Monday, June 29, 2009

Rest in Peace Jim

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I have some sad news that I feel like sharing with my friends in the Network.

A friend of mine from high school died less than a week ago. Though I didn’t know him very well, I feel obligated to write a little bit about Jim and how his death is hitting me. It’s strange; I had received a message from him only a week before he had died, stating that he planned to show up at my 21st birthday party to say hello to many old friends. We never saw him that night.

Trying to process Jim’s death is very hard right now. I have so many things to look forward to this week---my brother, sister-in-law and nephew are in town and I get to spend time with them, I have plans to go to Summerfest and meet up with friends I have not seen in a while, and I am preparing to spend an entire month in England and France!

But Jim’s death is making me feel very uncomfortable and uneasy inside. I don’t quite know why this is---maybe it is because he had messaged me only a week before his passing---maybe it is because this is the first time that someone my age who I actually knew has died.
Jim was always so incredibly warm and outgoing to me. I remember how musical he was (he played percussion in the high school band), how gifted he was. I remember Jim being really witty, with a fun, kind of cynical sense of humour, but a warm heart at the core. I miss Jim even though I didn’t know him very well and I hadn’t seen him really since ending high school.

I think part of this sadness, to put it in a theological light (which helps me cope with the situation), is that with Jim’s passing away, we lose a member of the body of Christ, a piece of our humanity. I don’t recall Jim’s religious beliefs---and whatever they were, that is not important for this reflection. What is important is that Jim did bring light to many people’s lives, even though he himself may have had to struggle with some dark times (just as we all have to).
Jim’s passing away has put me in a funk since I heard about it---a kind of funk that comes with a shocking revelation. But here is another shocking revelation---I, we, may just have an opportunity to fully reconnect in the eternal banquet. I pray for Jim and for his family today as they cope with the painful loss of a son at such a young age.

I pray that all of Jim's beloved have the strength and the courage to continue their own life journey without Jim (though he may walk with them in spirit). I pray that they cope in productive ways---ways that pay tribute to the creativity and the beauty that rested inside of Jim before he began his rest in peace.

I pray God that you look after Jim in whatever capacity that may be---for the Kingdom is a mystery both here on earth as well as in heaven. Whatever or wherever or however Jim may be, may he be free to love and be loved. May Jim be fully healed and alive in the Spirit of God. I can still picture his full beard (he could grow one by the age of 17!), his John Lennon glasses, and his soothing smile.

"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, and the world may live as one" (John Lennon, "Imagine" lyrics).

I hope someday we all may be joined in an everlasting life.
Right now, may our friend Jim Russell rest in peace.

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dinner at Polish Restaurant with a Central American Theme

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It is Wednesday mid-morning and I am blogging on break from a summer camp that I am helping to run for my job. This afternoon, sixteen high school boys interested in ordained priesthood are going to come to our seminary to find out more about what it is like to be a seminarian. So I suppose I will have to be on my best behavior : ) Enjoy the heat if that is what you like. If the weather is too warm for you, play it safe indoors. My run this morning was filled with sweat, and this was before 8 am. The high is supposed to be in the mid 90's F in the Milwaukee area. Yikes!
Grab a beverage from a lemonade stand today if you can find one. Or, start your own lemonade stand (you can always be a kid at heart!).


I had dinner last night with a friend of mine. He is a Franciscan order priest who has been to many places throughout the world. Where we found ourselves last night was at a polish restaurant in the Milwaukee area. As we nibbled on Polish fare and drank a Polish beer, we chatted about some of our excursions. A melting pot of cultures became a part of our conversation amidst cuisine: I was wearing a Brazilian soccer jersey and talking about El Salvador, while Fr. Steve was speaking in Polish, ordering Polish food for him and I, and discussing his three weeks in Guatemala back in 1984. It was his discussion of Guatemala that I want to talk briefly about.
He was there to give a retreat to a group of religious sisters. He had done a talk in New Orleans for members of the same religious order and they had like him so much that they suggested he ought to speak to the sisters in Guatemala. Back in 1984, it was a bit easier for a United States citizen (or anyone for that matter) to travel to New Orleans than to Guatemala. Guatemala was in the process of fighting what would be a decades long civil war. The war ended up ending the lives of thousands of people, some innocent women and children. The story goes very similar to that of the Central American country that I am most familiar with and that I have blogged about, El Salvador. Both of these neighboring countries were like ships in tumultuous, raging waters in the 1980s---I learned this from a young outsider looking historically in on immersion trips. Fr. Steve, though an outsider as well, learned a bit about the struggle of Guatemala during the time when the struggle was at the height of a civil war.
He said he came back being very angry at our government. I had the same feeling when I left El Salvador for the first time. I thought to myself: why did we do what we did? Why didn't our government have the intelligence to look beyond black and white? Why was the cause who had Marxist tendencies so severely wrong and the people in charge, the government who acted as a military dictatorship...why were they the ones being given money and support? I understand that we were in the middle of the Cold War...but it doesn't seem to excuse the actions of our institution.
And yet, reconciliation has to come from these events. From the war between peoples of the same country and land, from the governments working on the outside and looking in, and from everyone---innocent and guilty---in between. A man in El Salvador at a revolutionary museum that commemorates the efforts of the Guerrilla group who fought against the government during that country's civil war had this to say about the war: there were mistakes made by BOTH sides, and NO ONE had the full truth.
It was a mentality like that that seemed to be a grounds where reconciliation and forgiveness might someday gloriously take place. And it was a faith, coming from the woman I stayed with in El Salvador, who had lost a father and brother in the civil war, that reconciled my own anger. She believes in the intercession of saint Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador murdered while saying mass by soldiers of the El Salvador government. Romero has become a real Christ-like figure for the people of El Salvador and for others around the world.
It is in believing that the martyrs of our faith, the martyrs of the people of God, still live to tell the story of how their death can somehow continue to bring life to us, that we begin the long and difficult journey toward reconciliation and healing. Martyrs give us hope and love that there is something beyond this world, if we believe that their lives meant something beyond the struggle, the pain and the wars of this world.

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reconciliation: Make our day more right, bright

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I hope your week is treating you well. Tonight, I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing many old friends: today is my 21st birthday and I am having a party to celebrate. The party will also serve as a fundraiser for my efforts to run the Chicago Marathon for Team in Training, an organization that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The party starts at 9 pm at Live Bar in Milwaukee (just off of North and Farwell) for anyone of age who may be interested in coming.


Real short this morning (I don't have much time...I really should put a few hours of work in at my job for the Archdiocese Vocations Office before taking off this afternoon to celebrate and be with friends!).

This morning, as I read the Gospel reading for today, I was struck by one line. The reading is from the middle of the famous sermon on the mount, presented in Matthew's Gospel.
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."

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few days ago at dinner with my parents. We talked about how our church needs to be a church of absolute reconciliation: reconciliation within, reconciliation without. The walls of the church need to be thin enough to allow whispers of forgiveness to seep through, penetrating the depth and soul of the institution the world knows as the Roman Catholic Church. Reconciliation can take place on an individual level and on a massive scale. When we say, "I forgive you" to a person who has deeply hurt us, we are saying, God, forgive them. Our words of forgiveness become words that can become tears of joy, as the pain drips down our cheeks, as we pluck the log out of our own eye so that we may see our sister or brother more clearly. That sister and brother, whatever they may have done to us, becomes the light of Christ. In a way, they become purified, just as we become purified, just as our Heavenly Parent is perfect and pure.

When we forgive someone, we forgive our self for our own hardness of heart. But this is not an easy thing to do. I know this. There are wounds in my own heart that I know need to be further cleansed, processed, ironed out. Here is a short little prayer asking God for the grace to be a reconciling person, to process and ultimately release those wounds:

Lord, I know there are flowers in the pavement and there are flowers in the park.
Lord, make these flowers that grow in our world today, instruments to weed out my own hardened heart.

May we all find the peace that reconciliation can bring. To my sisters and brothers today, I say "Peace be with you!" Today, let's all try to forgive a person that has wronged us. It might make our day feel more right---and may we shout, from the dark night of our soul, "bring on the bright light!"

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Sunday, June 14, 2009

With a Spirit of Adventure, I Suggest you see the movie UP.

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

On Sunday night, I decided to use a Marcus Cinema Gift Card that I received several years ago as a Christmas. Finally I used the card–––and it was well worth the wait.

I saw Pixar’s newest movie UP, and was incredibly impressed with the entire production. As is generally the case with Pixar movies, the animation is quite a sight. However, it was the story that I will most remember–––in particular the relationship between Carl and Ellie Frederickson. Without giving too much away, Carl and Ellie are two childhood friends who end up marrying each other early on in the film. Carl is more reserved and quiet while Ellie is an absolute go-getter and talkative person. They really seem to compliment each other.

Early on in the film, there is a four-minute montage where Carl and Ellie gracefully grow old together and experience some challenging moments with one another–––including a painful miscarriage. In the end, Ellie and Carl just have each other. And again, not to give too much away, but the audience finds out in the first fifteen minutes of the film that Ellie passes away before Carl, leaving Carl alone without his soul mate.

The movie is as much about Carl’s resurrection via comprehending and coping with the loss of a truly dear friend. An especially touching part of the movie is a scene where Carl relives the life Ellie and him had together through paging through Ellie’s “Adventure Book.” We find out just how much of an adventure living with Carl really was for Ellie. Ellie seems to come to the realization that it is in some of lives most seemingly idle or basic, simple moments that the Spirit of Adventure most radiates. Looking at her relationship with Carl as an “adventure” seems to make it fresh, life-giving and Spirit-sharing. It is only through incredible struggles and feelings of tremendous isolation that Carl realizes he can continue without Ellie. It is her memory that ultimately provides him the strength and courage to continue on a new adventure, a new journey.

Carl goes through the grieving process: he moves from life with Ellie, to her death, to a kind of in-this-life resurrection both of his own Spirit and the Spirit of Adventure that Ellie had helped him foster and develop.

The movie, among many other things, shows us that a seed planted within us by someone who we especially admire and care for can still grow even when that person leaves us. And that is something that can provide each and every one of us with much hope when facing some of life’s greatest obstacles.

I suggest you go and see the movie if you have the time and money. It is a small investment that is well worth it in my opinion.

Feel free to post any comments you might have after having seen the movie.

Peace and blessings~

With love,

Your friend bob : )

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Innocent Man Killed

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

Today I opened my google news page and read a rather disturbing article from the Washington Post. At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Maryland, an 88 year old man walked in and opened fire. A security guard named Stephen Johns was killed after being hit by a bullet. Here is the beginning of the article:

Colleagues called Stephen T. Johns "Big John," for he was well over 6 feet tall. But mostly friends recalled the security guard's constant courtesy and friendliness.

"A soft-spoken, gentle giant," said Milton Talley, a former employee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where Johns was killed yesterday in the line of duty -- shot, authorities said, by an avowed white supremacist who entered the museum with a rifle.

"A wonderful individual . . . a truly jovial human being," museum director Sara J. Bloomfield said on this morning on NBC's "Today" show.

Details of the shooting remained sketchy last night, but apparently the 39-year-old guard, who was armed with a .38-caliber revolver, did not have time to react when James W. von Brunn walked into the museum, according to police sources.

"Immediately upon entering the front doors of the museum, he raised the rifle and started shooting," D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said of von Brunn, 88, adding that he "was engaged by security guards, and there was an exchange of gunfire."

When the smoke cleared, von Brunn was critically wounded. The only casualty among the guards was Johns, who lived in Prince George's County. At least one bullet from a small-caliber rifle hit Johns in his upper-left torso, according to Johns's employer, the Wackenhut security company.

I pray for the innocent security guard Stephen T. Johns and his entire family. May he rest in peace after the violent way his life was abruptly ended on this earth. And, as difficult as it is to say, I must try and pray for the man with a hateful heart---the cold blooded killer James von Brunn. Hopefully, von Brunn lives with a feeling of terrible guilt for what he decided to do. But, as a Christian person, wanting reconciliation for all people, I pray that von Brunn has a conversion. Maybe I can't grant von Brunn quick forgiveness for being a murderer---but maybe God can be open enough to allow von Brunn to see his wrongs and identify the evil persistent in his entire being.

Sometimes we use the term like "it kills me" when something terrible happens. I think in this situation, it might be appropriate to say that "it kills me" that a person like von Brunn would be evil enough to carry out a hate crime against an innocent person like Stephen Johns. I think it has the potential to actually make us realize how fragile and how weak both our individual and collective human spirit can be. von Brunn was one person who was a white supremacist. But there are unfortunately many other racists like him.

The Washington Post concludes with a telling quote from someone who worked at the museum with von Brunn:

"This speaks so powerfully to the mission of the museum...Which is that hate is still with us, and this is why the museum exists."

Hate does exist, in so many complex and serious forms. We all need forgiveness and reconciliation. May it come for all in God's time.

peace and blessings~

with love,

your friend bob.

Monday, June 8, 2009

El Salvador Reflection

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I've been busy typing away at my job writing newsletters for the Vocations Office of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. But while taking a break, I thought I would post a reflection/article I wrote regarding my trip to El Salvador in May. I have already posted several blogs referencing the trip, but this article is more concise and more full, I believe, than the previous postings.

Just to give you a background: Our trip was through Loyola Campus Ministry and there were 10 of us in total who went to El Salvador. We stayed with families for several days in Zaragosa, El Salvador, and spent most of the rest of our time visiting various sites of importance to the history of El Salvador---to the history of the bloody civil war of that country, the struggling economic situation of its history, and to the history of the Catholic Church in El Salvador. There are many Christian martyrs who have played a role in shaping the outcome of the history of El Salvador. It really is a country filled with a rich, dramatic, and, at times very difficult to stomach, history.

My reflection deals primarly with the host family who welcomed me into their home and community. I stayed with them for less than two days, but the experience has touched my heart to the point that I hope, pray really, will last a lifetme.

The Privilege of Immersion
By Bob Spoerl
I am a very privileged, fortunate undergraduate student. Several weeks ago I went to El Salvador for the second time in as many years. Again, I had the opportunity to eat a lot of pupusas (the most popular Salvadorian dish, a thick tortilla stuffed with things like refried beans and salty, tasty white cheese) and devour fried plantains just about every day. On a deeper level, I was able to spend time with some remarkable people and grow closer to God. On May 11, following the end of my Spring semester and junior year of college seminary at St. Joe’s on the campus of Loyola University Chicago, a group of eight students from Loyola University including myself and two faculty members flew out of O’Hare Airport on a flight through Houston to San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador on our way to a ten day immersion with people from El Salvador. Our trip was part of the Alternative Break Immersion program, a division of Campus Ministry at Loyola. The immersion program (a program offered by many campuses throughout the states, including Marquette University in Milwaukee) presents students with an experience materially out of the ordinary in comparison to the general situation here in the United States.
For the first few days, we spent our time staying with host families from a city named Zaragosa. With a little over 30,000 residents, Zaragosa is a generally self-sustaining community about 45 minutes from San Salvador. Many of the people are essentially working middle class in comparison to fellow Salvadorians. For the seven person family that hosted me, this meant living in a home about the size of a 1950’s style suburban ranch home in the states. However, the construction of the home was much different than what you might find here in the mid-west of the United States. The walls of the house were made out of concrete, the roof partially exposed, and the floor was very dry, hard dirt. If a member of the house wants to shower, he dips a bucket into a tub full of water and then gently pours the water over his body. When cleaning himself, he needs to be careful to preserve the water; it is often a most delicate entity---at the time we stayed with our family, they had lacked running water for around a week from what I understood. Several backup tubs acted as storage units in case water got too low. Nevertheless, preservation of water was a must---when my friend Carl and I (Carl is a sophomore at Loyola University) helped our family by washing dishes, we realized how conscious we had to be of how much water we were using on each cup or plate or fork. For me, it became a game of how efficient my dish cleaning could be---I became a human dishwasher, keen on preserving water!
Even though we developed an awareness of the daily life of our host family on a kind of material level, the home stay was more than a realization of how the economic and material situation in Zaragosa and, by comparison much of El Salvador, affects the actual people living and breathing in the country. Beyond considering this aspect of what it means to be Salvadorian, our group was privileged enough to gain an insight into the spirit and characters of our friends in El Salvador. We actually had an opportunity to become “immersed,” as our program suggests, in a culture foreign to us but home to another. We shared stories with our host families (in broken, broken Spanish), ate meals together, slept under the same roof, and drank the same coffee (which, no argument, beats Starbucks ANYDAY). Our time became Salvadorian and our bodies became swamped in the heat of the place. And our lives, just for a short moment, became intertwined with people incredibly distant, geographically and even economically speaking, than us. Yet, an “us and them” binary became intimately and remarkably transformed into a “we” union in many ways. We were, by all appearances, the foreigners. We were clumsy in our ways, people obviously from a different place. Still, we all gathered together at the same table in Zaragosa. We all ate the same meal and we all laughed at the same jokes (even if some of them had to be translated). We all enjoyed the same music at our Zaragosa block party, and we all danced to the same beat (though some much more gracefully than others). I was a dancing fool, along with many other people in my group, and we did not care how we looked. Sure we were out of our comfort zone. But out of the zone, we were able to enter into a life full of joy and hope. Amidst all of the daily struggle our Salvadorian friends face, despite the fact that our family in Zaragosa had lost three members during a civil war in the 1980’s that left some 75,000 Salvadorians dead, despite the fact that my host grandmother had been thrown into prison by the government for several years, locked away because her husband fought for a revolutionary group seeking to overthrow the militaristic government, there was an incredible amount of faith and vitality in her spirit. She motivated me in the moments I wanted to escape back to “me;” she kept me on the path toward “we,” the place we were called to be in those tender moments with our host families.
Carl and I had an opportunity to share in scripture reading with this little old lady with a heart of gold. Our abuela (grandmother, the one who had lost her husband during the war), is a very devout Catholic. The entire family we stayed with finds a lot of strength in their Catholic faith; on their dinner table sits a Bible and on the wall directly above the table rests a kind of makeshift shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. One afternoon, after lunch, I asked them if I could take a look at their bible; our grandmother handed it to me. As I sat there, with a most precious part of my family’s life (and I am referring now to my family in El Salvador and my family in the United States really) I opened it and considered what to do. Saying a little unwritten prayer in my head, I flipped through the pages. After less than a minute, I knew where to go with this moment---rather, I feel the Spirit was leading me to a place in this time. The place was Psalm 23---a psalm that has helped me in several dark and dreary moments during my life.
I handed Carl the bible and asked him to read it (I wasn’t trying to be mischievous, but, like me, Carl does not have much training in the Spanish language). It didn’t matter though. He read the psalm straight from his heart, with what seemed like all his heart. The words flowed smooth and methodically and, as we all listened, I felt like we were part of a very special Sacramental moment. Shepherd us O God, WE need you! I grabbed my camera and took several snapshots of Carl reading. He is a person who can be incredibly deep and serious when he needs to be, but is generally laid back and joking. So, I thought it was an opportune time to take a snapshot of Carl at a moment when he seemed to be connecting especially deeply with the Spirit all around us.
This snapshot of a moment in time is but one example of many other instances of Sacred, tender times I experienced in El Salvador. The “we” moments of our trip is what I most cherish---the times when we gathered to share in union with one another. These unified moments where filled with a variety of emotions: I think of Sunday morning mass; listening to the deeply moving guitar strums and the voice of Julieta, our faithful tour guide and spiritual mentor throughout the week. I recall a prayer said at the chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated saying mass. The prayer we read was a prayer he, a Christian martyr, had written. Our group from Loyola, we were able to share in the remembrance of a saint of the Salvadorian people. I consider the moments when we visited other martyr sites, and the incredibly difficult, painful moment of traveling to a village, El Mozote, where hundreds of innocent women and children had been brutally slaughtered out of fear that they might one day rise up and fight the government. I consider moments of embrace---times when a hug or a hand held meant the world in that moment. And in these moments, these tender moments, I realized that the face of God is transparent, whispered into our ears like a soft, gentle breeze off the Pacific Ocean on the shores of a Salvadorian beach, written into our hearts and filling them with a Love that always has something to give no matter what we materially possess.
It is not often that we have an opportunity during our busy days as people living, studying and working in the United States to take time to realize and practice the presence of God. I am fortunate to have set times during my day to pray as a college seminarian for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, and to reflect on memories of love, of God. My prayer for everyone reading this article is that you have an opportunity to consider the awesome presence of God in the everyday moments of your life. God is not just present in a trip to a different place, meeting new people. God transcends globalization and circles right back to the very place that a person calls home. To draw from the old adage, “home is where the heart is,” we might update this saying to have it read something like this: “home is where God is.” Hush, hush, someone is knocking at your door. In the silent, tender moments, may a God-who-is be an Advocate to make the “them” in your life a we, so that WE may all come to the table of plenty, marching in the light of Christ and sharing as a Community of believers.
Remember: Juntos Somos Fuertes!!! (Together we are strong!)

~ Peace and blessings ~

with love,

your friend bob : )

Monday, June 1, 2009

Me to We---With a little help from my friends

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I had dinner tonight with a truly inspiring friend of mine, a retired priest from the Milwaukee Archdiocese who spent much of his ministerial time serving people in the central city. I showed up at his place 25 minutes late (I'm becoming maybe a bit too laid back regarding time management being on summer break and all). Because of my tardiness, the dinner plans at a local restaurant were scratched (he had things to do later besides wait for me to show up for dinner plans I suppose!). This turned out to be a good thing. Instead of spending money on food cooked for us, we made a makeshift meal of green pea soup, white rice, baby carrots, milk and watermelon chunks for desert. It was a feast that left me feeling full and satisfied, but, even more importantly, the conversation at table helped to strengthen, encourage, and enliven my Spirit. I thank my friend for that. Our dinner and conversation inspired me to get my hands back on the keyboard and type this reflection.

I just wanted to share something I wrote in my journal from my recent trip to El Salvador. I felt a strong attachment to the place and the people this second time around. It was a kind of spiritual high and fulfillment I am very grateful to have experienced. Thus, I feel compelled to share it with you, my friends:

My confession of what is in my heart, put on paper:
May 15, 2009 --- 2 pm

It's not that I don't want to's that I want to return to El Salvador. I want to continue to learn from El Salvador, my friends here; the community---the PEOPLE.
I want to breathe more breaths here, to spend more time here.
This isn't 'home;' but I feel called to better interpret and learn the way of home from my friends here in El Salvador.
If it is meant to be Lord, I pray that I can return. I will do what I can to make it happen. But it is ultimately in your hands.


So I know the above journal entry might sound a bit dramatic or romantic---like I side, it was written at a time when I was definitely feeling a kind of spiritual high. However, I still feel a stirring in my heart to return to the people I was able to see again. And I think part of it is that I feel as if my time in El Salvador is a time for me to try and weed out my material garden that begins to grow when I get so caught up in "me." When I am studying, it is all about me. What do I need to do? How can I get a better grade? How can I get help? Who can help me?
And in my short time in El Salvador, with a group of 10 people from Loyola University, spending time with a community of people from the city of Zaragosa who selflessly cooperate to make daily life a reality, I began to feel purged from some of the greed that stirs within me from time to time.

Upon returning, I realize that that greed does not go away. I am back to plotting for me. What am I going to do next? Where am I going to go next? How will I make it?

But when I am asking these questions, I am trying my best to incorporate the WE I learned from my friends in Zaragosa. When me becomes we, I am a step closer to I AM who AM. WE can discern the whisper of a God who is Love, working in our lives at the very core of our heart.

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )