Busted Halo

Busted Halo contributors look at the intersection of faith and politics and examine the role of the Catholic Church in contemporary society.

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August 22nd, 2013

A destroyed Protestant church is seen in Mallawi, Egypt, August 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A destroyed Protestant church is seen in Mallawi, Egypt, August 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Rowan Williams, the erudite former Archbishop of Canterbury, lamented that some Christians in the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western nations claim “persecution” whenever they don’t get their way.

At the Edinburg International Book Festival, Williams said:

Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers. I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots — perish the thought! But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up. You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society. But don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day. That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.

The brutality that Williams referenced is on full display …

August 14th, 2013

having-enough-3“This flight is overbooked. We’re seeking one volunteer to take a later flight. If you are interested…” I put away the book I was reading and hurriedly made my way to the ticket counter. Five minutes later, I sat with my free flight voucher, delighted at my good fortune.

However, this was the most unusual flight change I’d ever had. My new departure would be from a different airport — a one and one-half hour drive from the one in which I sat. The airline, of course, provided a cab for me.

The driver arrived, took my bags, and off we went. I have yet to meet a cab driver without a fascinating story. So, though I had a book to read, I decided to see if my driver was interested in conversation. I was in luck. And what a story he had.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Sierra Leone,” he said.

“How long have you been in this country?”

“Probably longer than you’ve been alive.” We compared numbers. He was right.

I learned he was one of seven children. But that wasn’t the whole story. His father, as is common in Sierra Leone, was a polygamist.

“So how …

August 13th, 2013

Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan at mosque in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan at mosque in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

When Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy earlier this year, I wrote about the ways in which the new pope could bridge the gap between the Muslim and Catholic worlds. This is not to embellish that these two enormous masses of people are antithetically aligned toward one another. That is certainly not the case. But over the years the Muslim world has seen Church leadership as an antagonizing force that does not respect it. For example, the most recent episode took place in 2006. Pope Benedict XVI angered Muslims worldwide when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who linked Islam and violence in a lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany. The speech came just a year after the Danish cartoon controversy that sparked violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. And although the pontiff later apologized and even made a visit to Turkey, the damage had already been done.

So, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Muslims around the world waited for a fresh start. And a fresh start has been initiated with a message of respect for Muslims during this holy time. Last …

August 8th, 2013
Women pray during a service at the New Life Word Center Church in Sanford, Fla., after the George Zimmerman murder trial. (CNS photo/Steve Nesius, Reuters)

Women pray during a service at the New Life Word Center Church in Sanford, Fla., after the George Zimmerman murder trial. (CNS photo/Steve Nesius, Reuters)

I am not outraged (as some have responded here) that President Obama addressed the nation after the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. He absolutely needed to say something. He cannot pretend that he’s not African-American nor can he pretend that the experience of Trayvon Martin did not resonate with him. The notion that he cannot comment is asking Obama to not be human. We should welcome that the President, who comes from a different background from every other president in history, can offer the country a keen insight into what it is like to grow up as a black man in America.

That said, President Obama spoke of some scenarios I’ve heard before:

“And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and …

August 8th, 2013

traintracksBack in 2009 I took a cross-country train from Boston to San Diego just because it had always been a dream of mine. This summer, I fulfilled the dream again with a trip by rail to the Northwest via the Empire Builder. Like most travel for me, it was spiritual — not a pilgrimage, but a more “focused realness” of God’s presence on my journey. I was not going to a sacred place. The journey itself was what was sacred.

My favorite image of God is “God the Traveller.” He’s the God of accompaniment, the one who journeyed with the 16th and 17th Century missionaries into uncharted lands, meeting strange new people, learning of God’s might and God’s personal love for each person they encountered. He’s the God journeying with pilgrims to World Youth Day, to Lourdes, France, and to the Holy Land. But the Traveller is also on family car trips to grandma’s and in the trucker’s passenger seat on a long haul across the country. Indeed, God was with me on my two summer rail journeys, four years apart.

My discovery of this God-image first happened on one of my rail legs in 2009 when my sleeping car …

August 7th, 2013

Walking along the Camino in the morning fog.

Walking along the Camino in the morning fog.

Not only is it tourist season here in Asheville, North Carolina, but this past weekend was also Bele Chere, a large outdoor music festival that takes over the city for three days. Wanting a reprieve from the crowds, I stepped into the quiet oasis of the Ariel Gallery and headed toward the ceramic piece that brings me the most joy.

I first saw the piece a few months ago. A ceramic church rested on a grassy knoll, a dirt path led to its front door. The whole scene sat inside a journey boat. It captivated me; somehow it reminded me of my Camino: of the paths I walked, the old churches I entered or passed, the peacefulness of being “in the moment” for such an extended period of time. I stared at it, taking it all in. Then I saw the little white card beside the boat. The name of the piece? “The Pilgrimage.”

Beside it sat a similar scene: another boat, but inside this one was a house, a dirt path beside it. It’s title? “The Journey Home.”

I felt like I’d just found my recent life depicted before me. After …

August 7th, 2013

cosmic coke machineNothing thrills quite like finding out that you’ve been acting like a crazy person. I had that experience two summers ago, when I spent eight days at the Manresa House of Retreats in Convent, Louisiana. Manresa is a cluster of old white buildings right beside the Mississippi River. I went there in June. White crepe myrtles snowed blossoms all over the winding garden pathways, and in every chapel doorway were spindly spiders I could consider fascinating from a distance. Most striking of all were the oak trees, mile-high and dripping with Spanish moss. But Manresa wasn’t remarkable for me just because of its beauty, just because it gave me the first hummingbird I had seen all summer and the first red velvet ants I’d seen, well, ever. I’ll always remember the eight days I spent at Manresa as the time I learned where to find my self-worth.

Not that I went to the retreat house expressly for that reason. I’d never done a retreat before, and when my Jesuit friend suggested that we try it out, I expected I would spend the eight days of prayer and contemplation figuring out where my life was headed and invigorating my perfunctory spiritual …

August 6th, 2013

crowds and concreteI harbor not-so-subtle feelings of dislike for nature. Because I cannot plug my hair straightener into a tree nor can I convince any surrounding wildlife to wax my eyebrows, I think nature is best left to admire. From afar. As in, I would love to look at the photos from your 40-mile hike but no, I will not be accompanying you on your next insane, nature-filled funfest. I have fossil fuels to burn through.

All this being said, I have realized that the places where I find God are not where many people find him. While I understand the immense beauty of a sunset or a waterfall, I have trouble finding spirituality in them. For me, I see God in much different places. I see him in the face of the homeless man I pass on my way to work, and on the dirty streets of New York City. I realize that my idea of beauty is vastly different from those around me. But I love crowds and concrete.

During my sophomore year of high school I went on a trip with my drama club to see The 39 Steps (which is utterly fantastic by the way) on Broadway. After …

August 5th, 2013

backseat12I’m sitting in the back seat… again. It’s been a while since I’ve sat back here, looking on over miles and hours at the moving portraits of pine trees, cherry orchards and clear water. I haven’t gone on a vacation with my parents since I was 17, which was a weeks-long trek to Disney World via minivan. I was on the brink of college then and, like any self-respecting adolescent, brimming with impatience and disdain.

Back then my parents seemed almost rooted to their positions in the front of our Dodge Caravan. My dad, firmly secured in the driver’s seat, my mom entrenched at his side, in command of the radio dial to say nothing of our lives. My two sisters losing the unwinnable battle of sitting next to their big brother and his dual obsessions: music and getting into the college of his choice — with little to no interest in the forthcoming sojourn to the “happiest place on earth.” We would intermittently fight over Travel Yahtzee and the last of the Sour Patch Kids as my mother made half-hearted attempts from her perch to divert us from our combat with the license plate game, a contest consisting of …

August 4th, 2013

Yes, World Youth Day Rio has ended, but we shot so much footage it’s still coming in, in a big way. One of my favorite memories from WYD, was our trip to Corcovado. Atop this lush mountain, is an iconic statue of Jesus – “Christ the Redeemer”. Standing tall for nearly a century, this statue represents the man who claimed he was God incarnate.

As we ascended Corcovado in a compact tourist van, which I do believe was driven by a crazy man, I began to think, many people thought that Jesus was pretty crazy, right? He was even put to death by folks who thought his messianic claims had gone too far. And what about today? Is there still a need for Jesus, or for his teachings, or the need to know him? In our present culture is Jesus relevant? So, as we waited in line to see the very big statue of Jesus, I began to ask World Youth Day Pilgrims their thoughts on the real Jesus. And although it was an overcast and rainy day, I do believe the truth shined through clear, tall, and firm. My Spanish is another story……

August 2nd, 2013

nyc-busy-streetsMy old faithful hunter green suitcase trailed behind me as I emerged from the terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York City in April.

Although I had been planning my first trip to the Big Apple for months, my excitement completely disappeared when I ascended from the terminal to be greeted by scowling, impatient faces and noise that buzzed in my eardrums.

My sister met me as I exited the baggage claim area and escorted me to the bus that would take me to the chic Harlem apartment I’d be staying in with a friend.

Instead of being thrilled and excited, waiting for the skyline to appear as I rode the bus for nearly two hours, I concentrated on the frigid air that tickled my feet, whizzed up my legs, and enveloped my upper body.

I was cold. And if anything, the freezing temperatures (unintentionally) acted as a barometer for my overall experience of the city I’d always imagined I’d escape to in order to live out my Carrie Bradshaw dreams — just like every other writing woman with an obsession for Sex and the City.

My weekend in New York was a blur of catching trains named with …

August 1st, 2013

waiting in line 1Warmer temperatures and longer days mean that summer exploration possibilities are endless. Adventure abounds each weekend with local festivals, picnics and trips to the lake. My inner child fondly recalls trips to the amusement park during the summer months. These particular adventures were rewards for good grades, or volunteering as a crossing guard or altar server all school year long.

As a teenager, my friends and I would get dropped off at the park and spend the entire day slurping down sugary drinks and riding rides. We would run from one ride to the next not thinking about the hours we waited in line to get our 90-second adrenaline fix. At the end of the day we would be exhausted, and our parents would ferry us home only to have us recount our adventures at high volume.

Fast-forward 15 years and that same trip to the amusement park looks a bit different. A recent visit to Disneyland brought back some of the aforementioned childhood memories, but the waiting-in-line part took on a different quality. Now, as an over-scheduled young adult, these lines tested my patience.

The adult version of me remembers what it was like experiencing the rush of roller …

July 31st, 2013

london7“Anger is seldom without reason, but never a good one.” — Benjamin Franklin

The lights of Piccadilly Circus whirled by at a steady pace as I led the small group of choir students down the side streets of a post-midnight London. I was appointed leader out of everyone in the group since I had already lived in the city for six months. Because the choir was only there for a few days, I thought that a low-key evening of clubbing would be a nice way to get exposure to a more accurate picture of London, beyond postcards of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. While we had fun over the course of the night, there was one major problem.

One of the members of the group was particularly convinced that his prowess exceeded mine, despite the fact that he had only visited for a few weeks a few years ago.

“That cab’s available, you know,” he squawked as an empty cab passed by.

“Jack, the yellow light’s off — he’s off duty,” I replied.

“Oh.” He ardently searched for some way home as I led the small battalion through the web of fluorescent-lit streets.

During the next 45 minutes, he …

July 30th, 2013

Hot off the heals of World Youth Day Rio, Pope Francis is still making headlines. Luckily, we were able to see this rock star pope up close not just once, but twice, the latter time as he arrived at Copacabana beach to celebrate Mass. We’ve all seen images of this pontiff celebrating Mass, visiting the poor, getting on and off a plane, etc., but what happens when he hits the beach for the first time?

I was on the beach along with 1.5 million other World Youth Day Pilgrims, all pushing to get a view of the man entrusted with the keys of Peter. In the process I lost Jimmy, and asked some pilgrims why we need a pope and what he does for our Church.…

July 30th, 2013

vacation-sneakupSince my move to Boston from Chicago, people often ask me what’s different about living in the Northeast versus the Midwest. Are people unfriendly? Are they more liberal? Is the traffic worse?

I politely answer all of their queries and usually dispel some stereotypes in the process. However, I have to admit, I have asked myself those same questions: What is different about where I live now versus the Midwest? What do or don’t I like about my new home?

I’ve found an overwhelming number of things that I like, and few that I don’t. One of those things that I like I discovered, somewhat unexpectedly, on a weekend in early June.

I was delighted to receive an invitation to the ordination and Mass of Thanksgiving of a college friend, who was in the final stages of Jesuit formation. Having a slight obsession with the Jesuits and eager to support my friend, I looked forward to the occasion. Also, having been city-grounded for months, I was anxious to get out of Boston to attend the events near Watch Hill, Rhode Island, almost two hours away.

The two hour difference

In the Midwest, there are such things as day …

July 27th, 2013

What is your vocation? No, I’m not asking where you went on your summer trip, but rather what is God inviting you to do? At World Youth Day, a big focus has been on the exploration of religious vocations, whether one is called to be a priest, brother, or nun. We spoke to some pilgrims who had questions about the call, and got responses from those who have already answered theirs. In the process we had a lot of fun, and assured one pilgrim you don’t have to fit a certain mold to bring great glory to God.…

July 26th, 2013
Returning from college after graduation to a new place and making it home

home-with-parents2Now that I have graduated from college (woot woot) without yet landing a solid job, I don’t know what to do with myself. It makes me dread these summer months. To add an even greater degree of difficulty, I am dealing with all these feelings of unemployment and uncertainty in a new home, in a new city, in a new state. While this might have the makings of a great and exciting summer adventure, when my dad and mom picked me up from the airport in Austin, I was not ready to embrace those positive feelings. I only experienced feelings of strangeness. I was on some sort of vacation at my parents’ new house, which just felt uncomfortable.

Beaming, they took my twin brother — who had already been home for a week — and me to one of their favorite restaurants on Lake Travis. It was beautiful and the food was delicious, but it still did not feel like home. Of course my dad was eager to show me around the place he so easily and genuinely calls home. The next morning he took me to Mount Bonnell, a beautiful mountain with breathtaking views of the Austin …

July 25th, 2013

It would be hard to find a place on earth that better showcases the unity of the Catholic Church than here at World Youth Day. Hundreds of thousands of young people, all different, yet united by their faith, have gathered together here. Imagine a huge amount of Catholics coming together to worship at Mass. Now imagine them representing their countries with pride and talking about what faith is like back home. Finally, throw in a four mile beach that serves as the church. Ok, now stop imagining and watch it all right now!…

July 25th, 2013

President Barack Obama talks about the Trayvon Martin case at the White House. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

President Barack Obama talks about the Trayvon Martin case at the White House. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

I was at a restaurant in the H Street corridor, a so-called up-and-coming neighborhood in northeast Washington, D.C., a couple weekends ago. Edison bulbs hung from the ceiling. Diners enjoyed 12- and 14-dollar artisanal drinks. Much of the menu consisted of organic, farm-to-table ingredients. At the bar, a group of three white men were drinking when the local Fox affiliate interrupted the Nationals baseball game. The jury in the George Zimmerman trial had reached a verdict. As it was announced that Zimmerman had been found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the three white guys erupted into cheers. My friend and I paid our bill and left the restaurant. On the walk back to our car, the contrast between the scene inside the restaurant, a mostly white crowd enjoying fairly expensive meals, to the still transitioning neighborhood, home to mainly low-income minorities, was stark.

Over the past several days, the response to the Zimmerman verdict has included protests in major U.S. cities, countless editorials and blog posts, and even a reflection by President Obama. …

July 24th, 2013

It’s an understatement to say that it has been an absolutely amazing time for us since landing in Rio. Having never traveled to another country, I didn’t know what I should expect, but everything seems to be coming together, as if God was guiding this whole Busted Halo® pilgrimage.

Shortly after we arrived, we found out that the pope was going to drive right past us — and, boy did we get to see him close up! We spoke to a few other young Catholic pilgrims from all over the world about this unique experience. Reflecting on this whole event, it’s hard not to say that God isn’t guiding it with his own hand. Knowing this, I’m filled with confidence and excitement for all that the rest of the week will bring us.…

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