Monday, December 28, 2009

The Massacre of the Holy Innocents in European Art

European artists of the late Middle Ages painted the Massacre of the Holy Innocents in the landscape and clothing of their location and era. Giotto's painting, below, is one of the two best known.

The other well-known one is by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

I just discovered a third which doesn't get as much exposure (at least to my knowledge) but is well worth a look. It is by Duccio di Buoninsegna.

(The Innocents, all boys according to the biblical story, seem to have no genitals. Also, the mothers are as important as the babies in this picture.)

This one is part of a much larger multi-paneled work now known as the Maestà, a panel for the Siena cathedral's high altar. The term Maestà usually indicates a representation of Mary the Mother of Jesus, the Madonna, seated with the child and surrounded by angels, and there was in fact such a representation on the panel.

Written Dec. 28, posted Jan. 1 once the image insert function started working again. Click on the images to enlarge them and see more detail.

Holy Innocents, cont'd: agencies working for children

More on children in commemoration of the Holy Innocents.

United Nations agencies working for the safety and well-being of children include UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency (the initials stand for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.

UNICEF commemorated this year the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Eloquent photo essay, with quotes from the CRC, here.

In the U.S., the Children's Defense Fund is the leading advocacy organization for children. ("We champion policies that will lift children out of poverty; protect them from abuse and neglect; and ensure their access to health care, quality education, and a moral and spiritual foundation.")

Remember that old poster, War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things?

The World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010) website is here. Did you know that European countries violate children's rights on a daily basis? Every continent suffers from the scourge of violence against children. The Council of Europe's book on eradicating violence against children is here.

Remember also that domestic violence affects primarily women and children. (Need help? Here's the National Domestic Violence Hotline.) An international downloadable (free) book on domestic violence and its causes and consequences is here. Got it from the World Council of Churches' Decade site too.

Children who experience violence in their homes have a strong chance of growing up using violence.

They don't have to. We can interrupt the cycle of violence. Well-loved, healthy children have a good chance of growing up healthy and with alternatives to violence in their experience and in their hearts and minds.

Love a child. Work and vote with the welfare of children in mind. Pray with the images of children before your eyes. Honor the Holy Child and all children. Remember the Holy Innocents.


"Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York." Brown Brothers, ca. 1908. Records of the Public Health Service.
The National Archives.

"Two Latin girls pose in front of a wall of graffiti," Lynch Park, Brooklyn, NY, June 1974. Danny Lyon. 1999 print from the original 35mm slide.Records of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The National Archives.

Child rape victim from war in eastern Congo. Hazel Thompson, The New York Times. See related
article and slide show.

Son of domestic violence survivor. From The American Domestic Violence Crisis Line [different from the above hotline] via

Children posing for a photo, India. Target Magazine #2, 2007 (TEAR-Australia, "engaging Christians in God's work of justice and compassion")

This post was composed between Dec. 28 and Jan. 1 and posted Jan. 1 using a Dec. 28 posting date.

December 28: Feast of the Holy Innocents

The Feast of the Holy Innocents commemorates the boy-children under the age of two whose slaughter King Herod is said to have ordered around the time of the birth of Jesus. (See the Gospel according to Matthew, 2:16-18.)

It is a good day to remember the children of the world, many of whose lives are threatened by violence, lack of clean water, inadequate health care, and hunger.

Photo: Refugees who fled the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region run for shelter during a dust storm at Djabal camp near Gos Beida in eastern Chad June 19, 2008. Photo by Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters. Nicked from here.

Resources and information in next post.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

December 27: Feast of John, Evangelist

El Greco, Saint John the Evangelist (ca. 1600)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Santo Stefano

It is the Feast of St. Stephen, but also Boxing Day, and I am celebrating the latter more than the former by feasting with friends, but here is an icon for our contemplation of the martyrdom of Stephen. Do we remember his life as much as his death?

Two years ago I posted a poem I had written about the Feast of St. Stephen many years ago (in the early 1980s -- yes, I am that old). Here is the link to it.

May we who believe the Gospel take risks for it.

Chiesa di Santo Stefano del Cacco, Rome

Friday, December 25, 2009

With those for whom there is no room

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.
Thomas Merton
"The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room"
from Raids on the Unspeakable

The paragraph continues: For them, there is no escape even in imagination. They cannot identify with the power structure of a crowded humanity which seeks to project itself outward, anywhere, in a centrifugal flight into the void, to get out there where there is no God, no man, no name, no identity, no weight, no self, nothing but the bright, self-directed, perfectly obedient and infinitely expensive machine. This is part of a much longer Christmas essay of Merton's on eschatology, fear, and joy.

Thanks to Charlie Hawes, who began a Christmas sermon with this passage a few years ago and fixed it in my mind.

Photographs by Mev Puleo (1963-1996). These and other photographs by Mev visible here are available for purchase. Please contact Mark Chmiel at for further information.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

For those living a difficult Christmas

Special thoughts and prayers for those who on this Christmas Eve are grieving, sad, lonely, brokenhearted, or depressed. Prayers and thoughts also for all those who live with addictions and for whom this is a particularly challenging season. May peace be with you all.

Coptic Nativity

Cross-posted on Facebook

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Karl Barth and Thomas Merton - and Mozart

Note: I am writing this post on the weekend of December 11-13 but back-dating it to the day of the anniversary, the day I thought of it.

Karl Barth, considered by many to be the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century, author of the The Epistle to the Romans and the Church Dogmatics and principal author of the Barmen Declaration, and Thomas Merton, writer, Catholic convert, Trappist monk, spiritual seeker and teacher, died on the same day in 1968, December 10, and today we remember them both.

I remember them especially through the lens of Merton's short essay (from his journal) at the beginning of Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, one of two books that influenced and moved me during my conversion to Catholicism, which was also my time as an M.Div. student at Harvard Divinity School. The other book was Thoughts in Solitude. The Seven Storey Mountain never did much for me.

Here is the essay.

Karl Barth had a dream about Mozart.

Barth had always been piqued by the Catholicism of Mozart, and by Mozart's rejection of Protestantism. For Mozart said that "Protestantism was all in the head" and that "Protestants did not know the meaning of the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi."

Barth, in his dream, was appointed to examine Mozart in theology. He wanted to make the exam as favorable as possible, and in his questions he alluded pointedly to Mozart's masses.

But Mozart did not answer a word.

I was deeply moved by Barth's account of this dream and almost wanted to write him a letter about it. The dream concerns his salvation, and Barth perhaps is striving to admit that he will be saved more by the Mozart in himself than by his theology.

Each day, for years, Barth played Mozart every morning before going to work on his dogma.: unconsciously seeking to awaken, perhaps, the hidden sophianic Mozart in himself, the central wisdom that comes in tune with the divine and cosmic music and is saved by love, yes, even by eros. While the other, theological self, seemingly more concerned with love, grasps at a more stern, more cerebral agape: a love that, after all, is not in our own heart but only in God and revealed only to our head.

Barth says, also significantly, that "it is a child, even a 'divine' child, who speaks in Mozart's music to us." Some, he says, considered Mozart always a child in practical affairs (but Burckhardt "earnestly took exception" to this view). At the same time, Mozart, the child prodigy, "was never allowed to be a child in the literal meaning of that word." He gave his first concert at the age of six.

Yet he was always a child "in the higher meaning of that word."

Fear not, Karl Barth! Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation.

Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
New York: Doubleday/Image, 1965, 1966
pp. 11-12

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Today she is two!

My great-niece, who lives in Portugal with her big brother and her mother and father (who is also known here as Nephew the Elder) is two years old today!

I still haven't met her face to face, but I am determined to get to Lisbon this coming year. Meanwhile, I gush over the pictures.

Happy Birthday to B! She is, by the way, a strong and determined young lady. Is anybody surprised?

And a belated Happy Birthday to the Fabulous Father of Acts of Hope, who turned 91 three weeks ago. Now both my parents are 91 years old.
Photo: Lisbon, Portugal

Last year's sermon for Advent I

In the process of working on Sunday's sermon, I looked back at last year's sermon for the First Sunday of Advent.

The theme of mindfulness will be there this year, too. Beyond that, well, we'll all have to wait till Sunday to see what else comes up. Still pondering.

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. ... And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. (Mark 13:33, 37)

Greensboro and Triad area folks: you're always welcome to join us at St. Mary's House, 11 a.m. Sundays.

Icon: Our Lady of the New Advent, by William Hart McNichols

Friday, November 27, 2009

Updating the book list, and a plug for Anita Diamant's new novel

I am digging out from under all manner of things. In the midst of this and the usual house-cleaning, literal and metaphorical, that accompanies the advent of Advent, I am updating this blog. I hadn't updated the reading list at the right in months. It isn't complete, but it gives you a snapshot of what I'm reading or re-reading these days.

The Aquino and Rosado-Nunes book is composed of the proceedings of the first Inter-American Symposium on Feminist Intercultural Theology. This was the first ever formal gathering of Latin American and U.S. Latina feminist theologians. Some social scientists also participated in the meeting. Why is this book significant? Because, one of its introductory essays notes, for the first time in the history of Christianity in the Americas, feminist theologians of the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean were able to meet together to share our common concerns and visions about the present and the future of our theological work, on the basis of intercultural hermeneutical frameworks. ("Hermeneutical" in this case means "interpretive.")

The book by Renate Wind (which is way overdue at a certain library in California) is a biography, the first, I think, of the late Dorothee Sölle. {This next sentence added a day later after the original post:} Wind has previously written about Dietrich Bonhoeffer; it's not surprising she would be drawn to Sölle, who in so many ways was spiritual and theological heir to Bonhoeffer. The eco-books by McFague and Ruether (the Ruether one is an edited volume featuring writings from Asia, Africa, and Latin America) are triple-purpose books: they are part of my reading and referencing for the Big Tome; I have students reading a couple of them; and I am looking at them as I ponder my sermon for this coming Sunday, the first in Advent. I haven't preached since September. What does the environmental crisis have to do with Advent? You'll find out after I preach. Unless the Holy Spirit sends me in another direction.

I actually cheated by listing Anita Diamant's new book, Day after Night, because I read and finished it last weekend. Anita gave it to me last Friday when she came to my talk on prayer at Harvard (about which more later) and I started reading it that night and finished it on the first of my two plane flights the next day. It's both deep and a page-turner.

I am just starting Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, which a colleague lent me. "It's about a woman who dresses up as a man so she can work as a Catholic priest, so you can see why it made me think of you," he said. (!) The priest in the book is a member of the Ojibwe Nation, as is Erdrich.

You may or may not have noticed that these are the first fiction books I've listed in eons, or perhaps ever since I started blogging. I am starved for fiction and haven't let myself read any, except for the occasional mystery novel, in something like four years. Ridiculous. Just because I've been trying to finish a work of non-fiction doesn't mean I shouldn't be reading fiction. I find reading fiction life-giving. Do you?

Friday cat blogging, deferred: a message from +Maya

It is I, Maya Pavlova, Feline Bishop Extraordinaire. I have been napping in an open drawer here in the study. The Canon to the Extraordinary has left the drawer open because she doesn't use the soft things in it that much, and frankly, I look and feel cozy and adorable in it and I can keep an eye on her if I need to.

The Canon tried to take a picture of me a few minutes ago. She has a new camera -- well, a no longer new to her lovely hand-me-down (thanks to You Know Who You Are) which for some bizarre reason she did not learn how to use this summer; something to do with a Big Tome and concentration. She finally got the batteries in it while I was napping and printed out the Big User's Guide and came up to me and pow! A flash in my eye. But she's not sure whether she really took a picture and she needs to study the manual some more, and that will take her an hour, which is going to have to be tomorrow, because she has to write. Silly human.

I am very well. I have the Canon close at hand and I keep close tabs on her. She has been away far too much for my taste. It's not that I starve or get cold, but I like my human and in those hours when I am awake, I like to converse with her and butt into her business. So I have been sleeping a little less than usual since she settled down at home for a few days and spending extra time butting in. I also jump on counters and on the kitchen table -- a lot.

I must go supervise the Canon, who is trying to get some work done on that Tome thing. I think she needs help.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving, cont'd

Paul the BB has some beautiful prayers, Christian and Native American, for this Thanksgiving Day which is also a Day of Mourning. Bop on over and read them.

Click on the photo of the plaque to enlarge it.


This here is an Array Mbira, which is a modern U.S. adaptation of a Zimbabwean Mbira. Enjoy the music.

In other news, I invented a dish involving collards and caramelized shallots for today's dinner, and on Monday evening, I went to a "Thanksgiving rebellion" dinner hosted by the Native American student organization at Guilford. Tomorrow, blogging will return. At least that's the plan.

Sorry for the long absence. It's partly Facebook's fault and partly due to my insane work schedule and to my having been in a bit of a funk -- and committed to getting enough sleep to stay healthy on the job. Which didn't keep me from getting sick before and during fall break.

We've had a lovely Thanksgiving so far, +Maya Pavlova and I. We wish you and your loved ones a peaceful night (or day, if you have begun the new day on the other side of the globe) and we remember with respect and gratitude the First Peoples on whose land we live, the earth and its waters and skies, and the farmers who worked to grow our food. Her Feline Grace, who was in a playful mood for a good part of the day, is now asleep in an open sweatshirt drawer. Perhaps she will allow her picture to be taken tomorrow. Over and out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sölle on limits, transcendence, and the Communion of Saints

At a peace gathering

We’re not only ten thousand I said
there are more of us here
the dead of both wars
are with us

A journalist came and asked
how could I know that
haven’t you seen them
i ask the clueless guy
haven’t you heard your grandmother
groaning when they started it up again
do you live all alone
without any dead who drop in
for a drink with you
do you really think
you are only yourself

****--Dorothee Sölle
******The Mystery of Death
******2007 (posthumous book - Sölle died in 2003 with the manuscript in draft)

The English version of the poem is by the book's translators, Nancy Lukens-Rumscheidt and Martin Lukens-Rumscheidt. The German original, "Auf einer Friedensversammlung," appeared in Dorothee Sölle, Loben ohne Lugen (Berlin, Wolfgang Fietkau, 2000).
Photo by the blogger New York Portraits, 2008.

Quoted in The Tablet

The Tablet, whose articles you can't read online unless you subscribe, is probably the best Catholic periodical on the planet, or one of the best. It is certainly one of the most respected in the Northern Hemisphere and perhaps beyond. Published in England, weekly, thoughtful, thorough, independent.

Like all periodicals I'm sure they are struggling to stay afloat, so that may be the reason for the Web gatekeeping. Either that or the spammers and trolls.

At any rate, a dear friend wrote me yesterday morning with the news that I had achieved fame: The Tablet quoted me! More precisely, it quoted a passage from When in Doubt, Sing. Even more amazingly, the passage in question was in the good company of the Psalmist, Meister Eckhart, and Thomas Dorsey!

Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

(But good for the ego too during a hard week.)

Oh - it was in last week's issue.

(A new issue is just out with comment and analysis on the latest Catholic/Anglican brouhaha.)

Here are the quotes as they appeared:

The living Spirit [name of the feature / column]

[and an image of a dove which I can't seem to transfer here]

Both perfectionism and self-forgiveness bear a direct relation to our understanding of God. The first step of prayer is telling the truth about who and where we are. It is also, at the same time, learning the truth about who and where God is. We are the ones who tend to place limits on the mercy of God. Prayer involves a capacity to stretch our imagination, to imagine and therefore to begin knowing a God who is not a projection of our own self-condemnation … The idea that prayer is somehow a production (in the economic or in the theatrical sense – both are destructive) will take us away from prayer.

Jane Redmont
When in Doubt, Sing
(Sorin, 2008)

Our steps are
made firm by the Lord,
when he delights in our way;
though we stumble, we
shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand.

Psalm 37: 23-24

If you have failings, then ask God frequently in prayer if it may not be to his honour and pleasure to take them from you, for you can do nothing without his help. He gives to each according to what is best for them and most suitable. If we are to make new clothes for someone, then we must make them according to their dimensions, and those which fit one will not fit another. We measure everyone to see what fits them. So too God gives everyone the best thing of all according to his knowledge of what is most suitable for them. Indeed, whoever trusts him entirely in this, receives and possesses in the least of things as much as they do in the greatest.

Meister Eckhart: selected writings
(Penguin Classics, 1994)

When the darkness appears and the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river I stand,
Guide my feet,
hold my hand;
Take my hand, Precious Lord,
Lead me home.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not so random theological quotes

I am convalescing. Whether or not the bug was H1N1 is unclear, since I have half of the symptoms from the "nope, it's not H1N1" column and half the symptoms from the "yup, you got it" column. Either way, I have been sick, without a fever but with a lot of lung involvement and some head and nose heaviness as well. The latter went away relatively fast; the former is lingering. Much better the last two days, though.

I am back at work at my theological writing during this fall break (which gave me the time to be sick and sleep and now gives me the time to think a little). I'm up against a deadline, so the time for coherent posts has not yet returned, but I'll share with you some quotes from the works of authors I have been reading and about whom I have been writing.

So this first. We're not in light material here.

To believe in God means to take sides with life and to end our alliance with death. It means to stop killing and wanting to kill, and to do battle with apathy which is so akin to killing. It means an end to the fear of dying and to its counterpart, the fear of failure. To take sides with life means to stop looking for some neutral ground between murderers and their victims and to cease looking upon the world as a supermarket in which we can buy anything we want so long as the price is right and the system is preserved.

******-- Dorothee Sölle, Death by Bread Alone
********(German original 1975; English, 1978)


But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)

More Sölle:

****Taking sides with life is not an easy or simple thing, It involves a never-ending process of change whereby we constantly renounce the self that is dead and enamored of death and instead become free to love life. To take sides with life and experience how we can transcend ourselves is a process that has many names and faces. Religion is one of those names. Religion can mean the radical and wholehearted attempt to take sides with life. ...

****What I have to say is said from a particular point of view. I am a Christian. When I seek help against that ever-present death by bread alone I turn instinctively to Jesus Christ, learning from him how to fight and conquer death. I do not claim, however, that this way is the only way to do so. I know many Jewish, humanist, socialist individuals and groups who, with the help of other guides and patrons and saints, fight the same battle and have similar experiences. As far as I am concerned it is not important or necessary that we all embrace the same faith, perhaps some common faith of humanity, What is important is that people be able to communicated and share their religious experiences.

****Turning to religion must not mean turning away from each other but rather turning to each other. When I try to say what Christ means to me, threatened as I am by the strangling death that is all around us, I am trying to speak about the steps that can lead all of us out of the prevailing state of death. The recollection of Jesus derives its power not from “one-way” slogans and bumper-sticker theology but from what that recollection says about happiness, peace, love, and justice. It speaks of those things not as requirements or demands to be imposed upon humanity, but as things that can and do happen in the lives of each of us. One of the things the Jesus tradition says is that learning to love means also–indeed primarily–learning to die, and therein lies the offer of finding our identity.

**** Jesus took sides with life. He battled against death wherever he found it: the death of outcast lepers with whom none would speak, whom none would touch; the death of the publicans whom society held in utter contempt; the physical death of those who had not yet begun to live. Here note must be made of something without which Jesus’ relationship to death cannot be understood. Neither Jesus nor those who, like him, battle against violent death looked upon a physical death as the worst thing that can happen to us. They feared a life that is ruled and controlled by death more than they feared death itself…. For Jesus and others like him natural death is by no means the greatest enemy.

****But Jesus’ attitude toward death and that of others like him is contrary to ours. We prefer to cling tenaciously to the “honeysweet Christ.” We want no part of the Christ of vinegar and gall. We accept more or less as fate the kind of death that surrounds us in all its forms, the kind of death imposed by society’s structures and forces; war and starvation; robotized, impersonal existence; the monotony and routine of going through the motions of living. But what we struggle against is natural death from sickness and age, regarding it as our bitterest foe. It is natural death that we fight and resist with every means at our disposal. …

****The desire for a future life and for some form of continued personal existence is most deeply rooted in the resistance to death of those who have not lived an authentic and genuine life. The only weapon against such death is that of love. Those who die without ever having plunged into the stream of love die a hopeless death. Death can be accepted only by those who know what it means to live. Only they can take sides with life against the death that comes by bread alone.

****Being a Christian means that we have passed from death to life. We have gone beyond death. In the case of a Christian, the biological order of birth followed by death is reversed. The Christian dies first, then [s]he is born. Passing from death to life, the individual Christian will not need such a crutch as the hope of reunion in heaven with loved ones. Nor will the Christian need the crutch of a hope for continued personal existence in a heavenly realm. Absolutely nothing –not even the knowledge of our transitory personal existence—can separate us from the love of God.

************-- Dorothee Sölle, Death by Bread Alone


Image: "Jesus of the People" by Janet McKenzie

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Yes, we're still here

A devoted reader wants to know what's up with the radio silence.

Life is what's up, and work. Full-time teaching plus finishing up what I refer to affectionately as the Big Tome, a several hundred page work of theology for which I have to think in three languages, plus a firm commitment to getting enough sleep this year. Oh, and I was out of town two weekends ago, not for the whole weekend but for a short trip to the Diocese of Western NC to give a talk to a lovely group of church ladies. And then there were Jewish High Holy Days and diocesan things.

But I am here this weekend (really beginning tomorrow since I don't have school things on Friday) with lots of time for the Tome and for quiet reflection. The health care series will return in the next few days, as will some reflections on Francis and Clare and the Blessing of the Animals, at which I am preaching this weekend. Peace out.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Family time

Brother of Acts of Hope and Beloved of Brother of Acts of Hope are flying in from Europe on Saturday and we are converging on Parents of Acts of Hope. I get in a day before the Siblings do. I will be in New England for barely two days because I teach first thing in the a.m. on Mondays, but the far-flung Acts of Hope family makes the best of short amounts of time, so we are all happy happy happy. "All" being the two older generations. The two younger generations (Nephew the Elder, Nephew the Younger, their partners, and two kidlings) are off in their usual faraway countries.

Blogging will be scarce, but I will at some point put up the promised "write the media" post in the "DO SOMETHING for Health Care Reform" series.

I'll be with media types all weekend, so we'll see if they have any advice on this beyond the ideas I have collected or cooked up already. Lots of folks in the news biz in the Acts of Hope family, at least in the two older generations. The young 'uns didn't want to touch journalism with a ten-foot pole. Then again, one of them is in the wine biz, so we are grateful. The Really Young 'Uns may or may not go into journalism. At this point they are just busy being Really Young.

Shabbat Shalom and happy weekend, everyone.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Facebook updates

A day at home writing after an intense half-week of teaching.

Thus lots of opportunity to procrastinate (or take comforting breaks, depending on your spin) on Facebook. Posted a lot of updates. They are a bit like haiku, just longer. This may be the day with the most updates since I started Facebooking. (Is that a verb? If not, it will be soon.)

I still dislike Facebook's changes of this summer with the change in the update formula. Silly. But like lemmings, we have all started talking about ourselves in the 3d person. Mostly.

Jane R. Link

Jane R. Today, the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Maya Pavlova, Feline Bishop Extraordinaire, is my supervisor.

Jane R. Sometimes it's good to take some time simply to breathe and observe.Even, or especially, in the midst of urgent concerns, policy discussion, and activism. Link.

I posted these next two to the blog way back; revisited the music to listen and shared them on FB today as I listened.

Jane R. Link.

Jane R. And a live version... J.S. Bach never gets old. All hail to the best of his ancient and recent interpreters. Link.

Jane R. has now hidden from her news feed Vampire Wars, Mafia Wars, FarmVille, Farmtown, Funky Flowers, Pirates, (Lil') Green Patch, 101 Eggs, YoVille, and Pillow Fights. I'll keep hiding these sorts of apps as they keep appearing. I do like reading your personal and news updates, though, all y'all.

Jane R. Thanks to Vince Masi for pointing out this article. And hey, that's my old friend Edward, the Exec. Director whom the article quotes! Link.

Jane R. was attacked by a thorny branch while mowing the lawn and has the scratches to show for it.

Jane R. wants to keep looking at the recently arrived photos of her 6-year-old great-nephew instead of working on the Big Tome... But we do our theology for our children, don't we? If it doesn't make the world better for them, it's not worth the time. Another picture to post above the desk. What a cutie. And I'm not biased or anything.

Jane R. is remembering her beloved friend David, now deceased (brain tumor, summer 2002), who rushed downtown (he worked midtown and lived on the Upper West Side) on September 11, 2001, to see if he could find his nephew, and who miraculously ran into him, alive.

A day of mindfulness: more in the "DO SOMETHING for Health Care Reform" series

I promised you a mindfulness exercise for Tuesday and it's Thursday. I really ought to remember that Tuesday and Wednesday are my long days at work. I did, mindfully, watch two presidential speeches, one each day. I will post links to them, back-dated, so you will find them below soon.

What I meant to do, though, and I am doing now, is to invite you to take a break from the politicking and letter-writing and move into a day of mindfulness about health. Your health. The health of others. What constitutes good health.

This goes beyond good health insurance coverage, of course. A few times today and this evening, observe your breathing. Then take some deep, slow, breaths.

When you get up, what do you do for your own health and well-being? What does your understanding of health include in your daily life? Sleep? Food? Exercise? Drinking water? Laughter? Community? Spiritual practice? (For some this means prayer or meditation, for others it may mean Tai Ch'i or reading or baking. Think about what this means for you.) Intellectual or physical activity? Creative work?

As you go about your day, do you think about your health? In what way? What is the place of self-care ? How much time and energy does worrying take? Do you have one or more conditions that require treatment or visits to health practitioners?

Simply observe. Do not judge.

As you go about your day, do you think about the health and well-being of others? In what way? What form does this take? Who are the others? Are they persons and animals who are members of your household? Are they at your workplace? In your congregation or other community of spiritual practice? Are they at the place where you volunteer?

Take your time. Notice.

Are there ways in which "health" becomes particularly concrete for you? Are there ways in which "health" is an abstraction?

What happens when you take time simply to observe, to notice, and then perhaps to name, taking time out from the rush of acting and doing?

See what happens to your day, your health and your approach to health when you consider these questions.

Try to do this without judgment and without undue rush.

If you like, write us in the comments to this post and let us know your observations, experiences, and thoughts.

Peace to you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The President's health care speech to joint session of Congress: text and video

With thanks to the Huffington Post (a.k.a. HuffPo), here are the text of the speech and, toward the bottom of the text, the full video. (The other videos are just clips.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Presidential speech to school children and adolescents AND a transcript of Q&A with students in Arlington, Virginia

Here's a transcript of the discussion between President Obama and 9th grade high school students in Arlington, Virginia.

Here's the infamous speech to the students -- really a conservative's dream. Work hard, believe in yourself, understand planning and delayed gratification. It reminded me of my grandfather the summer camp director, my uncles the school principals, and my mother. (None of them political conservatives, but that just goes to show that the categories we use are sometimes useless.)

Tintin movies!?

Spielberg is making a Tintin movie. As is some other American filmmaker. Who knew? Apparently previews of the Spielberg film, at least in the form of stills, will be shown at the forthcoming Angoulême festival. That's the big annual comics festival in France. Angoulême is a small city northeast of Bordeaux. The English occupied it briefly in the 14th century.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Labor Day op-ed

A good Labor Day essay by my friend Algernon D'Ammassa. The punctuation problems, by the way, are courtesy of his editor; they're not his doing. The essay was published in the Deming (New Mexico) Headlight.

Solidarity forever!

It's Write Your Congressfolks Day! Labor Day in the "DO SOMETHING for Health Care Reform" series

It's Labor Day, I taught and held office hours all morning, went home and had a late lunch, went to bed for a nap (not enough sleep last night), and slept for four hours instead of two -- so I am running behind on my Congress post. More in an hour or two in this space!


Here we go. Happy Labor Day! Health care reform. Contacting Congress. That's today's action.

I mentioned NETWORK yesterday. NETWORK has a very useful resource page which I mentioned yesterday. On this page, among other resources, are those on citizen lobbying. They include, among others, guidelines for communicating with people who think differently (how 'bout that?), tips for writing and calling your Member of Congress, and tips for visiting your Member of Congress in Washington or in your district. Also tips for writing letters to the editor.

The page also includes reflection, meditation, and prayer resources. (NETWORK is a religious organization founded by Catholic Christians, though you will find that the reflection resources are ecumenically pertinent and may even be helpful for persons outside the Christian tradition.)

For now, let's keep it simple:

1. Write or phone your Member of Congress and your two Senators. Tell them where you stand on health care reform. Tell them clearly. Tell them now. Tell them to act. If they are working actively for either a robust public option or for single-payer care, thank them. Remind them that you are a constituent and that you vote. Stay courteous.

If, like me, you are from Greensboro, NC, here is contact info for your reps and Senators; the Senators, of course, are Senators for all North Carolinians.

2. Here are tips for writing them.

3. Here are tips for phoning them. I found this page particularly helpful.

...more below the photo....

4. Here are tips for visiting them. This is a good one to do with a group of people. Very helpful prep and check sheet. Note: You have to do your homework! Just as the President is about to say to the kidlings.

If you're not in Washington or can't get there, there's always the district office. (The document to which this links includes a link to a directory of Congressional district offices.)

*****Got some spare time tomorrow after the three-day holiday weekend is over? Are you unemployed? Use your time for the common good! You'll feel great.

5. And here, for your meditation, is "Engaging Differences," a reflection, with a few guidelines, on communicating with people who think differently from you.

6. Want to have a resource to watch with your friends, your religious community, your class, your union, your youth group, your family, your community action group, your retirement community? For $5 you can get a video and study guide (which can be used without the video) either in English or in Spanish. It's called "Your Voice Counts" or "Tu Voz Cuenta."
Here is the link to the order forms. The study guide includes all the tip sheets above and more.

Stay on message. Keep it simple. Even a very short note or phone call can make a difference. They count 'em, you know.

A personally written letter carries much more weight than those form postcards they distribute at community events.

If you're not feeling too shy, a phone call is also great. Have a phone-calling party, or buddy up with someone!

I know I'm getting this to you late in the day, but you can do a little prep this evening and then make calls tomorrow when the offices are open. Great time to do it. Skip the gossip at the water cooler and write a letter supporting single payer health care or, at the very least, stating that "the public option is not optional!"

THE PUBLIC OPTION IS NOT OPTIONAL. I just made up that sentence. Use it.

Thank you.

P.S. Feeling uninformed? AARP (which is actually for anyone over 50, you don't have to be retired, and yes, I'm a member) has a handy info page called Health Care Reform: Get the Facts.

P.P.S. The Congressional Progressive Caucus's letter to President Obama supporting a robust public option is here.
Photos: 1) American Planning Association, California Chapter; 2) At Your Service for Seniors.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tomorrow, Labor Day, we write our Congressfolk; meanwhile, some resources on the legislative process

I will put more details up tomorrow, since it is late and I am prepping for class. Yes, I have to teach on Labor Day, at 8:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, here is your promised civics lesson: how a bill makes its way through the Congress. This comes from Health Care for America Now and it refers specifically to bills on health care reform and especially to HR 3200. Bills, committees, House, Senate, oh my! There is an item called "The Lay of the Land."

Setting aside health care, if you want a nonpartisan "How Congress Works" lesson, this one from Indiana University's Center on Congress is pretty good.

If you want a simple one-page summary of how Congress works, you can look here at a page prepared by STAND, the student-led division of the Genocide Intervention Network.

One of my favorite resources is NETWORK - A NationalCatholic Social Justice Lobby. Founded by sisters in 1971, the network is an excellent civic resource. Like everyone else, NETWORK has gone online. See here and click your way around. I wish the Episcopal Public Policy Network were half as helpful. NETWORK's health care efforts, with some good information, are visible here.

One of the things I like about NETWORK is that they are accessible. The material is clear and user-friendly. It also is religiously and ethically informed. There's a legislative action center. And there are educational resources. More tomorrow from these good folks, especially how-to tips. (Some of the how-to tips are from that page of resources, but I'll zero in on the ones we need to contact our Congressfolk.)

Click to enlarge.

Tomorrow: How to contact those Senators and Representatives, and a little pep talk as usual.

Tuesday: A mindfulness practice related to health care and health care reform.

Later in the week: Media-related things, as promised.

Blessings, all.

Señor, ten piedad

That's "Lord, have mercy" in Spanish.

Brutal news from El Salvador from our friend Caminante, here. Mother of God!

San Romero de las Américas, camina con nosotros.

I wrote my letter. Did you write yours?

See below. Today is write-the-President-about-health-care-reform day.

And if you wish, share what you wrote, or what you are thinking, or any related information about health care reform and action for health care reform, in the comments to this post or to the post below.

Thank you.

Tonight: a little something on those folks whom we elected to represented us in Congress.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Do Something" Series: Dear Mr. President...

Tomorrow is letter-writing day.

No, it's not a national holiday or some Hallmark-fabricated day. It's letter-writing day tomorrow because we all needed time off today (I am writing this very late on Saturday night - in fact, after midnight, but I'll back-date this post), because it's a long weekend and we have time to write a couple of letters, and also because I said so.

I hereby pledge to write President Obama tomorrow, Sunday, September 6.

On Monday, Labor Day, I will write my two Senators and Representatives. But we'll get to that tomorrow.

I'm keeping things simple in this DO SOMETHING About Health Care Reform Series. There are other more sophisticated bloggers to whom I will eventually link. I'm just a citizen trying to inform herself and her friends and determined to act. I can't stand apathy.

I invite you to keep me company and to write the President as well. Tomorrow. Today, by the time you read this. Sunday. September 6.

Once you have done this, check in with us here and leave us a comment to confirm that you wrote President Obama. Yes, this is a support group, and also a kick in the pants. Call it what you will, but DO SOMETHING. Politely, of course.

Details, information, and help below.

1. Remember the President is giving a speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. The speech will be about health care reform.

2. Bill Moyers is (in the words of Father of Acts of Hope in a book review a few years ago) a national treasure. He socked it to us, and to President Obama, and to the talk shows and Pfizer and a few other entities, in a special message at the end of his show on Friday night.

"....As it is, we're about to get health care reform that measures human beings only in corporate terms of a cost-benefit analysis. I mean this is topsy-turvy — we should be treating health as a condition, not a commodity.

As we speak, Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, has been fined a record $2.3 billion dollars as a civil and criminal — yes, that's criminal, as in fraud — penalty for promoting prescription drugs with the subtlety of the Russian mafia. It's the fourth time in a decade Pfizer's been called on the carpet — and these are the people into whose tender mercies Congress and the White House would deliver us?

Come on, Mr. President. Show us America is more than a circus or a market. Remind us of our greatness as a democracy. When you speak to Congress next week, just come out and say it. We thought we heard you say during the campaign last year that you want a government run insurance plan alongside private insurance — mostly premium-based, with subsidies for low-and-moderate income people. Open to all individuals and employees who want to join and with everyone free to choose the doctors we want. We thought you said Uncle Sam would sign on as our tough, cost-minded negotiator standing up to the cartel of drug and insurance companies and Wall Street investors whose only interest is a company's share price and profits.

Here's a suggestion, Mr. President: ask Josh Marshall to draft your speech. Josh is the founder of the website . He's a journalist and historian, not a politician. He doesn't split things down the middle and call it a victory for the masses. He's offered the simplest and most accurate description yet of a public insurance plan; one that essentially asks people: would you like the option — the voluntary option — of buying into Medicare before you're 65? Check it out, Mr. President.

This health care thing is make or break for your leadership, but for us, it's life and death. No more Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. President. We need a fighter. "

That's the end of the message. To watch the whole thing, go to Moyers's website and click on the video here. (The video is also bopping around on YouTube.)

You can also read the text of the message here or at DailyKos.

3. The major House bill on health care (there are others) is HR 3200. A helpful site from the Annenberg School called debunks some of the lies about it here.

4. Sometime this week we'll post various information sources, but for now, here is a link to one of the more reliable ones, the Kaiser Family Foundation. The health care reform part of the website is here. For a comparative chart of the various health reform plans, go directly here, or click the link on the health reform page. For a history of health care reform efforts in the U.S., click here.

5. Head spinning? You can always go back to this simple presentation.

6. I support single-payer health care. You may or may not. Whether or not you do, I am assuming that you want some kind of health care reform in this country. Write the President and tell him. Be as specific and clear as possible. A brief letter is fine. In fact, it's best.

7. Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) supports single-payer health care, and explains it, too. There's a petition at PNHP, if you are feeling lazy about writing a real letter to the President. There are petitions everywhere. I suggest you do both: sign one of those easy petitions AND write a real letter, which can be an e-mail.

8. Easy e-mail form to contact the President here. Use it.

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
(They ask that you include your e-mail address even if you write snail-mail.)

Phone contact:
Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414\
FAX: 202-456-2461
Comments: 202-456-6213
Visitors Office: 202-456-2121

Tomorrow: A little civics lesson on bills and Congress, and another letter-writing day, with information on how to contact your Congressfolk.

Soon: Write your local newspapers. Write the TV stations. Write a magazine. Peeved at the media? Do something about it. We'll help you to do so.

Remember: We welcome your suggestions, stories, and links. I am the final editor, in consultation with the local feline, but I will read whatever you send mindfully.

Photos nicked from my friend janinsanfran's blog, "Can It Happen Here?", one of the best personal blogs on public issues. The photos are from a rally of elders for health care reform.

Gratuitous Romanesque Europe nostalgia photo: Sénanque Abbey and its lavender field

This is one of my favorite places.

I haven't been to the Abbey of Sénanque in about 30 years, but the parents of an old and dear friend of mine from high school have retired to the nearest town of Gordes, and their granddaughter (my friend's oldest child) was married there in Gordes, just miles from the abbey, last weekend. Alas, I couldn't be there because we had just started school at Guilford.

Enjoy the picture, and click the links if you want to know and see more.

Click on the photo to enlarge it. Gorgeous.

Friday, September 4, 2009

DO SOMETHING for health care reform every day: a series begins

Occasionally we have a series here at Acts of Hope, a mix of information, inspiration, and advocacy. We seem to do this roughly once a year, though not by design.

There was the fund-raising and Latin American theologies series. The beneficiary of our (and other blogs' - this was a group project) fund-raising was an Anglican parish in a very poor neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. By the way, I have an update on the parish of Cristo Rei from our friend Luiz which I have been meaning to post and which will go up this weekend.

Then there was the Obama election series.

I'm doing it again.

Some of you may have been involved, the last 48 hours, in the Facebook series that asked you to post to your daily updates the following message: No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.

I didn't do it.

Not because I don't agree --I do and then some-- but because I felt that for the most part it would be preaching to the converted and that if my eyes were starting to glaze over from the message, other people's would. And mostly, because I think we need to DO something.

Like my other friends and colleague who want health care reform and who prefer either a public option or plain ol' single payer health care, I rant and complain, but more than half the time, I don't do anything. Meanwhile, there are lies and distortions all over the place, our local and national media don't get complaint letters when they spread those lies or when they fail to do their job as public educators, the noisy rude folk dominate the public forums (or maybe they don't, but they sure get the coverage), and our Congressfolk don't hear from us. A few of them have spines, but the others will not develop them till we remind them that we are the ones who will re-elect them -- or not. And that they work for us.

And we bitch and moan (pardon my language) about the President we worked hard to elect when he doesn't change massive systems with the wave of a magic wand. Then, of course, we will blame him for everything.

How do you think we got him elected?




It's our country, these are our bodies, this is our health care system we want to change. And we have no right to complain unless we act.

Thus, I am starting a series here. It's partly to get myself off my duff and have a place to be accountable and partly because besides I am at heart several things --artist, priest, and yes, organizer.

I don't have time for this either, but it's too important to leave alone.

I don't fully know what will be in this series, but I pledge to put something useful here every day. Information, education, ways to act, analysis, commentary, reporting. It won't all be mine. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. I will link to other sources and to people who know more than I.

And yes, I will write, this weekend, a short report on our Greensboro public forum on health care, with a little something on Teddy Kennedy.

I am also doing this in part in memory of Kennedy, who was my Senator for many years and was still, at the time of his death, my parents' Senator.

Feel free to send me (in the comments or via e-mail) information and links and suggestions.

Uncivil speech is not welcome; I will delete it; don't even try. Conversation is another matter. Conversation is good. Disagreement is fine if it is reasoned and polite. And lament is fine too: there is plenty to lament. But lament is the beginning of resistance and healing. Or can be.

Stay tuned. And thank you for reading this and for caring for the common good.

If you haven't see this video about the why of government-run health insurance, have a look.

P.S. I'll still post other things, too. This isn't turning into The Health Care Blog.

Mural "Community Caring, Community Healing" by David Fichter. Martha Eliot Health Center, Jamaica Plain, MA.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mother of Acts of Hope is 91 today!

The one and only Mother of Acts of Hope is 91 years old today!

Father of Acts of Hope, a younger man who will not turn 91 till November, is a romantic and has written a sonnet for the occasion, and of course given his beloved a bouquet of roses.

We children can't be with Parents of Acts of Hope this weekend, but hope to converge on them in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Happy Birthday to our indomitable mother!

Photo: Autumn scene, Vermont. Nicked from somewhere on the Web. Mother of Acts of Hope's parents founded a summer camp in Vermont, and many years later my parents bought an old house near there, site of many happy summers and family gatherings. We no longer own the house but we still love and visit Vermont.

Health care, cont'd: let me draw you a picture

Yes, yes, I will get back to blogging! Thanks for bearing with me, friends. I am cooking in my head a post that combines a report on the local forum on health care reform and a tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy, whose wake and funeral I have been watching during the last few days.

Meanwhile, here is a new animated cartoon explaining why we need government-run (akh! socialized! just like your fire and police departments and Medicare) health care. Skeptics and advocates, whoever you are, have a look here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Greensboro, NC people: Health Care Forum TONIGHT

Citizens, time to show up.

a) if you are sick of uninformed, stupid, and hate-filled rhetoric
and b) if you would like us to we have genuine health-care-delivery and -insurance reform and keep the public option* on the table.
* or some proven workable alternative, see Krugman or better yet, this (which also quotes Krugman but is more factual and is a nice clear summary of the options)
Oh, and c) if you have a body and are a U.S. citizen or resident.

* * * * * * *

The State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) is hosting a
Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 19 (tonight)
6:30-8 p.m.
at the Teamsters Union Hall (Sandy Ridge Road & I-40)

The meeting is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. It will give state employees, retirees and other community members the opportunity to ask questions to elected officials, and medical and business professionals about how the current debate over health care reform will impact people in N.C.

Please help spread the word about this event. (Jane says: Please show up!)

For more information about the Town Hall Meeting, contact Heather Welborn at (704) 609-5906 or

If you would like to contact your U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative directly, contact information is listed below. Web sites listed have "Contact" links for sending e-mails.

Senator Kay Hagan
Greensboro Phone: (336) 333-5311
Washington Phone: (202) 224-6342
Web site:

Senator Richard Burr
Winston-Salem Phone: (336) 631-5125
Washington Phone: (202) 224-3154
Web site:

Representative Brad Miller (District 13)
Greensboro Phone: (336) 574-2909
Washington Phone: (202) 225-3032
Web site:

Representative Mel Watt (District 12)
Greensboro Phone: (336) 275-9950
Washington Phone: (202) 225-1510
Web site:

Representative Howard Coble (District 6)
Greensboro Phone: (336) 333-5005
High Point Phone: (336) 886-5106
Washington Phone: (202) 225-3065
Web site:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dorothee Sölle on the church

As promised in the post below.

I believe in jesus christ
who was right when he
like each of us
just another individual who couldn’t beat city hall
worked to change the status quo
and was destroyed
looking at him I see
how our intelligence is crippled
our imagination stifled
our efforts wasted
because we did not live as he did
every day I am afraid
that he died in vain
because he is buried in our churches

from "Credo"
in Dorothee Soelle
Revolutionary Patience
translated by Rita and Robert Kimber
Maryknoll: Orbis, 1977

*****In the face of the Christian church and its role in the First world, I feel alienation, aversion, disgust, and sometimes even shame. I see this empirical church as a structure "from above," based on injustice and continually betraying it s own truth. I often think that the church is like Judas, who handed Christ over to the established religious authorities. Sometimes I think that the church is like the other disciples who, discouraged and defeated, left Jesus alone and fled. And then there are times when I think the church is like Peter, who denied that he had ever known anything about peace and justice. Very seldom do I see the church, like Peter, shedding bitter tears.

*****Nevertheless, I have never regarded myself as post-Christian. I have also experienced something other than what I have just described. I have seen the church in a group of women who did not flee, who stayed, and on Easter Sunday went to the tomb because the one who had gone was not dead for them. However, my overwhelmingly bad experiences have changed my image of the church. It is not a house for me any longer; instead, it is a tent for the wandering people of God. Then tent is not always where I am, but sooner or later I encounter the tent people again --on the street or in the courtroom. The sacred is not so much a building or an institution as an event, something that happens. Not long ago Daniel Berrigan, in conversation, employed the image of an umbrella that shelters us from the cold rain. Sometimes it opens too slowly, and we are left standing in the rain. Sometimes it is not very effective. Still, it is there, and I would not want to be without it. But the image of the church that continues to impress me most is that of an old woman looking for food in a garbage can --an unmarried mother with bent back, unattractive, unhealthy, of indeterminate age-- my older sister, whom I need and who needs me.

*****I suspect that the post-Christians do not want to have anything to do with the dialectic of a religious institution. But it is just this self-contradictory experience of the church as traitor and the church as sister that stares me in the face, and I have to live with it. Post-Christianity seems to me like a slick formula that covers up the two-sided encounter with the church and reduces it to the "church from above." Then the church from below is forgotten, and with it what tradition has identifies as the "mystical body of Christ."

Dorothee Soelle
The Window of Vulnerability: A Political Spirituality
Translated by Linda M. Maloney
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990

Homeless woman and bicycle, Oslo, Norway (BBC)
Dorothee Sölle