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July 11th, 2011

I have J.K. Rowling to thank for much of my literary upbringing. Without the Harry Potter series, I am not sure that I would have ever loved reading as much as I do now. I was in the third grade when I was introduced to the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My grandmother gave it to me as a gift, but I put it on the shelf and didn’t think much of it. Then, when a friend of mine brought in her copy for Sunday school show-and-tell and raved about it, I reconsidered. I went home and found Harry Potter… sitting on my bookshelf, just where I had put it a few months before.
Looking at the cover (and since at age 8, every book I read was judged by its cover), I was skeptical. There was a goofy bespectacled kid on a

July 8th, 2011

I never really knew what the word Catholic meant until I went to Stanford. In my previous Catholic school life it was never a label, never anything I would be judged for. It was just what everybody was.
The “college me” came ready for changes, wanting to learn from new perspectives and walks of life. So I made tons of friends, raging with the best of them. Just in my own undercover Catholic way.
When friends shared post-hookup details that made me incredibly uncomfortable at brunch, I’d get up and get more food. When people vehemently put down religion in class, I busied myself with an important text. I toed a fine line between staying true to my personal boundaries and being like any other Stanford…

July 7th, 2011

As a girl growing up in Alabama, I thought I knew tornadoes. Drills in the school hallway were routine. Standard protocol at the sound of sirens was to grab a pillow before huddling in the hall bathroom at my family’s home. I have seen their devastating damage firsthand, but witnessing the aftermath of the destruction that swept through Joplin, Missouri, in late May was utterly unfamiliar.

Leveled neighborhoods as far as you could see were indescribable. Trees stripped of their familiar bark now had steel contortioned among their limbs like pipe cleaners. There was the occasional semblance of “what once was” among the destruction — kitchen tables still poised without kitchen walls, children’s toys strewn on debris-cluttered lawns, the nativity set salvaged from the vestry. These are the physical marks that comingle with the grief and mourning for the shared loss of the tornado’s death toll, the stories of miraculous survival, and the superhuman acts of rescue.

July 6th, 2011
Letting go of projections and negative judgments

A friend told me she’d given up negative thinking for Lent this year. “How hard could that be?” I thought. “Way easier than giving up caffeine.” I adopted the practice as well, and found almost immediately that, just as with meditation, I cannot do it anywhere close to perfectly. Or even 25 percent of the time. But, again like meditation, the practice is actually in the noticing that you are not doing it perfectly and gently steering back to friendlier turf. You do this over and over and over, in the way, as Jack Kornfield says, you train a puppy to pee on the newspaper instead of the rug.
And while I didn’t have a single day that was truly free from negative thinking, let alone complaining…

June 29th, 2011

Get in Touch with Nature:

Go for a hike
It doesn’t matter if you live near the mountains — going for a hike, or a long walk through nature, is a great way to get outdoors and get away close to home. Find a state or national park, pack a picnic, bring your friends, and have a great day trip. The best part? The only thing you’ll pay for is gas.
Go on a bike tour
If you live near the shore, this is an especially great idea. Bike paths and easy-to-manage terrain make beach biking relaxing and fun, with beautiful views and cool ocean breezes. Make a few pit stops for ice cream or cold drinks along the way.
Go boating…
Whatever body of water you live near — lake, river, ocean, bay — take advantage of the aquatic

June 27th, 2011

I am lucky to have intelligent friends. They help edit my prose and engage me in witty conversation. And while I value them greatly, I lament there is one thing of which I am envious of them: their realm of education. Many of my friends attended impressive houses of learning — Rutgers, NYU, Columbia and even fair Harvard! I covet their diplomas and access to the college networks they belong to on Facebook, for my alma mater — humble Saint Bonaventure — has neither the prestige of the Ivies nor big time college football like Rutgers.
We are a small Franciscan school in the snowy mountains of Western New York, and our school colors are even demure brown and white. The school numbers around 2,000 undergrads…

June 22nd, 2011
The downside of all the non-consumption advice

Blogs on “minimalist living” clutter the internet these days with suggestions on how to pare down one’s possessions, work commitments and daily routines. The minimalist motto? Thoreau’s famous quip: “Simplify, simplify.” Like the 19th-century American minimalist, these bloggers praise a life stripped to its essentials — but in a kind of modernized, Mac-friendly fashion. From Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits, one of Time Magazine’s Best Blogs of 2010, to Miss Minimalist, whose owner boasts an eBook ranked among Best Books of 2010 by Amazon.com’s editors, minimalist bloggers often scoff at collections of fancy cars and cavernous homes…

June 19th, 2011
A Father's Day Reflection

In that cosmically complex and fun butterfly effect way of looking at the world, we may never have been born if it wasn’t for Thomas Merton, the world’s most prominent Catholic monk and prolific author. Besides being a father himself before entering the monastery and Catholic priesthood (thank God Catholics and spiritual seekers everywhere have such a wild and real role model to look to), Merton has always played a huge role in the mythology and background story of our own father and was always the subject of many memories shared in the evenings over family dinners.

In the early 1960s, inspired by The Seven Storey Mountain, our dad decided to follow what he thought was his calling and go join the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Kentucky monastery made famous by Merton.

June 10th, 2011
Why doesn't the Church sell this?

Trying to explain Confession (the Sacrament of Reconciliation) to non-Catholics reminds me of that old cartoon by James Thurber where a woman is in the middle of a room, nervously expecting electricity to leak out of the sockets. She knows it’s there — she realizes it “works” — but she can’t explain it, and it is also a tad frightening.
Before my conversion I heard vague rumors about confessing with a priest. I wondered, “What an odd thing! What do they do? What do they say…?” (Those strange Catholic people…) I didn’t experience Reconciliation until just before the Easter Vigil on the year I was officially welcomed into the church.
All of my old sins

June 6th, 2011
Taken from The Freshman Survival Guide

So you’ve just graduated high school. Congratulations! When people ask you, “So what are you doing in the fall?” you know the answer. Maybe you’ve chosen a major already. You might even know who your roommate is. You’ve got the world by the tail. Right? Or maybe you’ve already started to lie awake at night wondering and worrying about life at college. What if you get homesick (you probably will) or have a hard time making friends (you probably won’t)? What if the work is too hard or the food is lousy or your professors are mean (they might be)?
We have just the thing to keep you worry-free and sleeping peacefully during this beautiful golden season between the end of high school…

June 2nd, 2011
Reviving an abstinence tradition that never really went away

A few weeks ago, when the bishops of England and Wales decided to reestablish the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays, I had been thinking about the issue already after seeing friends struggle with the few Fridays of Lent. I have abstained from “meat” on Fridays since becoming Catholic. (I put meat in quotes because seafood is allowed.) Since Vatican II, this practice hasn’t been required — one well-meaning friend even suggested I was being disobedient by doing it — but when I discovered during my conversion that the tradition was not eliminated but just made non-mandatory, I said to myself, “I think I’d like to do that anyway.”

Meat-free Fridays were a given from at least the ninth century, but it seems that when things were loosened in the 1960s, Catholics said a collective sigh of, “Well, glad that nuisance is over,” and started eating meat seven days a week. The Church never removed the requirement that one do something penitential every Friday (abstinence being one option), but many Catholics I talk to don’t even know this. I’d like to join with the English and Welsh bishops in suggesting a return to the tradition of meat-free Fridays.

May 31st, 2011
The tragedy of trapping religious art

First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up.
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences;
It’s their own fault for being timeless.
There’s a price you pay and a consequence.
All the galleries, the museums;
They will stay there forever and a day.
All the rowboats in the oil paintings
They keep trying to row away, row away……

– Regina Spektor
Have you ever been lost in a work of art? I count among my biggest hobbies imagining life inside of a painting. Fortunate enough to live in Manhattan, I often wander over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to observe the works of the masters and stroll through the halls taking in the human accomplishments that line the galleries. However, there

May 26th, 2011
Spending time outside is nurturing for you spiritually and physically

Making sure to fit nature into my life, and encouraging others to do to the same, is a passion of mine. As a writer, it’s easy enough to stay holed up indoors in a room in front of my computer all day, but my encounters with the divine in nature helped form — and, it would be the right word choice to say, nurture — my spiritual path. Nature continues to ground me in my connection to the spiritual dimension of reality.

The fact that I live in a city, without any outdoor space of my own — no backyard or balcony — doesn’t mean it’s difficult to make this happen. There are parks all around, and just a walk in the sun down city streets can be enriching. For example, after working in the office, I often go to a park and spent a little time birdwatching or just strolling.

And contrary to all the neo-Luddite moaning out there, technology is now making it easier to stay connected with the non-technological world. Many of the advances in recent years have focused on untethering people from their desks. I am writing this column on my iPad; not only can I write it but even file it while sitting on a log in the middle of the woods, or on the grass in a city park. (OK, well, as long as there’s an AT&T signal.)

May 24th, 2011
A questioning look at this strange Catholic tradition

Is anyone else as creeped out by martyrs as I am? As a Catholic convert, I still find parts of the church strange and alien, and martyrs are right at the top of “strange and alien” for me.
Maybe it’s because I love my life so much. Maybe it’s because I cannot understand a God who would require that kind of bloody sacrifice. Maybe it’s the idea of people singing (hopefully in key) as they go to a gory death. There’s Maximillian, an early Christian who refused to fight in the Roman army of Diocletian (who was famous for his widespread slaughter of Christians), saying, “I serve in God’s army and will not fight in this one.” Something to that effect. I like that; I just…

May 20th, 2011
Video highlights from the Mary Karr event

Ms. Karr shares stories about her struggle with faith and her unlikely conversion to Catholicism. From the people in the Church who have inspired her to the ways she has found God speaking to her throughout her life, Ms. Karr’s candid tales amuse and inspire.

If you missed the live event, and don’t have the time to watch the full interview online, here are some highlights of the evening.

May 17th, 2011
Why this show's exploration of faith vs. reason is so appealing

Exploring the tension between faith and reason is just one of the many interesting elements of the television series, Bones, currently in its sixth season on Fox, and one that keeps me watching each week. The partners do more than just examine crimes, they inform each other and the viewers about the dichotomous worlds from which they approach life.

Booth, a former altar boy, attends Mass every Sunday but doesn’t put much thought into understanding his faith on a deeper level. He doesn’t need to be convinced to believe; he just does. Dr. Brennan, is the polar opposite. Being a forensic anthropologist, she believes that all things can be proven logically thus negating any need for a god. These partners hash out the faith vs. logic debate as they work together solving murders for the FBI.

May 16th, 2011
The challenging implications of seeing Osama as a fellow child of God

When I learned of Osama bin Laden’s death, my immediate reaction was indifference. I didn’t share the jubilant response that seemed to be sweeping the nation, and I didn’t feel much of a sense of relief, either. Then, for a very superficial reason, I realized I was called to more than indifference: I looked at a picture of bin Laden and for a split second I thought, “Jesus Christ probably looked a little bit like that.” It doesn’t seem very spiritually meaningful, but this moment made me think about what it truly means to see Christ in everyone.
Jesus Christ suffered and died for everyone. He freely offers salvation for all who accept it. He shares in our joys and sufferings, and provides…

May 12th, 2011
Staying true to my faith despite human error

God save my Franciscan education, but there has been a distressing trend in the history of our Church. Various popes in our nearly 2,000-year history have been, shall we say, far, far less than admirable? I suppose it’s a mere statistical matter that out of 265 successors to Saint Peter at least a handful would be indefensibly terrible. From the Inquisitions to burnings and the Crusades, the papacy has sponsored some of the most disgusting acts of human cruelty in recorded history.
As a recovering history major, I spend hours of my free time reading books that reflect my studies. This winter, I completed a 1969 work by historian E. R. Chamberlin entitled The Bad Popes. …The book is made up of brief biographical

May 9th, 2011
Roland Joffé's new film is part biopic, part inspirational drama, part epic war story

For some, it will not be possible to separate the movie There Be Dragons from their views about Opus Dei, as it tells the story of that organization’s founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá. The majority of viewers, though — whose only awareness of Opus Dei is the absurd fictional albino killer monk in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code — will find an inspiring and moving, if at times melodramatic and muddy, film about forgiveness and the choices people make in tough times.

It will be hard to walk away from There Be Dragons without admiring Josemaria. Much of the credit for this compelling portrayal of the future saint goes to British actor Charlie Cox, known for his starring roles in Stardust and Stone of Destiny — the latter a delightful film and one of my favorites of the last few years. (I interviewed Cox about the movie several weeks ago and you can read that conversation here .) It would have been easy to portray Josemaria as either too pious or too worldly, but Cox and writer/director Roland Joffé strike the right balance, giving the character both human vulnerability and the sense of someone following a divine calling.

But, ultimately, the film isn’t even centered on Josemaria.

May 5th, 2011
And why the Gaga haters hate her

The video for Lady Gaga’s song “Judas” has premiered, ending weeks of speculation stirred up by several religious spokespeople who denounced it before seeing it. The video is set in a motorcycle gang; Jesus is the leader, Judas a thuggish member and Gaga is torn by her attraction to both. As a quick first reaction, I find it moving, both artistically and spiritually. What has always fascinated and frustrated me is the disconnect between the Gaga haters and what I, and some of my friends, see in her work. Many of my religious young adult friends love Gaga; most of the rest don’t have any serious problem with her. They understand what she’s trying to do, even if it isn’t their taste. This is true across Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals. So, what is it about Gaga that excites one devout person and intimidates another?

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