Thursday, February 12, 2009


sorry for the long time away. I will try to add some thoughts soon. We are still unpacking.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

People I met on the path - Jolene

In 1976 I was living as a missionary in the Yucatan section of Mexico giving palliative care to the dying and translating for medical teams that came from the US to help people who had no medical care.

While I was at the mission I met two remarkable American nurses who were traveling for pleasure and adventure. They helped out with some of the mission work and they had worked as volunteers in disasters in the US.

When the earthquake struck in neighboring Guatemala they insisted on going in and dragged me along as a translator because their Spanish was inadequate. Jolene was a large, very pretty natural blonde of the type you see in our mid-west. Nearly 6 feet tall, large boned, muscular and quietly self-confident, she radiated the strength of the legendary giantesses of fable. I never saw her at a loss in any situation. She was always calm, always very compassionate and steady. Being with her while the earth shook like a mad thing and adobe bounced around us like children's blocks and the lines of wounded humans stretched as far as we could see seemed manageable somehow and I depended on her as if she were a guardian angel miraculously made flesh.

We had numerous wonderful, generous doctors volunteering their time and skill and we also had interns and residents sent by their respective training institutions as part of what they had to do to graduate. The latter were not always suited for the work. One young resident was completely overwhelmed by the constant flood of wounded and gangrenous patients, the 20 hour work day where we often laid down right in the treatment tent while the line laid down outside, for two hours sleep then up and going again. This took a toll on all of us but young Ricardo had some chemical help to rely on. He was a speed freak with the typical sores on his face and all the behavioral oddities of the species.

As the days ground along we all wore thin and raggedy in our nerves but the doctors rotated out and they only had to last 6 days. By day 5 Ricardo had crossed over into the surreal. A country woman had come for an eye wound. She had been holding one of her chickens when an aftershock began. The animals always knew long before the humans when a quake was starting. They could feel it or hear it and often their erratic behavior was the best first warning we got. This particular chicken had freaked out and sunk its claw deep into the woman's face. The worst part of her wound was a cut that tore from inside the corner of her eye out to her hairline. The claw had been dirty and the wound was contaminated.

Ricardo was from a wealthy family and had an attitude that some humans were more human than other humans. Jolene had sedately and respectfully corrected this thinking more than once and she had tweaked him into a semblance of being a real doctor. But by day 5 her teaching had evaporated and he decided not to clean this poor old country woman's wound and he was going to sew it shut with no pain injection and the filth inside. I tried to talk to him but I was summarily dismissed. As he prepared his needle and thread I ran for Jolene.

Jolene came. She never ran but with those long legs I had to run like a lunatic just to keep up with her purposeful stride. When she got to Ricardo she very calmly and respectfully asked about the procedure. I translated. He basically told her to back off, he didn't have time or energy to waste on the poor woman and he was the doctor. A muscle jumped in Jolene's jaw and the reached out and grasped the doctor by the front of his white coat. She hoisted him up in the air so that his face was level with hers and his feet were about 5 inches off the ground. Face to face, calmly, quietly, she told him exactly how he was going to proceed with the patient. She told him that I was going to observe and report the result to her. She also told him that it was going to be in the best tradition of medicine or he was never going to practice medicine anywhere even after she beat the shit out of him.
He indicated that he understood and that he would obey (all nonverbally because his throat was somewhat compressed)

Jolene set him down gently, brushed some of the wrinkles from his coat and said, "Thank you, Doctor." She left. After treating the patient appropriately, he left. He could deal with the danger of aftershocks and tumbling rock but Jolene was just too much for him.

She is one of my heroes.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Getting the bag

Once upon a time there were three little children. Their parents had divorced and the children were living with their mother and her parents. It was a depression and everyone was poor. There was never enough to eat or enough heat to be really warm and there was never, never any candy.

But the grandparents were kind and good and the youngest, three year old Patsy had a special and very loving relationship with her grandpa. She secretly suspected that she was his favorite although nothing was ever said about it.

One day Grandpa came home and called the three children into the living room. He was sitting in his big chair and he had a paper bag in his hand. When the children were all lined up in front of him he put his hand into the bag and pulled out a piece of candy. The children were so stunned that they stood paralyzed and mute. Grandpa handed the candy to Bobby. He was five and the oldest. Next he gave a piece to Teri. He then crumpled up the bag and handed it to Patsy saying, "Throw this in the coal bucket."

Patsy was a very obedient child and she ran and did as she was told and then she went out into the yard under the apple tree and cried her little heart out. Oh, how she wanted a piece of candy. She had dreamed and hoped for candy. But even worse was the thought that her grandpa, who she had always believed loved her especially could have been so mean, cruel and unfair.

In a little while grandpa came strolling through the yard. He saw the little one with her head bent in dejection, her face swollen and tear stained and he said, "Patsy did you look in that bag before you threw it in the coal bucket? No? Well go get it and look in it."

Patsy went to the bucket. The crumpled bag was still there, wrinkled, dirty and ugly with black dust. She picked it up and opened it. In the bag were two pieces of candy. Her grandpa DID love her with a special love AND she got candy too.

Sometimes disease, death, the loss of someone we deeply love or some other catastrophe of life hits us. When it does we think that God has abandoned us or maybe we had been deluding ourselves that he really loved us especially. We think our Lord has given us the bag. But in every case we should look for the present in that crumpled up old bag. It's ALWAYS there.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Development of the human - three stages

Development. It seems that I've been studying it all of my life. Observing humanity in all its phases and the generosity of the people who have shared the secret stories of their lives in counseling have taught me many things. It seems to me that life advances in three stages. In stage one we are taken care of. In stage two we learn to care for ourselves. In stage three we care for others.

In the first stage we are children and we are taken care of. Every baby who survives has been cared for to some extent, well cared for or badly cared for. There is usually one main provider and a group of support providers who make it possible for the human to move through the years from birth to approximately 12. From 12 to early twenties we are in the autonomy phase and are seeking the skills and understanding to take care of ourselves. One who completes this phase successfully can say "I take care of myself. I pay my own bills". In actuality I hear this phrase from many 40, 50 and even 60 year olds who seem to think that their adolescent and self centered functioning is the pinnacle of their life goals. Fully developed people move from taking care of themselves to taking care of others. From approximately 22 on we nurture the lives of our spouses and children, our old ones, and the other neighbors who we have in our lives (siblings, friends, students, patients, neighbors).

Those who get stuck in stage two I refer to as Guys and Gals. They don't get the joy and peace that results from moving into stage three and they suffer a stunted, chronically adolescent life. Men and women advance into stage three in differing levels of success. Those who put some energy into spiritual growth have a heightened adulthood in that they extend the definition of others to include the poor, the marginalized, the people that are very different from themselves (the alien) and some, ultimately, move to loving their enemies (even those who actively work against their very lives). These I think of as having moved beyond adulthood and into the realm of the next Life phase. These are the saints.

In essence all the skills, knowledge and experience that we acquire through our childhood and student years have a purpose. Some work and strive to win, be the best. Their motivation is pride in their own talents and strengths. They want to climb higher than those around them. Our goats remind me of these people. Goats are always juggling for position. If there is a little rise of ground in the field the dominant goat will want it and if she moves a little farther off to graze the others will start to contend for the highest ground. The traditional school system plants and nurtures this thinking in many overt and subtle ways. Students are constantly encouraged to focus on the competition for college slots and scholarships. Work hard in school and you will beat everyone out for the good schools, good jobs, good life. You will win, others will lose. It's you against the world. The constant end goal in these encouragements is stage 2.

To help people become fully adult men and women we should point out the goal from their youths. The goal is to strive to become giving, nurturing, loving people. We develop our bodies, intellects, skills, talents so that we can share them with our neighbor (who includes our parents, siblings, spouses, children and everyone else in the world). We learn so that we can teach. We get strong so that we can give a strong hand to helping. We learn to sing well so that we can share joy and beauty with the world, not so that we can drown them out and forever sing solo.

God is so good in the way He teaches us to love. Babies don't really love they just receive love. As they grow they learn to love their parents and siblings then a friend. The first friend is usually the same gender and frequently has the same coloring and build. Many kids in their first friendship even choose to dress alike and wear their hair in the same style. The easiest love to learn is to love someone very much like ourselves.
Later we discover the opposite gender and much of the wonder of it all is that they don't look like us; don't talk or walk like us; and they certainly don't think like us. We begin to learn to love the OTHER and this is the first step to loving the alien, the stranger, the person of different race, language and culture. As we learn that someone doesn't have to be anything at all like us to be loved, we move toward the ability to love our enemy and to do good to those who hate us. This is the Gospel goal and the mark of the saint.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Self rule is the only rule

I get a kick out of political discussion of self rule as an option. After studying history for many years including monarchies, clans or tribes, dictatorships (benign and otherwise); after living under a representative democracy and a one-party controlled third world government and after raising three teenagers in a Catholic family immersed in a pagan culture I’ve come to the belief that self rule is the only rule there is.

That’s right – self rule is IT!

Governments rule with the consent of the governed or there is chaos. For any group of humans the ability to live in an orderly way begins with the ability to control ONESELF. A person must develop self discipline along with the development of his/her will.

What is the will? It is the only thing I have that I can offer to God. Can a person offer God his good looks or intelligence or the strength of his body? Yes, of course but only in the way that he chooses to use them, because they are all primarily gifts that the Father has given to that individual. The only real gift that we give freely to God is our will. This free will is the essential ingredient for the possibility for love.

Let me explain. When my children were little I was a very affectionate mother and I would frequently ask them for hugs and kisses which they very generously and happily gave me. One day while I was washing dishes and my mind was focused on my own eccentric thoughts my daughter ran up to me and hugged me around my knee and looked up into my face and said very intently and happily, “I love you so much, Mommy.” I actually felt my heart melt. This love given with no request, spontaneously, because she felt it, could only be given because she was free not to love me. This is what the Lord of the universe seeks. He doesn’t need our love. He is complete in Himself. He IS love. But He gives us the opportunity too choose to be like Him in loving Him and each other – or not. Or not.

As our children grew it was love and the respect that grows from love (the recognition that our children are really God’s children and we are answerable to Him for how we raise and care for His children) that made it possible for the governed to give their consent to our authority. Seeing that we obeyed a higher authority ourselves showed them a modeling for obedience that encouraged them when obedience was hard. Obedience is almost always hard.

I am 5 years older than my husband and much more verbal. In fact one day I overheard my 2 year old in the next room making a peculiar sort of sound pattern. I turned off the dish water and stood quietly while I listened to high pitched repetition of “Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na (then a low guttural) Nuh Nuh…Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na …Nuh Nuh. I thought this was very peculiar and peeked around the door to investigate. She had the mommy doll in her right hand (long, long squeally na na) then the Daddy doll’s turn (two gruff Nuh Nuh’s). How embarrassing! How revealing!

This same daughter approached me when she was about three and had gotten the understanding that age gave increased status and said, “Why do you listen to Daddy? You’re older than him and you’re smarted than him. (That was and is debatable). I said, “I obey Daddy because God asked me to and I like to make God happy. You are a very smart girl and for the rest of your life you are probably never going to have a boss who is smarter than you but you will have to obey your boss because God wants us to obey authority in everything that is not bad. That means that sometimes your boss will be wrong about the best way to do something or he may choose a project that isn’t smart but that is OK to obey. But if he asks you to do something that is wrong you must disobey to obey God Who is the big boss over everybody.

I also obey Daddy because it easier to learn how to do something if you can watch someone else do it. Obedience is very hard to do especially for me so I practice it a lot so you can see someone doing it.”

As they grew and I watched them “practicing” obedience I became more and more aware that their compliance with our rules and wishes was a GIFT. Authority is hard to hold and impose - placing boundaries and walls on behaviors and then moving those boundaries constantly wider as the strength to self govern increases in the young humans we guide. But if they don’t learn to self rule they will never really grow.

I was counseling once with the mother of a ten year old boy who could not bring herself to put any limits on his behavior at all. He was bright and handsome and she was besotted with him to the point that he was becoming a real barbarian. She had come to me at the urging of her husband who was banned from any interaction with the son that required limits and was slowly being pushed completely out of the child’s life. I told her that for the son to succeed in life he had to learn to obey. She said she just couldn’t stand to see him sad or disappointed or frustrated. I told her, “He will learn to obey from someone in this world. If it’s not you and your husband it will be a boot camp sergeant or a prison guard. I think it would be a gentler, kinder experience from you but he will learn it easy or hard or spend the rest of his life in prison. Which would you prefer?” They are still in process but there is reason to hope that things are curing up.

In terms of whole populations there must be self rule for a civilization to exist. First there must be the rule of the self THEN the rule of the people by the people either by electoral process or by the acceptance of an authority that will do even if that authority is just barely acceptable. No one rules without the consent of the governed. No one is governable unless they have personal self rule.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Civil Union is not marriage

A marriage license has absolutely NOTHING to do with the sacramental union of marriage. A civil marriage license affects your taxes, your health benefits, your inheritance and property rights – it is for the most part about money. So give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar but don’t pretend that it has anything to do with God’s stuff! People who are registered members of sex exchange clubs can get a civil marriage license. People who have changed their legal gender through sex change operations can get a marriage license. People who want to marry their own, legal, children (Woody Allen) can get a marriage license. People who have an established lover and have no intention of living in marital fidelity can get a marriage license. People who intend to be barren by their own choice for all their lives can get a marriage license. None of this has the least connection to sacramental marriage.

Civil marriage has nothing to do with fidelity to God or to each other. Sacramental marriage has everything to do with this. Civil marriage has nothing to do with having children and committing your lives to THEIR future. Civil marriage has nothing to do with giving glory to God by your daily lives and the eternal but visible earthly fruits of God’s work in your life through the ongoing and abundant grace given by God to those who live out the vows of their marriage sacrament. The sacrament of marriage is hugely powerful and hugely productive. It is a blessing to the nuclear family, the extended family, the neighborhood, the nation and the world. In a very literal sense a sacramental marriage is a blessing to the FUTURE. A civil marriage license has nothing to do with this.

When Jesus instituted the sacrament of marriage as we know it He didn’t say, “Clear it with Caesar first.” Nor did He say, “Make sure that the sacrament won’t unnecessarily put undue financial burden on the couple.” God takes care of the financial needs of holy couples. For a few centuries, entering into a Christian sacramental marriage actually meant that you put yourself at higher risk for dying as a martyr. Yet sacramental marriages were made and blessed by God. Those blessings drew many pagans to compare pagan partnering with Christian marrying and opt for the more permanent and fruitful union. We Christians in the United States need to look around and acknowledge that we don’t live in a Christian culture. We live in a very pagan culture. We need to see clearly the massive differences and choose to live as Christians first. That is how you sanctify your nation. Not by demanding that the pagans learn how to disguise their true beliefs and camouflage themselves as God’s people by elevating a marriage license to be equal or greater than a sacrament!

I pray with all my heart that the Mother church will separate the marriage sacrament from the strangling and parasitic vines of civil marriage licensing and give freely this grace to those who meet the spiritual requirements to receive the sacrament.

How have Christians gotten so confused about this issue? The fault lies with the Christian churches and maybe mainly with the Catholic Church because they stay in closest union with Him Who is the Truth. Yet, here they have dropped the ball.

Somehow in her efforts to be obedient to authorities, which Jesus asked us to do, she has placed the sacrament under the control of civic authority, which she may never do.

In my work with the poor I have encountered situations that make this very clear. I met a couple who had been living together without sacramental marriage. They had come closer to God and were attending mass frequently with their two daughters who were very attached to the Lord. They wanted the sacrament of marriage but were ineligible to receive a marriage license because they had illegal immigration status. They had no problem finding employment or housing or medical care of a rudimentary sort but they could not get a marriage license. The church told them that they could not receive God’s blessing on their union, which was faithful and constant, because the state refused permission. The U.S. constitution proclaims that the government will not restrict the practice of religion. What is more basic to the practice of religion that the sacramental life of the family? It’s ABOUT the FAMILY!!! Yet in the United States the churches of Christ have said to a secular authority that the state can control completely who may receive a SACRAMENT! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

We continue with this saga of confusion about marriage. The orthodox and fundamentalist Christian churches have got their bowels in an uproar over the civil union of gay people. The church leaders proclaim from the roof tops that extending the privilege of civil union to these excluded people will be the eternal destruction of sacramental marriage as we know it. Balderdash! Pure and unrefined balderdash! Why should gay people be denied civil union if fornicators, adulterers, transgendered couples and people with no interest in permanent union (or children) are already in legal civil unions!

If sacramental marriage is imperiled the danger doesn’t come from a pagan society that wants to continue to be pagan. Marriage can be weakened only by a Christian faith that can’t tell the difference between a sacramental covenant and a business contract.

Friday, March 28, 2008

People I met on the path - Fr. Brook

I loved Fr. Brook.....eventually.

Very occasionally a parish goes a little off, kind of like sheep that have eaten fermented apples or bad herbs. In these cases the diocese in her kind wisdom sends in a shepherd who knows the value of a rod and staff and knows how to use them. Such was Fr. Brook.

He came to us and within a year of his coming the parish had regained its balance. He accomplished this as far as I could see mainly by three gifts that he had. First of all he was a tall man with a mane of blond hair and the face of an irritated Viking warrior. He never smiled that first year and he was a fearsome sight. This alone was enough to straighten up at least a third of the parish.

Secondly, he had a voice that was created by the dear Lord to boom orders over the roar of an angry sea. That moved a few more.

But for a considerable number the balance was reached during Lenten stations of the cross. For my dear non-Catholic friends I'll explain that the stations are a very old prayer from the first century of Christianity in which the followers of our Lord retraced the steps of His passion through the streets and hills of Jerusalem. During Lent we recreate this journey around the church interior. At least fourteen times during this prayer the priest genuflects and kneels at each station remembering the suffering of Jesus for our sake.

That first Friday of Fr. Brooks' first Lent at the parish we were all gathered in the darkened, silent church, conscious of our own sinfulness and the generous, painful sacrifice of Jesus. In the midst of this silence Fr. Brook genuflected at the first station. I was startled out of my meditations by the loud cracking and crunching of his knees. Clearly this was an old football player with some extensive damage to his knees and perhaps ankles and hips because it was almost impossible for that cacophony of bone on bone to be coming from just his knees. Startled, I peered at his face illuminated clearly by the candles held by the acolytes. Nothing. No expression at all. All around the church he proceeded, crunching and crackling and not a wince, not a groan. Nothing.

The news spread quickly and attendance at stations grew every week. There was no way any hearing human being could watch the solemn, stoic suffering of this giant in faith without shivers of admiration. He easily could have cut out the genuflection and replaced it with a profound bow (and sometimes my cowardly nature prayed ardently that he would) but he never did.

Week after week he suffered his way through the stations and as Lent progressed more and more of the parish cheered him on silently in our hearts. By Easter we were convinced that he was a hero of the faith and a much stronger individual that anybody we knew, inside or outside the parish.

Resistance to his uncompromising style crumbled like day old biscuits. Peace was restored and order reigned. Obedience without the loss of honor was not only possible - it was inevitable.