I hate fasting.
When I saw that today’s Gospel is about fasting, I had three reactions: 1) No, not the fasting reading! 2) Wait— Pharisees fast and disciples don’t: Win. 3) Bridegrooms?
I looked to the first reading from Isaiah for help. Here, the people complain that their fasting and self-affliction goes unnoticed by God. God says if they really want to be appreciated for their fasting then they should: release those bound unjustly, set the oppressed free, share their bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked.
Click here to read the rest of this reflection, over at Notre Dame’s Young Alumni Lenten Reflections.
Gen curated this Lenten calendar for the Romero Center, where she works. It’s a collection of all sorts of cool ways to reflect on each day’s Scripture. Read more about it here. You can also connect it right to your own Google calendar. Or come back and follow it here each day. (The links will only go live on their day. So this is unlike a chocolate Advent calendar, in which you could technically eat all the candy by December 5. Not that I would know anything about that.)
Sometimes, I think I should give up the distraction and mental clutter of the Interwebs for Lent (at least for non-work related things). It might be a good idea to cut off completely for a Lent somewhere down the line. But this year, I think I can try to “plug in better,” as opposed to plugging in not at all.
Gen would probably say plugging in better for me would mean plugging in less, which is definitely true. It also means using the Internet and technology in ways that actually make my life and the lives of others better, and in ways that bring me closer to God. This means less Scramble with Friends and more, well, divinely inspired things.
Stay tuned to our Twitter feed (on the right over there…@MillCatholic) for resources and ideas throughout the season, and please post your favorite ways of plugging in well for Lent in the comments.
Here’s a handful of videos for Lent to get things started.
Living a FaithJustice Lent
I work at the Center for FaithJustice, and I was asked to make a short video about Lent for our e-newsletter. In it, I reflect on how I might live a more integrated, holistic Lent this time around.
40 – A Video of Jesus In the Wilderness
This made the rounds last year, but it’s a great meditation to revisit. Jesus’ 40 days just sort of zip by in a sentence when we hear about them in the Gospels, but this video explores what a chunk of time like that alone could be like. It hits on themes of solitude, fasting, quiet, and commitment — good stuff for Lent.
40: The Series
Keeping with the 40 theme, there’s a new Web-only series debuting Ash Wednesday from the Jesuits out in California. The trailer (below) is intense. It seems post-apocalyptic and allegorical and maybe a bit overwrought? But the production values look great and it’s an interesting idea. Episodes will air throughout the season. Check out its Web site here.
David Foster Wallace on Political Thinking in America
Tuesday would have been the 50th birthday of literary giant David Foster Wallace, who died in 2008. An 84-minute uncut interview DFW gave to a German TV station in 2003 appeared online this week. I haven’t sifted through all of it yet, but the first clip I watched includes a great commentary we could apply to Lenten fasting. Listen for his treatment of freedom vs. “a sort of slavery.”
Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth — visualized
Friend of MC Jonathan L. posted this earlier today, and it struck me as a great Lenten video. Lent is about conversion, which literally means to turn around. We commit ourselves to turning toward God during the season in preparation for Easter, and one great way to grow closer to God is to encounter creation with wonder and awe. This is wonderful and awesome.
That should get us through Wednesday. What resources, videos or otherwise, help you get in the Lenten spirit? Please share!
The editor of my nonprofit’s blog emailed me with a reminder to submit my next post. “Published on Valentine’s Day,” he wrote, “for better or worse.”
I wanted to write back, “For worse! Clearly, for worse! Cancel it!”
Like 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. As much as I bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, Valentine’s Day seems to be a 100%-Hallmark Holiday, with no redeeming value. Its portrayal in movies and TV shows displays a sort of immature, mushy “love” that doesn’t look anything like love as I know it.
Not helping its cause is the fact that we really have no idea who St. Valentine was, or if he even existed at all. The conspiracy theorist inside me imagines that about 500 years ago, some bishop who owned a handful of flower shops or had a connection with a monastery that made nice greeting cards decided creating a romantic holiday in the dead of winter with no competing celebrations would be a shrewd business move.
But since I would prefer to not be a spoilsport or cynic, I will grit my teeth and suggest two reasons why I should actually love Valentine’s Day. I’ll see if I convince myself (and yourself, if you’re also a skeptic) by the end. After all, the best way to defend your belief is to consider the good arguments on the other side…
Click here to read the rest of this piece over at the Center for FaithJustice’s blog.
Today’s Gospel reading from Mark used to strike me as just one variation on a common theme of Jesus’ ministry: person is sick, Jesus feels bad, Jesus cures person, Jesus tells person not to say anything for some reason (fear of the paparazzi, perhaps), person tells everyone anyway. Rinse and repeat.
But then, this happened: When I lived in Wisconsin, I taught a fourth grade religious ed class. I was blessed with a great group of kids. My favorites were a pair of twins I’ll call Sammie and Alex. Sammie had Type I diabetes and a host of other health problems. She had been through more than 20 surgeries by the time she was 10 years old. She was about a foot shorter than the other kids, walked slowly, and had a slight speech impediment. She is incredibly sweet with a streak of sass.
Her brother Alex is a devoted caretaker, and genuinely seemed to enjoy coming to Tuesday night religious ed, which means he is likely bound for sainthood.
One night, when we were talking about the way Jesus cared for the sick and downtrodden, I broke the class up into groups and gave them different Scripture passages to act out. Sammie’s group was assigned this passage from Mark. Somebody had to play the part of Jesus. With a sensitivity surprising for 4th graders, the group suggested Sammie should take on the role. She did, with gusto, winning a nice round of applause for a convincing: “BE MADE CLEAN!”
Sammie was clearly the class’ best fill-in for Jesus: Jesus the wounded healer who says to the broken – to all of us – I know what it’s like to suffer and I will be with you in the muck.
Gen and I have been busy getting engaged and stuff, but in a preview of our (my?) New Year’s Resolution to post on MC more than once every four months, here’s a short Christmas essay called “December 22, 2011.”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.
Three days before Christmas is not a good time to be driving around southern New Jersey – or any other suburban place, surely, where the ratio of people to malls is alarmingly small.
Routes 38, 70, 130, 73, 42, 41, 295, 76, 676, 168, and 30 were jam-packed this morning, even after rush hour. I know this because I sat on most of them, and heard about the other one or two on the radio.
Then, three things in succession destroyed any scintilla of Christmas cheer that had survived the highways:
1) The shopping center parking lots, which represent the very worst in civil engineering, especially in terms of stop-sign placement or lack thereof, and can inspire me, an otherwise not-maniacal person, to be anything but civil; and
2) The hour of waiting around in Target for a specific employee to show up, who is for some unintelligible reason the only person authorized to turn on a certain computer, punch a few keys, and facilitate a cell-phone trade-in; and
3) The impish 12-year old with a winter hat on indoors and cartoon headphones on his t-shirt who, encouraged by his mother, loudly cut in front of me while I politely waited for the finally-arriving staff member to get settled at his kiosk. The kid’s mom, whose name I committed to memory as if I would track her down someday and TP her front lawn out of spite, forgot her ID in the car, which she needed to show the employee (whose droopy eyes and speed of movement were reminiscent of Eeyore) in order to finish the deal. This required them to walk to the parking lot from the back of the store, pick up the license, and return to the electronics section, during which time the employee was unable to process my request, because what computer this day and age can do two things at once?
Before you roll your eyes, I admit it: this is an especially ugly litany of first-world complaining, and it probably served me right for heading into Cherry Hill on December 22nd in the first place.
I’m conscious enough of this ugliness to be embarrassed that it felt so good to summon up the day’s fading frustrations for this writing. I bore the minor inconveniences as they happened with a series of weak smiles, but now I can fight back! With karate chops of prose!
But typing a few short paragraphs angrily that my big-box nemeses will never read is not the noble act of cosmic justice I wish it were. So this needs a quick change in tone if there’s any shot at redemption for us, we the complainers and the line-jumpers and the weary employees and the parking-lot ragers:
On my way back to the apartment, the neighborhood streets were narrowed to one lane by vehicles parked on both sides. I barreled down them with regard for nothing but getting the hell out of the car. Soon enough, of course, I cut off someone approaching from the other direction who had the right of way– an old man in a beat-up painter’s van.
He pulled to the side and let me pass. Sheepishly, I waved an apology.
Smiling, he waved back.
Then I smiled, too, and a great Jayhawks song came on the radio. The outside temperature gauge read 61, so I rolled down the windows – on the winter solstice! – and sang my way home.
That fellow traveler’s injection of a bit of good will into the universe made up for the whole damn sorry lot of us. The day’s crowded busyness could not have been any more enjoyable for him than it was for me, but something moved that man to raise five fingers and smile instead of the singular middle one and glare.
I’ll consider the moment a teensy Christmas miracle. Because whenever a sign of generosity invites us to stop blindly consuming and recognize good in another person, we encounter the same truth that was revealed in the Christ child’s birth in a dark world 2000 years ago: that despite conditions insisting otherwise, not all is lost.
Busy summers kept Gen and I away from the blog, but hearing recently about my sister’s new school year made me feel like a fresh start. No better night than tonight.
But I don’t feel like any more words. There have been too many words and slideshows, retrospective TV programs and concerts. The unending media coverage of 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks replays loud and jumbled in my head like a frantic fever-dream.
So where new words seem pointless, a handful of old words read at churches all over the world today prove chillingly timely and a little foreboding.
Today’s first reading, from Sirach:
Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
And the Gospel reading, from Matthew:
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times…”
Then, at the end of Jesus’s following parable about a servant who does not forgive another’s debt, after his own debt had been forgiven:
“…His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
The readings for today were set long ago, without 9/11 in mind, but the radical challenge they present hits home on this anniversary.
Not only does discipleship require forgiveness when transgressions seem unforgivable, but failure to forgive elicits the wrath of God in a unique way.
In a speech tonight, President Obama said that no one who would do the country harm would be able to escape “justice,” at our own hands. When is it justice, and when is it revenge?
I have more questions:
What does God think of our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and covert violence in neighboring countries? How does God feel about the summary execution of Osama bin Laden? What will I, as a silent consenter to all of it, have to say for myself when I meet God face to face? Will I be held accountable? Will I be cut some slack? Am I misapplying the Scripture because I see everything through the lens of my own time?
Who knows. But today’s readings must give us some pause. At the very least, they reminded me on this solemn day that when reflecting on things like terrorism and death and war and memory, question marks are important.
Here’s a quick inventory of some great places on the Internet that celebrate life in some form or other. It’s true that the Web can be a destructive place, and drive us away from real life into some parallel world, but it can also be a peerless resource.
In no particular order, a Top 10 List of Spots on the Web that Celebrate Life.
1) 1000 Awesome Things. Neil Pasricha’s life was falling apart a few years ago when he launched this site compiling a list of, well, awesome things. Great to peruse and a nice testament to the power of hope in the midst of personal darkness.
2) StoryCorps. From NPR, ”Our mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.” Listen to some stories right there on the site, which cover an extremely wide range. Also see The Moth.
3) Kiva. A really great way to spend $25, Kiva provides micro-loans for individuals and groups in developing areas all over the world that primarily go toward helping them start up or maintain businesses. You can select a region and business, and often are able to see photos and read the story of the folks you’re lending to. Small loans from Kiva users are pooled together, given to the recipient, and then slowly repaid. I’ve already used the same $25 three different times in a year and a half.
4) Dropbox. Store stuff in the cloud, and access it from any computer. So what? Well, you can also share folders with friends. My three best friends from college and I, who share a deep love of music, have started using Dropbox to share albums with each other. It’s not quite bringing a burned disc to the dorm room over, but it’s not half-bad, and it’s started a long chain of enjoyable e-mails.
5) Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir. Using YouTube, contemporary composer Eric Whitacre assembled a choir of hundreds of voices from across the world. Each person records him/herself singing, uploads the video, and Whitacre’s team puts it all together.
6) Improv Everywhere. They create “scenes of chaos and joy in public places,” and record the results for the benefit of all.
7) Joe Posnanski on Cliff Lee. From (for my money) the best baseball writer we have today, check out this stirring piece on the masterful southpaw Cliff Lee, who utterly baffled my beloved Yankees in the playoffs last year. Posnanski recaps Lee’s performance, with biographical bits interspersed that reflect on Lee’s rise from mediocrity to greatness.
8) Moments. This video is a collage that captures the beauty of ordinary life moments. (A few shots might not be best for sensitive viewers, and the film includes some moments that fall outside of a Catholic moral framework. I still think it’s worth watching, without endorsing all of the content.)
9) Sacred Space. This wildly (and deservedly) popular site in the Catholic world provides daily ten-minute mini-retreats, right at your computer. Great for recharging.
10) Angels Landing eHike. Zion National Park in Utah was my favorite stop on a family trip west a few years ago. Unlike Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon — also wonderful, clearly — visitors to Zion are based on the canyon floor, hiking up instead of down. The Angels Landing hike was awesome (like, truly awesome), and the National Park Service put together this neat “eHike,” which just makes me want to go back. What incredible works of creation our country has.
Any more ideas for this collection?
Yesterday, Gen wrote about the devastating tornadoes in the American Southeast, and about trying to maintain Easter hope in a world that so often seems firmly planted in Good Friday. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the thousands of lives forever altered by the storms.
Today, for me, was a day of inconvenience, not tragedy; frustration, not sorrow. Today I learned what my itching arms had suspected: there are bed bugs in my apartment.
Life certainly comes with our own personal tornadoes, those shocking moments of anguish that we’ll never forget. In my experience, though, “bed bug days” are more common, full of mid-level disappointments and challenges and inconveniences. We’re called to remember our Easter hope on those days, too.
I did no such remembering today. Quite the opposite. I almost lost it, running around a bit like Gene Hackman in The Conversation, obsessively tearing my apartment apart in search of the bugs (pun intended) and washing all of my clothing, even the clean stuff. There was action to be taken, to be sure, but my spirit was all over the place.
I didn’t take a second to breathe and readjust my perspective. I didn’t ask God for help, or even yell at him. I was short with Gen. (In fact, I think I’m only able to write this at all tonight because a maintenance guy came and sprayed and said I have a very minimal problem, miles away from an infestation [knock on wood].)
My prayer tonight is for the grace to remember and call on the risen Christ when things kind of suck a little. Calm my frazzles, God, and give me patience, prudence, and a really good exterminator. Amen.