Labor Day

From Today’s Liturgy:

Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32a

So it is with every artisan and master artisan
who labors by night as well as by day;
those who cut the signets of seals,
each is diligent in making a great variety;
they set their heart on painting a lifelike image,
and they are careful to finish their work.
So it is with the smith, sitting by the anvil,
intent on his iron-work;
the breath of the fire melts his flesh,
and he struggles with the heat of the furnace;
the sound of the hammer deafens his ears,
and his eyes are on the pattern of the object.
He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork,
and he is careful to complete its decoration.

So it is with the potter sitting at his work
and turning the wheel with his feet;
he is always deeply concerned over his products,
and he produces them in quantity.
He molds the clay with his arm
and makes it pliable with his feet;
he sets his heart to finish the glazing,
and he takes care in firing the kiln.
All these rely on their hands,
and all are skillful in their own work.
Without them no city can be inhabited,
and wherever they live, they will not go hungry.

Ora et Labora. Pray and work. Recognize the value of the people who are employees, union members, workers of all kinds, imbue them with human value against a world that reduces them to service. The value of work is not in the numbers, but we should make sure that when we pay, we pay a fair value, something that recognizes the dignity of another person at their craft.

That’s all I have today.

Occupy Catholics

I’m a Catholic, and I Occupy. Some of you are shocked, but I’m not alone.

 

Since all this started back in September for me, life has been insane. I’ve been arrested, pepper-sprayed and slept out in the rain, in the cold, intents and on sidewalks…I’ve been slandered, abused, called names, and I don’t mind so much. In fact, I’m not really bothered at all.

It’s because for me, Occupy is a response to the call for faithful citizenship. I Occupy because I’m Catholic and because the world needs justice. Do I believe that Occupy is the solution? Not exclusively.

Occupy fills a very important gap in society, that of an actual Leftist movement, a radical left that diverges from the neo-liberalism so content to settle within the establishment. I watched over the past 4 years as society began to crumble, as capitalism over-extended into culture and became in visible tangible results the poison that results from greed.

 

I’ve longed for other prophetic voices that would speak with the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah as well as the Apostles like James and John who would write and speak out. The following is James 5:1-6

1 Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. 2 Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, 3 your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. 4 Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.

I remember reading Stanley Hauerwas and feeling like too few Chrisitians were aware of the severe disconnect between Christianity and capitalism in the West. I still feel that way, as though too few Christians allow their faith to question their establishment.

Christian theology became for me a language that questions not only my personal assumptions about myself and spirituality, but also about the nature of reality, the relation of the state to me as a religious individual. My epistemological approach is a thoroughly theological one, I know through faith, I think through dogmatics, I apply myself to critical citizenship through prayer.

It is my prayers that keep me going through this.

It is my personal responsibility to my neighbors, and not my commitment to any particular cause that fuels me. I believe that the most important ethic in this whole situation is a personal ethic of thick relations. It’s an ethic based on the idea that ultimately my actions are dictated by the concerns I have not for this or that cause, but for my neighbor. If the Church’s people remain silent in the face of injsutices that are not explicitly religious, we cannot expect to find solidarity when religious issues are under attack. Regardless of mutual aid, the Church has a responsibility to be the prophetic voice in the most traditional sense, calling for economic and social justice .

I will say this: I believe that the Church has a place in history in this moment, and that she should side with the populist cry for justice rather than the establishment that continues to undermine her at every turn. I don’t think that the Occupy movement is the most Catholic friendly movement in the world, nor do I think it is parallel to Catholic economics. However, the cry for justice unheeded and neglected by the Church would be a grave error.

I am a Catholic, I pray, I am the 99%.

 

 

I’m still here!

I’m still alive! I’ve been in very strange straights recently, but all the theology you love, it’s coming back soon! Stay tuned! Next post will be about the global occupy movement and my Catholic interactions with their dialogue.

My Occupy Arrest

So, the occupy movement for me began rather on a whim. I believe it was just after the declaration of occupation had been released, and the local Occupy movement had been established, a friend and I were out buying art supplies to do some stenciling and make some posters. That day, i had chanced to remember that there was a flash protest outside a bank near my work, and we had a few hours before I had anything to do, so we went. And upon arriving, I mean, I’d never been a protester, and up to that point in my life had always found picketing rather childish and ineffectual. I’d never thought that uniting myself to something like this would become more than a hobby, but then something happened.

 

As I began to read, to study more, to examine closely why my rage was and is kindled by the declaration of occupation, I began to notice something: this is a passion. Occupation became the driving force of my life and from the end of September through the date of our big rally on October 15th, I was fueled by an endless curiosity and kept reading, watching other general assemblies and doing my best with Occupy Tulsa.

 

We had our rally on Global Occupation Day, October 15th, and we had between 600 and 800 supporters show up and show their support. It was exhilirating, I shouted myself hoarse, we had speeches, live music, and testimonies by bankers, union leaders, working people of all sorts, students, veterans and the unemployed as well. It was fantastic. We still didn’t have a physical occupation though. Then, just a bit later later, on October 28th my friend Sam and I went out and began a physical occupation. We were up to that point merely a rally movement, we’d had a few general assemblies, and they were accomplishing things, but we wanted a physical occupation. I spent most of that week taking shifts protesting outside a bank of america with a few friends I’d met through occupy, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to just throw up my tent and get out there. My roommate and I had even talked about me occupying our front yard, since I live in a remodeled doctors’ office that’s now a home on a busy intersection.

 

But that friday, Sam and I went out there, and I remember saying “I hope we’re not the only two douchebags out here sleeping in the park tonight.” By the end of the night we had 6 occupants. The next night we had 12. The following night 18 or 19. The movement was growing faster than we could manage. People from all over the city and the outlying areas drove in to bring us supplies, food, and good company. I had basically made the occupation my second home, going home in brief stints to shower or check my mail and run errands.

 

Then came tuesday November first, I had to go to work right after I’d heard the announcement that the police were going to start enforcing curfew. Shortly thereafter the city parks department made a move against us, by uninstalling the outlets in the park that we had been using to do communications and website information. We’re still suffering limited communications by having to tear down tents before curfew and set up car batteries as charging stations. No tents means no laptops for livestreams, it means limited information and logistics on needs and other information, it means a movement that depends on near instant communication is being slightly limited by having to go through other channels for communications.

 

I went to work, and all night I was on the edge of my seat. Tensions were high, but luckily an uneventful night at the mental health facility i work at allowed me to leave early and return to camp. When I returned the tension was thick, people were nervous, the media was everywhere, spectators were there to see the action, and the occupants were nervous. We had some speeches, we took a vote and unanimously decided that Centennial Green would be for us, and for all other occupants Solidarity Square. We chose this name for no particular reason, I know my intentions in naming the proposal were to have a name that rings out, that stands for the movement, and that captures the heart of what we’re fighting for.

 

Occupy is after all about reacquiring public space and turning it into a center for discussion, shared ideas, and tactics that can change the future. Occupy is in many ways what the universities should have remained. Universities with their profiteering re-structuring have become places that highlight economic disparity. Academic performance not family income should determine a candidate’s ability to complete higher education. But anyways, that’s beside the point. The point is, we had renamed the site, we claimed the park as our own, and we locked arms, waiting. The police didn’t show for a while, so we moved about, stretched a bit, shared some laughs, thought they were standing down, and then…one of our supporters on a police scanner spotted swat coming to us from across town. There was lots of chatter about Occupy Tulsa, and we were apparently a big target. They had organized two swat teams, 6 paddy-wagons and over 100 officers to block off the streets and come arrest 10 protesters who had decided to sit in on the grass in civil disobedience to a city ordinance in direct conflict with the first amendment.

 

Now, our fight was never with the police, it remains with those in power the ones organizing and issuing orders, the ones who pull the strings in favor of corporate interests against the people. We’ve never wanted to fight the police, in fact we invite them to join us, every night. We hope that there are Occupy Police in Tulsa who have considered joining us, but we know times are tough and that the mayor is no friend of theirs. He laid off 130 officers last year. We hope that they hear our call, and that plain clothes cops, off duty guys and gals come meet us, so we can unite against abuses of power.

 

But nevertheless, that night, they came, 100 of them.

 

We circled up, and as they approached, tightening our grips. Our circle became very somber, as the police staged the counter-resistance. The crowd sang ‘Solidarity Forever’ in support from the sidewalk. We had no idea what was coming, but many of us said the Lord’s prayer, I cited a few hail mary’s and the guy next to me prayed psalm 23.

 

I called a mic-check, and we responded in kind to the Tulsa Police. It was something like this: “Officers of the Tulsa Police Department, we understand your request and politely, and respectfully decline. We are here because we have the right to assemble. It is our right to assemble and petition our government for a redress of grievances. Freedom does not have business hours. Liberty, does not have a curfew. We will remain, as is our right. We ask that if you step onto the grass you arrest and cite yourselves also.”

 

At this point they mobilized on the park. They stood abreast across the park steps separating our circle of civil disobedience  from the supporters on the sidewalk. I was then asked to stand, I guess they don’t understand that people’s microphone is everyone’s voice. I assume they thought we had a leader or something, but this action was agreed on by consensus, rather than people urging others to do it.

 

The officer stood over my left shoulder and asked me to stand so he could talk to me, he was so inviting I almost did for a second, after all i’ve never had any trouble with the cops, i try to obey the law as best i can, i pay my taxes, and my bills, i follow traffic rules. But this was something altogether different for me. It was a matter of principle, and the persons who I was united with. It was not merely for the sake of an idea, although some ideas are sacred and should be treated as such, it was for the sake of the community that had become my neighbors over the past weekend. The officer asked to give me a citation, and I declined to stand up, telling him “you can give me a citation, but I’m not leaving this park.”

 

He replied very matter of factly, and pulled out his can of pepper spray, putting it up to my face, and said “If you don’t get up I’m going to have to pepper spray you.”

 

At this point I knew there was no way to talk this guy down from pepper spray, so I replied “Officer, you too are the 99%, do what you need to do.”

 

He sprayed me. I’d managed to close my eyes, and I’d managed to hold my breath, it was all so surreal. They’d pulled back my face mask and my hood, they’d held my shoulders, i think though I can’t be sure, and then they sprayed me. I held onto my brothers and sisters in the circle with all that I had. I held on, hoping that the cameras were rolling. I was fine, in fact almost too tranquil with my eyes closed, I began to meditate and embrace the burning. I could breathe ok at first, and then it hit me. I was angry when I started having trouble breathing, but I faced the anger, I let it pass through me, and I began to realize that I had joined the ranks of a movement much larger than myself. So, even despite my discomfort, I began to laugh, I began to feel the difference I was making. It seems a bit absurd, because the pain was there, but I really did focus on the changes that could be brought about by 10 people choosing to disobey on behalf of the constitution of the United States.

 

When we got to holding, after being appropriately walked through the doors and given room to buffer out, we began to do something I never thought I’d do, least of all in jail. With the pepper spray now officially in my eyes and causing me severe pain, we began to crack jokes and then, we did something amazing. We sang the Star Spangled Banner. The girls who could see told us that the cops were taken aback by us. I of course was very blind at this point, and feeling more useless than useful.

 

But, that night, we laughed, we joked, we felt tense, we relaxed. We worried because our friend The Saudi national was taken in for extra questioning by immigration, and we were unsure what they intended to do with him. When he emerged from questioning there was a communal sigh. Though, watching him get put into an orange jumpsuit broke my heart. He was in jail for 15 hours without food or water, and that really surprised and angered me. Our other guy John, the one who made Occupy Tulsa’s most noteworthy photo was put into a jumpsuit too. There was tension and exhaustion the whole next day waiting for those guys to be freed and join us. I fell asleep in booking and when asked to get up and process my paperwork, I fell over because my legs had fallen asleep. My friends laughed, the look on the jailer’s face was one of surprise and a lingering suspicion that i was high on more than life. But I regained my footing completed my booking and went through the rest of the day with a smile on my face. That sums up, in brief, my night of being arrested on behalf of Occupy Tulsa.

 

Occupy Tulsa Day 4

As I write this, I’m sitting in a tent at the corner of 6th and Main street, in the heart of downtown. Our Occupation has swelled, numbers are growing, donations continue to pour in, and I’m still just more than a little bit sleep deprived. For those of you curious about just what it is that we’re doing out here, I’d like to break it down to a few simple things that we’re standing against.

The Declaration of Occupation is a really good way to see what we stand for and against. We stand for the people against corporate entitlement. This is not to say we hate corporations at large or are against people making money. We’re agaisnt corporate and systematic theft. We’re against the idea that corporations get to play by a different set of rules and then buy out the other rules that do not favor them through lobbying and special interest groups. We’re against the reality that corporate profit margins continue to grow while worker salaries stay the same and decrease. We’re tired of seeing multi-national banks outsource jobs to “reduce spending” while proliferating increasingly shameless bonuses on executives. We’ve grown weary with the way in which the government, in both parties pays loyalty to the corporations that serve them with money, when the government should be held accountable directly to the people.

We stand united with the rest of the Occupy Movements against the oligarchy established by a privileged few, and are asking for equal rights. I cannot speak for the movement as a whole, or even Occupy Tulsa, given that I am one voice among many. I am merely one mind among our masses, but I can offer my own thoughts, my own fewars and concerns, and my own story.

When the movement began and for years, my friend Sam and I have talked about economic disparity and the corporatization of civil rights. The voice of the people has become marginalized by money and special interests and it seems that no matter who you’re voting for, you’re just going through a formality because in the end all you’ve done is allow a different puppet in to pull the strings for Wall Street. How is it that we have more legislation creating subsidies for large corporations than we do for small businesses? How is it that corporate special interests get more attention than social programs for the poor?

So, now that we’re in the park, what’s next? The next step is to educate. I want to raise awareness, bring people to the general assemblies and create working teams that can effect actual change. Some people are saying it’s moronic to live in a park as a form of protest, but the camraderie and love we’re sharing here makes me feel like what I’m doing matters. The way the Civil Rights movement worked was not through legislation but through mass action, through collective unity and through the united voice of a people.

If we want to establish our civil rights against corporate suppression, we must do the same and recognize that this is a civil rights struggle, it is a struggle for our voice and our democracy against the special interests that have up to now purchased, financed, lobbied and otherwise occupied our voice. We are not picking a fight with the banks. They started this fight, they occupied our homes, raised our interest rates, sold our homes in bundles to the highest bidder, crashed our market and occupied our Congress in 2008, holding the global economy hostage. THey occupied first, they foreclosed on America, and America is merely foreclosing back.

What can you do to help?

Move your money: Transfer your money froma corporate bank into a local credit union. Credit unions are not for profit and they’re more careful with their spending, they yield higher returns on savings and lower interest rates on loans.

On the 5th of November, we’re having a rally at 71st and Memorial at 10am. We’re going to be marching to various large banks in the area and showing them that we’re not interested in being the welfare program for their continued extortion of the American public.

Come to a meeting: We can’t fight for your concerns if we don’t know them. A lot of people have said “what are their demands?” The thing is, we shape the demands together, we shape our voice into a cohesive unit and we present our ideas to government as a non-partisan force for progress. That’s the most important thing, if you don’t speak, you can’t be heard.

Collect information: Educate yourself, follow the #hashtag #OWS and #Occupy if you’re interested in learning about the movement, learning about what is going on around the country and learning about what you can do to help. Read books, come to the park and talk to various Occupants, and exercise your civil liberties.

 

Most of all,  just come see what’s up, and show us some love, we’d love to show it right back.

 

-Eli

The Occupy Movement

For those of you who follow me on Facebook and or Twitter, you know I’ve been actively vocal about supporting the OccupyWall Street Protests and have posted support for and helped organize our local solidarity movement Occupy Tulsa.

For those of you concerned that Occupy is a Marxist coup d’ etat against capitalism, let me say this: I cannot speak for the 99% but I can say that I have made some observations.

First: The NYPD and various media groups are exceedingly harsh and sometimes even violent towards what so far has been a very rational protest against corporate power. I notice that today, the 15th of October, marked the globalization of the movement, and people have decided to come together across the globe and Occupy Together.

I notice that what unites the people in the various Occupy movements is a dissatifaction with corporate interests gaining an oligarchical leverage in policy-making political lobbying, and now the Supreme Court decision that says a corporation is a person. It’s a dissatisfation with the idea that you can work two full-time jobs and still be in debt up to your eyeballs with basic necessities of the first world, like vehicular transportation and food/clothing for families. It’s a rage at the idea that corporate power is simply limitless and aloof from accountability to governments, employees, unions, ethics or law.

In my opinion, the Occupy movements are a Civil Rights Renaissance. People are standing up for their liberties against the new self interested oppressors. This time the oppressor is not a white man, nor even a man at all, but a small, albeit determined group of individuals who own companies that are determined to turn citizens into commodities, the republic into a fully established consumer-state. I refuse to accept that this is the only way that things can be, and that’s why I’ve vocally supported Occupy.

“We’ve turned into a nation of consumers, not citizens. We need to make retailers and employers bring back the old social contract where if you work hard and give them full time, they have to treat you with some degree of dignity and pay you enough that you don’t need to worry about your basic needs all the time.” -Bernie Hesse UFCW organizer

My question to opposition leaders and dissenters is this: Doesn’t it bother you that a corporation has the same rights that you, an individual person, with all your thoughts feelings and emotions have? Doesn’t it strike you as questionable at the very least, that simply because an organization has money it can hire corporate lobbysits to secure their interests and foot you with the bill through taxes? Both parties are screwed, they’ve both sold us out, and have profited richly as individuals helping wall street and the Power Elite carry out this inside job.

Someone once asked if Androids dream of electric sheep. My question is: Do corporations dream of sheeple? Does McDonalds feel, can Hyundai dry my tears? Will Apple comfort me in the night, or speak to my insecurities? Does Google feel my pain, relate to my sorrows, or have my best interests in mind? Can a business, built on the idea that increase is necessary ever treat me as more than disposable? Can a corporation secure my rights and protect my liberties? Not without costing their bottom line, in most cases.

Though we live in a time of political and social upheaval, it strikes me as odd that anyone would be opposed to opposing the corporate bailouts. It strikes me as odd that anyone would defend the kleptocratic state of things we’ve inherited because Wall Street and the Corporate oligarchs refuse to back down and stabilize. Once upon a time, steady increases were acceptable, now these same comapnies are bleeding everyone dry, retaining money and pulling it out of circulation, sitting on vast sums of cash.

In a world where there’s no way to vote against corporate interests and for the people, I personally say: Enough.


A lot of speculation has been going on about how Occupy will turn out. The Tea Party began as a voice against the bailouts and ended up being co-opted by the very powers they sought to overthrow. Occupy is not about becoming a leftist Tea Party, it is in fact something altogether different. It’s a Civil Rights Renaissance against the limitations imposed on citizenship by Corporatocracy. Occupy is about revivng democratic principles against the idea that we are all consumers and nothing more.

In a world where my options have been bought out by corporate interests and I’m left with either getting shot in the foot or the hand, I’m exhausted. Enough is enough. I have more than a few choice words I’d like to use, but in the spirit of charity I’ll decline. Nevertheless, Occupy is about overthrowing the current social milieu that declares that a non-entity has the same voice, the same rights, and the same powers as an individual person like you, or me. I got sold out when those few got bailed out. They still enjoy luxury and fortune, while the grandchildren of my friends who have had children will be paying for the mistakes our goverment is making against our wishes today.

The government has rewarded failure with money, while profiting with their corporate cohorts against the people, the government has rewarded predatory lending and other acts of piracy and theft theft with bailouts, they have rewarded gambling, high risk investitures and speculation with praise and assured the common people that everything is just fine. All is not quiet on the Wall Street front, though. When I screw up my small business, the government does not rush to my aide, it does not endeavour to save me from ruin, no matter how self imposed, and yet, because a corporation has lobbied interests, the common taxpayer foots the bill?

All this continues while the unemployed remain unemployed, the poor become poorer, and the corporations have imposed socialism on the rest of America by making sure all our money has gone to assuring they meet their bottom lines. I don’t know what Occupy as a whole wants to do, but I know me, and these are some of the ideas I have seen around the movement that I could get behind:

End The Fed. Jail the Bankers. Illegalize Speculative Markets. Jail Bernanke. End Corporate Personhood. Increase Corporate Accountability. Reinstate the voice of the people.

And that is what Occupy means to me.

Onward: A Manifesto

Onward.

Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, titled his latest book that, and I feel it’s an appropriate word.

My Roommate, RainbowGirl has this to offer in collaboration with Geoffrey Hicks.

So, here’s my take on the whole zeitgeist of progress.

I’m moving Onward.

I’m going beyond.

I’m changing things up and daring to be different from the past.

I’ve decided that right now, while I’m young and stupid is the time to take chances, to dare big things to accomplish insuperable odds and have a hell of a good time doing it. So, in light of that decision, I’m going to be trying new things, experimenting with old hobbies, and developing some new ones along the way.

As for this blog, religion is important to me, but it’s not the only thing I’m about, so expect to be hearing less on this blog, and more on my others.

I’m doing more art, more spirituality, more me. I’m getting caught up in the things that are worth catching, and dropping the unimportant stuff.

I’m telling stories, having laughs, and enjoying all the little things that make reality so wonderful.

I’m on a journey, and I want to be living in a better story, so I’m making the changes necessary to get there.

I’m letting go of the past, and channeling a deep desire to find new ventures in which to expose my creativity.

I’ve decided that while academia is important to me, so is travel, and art, and literature, and I’m not going to be tied down to the way the system says I have to go about my life. I’m going to be me, make my choices and have daring adventures in business, art, literature, and life.

I’m pushing forward; Onward.

 

Ugly Kids Club

So, thanks to my friend Kevin Clay, the founder of MONKROCK I have a new little musical addiction, and I thought I’d share, because, link-love is good love. And in any case, these new artists are definitely worth their salt.

In any case, here’s what else is up with me:

  1. I’m quite content to be where I’m at in life, and now that things are stabilizing, I feel rather good again.
  2. I’m painting and drawing again, which is always a good sign.
  3. Despite the sometimes overwhelming challenges of working in mental health, I actually really enjoy my work situation as well.
  4. I’m planning a new side-venture to supplement my income and I’m actually really excited about it.
  5. I’m feeling rather inspired, which is also a very good sign.
  6. I’m still deciding on a new art project, but it’ll come to me, i’m sure.
Hope you enjoyed this.

To Break a Will (Or, why your kid is still acting out instead of listening)

For those of you who know me, and some of you who don’t: I’m Eli, I work at a Behavioral Health Facility.I work with kids with behavior problems, some kids with specifically mental health issues, and lots of kids with trauma and post-traumatic stress or drug related problems as well as abuse and family issues.

I see issues on a daily basis.

Believe it or not, having worked at my job for the past 9 months, with only anecdotal observation: Kids with fundamentalist parents fare worse in terms of emotional stability and openness to change. Sometimes, we get a kid with behavioral issues who then hides behind this undying vow to serve God and is at one minute cursing and kicking and punching people and sometimes within the same breath is preaching hellfire, brimstone and eternal damnation. Fundamentalism is based on extreme polarization, so the children raised with a fundamentalist worldview simply demonize and caricature those who confront them and hide behind self-justification.

My Friend Elizabeth Esther posted something the other day that prompted me to respond in kind with my observations, as well as some general facts from the field of mental/behavioral health, where I work. She said,

What really troubles me is the underlying belief that breaking a child’s will is right and good. This is a belief found in many, many Christian circles. In my experience, that one belief was used as justification for all kinds of physical and spiritual abuse.”

Too true.

The ‘Us Vs. Them’ mentality is an all too prevalent feature among parents who have become too lazy to listen, too busy to pay attention, or too emotionally blunted to respond in kind. Now, that’s not to say the children are faultless, because they’re not. But more often than not, it’s either ignorance or neglect that causes issues in the kids I work with when it’s not direct abuse. Setting yourself up as a person intent on “breaking the child,” or “breaking their will” as you would a horse only furthers the sense of alienation that likely exists between a parent and child if the child is acting out.

People come in all the time thinking that at the end of the day what the kid needs is a good ol’ fashioned whoopin’ to set ‘em straight. I’m not here to argue whether corporal punishment works with some kids better than others, but I am here to offer this: I personally believe and am part of a treatment program that is modeled on the idea that relationship building is the most effective means of correcting behavior.

People expect behaving children to act robotic in their responses, or at least it seems that way to me. What I’ve developed on the unit I work on is an ongoing conversation with people, young people, but people nonetheless. The answer is rarely found in strict disciplinary measures, or trying to break a kid down, sometimes it takes that strict discipline to create a sense of safety and consistency, but the discipline itself is only a means to that common ground.

1984 was a novel, and should never be considered a way of life, especially when it comes to proper parenting (Though, sadly,I encounter this all too often). An ongoing conversation treats the child like a dialogue partner and asks them to assert responsibility for their actions and responses even as I engage to relate and join them where they are, so that I can follow them to where it hurts before I lead them out into a new horizon.

So, here’s the deal.

If you’re a drill sergeant parent who has an oppositional/defiant child at home my question is:

When’s the last time you really stopped to listen? When is the last time you showed your child a caring ear, and that you’re trying to understand their feelings?

Pope Benedict XVI Says:

Love when it truly meets us, reorients our lives, our very selves in a new and unfathomable direction. It could not have previously been known, nor could it have been anticipated by anything that has come before, it asserts itself by virtue of its own self-disclosure.

I know that on my unit, the best progress has come through a mixture of limit-setting, as well as a general trying to understand kids based on the principles of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy. The idea is that building a relationship is far more important in the long term than making sure you get your way.

So here are a few small things you can do when communicating to a child who needs someone to listen, or respond.

  1. Pay Attention: I can’t stress this enough. Read body language, look at the child’s face and eyes, are they playful, are htey happy, is there any tension in their expression or body language? What is the tone like?
  2. Focus on your non-verbal responses: Are you communicating attention by having an open demeanor and making eye contact? are you really letting the child express what they have to say, or are you pre-formulating your repsonses. Even if you’re intelligent enough to predict what the child is bringing to the table, wait until they are finished before you start speaking, and let them see you think a bit as your response develops.
  3. Match their tone and expression: Sometimes, kids just need to know that someone gets it. Sometimes when I have a screaming kid in front of me who appears to want nothing more than to scream and shout, I get excited with them. I may not scream but i’ll raise my voice and try to match the rate at which they are speaking to let them know I’m on their level in a non-threatening way.
  4. Avoid Power Struggles: When you need to impose discipline for a teenager, or even a youngster flirting with rebellion, avoid turning it into a a massive struggle for dominance. If the kid is going to buck you and buck you, find out why they’re doing it. Get inside their head. Try to listen and see. Sometimes kids act spoiled and are needy, sometimes they might need a hug, or a time out. Figure out what works best for your child, and repair the relationship with your child as soon as possible, try to make conflict a small thing, and push past their defenses to get to the heart of the matter.
  5. Are you affirming the child? Even if you disagree with the feeling, are you allowing room for the child to feel that way and to express their feeling? Are you trying to “step into their shoes?” We call this process “join, and follow to lead.” When a kid I’m dealing with is escalated, the best thing to do sometimes is join them, and see what I can do to show them someone cares. If they’re throwing things, I won’t throw things, but I’ll do something high-energy like dance, or do jumping jacks, or laps around them, to show them that someone is on their level and understands their need to respond to their emotions in a high energy way.
  6. All You Need is Love: This may seem really technical, but it’s really just a way of showing love. As I engage the child by matching their energy and intensity and demonstrating listening that asks kids: 1. How they Feel. 2. What they want. and 3. What they’re willing to do to. 4. Examines how acting out isn’t working and shows the child alternatives; then it’s all about making sure you’re really there for the child, and willing to offer them a love that surprises them.
In regards to number 5, I was very oppositional/defiant as a teenager. I remember getting caught doing drugs one day, and expecting to get the beating of a lifetime, and i dared my mom to do it, I was expecting it with everything that I had in me, and I was fuming. I was ready to get hit and have a reason to explode. I remember anticipating the moment where she had fire in her eyes, and she did.
She looked at me with fury, and suddenly, something snapped in her, and she hugged me instead. She wrapped me so tight I could barely breathe, she hadn’t broken my will, she had set me free to love her instead of my own selfishness. She had short-circuited the part of me that loved only myself and through opening up to me, had made room for herself in the midst of my distress. I’ve never forgotten that moment, or the clarity it brought me. My mom loved me enough to not break me, but to accept that I was already broken, and needed someone to care.
After all, The Christian God’s answer to our behavior problems isn’t coercion or the hell-fire touted by fundamentalists, it’s a relationship. God the Father sends the Son, so that mankind can see just what relation to this specific God can do for humanity, and offers this relationship as God’s answer to our sin problem. It’s the relationship to God that saves by showing us just how selfish we’ve really been, and after all, that’s just like the Christian God, isn’t it? DDP, does much the same, through a proper relationship, I create common ground to confront children on their behaviors. I open up to them, and meet them where they’re at.
God offers us Himself and an eternity of relationship building as a means to correct our behavior, and he provides the ultimate therapeutic facility for that to take place: The One Church. If you really want to change behaviors, give love; Jesus did, it got him crucified. I do, and sometimes it hurts. Other times, to give love and see change becomes the most rewarding feeling, to know I’ve spent time caring for a child that has built a non-traumatic relationship, with someone who has allowed them to be a broken person, and been able to let them wrestle with brokenness. After all, whether you’re a parent, work with troubled teens, or just would like to be a better friend, all you need is some know-how and a whole lot of love.

How to Save the University, the Economy and the Universe

As money tightens, and people look up alternative solutions to increasing debt at the hands of student loans, it’s important to ask if the university system is going the way of the dinosaur. Is the university system the best model for learning? And if so, what will it take to make it economically viable so that talent can match job production?

Last night I was reading this article about how in the music market genius has overtaken the industry’s ability to produce jobs. I mean, think about it, if you like Indie bands, like I do, you can choose from 40-50 acts off the top of your head, each more obscure, underground and wildly talented than the last. Even as research bemoans the death of the academy and scholars everywhere are feeling the crunch as tuition gets higher, drop-outs increase and jobs for people with master’s degrees in English, History or Philosophy become harder and harder to find, maybe it’s time we question the way that thee areas of work are still committed to the Industrial age, in a digital world.

Opportunities from higher education are not expanding with the rate of education and talent. For example, the market is flooded with more written material than has ever been possible  and with digital media there is nothing short of exponential growth. However, due to this mass flooding, the general rate of quality is decreased and so we see fewer and fewer works that stand a cut above. There is also the problem of how research papers and theses are largely ignored in the outside world. The Academy is no longer the central hub of learning in the public sphere.

People want ideas, and they want them now.

Of course the academic community contributes to public learning, however, with movements like TED talks there is a wider access to education and innovation, but the difficulty is that despite the proliferation of innovation and the rapidly increasing rate of technological development, the market and the university have ceased to relate almost entirely in terms of research and expansion leading to new industries except for in the fields of chemistry, engineering, electronics/technology and biology. Even in these places where the academy meets the road in a very public way, the ability of these institutions to generate innovation that leads to employment is minimal compared to the industrial revolution.

Here are 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About the Ivy League which originally appeared in Time Magazine and was later re-published by Reader’s Digest. Claudia Dreifus and Andrew Hacker provide the following advice about Ivy League schools: Don’t do it. Research Universities are often more enabled and empowered by publishing and their graduate programs than their undergraduate achievements. The rule seems to be that culture and technology are changing very quickly and that educational institutions are not, making the university system unnecessary for career advancement for those able to ride the waves of new technology and become Social media Entrepreneurs, or Android App developers, or any other of the new careers that were unthinkable even 20 years ago.

Is university the game-changer it used to be? Consensus seems to be: No.

I mean, don’t get me wrong the University spawned Google, Facebook, and the ideas that would lead to the personal computer, but the University has not made game-changing decisions since the computer, and cultural respect for education is on the decline. It seems we need some good ideas to solve some of these glaring problems, that’s why I propose we look at the following:

The important question is not really whether the University is viable as an educational institution. It’s a good distraction and removes our attention from the one that’s truly important: What we are willing to do to apply the University educational system to the needs of the world today? What are we doing to make the knowledge acquired at universities economically viable so that the middle class is not crushed under student loans or a decreasing job market?

If we want to save the university from obsolescence what should we do?

Here are my 5 ideas.

  1. Specialize in Skills Education:
    Skills and not general ideas will be the way of the future, and our education system should match. When people have a wide skill base they can generate more ideas based on what they know. The thing that fueled so much innovation for the industrial revolution was not simply the power of a few inventions but the widespread ethos of work and the openness of the culture to bridge gaps and embrace new skills for the future.The culture was shocked by the new technologies, but it made due, and adapted. Our current culture is reticent to join the innovators on the edge, we love our iPhones, but refuse to let the new media become the way of the future in our educational systems. Instead of focusing on fact collection, we should foster education that teaches things like: social intelligence, new media interaction, arts and crafts, business management, ethics, and literature. All of these systems should foster measurable, tangible goals for students to reach to demonstrate proficiency.

    An example would be: Use demonstrable critical thinking skills, be able to synthesize a coherent logical argument within 15 minutes of being presented source material of up to 10 pages to read.Skills and not simply the acquisition of information has been and will continue to be the way of the future. But all this has to begin in grade school, with a new educational criteria simple dubbed Digital Literacy. Kids need access to the tools of today if they’re supposed to dream up the ideas that save the world of tomorrow. Let’s ditch the polish, the pomp and get back to work, making education that suits the needs of a world not yet here.

  2. Ditch the Bureaucracy:
    It’s funny to me that educated people across the globe paying attention to the financial crisis are calling for austerity measures in Greece, Cyprus and France, yet refuse to acknowledge the bloated universities that reflect the financial markets of the Eurozone. Monkey see, monkey do. Austerity shouldn’t be a buzzword for capital gains only, it needs to take hold in our education system as well.A huge part of college funding goes to administration needs, and in this day and age, the university is bloated with unnecessary departments entire projects that seem to exist for the sheer purpose of letting people with degrees hobble within the institution that should have turned them into innovators instead of grave-keepers. Instead of a complex system of administration, return the university to an institution where teachers are key, and teacher salaries equal those of “administrators” who in many cases are not doing much for individual students. They may be helping to sustain an institution, but those jobs can be consolidated, streamlined and directed more towards direct student care and retention than recruiting and expanding new bureaucratic departments.

    Structure the pay-grades at universities to reflect what really matters: education. Educators and not administrators should be the highest paid workers of these institutions, and pretending otherwise is just snubbing the way of the future.

    Make teachers the majority, turn the University into a vox populi, and reduce administration to bare bones efficiency. It’s a dream job for some people to be working at a university making six figures to do paperwork, but it’s unrealistic in this culture and financial climate, and it simply has to stop. Communications directors, sports analysts, consultants and all the other information age peddling-pencil-pushers that this society has spawned are part of what’s killing the University.

    Another thing that has to stop that’s related to the bureaucratic machinations of the educational system is paperwork. We need to find a way to streamline, digitize, and reduce the amount of paperwork that’s being done. Teachers should be teaching. Having close friends who are professors I see the amount of extra paperwork that the current system requires of them, and I think it’s absurd. Teachers should be providing education, moral support, skills based education and camaraderie in a mentoring relationship that fosters the next generation with role models that exemplify some of the best that culture has to offer eager minds. Teachers can’t do that if in their 40 hour work week, 20 of those hours are dedicated to paperwork, administrative emails and non-education related tasks.If we want education that matters, we need educators that do just that, educate.

    The university should be a breeding ground for innovation and universities could invest more money in labs, extracurricular activities such as open experiments, green technology innovation centers, student think-tanks, cultural integration investment (to turn students paying money into job-holding future re-investors), art studios open to all students, photography labs, student centers that not only encourage leisure but also curiosity and make available the new technologies that make it possible. Once upon a time, the University system invented the computer, made possible the need for new technologies and stood at the forefront of those projects. I think if we all took a little time to invest in group founding spaces that invite interdisciplinary discussion and innovation like TED talks, the university might be able to survive extinction.

  3. End Standardized Testing:
    The GRE and other standardized college exams are huge money-makers, but the thing is, they’re too general. How is it that a philosophy student and a history student are expected to meet all the same general criteria? Standardized tests are easy to make, but hard to really get results out of, instead each discipline or inter-disciplinary study should develop tests that fit a criteria agreed upon by the academy, subject to change and refining and open to discussion by the whole of academia.Standardized testing does nothing to prove a student’s proficiency, instead, we should develop tests across all levels of education that demonstrate skills, not fact retention. The mind is a muscle made for skills, and unless we get with the program, we’re going to be left behind.
  4. Decentralize:
    This is where I might be getting a little wild in my thinking, but here’s the concept: Interdisciplinary studies are the way of the future, if someone wants to take English as a major, encourage an English course that has some interdisciplinary benefit to society as a whole. Do away with English as a major and instead offer things like: English for the Third World, or Literary Theory and Psychology. In doing so, you create an educational system that ties our general studies like English with education for developing countries or with psychological practice. We should take our finely honed traditional majors and connect them with places that will generate jobs and new markets in the world to come. Imagine: Philosophy for Green Technology, a series of courses designed to teach both classical philosophy and the applicability of those studies to environmentally friendly technological development.

    Go Online:
     Build a strong online base that allows for both traditional classroom learning and online classwork that can be managed by fewer staff, for a cheaper cost and can actually increase the amount of time students get to spend with teachers via blogs, email, twitter, research journals, online magazines and other digital media. Taking textbooks to Kindle, Nook or other e-book readers can also reduce costs, and if the books can be read online by multiple students through a comprehensive online library then fewer books will be required, but the information will be the same.Go Public: Another method of decentralization that could save the university is to take Higher Education fully public, and make it tax-funded. This is a long term idea, but merit, prowess and innovation should be rewarded, not simply being born into the right class or family. If we took Higher Education fully public, anyone could go to college and we could raise the standard of education across the board, while creating a system that would have stricter standards.However, I’m not saying let the government run higher education. Keep it private, let the institutions run the way they’re running, but with higher standards.

    The Government could create a list of criteria for full federal funding of all tuition, and let the institutions worry about fundraising. Put the money in the hands of students, and raise the standard so that anything below a B average has to receive private funding instead. Putting tuition directly into the hands of students, with a $60,000 grant to attend college provided the student has maintained a B average could make for war with the banks and other institutions that don’t want to lose student loans as a source of income, but in the long run, do we want a better society, or simply a cheaper school system?

    Making a grant system that bases your tuition grants on merit rather than income would reduce the drop-out rate, retain the best and the brightest, and facilitate making sure the most innovative students have the financial capability to meet the needs of a changing world. This wouldn’t altogether eliminate the need for student loans but could drastically reduce the necessity for upwards of $50,000 average debt for college graduates.

  5. Innovate According to Logic: The best and brightest schools of today, who wish to take practical steps to retain viability and existence as the world changes will do the following:
  • Build a strong online curriculum able to be managed more efficiently, by a smaller staff.
  • Retain a traditional university presence where classes can combine the best of online and traditional classroom education.
  • Focus on Undergraduate Studies as a prime factor and avoid tuition hikes.
  • Enforce Austerity measures on non-essentials and begin to specialize the scholarship types they would like to perform.
  • Develop larger of more elite students who can be recognized for more significant achievements in more specialized fields of study.
  • Ditch Graduate programs that have smaller class sizes and focus on a broad low-cost undergraduate base.
  • Focus on class availability and make sure all degrees can be accomplished in four years or less.
  • Reduce departments, administration and focus on specificity and expertise, more like the guild system of the Middle Ages.
If we really want to teach smarter and not harder, it’s going to take some work, but those ideas along with the courage to change the DNA of what a university should be will help foster higher learning into the digital age. The world has gone post-industrial, and it’s about time our schools did the same. The ideas in the list are practical, logical and viable answers to what Higher Education needs to stay afloat.

As a former University student, I admit I loved my education. It taught me to collect ideas, both new and old, to look to the future and imagine possibilities, but also to retain the best of the past. I also learned to foster relationships with a generation of people learning and creating and discussing ideas. Those things will never need to go away, and they are essential functions of the university as institution. Some of the best moments I had in college were with teachers who invested not only in what I knew, but how I went about knowing, and thinking and feeling and seeing the world around me. Those things cannot be done away with, and they’re essential to who I have become. I love the University, but I hope it changes so that it rises above instead of floundering into extinction. Besides, the only way you can save the universe is if you have the know-how that comes from a great education.

Concessions and Overtures

Ok, here’s the deal. Life has been unexpectedly rough. From my car crash, to the sudden feeling of abandonment, to the emptiness of my spiritual life, I have felt so heavy.

I have been living in an ugly silence, i haven’t been reading, or writing, i have lost, or ignored the community that fostered me in faith.

It has been terribly lonely the last few months, but finally, I’m washing from my slumber abs daring to reignite the fire that had carried me through before this great heaviness.

I never did enter the Church. So I’m still practically Catholic. I go to confession, but haven’t made my profession of faith. Just in case you were wondering.

Anyways, i feel myself coming back to life. I love my new place. I share a home with an artist, a medical student, and a guy who works at a coffee shop. It’s pretty awesome. There are children over because my friend Rainbow teaches art from our home.

Then there’s the pets. I have a particular fondness for the skittish Italian greyhound named Hank. He is a rescue and survived 8 years of abuse at a puppy mill. The poor guy has huge problems with attachment, and blocks out just about everyone. Yet he has started coming about my room and stands at the door, and stares, i often stare right back at him, and we have reached an understanding. At first, he barked, and barked, and attempted to terrorize myself and any other adult in his vicinity.

Hank has taught me lots about myself in the short time that I have known him. I too, have issues with trust and friendship. I mean, i always knew this about myself, but it’s become more evident over the past few months. Hank was a slave, and he is drastically afraid. I realized through hanging out with him that i too have been afraid.

I have given way to great fear, which means that love has gone from my presence. Where fear exists, love is bound.

I guess in writing tonight, i thought to come clean and discover that healthy sorrow that purifies the souls of humanity. I’ve been too long in silence, and at last, i have found my voice, hidden and cowering deep in the recesses of forgotten pains. I left it there, somewhere along the way. But, it has returned to me, full of life, and ready to speak.

Love had not yet restored me, but i am well on my way.

So, I offer you a welcome back, as i prepare for my next journey. My next project is to blog about my experiences working at a mental and behavioral health facility.

I will also be putting out my thoughts on psychology in the coming weeks. I hope we can enrage each other in serious thought about so demanding a subject. And should any of you have something to add, please, chime in.

Peace, be with you.

My Review of Von Balthasar Reader

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Originally submitted at Aquinas and More

Hans Urs von Balthasar was one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century. This easy-to-use, one-volume reader contains his essentials writings, on everything from the miracle of human existence to the nature of God. Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) was a Swiss theologian,…

The Von Balthasar Reader

By Eli the Practical Catholic from http://www.practicalcatholic. wordpress.com on 6/21/2011
5out of 5

Pros: Broad, Deserves Multiple Readings, Informative, Well Written

Cons: Not for Beginners

Best Uses: Reference, Gift, Theology Students, Older Readers

Describe Yourself: Bookworm

The Von Balthasar Reader is a seminal text full of breadth, depth and insight into many different areas of modern theology. The selection edited and compiled into this volume represent a wide-ranging yet deeply committed compilation by editors who took the time to understand the original author’s intent and vision.

For those who seek to understand Catholic theology, or are looking for daring yet Orthodox ways of implementing theology into everyday life, this book offers that knowledge and insight.

With piercing words, and a daring interpretation of the Fathers that challenges modern complacency, Von Balthasar speaks with authority on the human condition, theology, and the Church.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Von Balthasar is his ability to adapt the theological vision of Karl Barth into something that works within the Catholic sphere to revitalize theological enterprise, not only for students of theology, but for pastors and laypersons looking for a greater ionsight into how the Christ impacts our lives together, today.

Balthasar’s main points of doctrinal strength include his ability to take history and turn it into something meaningful for modern man. He writes with unapologetic finesse about how God’s entering into history changes the center of our theological reflection.

Balthasar’s Theodramatik: the idea that we are the ones who receive love in the unfolding history of God’s offering Himself to us and for us is one of Balthasar’s central ways of looking at the world. All going back to the incarnation and how this singular event, the Christ-among-us phenomenon really shatters our pre-conceived notions of reality and offers them to us anew, from within the life of the Trinity.

This book is not for newcomers to theology, but nevertheless is a good read. If you are a newcomer, having this book and a dictionary of theological terms might be handy. For anyone seeking to renew, deepen or discover a theological vision that speaks with an authority like unto the original theologians of the Church, this book is essential.

I was given this book in exchange for a review, but it was exciting to see that this book was included in a market that desperately needs theological vision. I was satisfied with the compilation, with the delivery, and with the service from Aquinas and More. They provided speedy delivery, the book arrived in immaculate condition, and was everything they said it would be.

(legalese)

Catholicism and the Arab Spring

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I haven’t seen much on this across Catholic media, and I thought to make a return to my blog with something of import to me. Revolution has ripped across several countries in the Middle East, with ripples and consequences being felt across the world as Islamic countries vie for democratic governments, and oppose the regimes that held power through oligarchy and militarism.

The world has seen from a distance, at least as far as the Western media is concerned an unfolding usually heralded with positive lights. Liberals rejoice in the coming of liberalism and democracy to a people who have taken it into their hands to make government their own. Conservatives rejoice in the unfolding opportunity for democracy to counterbalance the still latent socialism, and expect a free-market system to increase oil production in the long term. Though certainly there are concerns about religious freedom, and these are warranted, what stake do Catholics have in paying attention to these revolutions?

About a decade ago the neoconservatives were decidedly pessimistic about the possibility of democracy in the Middle East, Israel being the only exception. The cultural baggage of democracy from the West seemed too heavy a burden for Arabs who were decidedly anti-colonial, culturally and otherwise. And then, the internet.

The internet has been the large player in many of these revolutions. From spreading videos of injustice to incite demonstrations, to twitter and facebook groups organizing and pooling together to hold a common voice, the internet has changed Islam, Arab culture, and the world once again. Those who assumed that Arabs were sui generis incapable of producing democracy, have found themselves in shock as men and women from across the Middle East demonstrate in political protests for a voice.

Let’s not be idealists, Tunisia is leading the way in terms of establishing political change that could enact representative government. The other countries still show lack of organization, and no decisive moves towards leadership.

Where did it begin? Well, in 2005, some media commentators speculated that invasion in Iraq might have a spin-off effect of inciting democracy in the Middle East. The first recorded protest happened in December 2010 as “hundreds of youths” in Tunisia reacted to Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire in protest to the police confiscating his vegetable cart. There is an Interactive Timeline available for those who want to see how these events have unfolded.

What does this begin to mean for Catholics? We have some primary concerns:

  1. The Christian communities in the Arab World
  2. The Process of “Integral Human Development”
  3. The Moral, Political and Religious Liberation of Oppressed Socieites

So first of all we have the conflict between Islam and Democracy, or at least we are witnessing the end of what tension there was as Arab socieites begin to start uprisings against social and civil oppression. These revolutions have also brought many other cultural and social concerns to the forefront of conversations happening across the world. The Arab spring has brought us back to questions about democracy, social and civil liberties, Islam, the Enlightenment, gay rights, technology, and social media.

Specifically of note is the already widely publicized but still to be mentioned story of the man who posed as a gay woman in Damascus. His alter ego was later “arrested” and there was outcry for the release of Amina Arraf, who was hours later admitted to being a fictional character. This seems like water under the bridge, especially to American Catholics who live in a society that has polarized Christians and Homosexuals across the political spectrum. What this means for Catholics, who believe in a robust social theology is of importance in the midst of these revolutions. Catholic social teaching offers us a view at charity and the proper development of societies where individuals have freedom. While I believe that lambasting this man and another who posed as a woman on the blog ‘Lez Get Real’ is unnecessary, it is certainly an interesting story which brings to light a certain tension between the East and West. Daniel Nassar a psyedonym for a gay man living in Syria offers us this perspective:

MacMaster’s admission on June 12 that the blog was fictional has spurred fears within Syria’s LGBT community of a potential backlash. The media has been targeting minorities who are seen as critical of the current regime, and the LGBT community is an easy target. They don’t need to change people’s opinion of homosexuals; it’s already a negative one.

Now, for my Catholic readers out there who are wondering what a fictional gay-rights activist in Syria has to do with the Catholic Church, my answer is: everything. The keyword here is minority. Minorities are in Arab culture extremely shunned, targeted by the media for ridicule and used as scapegoats in Neronian style cultural attacks.

If Christians in the West care at all for Christians in the Middle East, they will watch the gay and lesbian movements with solidarity and compassion. If Christians are to have a stake in a revolution that would largeley trample them, they will need allies, gay, straight, atheist, Muslim and otherwise. If Christians in the Middle East care to find an ally in the midst of cultural upheavals that could extinguish minorities in the Arab world, the gay and lesbian movements are not only allies, they are integral to the survival of the minority populations.

The Arab Spring has gone uncommented on by the Vatican, and the bishops seem to have other concerns. The Catholic Blogosphere is tied up with the Retirement of John Corapi. However, the world is in upheaval, and arab communities across the world are taking a stand, this is something worth noting.

Let’s turn our attention to the way in which Syria specifically is of concern to Catholics and Christians.

Syria today is much like Iraq was, pre-2003. The dictatorship runs strong and there are is a sense of brutality against the people. However, in the midst of this darkness is the silent religious tolerance of the regimes. An interesting article on the subject can be read at Catholic Moral Theology. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only blog taking seriously the Arab Spring as a Catholic moral issue.

Patriarch Gregorios III, the Syrian head of the Melkites a Greek-Catholic Church, is warning Western leaders not to encourage the revolutions tearing across the Middle East. The Patriarch declares:

“Our Arab countries are not ready for revolutions, and not even for democracy of the European kind and model,” the patriarch explained in a recent letter to Western leaders. “I am asking the West not to encourage revolutions unconditionally here and there in the Arab world.”

The fear is that what happened in Iraq will take place in Syria and other countries where the politically charged atmosphere will lead to sectarian violence that tramples minorities underfoot. We should contemplate and consider the encouragement we lend to these revolutions, especially where violence is being used. However, we must not only stand up for the minorities, who have our affections as brothers and sisters in Christ, but also for the general persons, the muslims, the youth, the women of the Middle East who have decided to end their oppression.

Where Catholicism collides with the Arab Spring, it should make calls for non-violence, stand against regimes using violence against civilians and encourage peaceful demonstration. We lay persons can stay tuned, pray for peace and new life, and remember that it was in Syria where we were first called Christians. The Arab Spring is full of disinformation, and the room for the growth of terrorism and anti-Israeli sentiment as well as anti-Christian sentiment is massive. Where there is unrest, Hamas and Al-Qaeda have room to grow because they prey on the weaknesses of the established orders.

So, we should not uncritically support these revolutions, but we should also mind to support the freedom of individuals. We must remember that politics is morally neutral, it’s what’s done with the process of revolution and governmental change that decides what and where our moral contribution should be. I, for one, believe that it is my contribution to discuss these revolutions in Catholic circles, to bring awareness and to shape my concerns for these things through Catholic theology rather than my nation’s political aspirations.

Whether Spring has sprung remains to be seen, I’m cautious about the optimism of the moniker, but it is my sincere hope that change and openness can come to Arab societies.

Update

Hey, I’m not dead, just regrouping, I’ve had a very busy work schedule, thanks for understanding. I’ll have new posts soon.

The How To Guide to Confession

The Prodigal Son

How to go to Confession

(Insert token scary howling wind and foreboding crash of thunder here.) Confession scares people who have no idea what it is.

When I first began looking into Catholicism, confession seemed like some sort of arcane ritual where the priest decided he would be God and forgive sins or something like that. It all seemed magical in an occult and paranoia-inducing sense of the word. But it’s nothing scary, and nothing like that. I’ll go into the theology of confession a bit before we get to the ‘How To’.

Confession was not devised by the Church to secure power, nor is it a way for priests to play God. Christ works his saving grace through men to save, the equivalent would be an honest look at what evangelicals believe about the sinner’s prayer, and how it takes both a minister and the prayer for salvation to occur, at least in most theologies. The act of confession is a bit more modest though, and only states that God grants outwardly, through the words of the priest the inward grace of spiritual renewal, just like when we take communion the bread and wine as Christ confer to us the grace and spiritual renewal of eating and drinking the fruit of the Tree of life.

A common myth is that confession is automatic, and that regardless of whether someone is sorry, it works. That’s not true, because without real repentance, the act is invalid.

Some people have also argued that confession is too shameful, too heavy a burden, whereas I’d argue that those who argue this probably don’t have good community in their gatherings. To confess our sins is shameful, and indeed dreadful and harsh, but if we are prodigals, we must return to the Father’s house. You cannot enter into the house without passing through the gate which is Christ, and He has established that we should confess our sins and receive forgiveness on behalf of the Church. Jesus was indeed kind and loving, but he confronted people on their sins, and exacted from them a true repentance that seems almost inconceivable without some sort of public and private accountability for sins.

If you have further questions or want to discuss this, please leave a comment, I’d love to answer some questions.

Anyways, here’s the long and the short of confession:

1. You always have the option to go to confession anonymously, that is, behind a screen or face to face. I like going face to face, it hurts more, but it’s worth it to tell the truth when looking at someone. It makes me feel like i am looking at myself honestly when I do this.

2. After the priest greets you in the name of Christ, make the sign of the cross. He may choose to recite a reading from Scripture (I have never had this happen, usually he just waits for me to begin), after which you say: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been (state how long) since my last confession. These are my sins.”

The whole point of this is to come back into the family. In Brazilian culture we are strongly Catholic and so even when I greet my parents or grandparents, I do not greet them with ‘Hello,’ I greet them with “Bless me, (Father, Mother, Grandpa, Grandma…etc.),” so this was not an issue for me. I understood immediately the desire to ask for a blessing, especially when one has done wrong.

3. Tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest. And keep it short. If you’re in confession at the common time, other people want to confess their sins too, and you should be as brief and exact as possible. If you have some time you might even want to discuss the circumstances and the root causes of your sins and ask the priest for advice or direction. However, do not expect a counseling session, save that for your own schedule when you can meet the priest one-on-one at a time outside scheduled parish confession.

4. Listen to the advice the priest gives you and accept the penance from him. Then make an Act of Contrition for your sins. There are others, but that’s the standard one, and usually there are prayer cards with this prayer on them in the confessional for first timers and people who forget.

5. The priest will then dismiss you with the words of praise: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. You respond: “For His mercy endures forever.” (This is a scriptural reference, for those of you who thought that Catholics don’t like scripture.) The priest will then conclude with:”The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.” And you respond by saying: “Thanks be to God.”

6. This is the part where you might feel a burden lifted, or spiritually aware, and open to the possibilities God has for you, it’s a very good feeling. However, remember the purpose of this sacrament is to return us to proper community and to bring us back into God’s family to properly celebrate the mass with the priest and the faithful.

7. Spend some time with Our Lord, either in Church, in prayer, in the chapel, or at a side altar thanking and praising Him for the gift of His mercy. Try to perform your penance as soon as possible, and remember that this gift of confession is so that we may be prodigals no more.

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