Let the Partying Begin!

God, apparently, loves feasting. Nothing secretive or peaceful about it. A brash new star, exotic foreigners, ec­static shepherds, choirs of angels—not just a quiet messen­ger, but hosts of them, pouring through the night sky singing “Glory.” God chose to celebrate this feast “just at the worst time of the year,” to be a light in the darkness, to comfort us on our lonely road, to prove over and over again that the things of the world are good, that fun is an ethical concept. Perhaps this is what is meant by “blessed are the poor”—they know how to feast.

I wish I were able to feast with this extravagant host. I am appalled by my pusillanimous responses: by the minginess of my imagination. I tend to criticize the menu (“virgin birth­ so out of date”) and carp at the behavior of less refined guests (“oh, not ‘Hark-the Herald’ again”). I wear jeans not my wed­ding garment, and I want the children to “calm down” and not wake up too early in the morning.

Of course they should wake up early, of course they should be overexcited, of course they should run amok and tear open their presents with greedy zeal. This is the feast day of a God who so delights in matter, in the stuff of the universe, in bodies, that he plunges into it all head first, and becomes a child. This is the feast day of a God who rips the invisible membrane between time and eternity so heaven floods the world, in an extravagant and abundant tide of love, and the world laps back, carried undiluted to the everlasting ban­quet. The feast of a God who comes into the cold, the dark, the silence of our prosperity and says, “Let’s party.”

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This is only the conclusion of a marvelous piece that first appeared in Commonweal in 1997 and has been reprinted in the current issue. I encourage you to read the full article [here].

 

We Should Know Better

I’m really sad and disheartened this morning. A dear niece who is bright, funny and someone I deeply care about posted something mean-spirited on her Facebook page. There is simply too much fear-mongering and superficial solutions being thrown around these days. She should know better. So should we all!

My niece’s posting noted that the Tsarnaev brothers found guilty for the horrific Boston Marathon bombing were refugees. With the latest terrorist attack roiling Paris, you can figure out the intended political message of the “prepared” image she chose to re-post on her FB page.

(BTW, why do we have such an outpouring of moral outrage when 129 people are killed in France and so quickly “forget” nearly twice as many Russian citizens who were killed in the flight from Egypt? Could it be that the French are more like “us” and our generation has learned to demonize the Russians as our enemy? The recent massacre in Beirut hardly registered in our consciousness. Just wondering what this is all about!)

What I take as my niece’s “painting with broad strokes”, guilt-by-association or “extrapolation from the specific to the whole” is dangerous and unfair. In my opinion it’s also stupid and xenophobic!

My angry side wanted to post the following: “Does the fact that the son of your Dad’s cousin was sentenced to death for first degree murder mean that our whole family are felons and should be denied our civil liberties?” Is our whole family guilty by association and to live in shame?

In addition to a lifelong love for my role as uncle, I cherish the role of family historian and keeper of stories. It’s easy to forget our own truth or glamorize the stories. I want to remind my niece — and the extended family as well — of our heritage.  It is identical to many.

Centuries of exploitation by the British led our Irish ancestors to flee poverty and famine between 1842 and 1855. The failed social revolution of 1848, and repressive measures attempting to prop up remnants of the Holy Roman Empire, lead our German forebears to flee their homeland in 1850 and 1856.

At last count we now have 31 Governors feeding into what I call ignorance, xenophobia and fear-mongering. As our Governor Mark Dayton has said, Minnesotans are better than that. President Obama has also tried to call Americans to our better instincts all the while fully supporting French efforts to apprehend the terrorists and retaliate forcefully on ISIS in Syria.

Most of us call ourselves Christians. This Advent we would do well to pay special attention to the story of our salvation, our liberation from slavery to freedom. Let’s place the Flight into Egypt front and center this year. Let’s remember Jesus’ own “post” on the social media of his day. In the poor, the naked, the infirm, the homeless, those seeking refuge we see the face of Christ.  Or, we don’t!

If nothing else, we would do well to see our own!

Outrage Displaced

A self-righteous moral crusade has pretty well preoccupied my past week. I’ve been outraged by the state of our health care system — its expense, inefficiency, bureaucracy, mediocrity, self-indulgence. All the while, some corporate and elected officials do everything in their power to scuttle needed reforms and deny access and affordable care to the most needy.

Trust me, if you’ve not seen me on my soapbox spouting harsh invectives and blistering assessments you should count your blessings. Obviously, I like words and take pleasure in their use. Rile my sense of moral indignation and I easily let loose with condemnations and anathamas for whatever the situation may be.

Case in point: today I am having laparoscopic surgery to repair a hernia. Really, no big deal. The actual procedure takes about 15 minutes. You’d never guess that by the bureaucratic hoops and all the medical professionals who find a way to get a cut of the action (i.e., the bill). Don’t get me started!

Nevertheless I’ve learned something important during this unplanned engagement with the health care system I still believe is objectively broken. I’ve learned how much I project and how I’d be better off attending to the stuff I can influence and for which I am directly responsible. Case in point: I need the hernia repair. I am not going to reform the health care system in the process.

Maybe there will be more to learn.  But, two realizations occur to me in this process. First, get clean and clear about my emotions. In this case I recognize that my repressed fear and submerged anxiety is spurting out sideways.  Expressing indignation about a bureaucracy I reluctantly must engage is easier than admitting that I’m more scared than I want to admit.

It’s really more about me than I want to acknowledge. I would do better admitting my feelings of vulnerability and loss of control than stoke the moral indignation I might muster on behalf of the faceless “vulnerable” and “powerless” in our midst. Yes, we must address access to good health care for those on the peripheries or those without access. However, I need to come clean about the source of my outrage and soapbox rants.

Second thing that has surfaced is a way to test whether my self-righteous indignation is just that — a slightly veiled case of self-interest and an external projection of my internal anxiety. It seems so simple… It would be more honest to ask, “Will I be as outraged and committed to reforming the health care system and getting access for the poor and vulnerable next week as I’ve spouted from atop my soapbox this week?”

Honestly, will I really care a week from now? I hope I will. Still, I probably will be focused on simple gratitude that my hernia surgery is poast and be off on my next “crusade.” Guaranteeing access to care for the needy or reform a broken health care system will be a cause set aside for whatever captures my immediate interst.

The need I should focus on and something broken I can more immediately change is much more personal. That requires more than a 15 minute procedure.

Family Matters

Family Matters

Among countless pleasures of our 16-day European honeymoon we remember gracious hospitality, spectacular sites, pristine Autumn weather and reunions with cherished friends. And these do not include our delight upon hearing that a friend had upgraded us to First Class for our 8-hour return flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. Ours was truly the honeymoon of our dreams… a dream we will long remember.

One extraordinary gift was the opportunity to visit the small rural hamlets from which my German ancestry emigrated. My paternal great-great grandparents came from Ellsdorf-Esch, near Cologne, in 1850. My mother’s German ancestry (she’s half Irish) left Weiberg/Hegensdorf near Kassel in 1856 for America.

Wanting to symbolically mark the occasion, we gathered dirt from fields near both sites. On our next visit to the cemeteries in NE Nebraska where these forebears are buried we will sprinkle earth from their homeland upon their graves. We will do this in their honor, in gratitude and in testimony to the enduring family bond they established.

We will not perform this simple ritual with naive sentimentality. The strength of family bonds we so easily take for granted required that they cut the bonds that linked them to family, culture and homeland. Their sacrifice was immense and should never be romanticized nor underestimated.

They left everything they possessed and all they knew out of necessity — families from the Rhineland were reeling from intractable poverty, lack of opportunity and political repression following the failed social revolution of 1848.

Virtually all German emigrants to America were desperate refugees fleeing intolerable conditions for a better life. Surely they could never have fathomed the good fortune of their children, not to mention the extravagances and indulgences of our honeymoon.

All this came rushing forth as I read a news report on my iPad from the comfort of our Minneapolis home. John Allen, a reporter for the Boston Globe, wrote about taking an old friend out to lunch in one of his favorite restaurants in Rome. The friend is Bishop Borys Gudziak, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Paris and president of the prestigious Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.

Toward the end of lunch, Gudziak looked at Allen and said something like: “This has been a great meal, and I thank you for it. Let’s not forget, however, that millions of people in this world live in extreme poverty, and could never dream of affording something like this.” Allen’s unspoken reaction was, “You’re a great guy, Borys, but you can be a real downer sometimes.”

Bishop Gudziak wasn’t finished. “Almost half of the world lives with less than what a cappuccino costs in this neighborhood, less than two euros a day, and 80 percent of the world lives on less than $10 a day,” he said, with rising intensity in his voice. “There’s 150 million homeless people, 100 million orphans, 60 million refugees.”

Yes, I too easily accept — even with sincere gratitude — the unfathomable opportunities and unmerited comforts of my life. I can easily sentimentalize our family heritage, minimizing the sacrifice, romanticizing the true story. I can claim it as a unique family saga when it is in fact a universal human search for freedom, dignity and a better life for our children.

The dirt we scooped from the fields of Ellsdorf-Esch and Weiberg/Hegensborf sits in a plastic container not far from my recliner, current book selections and flat screen television. Until we have the opportunity to sprinkle it upon the graves of our forebears in sacred testimony to their courage and sacrifice, I will remember that my story is not something out of the 19th century but is more accurately “our” story today.

I will remember with this photo of a migrant praying in a field near the border between Serbia and Croatia about 100 km (62 miles) west of Belgrade, Serbia on Oct. 18, 2015.   It is a family photo for truly this man is more than a neighbor, he is our brother:

image

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The inspirational article by John Allen about his lunch with Bishop Borys Gudziak is from the October 18 online edition of Crux [link].  The photo is from the Associated Press: (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic).

Who’s Invited? Who’s Not?

I saw and looked away. I could not look again. I could not even bring myself to read the accompanying story — I knew. We all know. The world knows too well! But not now, please!

We are planning our wedding! We want nothing to detract or conflict with our special day. The silver’s been polished. God forbid the weather be less than perfect!

Our special day leaves no room for too-much of what our world knows too-well. Individually and collectively we have perfected the fine art of distraction, denial and diversion. Not now, please!

The heart wrenching image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, lifeless on a Turkish shore, has been emblazoned in our consciousness. How are we to celebrate our marriage, mark this happy occasion with family and friends? We are here to commit our selves to one another in love, seek the blessing of the church.  Ominous images impinging on our celebration? No, not now!

Then, what’s the point? If not now, when? We are masters at slicing, dicing and segregating our loves and our lives. And, it doesn’t work! Our “gated communities” too often leave us more isolated, private and alone.

Is not marriage about unity, openness to life, self-giving? Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi was not on our invitation list — he needs to be. Not to dampen our celebration but to keep it real, full and consequential.

I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Then I realized that it is easy to love your neighbor because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose color, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers”, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now.

With these prophetic words, British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is summoning all of Europe to reaffirm its Judeo-Christian heritage in light of the current refugee catastrophe. Is this not the fullest and finest expression of love, to love precisely the one who is not just like you?

Will the world be better off because two people promise to love one another for the rest of their lives? We hope so. Perhaps it will be — provided our love is big enough, all-embracing enough, other-centered enough, life-giving enough.

Aylan Kurdi, as our young ring-bearers bring wedding bands to the priest for blessing, you will be remembered. Your spirit will summon us to look, to see and never look away again from what we dare to pledge in love — even unto death.
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You may read Rabbi Sacks’ superb article from The Guardian [here]. Special thanks to Susan Stabile for posting it on her Facebook page today.

Needing to Knead

My last post already confessed to my compulsion for needing the last word. Yes, that’s a well-ingrained fault that warrants my continuous attention (not always successfully). But there are other reasons I don’t want this site to degenerate into a Twitter-like roster of cut-n-paste stories Yours Truly finds of interest.

There’s a reason this blog is named, Kneading Bread! Watching my mother knead countless batches of flour, yeast and water I learned that her labor was not just about the bread. As growth enabled me to deduce patterns I discovered something quite interesting. On those days my mother chose to bake bread — often indulging a little extra energy really getting-into the kneading, I began to recognize it wasn’t primarily about the bread or our family’s love of her good food!

Yes, this blog enables me to wrestle with ideas and issues of importance to me and topics I believe to be of spiritual and social importance. If it’s not obvious, I “need to knead” this batch of ingredients the world regularly plops in front of us to see what comes of it, to discover what value it holds for our health and well-being.

But Kneading Bread is intended to be something more, more than my personal playground for having the last word or indulging my fiercely defended opinions! No, my purpose would fall short if posts failed to stimulate reflection or provoke the reader to wrestle with your own values, beliefs, convictions, commitments and ways of acting in community. As my mother demonstrated, it’s as much about the laborious act of kneading as it is about savoring the finished product!

She also demonstrated in countless ways that there are always exceptions to any rule. That’s true today. Sometimes you come across a quote that is so incisive, so well-crafted, so true it would be wrong to do a thing to it. Today is such a day!  I can do no better. On my best days, I wish I could say it so well:

We have become a society of machines and business degrees, of stocks and bonds, of world power and world devastation, of what works and what makes money. We train our young to get ahead, our middle-aged to consume, and our elderly to be silent. We are sophisticated now. We talk about our ideas for getting ahead rather than about our ideas for touching God, We are miles from our roots and light-years away from our upbringings. We have abandoned the concerns of the civilizations before us. We have forsaken the good, the true, and the beautiful for the effective, the powerful, and the opulent. We have abandoned enoughness for the sake of consumption. We are modern. We are progressive. And we are lost.

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These prophetic words were written by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB. I came to them via my friend Sheila Wilson’s Facebook posting. The only citation I can give is what Sheila gave. It is from Chittister’s book, What Does It Mean to Be Human? In a way, a specific page reference is unnecessary — anything Joan Chittister writes is worth reading!

Whose Side Are We On?

Disclaimer:  You will not want to finish reading this post.

Did you feel it? Probably not! The earth beneath our feet shifted a bit from its old axis yesterday.

There are moments that are truly transformative — yesterday was one. America changed forever on September 11, 2001. When the history of the 21st century is written, I believe 9/11 will pale in comparison with all that July 9, 2011 symbolizes.

There were no catastrophic deaths; visible edifices did not crumble in flames. Like a poor girl from an obscure town on the fringe of an imposing empire giving birth in Bethlehem of Judea, what happened yesterday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia will likely go unnoticed by world leaders consumed with their presumption of power.

Like the irrepressible pressure that builds over eons causing the earth to quake — or the indomitable life-force within a tulip bulb that splits darkness, dirt and cold to blossom in Spring — forces building over centuries converged yesterday and found insistent and incisive expression.

It is as if the Book of Revelation found apocalyptic voice once again: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Here is a sampling. Beware, its tough reading — you will want to “zone-out”, stop once you get the gist, keep it at arm’s length if you succeed in making it all the way.

  • There is an unjust global system that results in exclusion. Individualism is at the heart of this injustice. The rule of money is fueling this injustice.
  • Keep fighting for justice — Focus on people and interpersonal encounter not abstract ideologies; be moved by their suffering.
  • A just economy is one that serves people —where the quest for profits dominates, the earth is destroyed, and there is an unjust distribution of goods.
  • The economy must foster conditions that are compatible with human dignity and that unlock the potential of each person by respecting all of their rights as a person and allowing each one to flourish.
  • A just distribution of goods is not a task for philanthropy or charity alone; there is a moral obligation to ensure this just distribution.
  • An inclusive economy enables all people to fully participate; solidarity and subsidiarity are only fully present when participation is real.
  • All people and states are interdependent; we need global and international action to achieve justice.
  • The Church is not innocent when it comes to the sins of colonialism.
  • Our faith is radical and countercultural.

Pope Francis chose remote Santa Cruz, Bolivia — hardly an epicenter of economic prowess or political prestige — for his prophetic exhortation.

Like a “voice crying in the wilderness”, Francis proclaims “the way of the Lord.” And let us not miss the poignancy of the location, Santa Cruz — are we not being invited to look upon the holy cross on which the Body of Christ hangs today?

I confess my tremendous resistance to paying more than pious lip service to Francis’ moral vision. Social and economic structures in which I am enmeshed serve my interests. I prefer not to see those who are excluded or on whose backs my security is built.

My hunch is most of us are in the same boat, heavily invested in the status quo. The more structures serve our personal interest, especially as we age, the more we resist change.  This seems to be the bane of the powerful, the truth of the ages!

But change we must. Change we will, willingly or not. Like the indomitable life force of a tulip or the irrepressible pressure of tectonic plates, the earth is shifting under out feet — and in this an always compassionate but insistent God is alive and active.

When the history of the 21st century is written, with whom and on whose side will we wish we had stood?
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I am indebted to Robert Christian at millennialjournal.com for his marvelous synopsis of Francis’ speech. The above sampling of themes are lifted from his post.  I heartily recommend his entire summary to you [link].