Please Take Care of the Children

Three simple thoughts from sitting on a plane in China…

When giving the safety instructions — first in Chinese, then in English — the flight attendants on Air China routinely include the phase, “Please take care of the children.” How different that sounds than the American directive, “Put your own mask on first, then assist others.” Hmmm! What would it be like if we more regularly and routinely heard ourselves saying, “Please take care of the children.”?

How gently and generously we must enter another culture and contextualize our own! On a flight from Beijing to Shanghai I overheard a man in the row behind explaining an intervention he made at a business reception the evening before. His hosts were about to open a bottle of champagne with a cork screw. Even with the best of intentions, we often don’t understand what we are doing. Gracious humility goes a long way.

On the same flight from Beijing to Shanghai we did not even begin the boarding process until the scheduled time of departure. Once everyone was seated and buckled-up we then sat on the runway for an additional hour and fifteen minutes. Why? The extreme pollution blanketing the city decreased visibility to a few hundred yards. This was more than an annoying inconvenience. It was a stark reminder that we are literally choking ourselves with inaction on climate change.

Yes, what would it be like if we more regularly and routinely heard ourselves saying, “Please take care of the children.”?

Off ’til December 15

Thanks to many of you who are faithful readers.  You should know that I will be occupied with other things for the next two weeks — I’m off to China with my 14 y/o grandnephew and namesake.  Leaving the home front under the able and watchful care of my husband and Jeb the Dog!  This site will likely go silent until at least until December 15.  Again, thank for you interest in Kneading Bread.

Thanks for Everything, Even Death

Ending! So many endings! The end of the year is fast approaching. My scooter went into storage a few weeks ago. The patio furniture has been returned to the garage rafters. Trees are barren now. Even our Thanksgiving gatherings are primarily focused on gratitude for what has been.

Brittle brown stubble, a bit frost touched, marks once lush pastures at Wellsprings Farm. Sunset encroached on my days at the hermitage while dawn’s laboring toyed with my eager, expectant eyes. Ice settled the lake’s surface to a silent sheen, a blanket of white crystals acccenting nature’s somnolence.

Call it culmination, fruition, fulfillment, ending, whatever! There is a certain finality built into all things. Ultimately, we all die. Once death leered on the horizon, frightening, tragic, to be fought and denied, or simply ignored. Eventually, a certain silence dawns. Our eyes eagerly pierce and parse its darkness.

An enduring gift of these recent hermitage days echoes still, blanketing my anxious questioning, casting light beyond my fears. The gift? A poem by Michael Dowd:

Without the death of stars, there would be no planets and no life.
Without the death of creatures, there would be no evolution.

Without the death of elders, there would be no room for children.
Without the death of fetal cells, we would all be spheres.

Without the death of neurons, wisdom and creativity would not blossom.
Without the death of cells in woody plants, there would be no trees.

Without the death of forests by Ice Age advance, there would be no northern lakes.
Without the death of mountains, there would be no sand or soil.

Without the death of plants and animals, there would be no food.
Without the death of old ways of thinking, there would be no room for the new.

Without death there would be no ancestors.
Without death, time would not be precious.

What, then, are the gifts of death?

The gifts of death are Mars and Mercury, Saturn and Earth.
The gifts of death are the stardust within our bodies.

The gifts of death are the splendors of shape and form and color.
The gifts of death are diversity, the immense journey of life.

The gifts of death are woodlands and soils, ponds and lakes.
The gifts of death are food: the sustenance of life.

The gifts of death are seeing, hearing, feeling — deeply feeling.
The gifts of death are wisdom, creativity, and the flow of cultural change.

The gifts of death are the urgency to act, the desire to fully be and become.
The gifts of death are joy and sorrow, laughter and tears.

The gifts of death are lives that are fully and exuberantly lived, and then
graciously and gratefully given up, for now and forevermore. Amen.

Yes, for all that was we give thanks. For all that is and will be we give thanks. For all endings, even death, we give thanks to the One in Whom we all finally abide.

“The Gifts of Death” by Michael Dowd taken from Evidential Mysticism and the Future of Earth, Evidence: Oneings, A Publication of the Center for Action and Contemplation, vol. 2, #2; 2014, pp. 22-23.

Guilty As Charged

Ever been called a heretic? “Them’s fightin’ words” where I come from. Well, something just said wasn’t a direct accusation of me but struck enough of a cord to make me squirm.

Of course, the heresy to which many of us are prone is as old as Christianity. Variations are so endemic to our human psyche they undoubtedly pre-date Christianity and exist in all great world religions.

An especially virulent outbreak is chronicled in the fourth century fights between the monk, Pelagius and St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo. It flared to epidemic proportions again in the “works righteousness” controversy of the Protestant Reformation. We haven’t resolved it and it hasn’t gone away.

Truly, it’s not about ancient history or abstract theology. I recognize the perversion inside me. It resides in each of us and in our faith communities, even if dormant.

“Pelagianism” distorts our sense of right and wrong.  It distracts us from what really matters, leads us to be judgmental of others, and disguises a self-righteous attitude. Yes, indeed, “them’s fightin’ words!”

Today Pope Francis admonished the bishops of Italy against a temptation to Pelagianism. As will any authentic proclamation of the Gospel it applies to all of us, not just to bishops:

Pelagianism brings us to have faith in structures, organisations, and plans that are perfect because [they are] abstract. Sometimes it even leads us to adopt a controlling, tough and prescriptive attitude. The law gives the Pelagian a certain sense of superiority… And it makes its seem as though [the Christian] is doing a good deed.

Francis’ morning admonition, directed to all of us, conveys a sense of urgency in light of the pressing challenges and urgent needs facing our world today:

[I]t is no good seeking solutions in conservative or fundamentalist attitudes, in the revival of types of conduct and forms that are dated and that lack a capacity to be significant even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed doctrine that is incapable of generating questions, doubts, queries but it is alive and able to unsettle and enliven people. It has a face that is not rigid, a body that moves and grows and a tender flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.

His is the way of humility, selflessness, the Beatitudes. This makes me squirm. I have to confess that it’s a whole lot easier living within the comfort and certainty of my self-righteous heresy.
My source is the news service, Vatican Voices. The report is available [here].  The bold print in the final quote is mine for emphasis.

We All Have One

My friend Susan Stabile has a most interesting spiritual pedigree. She is a professor and faculty fellow for spiritual development at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. That’s impressive. But what makes her so spiritually fascinating is that she lived in Asia as an ordained Buddhist nun in her early thirties. Needless to say, she does not fit the stereotypical model of your good Italian Catholic girl from Brooklyn!

While on the law faculty at St. John’s University in Jamaica Plains, NY she approached a Vincentian and asked his suggestion for something that might be helpful as she struggled with her conversion from Buddhism back to Christianity. Without hesitation he recommended Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Richard Rohlheiser. I, too, remember my sheer delight in coming upon the book — clearly one of the best I’ve ever read!

Susan is now leading a three-session discussion of this modern classic at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Minneapolis. She offers important and encouraging wisdom today on her blog, Creo en Dios from last evening’s session:

For Rolheiser, spirituality is about what we do with the desire that is deep within each of our hearts. And that means that “[s]pirituality is not something on the fringes, an option for those with a particular bent. None of us has a choice. Everyone has to have a spirituality and everyone does have one, either a life-giving one or a destructive one.” Thus, he describes each of Mother Teresa, Janis Joplin and Princess Diana as spiritual – albeit in very different ways.

The question then, is not whether we will be spiritual, but whether our spirituality is a healthy one, that is, one that leads us to “do things which keep us energized and integrated, on fire and yet glued together.” Conversely, he suggests, “if our yearning drives us into actions which harden our insides or cause us to fall apart and die then we have an unhealthy spirituality.”

Amen, to that! If you care to read more by Susan Stabile, perhaps even follow her on Creo en Dios, you may go to her blog site [here].

Is It Just Me or What?

Does anyone else think this is odd? Or, it is just me?

While waiting to taken to the airport for a return flight to MSP I occupied time by paging through a typical “summer issue” catalogue of attractive home furnishings. The items focused on color, comfort and casual. This one happened to be from “grandinroad” but could have been from any number of others in this market niche.

Something seemed oddly unsettling despite the ease with which the mostly patio and poolside items invited relaxation and rest. Not until page 46 did I get a sense for the dis-ease I was sensing. Not until then did a single, solitary human being appear amid all the creature comforts. He — again alone — would reappear on page 50. What are they selling? What appeals to consumers?

Three real live dogs and a puppy debut on pages 60-61 dedicated to “doggone fun.” The same woman in four different swimsuit poses is the only other human being to be found in this 96 page catalogue. She appears on page 90.

Does anyone else have questions about this? What does this say about our culture? About what sells and what people are “purchasing”?

I’ve had a marvelous week in PHX celebrating a birthday, a wedding anniversary and reconnecting with my three-generational AZ family. Some of our socializing and partying was poolside and on the patio. Each visit here is cherished and a gift.

Still, perusing this catalogue makes me even more eager to get back to my husband and Jeb the Dog in MSP.

Shameless Self-Promotion

People ask, “Who reads your blog?”

Certainly I know some regulars. Truth is, I don’t know. There is a statistical meter that registers how many people read a particular post but not their names or location. Generally, the site gets about 35 “hits.” Once is a while this explodes to 75 or more.

The biggest surprise is the few comments posted on the site itself. Most people who respond are people I know and do so via an email or face-to-face.

My brother in Florida tells me I’m too “churchy.” He’s asked me to stop “preaching”. Family members have been telling me that long before I had a blog!

Some people tell me they read regularly but I use too many big words. That too is a criticism I’ve heard many times in other contexts.

My closest friends and some family are more honest, “Richard, sometimes I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.”  I take that critique more seriously!

A special friend and highly regarded journalist advised me early on about readers. She said, “Of course, you hope people will want to read what you write. But don’t write for them. Write for yourself because you have something to say.” Her admonition resonates with my motivations so I have tried to remain faithful to her wise counsel.

Readership is not insignificant to my purpose, however. I write because I care passionately about life, God, other people and this creation. I hope never to come across as doctrinaire or a know-it-all. Yet, I do have a perspective that I hope will at least be received as well-considered. I do not aspire to make converts! Mostly, I want to provoke thinking, stimulate conversation and inspire action about things that matter.

Some longtime, faithful readers will detect a change in tone since Kneading Bread debuted in January 2014. This is the result of me learning this craft better, a sincere effort to take seriously the feedback I’ve received, but also the fact that I am in a very different place today than I was eighteen months ago. I hope you agree that Kneading Bread is also better as a result.

All this having been said, there remains the necessary but nettlesome matter of the fine art of shameless self-promotion. That is to say, if you like what you see here please tell others and direct them to the site. Invite them to select the “Follow” option that generally appears near the bottom or click the “Subscribe by Email” icon in the right-hand column.

For despite my professed disinterest in numbers, writing for 75 rather than 35 would feed my still robust ego needs.  To all of you who have read through to this point I express my sincere thanks.

My Much-Needed Reminder

I’ve been in Omaha visiting family since Friday and have not taken time to write here.  In that context, here is Pope Francis’s Palm Sunday homily.  Relatively short.  Certainly to the point!  It carries a much-needed reminder for me about humility…

At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: “He humbled himself” (2:8). Jesus’ humiliation.

These words show us God’s way and the way of Christians: it is humility. A way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!

Humility is above all God’s way: God humbles himself to walk with his people, to put up with their infidelity. This is clear when we read the Book of Exodus. How humiliating for the Lord to hear all that grumbling, all those complaints against Moses, but ultimately against him, their Father, who brought them out of slavery and was leading them on the journey through the desert to the land of freedom.

This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be “holy” for us too!

We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up. We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted. We will hear Peter, the “rock” among the disciples, deny him three times. We will hear the shouts of the crowd, egged on by their leaders, who demand that Barabas be freed and Jesus crucified. We will see him mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns. And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God.

This is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation.

Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the “form of a slave” (cf. Phil 2:7). In the end, humility means service. It means making room for God by stripping oneself, “emptying oneself”, as Scripture says (v. 7). This is the greatest humiliation of all.

There is another way, however, opposed to the way of Christ. It is worldliness, the way of the world. The world proposes the way of vanity, pride, success… the other way. The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert. But Jesus immediately rejected it. With him, we too can overcome this temptation, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well.

In this, we are helped and comforted by the example of so many men and women who, in silence and hiddenness, sacrifice themselves daily to serve others: a sick relative, an elderly person living alone, a disabled person…

We think too of the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price. We think too of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time. They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity. They follow him on his way. We can speak of a “cloud of witnesses” (cf. Heb 12:1).

Let us set about with determination along this same path, with immense love for him, our Lord and Saviour. Love will guide us and give us strength. For where he is, we too shall be (cf. Jn 12:26). Amen.

[Original text: Italian]

© Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Stepping Out

Yesterday we went to the Milk Carton Boat race at Lake Calhoun. Its our favorite part of the week-long Minneapolis Aquatennial. Yes, people actually construct boats from milk cartons and then get into them to race over the 100 yard course. Some are not entirely sea-worthy. It’s quite humorous to see otherwise boat-savvy Minneapolitans making fools of ourselves.

Amid the hundreds of revelers along the shore a Mother Mallard with five ducklings caught my attention. They seemed quite at home amid people who in other circumstances are their predators. Was Mama Duck actually teaching her children to befriend potential enemies and confront their engrained fears? These would be essential skills if they are to grow-up and survive in a modern urban setting.

It’s good for our health and delightfully frivolous to paddle-race milk carton boats from time to time.  Children brought by parents to witness the spectacle had their creative imaginations stretched and saw what playful competition can look like. Along with Mother Mallard and her five ducklings we were all getting an important lesson of living well in community.

Basking in the spirit of summer in The City of Lakes, I was reminded of the Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, The Swan:

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.


Poem translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

Your feedback, please!

First, thanks for reading.  Though I’d like to say writing is worth it whether anyone reads or not, a blogger doesn’t “put it out there” without the hope that others want to read. So, thank you.

In that spirit, I would really like to hear what you think?  Yesterday’s piece marked a threshhold of sorts — my 100th posting on Kneading Bread.  Seems like a good time to ask for your feedback.

Please let me know what you think.  Do you read regularly?  What do you like about Kneading Bread?  What don’t you like about it?  What suggestions would you make?

My motivation and goal have been to raise awareness, prompt reflection and promote action — all this from the perspective of a Catholic Christian trying to “practice” his faith in the context of community.

Please let me know your thoughts, opinions, suggestions.  You may do so by using the “comment” icon below — these comments would be posted for others to see.  Or, you may email me directly at <>  In either case, I do want to hear from you.  Your comments are important to me and to what Kneading Bread will become.