Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thoughts on lay responses to church sex scandals

I wrote this in response to a recent times article reporting Benedict's words on the abuse scandals: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/12/world/europe/12pope.html

At a listening session at my church about the abuse scandals two weeks back I wrestled with the question, what can we (the laity) do about this. What came to me was not more watchdog groups, or focusing on one individual in the church. Instead, I imagined churches all over the country, coming together in prayer services, claiming responsibility (though not necessarily culpability.. I still have to meditate on that) for the sins of the church, and as John Paul II asked for forgiveness at the wailing wall for the sins committed against the jews throughout two millennia, we would ask forgiveness too for being part of a culture of silence, a culture of inaction and a culture that has enabled this abuse to continue. It was my thought, why wait for the bishops or the pope to enact this. We can change the church from the ground up. Wouldn't it be something if churches everywhere claimed penance, created a culture of penance and in effect shifted the world so that the bishops and the pope would follow suit. True penance does not allow a sin to continue and reparations and change are necessary. We would through our penance make change necessary. What do you think of that?

Now, this voice for penance comes from the highest (and lowest) position in the church, the pope. He isn't saying the bishops have to relearn penance, nor simply himself, nor simply the monstrous priest-abusers or the enabling bureaucracy (for its always more than just a bishop); instead, he is saying the whole church must learn penance.

In 1st corinthians 12, Paul says that if one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. When the body is the community, you can't simply "pluck the eye out" because it causes sin. It is easy to split the church in two right now (as Kristof does in the NY times), and identify "the bad church" of the vatican, the old boys club, and then the good church of the laity and of priests and nuns doing amazing work on the ground. If we are to change this church, we must do the counter-intuitive, and not only "take responsibility," but also claim responsibility. I believe we can do this liturgically, but it only begins there. We are responsible, not simply because we share in the sin of the church, but also because we are agents who can make a difference.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Walking with the immigrant on the Way of the Cross

Here is a blog originally published at http://worshipincrisis.wordpress.com/ for a conference I am helping to plan. Any of y'all are welcome to join us on April 23rd at the University of Chicago or in our conversation online at our blog linked above.


At the 4th station, Jesus meets his mother. We are asked to remember the suffering of immigrant families torn apart due to deportation. 32nd annual Via Dolorosa. Good Friday, April 2nd, 2010. Pilsen.

Attending the annual Living Stations of the Cross in Pilsen this year, as a Catholic I looked forward to a cross-cultural encounter with the Spanish-speaking Catholic community. Good Friday has always had a means of reaching across 2000 years of history, bringing the passion of Jesus into my mind and heart in meaningful ways. Rather unexpectedly, as the Way of the Cross of Pilsen proclaimed the plight of immigrant alongside the sufferings of Christ, this unified piercing message connected my own individual personal concerns and prayers to social concerns. My own spectatorship, the disconnected and thus detached observer of the plight of the immigrant became aligned with the silent spectators of Christ crucifixion in Jerusalem. And together, myself and thousands others on pilgrimage down 18th street, Spanish and English speaking, sang out “Perdona a tu pueblo Señor” (Lord, pardon your people.)

The living Stations of the Cross began at 9 am in the basement of the Providence of God Church. A sizable crowd of around a hundred gathered with me outside, unable to enter due to the number of people already there. We joined with them on this mini-pilgrimage however, directed towards Harrison Park almost 2 miles away where the crucifixion was to take place. I have never participated in a Living Stations, and was excited to see this living relic of Latino Catholicism in America. At each station, Christ’s journey became the journey of the immigrant. At the 4th station, where Jesus meets his mother, Mary’s own suffering from seeing her son being taken to be crucified was linked to the deep pain of immigrant families torn apart due to deportation. At the 9th Station, as Jesus falls the 3rd time, we were called to remember the difficulties that many immigrant teenagers and children of immigrants face in completing their studies right next to a vacant lot where the Resurrection Project, one of the Way of the Cross’s cosponsors, would be building a new dormitory for Latino/Latina immigrant students. Throughout, Spanish and English speakers alike were called to remember and acknowledge their own lack of compassion before those within our communities living in fear, desperation, and in need. As we marched on, thousands joined, entering into this Living Way of the Cross that was as much an enactment of the stories surrounding us in and beyond the Pilsen parish communities, as it was an enactment of the story of Christ from the Gospels.

Though the grandchild of a French immigrant and a native of a region filled with migrant workers and immigrant families, it is easy to live my own life disconnected from the plight of the modern immigrant. This liturgical binding of modern crisis to the biblical crisis event that we lift up as a central part of my Catholic faith enabled me not only to attend to this social justice issue in a new way, but also to draw it into my full person in prayer. As a spectator of this modern day crisis, I was drawn into the spectatorship of the city of Jerusalem watching Jesus. I was equally compelled towards action as these living stations demanded the painful gaze of attention be directed to those families and communities all around us living under fear of the threat of disruption, as well as to the grief of seemingly irreparable loss as family members are deported out of this country without word or notice.

While the liturgical calendar seemingly trudges on without any notice to the ordinary lives that we lead, the Christian story equally can pierce through the layers of history and our own indifference to speak to our hearts and our social context as this Good Friday Way of the Cross illustrates. Theologically, the witness of Christ’s incarnation imposes an understanding that if we are to not “cling to” him as a resurrected Jesus warns Mary Magdalene from doing in John’s Easter season Gospel text, we must acknowledge the story of Jesus of Nazareth is not merely one moment in history, nor a locked away personal treasure, but instead continually lived out in the interconnected social world around us. Christ’s story is not lost to history, but living everywhere there is injustice, even in our failed immigration system. As Christ’s story liturgically fuses to our shared stories, new resources in ritual and prayer are given to us to align our suffering with this cosmic injustice of the God-abandoned crucified Christ and the ultimate triumph over death. As the liberation theologians used to proclaim, “Christ is crucified with the poor in their sufferings.” Those like me, who falsely live apart from this immigrant crisis that touches our neighborhoods and faith communities, are also impelled to solidarity in the realization that our own culpability as mute and inactive spectators of this modern day crucifixion calls us to responsibility to receive pardon and to penitentially move to new action. Witnessing the Living Stations of the Cross in Pilsen efficaciously draw thousands of us into the story of Christ and the story of the immigrant inspires confidence in the power of liturgy to affirm our faith identities not apart from our social context, but instead drawing in our pains, sufferings, histories, and even guilty inaction along with our whole hearts. “Perdona a tu pueblo Señor”

Michael is a 2nd year MDiv Student at the University of Chicago and a pastoral intern at St. Clement Church

More Links:

Video of the Way of the Cross made by Yochicago:

The Resurrection Project in Pilsen: http://www.resurrectionproject.org/home.aspx

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ash Wednesday Sermon: Return with your whole heart

“Return with your whole heart”

Joel 2:12-18 and Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

I preached this sermon for the imposition of ashes service at St. Clement Church on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17th, 2010

My friend Justin hated Ash Wed as a child. He recounted to me looking up at his mom, with a scratch of ash in the sign of the cross on her forehead and pulling at her clothes, asking her, pleading her to take the mark off.

Justin’s recollection ends here. I imagine his mother calming his distress with soothing words. I wouldn’t pass so quickly over his response, however. Perhaps Justin’s reaction is more than just a childhood discomfort with seeing change on his mother. She was marked. She wore on her forehead that which remains hidden to the innocent eyes of a child, the failure and regret of a parent.

On this day where we mark ourselves in ash and dirt, we allow our finitude, our sin and our death to pierce through the pretty masks we wear.

We mark ourselves in our finitude. It does not belong to us to be anything but creatures. A pastor and poet named Walter Bruegermann writes

“we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.”

We mark ourselves in our sin. We admit our wrongs as wrongs and not merely accidents. In a radically counter cultural way, we admit to failing; we have sinned. We don’t do that in America, certainly not publicly.

In this church today, we don’t mark ourselves, admit to wrong, to pick at the scabs of our failings. We mark ourselves so as to begin a journey.

Today we begin Lent, joining with Christ as he spends 40 days in the wilderness. It is always in the wilderness that Israel is called back to recommit to God.

In the first reading, Joel calls us to this journey today: Return to me with your whole heart.

This is message sent for the chosen people in Joel. The whole world struggles with this. Today, this is a message for us who have chosen to be in this church. In these words we are both radically welcomed, even as we are beckoned to wholeness

Return to me with your whole heart.

How do I come with a divided heart?

Many of us within these walls are shamebound. My shame shackles parts of myself away, keeping it out of sight of the community? Instead of shame, it may instead be my ambition. I put my best foot forward and I strive to look great on paper. To rise in society today, one must master well the maxim, “fake it until you make it.” For better or worse, we catholics have sung that tune for a long time.

It may instead be fear that divides my heart. I’m not ready to set aside my anger, my frustration, or even my sense of guilt, so I’ve quarantined it off, and leave it at home. It is out of God’s reach, free of the risk that an encounter with God entails.

We mark ourselves with ashes today so as to begin journey

Return to me with your whole heart

But a journey can only begin with where your two feet are at. I must start where I stand. It takes grace from god to see myself honestly.

Return to the Lord

Return with your anger

Return with your doubt

Return with you fear

With your feelings of inadequacy.

Return with the knowledge that your words have commited violence

Knowing that your silence has meant a failure to share your love.

Return with the injustice in society of which we are a part

Return equally with your beauty, with your relationships, with your success, with your joys, with your praise.

Return, Return, Return to your lord.

The ashes we wear already speak volumes: we wear on our forehead all of this. We need, as Joel says, to do the same with our interior, to bring our whole heart.

In order to begin to the journey, we have to see where our two feet are at. We have to accept ourselves as accepted by god. We have to accept ourselves as accepted by god and we have to trust our God who may and will transform us. God calls us to wholeness, not prettiness.

Return to the Lord, your god.

In our parish there are many ways we make this journey with Christ. We do it in our fast and in our penance. We are invited each and every Friday to walk with Jesus through his passion in the stations of the cross here at St. Clements.

Jesus tells us today how to begin this journey and how to return.

We are called to enter the inner room,- we seek a place of solitude. We are told to close the door. We shut our mouths, and we are silent. We listen. We allow the light of god guide our attention, sifting through the whole of ourselves, and we seek the hidden father. This is the true secret of ash Wednesday. Every journey is filled with anticipation for what is to come. We seek the father who is hidden within us. We move towards Easter.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Life in India (repost)

The Chai guy

When it rains, it pours

This monkey rather aggresivley approached luke, a guy a i was touring with, and stole his soda bottle from his hands, opened it, and chugged.

flew onto my back... i, rather understandably, freaked out.
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Friday, September 11, 2009

I'm Home!

After 28 hrs of travel and being mostly awake for about 48 hrs, I finally made it home! I'll be in Oregon for the next 10 days and then back to chicago. I still plan on posting a few random things on here, so feel free to keep checking. In the meantime, if you and I are in the same zip code, I'd love to hang out!


mumbai synagogue

elephantine island
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goa +2

hard to resist a $1 shave.

the height of kitch
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St. Francis Xavier (the statue)

St Francis Xavier (the Altar of Bom Jesu)

St Francis Xavier (the body... inside a crystal coffin)

St Michael the Archangel
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Fort Kochin

A night at the theater

A hungry demon


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Yesterday marked the beginning of the end of my travels, as I took my last train in India. Training has been my most basic form of long distance travel. Not only is it faster and cheaper than buses, but it is also more comfortable. As a Foreigner, there are a certain number of seats reserved on each train (or they would otherwise be sold out far in advance). While one could travel "upper class" that is to say, in the AC car, I have only had one voyage in such a car, and found it to be far too cold! In fact, so cold, the train automatically provides blankets for you. You do have the advantage of less people, as there are only 4 people to a row rather than 6, but this is also because you are paying at least twice as much. No, for the long term traveler, the 2nd class sleeper is just fine. To travel a distance of over 300 kilometers, I paid about 200 rupees, roughly 4 dollars. You have a reserved seat, so it is a step above the chaos of general class, but knowing that I have a place to lay my head at night is worth the extra rupees. Of course, for all the reasons I remember the train rides, I will not forget them. I had the worst chapati and dall of my life on the train. I often never slept through the night. When in monsoon struck areas, i was often visited by the spitting rain on my face. Often having the lower berth (closest to the window and the floor) I had to wait till 9:30 before i could ask people to move from my bed (the bench) so I could set up the bunks and go to bed. I had the misfortune of spending a number of nights next to people who would wake up at 4 am, turn on the lights and get their things to leave. The chai and coffee sellers start coming on at about 5 am, and if you weren't awake already to desire chai, their loud shrill voices would ensure that clients would be awake and in need. I felt a bit of anxiety in my first few train rides with a constant hand on my luggage below my bed, but thanks to elsa, I had a chain to secure my things for the rest of my journey. Still, for all my complaining, the train has been one of the best ways to move across the country. It cuts indiscriminatley across the country side, through fields, valleys, towns and mountains. sitting in the 2nd class has often assured me a seat next to an open window staring out into india's natural heritage. The train berth becomes the great equalizer. Your neighbor is anyonmous at first, but upon exchanging glances, all the possibilities are open. Often, despite hinderances of language, people will reach out in interest. I met 4 muslims from Kerala on their way to Dubai for another year of work this past trip. We could not really communicate in depth, but even on the limited topic of marriage (in addition to "how many brothers or sisters do you have, a constant topic of conversation), after the 2nd or 3rd time of being asked why I wasn't married, I said, "why do you ask, do you have a sister?" The entire group burst into laughter, and slapping my hand with low fives. I could have just as well been with american friends, though I think my jokes are probably less funny at home.

My final journey took me from Goa to mumbai. I was only in Goa for two days, and aside from the beaches, felt like i had visited the whole of it. That is an exageration, as I only saw two cities, but on the surface level, it was hard to know what else to do. We (a french man named fabien who I met on the train and I) had planned to stay in Old Goa, thinking, like Assisi, that there would be less crowds in the evening and it would be nice for walking. We arrived at 7 am and was lucky to be given our room earlier than check in time. After a long journey on the train (16 hrs), we were able to shower and rest before starting at it again. Upon walking into town, we began to realize that there is no real town and hardly any people to count for a "crowd". While at the outskirts there are an assortement of shops and restaurants worthy of a truck shop, close to the center, all one finds are churches. We visited perhaps 5 churches, most dating back to the 15th century, when old goa was the capital of portuguese india. It was abanadoned at one point due to an epidemic, and the capital moved 9 kms away. The whole area has now been declared a world heritage site, probably stifling any efforts at creating a larger urban center. Most notably, Old Goa houses "Bom Jesu", the final resting place of most of St. Francis Xavier. I say "most of" because I have already seen his right arm/hand in Rome and have heard that his feet are in japan. St. Francis Xavier was one of the uncorruptibles. When he died en route to china, his body was covered in lye to speed up the decaying process, anticipating the call to return his body to Goa. The man who started this noticed after a few days than nothing happened. His body remained incorruptible for about a hundred years, during which time he was canonized. (I read that before his canonization, however, a number of "relic hunters" already got ahold of him.) Sometime in the 1600's the body began to deteriorate, so I think they took some sort of steps to preserve him. Now the body is set above a giant golden altar in a crystal coffin, and is taken down once every 10 yrs for an exposition. It was strange for me to visit a pilgrammage sight which seemed to have so little life around it. Aside from the constant stream of local tourist buses, one wonders whether this is a place of devotion for the locals. After a night in Old Goa and a mass at Bom Jesu, we headed to Panaji. Here the Catholic portuguese influence is heavily felt from the names of people, to the old colonial buildings, to the food. It is the first time I have eaten pork since arriving in India! It was called Old Goan Sausage, and it tasted like extra spiced, slightly overcooked, hot dogs. While I know for many of you this sounds gross, but having missed every BBQ of the summer, this hot dog like speciality was well recieved.My days in Kerala before Goa were by far the most expensive of my trip. After leaving the abbey early one tuesday morning, I caught a bus to Kottayam and leisurly waited for 2 hrs for the public ferry. This 10 rs boat ride took me through the canals of kottayam and across the lake, through the backwaters to allepey. This lazy 2 1/2 ride was a fantastic transition from monastic life in the mountains back to the tourist travels that would characterize this last week of my voyages. I was able to grab some rather decent cheap fish masala (far better than all the other expensive fishy dissapointments I have had this trip) and caught another bus to Fort Kochin. Fort Kochin has had the longest constant interaction between europe and Asia, starting with Vasco De Gama's maiden voyage here. I even visited the now protestant, formerly franciscan church where De Gama was buried once upon a time. I met two lovely french ladies named lola and camille with whom I would spend the next 3 days. I also had a chance encounter in the street with Alex, the american with whom I chopped vegetables while talking theology at kurismula Ashram. Alex, the french girls and I visited the oldest standing synagogue in Kerala, dating back to the 15th century. It was a nice living reminder that while the european "discovery" of asia was limited to the 1500's, largely due to the overland obstacle of muslim held territory, that there had been in fact a long tradition of exchange between asia and the middle east going back as far to the times of christ. With Alex, we had another chance encounter, this time with a couple he had traveled with earlier in the summer, named Franz and Melissa, who had first met each other in portland. Franz declared it the best city in america, and that, with matching me in REI adventure pants and Chackos, became an instant friend. We also learned in the first five minutes that we both had a mutual friend who will be at chicago this coming year. The world is round indeed! That evening we visited some local keralan traditional theater. As the actors don't speak, and the story being sung behind is rather sparse, the majority of the story has to be told through facemovements. The demonstration before hand was perhaps some of the most dynamic eye movmements I had ever seen on an actor. It was truly fantastic. Kerala was by far my favorite of the states I visited. Not only did it have a diverse scenerey, ranging from mountains to beaches, and it had a true plurality of religions, but even its food showed a greater diversity in the types of vegetables and flavors used. Course, it could be that after 10 weeks in india, I was mostly satisfied because here i ate the closest thing to minestrone soup! There is a large keralan population in chicago, such that there is a separate syrian-malbar catholic diocese there. Perhaps in visiting a few, i can find somewhere where I can eat keralan indian food in chicago!

Lola and Camille, two french ladies who i visited kochin with

Outside the synagogue in Kerala
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Kurismula in the fog

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interreligious chapel

stations of the cross

meditation rock
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integrative health center

Fr Joseph and Malathy. Here Malathy and I learned all about Auto-Urine treatment....

I often felt like a giant in india

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ashram on the river

hindu pantheon on our hike up to the shiva temple


my reading veranda while at the ashram

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Shantivanam truly served for me as a bridge into hindu ritual. It is one thing to learn about the "other" and it is another thing to learn to pray as the other. My own first exprience at the temple was one of distance and of discomfort. I knew of coursed that this was soemthing deeply important for the poeple there, but I couldn't help but feel ill at ease.
later, as i gained more exposure to the temple, mostly by way of tourism, i moved from a mild revulsoion to amusement. It was almost as paul writes: we know that the idols aren't real, so we can eat their food in good consicence, I knew that I could redirect my prayer from the idols to my own sense of the divine, making the symbolic rituals of the hindu, but reserving always my interiority apart from the ritual..

Sunset on the cavery river.

At shantivanam, i was able, evn if only on a superficial level, to learn how to rpay as the hindus do, to see the deep symbilic significance behind the arachi, the bindi, the sandal wood, etc, and to know it not merely on an intellectuak level, but to pray it. I lived and experienced how inculturation and interreligious dialogue are related, because it was through inculutration, through finding the other within my own tradition, that I began to develop a deeper love for the tradition of the other. knowledge born out of love is of far more value relationally than knowledge born out of books.

Sunrise hiding the river destroyed by dredging below it. Nature can make every human tragedy into a place of beauty.
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