Friday, June 27, 2008

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I feel kind of guilty that I have abandoned the blog for this entire week. Though I have been busy, I've also been a bit lazy when it comes to the Network of Love. I will make an honest effort to provide posts at least several times a week. It helps me to stay focused, writing and observant in my day to day activity. And I pray that, for those of you who take time out of your day to read this blog, you can find something in my jumble of words that is ponderable and meaningful. If not my words, then maybe the ones I share from other, more wise sources. First and foremost, I hope that the Network of Love inspires you to continue to spread love to the people you meet and the people you already know you love.

Here is a short prayer I wrote in my journal a few days ago. A preliminary warning: It might be a little rough around the edges, but I think the inspiration for writing these words was sincere.

Lord, you know my heart
You hear my aches and pains.
Help me to shatter any chains of oppression that weigh me down
Help me to cut the chains of oppression I see
wrapped around the hands and feet of my friends, my enemies;
those I love, those I don't think I can stand.
Help me to stand everyone
to stand for everyone
to stand for Goodness and justice
to have an indelible, unshakable
moldable but not brakable faith in sisters and brothers
Faith in light, in God, faith in Christ.

May I walk the path that is impossible to turn back...the walk of Sincere Discipleship
May I long for fellowship
Seek opportunities to serve
Moments, people, places to fall in love with.
Most importantly, may I move with the Good, Holy, foundational, motivational Spirit.

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Why Philosophy?

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!
It is Monday, June 23 and a truly glorious day in terms of weather. As Pink Floyd sang on their famous Dark Side of the Moon album, “Breathe, breathe in the air.” (So long as you’re not close to a place full of smog…my sarcastic commentary, not Pink Floyd’s). But please, I beg you to enjoy some of this wonderful weather. After these last few weeks of immense flooding and tragedy in southeastern Wisconsin and the Midwest at large really, it is a blessing, a relief, to have a sunny day. Let’s pray the sun stays around to help dry out troubled, waterlogged communities.

The following reflection is a short paper I wrote for a one-credit seminar class last year. I distinctly remember writing the paper in the Loyola student union, laptop on my lap (what a concept, bob!), and the clock working against me. That is to say, I had a little less than an hour to type the paper before it was due. Fortunately, it only had to be one to two pages in length. Another fortunately, I am a long-winded writer. This is detrimental when I am giving a word limit, but it is an oh-so-sweet habit when I have to hammer out a paper in a short period of time.
During one of the class periods in the aforementioned seminar class, a Jesuit priest delivered a talk to our class of college seminarians about why philosophy is a practical major for a person in seminary, and why philosophy should be embraced as an important part of academics and society at large.
Father Paul Mueller’s lively pep talk in support of philosophy triggered thought (for that’s what philosophy is supposed to do) as I took notes. Mueller said that philosophy has the potential to stimulate individual philosophy and philosophy for society as a whole. These two ideas are important in that they present philosophy as a more complete field of study than common conceptions grant the academic area. Not only is philosophy a turning in towards self to think deeply, it can also be used to better and strengthen the people around us.
Before we address how society can benefit from the study of philosophy, we must first realize what philosophy can do for the individual. Mueller suggested that at the core of philosophy is a reflection of the deeper self. In a sense, to talk of philosophy is to talk of a deeper level. Finding and entering the crux of the philosophical realm can help foster spiritual awakening and growth. According to Mueller, it is in times of silence and solitude in which we enter this deep realm. To foster philosophical growth, one needs to set aside individual time in which he or she can practice philosophy. Entering times of such a reflective state as an individual will make us more desirable in community. Mueller said, “If you’re reflective, you are a place where people like to meet.” We somehow become a center of discussion with others if we come to know more fully who we are. Ironically, quiet philosophical reflection can make a person the talk of the town!
Once someone has reflected enough in solitude, they are able to bring their philosophy to the rest of society. Philosophy becomes evident in dialogue and conversation and deepens the relationships we have with the people in our lives. On a grander scale, philosophy can help to cure what Mueller described as “cultural diseases.” He briefly touched on three such ailments in our society, including narcissism, pragmatism, and general “busyness.” The third of these problems seems to be one of the most constant battles of the 21st century. How do we slow down in an age of constant movement? As Father Paul suggested in his talk, we become a more philosophical society. We take time to reflect on ourselves, our entire world, and how we as individuals and as a part of a group can solve the greatest challenges we face.
Father Mueller’s talk painted philosophy as a unifying tool, a means for hope and a foundation to find meaning amidst the hustle of daily live. Most importantly, I find his message especially pertinent in a society where organized religion is hardly welcomed with arms wide open. Philosophy can give life meaning even to the least religious of persons. It can be a unifying ground for maintaining peace in the individual and society. If we all keep on reflecting, we have the opportunity to build a more thoughtful, hearty and lively existence, a society where love can poke its glorious head out of the reflection on our being and where peace may one day prevail.

Peace and blessings!

With love,

Your friend bob.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

My Friend in Palestine

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I have a good friend, Lydia, who is courageous enough to be doing non-violent training in Palestine over the course of the next few weeks. Periodically, she has sent e-mails detailing some of the extraordinary (and ordinary) things she has encountered during her stay in the middle east. She has met some lovely people, but has run up against some ugly patterns of violence and aggression that seem to continue to torment the peace so many in Palestine and in the world are calling for. Enjoy this "guest columnist," if you will. She is an amazing person who I am blessed to know, and she has a lot more time to continue to bring peace into this world (she just graduated from Loyola in May!).

"He is my best friend. Sometimes he dances with me, other times he cries with me." The delicious meal has ended, and now Mustaffa plays the string instrument for us. "We need to teach more music and less war," he says. Meal, music, hospitality, and laughter seemed the only way to maintain our sanity after the experiences of the afternoon.
We were in the small village of Bil'in which is a community that is working hard to survive amidst the building of the wall, economic pressures, the destruction of their olive trees, and continual military violence. Yet, it also seems to be the place to watch for creative experiments in nonviolence. This community is committed to working for an end to the wall and occupation through nonviolent means.
Every Friday they hold a nonviolent demonstration at the wall. In this case the wall is actually a series of fences that divides them from the illegal Israeli settlement cutting them off from their land and roads. So, for the past three years, they hold vigils with different creative themes. Once there was even a wedding held at the wall in protest! However, the military response has become increasingly violent and usually leaves multiple people injured weekly. For more information about Bil'in visit
The village has called for international support at these demonstrations in hopes that it will decrease the military violence. By law, Israeli soldiers are not allowed to use live ammunition when internationals are present. However, they do use sound bombs, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Rubber bullets are actually rubber coated steal bullets which can still injure and even kill you.
So, we went as international support to help decrease the violence and to witness the reality in Bil'in. After the Muslim noontime prayer, the protest began with a march down the street. By my guess there were about 200 people including many international and Israeli supporters. We walked down the winding road, past homes and shops, through the orchard of olive trees that dead ended into the wall. We carried signs with pictures of people who had been injured including a young man the week before who had been shot in the leg three times and has been in the hospital in bad condition having lost so much blood. When we arrived at the wall, we quickly saw the soldiers who were standing behind concrete rocks across the road. Beyond them in the distance, the settlement was clearly visible.
In many ways, it was such a simple protest. We walked through the streets and stood at the wall. It was even tamer than a lot of protests I've been to in the U.S. Almost immediately when we arrived, we began to hear this screeching noise. Apparently the soldiers use this sometimes. It is a constant, high pitch screech used to try to disorient protestors and force them to leave. The loud noise continued. People covered their ears. If you don't think noise can be violent, just listen to this. The Palestinians began to shout chants trying to be heard over the noise, though it was nearly impossible. "la, la al-jidar" or "no, no to the wall." Erinn and I stood a little distance from the wall taking in everything that we saw.
Suddenly, the real violence broke out. We began to hear shots coming from the soldiers as they started shooting tear gas canisters. And they shot a lot. They have new machines that can shoot as many as thirty at a time. We had no choice but to retreat and as fast as we could. It was one of the scariest moments I've had as I moved between olive trees. There were so many tear gas shots, it was almost impossible to know where they were falling. You just had to hope for that it wouldn't hit you and burn. The tear gas entered my lungs and gave me the feeling that I couldn't breathe. My eyes watered until I could barely keep my eyes open. It was terrifying. It seems that there are no words that could possibly describe this experience. I had a bandana to cover my nose and mouth and a piece of onion below my nose which would hopefully keep me from panicking reminding me that I could continue breathing. I have a new appreciation for onions (yay for Onion Day). I tried to remain calm as we all scattered avoiding the tear gas (always keeping Erinn and Loretta in sight of me). Eventually I got what I thought was far enough away until I realized that I had just approached another fence on the other side and the soldiers had driven to that side and began shooting more tear gas. They could not see where they were shooting, but they just kept shooting. We would watch as tear gas canisters would land just feet away from us.
We had to get up the road again. It was noisy with the shots, stank from the tear gas, and hard to see with all the smoke from the tear gas. As we ran up along the road, you could see where tear gas had fallen and from the hear had started fires. Palestinians and some internationals went back down to try to put out the fires. One young international from England that we had stayed with the previous night, told us about working to put out the fires. The fires were spreading so quickly and at one point it jumped under an olive tree. The two Palestinian men said there was nothing to be done and put their arms around each other. This was their livelihood. They stood and grieved for these old trees.
I stood on top of the hill overlooking a shocking spectacle. Smoke rose from everywhere and shots continued. As I stood there watching, I thought to myself, "this is nothing but evil." How could people do this to one another? For a nonviolent protest against a wall that had divided them from their land? Could this really be claimed in the name of security?
I always thought I was far enough away until the soldiers would drive closer and suddenly what looked like fireworks would appear and more tear gas would fall. There was a time when so much had gotten into my eyes I could not open them for five minutes.
Back down the hill, there were teenage boys who remained. Once the violence had started, they started to throw rocks toward the military vehicles. I struggle with this so much in that it is violence to me and I cannot and will not support or defend this. However, I can understand their anger. And certainly, the levels of violence were not even close to equal. They were brave to stay in their knowing that the soldiers were shooting rubber bullets aimed at them as they hid behind the olive trees they had grown up under.
After a while, a Palestinian leader gathered support from Palestinians and internationals to go back down. I couldn't do it. I needed rest. I couldn't center myself enough to imagine going back in there. I stayed and watched as Erinn and Loretta and many others went back down and sat under an olive tree and chanted. After five minutes or so, they returned by their own choice, not the soldiers. They had decided it was time for the protest to be complete. It was a beautiful site watching them all come up the hill.
The protest was really shocking. People kept telling me what was going to happen. I was told about tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound bombs. But I was certainly not ready for what I saw. I don't think any of us should be ready for that. I cannot imagine coming back to do this every week.
We just heard that yesterday evening after the protest, some members of the community (including the man whose house we stayed at) had gone to an outpost to watch and make sure that more of their land was not taken. In the night, they were taken and beaten by the soldiers. I don't know more details than that. All I know is that I cannot imagine living this every day. I keep thinking about how I have these extraordinary things to report back to you all, only to remember that there is nothing extraordinary about them. This is the ordinary life for these people.
There is however another sort of extraordinary that is ordinary and is perhaps just as unbelievable. It is the incredible hospitality of the people here. When we stop to ask for directions, it is rare that we wouldn't have seven men surrounding us all offering to help. If we are walking down the road, the families come outside and without even knowing our names invite us in for coffee and a meal. When invited into a house, we are immediately told that their house is ours, and they truly make it feel that way. For dinner, we are offered the best food they have. If we drop into a house, they alter their day by giving hospitality with pure joy. The people I have met here, from the family in Bil'in to the taxi driver in Ramallah, to the man who offered us directions in Beit Ommar, are the kindest, most generous people I've encountered. It is the greatest lesson I have ever had in hospitality. This love and generosity, in the midst of occupation, continues to boggle my mind. It is nothing but extraordinary and yet, with every hour, I realize that it is nothing but ordinary.
Back at the family's home after the demonstration, we took the time to enjoy the fullness of life. The father of the family shared with us his hopes for peace in Palestine. He told us that Palestinians must choose between peace and war. If war, they will pay a price. If peace, they will pay a price. But he said, the price of peace is good for everyone. He shared with us his sadness about the children throwing rocks and told that everyday he teaches his children not to throw rocks. Every day. But it is very hard. He ended by telling us that this land is not his, it is not ours, or anyone else's. He lives here, but the land is God's land. How much we have to learn.
Erinn and Loretta sit and learn Arabic from the father while I practice English with the daughters. We play with the children, we drink tea, we eat delicious food, we share hope for peace, and we let the afternoon be carried away.
On our Service (collective taxi) ride back to Beit Sahour, we are stopped at a checkpoint. The soldier opens the door and shines the flashlight in our faces. He picks one woman out of the back and asks for her documents. She responds something in Arabic and the soldier gets angry and suddenly she is getting out of the van and going inside the checkpoint. A woman in front us translated, telling us that the woman in the back had asked the soldier to wait because she was on the phone. Everyone in the Service was quite upset with her. (I thought it was kinda gutsy myself). Then the soldier told the driver that the whole van would be punished for her mistake. The woman thought that they would have to wait for two hours. We were getting prepared to take a trip in and ask if there were any problems, however after a few minutes she came back. I do wonder though if it would have been longer if there hadn't been internationals in the van.
As we drove on, I thought over the events of the day. I thought about tear gas and what it is called. Gas that forces us to cry. Forced grief. It is not the Palestinians who need to weep anymore for this conflict. It is me. It is the soldiers on the other side of the wall. It is my country. Bush and Obama. It is Israel. And AIPAC. It is each of us who hold responsibility through our money, our political voice, or our own ignorance. We are the ones who must learn to grieve. We must stop shooting tear gas and instead cry our own tears. In freedom, we weep.

Peace and love,

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Striving to honestly forgive

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I just wanted to touch briefly on the gospel reading I heard today in church. It is probably one of the most famous teachings of Jesus Christ, his instruction on how one is to pray. I might as well quote scripture:

“This is how you are to pray: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”

Christian or otherwise, you have probably heard a form of the “Our Father” prayer. It is a staple of most a Christian’s prayer life, one of the first prayers taught to a Christian child and one of the prayers remembered in times of trial, times of praise, and times of simple contemplation. People have devoted months, years, even a lifetime trying to decipher every little crevice of this intricate, thought provoking, challenging prayer. My fall semester last year, I went on an entire weekend retreat along with fellow Milwaukee seminarians that was devoted to analyzing the entire “Our Father” line by line. It was rewarding to dig that deep into a prayer I have known and said for most of my life, but at the same time, the retreat left me with many more questions to ask myself, my neighbor, and, ultimately, God.

Having questions tucked away deep inside is good thing I suppose. If we had the ability to say one prayer and have all the issues in our world solved, then we would ultimately seize praying and essentially seize living. It is our fears, doubts, anxieties, struggles that keep us yearning to cling to something greater than ourselves, just as it is our positive hopes, dreams, aspirations, that keep us longing to step outside of ourselves and into the larger picture. Underneath every sincere ambition, there is a fundamental desire for affection from others, acceptance into a larger community, and love…in time, even eternal love. This deep desire, this craving for something more, might be what Jesus means when we are to ask for a “Kingdom” to “come,” here on earth. When we say “as it is in heaven,” maybe we are expressing a hope for a future in which this desire to step outside ourselves and love a community, the entire world, is a given, is universally accepted. Maybe that is what heaven is…a place where all can sit together at table and share in fellowship as equals, as true sisters and brothers. This is one my dreams for our future on earth and in heaven. It is in faith that this dream can become a reality for each and every one of us.

After teaching us how to pray, the Gospel of Matthew shows Jesus giving us a difficult teaching to swallow. Jesus says:

“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

If X then Y. If not X then not Y. It is a simple enough teaching to understand logically, but tough as nails to honestly live out. To forgive a transgression means that you forgive the breaking of any law, command, or moral code. How many times in our society do we forgive someone who breaks a serious law? Here in the United States, some states still have laws that do not even allow citizens the ability to give the transgressions of a person who has committed a crime, as terrible and evil as that crime might be. I am speaking, of course, of the death penalty. And there are other ways in which we find it difficult to forgive transgressors. Take, for instance, a person close to your family, a person who maybe even was part of your family at some point in time. Now, say this person decides, for whatever reason–––moral or immoral–––to leave your family tree. Say this person breaks the heart of someone near and dear to you. Does things to a person you love that even the most dramatic of novelists would flinch upon hearing. You–––we–––are called, are asked by Jesus to forgive that person. He is asking us so that our “father,” or love or the way in which this world spins, can forgive us. That is, to have a truly clean conscience and to be able to love as purely as we would like to love, we have to somehow, someway forgive a person who has deeply wounded us, or someone we love.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are people in my life who make me seriously question whether or not I’ll ever actually be able to really implement this teaching of Christ, to fully forgive anyone who has done harm to the people I love and to this world at large.

Really, it’s something I need to work on every day of my life, every moment of my life. It’s not something I fret about, but it is something that I know is there and real. There are, whether we like it or not, people who we can’t help but hold grudges against. Whether these grudges are held justly or unjustly is really a mute point when reflecting on the advice written in the Gospel of Matthew. These grudges need not–––should not be in our hearts at all. This is, at least, the goal of bringing ourselves towards a more real, intimate, worldly kind of love. So as we can be one with all people and in harmony with all things and our Creator, may we be one with ourselves in that we let all that may bring us trouble, worry, anger, frustration, escape our memory and our being.

As Jaqueline Syrup Bergan and Sister Marie Schwan write in their book Surrender: A Guide for Prayer,

“The way of Christ is the way of love. This way is the yoke of life, the supportive, balancing, enablement of the Spirit that empowered Jesus and, in turn, empowers us. To share that yoke of life releases the unlimited possibilities of creativity, joy, and fulfillment that are at the heart of discipleship.”
Pg. 14, Surrender.

To partake in the yoke of life means that we indeed forgive those who have hurt us in one way or another. This yoke is easy to talk about but hard to actually live by. Maybe if we take small steps, like forgiving someone who unjustly put blame or guilt on us in the last few days, or forgiving ourselves for something we did wrong in the last week, we can begin to attain the yoke of life that captures the essence of God.

Peace and blessings!

With love,

Your friend bob.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Little Saint in Heaven

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Last week here at the parish, we had a memorial service for a little baby who had lost his life soon after being born into this world. David Anthony had been born premature, stillborn. The obituary could have easily brought to tears to one’s eyes, as it read David Anthony had been still born, but born still. For some reason, that phrase has stuck with me since the memorial service. I still remember the look in the eyes of the deceased baby’s parents Anthony and Claris. They looked toughened by the whole experience, drained in one way, yet optimistic that in some miraculous way the little boy they had brought in this world still lived and breathed in another dimension unknown but felt.

The idea that David Anthony was indeed still with his parents and with the community at large formed the foundation of Father Carl’s sermon for the service. He talked about how we must mourn the loss of the child, how that is absolutely imperative for the healing process to begin. However, he said that, as hard as it may be to fathom at a time when the death of a new born is incredibly fresh in the mind of those who touched him or were touched by him, David Anthony should be remembered as a living person–––a saint among the greatest in heaven. What exactly does that mean?

Ahh…the question that has perplexed humankind for ages and ages, especially since we have incorporated the idea that there is a “heaven” awaiting us after death, the question of what happens to us after we die? I don’t have the time nor the ability to try and makes some kind of thesis about the whereabouts, whenabouts, or whatabouts of “heaven.” I think of this Los Lonely Boys song lyric (it was one of those songs that played and played on the radio a few years ago and I just so happened to hear it yesterday afternoon)…the Lonely Boys ask in song, “how far is heaven?” and continue with “I just gotta know how far it is.”

Maybe I’m looking to far into the Los Lonely Boys lyrics, but they are onto something. Inevitably, we will also face our own death at some point in this life. Whether we will suffer a drawn out death where we fight a disease or cancer or whether we pass quickly in our sleep, before we do, most likely we have asked ourselves or our God, or both, “how far is heaven?”

Again, I can’t begin to answer this question. Something that does stick in my mind is the teachings of Jesus Christ, especially his statement that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” This at least makes me think that we can attain some sort of “heaven” here on earth. This also makes me think that those who die, in some mysterious way, affect us who survive them. That is, those who have died, when we remember them in love and in spirit, we feel a bit of their presence. A picture or memory of a person near to our heart who has passed on from this world can bring them somehow back to this world. If Anthony and Claris, the couple who lost baby David Anthony remember the love he brought them during Claris’ pregnancy and the days they spent with David Anthony once he was born, the unique way he brought a young couple and their family and friends close together, if even in sorrow at the end of his life, then Anthony and Claris will always have David Anthony.

Like Father Carl emphasized in his sermon at the memorial service, David Anthony is a little saint in heaven. He can help out his parents anytime they need him. He can be with them as an angel in heaven, their blessed baby forever.

PEACE to all of my friends.

With love,

Your friend bob.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Country Guilt

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Rain continues to fall here in Milwaukee. With one more inch of rain, we break the record for rainfall during the month of June. I can't help but recall that famous children's song lyric, "rain, rain go away...come back another day!" Maybe in like a week or two? Give us some time to breathe and heal from the flooding of last weekend! Come on Mother Nature...

I was talking with a woman today who had lived in Spain for a part of her life. I happened to bring up the fact that I had visited El Salvador several weeks ago. Just summarizing briefly some of the feelings I felt there, I mentioned a little bit to her and the other people in the room about the ironic sense of guilt I felt for the people who were slaughtered, devastated, torn by the civil war of the 1980's. I say the guilt is ironic because I personally had nothing to do with the U.S. policies during the time of the war. However, it's hard to not feel guilty when you learn that the country you claim citizenship from spent 2 MILLION DOLLARS A DAY helping to fund a civil war in which thousands of people lost there live and countless others still feel after effects of a twelve year long struggle for democracy. What makes you feel even slimier---and what makes the U.S seem so terribly hypocritical and evil in context---is that you learn the government was helping to fund an oppressive military run government that basically saw equality as something to be stepped on.

With liberty and justice for all? Did this not apply to those being oppressed in El Salvador before and during the time of the war?

I brought up the fact that the woman I was talking to today had lived in Spain because she had touched on this same idea of feeling guilt for your country's policies. While in Spain, she had seen the citizens of that country become appalled when our government decided to move in a military base. The people there, she said, did not want the U.S. to come and bully its way into the military structure of the Spanish government. Understandable enough.

This question of whether or not the U.S. oversteps its boundary comes up time and time again. If we look at Iraq, I could say that we've had our foot in that door for far far too long. My words would be supported by a strong majority in our country.

And yet, as sad as it is, President Bush recently said, referring to the situation in Iran, that "all cards are on the table." He wants to first try diplomatic means to quiet the heated Iranian president. But, he sees the possibility of a future military battle---war?---with Iran. Maybe I'm putting words in his mouth. Or maybe I'm just reading between the lines.

This guilt about being a U.S. citizen is troubling and it can sometimes make a person feel as if they are "anti-American." My friend who had lived in Spain and I talked about that today. However, there is nothing wrong with questioning authority---or even wanting the current authority out. Our country is founded on the principle that at anytime we can change the current state of the union with the voting process.

And so, as we head towards November, let's start to think about some of the things we feel guilt for as Americans. How can this guilt be transformed into positive change? Where does this guilt go? What candidate will bring a less guilt-filled conscience to the U.S? We have to look at important issues near---and important issues far. Whether we like it or not, our country has dipped its hand into the world cookie jar. We are a global community. We are all undeniably connected. Let's use this TO OUR ADVANTAGE to bring about a world wide HOPE for a brighter future for our children, for our neighbors, and for ourselves. Let's bring some light into the world instead of being weighed down by too much country guilt.

PEACE to my brothers and sisters...

with love,

your friend bob.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Drop Down and Give Me Ten!

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It's Monday afternoon, the sky is pondering gloom and I'm sitting in a kind of dark room. (Talk about a pathetic batch of rythms. Dr. Suess would praise me for the effort, but probably laugh at me for the lack of imagination behind rythming afternoon, gloom, and room. But I digress).

How is everyone doing? Good, I hope! For all of you in Milwaukee, let's pull through this terrible dose of weather together...looking through the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning, I noticed a picture of people in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, literally canoing through what is supposed to be a street. These kind of events maybe give us just a glimpse, and by gimpse I mean to say that we are able to peek through the tiniest of cracks in the door, of the type of devastation that natural disasters can and have inflicted upon the people of our world. Seeing the photo of people in boats, I sort of think of what happened in Burma and what happened in the Gulf Coast only a few years ago. Thankfully, the city of Milwaukee is out on full force to de-water the streets. I saw trucks yesterday doing their water sucking thing. Not something you see on a regular basis.

Yesterday (in between the torrential rain falling in the Milwaukee area), I managed to find a little sun and go for a run. I'm one block away from the church I'm staying at for the summer and waiting at a stoplight to cross. Though I've got my headphones on, I hear a guy's voice calling "hey you!" The voice repeats several times. Sweaty, tired, and ready for water, I really didn't want to deal with anyone at this moment.
I take my headphones off and ask him what's up. He looks at me with a real, real straight face and tells me to drop and give him 10 (pushups, that is). As I move down to follow the command, I see a little smile break on his face. I do the 10 pushups per his request, finish, jump back up and tell him thanks and have a great day. He smiles and nods. The light turns green and I finish my run, and I forget that I'm tired and sweaty and probably a bit dehydrated. Instead, there's a smile on my face from my drill sergeant-prankster friend.

Cheers to all of you who keep a sense of humour throughout your day and show it off even to complete strangers. It's a hard thing to do, and for all of you that can do it, you keep the rest of us sane and smiling.

peace and with love,

your friend bob.

Friday, June 6, 2008

What is poverty?

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Today’s blog is a bit more serious than some of my previous stuff. I hope there is still some sort of hope hidden beneath some of it.

I’m so damn ignorant of poverty and the complexities that surround this most pressing matter. At the local Milwaukee Public Library yesterday I was glancing through a city publication that had surveyed a number of homeless people in the Milwaukee area to find out how they got to be where they are, how long they had been homeless, and in what kind of mental condition they were in–––that is, the survey described some of the homeless as mentally challenged, alcoholic, addicted to another drug, a victim of physical abuse, or simply other. Moreover, some of the homeless had simply lost a job and the circumstances had dealt them a terrible hand that now found them without a permanent residence.

I’m so damn ignorant of poverty. How could I even begin to fathom what it would be like to not have a roof to sleep under at night? When was the last time a meal was something I hadn’t had in over 24 hours, let alone half a day?

There is a commons that All Saints, the church I’m living at this summer, runs for women who need a place to stay until they have the means to make their own home. I met some of the women and their children only a few days ago. Our 30-minute meeting brought me so much joy! I can only hope that the feeling was reciprocal.

After living here at All Saints, I return to being pampered at a seminary on the campus of Loyola. How do I deal with having everything essentially taken care of when I know there are hundreds, on certain nights maybe even a thousand, people here in Milwaukee who have no bed to call their own? It sometimes makes me feel pathetic, guilty, and disgustingly privileged. On one level, I am so incredibly grateful for all the financial security I have been dealt. I am grateful to my mother, father and God for allowing me to live a comfortable and spiritually and financially solid childhood. But on another level, my soul aches for those in need of more, more to make them able to live with the hopes and dreams that every person in this city, in this country, in THIS WORLD deserves to dream.

I turn to the gospel to bring me some sort of solace on the unsettling subject of poverty. For the Gospel was written for the poor, oppressed of the time. Unfortunately, looking at the Gospel in this manner, I am an outsider looking in. Any of us who don’t fall into real the category of real poverty (most Americans) are forced to interpret the Gospel to match our own needs. Ahhh…but the challenge is to meet the Gospel where it is!

The Beatitudes, Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Am I blessed? Are we blessed? Am I really humbling myself to the level of seeing all my brothers and sisters at eye level, person by person? Is God somehow present in all the relationships I am in? Is LOVE really there?

Do I walk the walk? Or do I just talk a mean game? These questions are for myself. If you feel they may apply to you, ask them to yourself as well. Sometimes, it is gut check time. For a quick “gut check,” I turn to the Gospel of Luke.

“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that heaven do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor mouth destroy.” (Luke 12:33)

When Jesus teaches to sell all our belongings it doesn’t mean that we don’t have our essentials. It doesn’t even mean that we don’t have certain material possessions that bring us some happiness. But what it does mean–––and this is so hard to truly discern–––is that whatever we have we could give up at the drop of a hat. If someone knocked on our door and said, “all this stuff in your house, this TV, that computer, that picture, that ring…it is now mine,” we would be willing to give everything up. That someone is love manifested as a person. You could think of that someone has a soul mate who you have been waiting your whole life to find. You could think of that person as a member of your family welcoming you to heaven after you pass. You could think of that person as Jesus Christ himself, inviting you to fellowship at the eternal banquet. You could think of that person as just about anyone–––or anything–––that would allow you to give up all the stuff you have. But whoever that person would be, your decision would have to be definite. Can I say to myself that I would truly be able to FREELY “sell my belongings and give alms?” If we even grow close to being able to say that, I think we can begin to feel good about the path we are walking.

But as we walk the path, I hope our stomach still aches for those who have nothing to give. I hope we still can somehow feel the pain of the mother of five who can’t put food on the table tonight because she has no money to feed her children.

This is the struggle that we all must seriously face in this world. If I am ignorant of poverty, then I have to realize that I am. And maybe, if I have the opportunity to do so, I can educate myself on the matter. I have so much to learn. We, as a world community, have so much to learn. We are called to be an active participant in the kingdom that is to come, HERE and NOW. God help us!

Peace and with Love,

Your friend bob.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

TV Station Church Service

Greetings fellow Network of Love lovers!

I am typing this blog in the comfort of my single room here at All Saints Parish. It’s nighttime, but I’m going to pretend as if I’m typing this in the morning because I’m going to post it (well it will be a post by the time you read it) in the morning. An unnecessary and completely useless explanation for something you fellow lover wouldn’t have thought otherwise of. But anyways (and here is why I used the first three sentences of this blog to explain a petty fudging of the time, in a sense)…it’s a beautiful Wednesday morning! (I am forecasting, playing the role of your local forecaster). Funny I should talk about forecasting, Fr. Carl and I were at the Fox 6 TV station Tuesday morning. While inside a studio at the station, I remember looking at six computer monitors all with various meteorology jive running amok across the screen. The studio had some serious bite to it, and it made me reminisce a bit about my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin working in a different journalistic environment for one of the college daily newspapers. We didn’t do weather, and even if we would have, our coverage would never have competed with the radar known to Milwaukeeans as “Doppler 6000.”

So what brought a priest and me to the Fox 6 channel station, wading in the same room as meteorological monsters? Well, Fr. Carl was actually there to say a mass that will be aired on Father’s Day, June 15. I tagged along with him because I am staying at All Saints for the summer. There was a sort of interesting vibe to the whole thing, attending mass at a TV station. I remember Fr. Carl making a joke that he was sort of “out of his element.” Needless to say, the musicians and the reader for the televised mass were probably a bit out of their element too. I kept thinking that Fr. Carl was bound to whip out some Fulton Sheen cape (he was a Catholic priest who did a lot of televised stuff in the 1950s and 1960s--- that’s really all I know about the guy…that, and he wore a cape looking thingy). But, despite the fact that everything seemed a little out of its element for a church service and all, once the cameras rolled, the element was there. The cantor sung, the piano player plunked, the reader proclaimed, and Fr. Carl presided. And that was that. As weird as it felt to watch a mass from a TV set, I, as a Christian believe that the Spirit of Christ lived in that room. Nothing can contain love in whatever form it takes. In those moments taping a mass, love was present in the mass being said for those who may be unable to attend church on Sunday mornings. Our gospels tell us that Jesus taught people wherever two or three would gather in his name, he would be there with them. That person watching on the TV has gathered herself or himself to love God. God is present. Us on the TV set both watching and participating in the service to be aired gathered and thus allowed the Spirit of Christ to dwell in some mysterious way in the awkward context of a TV set.

For all my friends who aren’t religious, I hope this blog didn’t leave you lost. If it did, I apologize. But what I want anyone and everyone to take from this blog is that to show signs of love, we don’t need a big stage, a big gift, or a big plan. We don’t need a group of hundreds to worship God just like we don’t need a group of hundreds to throw a baseball around. What we need, though, is a big heart. I know baseball fans have big hearts for their teams (I see it in Milwaukee with the Brew Crew). I also know people of faith have big hearts. When those hearts are big, pure and open for love to enter, then love will manifest and make itself known. And so, love will gather. People will love. People will live to love each other. This is what we pray for.

More El Salvador postings to come later this week, I hope…

Enjoy the rest of your day. Put a smile on. I’ll try to do the same ☺

Peace and with love to my sisters and brothers,

Your friend bob.