samedi, octobre 06, 2007

Call for submissions (not submission)

I'm going to be pulling together a proposal for a book anthologizing clergywomen who are mothers-something like, "Reverend Mama." I'm looking for women interested in writing essays for that book. Ordination is useful, but not totally a prerequisite-but having been published in a magazine, newspaper, ezine or journal is a prerequisite...unless you have been told by everyone who hears you preach that you are so hot you should have been a writer! I'm looking for intimate, revelatory, confessional prose on a parenting topic of your choice. It can be as diverse as relating to moms in your congregation or how you and your spouse divide childcare when you are on call all the time.

Use your a comment with an email where you can be reached. I'll respond privately to you if you don't want your comment published.
This is a story of middle-aged priest Patrick Desbois, impelled through the countryside of the Ukraine, where fields and villages and trees shelter the bones of more than a million Jews. The Times reporter attempts to understand why he would care about what happened to the fathers and mothers and children-the women, stripped naked and shot, a six year old's best friend, children buried alive in a pit because the assassins only had one bullet per Jew.

Pere Desbois bears witness to nightmares that must sometimes haunt his dreams-but what is it about his faith that allows him to keep going back? How has it affected his faith?What is his community? Who nurtures him?

And then the mystery- why are some people capable of such extraordinary work? Desbois boldly stands up and says-your memory is sacred to the silent bones of the butchered. There is as much of a mystery about those who choose to do good as those who act evil-more.

I wish I had a clue.

October 6, 2007
The Saturday Profile
A Priest Methodically Reveals Ukrainian Jews’ Fate
PARIS, Oct. 5 — His subjects were mostly children and teenagers at the time, terrified witnesses to mass slaughter. Some were forced to work at the bottom rung of the Nazi killing machine — as diggers of mass graves, cooks who fed Nazi soldiers and seamstresses who mended clothes stripped from the Jews before execution.
They live today in rural poverty, many without running water or heat, nearing the end of their lives. So Patrick Desbois has been quietly seeking them out, roaming the back roads and forgotten fields of Ukraine, hearing their stories and searching for the unmarked common graves. He knows that they are an unparalleled source to document the murder of the 1.5 million Jews of Ukraine, shot dead and buried throughout the country.
He is neither a historian nor an archaeologist, but a French Roman Catholic priest. And his most powerful tools are his matter-of-fact style — and his clerical collar.
The Nazis killed nearly 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine after their invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. But with few exceptions, most notably the 1941 slaughter of nearly 34,000 Jews in the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev, much of that history has gone untold.
Knocking on doors, unannounced, Father Desbois, 52, seeks to unlock the memories of Ukrainian villagers the way he might take confessions one by one in church.
“At first, sometimes, people don’t believe I’m a priest,” said Father Desbois in an interview this week. “I have to use simple words and listen to these horrors — without any judgment. I cannot react to the horrors that pour out. If I react, the stories will stop.”
Over four years, Father Desbois has videotaped more than 700 interviews with witnesses and bystanders and has identified more than 600 common graves of Jews, most of them previously unknown. He also has gathered material evidence of the execution of Jews from 1941 to 1944, the “Holocaust of bullets” as it is called.
Often his subjects ask Father Desbois to stay for a meal and to pray, as if to somehow bless their acts of remembrance. He does not judge those who were assigned to carry out tasks for the Nazis, and Holocaust scholars say that is one reason he is so effective.
“If a Jewish taker-of-testimony comes, what would people think — that this is someone coming to accuse,” said Paul Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. “When a priest comes, people open up. He brings to the subject a kind of legitimacy, a sense that it’s O.K. to talk about the past. There’s absolution through confession.”
Unlike in Poland and Germany, where the Holocaust remains visible through the searing symbols of the extermination camps, the horror in Ukraine was hidden away, first by the Nazis, then by the Soviets.
“There was nothing to see in Ukraine because people were shot to death with guns,” said Thomas Eymond-Laritaz, president of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, Ukraine’s largest philanthropic organization. “That’s why Father Desbois is so important.”
The foundation helped underwrite a conference on the subject at the Sorbonne this week — the first to bring together Western and Ukrainian scholars — and has begun contributing funds to Father Desbois’s project.
Some of the results of Father Desbois’s research — including video interviews, wartime documents, photographs of newly uncovered mass graves, rusty bullets and shell casings and personal possessions of the victims — are on display for the first time at an exhibit at the Memorial of the Shoah in the Marais district of Paris.
The exhibit shows, for example, images of the 15 mass graves of several thousand Jews in a commune called Busk that Father Desbois and his team discovered and began excavating after interviewing several witnesses. Among hundreds of other items on display is a black-and-white photo from 1942 that shows a German police officer shooting naked Jewish women lying in a ravine in the Rivne region.
Traveling with a team that includes two interpreters, a photographer, a cameraman, a ballistics specialist, a mapping expert and a notetaker, Father Desbois records all the stories on video, sometimes holding the microphone himself, and asking questions in simple language and a flat tone.
In Buchach in 2005, Regina Skora told Father Desbois that as a young girl she witnessed executions.
“Did the people know they were going to be killed?” Father Desbois asked her.
“How did they react?”
“They just walked, that’s all. If someone couldn’t walk, they told him to lie on the ground and shot him in the back of the neck.”
Vera Filonok said she was 16 when she watched from the porch of her mud hut in Konstantinovka in 1941 as thousands of Jews were shot, thrown into a pit and set on fire. Those who were still alive writhed “like flies and worms,” she said.
There are stories of how the Nazis drummed on empty buckets to avoid having to listen to the screams of their victims, how Jewish women were made sex slaves of the Nazis and then executed. One witness said that as a 6-year-old he hid and watched as his best friend was shot to death.
Other witnesses described how the Nazis were allowed only one bullet to the back per victim and that the Jews sometimes were buried alive. “One witness told of how the pit moved for three days, how it breathed,” Father Desbois recalled.
Father Desbois became haunted by the history of the Nazis in Ukraine as a child growing up on the family farm in the Bresse region of eastern France. His paternal grandfather, who was deported to a prison camp for French soldiers in Rava-Ruska, on the Ukrainian side of the Polish border, told the family nothing about the experience. But he confessed to his relentlessly curious grandson, “For us it was bad, for ‘others’ it was worse.”
There were other family links to the German occupation of France. One maternal cousin who carried letters for French resisters perished in a Nazi concentration camp. Father Desbois’s mother told him only recently that the family hid dozens of resisters on the farm.
After teaching mathematics as a French government employee in West Africa and working in Calcutta for three months with Mother Teresa, he joined the priesthood. His secular family was horrified.
He started as a parish priest, studying Judaism and learning Hebrew during a stint in Israel. He asked to work with Gypsies, ex-prisoners or Jews, and was appointed as a bridge to France’s Jewish community.
It was on a tour with a group in 2002 that, visiting Rava-Ruska, he asked the mayor where the Jews were buried. The mayor said he did not know.
“I knew that 10,000 Jews had been killed there, so it was impossible that he didn’t know,” Father Desbois recalled.
The following year, a new mayor took the priest to a forest where about 100 villagers had gathered in a semicircle, waiting to tell their stories and to help uncover the graves buried beneath their feet.
He met other mayors and parish priests who helped find more witnesses. In 2004, Father Desbois created Yahad-In Unum, an organization devoted to Christian-Jewish understanding run from a tiny office in a working-class neighborhood in northeastern Paris, backed and largely financed by a Holocaust foundation in France and the Catholic Church.
To verify witnesses’ testimony, Father Desbois relies heavily on a huge archive of Soviet-era documents housed in the Holocaust museum in Washington, as well as German trial archives. He registers an execution or a grave site only after obtaining three independent accounts from witnesses.
Only one-third of Ukrainian territory has been covered so far, and it will take several more years to finish the research. A notice at the exit of the Paris exhibit asks that any visitor with information about victims of Nazi atrocities in Ukraine leave a note or send an e-mail message.
“People talk as if these things happened yesterday, as if 60 years didn’t exist,” Father Desbois said. “Some ask, ‘Why are you coming so late? We have been waiting for you.’”

vendredi, octobre 05, 2007

The Mom Job

A few days ago the NYT ran an article on a new type of plastic surgery. Termed the "Mom job", this is made for women who aren't pleased with their post-pregnancy body.

Your breasts sag a bit from months of breast-feeding? Dr. Jones can take care of that for you. How about that tummy? A bit of liposuction can have you as taut (well, close) as you were before baby pushed all of your muscles out of their six-pack glory.

There are women who have real issues after giving birth. Some struggle with major weight gain. Some have back problems. Some have other, gynecological issues we won't mention here.

Why the heck do we want to make women feel that, even after the incredible achievement and joy of giving birth, they have to measure up to the glossy standards of a lingerie model?

As a Christian, I find this even more upsetting. We are created in the image of God-yes, women, too. Without going all God-as-mother here, let me just say that I believe God loves our bodies. I think that parental love encompasses every droop and tummy mark where an embryonic hand woke us up in the middle of the night, reminding us of our calling to birth the flesh that becomes, was becoming, will become the mystery of a child.

How dare they meddle with this mystery?

mercredi, octobre 03, 2007

The character of courage

I've been thinking about courage a lot recently. Not the kind of courage one has when facing an enemy in a fight where guns are cocked and fists are flailing, but the type one needs when facing a prickly situation.

A few days ago I was driving my son to meet his dad. "Mom, I saw two bees mating," he told me. Oh oh, was he preparing for the sex talk, I wondered? "How did you know they were mating?" I asked him.

He explained that they were stuck together. Then he commented that the kids he was with had killed the bees.

That took my mind off sex in a hurry. How cruel, I said. He agreed-then he added that he should have stopped them "but I didn't have the courage."

Maybe I'm giving him too much credit (me?), but I find this an amazingly mature statement for a ten year old. I told him that sometimes we had courage, and sometimes we didn't, and not to be too hard on himself.

I want him to be brave, but I also want him to have common sense. I want him to have school friends, but I also want him to stand up for what is just and moral and kind.

I tend to think I have a kind of native bravery-or, more accurately, that I am compelled to speak where other people might be quiet. When I meet guys, one of my criteria for pursuing relationships is their ability to handle the tough times-communication that calls for saying hard things in a way that builds up rather than tears down. I find, often, that it is sometimes easier to run than to stand one's ground.

I can't imagine that feels very good-but the habits of years are difficult to break.

I know, first-hand. I've recently found myself in a situation where I have stayed in my sanctuary rather than confront someone close to me-and it has cost me some self-respect. We may have all kinds of excellent reasons for not facing up to cruelty or for choosing to walk away from situations that make us uncomfortable-but is that worth the price of losing part of ourselves?

mardi, octobre 02, 2007

Just a little respect

Mr. C has a bit of his mom's take-no-prisoners style of humor. I told his baseball coach he was welcome to tell him to be quiet while in the dugout (or in centerfield, for that matter). At Sunday's game I was blessed to stand near the home team dugout, a wonderful place to hear Colin keep up an endless steam of commentary on the baseball game being played, his particular spot in the lineup, and other games he had seen. "He's calling the game, he thinks he's Harry Kalas," said his volunteer coach, a wonderful man named Mike, who seemed more amused than upset.

That night I was lying next to my boy on the bed just before he went to sleep. As all parents know, that's sometimes one of the best times to learn what's on your child's mind, when they are vulnerable and often willing to share the things that scare them or worry them.

I'm afraid that I wasn't prepared for what came out of my little comedian's mouth this time. I told him something he had done or something we saw was cute. I can't remember what it was, but he told me "Mom, you think everything is cute. You think George W. Bush is cute." Stunned by the unfairness of this comment, I was silent.

Following the train of thought into even more challenging territory, Mr. C. said: "My Cub Scout leader says you should respect the President."

I was baffled. What do I say to that? Of course, you respect the office of the President-but what does it mean to respect a position, when you don't respect the man?

Giving me no chance to respond, he said with great glee: "Get a life!"

I know what I should have said. I know what any respectable parent would have said. Instead, I just laughed, kissed him good night....and told his father, the next time we chatted, that he would have explain this so very adult concept to Mr. a time when his nice Cub Scout leader was nowhere in sight.

lundi, octobre 01, 2007

Older dog, new tricks?

I went for a walk with a younger friend on Saturday. He's a local guy (an engineer) who posted his portrait on the Internet dating site where I have my profile. For some reason, we have become friends. Hacking through rose bushes and weeds, walking briskly through the fall fields in our state park, we talked about the volatile state of our attempts to find love online. Which, by the way, I'm finding is very challenging.

Sometimes my friend, an admirable guy with a wonderful EIQ (emotional intelligence quotient) slips up and drops in a line that tells me that he thinks there is a large age gap between my generation and his. On good days, he keeps me humble. On not so great days, he contributes to my sense of self-doubt.

Saturday he said that the older one was, the harder it was to change. I've considered myself to be fairly flexible in that regard-I'm rather proud of my ability to take in new information, even if I don't agree, to apologize, to try to make changes or at least boundaries, and to move on. But I wonder: is he on to something? Am I really able to hear difficult feedback and evaluate its usefulness, to get past defensiveness and open up new channels of communication?

I think this is a difficult arena for many-and I'm still not sure that age is the biggest indice here-our emotional flexiblity might have more to do with temperament than chronology.