What’s Really on My Mind; What’s Really Going On

You’re correct… I haven’t been blogging much recently. Part of the reason is that I have felt constricted by a presumed obligation to write “for others” and not for myself. Would my honest curiosities and musings be too raw, too honest? Would anyone else really care? I’ve heard the blank response from my family (perhaps the only ones caring enough or willing to tell me), “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”

Well, today is different! Here’s what’s on my mind, the stuff I really want to talk about, what I’m really wrestling with inside. It’s from an email I just sent to a dear soul-mate friend with whom I had a long overdue phone conversation last evening. I offer it here with the simple desire to transparently “let others in” and with a faint hope that something, anything, will be of interest — maybe even helpful — to someone else. Here’s what’s been on my mind and what I really want to write…

Thanks for the great conversation. Really good to reconnect. It’s triggered a few more thoughts prompted by recalling that I had not spoken of a key awareness central to the “shift in consciousness” I’m aware of HAPPENING TO ME. And that last part is critical… happening to me.

I used to interpret the likes of Stephen Fowler and such behavioral psychologists as if we/I somehow had the ability or responsibility to “recraft” or even “recreate” our sense of meaning (e.g., our understanding of God, our “faith” as if it were some sort of volitional act). No!!! Now I’m recognizing that this “reformulation” is something that happens TO US, is done FOR US, is given (grace).

This is why talking with you is so important. I don’t create or craft the “shift in consciousness”. I don’t do the work. It’s done to us, for us!!! Nevertheless, speaking about it clarifies the experience (sheer gift) and enables me to recognize it, to RECEIVE IT! Thanks, buddy!

Another recognition from the past couple months of my wrestling with what felt like depression (dark night?)… the institutional church (in my case, the Society of Jesus but compounded by the global clergy sex abuse crisis that triggers my PTSD) betrayed me. Charlottesville and the pardoning of the AZ sheriff, etc. further sends me over the edge because it to also triggers my sense of betrayal.

I’ve both a BA and MA in Political Science, I worked for the Nebraska Legislature for 4 years, been a delegate to state Democratic conventions, staffed a district Congressional office (all before entering the SJ). I taught American Government as a regent, did a summer internship in DC with Network, spent three years doing human rights advocacy at the Jesuit Conference again in DC. I could be fairly described as having been a “Faith & Justice” Jesuit (I would be honored by such an epilation).

Trump and our thoroughly dysfunctional Congress feels to me like wholesale betrayal (not to mention the racist and fascist undertow and allusions) by the institutions of government — our “public life”, really — paralleling the earlier betrayal by the church. In other words our public institutions have proven themselves to be wholly undeserving/unworthy of the faith I/we presumed I/we could place in them.

This is the context in which I experienced the killing on July 15 of our neighbor, Justine Damond, by a Minneapolis police officer. She had called 911 for help — actually she was reporting what she feared was a sexual assault in the back alley. She was doing what she trusted was the correct and right thing to do. Those who were invested with the public trust to “protect” us shot her! (Welcome to the world of Black America!!!!).

Again, those in whom we thought we could place our trust proved, not only to be unworthy of trust, but abusive. In sum, the core institutions of our culture — the very foundations for my sense of meaning and trust — have proven to be bankrupt and even a source of betrayal.

That’s the context for my outrage about “God never gives us more than we can handle” bullshit and my passionate insistence, “Oh yes He does, AND THAT’S PRECISELY THE POINT!!!” I/we don’t reformulate or recreate “our” concept of God or recompose our understanding of faith. It’s done FOR US, TO US. My best way to give expression to the experience is that “We are BIRTHED into it!”

BTW, I hope you noticed that I used male specific language to describe God just above. That was choiceful and deliberate! Even our politically correct language and tip-toeing around our God-talk for fear of “offending” someone else’s sensibilities — or that gender-specific language somehow “limits” or “constrains” God — is fairly bankrupt in itself (if not a pile of bullshit — but we dare not say that out loud, do we😨😱😃👍👏👌)?

Maybe the reason I don’t blog very much any more is because this is really the stuff I want to write about. And I’m aware that most people wouldn’t know what the hell I’m talking about (I hope that’s not as elitist as it sounds). And for those who do, they’d take it as a cognitive exercise, an “academic” speculation, a Lonerganian “insight” we think we can “comprehend” in our 30s. And the truth is it’s just the opposite.

It’s not something we comprehend or “command” as as if we were strategically moving pieces in a cosmic game of chess! Every shift in consciousness is done to us, for us, is wholly given! We are continuously re-birthed when the womb in which we have found so much security and nourishment is found to be inadequate (i.e., “not-God”), actually idolatrous. When God gives us (i.e., invites, teases, nudges us to experience) more than we can handle!!!

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity sayeth the Lord!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

TS Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”: “I should be glad of another death.”

😎😃😉🤡🤓 Smile… this is all very Good News!

Same Old, Same Old

Archbishop Bernard Hebda may be a really nice guy. He may even be a holy man. But, sorry, this (if true as reported) is the same old hierarchical, cover-your-priestly-ass, clerical bullshit:

“Hebda in the Q-and-A added that the Ramsey County investigation found insufficient evidence to bring forth criminal charges against any individuals and that questions to whether Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct compromised his leadership “became irrelevant in my mind” once he resigned last June.

“Moreover, canon law is sufficiently realistic and practical in that it doesn’t authorize bishops to judge their peers, and does not contemplate any further role in this matter for me or the archdiocese,” Hebda said.” (Excerpted from current National Catholic Reporter).

Need we remind the archbishop that he “or the archdiocese” does not constitute “the church”? This is a gross failure of pastoral leadership and ignorance of what the Church of St Paul and Minneapolis needs and deserves!

Sweep the investigation of Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct with 24 adult males under the rug and maybe people will forget! This “became irrelevant in [your] mind”?

Need we remind the current archbishop that Nienstedt remains on the payroll — for life — of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis?  In addition, he remains a member of governing boards at the Catholic University of America as well as the Gregorian in Rome. Should not the faculty and administration of these institutions care about the moral integrity and reputation of their board members?

What’s buried alive stays alive!  But, the truth always comes out. The truth will be told. The only question is by whom.

For far too long the arrogant attitude of the hierarchy has been, “We know what’s best for the ‘lay faithful’.”  To this the People of God say, “BULLSHIT!”

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Full NCR report [here].

Such is Our Duty

This time of year reminds me of a church discipline from childhood I’ve long discarded. It’s called the “Easter Duty,” the obligation each Catholic has to go to Confession sometime during Lent. In theory it’s a beautiful and sensible practice — preparing for a full-blown, no-holds-barred celebration of Easter.

Fact is, no one does it. I haven’t for years. But something is shifting this year, something feels different, something is quickening deep inside. The desire to again look at the directive, perhaps even to reincorporate it into my spiritual practice, is awakening. As with all new growth, it’s fragile and might be easily smothered.  But this year it seems I’m being urged to take a fresh look.

Numerous reasons might be cited. First, and most significantly, my experience as a “spiritual coach” for men in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction has a profound reciprocal effect on me. Everyone familiar with the 12 Steps knows the critical importance of the famed Fifth Step — that arduous encounter with another human being when we admit out loud the exact nature of our wrongs.  This is done after a fearless moral inventory.

One need not be a rocket scientist to see the close connection between the Fifth Step and the Easter Duty. Both traditions are inspired and come to the same conclusion. An honest, accurate and thorough admission — out loud and to another person — of our moral failures with acceptance of responsibility for the wrong we have done engenders the recovery, health, well-being and serenity we seek. Twelve-Steppers understand such acknowledgement is critical and  essential to their recovery.

So, yes, with restored resolve I intend to make my Easter Duty this year. But something more is stirring deep down within this quickening awareness. It’s as simple as the archaic aphorism that has also fallen out of vogue: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” In fact, I would amend that to say, “What’s good for the adult male goose is good for the gaggle of geese!”

Pope Francis prophetically leads the way in gestures like the one we saw yesterday. In a monumentally historic statement the Roman Pontiff and Russian Orthodox Patriarch jointly affirmed, “We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world.”

Like every courageous and prophetic acknowledgement of moral culpability and consequent responsibility to make amends, such acknowledgement is easily ignored, overlooked if not denied, and often subverted by powers-that-be.

Yes, I intend to make my Easter Duty this year. I propose the “gander” do as well — by this I mean Francis’ fellow bishops and all church hierarchs (not all of whom are ordained). Even more, “What’s good for us geese has got to be good for the gaggle.”

We will gather as one Body in Christ to celebrate the unmerited grace of God at Easter. What then might be our corporate, collective “Easter Duty”? …a collective, corporate, fearless confession of our wrong doing with “a firm purpose of amendment”?

Unquestionably, a good place to start would be for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to launch and fully fund a truly independent, unhampered and fearless “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” regarding clergy sex abuse. But this is only a first essential step, the litmus test by which we demonstrate our sincerity to enter into the “repentance leading to resurrection” offered us in the Easter Triduum.

In the absence of such resolve by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, there is nothing preventing leadership within local dioceses from embracing an authentic season of conversation, shepherding us through death to life. I can think of no better place than our own Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis for this to begin.

Is not this the repentance God seeks, “to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6). Would this not be a Jubilee Year of Mercy, truly of Biblical proportions?

It is long past time for each and all of us to perform our Easter Duty!

Speaking of Elephants

Every once in a while something hits you up-side the head and you wish it hadn’t. Something challenges your enshrined values and you don’t want to yield your revered self-interest. Something written forty years ago surfaces and seems directed singularly at you.

That’s the case with a book on the formation of Thomas Merton’s prophetic spirituality I’ve just finished.  The part pestering me today is Merton’s assertion that “the one who can best point out our error, and help us to see it, is the adversary whom we wish to destroy. This is perhaps why we wish to destroy him. So, too, we can help him to see his error, and that is why he wants to destroy us.”

Only after humbly accepting this truth are we prepared for real transformation. Merton continues:

In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him. So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right. And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own particular truth. Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth.

That’s wonderful in principle and maybe in books.  But is it actually possible for any but the truly virtuous among us?  Somehow I remain entangled in a world that seems more nasty and complicated. How do we take such pious principles and give them flesh in the muddle of our real relationships — life as, and among, very imperfect people?

Last evening we watched a documentary on the criminal and civil prosecution of OJ Simpson. How does the family of Nicole Brown Simpson give expression to Merton’s ideal?

How do those who have experienced sexual abuse come to “love” their adversary? What does “love of our deluded fellow man” look like for them?

This week Minnesota Public Radio featured a marvelous piece on the Black Lives Matter movement. Where would we be if Rosa Parks had not said, “I’ve had enough — I’m not moving to the back of the bus!”

I’m resigned to the fact that there will always be “adversaries whom we wish to destroy.” I’m equally convinced that some adversaries like racism, violence, and all forms of abuse need to be challenged and destroyed.

I’m equally convinced that “Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth.” Fine sounding words and much needed admonition from geniuses like Thomas Merton. But what about most of us who muddle with our fellows in delusion and sin?  How do we name and honor behaviors which are just inexcusable?

The way forward? Mutuality. Respect. Encounter. Remaining in community, conversation and relationship. These sound nice but can remain so much etherial babble. For me, maybe you, a good start in giving them legs is by talking about elephants in the room.

________

The book referenced is In the School of Prophets: The Formation of Thomas Merton’s Prophetic Spirituality by Ephrem Arcement, OSB.  Cistercian Publications.  Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN. 2015. p 136.   Both quotes of Merton cited above are from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. New York: Image Books, 1966, #68.

The Resolute Face of Love

Yesterday was picture-perfect, just the sort of day for a graduation party in the yard. We were present to give testimony to Nathan’s achievement and as manifestation of the rich web of relationships and roles it takes to raise a child. Either is a sufficient reason for celebration.

The strong web of community endures even when we are unaware, overlaps with surprises that delight us. Here’s one… Bob & Maura, friends from the Church of St. Luke were at the party. We hadn’t seen each other since the graduate was a preschooler!  I had forgotten that Bob had been the college roommate of Nathan’s dad.

We shared the sort of three-minute update friends do after a break of thirteen years. What are we up to now? Weren’t those great days! In our case we grieved the sorry state of the church we love — a frequent topic for many of us in Minneapolis-St Paul over the past few years.

But as our perfect summer Sunday afternoon provided, as Nathan commences with his move to Seattle University, our circumstances inspired optimism, gratitude, hope, confidence. Despite our collective pain and considerable grief at what has transpired in our church over the past thirteen years, we remained oddly enthusiastic and happy.

Our sentiment was appropriate to a festive occasion.  In our hurried recap yesterday Bob, Maura and I had actually expressed an odd sort of satisfaction with our church.  Silence and secrecy kill — at lease now “the boil had burst, the festering pain finally exposed.”

We agreed that healing happens once facts are faced and truth is told.  In an odd sort of way, we acknowledged that we are actually a much healthier church in 2015 than we were in 1995. For institutions as well as individuals, recovery of mission and purpose can slowly but definitively commence with public confession of our sin.

Little could we have anticipated this morning’s news!  It came as a bolt of lightning, as a sudden shock, a welcome but totally unexpected surprise.  Though eagerly longed for by a long-suffering community, the resignation of Archbishop John Neinstedt does not elicit any sense of gloating.  Actually, a deep resonant grief underpins my profound gratitude which in turn inspires an abiding hope.

Vindication — and there is most assuredly a sense of vindication and justice in the refreshing news — feels kinder, gentler and much more merciful than either I would have ever expected or prescribed.  This morning’s deep emotions are less about a scandalous abuse of power and the excruciating pain inflicted, though there is plenty of that!  The deeper anguish now surfacing is for all that might have been, for a future that should have been!  This is the loss that we must truly grieve.

This morning is party cloudy in MSP, not nearly as picturesque as yesterday afternoon with Nathan. There will surly be cloudy days, some long nights and even a few storms ahead for Nathan and for all of us.  Once again we are reminded of what’s really important, where we stand and to whom we belong.

This is all possible because — ultimately — we rest securely within an intricate web of community that celebrates milestones, tells the truth, remains present amid grief, heals those in pain, cherishes our young, and cares for any who are vulnerable.  This is all possible because we rest in the resolute love of God.

What an ideal “village” in which to raise a child… what a graced way to experience “church.”

Remember, Lest We Forget

Anniversaries are important. Most are deserving of celebration. Some are to be remembered lest we ever forget. We are approaching just such an anniversary.

On July 1, 2014 Commonweal magazine broke the story that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis had been under investigation for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians and priests. Ten men had signed affidavits filing their official complaints.

Rumors of Nienstedt’s misconduct was not news. I had heard such allegations as long as ten years ago. What made this story news was that ten men had now spoken up, telling their story and registering their complaint with officials. Once Commonweal broke the story, we learened the Archdiocese had hired a law firm in late 2013 to conduct what the Archdiocese then promised to be a full and independent investigation.

Let’s be clear, the allegations against our Archbishop were made by adult men. We are not talking about pedophilia or sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. The better comparison is with disgraced Cardinal Archbishop Keith O’Brien of Scotland. At least five men – three priests, a former priest and a former seminarian – accused O’Brien of either sexually harassing them or pressuring them into sex, in allegations that went back to the 1980s.

O’Brien admitted “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.” He was discretely “disinvited” from participating in the conclave that elected Pope Francis. In March 2015 it was announced that he had renounced the “rights and privileges” of his office but gets to keep his prestigious title.

Regular readers of Kneading Bread know that I have frequently reiterated what rank-and-file Catholics know all too well… the root cause of our sex abuse crisis in the church is the culture of clericalism, hierarchical arrogance and preoccupation with protecting power and privilege. Readers will also recall that I have called for Neinstedt’s resignation in these posts on at least three occasions.

On July 7, 2014 I wrote: It’s long past time for more than a little honesty in our church. We are in urgent need of changing the sieve that keeps secret the tragic truth poisoning our church family. Honest confessions are long overdue. Actually, we need far more than “a little” honesty.

We have a right to integrity and transparency. We have a right to hold those who claim positions of moral leadership to be persons worthy of emulation. We have the right to know the truth about any who claim authority to teach moral truth.

Ten official affidavits complaining of harassment and/or misconduct does not sound like behavior among “consenting adults.” We have a right to know the truth about these ten complaints and for those in authority to act appropriately.  If there is nothing to hide, then what’s there to hide?

All abuse is perpetrated by a culture that holds its victims hostage within silence and secrecy. This is true of abuse within families, schools, civic organizations or churches. What makes the allegations against our Archbishop so egregious is that he presumes to provide moral leadership and teach moral truths. Hiding behind a wall of silence and secrecy perpetuates the abuse.

This “culture” of silence and secrecy — delay strategies to bury the story, keeping a low public profile, hoping we will forget — further victimizes this Archdiocese and this community which deserves, expects and has received far better from Catholic leadership.

Peter Day, a priest of the Archdiocese of Canberra, Australia recently wrote a passionate call for reform in light of the sex abuse scandal roiling his country and the whole church. He implores us to fully acknowledge what we all know — too many of our shepherds have acted like the “hired men” in John’s Gospel “who abandon the sheep when they see a wolf coming … leaving the wolves to attack and scatter the sheep.” (Jn 10: 12)

Day further exposes what we all recognize but feel powerless to change: “Underpinning this hired men culture is an all-too pervasive clericalism in which men feel set-apart, vainly pursuing the trappings of power and prestige — acting like corporate CEOs hell-bent on protecting the company brand instead of like shepherds willing to lay down their lives (and their reputations) for their sheep.”

But we are NOT powerless. We are not pawns. We are The People of God.  From half-way around the world, Peter Day expresses our local reality and our need. “In the pews, in the villages, in the schools; people everywhere, are longing for us to simply face facts, to face the truth with humility — that’s what good shepherds do.”

July 1 will be the one year anniversary of Commonweal exposing the charges made against our Archbishop. Months ago the media asked the Archdiocese about the disposition of the allegations. Archdiocesan officials admitted that the law firm had completed its work but the investigation was continuing so no further information could be shared.

July 1 is an anniversary we must not forget. Media should again ask Archdiocesan leadership. Editorial boards must clearly express the needs and expectations of the community.  Parishioners would do well to inquire of their pastors about the disposition of the charges against one for whom we pray by name at every Eucharist.  Civic leaders have a right to inquire about any who would claim high moral profile in our community.

Powers that be will want us to forget. Summer in Minnesota offers a wealth of diversions and many pleasant distractions. But, remember we must! “In the pews, in the villages, in the schools; people everywhere, are longing for us to simply face facts, to face the truth with humility — that’s what good shepherds do.”

We want, need and deserve a better shepherd. Archbishop Neinstedt, its time to do the right thing!

__________________

The article by Peter Day is from Global Pulse Magazine [link]. This is a new journal covering stories and offering opinion from around the world on Catholic topics or issues of moral import. I am not sure whether you need a subscription to access the full story. I paid $12 for an annual subscription and eagerly recommend you consider the same.

At Long Last, Hope!

A 60-year-old woman battles a fourth recurrence of cancer and is told by her oncologist that the chemo she has been receiving for the past few months has been ineffective.

A 52-year-old man living in a Catholic Charities residence for chronic alcoholics asks, “Where’s God? I’ve pleaded… on my knees! Why won’t God take away the pain?”

With excruciating grief etched across his face, a father kneels aside his bloodied deceased son. They had gone to their masque in Yemen for Friday prayer when it became the target of a suicide bomber.

To such as these the cliché, “There is always hope!” easily sounds stupid and saccharine if not insulting!  Those who proffer such platitudes either don’t know what they are talking about or they live in huge denial of what this Holy Week is all about.

Many of you know that after twenty years of confronting anxiety and depression I went public in July 2014 with my story of sexual abuse and the compounding anguish of being dismissed by Jesuit leadership. Today I want all to know that a nasty, brutal chapter of my life has found healing and closure.

Jesuit leadership really “stepped up to the plate” and I feel validated, vindicated and reconciled. My deep respect and affection for the Society of Jesus has been affirmed. They eventually responded with the best of what I know them to be capable.

In the often nightmarish ordeal I came to learn something about hope. Just weeks before my twenty-year struggle found resolution, a good friend said to me, “Give it up, the Jesuits aren’t going to do anything.” She of all people should know better — and so should the rest of us!

A woman with cancer, a man with chronic alcoholism, a parent grieving the senseless death of a child, victims of sexual abuse… we need more than pious platitudes or cheap grace. That’s what Holy Week is all about.

At some point or another we will all be bought to a place where optimism crumbles, expectation for easy solutions shatters. We are left with raw, stark, desperate hope! We discover nothing more than a fire-tempered conviction — discovered by a frantic clinging to life — coming from a source other than ourselves.

During my twenty-year ordeal wrestling with the demon of sexual abuse I was never optimistic. In fact, quite the opposite! There was too much pain, too many brick walls, blind denials, freaked-out stares and others battening down their defenses.

As with the dejected friends returning home to Emmaus, I too was tempted, “Just give it up! They’re not going to do anything.”  Yet over time, and wholly separate from my best effort, I ran up against a deep source of energy and conviction from a place certainly other than myself.

Today I would describe this as an insistent gift, a tenacious pulse
that I did not always welcome or experience as consoling. It was
beyond me and, frankly, sometimes a burden I did not wish to carry, a thorn in my side, even a royal pain in the ass. Yet it recurred — despite my impermeability, resistance, fatigue or resignation.

Today I call this involuntary impulse, Hope! We do not profess Faith, Optimism and Love! Each of the theological virtues comes as a pain in the ass from time to time. In that, we learn they are not of our own creation but truly gift.

Recurring cancer, chronic alcoholism, terrorist fanaticism, sexual abuse bring us face-to-face with our abject poverty, structures that defend — even enshrine — personal sin or an impervious culture that seems down right hostile.

Yes, we desperately need and await a savior — not of our own conjuring, not even of our own capacity to imagine. Very much from within our creation, though not of our making. Hope makes its tentative appearance when we — even reluctantly, even wishing it were otherwise or according to our plans — hazard to trust that what we really need will all be given.

Appearing amid the brokenness of our personal and collective lives, hope appears in a way and at a time not of our choosing. It is most assuredly not anything we can provide ourselves. Despite my protestations of personal autonomy, even to say “I accept” the gift sounds increasingly dissonant and much too volitional.

Ultimately, we are brought to our knees. At some time or other we are brought low by the death-dealing that life throws at us. We are invited to our knees during Holy Week because this is the truth of our lives — despite our best efforts, ALL is gift. But, ALL will be given.

This is what we are urged to encounter this week — God giving ALL in Jesus. We are invited to accept our radical inability to save ourselves, or even our ability to protect those we love from life’s death-dealing. We are compelled to recognize the inadequacy of easy optimism and pious platitudes. The very most we can muster is to receive God’s gift — always given as a gift of self!

Our eyes are opened.  We like others before us recognize this in telling our stories, in bread blessed, broken, shared — amid the dejection, the real stuff of our lives, where we most need to be saved.