samedi, décembre 30, 2006

Living in Sin

Parenting younger children at bedtime requires a great deal of vigilance-but its also the time when our energy is at its lowest. Did I mutter that exhortation about the teeth or did I say it clearly? Heck, did I even say it to anyone but myself...or did it fall into the chain of commands that usually includes "usesoaphangthetowelsputyourclothesinthehamper"...Well, you know what I mean. Sometimes I think I've said something to Colin or Sian-but I'm truly not sure I've said it to anyone. All of that being said (or not said) the most frustrating moments with your kids may be the ones where they hear what you say-and choose to do something different. I have a mantra I use with Colin before he gets into the bathtub: "Make sure you wash your hair..with soap!" But it wasn't until he came into the kitchen for his evening glass of milk that I noticed his hair was almost bone dry. He knew he should have washed it-I struggled to understand why he didn't wash it. "I don't know" he confessed, putting his arms around my recalcitrant waist. After getting over my annoyance, I went into his bedroom, turned off his light, and threw my arms around him. Then I told him about St. Paul-the man who told us about doing the things we didn't want to do and not doing the things we should do. That's called sin, I told him. He reflected a moment-then Colin Paul Evans said cheerfully-"That's why my middle name is Paul!" Maybe all of us should have the middle name honor the disciple who had the humility to name his condition, and the insight to seek the only doctor who could cure it.

vendredi, décembre 29, 2006

Justice upon injustice

Bob Murphy, the senior vice president of ABC News, said the network planned to interrupt whatever program was being broadcast to report the news of the execution in the form of a brief report. “I suspect there will be some form of video released that will confirm the death for the Iraqi people,” Mr. Murphy said. ABC will “fulfill our obligations as journalists in documenting the event,” he said. But he emphasized, “We will absolutely not go too far in showing graphic images. Taste and propriety are the two key guidelines." New York Times December 28, 2006 This comment by a network executive seems oddly, even touchingly naive, in the face of the total lack of taste or propriety around the impending execution of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator. While reading some articles on knowledge management and business tonight I said a couple of silent prayers for his soul...and, with more enthusiasm, for the souls of the tens of thousands of people he had killed. His death amidst the backdrop of this awful war, raises more issues than it answers. There is some question (well, many questions) about the way his trial was conducted. In allowing the trial to be conducted in ways that raised questions about the defendant's rights, the Iraqi courts lost a chance to show themselves significantly better than they were under the dictator. His death will most likely provoke more violence on the part of the Sunni minority-another marker of the lack of planning that has made this war a model for failed revolutions. I don't happen to believe that capital punishment provides true justice for the death victims or heals the suffering of the living. In this case, it will probably just spark the deaths of more innocents-is there some kind of moral or Biblical justification for that?Then there is the gruesome manner of Husseins' death-hanging someone in this day and age seems like a means of death that ought to be consigned to a century when people were also burned alive at the stake. "Why don't they draw and quarter him and put his head on a spike outside the city?"I asked my dad tonight. He responded, with a bit of gallows humor, that perhaps no one had thought about suggesting it. But the manner of Saddam Hussein's death may be the most realistic touch in this tragedy-providing the warlords their bloodbath and intermission, but no real finale.

mardi, décembre 26, 2006

Chocolate cake and a whole lot more

This is a little parable about chocolate cake-but, like all the best parables, it's actually about a whole lot more than flour, butter, sugar, eggs and...oh (the best part) icing. For some reason (Sian, a creative child with Attention Deficit, is easily bored) my daughter decided to bake a cake this morning at her dad's house. No matter that he had already made his fabulous Christmas cake, a confection rife with fruit, brandy and marzipan icing. Near that cake sat a bag of mom's pfferneuse cookies-so what? Fulfilling her own inner urge to create, Sian got out the ingredients for a decadent confection-with the odd exception of the icing, which she insisted her father buy at the grocery store! No wonder, then, that the first item her dad put in my car when I met him was half of the cake. Those of you who know me, and now those who don't, will know that there is no need for anyone to give me candy and cake-I am perfectly capable of going to the grocery store myself. But even I have my limits. Quickly I began to plot-what neighborhood children could be invited over tomorrow? How about palming some off on Aunt Heidi when we meet her for the musical in Philadelphia in the evening? When Colin began to ponder his dessert choices, I quickly suggested a slice of cake. But when he got Sian's permission to have a slice, it came with a significant condition: the he tell her whether whether it was good. Realizing we didn't have a large window of time, I asked him what he planned to tell her. "If not good, I won't tell her," Colin said. "If it is good, I'll tell her." As he stuck his fork in and prepared to taste, he prayed "Please make this cake good." And something graceful occured, for certain-for when Sian came in for the verdict, my uncannily wise little boy gave her a big hug and said "If the cake were a person, I'd marry her." Squirming out of his embrace, his older sister looked embarrassed...and pleased. Not that she would admit it-after all, who relishes compliments from a little brother? One slice down...only ten more to go.

lundi, décembre 25, 2006

Through a glass brightly

From today's NYT-the tale of a poor, radical, quixotic man of God who changed the world-and could change it more still if we were open to letting him do more than talk silently to birds and squirrels in gardens. The words of the saints both expand our worlds-and expose our limitations to the core.

December 25, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
The Peaceful Crusader
AMID all the useless bloodshed of the Crusades, there is one story that suggests an extended clash of civilizations between Islam and the West was not preordained. It concerns the early 13th-century friar Francis of Assisi, who joined the Fifth Crusade not as a warrior but as a peacemaker.
Francis was no good at organization or strategy and he knew it. He accepted the men and women who presented themselves as followers, befriended them and shared the Gospel with them. But he gave them little else. He expected them to live like him: rejecting distinctions of class, forgoing honors of church or king or commune, taking the words of Jesus literally, owning nothing, suffering for God’s sake, befriending every outcast — leper, heretic, highwayman — thrust in their path.
Francis was not impressed by the Crusaders, whose sacrilegious brutality horrified him. They were entirely too fond of taunting and abusing their prisoners of war, who were often returned to their families minus nose, lips, ears or eyes.
In Francis’ view, judgment was the exclusive province of the all-merciful God; it was none of a Christian’s concern. True Christians were to befriend all yet condemn no one. Give to others, and it shall be given to you, forgive and you shall be forgiven, was Francis’ constant preaching. “May the Lord give you peace” was the best greeting one could give to all one met. It compromised no one’s dignity and embraced every good; it was a blessing to be bestowed indiscriminately. Francis bestowed it on people named George and Jacques and on people named Osama and Saddam. Such an approach, in an age when the most visible signs of the Christian religion were the wars and atrocities of the red-crossed crusaders, was shockingly otherworldly and slyly effective.
Symbolic gesture, Francis’ natural language, was a profound source he called on throughout his life. In one of its most poignant expressions, Francis sailed across the Mediterranean to the Egyptian court of al-Malik al-Kamil, nephew of the great Saladin who had defeated the forces of the hapless Third Crusade. Francis was admitted to the august presence of the sultan himself and spoke to him of Christ, who was, after all, Francis’ only subject.
Trying to proselytize a Muslim was cause for on-the-spot decapitation, but Kamil was a wise and moderate man, who was deeply impressed by Francis’ courage and sincerity and invited him to stay for a week of serious conversation. Francis, in turn, was deeply impressed by the religious devotion of the Muslims, especially by their five daily calls to prayer; it is quite possible that the thrice-daily recitation of the Angelus that became current in Europe after this visit was precipitated by the impression made on Francis by the call of the muezzin (just as the quintessential Catholic devotion of the rosary derives from Muslim prayer beads).
It is a tragedy of history that Kamil and Francis were unable to talk longer, to coordinate their strengths and form an alliance. Had they been able to do so, the phrase “clash of civilizations” might be unknown to our world.
Francis went back to the Crusader camp on the Egyptian shore and desperately tried to convince Cardinal Pelagius Galvani, whom Pope Honorius III had put in charge of the Crusade, that he should make peace with the sultan, who, despite far greater force on his side, was all too ready to do so. But the cardinal had dreams of military glory and would not listen. His eventual failure, amid terrible loss of life, brought the age of the crusades to its inglorious end.
Donald Spoto, one of Francis of Assisi’s most recent biographers, rightly calls Francis “the first person from the West to travel to another continent with the revolutionary idea of peacemaking.” As a result of his inability to convince Cardinal Pelagius, however, Francis saw himself as a failure. Like his model, Jesus of Nazareth, Francis was an extremist. But his failure is still capable of bearing new fruit.
Islamic society and Christian society have been generally bad neighbors now for nearly 14 centuries, eager to misunderstand each other, often borrowing culturally and intellectually from each other without ever bestowing proper credit. But as Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, has written, almost as if he was thinking of Kamil and Francis, “Those who are confident of their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faiths of others. ... There are, surely, many ways of arriving at this generosity of spirit and each faith may need to find its own.” We stand in desperate need of contemporary figures like Kamil and Francis of Assisi to create an innovative dialogue. To build a future better than our past, we need, as Rabbi Sacks has put it, “the confidence to recognize the irreducible, glorious dignity of difference.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Thomas Cahill is the author of “Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art From the Cults of Catholic Europe.”

Merry Christmas!

From our household to yours. We wish you many blessings from the sometimes tearful and more often cheerful chaos of this little household west of Philadelphia headed by a single mom and ruled by her two uppity and delightful kids. In this miniscule rancher, where gift wrapping seems to spill out of every corner, 1. Jesus reigns (when we are good) but Santa still climbs down the chimney once a year 2. the children wish for the moon but seem happy when they get a few stars. 3. the Pffeferneuse never taste the same as they did when my mother made them, but are still pretty darned good, blanketing the air with the smells of clove, cardamom and cinnamon-a feast for the senses 4. the kids have a great dad, allowing us to celebrate the holiday together in friendship and appreciation 5. Christmas isn't magic in the same way as it was when I was a kid, but has its own, contemporary marvels as I see it through my children's eyes and 6. love continues to surprise us May your day be full of graces small and large-and the moments in which to revel in them.