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Showing posts from April, 2010

Only in Duh-merica

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 know…

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…

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, a…

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 Ed…

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 …

Sacred Place of the Day

Tiger's Nest Buddhist Monastery in Bhutan

Only in Duh-merica

Sacred Place of the Day

Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, MN

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 onl…

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, it's hard to keep thi…

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 bam.....it'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…

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 ridiculousl…

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 ti…

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: http://www.mlive.com/living/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2010/04/juanity_westaby_as_a_catholic.html ) 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 n…

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 …