Monday, July 31, 2006

Photographic Evidence

Photos referenced on my July Community Days post are now available on Home at the Dome (anyone know how to get Blogger to allow me to put the @ in where it's supposed to be without turning it into an address?). I'm not visible in any of the Missioning or Familien Fest photos (though frequent commenter JV will be unhappily pointed out as the peach-shirted skirt-wearing jockey #3 in the second race!). However ..... if you click the "Next Page" option and scroll down to June 15, you'll see me being GrillMaster for our Junior High Camp. Scroll down a little farther to June 10, and you'll see me heading off from third base. So, despite the craziness of my summer, it had a good bit of fun in it, too!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Let the Records Show ....

.... that I am NOT this kind of "Christian":

Snippets from a New York Times article, Families Challenging Religious Influence in Delaware Schools
After her family moved to this small town 30 years ago, Mona Dobrich grew up as the only Jew in school. Mrs. Dobrich, 39, married a local man, bought the house behind her parents’ home and brought up her two children as Jews.

For years, she and her daughter, Samantha, listened to Christian prayers at public school potlucks, award dinners and parent-teacher group meetings, she said. But at Samantha’s high school graduation in June 2004, a minister’s prayer proclaiming Jesus as the only way to the truth nudged Mrs. Dobrich to act.

“It was as if no matter how much hard work, no matter how good a person you are, the only way you’ll ever be anything is through Jesus Christ,” Mrs. Dobrich said.
After the graduation, Mrs. Dobrich asked the Indian River district school board to consider prayers that were more generic and, she said, less exclusionary. As news of her request spread, many local Christians saw it as an effort to limit their free exercise of religion, residents said.
"We have a way of doing things here, and it’s not going to change to accommodate a very small minority,’’ said Kenneth R. Stevens, 41, a businessman sitting in the Georgetown Diner. “If they feel singled out, they should find another school or excuse themselves from those functions. It’s our way of life.”
Mrs. Dobrich, who is Orthodox, said that when she was a girl, Christians here had treated her faith with respectful interest. Now, she said, her son was ridiculed in school for wearing his yarmulke. She described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except “Alex the Jew.”
Later, another speaker turned to Mrs. Dobrich and said, according to several witnesses, “If you want people to stop calling him ‘Jew boy,’ you tell him to give his heart to Jesus.”

Saturday, July 29, 2006

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Back in Loovul .... room covered with various duffel bags and other not-yet-unpacked chaos .... but I also got my "School Starts Soon" letter from work. I opened it, eager to see if they had hired another sophomore religion teacher (since I don't think I could handle 200 kids on my own).

I open the packet.

I skim through the letter.

I see the words ... "theology department."

I read the words surrounding "theology department."

I re-read to make sure I associated the right new-teacher-name with the right new-teacher-department.

I cringe.

I wimper.

I get majorly stressed and heebie-jeebied.

Me, of all people! Panicked?!?

Why, you might ask? What might the words be that escaped from my monumentally traumatized mouth?

I'm sorry, it's just too horrible to admit on the front page here.

I'm worse than my kids.

And what right have I to react in such a frightful manner?

I'm so ashamed of myself.

I really am the Reluctant NunTM

Of course, none of that changes my initial reaction, regardless of how my friend-and-now-housemate tries to console me.

What was that reaction, you ask?

"Aw, crap --- it's a nun?!?!?!?"

And then I went to Google.

go to main page

Friday, July 28, 2006

Familien Fest ... complete with footnotes!

July Community Days are something special. True, we're not in the days anymore where people get sent out "on mission" to teach and then don't show up again until the school year is over .... but even still, there's something different about this set of meetings. It always seems like an even bigger deal than the other times we meet throughout the year, that folks who often can't make it home for the other meetings1 manage to make it home for these days.

These days kind of kick off our monastic year. There's all this hustle & bustle on Tuesday afternoon when the new table assignments get posted2 -- everyone looks to see who they'll be with this year. Plus there's just more people, as the various mission folk3 begin coming in.

Wednesday was our more business-y kind of day; Thursday we had an excellent (and rather entertaining!) communication workshop. Throughout this time it's great to have a "full house" in church. Even more cool, though, is the time with everyone home .... especially on Friday.

Friday starts off with a chance for people to share or ask whatever they want, which often turns into a dreaming session of "What if we ______?" More people get up with other ideas that play off it, and we all leave the morning hugely energized about where we might be going, what we might be heading towards.

Then it's time for lunch and then ..... Familien Fest. A day to celebrate family and have fun. One year we were on a "cruise ship" with various activities and ports of call; last year it had this whole farm theme.

And this year? The Kentucky Derby Dome Cup.

St. Gertrude Hall was converted into "Gertrude Downs". Folks were all decked out in their Derby best, and we served various iced teas (mint, peach, etc.) and lemonade as we entered. Living groups had designated jockeys for their very-creatively-named horse, and so we had our own "Run For Heaven's Sake"4 .... all the races were appropriately titled for monastic horse racing but I can't for the life of me remember any of them! We even had our own bugler5 for the post call. The races themselves were rather entertaining, but I'm sure there will be pictures online shortly, so I'll let them speak for themselves. I will say that my race was a tight one, but I ended up losing by a nose6. We had a break for ice cream, with the MC having an open mike for jokes and/or stories; there was also the obligatory Derby Hat7 parade, where everyone showed off their creations (again, I'm sure photos of that will get posted).

Dinner was burgers and dogs, baked beans and potato salad, Derby pie8 and peach cobbler. Then we finished off the night with a "Drive-in Movie"9 with Dreamer, a cute feel-good horse movie. That, I think, in some respects, was the crowning moment of the day. I'm guessing there were maybe 100 of us in there, and it was just an awesome feel, to have so many of us just watching a movie together, laughing at the occasional comments that someone in the back might make10. Plus, there was the obligatory burst of applause and cheering when the race was won11.

But it was awesome. A real reinforcement of community, family, and our relationships here in the monastery.

Then, tomorrow morning, we have Missioning. These days it's more symbolic than it was in the past --- most of us already know where we're living and where we'll be working. But it still is a special time to each receive our assignment for the year from our prioress as she sends us out for the year.12 We go from all this major togetherness, and then everyone goes their separate ways. It's good, though, because it sends us off with a real sense of the bigger picture, of who we are and what we're about .... and that we're not in it alone.

Like I said earlier today, it's not about the money. And we're definitely not dying out.

Need I mention ..... I'm lovin' community life right now!

1We have community meetings I think maybe four or five weekends a year, plus various whole-community formation days and other things.
2We have what we call "Stable Tables" where we're assigned to the same table for community meetings throughout the year; this allows us get to know different sisters better while at the same time providing some consistency for table discussions throughout the year.
3Benedictines traditionally live at the monastery. However, since our Middle-of-Nowheresville location is not conducive to gainful employment for 180+ sisters, we have a number of people who are living "on mission" --- which for us is generally places within an hour or so of the monastery, which makes it easier for people to come back for various committee meetings, community events, formation days, funerals, etc. Evansville & Louisville are the big places, but we do have a few scattered elsewhere (Rome, Peru, Illinois, Indianapolis, etc.).
For Heaven's Sake is the name of our monastery gift shop.
5Technically, it was a trumpeter, but who's really checking anyway?
6It's not my fault, though. I had no control over her rolling a 2 instead of a 3 for that last step of the race! (That's how we "raced" --- the dice would roll, and if your number came up, you got to move)
7Apparently hats are the big thing for Derby? Am I showing off my non-Kentucky-ish-ness yet?
8And Derby Pie is apparently another big thing. I know, it's rather shameful, especially considering the fact that I actually was living in Louisville at the time of the Derby this year. Lorem, do we have some work to do next year?
9Again, not technically .... more like a screen hung on the wall of The-Space-Formerly-Known-As-Gertrude-Downs-But-Now-Converted-Into-A-Movie-Theater-Complete-With-Powerpoint-Projector-And-DVD-Player. But it just shows we're adaptable, right?
10For example .... I was in the third row. Then, during the final horse race, I noticed that the sister in front of me wasn't there ---- because she was up kneeling between the two chairs in front of her, leaning forward and gripping the chairs and she cheered the horse on. Those of us around her got a great laugh once we saw how into it she was getting.
11And no, I'm not giving it away. It's a feel-good horse movie --- I don't think it's any big surprise that the race gets won.
12There'll probably be photos of that online too. Just keep checking out --- we've always got new photos and stuff showing up there.go to main page


Catholics Face Crisis Over Retired Nuns
With tens of thousands of U.S. nuns over age 70, the Roman Catholic Church is facing a massive financial shortfall for the care of retirees in religious orders -- a gap that over the long term dwarfs costs from the clergy abuse crisis.
A June survey by the church's National Religious Retirement Office, not yet released to the public, puts spending for retiree care at $926 million last year alone. That compares with a total of $499 million received over the last 18 years from annual special parish collections to aid retirees.
So..... One of the top nun myths? That the church provides for us. Same goes for men's orders as well. Diocesan priests draw a salary from their parish and then (I think) their diocese takes care of them at the end, but religious communities, both men & women, are on their own.

An additional problem with nun-retirement is that "back in the day" when there were bazillions of them running Catholic schools all over the place, they were kind of "cheap labor" ..... not exactly earning a fair salary. I don't know specifics, but I know even now there's talk in our community about wanting to be sure that our sisters are receiving a "just wage" when we get jobs. But, back in the day, there wasn't too much ability to build up extensive savings when you weren't even remotely getting paid what your work was worth. Also, we weren't putting into Social Security back then --- I think we couldn't for a long time --- so there's not as much that we're drawing off of with that.

So, there's often this thought that "Well, you work for the church, so the church must be paying you" ..... but that's not how it works. We get what we get from our salaries and donations. We've got investments and all that too, but in terms of the money that goes into the investments? Salaries and donations.

Our community is probably better off than some, but it's still tough. On the one hand, we've got a big community, so there are more salaries coming in ... but at the same time, that also means more bills to pay and more "retired" sisters to support. We're taking steps, though; our monastery infirmary is now Medicare-certified, so we receive funding help for that. Our vocation program is top-notch, so we're bringing in new members to help sustain us. We're beginning this whole new as-yet-unnamed Spirituality Ministry that will help people get to know us and know that we're still here and offering good things. We're also exploring various new ways to generate income, and that gets our creative juices flowing.

So it's cool stuff, exciting stuff. But then ..... we have cancer. Lots of it. In our "young" "healthy" sisters. Which saps not just the energy (and sometimes the life) out of those who are sick, but also from those of us who help care for them and/or are left behind. But it also pulls us together, makes us appreciate each other more, and makes us truly recognize the gift that we have in community --- there's someone to go to your appointments with you, someone to drive you to chemo, someone to help you to the bathroom when you get home. One in particular said she didn't know how she'd do it if she wasn't in community, if she was on her own.

But then we read articles like this, hear people say how religious life is dying out. And yet .... that doesn't stop us. Even folks who are considering orders where they'd be the youngest member by far --- that's not the issue. Like I was saying to one friend the other night: "At least I have 180 people who have to die out before I'm left all alone. If I were married, the odds are much more likely that I'd be left alone after a death!" The call to community involves so much more than that.

Is religious life dying out? No. Is the face of religious life changing? Yes. Are the numbers of priests and religious decreasing? Yes. But does that mean we're dying out? No. Quantity isn't everything. And while we need to plan for the future, that doesn't mean we should give up our present. We're being proactive, we're doing what we can, and we're also doing the sometimes-less-desired donor-generating. But that's asking for help, and we ask for help in a way that says: "This is who we are, and we're not giving up." Religious life throughout history has faced challenges, especially religious women, and especially here in the United States. But we're fighters. I saw that in sisters like Ethel, Terence, Elaine, Tess ..... and all the others, even the ones still fighting.

Does it stink that we're facing retirement funding issues? Yes. Is that all that different from the rest of society? Not necessarily. Does it make me want to quit and build up my own personal IRA? No. The life is about more than the money (like anyone enters this life for the money!). It'll work out. It's part of that trust/"faith" thing. "Consider the lilies of the field" and all that.

God will provide. Trite, but I gotta trust it, whether I'm in religious life or not. Does that mean I don't have to do my part? Of course not. But religious life isn't dying out. Nor are we going anywhere anytime soon.

Course, if anyone wants to throw a little tax deduction our way, I won't complain. But that wasn't the point of this post.go to main page

Sorry .....

..... but Community Meetings have been going on all week. Tomorrow is our fun day, with our own version of the Kentucky Derby. Should be entertaining, especially since very few of us even know what's going to be happening. I know I'm a jockey, and that's about it.

Lots to say, but no time to type it.

In the interim, though ..... today we had an On-Going Formation speaker talking to us about communication. Someone had pointed out that, though we often ask, "How are you doing," we don't always actually want an answer. As one of our older sisters then got up and pointed out:
When someone asks how you're doing, they don't want an organ recital.

And now, back to sleep before more meetings. We finish Saturday morning, but then it's time to move back to Loovul, so it might be a bit before I get my typing fingers under me again. So, in the meantime, have a happy Friday!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Knock Knock ....

So we had this big ol' celebration yesterday with our founding monastery and the monasteries that we founded as a culmination of church restoration shindigs, one of my fellow semi-new-kids from the monastery in Indianapolis commented (falsely, of course!) that she saw in the program that I would be giving the talk during Mass. I said yes, and she asked what I would be speaking about.
Knock knock jokes.
After all, knock knock jokes require a response; you don't know quite who or what is knocking but you take it on faith that it will all make sense eventually .... just as God knocks and waits for our response before proceeding. It's also about hospitality —which we Benedictines are so famous for —opening the door to the stranger, welcoming them as they are. And Benedict also speaks about how we are to greet the stranger, just as knock-knock decorum and tradition also dictates.
And what's really scary is that it seems like you've really thought about this.
Nah .... what's even scarier is that I'm making it up right now as I go along!
But I'm thinking .... perhaps I should develop a Spirituality of Knock Knock Jokes, maybe make a retreat or even a book about it. Think it'd fly?

Although .... during my last session of the One Bread One Cup conference, when my kids had all done their witness talks, we were doing impromptu speeches on "God is like ______", with the appropriate word or item contributed by the four non-speakers among us. I must admit I did pretty well with my turns, having been given such things as underwear (actually, I rescued someone else on that one), toilet paper, shoestring potato sticks (another semi-rescue) and the like. Everyone did pretty well, though, with toenails and softball and tootsie pops and bubble gum and other such randomness. Course, that's what I did all last year at school -- take all the kids' off-topic conversations and pull them right back around to either the New Testament or Church History. Gotta love thinking on the fly!

So ..... any challenges for me out there?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Always Look on the Bright Side of War {whistle}

Bush Sees Mideast Strife As a Step Toward Peace

A couple possible explanations occurred to me as I tried to wrap my mind around this concept ....
  1. It's opposite day.
  2. It's true — if everyone bombs out everybody else .... a world of dead bodies could seem pretty peaceful.
  3. It's actually a typo: He meant to say a "Step Toward Peach" — peaches seem kinda solid, but when they get smashed, all sorts of gooeyness oozes outta them, kinda like the seeming solidity of people when they're actually made up of gooey innards that ooze out when they're smashed by bombs.
And, as a perfect example of our bringing peace to the Mideast and, thusly, to the world, there was this smaller headline on the WaPo front page: Somali Militia Leader Urges Holy War on Ethiopia

And I think to myself .... what a wonderful world.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Puking Partnerships

Random tidbit .... I did wake up to NPR yesterday morning (at some horrendously early stupid pre-airport time) and heard a story about one of the airlines wanting to sell advertising space on the airsickness bags. Two questions came to mind on hearing that (besides "It's not time to wake up yet, is it?"):

1) I don't know when the last time, if ever, I've actually seen one of those things. I mean, I know they're there, but I don't exactly pull them out with the magazine and think, "Ooo, barf bag. Wonder how recently it's had to be replaced?"

2) Is that really an ideal advertising situation? Is that the image and/or experience that you would want forever associated with your product? I'm thinking of the comments to CurlyMcDimple's Gross Advertising Survey, particularly about the foot fungus monster. Yeah, I can see it now — "Mmmmm, Krispy Kremes. I saw them on a barf bag!" Or, even better: "Losing my lunch at cruising altitude always makes me think of [insert poorly-advertised product name here]." Although, you know what? Probably won't take long before something along the lines of:
Has airline turbulance got you shaken up? Is travelling troubling your tummy? Have you lost valuable nutrients during the course of your flight plans? With all that money the airlines are collecting for your tickets, shouldn't they have to at least provide you with an easy pathway to the rear lavatory so you can lose your lunch in privacy? You shouldn't have to suffer the indignity of seat-side vomiting. Nor should you have to be an innocent bystander, held captive to the stink and stench of your seat-mate's stomach spasms. Call us today, and put your airfare to work for you!

Emesis & Associates
Make them pay ... for your puke

I'm Back!!!!!

And have lots of catching-up to do. One week of high-intensity youth ministry stuff (the goal being to exhaust the kids so they're begging us for bedtime), followed up by 10 days surrounded by my two parents, five siblings, five sibling-spouses, and fourteen neices and nephews ranging in age from 2 to 17 — two important details to note in that are that if you experience a family dinner at our place, you'd wonder how I turned out so quiet & normal (someone once said, "Oh, your poor parents" when I was describing our craziness; "Poor parents, nothing -- my dad's the worst of the bunch!") .... and I was extremely unsuccessful at convincing various younger members that (a) I am not a human jungle gym and (b) nor am I made of play-doh.

So now I'm airport-exhaustedly back, and have lots of reading to catch up on, and lots of e-mail to delete (since for every one offer of "ways in which to become the man my girl wants me to be" I have an "Undeliverable Mail" for my "I'm out of town" message).

Plus, I've been out of the news loop for two weeks now ..... and apparently I've missed a few minor tidbits here and there that I figure might be helpful to learn a little bit about. Stuff like, oh I don't know, bombings and battles and wars (oh my!).

And I think to myself ..... what a wonderful world! {Sigh}

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Now you see her, now you .....

Ok, so this post should have gone up back on Thursday, but .... well .... that's how behind I am. Anyway, I'll be a bit MIA for the next week and a half or so. This week (starting two days ago) I'm at St. Meinrad Archabbey as an instructor for their One Bread One Cup Youth Liturgical Leadership Program; Monday, I'll be dodging out of the closing Mass (actually, ditching it completely ... shh, don't tell!) to catch a big silver bird out to San Francisco to meet up with the rest of my family as we visit my brother. I'll be online in bits and pieces, but don't count on frequent posts. I've already even got a couple I want to write, but it's a matter of time availability & computer access.

But now they're closing the library for lunch, so .... more later?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ummm .... priorities?

Flush With Success, and Looking to Spend
Washington Post article about "Bathrooms Becoming Retreats in Americans' Pursuit of Luxury" ... the photo shows one couple's four by nine shower — that's four feet by nine feet. The shower, not the bathroom.
Spending on luxury bathrooms -- those costing at least $8,000 -- will be $22 billion this year, compared with $7.3 billion in 2003, according to the Market Forecast Report, published by the trade magazine Kitchen and Bath Business.

That is 10 times what the U.S. government will spend on AIDS research this year. It is six times the annual budget of Kenya.
Follow the link & read more .... it's worth reading. If you can handle it, anyway.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Pullin' for the underdog ....

Poor Saint Thomas (whose feast we celebrate today) kinda gets a bad rap. While the full scoop can be found in John 20:19-29, here's a brief paraphrased version of the deal:
Jesus has been crucified and has risen from the dead. Mary Magdalene sees him, and tells the apostles that she's seen him. The apostles are hiding out in the upper room, which is locked, because, after all, their leader has just been executed .... go figure, you don't want to be too public at a time like that. Jesus shows up in the locked room, shows them his hands and side, and they rejoice at seeing him. Thomas isn't there that night, and when the others tell him what he missed, he says "Yeah, right. I'll believe it when I see it."

The next week, they're still locked in the upper room. Jesus shows up again, tells Thomas, "Go ahead, stick your fingers in the nail holes, if you really want me to prove it." Then, after Thomas declares, "My Lord and my God," Jesus commends those "who have not seen and yet believe."
Thus, poor Thomas is forever branded "Doubting Thomas" ... like he's the only negative apostle of the bunch? What about "Denying Peter" or "Betraying Judas"?

Let's get this straight. The initial group of apostles don't rejoice until after Jesus shows them his hands and side — and yet Thomas gets blamed for wanting the same kind of treatment? Come on, now. I've got older brothers, I know how guys are. "Oh yeah, sure. Our best friend who was just crucified showed up here in the locked room while I was out in the bathroom. Oh no, of course I believe you. You would never try to put one past me." Seriously, you can't tell me that you wouldn't kinda hesitate to buy that one sight unseen. Besides, it's not like the other apostles took Mary Magdalene at her word.

Then you've got them locked in the upper room. Jesus shows up the first time, wishes them peace, and tells them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And how well do they obey that command? Well, let's see here .... it's one week later and they're out spreading the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ hiding out in the upper room. Again. Locked in. Again. Yeah, they really took his message of peace and word-spreading to heart, didn't they?

I guess I'm just a sucker for the underdog. I like to point out to my kids how the apostles were faulty flawed human beings just like the rest of us — which takes away our whole "I'm not holy enough" excuse. And really, if you put yourself in most of the stories in the Gospels, you can't tell me that, without the benefit of hindsight, you wouldn't get caught in the exact same traps of stupidity and disbelief that plagued most of the disciples at any point in time.

And yet, they are the apostles. They are the Twelve, chosen by Christ to be his followers. Even Doubting Thomas, Denying Peter, and Betraying Judas.

Which gives a little hope to folks like Clueless Steph, the Reluctant NunTM.

Doubting Thomas .... not such a bad guy to look to, after all. At least he asked the questions and explored his faith. Just like I try to get my kids to do. "Wherever you are is fine, as long as you're open to the journey."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"Speaking of Faith"

Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine of Erie, Pennsylvania, was featured on NPR's Speaking of Faith today, discussing Obedience and Action. I only got to hear a little of it, but plan to hear more when I've got the chance. I missed her on Meet the Press on Easter. I know some people take issue with some of Sr. Joan's ideas, but she speaks her piece with great conviction. This interview is framed around obedience, which Benedict approaches as "mutual listening" ... but she also speaks about religious life and the Benedictine Rule and vows as well. So, if you want to hear a little bit of someone else's view of this Benedict guy I keep talking about, check it out.

Heard in My Cloister

Stealing the phrase from my good confrere Brother Allears .... this was actually heard in our Cloister Hall this morning, between Morning Prayer and Mass.

Every time you wear that dress, it makes me break a commandment.
After a moment of a quizzical wonderment, I realized she was referring to the "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Dress" one.
Who Links Here