Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Ninth of July

It's July already, and soon will be August.  Time does not wait for my wishes and desires. Like this one: I wish I could sit down and get out more blogs. 

The fact is I write as many as I really want to write; to do otherwise would be simply to flood the world with drivel--and we have enough of that.  Just tune into the many offerings of  cable TV!

Where was I?  Celebrating this weekend past with the families of my spouse's siblings as they celebrated the marriage of their son/nephew/cousin to a wonderful woman from Costa Rica.

I am not versed enough in anthropology or ethnology to comment on the marriage of those two cultures, and what it holds for the future.  But I would like to say a few words on what I observed in that celebration and in the discussions the next day, which my wife and I spent visiting some of my siblings.

This is not the world I grew up in!  It is the world we, all of us, are now fashioning. 

I mean this primarily in terms of the religion into which we were born, practiced, and now leave for our descendants.

I come from a family of ten children, my wife from a family of eight.  In my family, of those of us who married (8), seven married in the Roman Catholic church.  In my wife's, about half--I don't remember.  Some were "mixed marriages," some were conversions.

In the very next generation, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of "praticising" Roman Catholics--and that number does not include our two very own children.

But here's what I find important: we don't just treat each other civilly, we love each other!  We don't just get along, we love each other.  We are not perfect, but we care for each other.

And so, for me, it's still the same old world. I remember growing up in a family, not of Roman Catholics as our main identity, but as brother, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. It's still the same world in that regard.  And I can live with that.

What I have spent a lifetime learning, but what the younger generation has apparently picked up more quickly, is that when religion gets in the way of that, it can simply be left behind.

How about you?

Friday, June 28, 2013

At Death's Door...

No, not that door.

Here in Door County, Wisconsin--sometimes referred to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, what with its quaint villages along the waters of Lake Michigan. and kept that way by the most hard-hearted zoning in the Midwest--we know that the name of the county (Door) comes from the name the Native Americans gave to the passage between the peninsula and Washington Island, which lies about five miles off its tip: they called it Death's Door, so named for the many who perished fighting the current and the wind that buffets sea-goers.

The passage to and from Washington Island is made dozens of times each day, by hundreds of people, with not a hint that they are traversing death's door.  Such is the world in which we now live.

And such is the world in which we now die!  Except for those who die in accidents, and those who die by the hand of another, death is not the sudden translocation from one sphere of existence into another.  Most of us, when the time comes, are ready to open that door ourselves--as our last and final decision in life.

That is how I have been privileged to witness it happening in family and friends: both my parents and my spouse's parents made their peace with its inevitability, and when the time came simply passed over.  And, more recently, I have witnessed the death of a brother-in-law and a first cousin, both in the prime of their late working/early retirement years, taken early by cancer.  But both, loving and gracious and bitterness-free as they used their final months helping the rest of us deal with our grief-to-come.

I'm here until sometime this Fall, and then it's back to...?  I'll let you know as soon as I do.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sort of home......

We have taken a respite from traveling, landing at the lake house in Texas for a couple of weeks.

Bakersfield is past, gone, exorcised--and now doesn't look so bad after all!  It's 95 degrees here in the Dallas area, and almost the same percentage relative humidity.  Ah, for the dry air and pollution of Bakersfield.

It was a wonderful trip, by the way, our newly acquired and converted Nissan van, pulling our small, 16 foot Airstream.  We spent a couple of days in Arizona on the way.  Stopping for a full day at the Grand Canyon.

What can I say?  John Muir, I think it was, quoted in the visitor's center, saying that the Grand Canyon contains a thousand Niagara Falls and a thousand Yosemites. The point being, that it's impossible to exagerate how grand it is.

It was, for me, a spiritual experience.  And for me a spiritual experience is one in which my insignificance is front and center.  Through me the Grand Canyon gets to experience itself.  Isn't that great?  It's the least I can do, I feel.

What now?   Another few days in the Dallas area, then off to Wisconsin for the rest of the summer.

Watch me settle in, with more regularly scheduled blogs on tap.

Happy summer!

Friday, May 24, 2013

"On the road again..."

Well,  we're not really on the road yet; but it's coming.  Right now it's packing and loading--which is the upfront price for the bliss of being on the road.

I said I would try to keep at it this time.  Here's just a short thought on Pope Francis' much noted homily on redemption.  It was about redemption, really; not about atheists.  He used the latter to make the point about the former: that in order to be saved one must "do good."  Anybody who does good will be saved.

How simple is that!

It reminds me of the "test" Jesus talked about in Matthew's judgment scene.  There is only one question in the final exam of life: Did one do good?

This is not going to please the "Benedict" crowd, I'm sure.  But that is the kind of concern that pulls us away from the thinking about Francis' message.

I'm starting to like the guy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

San Miguel Mission

Stopping by one day, another Mission to check off the list (not of all there are, but of all we happen to pass by)--and suddenly the list is of minor concern.

San Miguel is a poor mission in a poor town.  But for that very reason it seems more real than so many others, which are truly tourist destinations.

It strikes me, out of the blue, a thought that epitomizes what an epiphany is like, a sudden revelation, a view into the nature of things--and a view that connects all sorts of things that were just there, floating around in my brain.

Here's the setting: I am wondering aloud, in the presence of Mim, that here we have a mission named not after a concrete person, a saint--San Luis Obispo, San Buenaventura, Santa Maria, Santa Ynes, and so forth--but after an angel, St. Michael, archangel.  And suddenly the angel takes on the reality, the adobe building of the mission.  It is there, as present to me as Mim is present to me.

The riff following that epiphany carries me through reflection on the nature of angels, their 'creation' to give name to the presence of God's message to us; and it ends in the elevation of that name to its place in the hierarchy of traditional philosophical thought: as an idea, an idea that is more real than the shadow of that idea we see in the work-a-day world.

I have since gone on, in recalling that day every now and then, to appreciate for really the first time the wisdom of Plato concerning the ideal forms--or, the true ideas. For these 'ideals' are more real to Plato than the material of the world.  It is thus the idea that helps us to see the true nature of reality, not reality that gives us the idea.  Or something like that.

I have also, since that first insight, gone on the appreciate the nature of God as the great idea.  For thinking of and talking about God as a person just creates too many problems, for me I might add.

But the idea of God, the idea that there is something beyond and within what we see and do in our everyday life, that there we meet the deepest part of our being and the loftiest dimension of our world--this is beginning to make more and more sense to me.

I'll leave it there for now; for that is where I am at present.

In the meantime, we are packing up to leave Bakersfield, heading off to who knows where--I don't--except someplace in the Midwest for the summer.  But this time I hope to share my journey at least one day a week.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Missions of California

Living and traveling in California has provided the opportunity for many encounters with the "other" religious colonization of America--where empire was the first and the open, acknowledged purpose; and religion and conversion the added feature.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the chain of missions that dot the California landscape, from San Diego to San Francisco.

We have not made it our agenda to visit all the missions; but we do stop and visit when we are in the vicinity. They--the missions--are still functioning parishes, and have all been restored to what now is accepted as their original state.  Who would know?  That is another whole issue.

What interests me is their place in the community, and their place in the economy of that community.

First, and foremost, they have given the community its name: San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Miguel, and so forth.  Sometimes it stuck, and sometimes the community simply moved on, reformed itself around another focal point and/or personage and became known with another name.  Perhaps the most famous of all the missions, San Juan Capistrano, best illustrates this; the city of San Juan Capistrano is lost among all the "Beach" cities of that area, including Capistrano Beach.  Another example is Mission Santa Ines, which lies a few miles from the town of Santa Ynes.  But my favorite is Mission San Bonaventura, which lies in the heart of the city of Ventura, as it is now known, but which officially is the city of the mission's name.

It is this strange tension surrounding the "naming rights" that leads me to my second point: the era of Spanish empire may have long passed by, with hardly any concrete effects remaining; but the attached religious colonization, through the establishment of the missions, lives on and thrives.  It may not do so in its original form, but it is there nonetheless.

When I went to school in Washington, D.C., and traveled on the east coast, I visited the "shrines" of the colonial era--those havens of the persecuted who fled from Europe and established colonies where they could practice their religion.  But it was not the churches I visited, it was rather the buildings and places of the truly "new thing" that these colonists built: a land where any religion, or none, could be safe from persecution.  So we have Washington, New York, Philadelphia, to name a few--religious in the American way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A virtue for our times

Let me tie up some loose ends from the previous post, where I was talking about the dynamics of being a potluck catholic.  There I described the two facets of that dynamic: that one brought something to the table, and that one took something from it.

What about everything left on the table, however?  This seems to perplex people no end.  And such a profound "no end," moreover, that I suggest a new virtue needs to be discussed for this condition.

 The virtue is tolerance.  That's it. If I am satisfied with that I have taken from the table, if I am satisfied, that is, with what I believe, if I truly feel that what I believe is what I need to believe, if it is right for me, then why cannot I let others believe what they want to believe?  Why would I feel that I somehow need to make sure they believe what I believe in the same way I believe it?  Could it be due to the fact that I am insecure in my belief?

Catholics have left an awful lot on the table.  There is just too much there to be dealt with by the majority of people.  At the same time, however, it is our table--and no one from the outside ought to step in and decide for us what it is we should profess.

Makes sense to me.  How about you?