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“And the Winner Is…Spotlight!”

“And the Winner Is…”

“And the winner is…Spotlight!”

At some point in our lives, most of us have experienced the unexpected delight when light breaks through dark clouds…closed minds…wounded hearts.

“When light breaks through” is the image that captures what I felt when I heard Spotlight won two Oscars: for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Spotlight is a movie I recommend everyone see and engage in conversation about…even if you are uncomfortable. Dialogue is one way cultural change is accelerated. This is especially true in situation where historically the “We don’t talk about it” response was enough to end any conversation. Makes it really hard to see the light as it breaks through…

A fact-based movie like Spotlight focuses awareness on deeply ingrained patterns of behavior that threaten and demand people sit down and shut up, pledge loyalty to schools they attended decades ago, or trust friends and colleagues in perpetuity, especially when a leader’s behavior (priest, monsignor, bishop, or cardinal) is out of integrity with the core values and mission of the organization they represent. We hold those who lead to a higher standard.

Silence, Secrecy and Judgment

Spotlight moves me. The setting is Boston in 2001. The new editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron, assigns a team of journalists to investigate allegations against a priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Their research reveals a culture of silence, secrecy, and judgment that shakes Boston and continues to reverberate through the Catholic Church to this day…15 years later.

For years, the Globe had received tips about clergy sexual abuse. Yet, connecting the dots and exposing the depth of the pattern occurred only when a Boston outsider, who was Jewish, had the courage to follow his intuition and commit the resources of the Spotlight team, each of whom had grown up as practicing Catholics in Boston.

Two Things Became Clear

As I watched the story unfold, two things became clear to me:

  1. The degree to which our biases blind us to seeing creative possibilities for action; and
  2. Leadership means engaging with integrity.

Held to a Higher Standard

The movie ends with a series of four screens listing more than 200 dioceses in the United States and around the world where clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups have occurred. As I walked out of the theatre, I felt nauseous. The last time I was nauseous at a movie was when I saw “Twelve Years a Slave” a few years ago. I felt guilt as a white American, complicit in dehumanizing behavior to black men, women, and children.

This time I felt guilt for remaining loyal to the institution…for not naming sexual and spiritual abuse a casualty of the clerical culture and the “good Catholics” that protect it…for believing bishops and cardinals when they commit they’ve addressed issues in their dioceses. Perspective taking is easier when we see the story and feel the emotions of those most affected.

Hope is never lost, even when buried under the debris of corruption. It’s worth seeing and worth feeling whatever you feel. Processing what you feel frees you to expand your perspective and take creative action.

After the Oscars?

It’s a multiple choice question: What happens after the Oscars?

A: There is an uptick in interest and media commentary on Spotlight and the issue of clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups.

B: Some people who have not yet seen the movie decide they now want to watch it.

C: Apologists defend the institution, question the statistics presented, and reinforce what has been done to avoid history repeating itself.

D: All of the above.

I’ll choose D: All of the above.

Here’s my rationale: These are three of the pieces I’ve read this week. Keep in mind the movie Spotlight highlighted events in Boston fifteen years ago.

I was thrilled to hear Bishop Mark Bartchak commit to transparency and I love the “emotion usually wins…” reference in O’Hare’s blog. What sickens me is realizing good people sometimes make really poor choices when organizational politics trump courageously speaking truth. Despite all the changes that have been implemented over the past fifteen years, what saddens me is a sense that politics continue to drive the men in charge both nationally, at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and internationally, at the Vatican.

Kevin Clarke’s article in America Magazine

Kate O’Hare’s blog article on Patheos’ Catholic Channel

Although it is long, I have chosen to include Tom Doyle’s article because of the history and insight it offers:

BEFORE SPOTLIGHT – SOME BACKGROUND MEMORIES by Thomas P. Doyle

“I have learned over the past 32 years to be skeptical about much that surrounds the constant reality of clergy sexual abuse. Much of my skepticism is rooted in the non-stop statements of bishops and popes. It’s been mostly hot, foul air created by P.R. consultants and clever writers that bears resemblance to the truth only by default.

I have been overjoyed and grateful that “Spotlight” has been receiving accolades since it came out, and was even more so, when it was nominated for best picture but I admit that my skepticism got the best of me and I was preparing to be disappointed right up to the moment Morgan Freeman opened the envelope. Then…Whammo! When the “stun” wore off and I realized what had happened, I knew that this crusade so many people have been involved with for over a quarter of a century had just been raised to a whole new level.

My involvement goes way back, eighteen years before the volcanic eruption in Boston on January 6, 2002. I thought of what went on in those intervening years and of all the survivors, attorneys, journalists and supporters who drudged along, many like myself, wondering when or even if the issue of clergy sex abuse would ever get the recognition and attention it demanded. We were up against the institutional Catholic Church. The largest religion in the world and also by no strange coincidence, the largest corporation. It often seemed we were trying to move Mt. Everest with a bulldozer, and a small one at that.

I thought of Bernard Cardinal Law, thrust into center stage as the arch-villain, overseeing a crew of mini-villains who had been trying to contain the plague that burst forth that Sunday morning.

I was surprised, angered, hurt and bewildered by Bernard Law’s increasingly bizarre responses to the crisis he was unsuccessfully trying to control. Why this cold, bureaucratic reaction? Because eighteen years earlier when the horror of sexual abuse by clerics surfaced in Lafayette, Louisiana, Bernard Law was clearly part of the solution.

I was working at the Vatican Embassy at the time and was still a firm believer in the institutional Church and a naïve believer that once the bishops realized the real nature of this nightmare, they would go into high gear and do the right thing…as a group and as individuals. I was dead wrong on both! My job with regard to the Gauthe case from Lafayette was simply to manage the file. I prepared letters for the nuncio’s signature and kept him up to date with information. What had started as a series of confidentiality agreements with nine families in exchange for monetary payments – hush money – ended up to be the event that blew the lid off the widespread cover up of clergy sex abuse that had existed for decades. One family pulled out of the agreement and sued the diocese. Once that started, the District Attorney filed criminal charges since the abuse was within stature. That’s when things really changed. The media got ahold of the story and in spite of the Church’s efforts, the lid was off and it was staying off.

The Vicar General of Lafayette was the man I always communicated with. I’d ask for the bishop and get the VG. I finally gave up and worked with that. He told me they had sent Gauthe to the House of Affirmation which was a useless endeavor. I connected the good monsignor with Fr. Mike Peterson, a psychiatrist who had founded and ran St. Luke Institute. Without getting into too much detail, Mike put me in touch with Ray Mouton, the attorney the diocese was paying to defend Gauthe on the criminal charges. Ray, it turned out, was a brilliant lawyer, a Cajun who knew the territory down there but above all was a man with principles…and three children. He came to Washington and told me the diocese was hiding about 6 other sex abusers.

As soon as the Gauthe case became public, reports of sexual abuse in other areas started to surface. A major case was developing in the Providence, Rhode Island diocese at the time.

My job at the embassy brought me into regular contact with bishops. They all knew what was going on and they were especially shaken by the widespread publicity. One bishop, Dick Keating from Arlington, remarked one day that any time three or four bishops get together the topic of conversation inevitably ends up being clergy abuse. Newsweek published a picture of Gauthe in his jail cell! In my conversations with bishops it became clear many were honestly worried about what to do. What I did NOT know at the time is that there were also more than a few who were worried that the strategy they had been using might blow up in their faces. The common game plan was to admonish the priest and then send him to another parish where generally the same problem would start up again.

Ray, Michael, and I decided to put together a memo or “White Paper” for the bishops in an effort to help them deal with cases as they encountered them. Actually this was the result of a suggestion I received from one of the bishops. I presented the idea to several more bishops whom I considered friends and in whom I had trust. They all agreed it was a great idea and offered to help.

My main source of support and the man I went to for guidance more than anyone else was Bernard Cardinal Law. I had met him when I first went to work at the nunciature. He was bishop of Springfield, MO, at the time. He was intelligent, personable, down to earth and not at all pompous. He and I hit it off from the start. When we discussed the sex abuse issue, which was fairly often, he recognized the urgency and the need to do something. The other three prelates I relied on for support and guidance were Anthony Bevilacqua who was bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, Cardinal John Krol and Bishop Dick Keating from Arlington.

Ray, Mike, and I were conferring daily on what later became known as the “Manual.” We ran every section by the nuncio, Archbishop Laghi, and the four bishops. Law was archbishop of Boston by then but not a cardinal. We were also conferring about the ongoing drama in the Lafayette diocese so that I could continue to keep my boss, the Archbishop, abreast of the almost daily developments.

In addition to the manual which was divided into sections and set up in a Q&A format, we also put together an action proposal called a “Crisis Intervention Team.” The idea was to have psychologists, attorneys, experts in insurance and media issues and pastoral care specialists available around the country. If a bishop had a report of sexual abuse by a priest he could immediately call the coordinating office for the intervention program which would be at the bishops’ conference headquarters in Washington and that office could put him together with volunteer experts from his geographic area.

The very first move was to reach out to the victim and the victim’s family for pastoral care purposes. We wanted to isolate the abuse and the abuser from the “church” and let the people know that the “church” was concerned first and foremost about them and would do anything to help them. In other words, we wanted the victims and their families to know that they were the Church. I recall in one of our discussions we were trying to figure out who would be the best person to make the initial outreach to the family. We unanimously agreed it was NOT to be a cleric of any kind. The bishop was to be a key player in this stage but his presence to the victims would depend on their level of comfort.

This strategy was to be available to bishops but not in any way mandatory contrary to the misrepresentations of the Conference spokespersons at the time.

We also planned on a special research committee to work with the bishops. It would have bishop-members but also a team of experts who would provide the very best state-of-the-art information on every aspect of sexual abuse from the causes for the abuser’s behavior and how to handle him to the effects on the victims and how best to help them.

Cardinal Law was solidly behind the plan and promised to gather support form among the bishops. Likewise, Cardinal Krol and Bishops Bevilacqua and Keating also were solidly behind it. I recall a meeting Mike Peterson and I had with Cardinal Krol at the National Shrine. I had sent him a draft of our “manual.” After we sat down and chatted a bit, it was time to get down to business. He pulled the manuscript out of his briefcase and held it up and said, “If I had asked a bunch of experts to come up with the best possible plan on this problem, this is exactly what I would expect.”

By then it was clear that the leadership of the bishops’ conference was not supportive of any of our efforts. We had sent copies of the manual over to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) but they told the media there was nothing in it they did not already know. This included, I suspect, our prediction that unless something drastic was done and done soon the lawsuits would multiply and it would cost the U.S. Church one billion dollars in ten years.

Sidebar: I recall an archbishop telling me around that time that I should not get too excited about this problem because “nobody is going to sue the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Law knew about the opposition from the Bishops’ Conference. It was not “the bishops” in general who were stone-walling, but the key players in the conference leadership. I always maintained that had there been some strong leaders from the body of bishops who were more concerned about the victims than their image the whole history would have been different.

Ray, Mike, and I had planned to meet with then Archbishop Law in May 1985 at a Marriott hotel near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The purpose was to iron out details with the manual and the action plan. Law was the chairperson of the bishops standing committee on Research and Pastoral Practices (I think I recall the name correctly). His plan was to set up a sub committee of the standing committee and that would be the one that handled the sex abuse issue. 

Law had just been named a cardinal in May and had to bow out of the meeting at the last minute but sent Bishop William Levada, the committee secretary, in his place. Levada showed up and the four of us had a very cordial and productive session. He was positive about the proposed plan, the proposed budget and the content of the manual. By the time he left that evening we were confident that there would be real action on the part of the bishops.

A couple weeks later I was in Montreal visiting my sister and received a phone call from Bishop Levada. The conversation was short. He told me the plan was shelved. I was stunned and asked why and was told that another committee had been appointed to take care of it and it would not look good if we appeared to be at cross-purposes with them. I was too flabbergasted to argue or debate. I couldn’t get ahold of Law or Krol to find out what had happened. A few days later I managed to connect with Bishop Bevilacqua and poured out my frustration on him.

In the meantime, the three of us regrouped. We had a couple hundred copies of the manual printed and took about a dozen to Bishop Quinn in Cleveland and asked him to take them to the planned meeting of all the bishops at Collegeville in June 1985 and try to lobby our plan with them. He agreed but we never found out whether he got anywhere or not or if he even did anything. The collected bishops had a one-day executive session about clergy abuse at which their General Counsel, the auxiliary bishop of Providence and a psychologist from Chicago gave presentations. Mike Peterson, Ray Mouton and I were not only not invited and knew very little about the proposed agenda. We were intentionally excluded!

After it was over I spoke with several prelates including Cardinal Krol, Bishop Bevilacqua, and Archbishop Laghi. Laugh asked why Peterson and I were not there. Krol and Bevilacqua both said the only worthwhile speech was that given by the psychologist and both said the other two speakers were useless.

By mid-spring, I started to really comprehend what was going on. I had noticed at the Nunciature that other than Archbishop Laghi, no one else seemed to be too interested in the Gauthe case or in the other reports that were coming in. A couple of the priests on staff told me that we don’t air our dirty laundry in public, an obvious warning which I picked up at the time. The archbishop had a weekly meeting with the secretary general of the bishops’ conference and he shared with me one day that whenever he brought up the topic the sec-general was either disinterested or irritated.

The bishops’ conference leadership were actively trying to find a way to effectively spin the sex abuse problem into oblivion. I knew there was a resentment towards me and definitely a resentment towards Ray Mouton. They didn’t mess much with Mike Peterson because as director of St. Luke’s he knew where a lot of the skeletons were hidden. They were engaging in a cover up…THE cover-up. Bishop Bevilacqua told me that contrary to what Levada had told me and contrary to a press release from the Bishop’s Conference there was no other committee. Nothing was going to happen.

Ray, Mike, and I weren’t sure where to go now that it was obvious the Bishops’ Conference had shut the door. A number of the bishops who recognized the seriousness of the problem engaged us to give seminars and workshops to their priests. We also received some requests from provincials of religious communities.

The Bishops’ Conference issued a few statements about sexual abuse of minors starting in 1988 and some were quite good but everything was voluntary and nothing they said or did made the slightest difference. If they had made a difference it’s doubtful there would have been the flood of lawsuits that was on the way. They told the public that they could not act on our proposals because every bishop is independent. They referred to the Crisis Intervention Team as a “Swat Team” which, besides being incorrect was also ludicrous. They also announced publicly through the office of their General Counsel that the whole plan was a scheme on our part…Ray, Mike, and I… to sell our program to the bishops and profit from the growing problem. Besides being a completely libelous assertion it also told us that they were threatened, so much so that they had to resort to slandering the very people who were trying to help them. In their case the truth didn’t make them free. It made them mentally constipated.

Cardinal Law and I spoke a few times about the turn of events and he assured me it was beyond his control which I believed then and still believe. Law was on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Conference leadership at the time. He was also a newly minted cardinal and caught up with all the celebrations at home in Boston. January 1986 came and I left the Nunciature. Mike Peterson, Ray, and I continued to collaborate on trying to find newer and better ways to cope with the sex abuse plague which by then was noticeably gaining ground. We were on our own. Several bishops were genuinely interested but the National Bishops’ Conference could have cared less in spite of their PR statements to the contrary.

In December 1985 we sent every bishop in the US a personal copy of the Manual which included copies of several articles chosen by Mike Peterson that explained much about the sexual disorder that compelled men to violate children. Cardinal Law had sent us a check to help cover the costs of putting together the final version and sending out the copies.

In November Mike went to Rome to talk to some people in the Vatican about the problem and returned after a week very dejected and discouraged. The people whom we saw, and all were mid-level flunkies, did not take it seriously and blamed our U.S. culture. It was our problem and we had to deal with it.

Not long after he returned, the bishops had their annual meeting in D.C. Michael rented a suite for a hospitality event to which he invited all the bishops to come and discuss the problem of clerics sexually violating minors. Out of about 300 bishops present, twelve showed up.

My relationship with Cardinal Law drifted into the mist as I expected it would for no other reason than the vast differences in our stations and what he told me were the crushing demands of being the archbishop of Boston. He invited me to Boston to spend a weekend with him which was very enjoyable but included no substantial discussion of clergy sex abuse. We continued to drift apart save for annual Christmas and Easter greetings.

By 1986, I was in the Air Force but I continued to be increasingly involved in the sexual abuse issue and my involvement I am proud to say, was totally supported by my Air Force superiors.

By March of 2001, I knew something was cooking in Boston. Kristen Lombardi, a very bright young journalist it turned out, contacted me and asked for help with a series she was writing about the cover-up of Fr. John Geoghan by the Boston Church establishment, especially Cardinal Law. By then I was beyond being shocked, but what I learned about this horrific debacle and Bernard Law’s complicity made me very, very sad. I can say the same about Cardinal Bevilacqua whom I had known longer and much better than Bernard Law. When I saw how he was dealing with sex abuse victims in Philadelphia, my emotional response was that he had turned into some kind of red robed monster and was certainly not the man I had admired and trusted.

The next step after Kristen Lombardi’s series in the Boston Phoenix was the Globe. The Spotlight Team connected with Dick Sipe because of his book, Sex, Priests and Power, and he in turn put them on to me. The Phoenix was small and had no clout or power. The Boston Globe was another story altogether. Marty Baron had the prophetic insight to zero right in on the core of the problem…the system, and he had a team of highly dedicated, competent reporters. I was concerned that the Boston Catholic establishment would stonewall the reporters and put pressure on the Globe’s management to back off. The people at the Globe still remembered when Cardinal Law called down the power of God on the Globe because they covered the Fr. Porter mess in Fall River.

As it turned out the divine salvo that Cardinal Law had ordered came alright but the target was the Church and not the Globe.

I had a heads up that the story was coming out on January 6 and I anticipated something big. But I was overwhelmed by what I read. At the same time my cynicism told me that there would be a major flurry of attention for two weeks or maybe even a month and then all would quiet down and we’d be back in the doldrums. After all there had already been major media coverage and a couple of other explosions, e.g., the Rudy Kos trial in Dallas and the exposure of widespread sex abuse of minor seminarians at a Capuchin seminary in Wisconsin and a Franciscan seminary in Santa Barbara. None were powerful enough to make a lasting difference. But I was dead wrong about Boston and for that I will be forever grateful to the Higher Power. “Spotlight” unleashed a process that would change the Church in the U.S. and the world.

I have often thought of my relationship with Bernard Law and Tony Bevilacqua and wondered. I think in the end the three of us changed. I lost my naiveté about what I was seeing in the governing dimension of the Church and with my naiveté I lost the emotional security that came from being a part of that system. I knew I could survive without it. I can’t speak for what happened to them but I grieve at what the institutional church and the monarchical clerical culture did to all three of us. It had captivated me for awhile but seeing the sexual abuse nightmare up close and personal blew my trust in the clerical world and the hierarchical government to smithereens.

I think it had the opposite effect on Bernard Law. He was so deeply entrenched that he absolutely identified “Church” with hierarchy and faith with power. I think though that the single most important factor in my life was meeting the victims and their families. I will be forever haunted by the stories of unimaginable sexual violation. But the most gut-wrenching and soul-jarring moments were those shared with mothers and fathers, listening as they described what it was like to learn that their little boy or little girl had been sexually violated and if that was horrific enough, by a priest.

I know Tony Bevilacqua never met with victims. He told a grand jury that it would not be an economic use of his time. Bernard Law met with a few but by then it was way too late. A polite encounter at the archiepiscopal mansion doesn’t count for truly meeting the victims on a level playing field. Maybe if Bernard Law had really gotten to know the victims and their families he might have come to see the presence of Christ in them instead of in the archdiocesan bureaucracy.

Full Circle

We all make our own decisions. The issue of abuse and how it was handled contributed to my decision to move toward the margins of an institution I had been immersed in for decades. Reach out if you want to learn more. Feel free to comment or share this post.

When light breaks through dark clouds, closed minds, wounded hearts, I step back, and observe:

  1. The degree to which our biases blind us to seeing creative possibilities for action; and
  2. Leadership means engaging with integrity.

What will we learn from what we have lived through? Once we learn, our action can have deeper impact!

“Freedom is the ability to make a new decision about who we really want to be in life.” ~Joan Chittister

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“It’s Like Being Punched in the Stomach”

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Photo by author “Pall Bearers”

Click on “An Incredible Legacy” to watch “It’s Like Being Punched in the Stomach” An Incredible Legacy

Standing in the kitchen, I heard Paul say, “Even though you know it’s coming, it’s like being punched in the stomach.”

Paul’s Mom had died three days before on Valentine’s Day. This video excerpt from my homily Sunday highlights the incredible legacy of Paul’s Mom’s love!

Walking down the center aisle at the viewing stood the fourteen adult children in age order from youngest to oldest. A powerful statement in itself!

What a tribute to the woman who loved and cared for: Mary Margaret, Philip Bernard, Gregory Lewis, Thomas Albert, Teresa Anne, Monica Frances, Clare Jeanne, Agnes Bernadette, Mark Joseph, Christopher Ignatius, Paul Martin de Porres, Gerard Matthias, Peter Damien, and Brendan Patrick!  …and their children… and all children…

What an incredible legacy of love!

Deep gratitude to Paul’s Mom who inspires all of us.

How is your Haal this Valentine’s Day?

Courtesy of free images.com

Courtesy of free images.com

How is your haal (the transient state of one’s heart) this Valentine’s Day? Does anyone remember the “Reach out and touch” televised ads of the 70s and 80s? Each presented a different scenario: a homesick college student; families relishing new friends they met on vacation…a women stops short when she hears her friend say, “Stop twirling your hair.”

Even in those days, long before wireless technology and smart phones, the message came through loud and clear: “when we connect, love is real and hearts heal.”

Since it is Valentine’s weekend 2016, let’s intentionally look at love through the lenses of the legend of Valentine’s Day and a reflection on being busy by Omid Safi.

The Legend of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration honoring an early Christian saint named Valentinus. St. Valentine of Rome was a priest who was martyred around 496 for refusing to convert to Roman paganism. He was imprisoned after ministering to Christians and presiding at marriages for soldiers during a time those serving in the military were forbidden by the Roman Emperor to marry.

As the story goes, to encourage faithfulness, Valentine would cut out parchment hearts and give them to Christians. According to legend, during his imprisonment, Valentinus healed Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer, Asterius. Before being executed, since she could now see, he wrote her a letter and signed it, “Your Valentine.”

I suspect Valentine has no idea of the legacy of cards, flowers, and candy that would ultimately develop from his outreach.

A Reflection on “Being Busy” by Omid Safi

Omid Safi writes a weekly column for Krista Tippett’s On Being blog. On Being Omid is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is also a prolifer writer and editor of Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism. I found a column he wrote in 2014 particularly relevant.

In “The Disease of Being Busy,” Omid asks the question, “How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be fully human when we are so busy?” Omid associates being busy with not being “at ease” – and suggests this dis-ease is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we so desperately crave.

Amid explains that in many Muslim cultures when you ask how someone is doing, rather than saying, “How are you?” the question you ask is: “How is your haal?” Haal is the transient state of one’s heart, so the question translates as “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” Omid offers a distinction between to-do list items and giving voice to deep emotions that resonate. He says:

“I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, or how many messages are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.”

And here’s the Valentine’s weekend bonus: Omid goes on:

“Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.”

So what have we learned?

We learned the deep roots of commemorating Valentine’s Day emphasize care, healing (literally allowing people to see), extending one’s self to another, and faithful hearts.

Omid reminds those of us who struggle with the dis-ease of our incessant busyness to look deeper and honestly risk sharing the state of our hearts with each other. This message really is counter cultural.

See – Love – Touch – Heal – Be.

How is your heart?

Savor that word, glance, text, call, hug, question, touch, visit, conversation…that meaningful moment when someone reached out and touched you.

Or when you reached out and touched another.

I’d love to hear what a difference it made in your life.

Note:

  1. Safi, Omid. “The Disease of Being Busy.” Blog. On Being with Krista Tippett. November 6, 2014.
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On the Way to a Beloved Community. Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.

Still moving toward your vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’ Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.!

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared his vision of a ‘Beloved Community,’ he said, “This will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” Let’s take a step back and reflect on both what a quantitative change in our lives…something we can count…might look like – AND what form a qualitative change in our souls might take.

We’ll begin with some background on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Information on King referenced in this post comes from www.theKingCenter.org: “The ‘Beloved Community’ is a term first coined in the early days of the 20th century by the philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. However, it was another member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who popularized the term and invested it with a deeper meaning. For Dr. King, the ‘Beloved Community’ was a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.”

“Dr. King’s ‘Beloved Community’ is a global vision, in which all people share in the wealth of the earth. Poverty, hunger, and homelessness are not tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism, discrimination, bigotry and prejudice are replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of being related. International disputes are resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation instead of military power. Love and trust triumphs over fear and hatred. Peace and justice prevails over war and military conflict.”

“It was fifty nine years ago when Dr. King spoke of the ‘Beloved Community’ as the end goal of nonviolent boycotts. In a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery’s busses, King said, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends…It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men”… and I’d add women!

“The core value of the quest for Dr. King’s “Beloved Community” was agape love, which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative”…”the love of God operating in the human heart.” Dr. King said that “Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people…It begins by loving others for their sakes” and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both…Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.”

Clearly, we haven’t gotten there yet! King identified six Nonviolent Principles that offer us a roadmap or a place to begin this year:

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the ‘Beloved Community.’
  3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice NOT people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.
  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.
  6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.” (www.theKingCenter.org)

For me, one quantifiable change in my life is easy to count. It’s somewhat counter intuitive, because it involves intentionally choosing to be involved in fewer activities.

Ahh…what about a qualitative change in my soul? It involves intentionally choosing to be present…even when the newly installed dishwasher stops working. Yikes! Principle 5 “resists violence of the spirit as well as the body.” It’s a choice and it starts inside of each of us!

Martin, your wisdom continues to inspire! We’re still moving toward your vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’

Love Your Scars

Love Your Scars

Really? Love your scars? It took years to overcome my own resistance and begin to see the depth of my scars. In my experience, we need to “see” before we are able to “love” our scars. 

Let me begin by saying, “It’s way easier to ignore your scars.” At least that’s how it feels to those of us more comfortable denying rather than acknowledging our feelings. Sometimes something happens that offers you insight and allows you to “see” you possess the courage to look at your scars.

Whether it was that mole removed in eighth grade, dental surgery after you caught that baseball in your mouth, an abdominal scar or a severe burn, as we age, if we’re lucky, we come to realize we heal from the inside out. Those of us who are honest know the process can be excruciatingly painful…and so worth it…

Scar tissue replaces normal skin tissue after our skin is damaged by a cut, burn, or skin infection. It’s as good a metaphor as any. When you’re ready to “face” your scars, you may choose to partner with someone trained to navigate this “inside out” growth terrain. Contact me when you are ready to enter into dialogue and begin seeing in a dramatically different way.

You’ll be amazed at what you are capable of!

 

 

Warning: The demolition of this structure is imminent

What My Appendix Disintegrating Taught Me About Institutionalized Religion

I heard the surgeon said, “When we opened you up, your appendix was disintegrating!” Learn what my appendix disintegrating taught me about institutionalized religion.

I had not planned on spending the final five days of 2015 in a hospital following emergency surgery. Certainly had not anticipated the abscesses that resulted from the disintegration.

I’m grateful! Sure, the process slowed me down, introduced me to some cool people, offered me lots of opportunity to ask for help, and allowed me time to reframe what I want to commit to in 2016. Expect to see weekly blog entries throughout 2016.

I drove by this sign a few weeks ago. It occurs to me the message applies equally to my appendix as well as the building targeted for demolition. The “Warning” of imminent demolition may also apply to some existing structures of institutionalized religion. Like the pain on one’s right side before one’s appendix disintegrates, many of us ignore religious structures and practices we were introduced to as children. We’ve outgrown them. They no longer fit.

I invite you to explore what’s below the surface. Give yourself permission to explore your inner depths. The good news is our wounds, even deep ones, heal in the presence of wisdom and care. Sometimes it takes antibiotics!

Sisters' Entrance

Close Our Borders or Open This Door

Last Friday afternoon, I donned a head scarf and joined the congregation at a local mosque for Jumu’ah prayer.  I open the door with the small red sign that read “Sisters’ Entrance,” and was greeted by a giggling, joy-filled, barefooted, wide-eyed three-year-old child. I took off my shoes, placed them on the rack, and followed her into the women’s section of the mosque.

It took Donald Trump behaving outrageously and threatening to close our borders to Muslims for me to decide to visit a mosque. I chose to stand in solidarity and support with Muslims who are friends and colleagues.

With my friends and colleagues at the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, we dedicate ourselves as individuals:

To promote peace in our homes and communities.

We pledge to work with others: To eliminate the causes of hatred, to honor the dignity of all people, and to dare to understand.

We pledge to be instruments of God’s peace: To make our homes and neighborhoods zones of peace, free from fear, filled with respect and marked by deeds of kindness.

I also signed an open letter from faith leaders to Donald Trump. The text of the letter is below:

“As leaders in America’s faith community, our institutions do not engage in partisan politics. We do, however, speak to important moral and ethical issues facing our nation.

In this spirit, we write to express in the strongest possible terms our deep disappointment and even disgust with the proposal made by you to stop allowing Muslims to enter the United States. Our faith traditions demand that we extend a welcoming hand to those in need. America is an immigrant nation. We know that many have come to our country, and continue to do so, seeking religious freedom and an end to persecution. This is true for Syrian refugees fleeing ISIL today, and many others displaced by war, conflict, and disaster.

We remember that too many religious leaders stood silent as Jews fled Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. In fact, some religious leaders and politicians argued that Jews should not be allowed into the United States during that period. In that same timeframe, too many religious leaders stood silent as Japanese-Americans were interned into camps as their patriotism was questioned. Bigotry and discrimination prevailed.

Muslims serve this nation in offices of public service, in our Armed Forces, in law enforcement, and as community builders. These are our neighbors, our friends, and children of God. We cannot remain silent as political leaders seek to divide Americans along religious lines for partisan gain. Your language and proposals serve only to divide our nation and bring comfort to ISIS and their allies.

Mr. Trump, as leaders of many faiths we ask that you reflect on your proposals and repudiate those that you have made, that our country may be a beacon of hope and not fear.”

Rather than close our borders, we can open this door. We can choose solidarity over fear. We can introduce ourselves and engage in conversations that matter. We can model for our children options other than hateful rhetoric.

 

Free Digital Photos.net

Spotlight

I saw the movie Spotlight this past weekend. The setting is Boston in 2001. The new editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron, assigns a team of journalists to investigate allegations against a priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Their research reveals a culture of silence, secrecy, and judgment that shakes Boston and continues to reverberate through the Catholic Church to this day…14 years later.

For years, the Globe had received tips about clergy sexual abuse. Yet, connecting the dots and exposing the depth of the pattern occurred only when a Boston outsider, who was Jewish, had the courage to follow his intuition and commit the resources of the Spotlight team, each of whom had grown up as practicing Catholics in Boston. Two things became clear to me as I watched the story unfold: 1) The degree to which our biases blind us to seeing creative possibilities for action; and 2) Leadership means engaging with integrity.

The movie ends with a series of four screens listing more than 200 dioceses in the United States and around the world where clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups have occurred. As I walked out of the theatre, I felt nauseous. The last time I was nauseous at a movie was when I saw “Twelve Years a Slave” a few years ago. I felt guilt as a white American, complicit in dehumanizing behavior to black men, women and children.

This time I felt guilt for remaining loyal to the institution…for not naming sexual and spiritual abuse a casualty of the clerical culture and the “good Catholics” that protect it…for believing bishops and cardinals when they commit they’ve addressed issues in their dioceses. Perspective taking is easier when we see the story and feel the emotions of those most affected.

Spotlight is a movie I recommend everyone see and engage in conversation about. Dialogue is one way cultural change happens. A fact-based movie like Spotlight focuses awareness on deeply ingrained patterns of behavior that threaten and demand people sit down and shut up, pledge loyalty to schools they attended decades ago, or trust friends and colleagues in perpetuity, especially when a leader’s behavior (priest, monsignor, bishop, or cardinal) is out of integrity with the core value and mission of the organization they represent.

Hope is never lost, even when buried under the debris of corruption. It’s worth seeing and worth feeling whatever you feel. Processing what you feel frees you to expand your perspective and take creative action.

“Freedom is the ability to make a new decision about who we really want to be in life.”                                                                     ~Joan Chittister                                                                 

Photo credit: Stuart Miles and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Epiphany by Janet McKenzie

What We See Colors Our Worldview

It was 2004 after my initial journey to West Africa that I was first exposed to Janet McKenzie’s multicultural art. It took me being a minority to feel the cognitive dissonance and realize how prevalent and out of place European art was in churches I visited in Ghana and Nigeria.

Here’s the thing. It only bothered me after I literally put myself into the shoes of the people around me and saw how narrow a perspective is reflected as Jesus in all his whiteness hangs on the crucifix when every person in the community is black.

The stark reality is that, as a white American woman, I stood out. As a child, I learned I was made in the image and likeness of God. Everything I saw reinforced that MY God was white and male… UNTIL I was exposed to a broader and deeper perspective. Travel accelerates shifts in one’s point of view.

The image above is “Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie (used with permission of the artist). In Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: the Art of Janet McKenzie, Katharine Jeffers Schori explains, “Epiphany is usually framed as ‘revelation to the nations,’ so that the good news of God in human flesh is available to all the peoples of this earth, not only the nation in which Jesus was born. The traditional way of understanding the wise ones who come to pay homage to the baby born in Bethlehem is that there must have been three, for three gifts are named, but also that they represented the known regions of the ancient world: Africa, Asia, and Europe…(Janet McKenzie) invites us into yet another awareness of what it means that Jesus is born for the whole world. All of humanity is represented in these figures: yes, women! (by whom we all come into the world)…This is about the ancient wisdom and ministry of women caring for other women as new life is brought into the world.”

Our worldview colors what we see. Katharine Jeffers Schori poses a question that each of us might ask ourselves today, Where do we meet and acknowledge and bless God in our midst? That is the largest challenge Epiphany presents. It seems most often to be about finding God in the unexpected and surprising.” 

What has to happen for us to be the wise men and wise women of our day?


Jefferts Schori, Katharine. “Epiphany.” Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie. Ed. Susan Perry. New York: Orbis Books, 2009. 46-50. Print.

IMG_2229

Where Did the Wise Men Come From?

Do you remember the wise men, sometimes referred to as astrologers, magi, or kings? Two thousand years ago, this group of learned, distinguished foreigners visited Jesus and brought valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

They followed a star and when they arrived, they were welcomed!

Where did they come from?

Probably present day Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen.

Each year we celebrate Epiphany and sometimes we experience epiphanies, sudden or striking realizations.

How many of us recognize the Christmas story is the story of a Middle Eastern family wandering in search of safe refuge?