps I am projecting or reading more into the situation than there really is, but it seems to me that America is about to punish Barack Obama and the Democrats for their failure to alleviate the economic woes of the country. How severe that punishment will be, no one knows, until the smoke has cleared from the November mid-term elections. Nor can one really predict the longer-term effects of the down-on-Obama-and-the-Democrats mood, but I shudder to think that the likes of Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck might take over the White House in 2013.

I am convinced that the anger and the pain of millions as a result of the economic crisis are being intensified by hysterical pundits in the media and office-seekers on both sides of the political divide.

Does the voting public of America truly believe that by kicking out Democratic congressmen and replacing them with Republicans, the job is going to get done and America will get right back to work? Is it really that simple? Should the government step up and throw billions of dollars more at the problem, using money that it actually does not have? Why do we consider it the responsibility of government to get us out of economic trouble?

We are a society that is encouraged - perhaps I should say "tempted" - to live beyond its means. The credit card companies want us to use their cards so they can collect their 18 percent interest per year; the department stores are even more avariciously delighted when we use their cards and pay them back at a rate of 29% per year. The banks and finance companies would like us to take out loans and mortgages that we can't really afford so their shareholders can get 15-20% annual returns on their investment; of course, when we cannot pay back the loan, we lose the house or the car and all the money we put into it.

There is no such thing as job security; there has not been for many years. And no country is recession-proof, so we know that every few years, we are going to have some kind of economic downturn and there is going to be job loss; the lost job just might be ours. Moreover, none of us knows when personal disaster may strike, leaving us with huge bills to pay. Yet we continue to live on credit, spending well beyond our means and saving nothing. And then when the shit does hit the fan, we blame the government or the big corporations, and we expect government to come and rescue us. Because we are victims.

Of course there are those - and they are not few - who are genuinely disadvantaged and who need our help, in good economic times and in bad. These are the people that our tax dollars and our charitable donations should be used to help.

The rest of us, I think, need to learn a little responsibility. We are responsible for taking a serious look at our lives and deciding if we truly need all the junk that we buy. We might also think about why we buy all that stuff and ask ourselves if this ridiculous consumerism is not a substitute for happiness. Perhaps there are other ways to make ourselves happy.

It seems to me that the old saw that consumerism fuels the economy is a bit misleading. Exactly whose economy is benefiting? If several million people did not buy an iPhone4, Steve Jobs and the Apple Corporation and however many shareholders would not be applying for welfare anytime soon. And if I get fewer hours, say as an Apple Store employee, I am okay because I have decided I don't really need to check my e-mail while standing in line to wait for my $4.00 Starbucks coffee. And if I recognize that I can make a great coffee at home, I'll have more time to use my creativity or be with my kids or whip up a gorgeous (and inexpensive) meal for my friends. And if I don't have an iPhone4, I can actually have a conversation with my friends because I won't be checking my e-mails while I am sitting at the dinner table. Oh, and if I don't have to work every day, maybe I don't need my car everyday; I could share it.

I strongly believe that each of us is responsible for his or her own happiness, whether we have taken our own happiness away through choices we have made or it has been taken away from us by circumstance. The vast majority of us are not victims, even though our society - and our own laziness - encourages us to believe that we are. Very few of us do not have the energy, the creativity, and the heart to make a beautiful life for ourselves. Unfortunately, we allow ourselves to be drawn in  - sucked in - to the negativity that dominates our social and political existence.

JFK said (something to the effect of) "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." Maybe we first need to ask what we can do for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our friends. Congress and the White House, Obama and the Tea Party, Democrats on the left and on the right, Republicans and Democrats may all be locked in perpetual conflict and have therefore placed the nation in a state of gridlock, but Americans do not need to wring their hands in despair and hurl epithets at this group or that. Surely we have come to realize that no matter who is in the Oval Office and which party has a majority, there is always some kind of crisis, and life always goes on. The bottom line is that the government, like any other organization, group, or individual, cannot make us happy, cannot solve our problems.

Joseph Campbell says:

You might ask yourself this question: if I were confronted with a situation of total disaster, if everything I loved and thought I lived for were devastated, what would I live for? If I were to come home, find my family murdered, my house burnt up, or all my career wiped out by some disaster or another, what would sustain me? We read about these things every day and we think, Well, that only happens to other people. But what if it happened to me? What would lead me to know that I could go on living and not just crack up and quit?

I've known religious people who have had such experiences. They would say, "It is God's will." For them, faith would work.

Now what do you have in your life that would play this role for you? What is the great thing for which you would sacrifice your life? What makes you do what you do; what is the call of your life to you - do you know it? The old traditions provided this mythic support for people; it held whole culture worlds together. Every great civilization has grown out of a mythic base.

In our day, however, there is great confusion. We're thrown back on ourselves, and we have to find that thing which, in truth, works for us as individuals. Now how does one do this?

I suggest that we do not do it by living on credit in order to keep consuming. I suggest we cannot do it by waiting for the government to act on our behalf. Rather we have to stop, be quiet, and look deep within ourselves to find our "mythic support." It might be God, it might be art, it might be nature.

I'm pretty sure it won't be the Tea Party.

*I am a Canadian and do not presume to speak for Americans or to possess either broad or deep knowledge of American social and political issues. Canadians are exposed to a great deal of "Americana," however, and as our politics is really quite boring, many of us take an interest in what is going on south of the border. In 2008, a very large majority of Canadians indicated that they would like Barack Obama to be their Prime Minister.

Photo Credit

Creative Commons: some rights reserved

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Church?

Well, I do miss going to Mass and I do not at this point appear to be highly motivated to attend services at any of the Anglican churches. So last Sunday, after a bit of research, I attended 9:00 Mass at St. Augustine's parish in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver. I chose this church because the pastor has been married and has children and grandchildren. The autobiographical sketch posted by this priest on the parish website reflects a warm, open-hearted character. I thought that perhaps a parish run by such a man might be a little more realistic, a little more inclusive, a little less doctrinaire than the norm in this archdiocese.

The church itself, built in 1931, is beautiful inside and out. There is something about older church buildings: they have an atmosphere that makes them seem more like churches than the newer creations. The congregation was more heterogeneous than that  of my former parish, both in age and ethnicity. There were numerous children and young people, along with the elderly and very elderly. One woman seated a couple of pews in front of me was obviously in early- to mid-stage dementia. On one side of me was a woman from somewhere in the West Indies and on the other side a Filipino woman and her teenaged son. The caucasians in the congregation were not all white-haired.

It turned out that the pastor was the celebrant. While I was not greatly impressed with the manner in which he conducted the liturgy or with his homily - both were rather insipid - it was quite clear that the laity play a large role in the celebration of the Mass at this church. There was also an intangible sense of the warm connection between this priest and the parishioners of St. Augustine's.

This connection was made very clear at the end of the Mass when the priest asked everyone to be seated and a man came up to the front of the church and began to read, with great emotion at times - what turned out to be a farewell speech to the pastor. After four years at St. Augustine, and only one year as pastor, he had been reassigned, and this was his last Sunday Mass.

Still, I think I will continue to attend Mass at this church. Here is what the home page of St. Augustine's website says:

As an Oblate parish, we are really a family, imbued with the charisma of the Founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, St. Eugene de Mazenod. Consequently, the parish has and does reach out in mission “at home and abroad”, as far away as Peru and Africa. Youth has always been a focus, as are the elderly, the sick and shut-ins, the poor and the marginal in Vancouver. The community supports the arts and is ecologically conscious. We do liturgy well and are known for our music, we are generous and hospitable. As you browse about the Site, we hope you might be inspired to come and visit us, if not simply to visit, you may attend one of our two daily masses, or come to one of four on the weekend. We have a staff of 7 and numerous wonderful volunteers that keep the parish running and active.

While I do not quite qualify as "elderly" yet, perhaps I could be called "marginal." At any rate, I do get a good feeling from this parish, so I think I will keep going for a while.

Photo from St. Augustine's parish website