Only in Duh-merica

Just gotta share

One of my fave blogs, and her most current postings are hilarious!! The Crescat....check out the link below on the right.

Don't Out Smart Your Common Sense

There's a current country song called, "Love Like Crazy" by Lee Brice that has the terrific line: don't out smart your common sense. As a high school teacher and the mother of five teens (you can send donations of wine to me at any time....), I think this should be written on every bathroom mirror in America, and possibly tattoed backwards on the foreheads of some young men.

I admit that I have had my own lack of common sense on occasion. I have even had serious lapses of judgement. However, I have never, ever, never sat DIRECTLY in front of my teacher's desk and attempted (rather poorly, I might add) to cheat on a test. Yeah, that was my day today.

I have spent more than my fair share of time trying to convince social workers that I, the mom, actually know what would be best for my own child. This would be the child that I have spent 14 years with. The child that I have raised. The child that I know intimately. That child. And yet, the social worker knows best. Because she has letters behind her name that I do not have. The social worker who has spent maybe 5 or 6 hours with said child. The fact that said social worker is not dead speaks volumes about my self-control. (However, there are a couple of social workers that are now FULLY aware of the wrath of an Irish mother.)

Seriously, though. I think much of our Christian life is just common sense. If someone dies, go to the funeral. If someone needs help, give it to them. When there is a wedding, go celebrate with the happy couple. When you hit your knees, start praying. Woody Allen said once that most of life is just showing up. That is true. (I have a cousin, Kathy, who is REALLY good at this. I haven't figured out if she is extremely compassionate or just loves any type of family get-together.) As a Christian, we shouldn't out smart our common sense. We need to do exactly what Christ told us to do: pray, celebrate together in His name, comfort those who need it, and share what we have. Don't out smart your common sense, and don't overthink Jesus.

Sacred Place of the Day

Our Lady of Trsat in Croatia

Today I needed an electric blanket

Flannery O'Connor, the great Catholic writer, once said, "What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe."

I must admit, that I would often prefer the electric blanket. When Flannery said religion "costs", I sometimes think she meant it literally. It is hard to watch people who lead rather horrid lives seemingly enjoy all the good things that life has to offer, while my family has to "rob Peter to pay Paul", as my mom says. I don't think my dreams are too fantastic: a nice little vacation, wine that doesn't come in a box, maybe a designer dress now and then.

I have to remind myself that I picked this. We all have free will, and I'm the one who signed up for this life I have. I mean, nobody gets a Master's degree in World Religions because one thinks it will make one rich (and if you do, you're an idiot). I know that money ain't where it's at...but somedays....I'd sure like to find that out first hand.

Sacred Place of the Day

Great Mosque in Touba, Senegal

Hope (and not Obama's kind....)

Some days, it doesn’t seem like there is any hope: that “one more” bill comes in the mail, the principal from your kid’s school calls (again), an old argument bubbles up for the umpteenth time. Hope seems to be something for some other type of person, in some other type of life, but not yours.

In the Christian faith, hope is a heroic virtue, but it isn’t just for Christians. It calls us to make hope a habit, and that we actively cultivate it in our lives and help others do the same. Hope isn’t a wish as we blow out the birthday candles; it is a reliance on a strength that is beyond our mere human resources. If we can garner that type of hope, we will be able to sustain ourselves in even the most trying of circumstances. In order to do this, though, we have to have some assurance that this type of hope exists – we want to see it, feel it, and experience its presence.

I know all about trying circumstances, and I know all about hope: trying to sustain it, losing it, getting it back, and knowing that on any given day, I am neither heroic nor virtuous. My husband and I have five children, all adopted. Although we’ve known many joys as parents, the parenthood we’ve experienced has challenged us in every part of our beings: physically, emotionally and spiritually. We’ve sat in courtrooms, logged countless hours with psychologists and psychiatrists, called 911 to our own home, had social workers on speed dial - and cried. A lot. So what have I learned about renewing hope?

One lesson I’ve learned about hope is that you can’t buy it. There is no magic medication, no one therapy, no wonderful program or miraculous counselor that is going to “fix” whatever it is that needs fixing. The next lesson I’ve learned about hope is that it isn’t one thing. It’s a lot of things, and really, it’s not “things” at all. Finally, hope is available to all of us. It isn’t about being rich, about being educated, about being a certain status in society.

Hope is a heroic virtue, even for those of us who don’t consider ourselves very heroic or virtuous. Hope isn’t a magic pill or program; it isn’t a “thing”. It is YOU: you supporting others when you have hope to share. It is you, being a support to someone, so that another person knows that no matter how bad things might get, you will be there to help, listen, support and care. It is you, being part of a community of people who look out for each other, who wish to share hope and cultivate it for all those seeking it. Let us share one message: Hope is ours – ours to create, share, and renew with all those who need it.

Beautiful Prayer

I've always liked this one from St. Bonaventure.

Friendship with Christ
Christ on the cross bows his head,
Waiting for you,
That he may kiss you;
His arms outstretched,
That he may embrace you,
His hands are open,
That he may enrich you;
His body stretched out,
That he may give himself totally,
His feet are nailed,
That he may stay there;
His side is open for you,
That he may let you enter there.

-St. Bonaventure

Sacred Place of the Day

Sufi Shrine at Manakpu Sharif

Not a political creature

I'm not a very political creature. Okay, that's an understatement. I vote, but I can't remember ever voting happily. I don't like any politicians by nature. My mom instilled that in me, declaring that "Politics is dirty business" and that no one gets elected without owing a lot of people a lot of favors. I figure, like all the stuff Mom told me, this is true.

With that, I do like America. It's been a good idea so far, despite things like school lunch programs, thong underwear and infomercials. We have a great and beautiful country and we, the people, have proved over and over again that we are generous, helpful, creative and pretty darn fun.

We sure aren't perfect though. We have yet to figure out to get health care to the people who need it the most without going bankrupt, how to wipe out the entire porn industry, or a way to keep teenage boys' pants up (oh, is THAT what belts are for???)

One of my very favorite people is a woman named Edith Stein. She's an official Saint, a martyr at Auschwitz. She was a far smarter woman than I, having studied phenomonological philosophy in her native Germany. (I can hardly spell "phenomonology", let alone understand it.) She said, of her nation prior to WWII, "The nation... doesn't simply need what we have. It needs what we are."

I think this is a great thing for Catholics and our fellow Christians to remember. If we are striving to be the people of Christ, true disciples, we will indeed impact our nation. We will change our homes, our towns and cities, and our country. We can really, really mean, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven." And in doing His will, we can become exactly what our nation needs: people of Truth and goodness, life and joy. At a time in America where the stuff we have seems to be SO important, we need to remember that who we are is what is needed most. A really smart lady told me so.

Sacred Place of the Day

Cross in the Woods, Indian River, MI

Whose life is it anyway?

Apparently, the Media Machine is all heated up over the unauthorized bio of Oprah written by Kitty Kelley. I don’t know much about Ms. Kelley, but I did watch a bit of an interview with her on the Sunday Morning show on CBS yesterday.

Ms. Kelley said she got interested in biographies when she was a school girl in a Catholic school, where the “only” biographies were the ones of Catholic saints. Then she made the comment that she thought the interest in saints’ lives has led directly to our society's current obsession with celebrity.

I don’t think so.

Was Mother Teresa plastered all over glossy magazine covers, week after week ("Learn Mother Teresa's Terrific Tips to Spiritual Happiness!")? How many people in our current society (even those who ARE Catholic) know who “The Little Flower” is? You might find someone who can identify St. Francis of Assisi as “that guy with the animals”, but would they know about his stigmata?

My husband and I joke that the Tallest Son has ADOS: Attention Deficit-Oh Shiny. Our society clearly has the same malady. We like shiny, pretty things: girls with glossy hair, manly men with toothy smiles. We want to know what toilet paper, what dental floss, what coffee these picturesque people use. We think that imitating them will allow us to have a pretty, popular, perfect life. The problem is, we don't want to DO anything to get that life; we just want to buy it.

And that's the problem. We can't buy what the saints are selling. They're selling Jesus and the Christian life, and we can't buy that: we can only do it. And doing it isn't much fun: there is a big, heavy cross to lug around, people point at you and make fun of your choices, you have to do a lot of things you don't want to do but know that you must do to be the person you are meant to be, and most of all, there is no reward for it all in this life. That comes later. Nothing shiny, pretty or popular here. Not a glossy magazine cover in sight.

Ms. Kelley has it all wrong: celebrity and saints are not the same thing. Celebrity is about the here and now, and all about the self. Sainthood flips that on it's pretty head: store your treasure in Heaven and serve God and others. It probably won't sell any new books for Ms. Kelley, but I think she should re-read those Catholic saints' bios again. It may not get her another best seller, but it might get her a life.

Sacred Place of the Day

Tiger's Nest Buddhist Monastery in Bhutan

Is there a question in there somewhere?

As a teacher, one is never supposed to say, "That's a stupid question." We are supposed to say, "There are no stupid questions"....but there are.

My two most favorite stupid questions are, "Is this gonna be on the test?" and "I was absent yesterday; did we do anything?" (My answer to that one is always the same: "No. we all missed you so much we just put our heads down on our desks and wept. We got nothing accomplished.")

I have been thinking about questions this week. A couple teacher pals and I are working on putting some solid critical thinking skills into a school-wide curriculum, and the essence of critical thinking is learning to ask questions.

One of the things that I read is that a question is a signal to our brains to get into gear, sally forth, explore and expand. An answer, although satisfying, signals our brains to stop. Makes sense, huh?

Pablo Picasso is quoted as saying, "Computers are useless. They only give answers." There is something to that. I know that when I interact with a fabulous piece of art (physical art, a novel, a movie), it generates a million questions that rattle about. The only questions my computer seems to generate are ones like, "What the hell is wrong with this thing????"

I try to teach my students that God is all about questions, and that all questions are fair. In fact, He's the Ultimate Question and the Ultimate Questioner, and life is all about exploring the vastness of that. It occurs to me that people who are spiritually miserable are the ones who think they've gotten the answers and are unsatisfied with them. They've stopped asking the questions.

Sacred Place of the Day

Ise Shrine in Japan. The most interesting thing about this place, other than its beauty, is that it is completely rebuilt every 20 years, EXACTLY the same. That way, it is eternal and yet always new.

Sacred Place of the Day

Haeinsa Temple in South Korea

As a Franciscan, I know I shouldn't care about shoes....

....but I just can't help myself!

Wabi Sabi

"Hello. My name is Elise, and I'm a perfectionist."

"Hello, Elise."

"Wabi sabi" is the Japanese aesthetic that the imperfect is not only beautiful, but makes our world MORE beautiful. A vase with a slightly cracked glaze is not ugly, bad or ruined - the cracked glaze is part of the beauty. It has been a long time coming, but I'm starting to enjoy this whole wabi-sabi worldview.

For a lot of dreary, psychological, family-dynamic reasons, I believed that if I wasn't perfect, things would fall apart. By "things", I mean everything: me, the world, possibly the universe. My errors would cause a rift in the space-time continuum, pigs would fly and aliens would suffer migraines without knowing the cause. If I was a minute late, turned in a paper with a typo or over-cooked the chicken, gravity would cease to exist, people would point and laugh, and I would be ruined. Wrong. Broken. Very, very bad.

Let me tell you, it's hard to keep this up. Tough. Some might say impossible, but of course, we perfectionists don't accept that: we sally forth, making ourselves and everyone around us miserable in the attempt to balance all things in our puny little hands. It is not a very happy way to live.

God tried to intervene, but I ignored him. He tried harder; I ignored harder. As with any addict, I needed an intervention, and He intervened.

God sent me exactly what I needed: five wildly, crazily, sloppily, awesomely imperfect kids to teach me that wabi-sabi is the way to go. My kids, all adopted, were all born cocaine-exposed, and have suffered a wide-range of issues because of it. Try as I might, I cannot create a perfect family. And I don't want to.

Eldest Son was a mess from the day we got him, and he just got messier. Now, he's graduating from high school and getting ready to head to the university. He has done work on himself that would have broken others, and he's done so well. But the glazed is cracked.

Tallest Son has the attention span of a hyperactive puppy, but has some sort of mystical gift with all things electronic - the Computer Whisperer. But the glaze is still cracked.

Curly-Haired Daughter wants to dig into the grim, dirty emotional stuff of herself and life, but Lordy, that girl can draw. And write. I'm amazed at her art. But the glaze is still cracked.

Dark-haired Daughter has demons the rest of us can't even fathom. Her emotions are amplified and out-of-control, and it takes the sheer force of her will to get the through a typical day in one piece. She's also loving and empathetic, sweet and helpful. The glaze is still cracked.

Eating-machine Son can be cranky, contentious, weirdly set in his ways. Little disturbances become explosions. He's also got an eye for detail that most artists would envy, is funny, sweet and compassionate. And yeah, his glaze is cracked.

I can say with honesty, appreciation and love: I like the cracks. I've learned to embrace and enjoy the cracks. The imperfections are beautiful - not easy, not planned - but beautiful. Even though I still occasionally struggle with perfectionism, wabi-sabi is so much more fun.

Who knew that the cracks would be the very thing that holds me together?

The World Mobility Problem

I thought this was going to be rather lame, but this guy gets my Hero Nomination for the week. Anybody can be a saint!

Sacred Spot of the Day

San Lorenzo in Rome. For those of you unfamiliar with the martyr St. Lawrence, he was burned to death. He famously said, in the midst of being roasted, "Turn me over; I'm done on this side."

Acton Institute - On tap

Come join the Acton Institute University this summer - it'll be a great time!

Sometimes It Stinks

My commute stinks. Literally.

I live in a fairly rural area, and my commute is mainly rural. No complaints from me, as I enjoy the trip through the corn fields, apple orchards and dairy farms, especially this time of year when the apple blossom are getting ready to burst.

However, it also comes with stink, and lots of it. Farmers are cleaning out barns, spreading liquid manure (a special kind of aromatic experience), windows are open, and it smells...bad.

Spiritual life is like this. I will be going along, windows down, singing, enjoying the view, and then's like running over a skunk. The stink of sin and tear-inducing whallop of suffering hits. I want to put all the windows up, ward off the smell, but that doesn't help. It still seeps in. It stinks, and there is very little I can do except endure.

Then, it's gone. In the spiritual life, I have to confess, pray, hold my nose against my own stupid selfishness, put my head down against that cruel comment, and then it's all apple blossoms and freshness again.

Don't let the stink get you down, folks, on the only commute that counts - the one to Heaven.

Sacred Place of the Day

Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow - breathtaking!

"Hey, it's not hurting anybody"

One of the hardest things to get teens to understand is that our sin - EVEN WHEN NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT IT - hurts others. That was sophomore class discussion today.

My first example was this: a guy, alone, looking at porn. Nobody else involved. "Hey, it doesn't hurt anybody." To their credit, my students were able to work through this: it hurts him, hurts his relationships with women, supports an industry that shouldn't even exist, etc. (And no, I'm not disillusioned or naive; I know a lot of them struggle with porn themselves.)

My next example was tougher for them. What if I, every time I see a certain student, think, "Geez, I hate that kid..." I don't badmouth that kid to anyone, don't talk about him in the teacher's lounge, don't complain about him to my husband. I just think, "I hate that kid" every time I see him. Is that a sin? Yes. Does it affect anyone? And that's where they got stuck.

It's ridiculously hard for all of us to think that our private foibles and "naughty" thoughts aren't just that: private. But as much as we rationalize it, such negativity really does affect us and others.

I asked my students, "Do you think that Christ looks at anyone that way?" (One student pulled out the inevitable Hitler answer - like Hitler is the only evil guy ever...), but they had to admit that no, Christ didn't look at anyone that way. Then I asked, "And aren't we supposed to be like Christ?"

Teaching faith often means telling people stuff they don't want to hear, and telling teens that thinking mean thoughts is a sin is definitely something they don't want to hear.

Come to think of it, neither do I. Guess we all have some work to do.

Questions for God

My first question for God, should I make it to Heaven, will be: "What were you thinking with the platypus? Was it a box of spare parts? A whim? What?" I figure that I'll have eternity to ask all those heady theological questions, so I'll get this stuff out of the way first....

What do you want to ask God?

Being led where you do not want to go

In my family, the question asked on car trips was not, "Are we there yet?" but "Are we lost yet?" My mother cannot read maps and my father could not follow directions. We have been lost in every state east of the Mississippi (and a few to the west), in Canada and on the island of Puerto Rico. Not being where we wanted to be was a highlight of family vacations.

In today's Gospel, from John, Jesus pointedly tells Peter that he will be led "where you do not want to go". This seems to be a fairly consistent road map for the Christian spiritual life.

As I look back over the past two decades of my life, I can see many times where Christ has led me where I do not want to go. I have traveled paths leading to psychologists and psychiatrists, therapists of every ilk, court rooms and emergency rooms, therapy sessions and interviews. There was even one memorable evening where a chipper activities director at a group home where one of my kids was residing at the time told me I HAD to participate in a family volleyball game. Since she wasn't Christ, that was one path I didn't go down. (I did my time in high school gym class, and I ain't never going back!)

What are the options when one is being led down an unfamiliar and uncomfortable road?

You can stop. Just stay put. Refuse to take another step. Of course, then you are, well....stuck.

You can forge ahead, aimlessly tromping around, hopeful that eventually, something familiar will pop up and guide you in the right direction. This was often my dad's choice. On one occasion, this led us to a very "interesting" neighborhood in Boston where, if we had spent any more time than we did, we probably would have been initiated into a gang. On the other hand, sometimes you - quite by accident - find out where you need to go. Total crap shoot.

You can turn around and go back. Stick with what is familliar. No adventure, but no surprises (good or bad) either. All comfort, no crown.

The least popular choice, but the one that will always bear fruit, is to trust. Trust that Christ's option is ALWAYS better than yours. Trust that being led where you do not want to go does NOT mean being led somewhere bad. Oh, it might be scary and hard, but it won't be bad. Christ's path requires us to carry our cross (or drag it, as is often the case for me), but it also leads us to Easter. Christ's path is the path of crucifixion and resurrection, failing and stumbling, but also being raised up. When Christ says, "Follow me", it often seems like a step off into an abyss, but we are tethered to Christ.

Suits me just fine.....

I wish to be handled with cake, so this is fine with me.

Who should be apologizing?

In today's Grand Rapids Press, Juanita Westaby announces her shame of being Catholic, her ruminations about leaving the Catholic Church and finally, "apologizes" to everyone who's ever been hurt by a member of the Church. (You can read her column here: ) All of this is in light of the priest abuse allegations and scandal now swirling in Europe.

I have a problem with this. Honestly, I have more than one problem with this, but let's tackle one thing at a time.

Who does Juanita Westaby think she is?

The sexual abuse of any child is a horror. The sexual abuse of a child by someone who should be the safest person to that child (a teacher, a relative, a pastor, a youth group leader) is made more horrific by the total depravation of a child's trust. The sexual abuse of a child by someone who is meant to represent Christ is beyond horrific. None of this is at question.

It does not appear that Ms. Westaby has ever committed such a crime. Neither, as a life-long member of the Catholic Church, have I. And I'm not about to apologize to anyone for this horror. Am I wrong, or is she?

She says, "All the wishing in the world on my part won't change that [the betrayal of the victims]. My lifetime faith in this church is not enough. I can't do anything about this, except one thing." And that one thing is to apologize.

I also cannot imagine what an apology from this seemingly nice lady would do for ANY victim of anyone who's been hurt by the Church. That's an empty apology if I've ever seen one. What is the value of an insincere, misguided apology?

I also would tell her that she should save her apologetic breath and pray for all the good priests who cannot hug a kid without casting suspicions on themselves. She should pray for the souls of all those who played checkers with the guilty priests, moving them from parish to parish like plastic play pieces on a game board. She should pray that the spirit of forgiveness can penetrate the souls of the hurt, the damaged, the victimized, and that healing can be realized for all of them.

By offering an apology on behalf of the Church, the Church is further scandalized. That type of apology is empty and the people who truly need to be held accountable are "off the hook", so to speak.

We, the Church, should not settle for this. And I'm not apologizing.
(photo from

Just another blog?

Clearly, I am hoping this will not be just another blog. I'd like to win a Pulitzer (oh, they don't have those for blogs, do they?), but I am realistic.

I have something to say. Hopefully, I will find an audience. As the mother of five teens, and a high school teacher, I am used to being ignored on a regular basis, but I have confidence (and better yet, faith!) that I will find my way in the blog-sphere.

So, why the title, "Kissing the Leper"? Many people are familiar with St. Francis of Assisi as "that guy who liked animals", but his spirituality and story are much richer than that. As a young man, he was a "party animal", with delusions of grandeur in the military life. This was not God's plan.

You can read about Francis' conversion in a lot of places, but he always had a deep aversion to the lepers that found refuge outside the city limits. They were most certainly pitiable folks, relegated to the very bottom of society, and burdened with a disfiguring disease. Francis could not bear them.

However, as his faith deepened, and as his call to Christ became more pronounced, Francis was drawn to these people, and actually came to embrace them, both literally and figuratively. He kissed the leper, and in doing so, found love and Christ in a place where previously he had been disgusted.

I'm not saying I'm disgusted with things that have happened to me, but I can certainly say I've had to face challenges that I never would have chosen. Like Francis, though, I have found these experiences have only brought me closer to Christ.

That's what "Kissing the Leper" is going to be about: facing challenges, planned and unplanned, and knowing that somehow, some way, that kiss will bear spiritual fruit.

The Best Laid Plans...

About 20 years or so ago, I stopped giving up things for Lent. It's not that I didn't find it a worthy practice; I did. It's ...