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.
When Mike presented our Easter week project, he promised we’d post a daily reminder of the resurrection through the Octave of Easter. It feels forced and inauthentic to name signs of resurrection when the death toll from tornadoes in the South pushed three hundred.
So all I have is a few thoughts and a prayer.
Mike mentioned that his pastor, Fr. Vince, said that while the world may be in Good Friday, we are an Easter people.
What does it mean to be an Easter people while this kind of devastation happens?
It means something different for folks who are living the trauma then it does for those of us who are safely in front of computers and TVs, as we click through pictures of demolished neighborhoods and gasp at Twister-like footage.
I have no idea what it means, for them or for us. I do know that especially in the midst of something like this, we can’t dismiss the question: How do we be an Easter people, when the world is in Good Friday?
Embrace all who have been killed or injured this week by tornadoes in the South.
Send your peace to those whose family, friends,
homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces
have been ripped away.
Root compassion deep in our hearts,
that we will listen and answer our call
to reach out to those who we can help–
through generous giving
acts of service
intentional time for prayer.
Make clear what it means for each of us to live Easter in a Good Friday world.
Be with us in the tension
as we wrestle with how there could be a God like you,
who died for us that we might be free–
and yet still allows us to live
in the bondage of natural disaster and moral evil.
Give us the grace to transform the world into your kingdom,
by living out the call to be who we really are–
so that the light of your resurrection
might slowly dawn on the darkness of Good Friday.
In March, the poet, essayist, novelist, cultural critic and farmer Wendell Berry was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama. His deep connection to land, place, community and faith combine to form a unique voice in contemporary American letters. My favorite collection of Berry’s is A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, which gathers poems inspired by his weekly Sunday walks through his farm and surrounding land. The hot weather here in NJ and the Easterly emergence of new color and life outside brought Berry to mind.
The poem I’ve selected for this post comes from his 1973 collection The Country of Marriage. It’s called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” and it powerfully criticizes the me-first, materialistic status quo while energizing readers to “every day do something that won’t compute.” I think it has some powerful nuggets that could spark us through the Easter season. And on a personal, gooey note, Gen gave this poem to me back at the very beginning of things, and it was the first of Berry’s I had read. Thanks, Gen.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
So many of my favorite moments involve singing. Joining in a loud duet with Bruce on “Born to Run” on the car radio with the windows down. A sing-along around a fire on a summer night. That first “alleluia” at the Easter Vigil. (This year’s installment at my parish was especially festive: incense-disturbed fire alarms got in on the action, beginning and ending their bombast in perfect time with the acclamation.) One of my favorite theologians, Walter Brueggemann, points to Isaiah 42:10 as a key moment in Scripture: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” After the quiet grief of Lent and Good Friday, Easter’s victory of life over death energizes us empowers us to sing again.
One of my friends gave up music for Holy Week. After the Easter Vigil, she said, excitedly, she was going to turn on the radio. My parish did something similar throughout the Lenten season, singing sparingly throughout liturgies before pulling out all the stops on Saturday night.
Sunday night, with my brother on piano and me on guitar, we had a singalong with Gen and my sister, celebrating the joy of the family reunited in one place, which happens less and less frequently as we grow older. The sense of unity and celebration and breathing fresh life into a normally quiet house seemed quite Easterly.
The PS 22 Chorus from New York City has shot to stardom, including a performance on this year’s Grammy Awards. Their spirit and clear love of what they’re doing shines through, whether in front of an audience of millions or in their own classroom.
So take some time this Easter to sing a new song unto the Lord, enlivened by the joy of the risen Christ. If God gave you a great voice, sing loudly to thank him for that voice. If he gave you a crummy voice, sing even louder to get even!
What are your favorite memories of singing? Belt ‘em out in the comments section (to the tune of a popular song, please).
Generally speaking, we Catholics do Lent really well. Parish offerings shoot through the roof; Masses are packed on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday; we give up things and maybe spend some more time praying and perhaps even set aside some money for a worthy cause. All good and worthwhile things. Easter comes, we celebrate with a bang, but then it’s officially “almost summer” (especially this year, with such a late holiday) and things start to wind down.
It feels like we can be more of a Lenten People than an Easter People. But the commitments and renewals of Lent only make sense in an Easter context. We don’t fast for the sake of fasting, but only that we might be ready to feast well when the time comes.
For the next 50 days, it’s time for feasting. It’s time to celebrate our beliefs that love is more powerful than hate and fear, that life conquers death, that light shatters the darkness, that God is big and compassionate and just and generous and merciful beyond all understanding.
As my pastor Fr. Vince said at our Easter Vigil, the world may be in Good Friday, but we are an Easter People. This does not mean we are cockeyed, pollyannaish optimists, but that we are called to live a deep-seated hope in the slow work of God even in moments of grief and struggle.
So each day this week, the wonderful Octave of Easter, we’ll post something short — a song, a prayer, a reflection, a film clip, an article, whatever — that somehow expresses the Easter mysteries of resurrection and fresh life. We’ll then keep the same idea going for each Sunday of Easter. This is quite a commitment for two inconsistent bloggers, but this is the season to put your money where your mouth is. Maybe we’ll one day start asking each other, “What are you doing for Easter?” the way we now ask about Lent.
Please join us in this undertaking! Leave some of your favorite Easter snippets in the comments section, or shoot us an e-mail.
To kick things off, here’s one of my favorite poems: “Descending Theology: The Resurrection,” from Mary Karr’s collection Sinners Welcome. A fantastic poet and memoirst, Karr is an adult convert to Catholicism. Her journey to faith is described in a short, stirring essay in Sinners Welcome. Check it out.
From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and blood ink—
till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void
even for pain, he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart
began to bang on the stiff chest’s door,
and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now
it’s your limbs he long to flow into—
from the sunflower center in your chest
outward—as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.
In the gospel for the evening Mass of the Last Supper, we hear that just before his betrayal, Jesus washes his friends’ feet. We reenact the foot washing during the Holy Thursday celebration as a reminder of how we are called to serve each other.
I’ve never seen someone with really nasty feet get their feet washed during Mass. Most Masses either pre-inform their selected 12 or invite whoever feels comfortable to come forward to a station to have their feet washed. This means that people either have enough warning to make their feet presentable— I’m thinking of my mother, who got a pedicure before she got her feet washed— or they can choose whether their feet are clean enough to be washed by someone else.
The feet that Jesus washed were probably more like the feet that this gentleman washes: filthy, sore, and maybe even infected.
But let’s face it, at the Holy Thursday liturgy, nobody’s feet are really all that dirty, and there’s hardly much real washing that happens. Even with the chance to sterilize their feet before they’re washed, most people (myself included) still prefer not to participate.
If given the choice to be the washer or washee, I’d pick washer every time. I’m not huge on touching people’s feet, but I’d suck it up and wash feet rather than let my own feet be washed.
The same is true in daily life. I’m much more comfortable (as most people are) doing and helping than receiving.
When I hear the foot washing gospel, my initial reaction is to think I’m not serving whole heartedly enough and that there’s much more I can be doing in my life. While this is true, I’m a doer, who interprets the reading as a doer would.
A dear mentor and friend always used to remind me gently that, “We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.” On my first read of the feet washing narrative, when I respond by thinking that I need to get out and do something, I’m seeing things the way that I am.
As I sit with the reading for longer, I realize that for me, the more challenging message is that to allow my own feet to be washed is to serve.
There are many ways I refuse to let my feet be washed. When I take too much on, don’t allow a healthy vulnerability with others, or am not up front about my preferences— I refuse to let my feet be washed.
These types of behaviors often seem heroic or Jesus-like. They might even seem like examples of how I wash others’ feet.
When I sit quietly, I can discern the difference between true foot washing and moments when I’m more like Peter, who responds to Jesus’ invitation by refusing to let his feet be washed.
What does it look like, in daily life, to allow others to wash our feet?
Fr. Roy Bourgeois, former Maryknoll priest and peace activist, left his religious community this week.
Fr. Bourgeois got in some trouble in recent years because he acted against the Church’s teaching on ordination. He preached that women should be able to be ordained as priests and went so far as to participate in an ordination of women himself.
This week, Fr. Bourgeois decided he could no longer belong to a religious order that demanded he recant his views on a teaching that conflicted so deeply with his own conscience.
Some found this courageous and prophetic. Fr. Bourgeois listened to his conscience and stood against a long tradition of injustice committed by the Church against women.
Others thought this was egotistical and confusing. His pride made him believe that his personal opinion outweighed Church teaching. The women in whose ordination he participated, and many Catholics who heard about them, were misled into thinking that they were actually ordained into ministry for the Catholic Church.
The question of women’s ordination is very contentious within our generation and I have spent many a long evening, especially in college, in the thick of the debate.
But the dilemma that Fr. Bourgeois’ removal raised for me was not about the ordination debate itself, but about how Catholics who disagree about this issue (and others) treat each other.
I read a chain of literally over a hundred Facebook comments responding to a post about Fr. Bourgeois. The comments derailed into name-calling about who is a “Real Catholic” and who is a “Cafeteria Catholic.” Some commenters asked rhetorically why folks who didn’t accept Church teaching on women’s ordination even wanted to be Catholic at all. I signed out of facebook much less affected by the issue of women’s ordination and Fr. Bourgeois’ letter than by the Catholic civil war that had erupted in cyberspace.
I admit that there have been plenty of times when I have quickly chimed in with claims that some Catholics were more Catholic than others. It took a bit of life experience for me to realize how harmful and unproductive these comments were. Through parish ministry, which gave me opportunities to walk together with a fifth grade Religious Education class, high schoolers, folks in RCIA, and peers who were committed Catholics who struggled with Church teaching, I realized that we’re all on journeys of doubt and belief — journeys full of confusion and grace and frustration and transformative power.
How many Catholics have believed for every moment of their Catholic life that the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ? Do they stop being “real Catholics” in the moments when they question these teachings? No, they don’t. Catholics who aren’t always sure about the Eucharist, or who don’t really think about it at all, are still “real Catholics.”
We all have some things that we struggle to believe, take seriously, or live out well. I do at least. While I am at peace with the Church’s teaching on women’s ordination, there are plenty of teachings I struggle to live well, and I still like to think I’m a “real Catholic.” Do we always believe God loves us? Do we listen to Christ’s mandate to care for the least of his people? We each need to cultivate a place of compassion for others, keeping in mind that we all struggle to believe and live our own faith.
So many of my peers and I — and many who have gone before us — have grown up valuing equal rights for women. Many of my peers view the question of women’s ordination through this lens. It makes sense to me that if we’re really trying to integrate faith into our daily life that these types of questions come up. It is through grappling with these tough questions that we make authentic claims about what we believe.
This makes me think of “Of God’s and Men,” a French film recently released. It’s a story of Trappist monks in Algeria who are in danger of being attacked by radical Islamists. When it becomes clear that the monks are in danger, they sit around a table and each cast their vote about whether to leave their monastery for safety or stay where they are. The superior of the community never forces them to accept his choice to stay, the choice that he clearly believes is in line with their faith tradition. The rest of the film follows the beautiful journey of different monks as they wrestle with the different options as the danger grows.
We have to ask the questions, even if they challenge centuries of Tradition, and we have to allow ourselves to sit in the tension and uncertainty for however much time we need. Wrestling with the questions doesn’t mean we’ll always understand the answers we come up with. But allowing ourselves and others the freedom to struggle with the things that don’t make sense is essential to authentic believing.
What happens when Catholics who struggle through questions about Church teaching decide that they don’t agree with the Church and yet still want to be Catholic?
They’re still “real Catholics.”
I have a deep respect for Catholics who disagree with Church teaching, specifically with teachings that mandate that they take a personal actions opposed to what they believe, and remain in the Church. This is very brave. It means that they choose to continue to belong to a community that will tell them that what they believe, and very possibly what they are doing, is wrong. And they will hear this message often and without much compassion.
The discussion surrounding the situation with Fr. Bourgeois is an opportunity for each of us to ask ourselves what we believe and why we believe it. It’s also a chance to recommit to being a people of faith who walk together on the journey.
Apologies for the two-week absence. The following is a reflection on Sunday’s second reading I offered at “Soup & Psalms,” a weekly night of prayer and supper at the Center for FaithJustice. We had a group from THE Ohio State University’s Catholic Campus Ministry last week on an alternative spring break spent serving in the Trenton area. It was great to have them join us for one of our favorite traditions.
Sunday’s second reading is filled with some of St. Paul’s favorite words. There are, on one hand, words of comfort and strength: Faith. Hope. Love. Peace. Glory. Grace. Courage. On the other hand, there are some that seem just a bit less optimistic: Helpless. Ungodly. Difficulty. Sinners. Died.
When I read through the passage for the first time, the nicer words were the ones that stood out. Maybe that’s because these days, I want to grasp on to the idea of a comforting God. These are days of nightmarish earthquakes and tsunamis, tyrants and civil war. On a personal level, these have been days of particular challenge with Gen, with discussions about our future and work and money turning often into hurtful arguments. Indeed, these are days of seeming helplessness and godlessness, difficulty, sin, and death. My prayer in recent weeks has been short and loud: “Dear God, Help me, and help everyone else. Amen.” I crave that comfort.
And there is something comforting in Paul’s words. Even though we sinners stray from the path, and launch attacks with missiles and with words, God still loves us, and Christ still gave his life for us.
But in this message of comfort and salvation is a challenge, because while I like the idea of a comforting God in theory, I really don’t receive comfort from God too well. I’m usually skeptical, sarcastic, too busy for God. The thought that God could actually have something comforting for me, now, here in suburban New Jersey, sent all the way from heaven, seems ridiculous on most days. I say I believe in a God who’s at work in the world, but I don’t live that belief much of the time. I pray “Help!”, but probably more just to cover my bases than due to any sort of belief that comfort from God will actually arrive.
Specifically, the biggest challenge Paul presents me with here is to live in “the grace in which we stand.” This beautiful, famous snippet takes for granted that there’s grace to be standing in. “Hold on a minute,” my empirical side cautions. “Just look around, will you? Maybe there’s some grace out there, or something, but mayhem and pain seem to be the norm.”
The only comeback that’s ever worked against this empirical voice is gratitude. A mentor of mine has talked about gratitude as the bedrock of the spiritual life, and I’m coming to believe that more and more. When I was in college, I struggled with homesickness, as life outside New Jersey turned out to be far less transcendent than life within its borders. Feeling sad, alone, and stuck, I would head to our campus’ grotto and sit on a bench. No prayer came, just a sort of quiet numbness. But I kept walking down there in the cool autumn nights, if only to get out of my dorm. Then, one night in November, I spontaneously prayed: “God, thank you for…” and I began to make a list, a list filled with friends and family members and teachers and my favorite rock bands and certain national parks I had visited and the opportunities I had been given that I had done nothing to deserve. I went on like this for 45 minutes or so, and opened my eyes feeling refreshed, comforted and very loved.
And this is where my empirical side doesn’t stand a chance in hell, because while you can measure earthquakes on a Richter scale, and measure radiation with a Geiger counter, the love and hope and compassion that I have encountered cannot be measured or counted or weighed. These things exist on a different plane, beyond our capacity to understand. Once I acknowledge that there’s immeasurable stuff out there like love and compassion, I’m moving into divine territory. So if it is true that God is love, then we can flip the equation around: Love is God. When I doubt God’s grace, remembering to be grateful for the love I have received wakes me up.
Awakened, I am empowered to recognize our world as grace-filled. Violent and senseless, yes, and perhaps a bit too obsessed with the exploits of Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods. But grace-filled nonetheless. May we all stand as grateful witnesses of God’s grace in the midst of our dangerous days.