Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SOA Vigil - Remembering Martyrs

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Hope your Tuesday is starting off terrific. If not, then I hope it gets better! May this time find you anticipating spending time with friends and family. May this time also help us to reflect on the ways we can be in close connection with the poor and the powerless---Thanksgiving time is a time to give thanks and to understand that because we have the ability to give thanks puts a responsibility on us to spread joy to all of our sisters and brothers.


This weekend, I had an opportunity to go to Columbus, Georgia with a group of fellow Loyola students to protest the School of the Americas and to remember victims of military crimes and government oppression in Latin America. Gathered together in union with 20,000 people, many students from other Jesuit Universities and colleges from around this nation, still others from various parts of the world, all with different backgrounds, stories, perspectives, reasons for feeling called to participate in the event. However, the goal was a universal one among the thousands gathered: to non-violently protest an institution in the U.S. that has trained soldiers who have returned to their home countries and used tactics learned in the School of the Americas (SOA) to kill their own people. The deaths are in the millions in some countries–––it is believed that the SOA has trained soldiers that in one way or another have contributed to the death of some 2 million Columbians since the 1970s.

What brought me back to the SOA was my experience in El Salvador this past summer. The group I went with had an opportunity to visit El Mozote, a village in northern Morazon, a region in El Salvador where soldiers trained in the SOA killed some 800 innocent villagers in what can only be considered a massacre. Many of the victims included children---some under one year old, some just born. Other victims were women and men from the village, people who had a relatively moderate stance on the Civil War taking place in that country. This event didn't receive a ton of media coverage really until years after the fact. Miraculously, someone who escaped the mass murders and hid in a tree, hid for days, was able to relate some of what she saw, the atrocities, the slaying she witnessed with her own eyes.

At the SOA vigil this weekend, held at the gates of Ft. Benning, the military facility that houses the School of the Americas, there was an artistic representation of the El Mozote massacre. Clothes lay sprawled out on the ground, names and ages of victims of the massacre pinned to the clothes. When I passed several victims age 20, I froze and couldn't do anything but take a picture. It was the only way I could pray at the time...to try and remember the martyr through a picture of a representation. A distant, distant way to remember something I have no first account knowledge of---but nevertheless, my way to make a small contribution to the idea and hope that we are all connected---that these deaths help us to live and to work for a better world both near and far from our own communities.

I froze by the clothes and name of a 56 year old man. I thought about my own father---how good he has been to me and how much I have to be grateful for. I took a picture, in a way I prayed.

I froze at the name of a two year old child. This one stirred my heart, brought the tragedy to home in a different way. I thought about my beautiful two year old nephew, A.J., who I will see this weekend. I also reflected on what it would be like to have someone so young, so close to you be taken from you in one moment. The tragedy of such an event seems unimaginable. I took a picture, a prayer to remember the innocent toddler, a victim of a mass murder, a martyr that keeps us all alive and working to end terrible injustices.


A famous Liberation Theologian named John Sobrino, a Jesuit priest from El Salvador, came to the SOA vigil/protest and spoke to us. It was an honor for many of us to here from this very holy person, very real liver of the gospel. Sobrino was fortunate to escape death in El Salvador. Six of his colleagues were not so fortunate, and were part of a 1989 killing at the University of Central America in El Salvador. The Jesuits killed, along with their house keeper and her teenage daughter, became martyrs of a civil war---killed in innocence, killed as non-violent faith filled people. They became Jesus of Nazareth in the moment their lives were taken from them---taken in an incredibly violent manner.

When I was in El Salvador, our group took a tour of the University of Central America. We saw pictures of just what happened to those martyrs. To think that a human being is capable of ending a life over and over again with a gun, to walk away from blood, death, brains on a floor is unfathomable. Those pictures stay in my memory. On the surface, I am so incredibly unattached to those killings---but by visiting the site, by seeing the pictures, by struggling to cope with what my eyes saw in a photo, made me think about just how absolutely devastating it must have been for the people who saw those bodies firsthand---for people like Fr. Sobrino who were among the best of friends with these people.

And Sobrino is able to continue the memory of these people. When he talks about the University martyrs in El Salvador, he is able to bring about a message of hope. It's amazing how a person can bring hope out of so much suffering. Sobrino seems to know the gospel so well, the Passion of Christ, because he experienced a modern day realization of absolute martyrdom. Sobrino said of the martyrs, "from their love, from their justice, from their kindness, we live." We live from the martyrs because they stir our hearts to want to bring about a kingdom of Love and Peace.

May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Realize that in all the struggles of the world---in those personal struggles that make some of our days so very difficult---in those societal struggles that split our heart, tug at our flesh, at our being, may we come to some sort of message of hope. Without a bit of hope, all will seem lost. But, with even a tiny spark of faith, we can move mountains.

peace and with love,

your friend bob.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Long Haired Dude & Navy Seal

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I hope all is well with you on this Hump day, the Wednesday before the Thursday before the Thursday that is Thanksgiving here in the United States. (That makes Thanksgiving sound like it is far off in the distance, sorry if that does anything to your turkey anticipations). As for me, I'm doing fine...I tried my best to clean my room this morning. At some point before the Holidays, I hope I find the ambition to donate some of the many books scattered all about my little 12 X 12 foot (roughly speaking) abode. Books, like music, are something I collect and collect to no end at times.


I opened my Runners World magazine to a few articles about people who are using running to do some pretty amazing things, and I'd like to share with you a little about these people. The first person I read about, David Goggins, is a 33 year old Navy Seal who runs 15 - 20 miles every morning before breakfast and bikes 50 miles a day in commute to his job. For starters, that's sick. But that's not even the half of Goggins story. The man runs races–––intense, body aching races–––for charity. In three years, he has raised $200,000 for a fund that grants full college tuition to children of whose Special Ops parents were killed while serving the country. His races include 150 milers, Ultramarathons (a 48 hour run!), and the death-defying race through the Death Valley (135 miles of running in that desert heat). Goggins says when he crosses the finish line, he is thinking about what he is going to do tomorrow. "It's as if my journey is everlasting and there is no finish line." What a way to ponder our existence here in this world. In some way, our journey is everlasting, never ending. To draw from my Christian tradition, after death, we hope for an eternal peace filled with love, in a word, heaven. Goggins passion for running, his commitment to it and to people is a great metaphor for anyone seeking to dedicate themselves to a cause or to a particular way of life. There is no finish line and the journey is everlasting.

The other person I read about isn't a Navy Seal. He's actually a long haired dude, a vegetarian running coach from New York city. After visiting Kenya in 1995, he was inspired to give his time and effort to contributing to some of the poverty he witnessed on the continent of Africa. At first, he started Shoe4Africa, because, during his first visit, he found himself giving running shoes away to the point of where he returned home barefoot.

The long haired dude, Toby Tanser, felt compelled to do something different for people in Kenya after witnessing the aftermath of the December 2007 elections that left many cities ravaged. He tells a story, in Runners World magazine, of a woman who told him that she witnessed her own baby burn to death, an innocent victim of the politically-induced violence of last year. A church in this same village, Kiambaa, had been burned down with 35 people inside of it. Hearing about these terrible tragedies understandably struck a deep chord in the soul of Tanser. "What the hell am i doing donating shoes?" he asked himself. He decided to do more, starting a "peace run."

Interestingly, I had just posted about a peace run I was a part of last Sunday here in Chicago. Tanser's peace run struck a deep chord inside my own soul, and that's why I felt compelled to write about this long haired dude.

His next hope is to build a $15 million children's hospital in a Kenyan town. It would be the largest of its kind on the continent of Africa. I pray that his vision becomes a success. Tanser, along with David Goggins the Navy Seal, are doing things with their talents that might inspire all of us to look at ourselves and ask what can we do to spread love, spread peace.

It reminds me of a parable Jesus talks about in the gospel of Luke. He tells of three servants who were each given a coin. The king told the servants to engage in trade with the coins. Of the three servants, two of them were able to turn a profit from the original coin. The first returns bearing 10 coins, the second bearing five. The king seems happy that both of the servants were able to do such with what had been given to them. However, the third servant took a different path. This servant, stored the coin away in fear of the king. The servant seems to be frightened that the one coin will be lost in trade. The king is angered, takes the coin from the servant, and gives it to the first servant who had turned his one coin into ten coins. "To everyone who has, more will be given," says the king. (taken from Luke 19 : 11-28).

Goggins and Tanser might be comparable in ways to these two servants. They are both taking different paths to provide more with what they have been given (the talent to run and the desire to help others). They have done a wonderful job of fostering and developing their gifts. But the third servant might be someone who is frightened to use some of the talents they have to help, in whatever way possible, the world around them. I am guilty of this. I'll be the first to admit that for fear of rejection, for fear of standing out on a limb, I often find myself caught between "I should and I'm scared to." Maybe, you sometimes find yourself playing this game of limbo too often. I hope that all of us, in small ways, will have the courage to step outside of our fears, to step outside of ourself, and to give back to a community, to a world that needs us. To work together will bring us together and will bring us to the task of working for peace on this everlasting journey.

peace friends.

with love,

your friend bob.

Monday, November 17, 2008

O Come O Come Immanuel!

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

Rise and shine---it's dang near winter weather time! Yesterday night those of us residing in Chicago had one of our first glimpses of snowfall this year...more to come, I'm sure!

Hope all is well with all of you. Hope this post finds you looking forward to spending time with friends and family over the coming Turkey holiday. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your loved ones, wherever you may be.


Yesterday morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 7:30 am to go for a run. Why? Well, a friend of mine had invited me to run a race sponsored by a local restaurant called the "Heartland Cafe." The place sells scrumptious food and also sort of doubles as an activist, trendy place. The run was for an organization called Athletes United for Peace, or something along those lines. It made sense to me: run for peace. I like to run and I like peace. But do I like to run 8 am on a 32 degree morning? Well...I'm flexible I guess.

Anyways, two friends and I waddled our way out to the cafe, bracing the lakefront winds, to register for the race. When we got there, the crowd seemed to be a decent size; 30 to 40 people waiting to run. After I filled my form out, I went to a large jug of what I think is water and filled a cup. Steaming hot Joe poured out of the jug...that's ok, I thought to myself. A nice little perk before running 5 km.

I figured the only two people I would know running the race would be my friends Laura and Monica. However, I was mistaken. Running the race were two little friends of mine from last year, from a local grade school called Northside Catholic Academy. I had tutored at their school and was really surprised and excited to see them. It was amazing to see that 11 year old Sergio was going to be running a 5 km race. When I was 11, a chubby, video game & TV watching chap, I would have shrieked at the idea of running for that long. But this little guy was for real...way to go Sergio!

There was someone else I saw yesterday. Last year, he was a person I would run into (quite literally) on the Loyola track. His name is Immanuel. Though I had forgotten his name (I am terrible at remembering names and had to ask him to remind me yesterday what his was), I vividly remembered his soothing Spirit, his welcoming Smokey Robinson-esque face and smile, and his overall love of running and life.
I remember Immanuel came up to me one day while I was doing a track workout and told me I was a pretty good runner. It was totally unexpected but so very appreciated. This compliment came from a middle aged dude in tip top shape who runs a pace that would make most of us runners look like Santa Claus trying to run a marathon after eating one too many of Mrs. Claus's cookies. That is to say, Immanuel is quite a runner. So, to have him give me a compliment really boosted my Spirit. And seeing him periodically on the track, maybe once a week or once every couple weeks, reminded me that there are other people who share in the joy of running. Even more importantly, he reminded me that there are people in this world who seek to spread joy in whatever way they can, to whomever is present to receive that joy. I was the fortunate recipient Immanuel's encouragement and captivating personality... When I saw Immanuel yesterday, in some small way, my Spirit leaped for joy, to see a kind person who had brightened up several of my days.

When I told Immanuel I ran the Chicago Marathon, his face beamed and he gave me a truly heartfelt congratulations. He said the last marathon he ran was the Boston Marathon---that's quite impressive indeed. Boston requires racers to qualify with a certain time during a previous race. I told him that I would really like to run the Boston Marathon someday, but I would have to cut my time by some 30 minutes for my particular age group. Without hesitation, Immanuel told me I could do it. With some more training, he was confident I could one day be there.

It is that kind of optimism that we need more of in this world. With more people like Immanuel to be examples of how light can be spread, we might just light our world up with something more than artificial brightness this holiday season.

O Come, O Come Immanuel!

peace and blessings~

with love,

your friend bob : )

Thursday, November 13, 2008

There is a Kingdom Here

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Hope this post finds you enjoying your Thursday morning. After breakfast and a cup of coffee, I'm feeling pretty solid. (I'm trying to not think too much about impending research papers, term papers that need to be completed in the coming days---one of those days being tomorrow! It's only a rough draft...it will be rough).


This morning while sitting in the chapel here at my seminary college, I was reading a short reflection from a website www.staygreat.com. The content, written by Mark Link, a Jesuit author and priest, challenges readers in a very practical and simple manner to ponder a line or two from one of the Gospels. Link will generally quote a short passage and then offer a one or two paragraph reflection or story that in one way or another relates to the gospel reading. He will then ask a question and follow the question with a sort of universal truth or some kind of tidbit of wisdom. It is this latter section I want to talk a little bit about. Today, the passage Link had readers reflect on was from Luke's Gospel:

The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed..."The kingdom of God is among you." (Luke 17:20-21)

These were the words of wisdom Link wanted readers to think about after the end of the reflection:

"The greatest treasure isn't far, far away; it is closer to you than your own breath."

This got me thinking a little. In my opinion, its a very beautiful thing to ponder. Often times we think that the treasure or the life we are looking for is miles and miles away, way outside of where we are now. But these words will have us think otherwise.

God dwells within us AND all around us. God is, to quote the late great George Harrison, "within you and without you." The kingdom is an intimate, human, breathing treasure. And in that sense, since the kingdom of God sustains our life, it is closer to us than our own breath. The kingdom of God can give meaning to our breath, meaning to our every action, meaning to all of our loves, meaning to all of our moments. Recognizing that the kingdom of God really isn't some distant Shangri-La, but part of an inner peace can bring us among other people in a most intimate and real way. "The kingdom of God is AMONG you." We need not fear those trials we will inevitably face if we can somehow believe in this message.

Jesus tells us that we can't passively observe the coming of a kingdom. We must fully partake in the joys and sufferings inherent in the life of a human person. It is in understanding and contemplating our humanity that we are most intimate with a God who loves us more than we can imagine. The kingdom of God is at hand, dwelling among each and every one of us.

peace friends!

with love,

your friend bob.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Burr...it's cold this morning! I heard this morning on a political talk show, during a weather segment, that the wind chill in Atlanta was 28 degrees. WOW. The only suggestion I have is to look at this in a positive light, as an ushering in of the coming Holiday season. Winter isn't so bad until after Christmas and New Year's...so let's think about how wonderful December can be! (We'll deal with January when it comes...and who knows, maybe you find January to be one of the most enjoyable months of the year.)

Anyways...onto a short Monday reflection.

Yesterday, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the "Dedication of Saint John Lateran." Up until yesterday, I would have no clue what that meant. What it is, for those of you who, like myself, would not know the meaning of such a dedication, is a feast day that celebrates the building of the Lateran Basilica erected by Emperor Constantine way back in 324 A.D. Constantine...that's right...the dude who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. The church is considered the "mother church of Christendom." So what? That's what my response would be. It's just a building.

Some will say that that building allows people to worship God, to show love for the Creator, to show love to Jesus Christ through prayer and liturgy. Moreover, others might say that the building shows Christianity transforming from the early house churches to a widely public display of religion. A priest gave a homily yesterday that brought up an interesting point. He said that sometimes he feels that the church might have been better off by staying more underground. Obviously, we can't turn the clock back and change the course of history. By the Roman Empire accepting Christianity, the world officially became exposed to the message of Jesus Christ. However, that message was twisted and altered at times, for people to get what they wanted, not what God might have wanted. Wars, crusades, killing. All in the name of Jesus Christ. It was hypocritical and the absolute antithesis of the gospel Christ brought to the world.

And yet, the building was built to worship, to love God. The building was an attempt for people to build a holy place, a holy ground. Maybe the church would have been more peaceful, more true historically to the teachings of Christ if it had stayed underground. But it didn't. And now, it is our job, if we are Christians, to show the world that, though the church is obviously grounded in this world, it can still have underground tendencies at the grassroots level. That is, we can show people that the gospel doesn't require large flashy basilicas or extravagant dress or loud organs or well-trained choirs or large institutions. These things don't run counter to the gospel, they can work with the gospel...if they are always true to the gospel.

gospel with a small "g"...I'm referring to spreading peace, love, being understanding of others. Showing your neighbor that Christ or God comes down to a person to person relationship. Basilicas, churches, places of worship are good...if and only if they bring people closer to God and to each other, and if and only if they help people to leave the building and spread Good News.

peace and with love,

your friend bob : )

PS - try not to freeze today! Drink plenty of hot chocolate, hot tea, coffee~

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Historical Day, A Day to Pray

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Last night, at 10 pm central time, on the dot, CNN announced the next presidential elect. "Zips Lounge" a student lounge in the student union building at Loyola University Chicago, erupted with cheers from nearly every student watching the big screen. A change was not just a possibility; it became a reality.

Along with fellow students, I embraced the moment. Politics are exciting, dream-developing, hope-inducing. Politicians often give people reasons to believe in something. My hope, after the dust settles and Barack Obama is officially sworn is as the 44th President of the United States of America, that his message is made manifest. I think it's crucial for all of us living in the U.S., putting stake in the people here, to be critical of Obama. We supported Barack because we saw in him a person who has the potential to fuel this country forward. Now we need to make sure that we help the cause and we fight for the cause. We have to make sure that we practice what we preach, in a sense---at least try as best as we can. Likewise, we need to hold our politicans accountable to the same standards. If we look up to the office of the president, then we need to expect that person to carry out the role to the best of his or her ability.

A few hours before finding out Obama had been elected, I was sitting at a computer in the library on campus. As I glanced to my left, staring off into space waiting for the slow computer to boot (those library computers know how to take their time and test students' patience), two posters caught my eye. I had seen them before, but tonight of all nights they seemed especially fitting. On the left hung a poster of Malcom X delivering a speech, looking full of passion and fire. On the right of Malcom X hung a poster of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivering a speech in a serious, but soothing face. These two men, of course, are remembered as two of the most prominent African-American leaders to ever have lived. But the content of their character is why we really honor and remember them. Both of these men not only preached change but delivered change. Both of these people were willing to stand up for what they believed, stand up for the oppressed, and bring about a more perfect, more civil, more just society. They were history-in-the-making in their actions and in their living.

Wherever we stand on the political spectrum, it would be hard not to grasp the history-in-the-making of a Barack Obama as the next president. Less than 150 years ago, there were African-Americans in the United States that suffered through the most oppressive institution of slavery. Now, we are part of a country who has just elected a black man to be the next president of the United States. Virginia, a state that fought for the Confederacy during the civil war, chose to elect Barack Obama. Chris Matthews, a journalist for MSNBC, couldn't help but show his enthusiasm last night for a country that seems to finally be able to look past the color of a person's skin. He was amazed and overjoyed to think of how far his country has come in his lifetime.

My prayer for Barack Obama is that he strives to challenge this country and to serve this country and especially the greater world community with a Spirit that comes from the Highest Good we can imagine---that he may be a voice of change in this world, a positive voice of change. We need to follow the hope of Dr. Martin Luther King and really judge Obama on the content of his character. In time, we will see what the policies of President Barack Obama will bring our country.

He has inherited one of the most difficult jobs in this world---the most difficult persona, arguably, currently in existence. Since the United States is a world power, the leader of this country is a world power figure. May the power Obama inherits be aimed at helping those with less, allowing all of our brothers and sisters to prosper. May Obama keep his vision, but understand more fully what it actually means to govern at a day-to-day level. However you voted, it is important to try and put yourself behind Obama.

It is going to take a united country to support the next president. I hope that, divided as we sometimes are, this nation will come together to give Barack a chance. In doing so, we might proclaim to the world community we are a country united to strive for goodness. May we be humble. May all of us be a group of people who want to love and serve, seeking, at times, nothing more than a smile or a handshake in return.

I am excited as a young person. I am excited as a citizen of the United States. I am excited as a person who believes in God, in Love. I am excited as a person who desperately wants to believe in the Goodness of Humankind.

Realistically, Barack Obama can't solve all of this nation's problems. Realistically, Barack Obama is going to do things, say things I won't agree with. I hope I---along with others---have the courage to stand up for beliefs. And I hope I have the resolve to accept the fact that the leader of the United States is a human being with human faults. It is in this realization that I think we can start to finally build on what Barack has promised. We can't do it all by ourselves. But, joining in community, a community of believers, we can do great things.

My prayer is for Barack Obama today and for his wife and two daughters. My prayer is also for John McCain today. Both of them helped to make this country excited about politics and excited about change. The next four years will be a change. May it be a change for the better---a moving forward and a greater realization that in our common struggle we find hope and we find an unmovable Love.

peace and with love,

your friend bob spoerl.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How can we feed the hungry? - Part One: Martin de Porres

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

We really are fortunate to have the weather we have today. It's unseasonably warm...and sunny! I suppose the weather wouldn't suit a vampire from Transylvania very well, but I'm assuming it's highly unlikely that among the Network of Love Lovers we have vampires from that area. If we do, then I apologize; I don't mean to offend, just to say that from my viewpoint, the weather couldn't be any better today. Thank God!


This week, a number of groups on the campus of Loyola University here in Chicago unite to bring awareness to a worldwide struggle: hunger. November 2 - November 8 marks the annual "Hunger Week," at my school. We begin the week running by fasting (Though it would be really difficult to begin fasting with a run). Today, nearly 200 students at Loyola University Chicago have committed to fasting for nearly 12 hours, abstaining from both food and drink to remember the millions around the world who go without today. Known as the "Fast-a-Thon," and sponsored by Loyola Muslim Students' Association, the event is a time to feel hunger and fight hunger."

I signed a student pledge form that binds me to this fast. It was interesting to sign for a fast, and it made me seriously feel committed to the cause. For every student pledging to forgo food this day, a local business is donating food/supplies to our cause. The money we would be spending on food is instead being donated in our name to provide food for those who don't choose to fast. It is a rewarding trade-off.

The saint honored by the Catholic Church today is one that I actually recognize fairly well, and is one who was known to do his fair share of fasting. His name is Martin de Porres, and he lived in Lima, Peru in the late 1500s, early 1600s. His father was a Spanish knight, his mother a freed woman from Panama. Martin was accepted as a brother in a religious order known as the Dominicans. Martin worked with the sick his whole life, caring for them with what his peers would refer to as an endless patience. He would establish a hospital for sick children in his hometown and would also provide food for African slaves in Lima.

St. Martin de Porres holds a unique place in my heart because of his incredible love and service for the most poor and needy of his time and his work with children. I also find him to be a hero because he broke racial boundaries. He is remembered as a patron of social justice and a patron saint for African-Americans. Here is a link to a newspaper from today that gives a little more detailed blurb about Martin:


I see a saint like Martin de Porres as a figure who could appeal to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, seeking to bring social justice to society-at-small and society-at-large. It is interesting to note that, though he dreamed of being a missionary, Martin never left Lima. With all his work focused in one place, he was able to bring health care, food, healing to those in his city. His concentrated ministry can teach us all a thing or two about really putting stake in the place we are. As good as it is to give to organizations and to people all over the world, it is just as good to look to assist those in need in our own backyard.

How can we feed the hungry? How can I feed the hungry? I invite you to, along with me, reflect on this as you journey with me during our Hunger Week.

Blessings to all of you and I wish you a less-than manic Monday...How about a Miraculous Monday? Or at the very least a Middle-of-the-road Monday.


with love,

your friend bob.