mardi, décembre 29, 2015

"Vatican Prophecies": a primer on miracles, exorcisms, apparitions and other supernatural phenomena

An interview with  writer John Thavis, an expert Vaticanista who takes us behind closed doors as the Holy See looks into testimonials from the four corners of the world, employing medical experts, skeptics, theologians and an army of experts to decide whether these occurences are illusions - or miracles.

vendredi, décembre 25, 2015

And strangely fell our Christmas Day

To-night ungather'd let us leave
      This laurel, let this holly stand:
      We live within the stranger's land,
And strangely falls our Christmas-eve.
Our father's dust is left alone
      And silent under other snows:
      There in due time the woodbine blows,
The violet comes, but we are gone.
No more shall wayward grief abuse
      The genial hour with mask and mime;
      For change of place, like growth of time,
Has broke the bond of dying use.
Let cares that petty shadows cast,
      By which our lives are chiefly proved,
      A little spare the night I loved,
And hold it solemn to the past.
Alfred Lord Tennyson In Memoriam CV

It wasn't until I escaped the house late this afternoon and strolled towards the elementary school across the street that I finally felt a sense of peace settle over me.

Grey light (there had been just a few breaks of sunshine throughout the day) erased the line between afternoon and dusk.   The rain which had come down intermittently throughout the day made the ground soft under my feet. At the end of the school driveway, several people (I couldn't distinguish teenager from adult) tossed a ball back and forth between them.

As evening came on swiftly, I found myself almost alone on the path, yet more at home than I would have been in a house full of people.

Christmas is tough, harder this year than in many past, and there have been numerous challenging ones. For years, after the death of my brother and then, in swift succession, my mom, it was almost impossible to rejoice.

The birth of my two children allowed space in which to construct a few family traditions - the creche, the simple ornaments my mother had lovingly collected, the huge tree which sat in our brownstone music room replaced by a less spacious, ambitious pine.

But a marriage also provides a ready-made family.  In the years since the kid's dad and I separated, we have maintained a husk of those traditions - but what we have lost, perhaps what we never had, is the joint effort, the spiritual anchor, that binds a family celebration together.

The holiday also raises a host of discomfiting questions - why don't we fit in anywhere? Who are our friends? Where is our "tribe"? If I was less of a loner..if I had joined the HSA...if I was a more conventional Christian, if I volunteered more...

I want my little family to be desired, to be desirable - never an object of someone's second thought. At the same time, I know that there are many like us who, for whatever reason, whether it's a lack of local family, divorce, or unconventional lifestyles, don't fit the boxes.

I have a feeling that my son will find his tribe.  There is a cost for patrolling the periphery, as an old friend who used to work at the Inquirer used to call it - and I often don't think it's worth the cost.

At the same time, walking by the cars lined up in the subdivision a few blocks away, the aroma of Christmas dinners perfuming the damp air, lights twinkling in the fast-growing darkness of this winter season, after a challenging day in which we skated on thin ice, an afternoon which could have been a catastrophe...I reclaimed the mantle of the solitary observer stalking the habitat of those who find solace in each other's company.

Equivocal comfort indeed. But for tonight, it would probably have to do.

lundi, décembre 14, 2015

That day I had "the talk" with my son

In a time of terror and anti-Muslim rage, this mom, a Christian of Jewish heritage, had a frank conversation with her son, a teenager in high school. If they attack your Muslim friends, you must stand up and defend them, I said.

jeudi, novembre 26, 2015

Keeping the faith in an anxious American moment

A conversation with University of Pennsylvania chaplain Chaz Howard about fear, gratitude, new generations, and how this Thanksgiving differs from the norm.

samedi, novembre 14, 2015

Yes, we are at war

In a Mexican-themed restaurant in West Philadelphia, we celebrated my cousin's daughter's graduation to the next step of her career - a gouache of ceviche, sangria, jicama salad and lively chatter.

Over the past decade,   the neighborhood that is home to the University of Pennsylvania has become a lively hub for ethnic restaurants (and chains), upscale makeup boutiques, and a nightlife designed to appeal to sophomores and their visiting parents alike. 

At nine o'clock, the streets were crowded, mostly with young people on their way to hear music and sip lattes,  party with friends in a dormitory, or study for a Monday exam (not likely).

As my son steered expertly through the illuminated city, past the theaters and Chinese restaurants and the darkened Catholic basilica, I glanced at my Facebook page, then quickly turned to my BBC app.

And wept. "No. No. No."

Young people, like the ones on the Philly streets, gathered for a concert.  Families watching a soccer match, indulging in the (relatively) harmless national competition that Europeans seem to love (considerably less lethal than using swords and crossbows, which they did for centuries).  Couples eating in one of the city's countless restaurants.

ISIS knows no borders, respects no treaties, professes a toxic mockery of one of the world's ancient faiths. 

Not in my name, said countless shocked Muslims across the world today, awaking to news of this massacre.

Yes, we are at war .  But not with Islam.  Not with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria. 

We fight the people who slay innocents celebrating the small and great rituals of life on a Friday evening, doing what human beings have done after a work week is over as long as there has been civilization.

Which isn't to say that this war will be won with lethal force - it seems, at best, a most imperfect solution.  Or that those who simply assign this battle to the realm of Christian apolocalyptic are doing anything more than desperately trying to file this chaos in a place that comforts them.

But I do believe, affirming the words of Pope Francis this morning, that we are engaged in a battle to save all that is redemptive and human and civilized about modern life.

I haven't a clue as to how we will win. But I don't believe that we can, whether in France or America, find places anymore in which to duck and hide - and pretend, like children in the dark, they aren't coming for us. 

samedi, octobre 31, 2015

The Synod on the Family: a view from the Bishop's Chair

samedi, octobre 24, 2015

The Synod of Bishops got heated, but left a door open - why we should care

mardi, octobre 20, 2015

Children's book writer is willing to live with chaos in the interest of her art

samedi, octobre 10, 2015

London synagogue members, once rescued from Holocaust, now advocate for Syrian refugees

lundi, septembre 07, 2015

Still a staunch Republican, he's now an advocate for prison reform

Lancaster businessman Tom Zeager wouldn't visit his own brother in jail.  But a deal struck with a local prison chaplain more than 15 years ago changed the way he looks at life inside prison walls - and what his Christian faith calls him to do about changing it.

dimanche, août 30, 2015

Liberals and conservatives agree: our criminal justice system is broken

As states face prison overcrowding, and minor drug offenders languish behind bars, conservatives and liberals are coming together in Congress to come up with a more effect approach to sentencing and punishment.

Will it work? Only time will tell.

lundi, août 24, 2015

The tender sex

Perhaps it's time to walk away from this pain.

In this place, among those who know me,  I'll always be on the outside looking in. There's a history, a subtext, words that echo in the corridors and around corners.

These networks of social relationships that flourish  in the family network we call a congregation depend on being chosen - by someone.  And for whatever reasons, and the reasons are complicated, I haven't found my place.

Crying in the women's room - that's so high school, isn't it?

Actually, I don't think I did much crying in or outside the bathroom in my high school career.

I enjoyed the small independent school my sister and I attended. Besides, with a graduating class of only 21, give or take, it's hard to be too alienated from your classmates - you really can't afford not to get along.

A convert, a rebel, a questioner, I often find myself on the outskirts, observing - but I also treasure the authenticity of meaningful relationships. .

I enjoy the company of men, and their sometimes heady conversations - and appreciate  the company of some active, practical, grounded female friends.

I have a few - but not a posse.

It's too easy to stereotype women as indirect, cruel, mean girls stalking their kill, leaving the scene of the crime hand in hand with their pals...les femmes fatales.

No. These are well-meaning, faithful women striving to channel the best that is in them, bearers of grace for themselves and their families.

It isn't their fault that I am not of their tribe - and that when the time comes for them to celebrate, play, rent a beach house or plan a vacation, they look to one another - not seeing, perhaps, the woman sitting in the corner, who longs, for once, to be desired enough to be among the popular girls.

samedi, août 22, 2015

Can we find middle ground in the abortion wars? One scholar/activist thinks so

samedi, août 15, 2015

Capital punishment? "We're better than that" says a former Texas DA

samedi, août 08, 2015

Capital punishment and the changing American landscape

In rejecting the death penalty as a crime solution, the host of a conservative radio show and an activist African-American pastor are breaching old orthodoxies  and advocating for change across party lines.

dimanche, août 02, 2015

Holy what?

I talk about it a lot and sing about it often - but what on earth does it mean to be holy? Clueless, I asked a few good friends. Here's what they told me.

lundi, juillet 27, 2015

The lobster

An eye raised
Ears open to words whispered
Escaping in dreams
He will
Road across the way
Pebbles underfoot
Just out of reach
By reality
Anodyne ( beside him, she asks "what's that"?)
Undigested platitudes
Of life half-lived.
But no
This is his destiny
To embrace the reflected and not the real
Arms dissolve into chains
Endearments into mist
No idealist he
No longer
Around him
The waters rise
They simmer. 

samedi, juillet 11, 2015

Gay marriage wasn't only item on Episcopal Church agenda in Salt Lake City, say deputies

vendredi, juin 26, 2015

In Charleston acts of forgiveness, some hear reverberations of Amish grace

samedi, juin 20, 2015

A plainspoken pope's unmistakable message poses a challenge for all, mostly conservatives

vendredi, juin 19, 2015

The Charleston Massacre, white folk, and the mirror

Why are these white people using my black brothers for target practice?

That was one of the first thoughts I had when I had about the Charleston massacre of nine men and women at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
I can't wrap my mind around this. I don't understand. I refuse to understand, were thoughts that followed in quick succession. 
But I'm wrong.  Because if white folks like me don't try to grasp the depth o of the hatred some of those who share our pigmentation have for once enslaved and still persecuted citizens, we are part of the problem.

The church where this apparently deranged and certainly hateful and vicious young man allegedly took the lives of a librarian, a retired clergyman, a barber, the charismatic state senator/pastor who led it and others has a long and storied history of resistance to white oppression.

We'd like to believe that we are past that long and bloody chapter of our national history. But current events give that happy delusion the lie.

The reality of what we are up against as a nation is  grim and insidious - the rising and bloody tide of assaults mute testament to the fact that  we can't keep ducking the darkness anymore.

So many deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police or self-styled " neighborhood watchdogs".  So much hatred, amplified by social media.

On the flip side, access to platforms like Twitter has also boosted the increasing calls for accountability, including the way we choose to speak of violence against African-Americans.

As commentators like University of Pennsylvania  professor Anthea Butler have pointed out, we are quick to label white shooters as "loners" or "mentally ill" instead of the terrorists they are - terrorism that has long been part of the American narrative.

Or maybe we can. 

Move on. After all, we have before. 

Candidly, the fact that we are confronted with one tragedy after another on social media amplifies the temptation to become virtual voyeurs and leave it at that.

Less than a day and a half after the blood of innocent victims pooled on the floor of a house of worship, there are already calls for healing.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's got the answer - seek the death penalty for alleged shooter Dylann Storm Roof. Because more killing is always the answer, isn't it, Governor?

Others are quick to tag institutional racism as the sole issue, or to claim that we need more guns in places like churches (another way of blaming the victims, people who met Wednesday night to put into practice the teachings of the Lord they followed).

An act of terrorism can be an act of racism can be an act of gun violence. 

All of these behaviors can coexist in one person.  

We all have our crusades - and often, they are sophisticated ways of walling ourselves off from one another - another way of creating a narrative of dominance.

When we do that, nothing changes.

Perhaps now is the time to listen.  Listen to the voices of those who have been terrorized by the seemingly endless cycle of violence embedded in American culture.  Listen to the grief and feel the pain and face the righteous anger of our black brothers and sisters.

As someone whose ancestors suffered at the hands of racist killers who tagged  them with universal guilt, I'm wary of blaming "all whites" for the sins of some. 

But as distasteful as it is, Caucasian men and women like me might want to take a good look at the alleged killer.  We may not want to recognize him (overwhelmingly "hims") in our national story - or ancestry.

But our black friends and neighbors are familiar with him. And unless we speak out, unless we act, unless we start to pay attention, who would blame them for believing that his face looks remarkably like ours?

dimanche, juin 14, 2015

Why the Magna Carta still, matters, 800 years after "Bad King John" and his barons

mardi, juin 09, 2015

A single mother looks ahead and worries about what she sees

As I look down the road and see an empty nest ahead of me, I'm scared.

You see, I don't have that many deep friendships. I haven't become part of a natural rotation in too many people's lives, and it worries me. 

Next year my son, a junior in high school, will graduate. I also have a daughter, twenty going on 45 going on 16, who lives in a Northeast corridor city, finding her way mostly on her own.  She's less gone than she thinks she is, but right now she's far enough away that I can't mother her the way I continue to believe she needs to be mothered.

I have been fortunate so far to have had two callings (the word "job" doesn't begin to cover them) that I love. 

But being a parent? Raising the kids, more or less well, with all of the attendant bumps and moments of rapture and glee, has provided a structure and framework to my life - a purpose beyond all others, if I am honest. 

Now that the youngest is about to fly the coop, I'm taking a look at my social life - and not liking what I see.

As someone who has a lot of married friends, I find that they tend to move in circles that most often involve other married friends. If you doubt, this, ask yourself with whom you have spent time at dinners, or on vacations, or in conversations over a cup of coffee or a craft beer. I'll bet that, most often, it's people who live in circumstances similar to your own.

Some of you readers will probably shake your heads in disbelief. After all, though, I'm quite the introvert, I don't lack for connections. Endlessly curious about human behavior and life's mysteries, I have no difficulty starting conversations, or engaging others. I've got friends, people I like, even love.

Why is it, then, that most of my Friday nights, when my son is with his dad,  are spent reading and working more or less aimlessly on a novel at Barnes and Noble?

I live in the exurbs, and go to the suburbs for fun (yikes). Most of my friends are suburbanite married folk I have gotten to know through church(es), most definitely not hipster havens. 

Let me be clear - this isn't a blame game. It's not something anyone can "fix".

 And dear God, I'm not asking for pity.  My nightmare is being invited to events, not because I would add to a gathering, but because someone feels sorry for that "single mom" (a phrase I adjure most of the time because my kids have a capable father, thank you very much). 

When I first pondered writing about my anxiety in facing this life transition, I wondered if  those of you who read this post about friendship and the single mom will divide, naturally, into two camps.

Some of you, reading about the challenges of being friends with a neither-fish-nor-fowl like me, will wonder why I'm making such a fuss.  After all, those of you who are married have made a life-long commitment (even if it's not to be snarky, your second try as a divorcee or widow/er) to someone - and of course, he or she always come first. Everything gets run by your partner, because, well, isn't that the way it is?

Others will understand, because they have found, along the way, that diversity of friendships, including others in their social circles, enriches their lives and challenges them.

Neither of these two groups are better or worse than the other. I just need to seek out more folks in the second camp.

Which is tough for someone like me, who likes asking the questions and presenting other people's points of view much better than trolling for companions in thought, adventure and mischief. It requires remodeling - another transition - this one unsought, but necessary. 

I'll let you know how I do. 

And I'll try to move forward without bitterness, or regret, or even envy. Life is too short for self-pity.

Remind me, please.;

samedi, mai 30, 2015

In Texas, clergy minister "amid the rubble"

jeudi, mai 21, 2015

Jealous much

I don't happen to have the jealous gene.

 If you have to worry about outsiders ruining your relationship...well, maybe it wasn't such a good one to begin with.

Thank goodness for the philosophical attitude that comes with age.  I've seen some crazy high school dramas, involving threats, recriminations and even a visit from the police, .

One of my kids still allows herself to fall prey to the nonsense. The other avoids it like a contagion.

I've watched it wreak havoc in  adult relationships and cause unnecessary suffering - provoking wrath and pain that just adds to the toxicity of something that should be healthy and life-giving.

Sometimes jealousy becomes a game  - something to juice up a relationship, make it a little more exciting.

Jealousy - it's a bitch.

But perhaps to characterize it as female is unfair - it's a bipartisan little devil.

High school is over, kids.

Time to grow up.

mardi, mai 12, 2015

For PICO activists, this is a Kairos moment

samedi, avril 25, 2015

Grow up, guys

That day I'd just had it with Twitter snark...I wrote this. My April 24 column for LNP Media Group.

samedi, avril 04, 2015

Suffering? It's at the heart of the Easter story.

vendredi, mars 20, 2015

What do relics tell us about our quest for the historical Jesus? An interview with writer David Gibson

Are you fascinated by the Shroud of Turin? Do you wonder about the truth behind the fragment called (debatably) the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife"?  Curious about why the arguments about the authenticity of religious relics are so heated, so complex?

And what's the point of relics anyway?

Find out more in a conversation with David Gibson, co-author of the new exploration of six famous artifacts, "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery."

dimanche, mars 08, 2015

Facing the end of life in a community of Mercy

samedi, mars 07, 2015

When it comes to understanding Islam, Americans often fail to...

A conversation with John Esposito, the dean of Islamic studies in the United States.

mercredi, février 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday: everything you thought you knew - and the truth

On a quest for people who knew about the origins of Ash Wednesday, I found I didn't know as much as I thought I knew.

Ash Wednesday: Facts and lore - LancasterOnline: Faith Values

samedi, février 07, 2015

Lament for Kayla

Each time I saw a picture of one of the hostages murdered by ISIS show up on my news feed, it was like a punch to the gut.

There were no grade-B personalities in that lot - everyone of them had already made the world a different place, a better place, with their courage, compassion and youthful (to me, anyway) idealism.

But when the terrorist group asserted that the Jordanians had killed female hostage Kayla Mueller by bombing the house in which she was imprisoned, the pain was indescribable.

Already their claim has been discounted by experts who suggest that it would be very strange if a bomb killed one prisoner and not her captives.  Besides, we have no reason to believe anything ISIS says, including their assertion that they are part of any recognized Islamic tradition - except for their pledge to destroy Western nations and individuals.

Experts also wonder if Kayla Mueller hasn't been killed already. Considering what ISIS has done to females already, it's probably naive to think they would stop at murdering a Western woman.

As writer Michael Daly said today in the Daily Beast, the horror they have inflicted on each family may be even, if possible, worse in this case: parents and friends have no body, no evidence, no testament to reality.  They exist in the strange half-life of those who both hope and mourn, each day rent between the two.

To see Kayla's face is to be struck by the innocence of a life yet mostly unlived, free of wrinkles and lines, the bright eyes caught mid-laughter or staring cloudlessly at the lens. It is the visage of a young woman become an adult, a person who had seen more than her share of suffering in her trips to help refugees abroad and yet remained hopeful and positive.

To read Kayla's words, detailed in a statement her family released, is to see America's best face turned to the world.  Her faith in the power of compassion and in faith itself, reproaches those of us marinated in cynicism.

“Kayla found this work heartbreaking but compelling; she is extremely devoted to the people of Syria,” her family said in a statement. “When asked what kept her going in her mission, she said, ‘I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine, if this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you.’”

And that is why, even if, God forbid, something atrocious did happen to the 26-year-old girl who stares guilelessly back at us in those photos, the worst thing we could do is to lay down the banner she took up.  Because if we surrender our own faith,  then the powers of hell have won.

I confess, it's  harder than I personally ever imagined to feel them so close.

What must it be like for her family?

Please pray for them, weep with them, hope besides them - and never give up believing that in the end, good will win out.

dimanche, janvier 11, 2015

The Philadelphia Inquirer version of "Pourquoi je ne suis pas Charlie"

mercredi, janvier 07, 2015

Pourquoi je ne suis pas Charlie - and why you might not be either

Like many of you,  I awoke to horror on Wednesday.

If you haven't been in a newspaper office, it's a remarkably nondescript place.  Cubicles, perhaps. Ranks of computers.  Desks that are often piled high with papers. Neatness in a journalist may be seen as a sign of a disordered mind - or a lack of useful sources.

 The quiet of a library where the librarian sometimes allows visitors to talk in a loud whisper.

Even a media outlet that produced raucous, edgy and often frankly offensive content like Charlie Hebdo probably was a rather ordinary venue, peopled with provocative caricaturists who stepped on as many sensitive toes as they could find, writers, and support staff.

Until today.

It still is almost impossible to take in the idea that a few bursts of gunfire robbed the world of some of its best cartoonists.

Terrifyingly, the men who massacred the magazine staff in cold blood were apparently French nationals, homegrown Islamic extremists.

You might not approve of everything featured in the pages of Charlie Hebdo. Odds are that something would rub you the wrong way, or even infuriate you.

But until today, those who us who grew up with the ideal of free speech as intuitive a belief as faith in language itself rested secure (relatively) that they were free to produce and disseminate it.

Relatively, I say - because it had been clear for a while that the newspaper, firebombed once before, was a target. Stephane Charbonnier, the editor who lost his life today with eleven others, already was under police protection, it is being reported.

And that, in part, is why "Je suis Charlie" though an admirable affirmation of solidarity, doesn't quite ring true.

The fact is that these men and women probably knew every day when they came into work that their lives might be in danger. That took bravery, commitment and principle.

The rise of  the anti-Islamist, anti-immigration right wing,  coupled with an increase in radicalized native-born and immigrant Muslims, is creating a tinderbox in Europe.

Though God knows America has its racial, ethnic and religious problems, they are to some extent ameliorated by the vastness of our country,  the fact that we have a legal, longstanding but imperfect commitment to tolerance, and our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

Am I Charlie? I doubt it.  As much as it hurts to confess it, I'm just not that brave.

It's all too easy to proclaim ourselves in solidarity with those who have already made the ultimate sacrifice for free speech as we sit in our cozy homes behind a monitor and feel the urge to do something, say something, say anything.

But when the rubber meets the road, I question how many of us would defend to the death someone's right to free speech.  After all, this is a nation where huge swathes of citizens don't even bother to vote.

The Parisians still in shock over bloodshed in their midst who held defiant vigil against barbarism today? They might with some justice say "Je suis Charlie."

A dear friend and his colleagues in a newspaper office in Paris, possibly wondering if they might be next? Perhaps.

The cartoonists who spoke with their pens today against terrorism, who will not be intimidated? They are also potential Charlies.

But me? Or you? Think twice before you hashtag yourself.

There may come a time when indeed we will be called upon to raise our hand when someone calls our name and say, yes, I am Charlie.

But unless we are willing to put our principles front and center when someone offends Christians Jews or other groups we hold sacred, until we are willing and able to speak out on behalf of that which outrages our own sensibilities because we believe so profoundly in free speech, until that moment comes when we are challenged to put up or shut up?

Non, I say sadly, je ne suis pas Charlie.