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January 11th, 2011
(1930-2010)

I’m 7 years old and the Yankees are king. It seems as if they never lose and I hate them with a passion. Their owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin argue publicly over the way the team should be run. They even take their screaming match to TV and jokingly poke fun at their rift in a light beer commercial. “Tastes great” and “less filling” are the least of their problems. Their public feud gives New Yorkers something to talk about. And it all keeps Steinbrenner on the back pages. My childhood saw more of Steinbrenner on the back pages of the local papers than I can recall.
It’s amazing how much one remembers from childhood and George Steinbrenner’s was no different.…

January 10th, 2011
Walter Parker (1939 - 2010)

When my neighbor Walter Parker passed away in October, I knew the following: he was one of the sweetest people I’d ever met; he spent a lot of time in front of our building shooting the breeze, or just enjoying it; and he had some crazy-sweet deal on his rent. That was about it. Walter was my neighbor for 15 years and occasionally we chatted, usually about the building or the weather, or something equally innocuous; often I would just nod and say “hi” and he’d do the same.
But when I attended his memorial service at Grace Church, I was startled to discover that Walter was a prominent and active member of his church community and a serious student of the Bible.
My first thought was, “Oh, what…

January 6th, 2011
(1925-2010)

“We’re like sisters!” the big ugly woman with the Bronx baritone replied caustically and I laughed. I laughed so hard I had to roll off of my 8-year-old belly so as not to hurt myself on that bleak Friday night in front of my grandmother’s old RCA television. My sense of humor, still in its embryonic stage, didn’t grasp a lot of the humor in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, but Tony Curtis in drag attempting to justify his relationship with Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar Kane was one of the funniest things I had seen in my young life.
Tony Curtis was easily the best part of my first excursion into the world of black-and-white films — or any film that pre-dates Star Wars…, for that

January 5th, 2011
Alexander McQueen (1969 - 2010), Mark Linkous (1962 - 2010) and Andrew Koenig (1968 - 2010)

These people, who had contributed much to the world; who could be gratified by the lives they had touched; who seemed to have a passion and a calling; who had more accomplishments to point at than most of us ever do — each took his own life, a heinous act of nihilism, in his 40s. This past year saw the campaign, “It gets better,” telling kids struggling with bullying to stick it out, saying that once you grow up, you can put all that in perspective and move on with your life. Well, many people struggle with depression and hopelessness as adults too…

January 5th, 2011
Encounters at the Jon Stewart - Stephen Colbert rally

Ask most any twentysomething in the United States where they get their news from these days, and one of their answers, if not the only one, will undoubtedly be The Daily Show or The Colbert Report…. The two hit satirical news programs from Comedy Central attempt to weed through the inundation of far right and far left, always opinionated, and often extreme cable news shows. Replaying one-sided and frequently ridiculous clips from Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and the big three networks, these shows attempt to bring to their viewers a filtered bit of truth (or truthiness, as Colbert would say) about politics and the media.
The goal each night for both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is to shine a half-hour’s light of sanity

January 4th, 2011
The passing of Barbara Billingsley (1915-2010), Peter Graves (1926-2010) and Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

Bob Hope, at his peak, was considered one of the funniest men on the planet. But show his performances to someone from the generations who have come after him and they may not elicit a lot of laughs. It’s not because Bob Hope wasn’t a good comedian, but because his humor was so dependent upon the time, place and circumstances in which the jokes were told. Consequently, if the time, place and circumstances are removed from the equation, the humor being conveyed loses most — if not all — of its impact.
I mention this because 30 years after the film’s release, Airplane!… remains one of the funniest movies ever made. Gag after gag is packed into this film like a carry-on bag stuffed with three

January 2nd, 2011
How to know if it's time to walk down the aisle or go your separate ways

Matt, 29, and his girlfriend, Kelly, 28, have been dating for four years and living together for two. They were both raised Catholic, attend Church occasionally, and joke about “living in sin” and being “semi-married.” Kelly told me she was OK moving in with Matt because she just assumed that this was a step in the right direction — toward real marriage. But in the last few months, each time she’s brought up the future in some oblique way, Matt has dodged the issue. “I talk to his parents all the time. We spend most holidays together,” she said. “But I’m just not sure where this is going right now, and I’m beginning to get worried.”
Sound

December 31st, 2010
(1919-2010)

Holden Caulfield’s Moments of Grace
The spiritual wisdom of Salinger’s famous teen
Midway through J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye…, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, notices a child walking along the streets of New York City. Even though Holden is in a bad way — he’s flunked out of school; he feels isolated from nearly everyone he knows — the child lifts his spirits.
“He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’ He had a pretty little voice, too.

December 30th, 2010
(1973-2010)

Hospice.
The word sounds ominous enough when it’s spoken in reference to an older person, but when it’s used to describe the dying months of a 37-year-old woman, it is dreadful to my ears.
One of my all-time favorite people, Elizabeth Bonwich — or “EEEEEEEEEEEEE BEEEEEEEEEE” as I would call her in my best “public address announcer” voice whenever I greeted her — spent her last few months in hospice. She died on Saturday Dec. 18th in the late evening. Elizabeth had five different kinds of cancer for nearly 20 years. Cancer robbed her of her ability to walk without a brace and a cane, caused a constant ringing in her ears and, in general, gave her lots of reasons to…

December 28th, 2010
(1934 - 2010)

After college I had to have my own apartment. Like so many other young women, I saw this independence as an exhilarating and gratifying rite of passage. But it could also be very lonely. I found that at the end of the day, I would put on the television just to have some other voices in the apartment. I really liked to fall asleep with the television on and at the end of the day Lifetime — “the network for women” — was always showing just the right thing to entertain and calm me: The Golden Girls.
The Golden Girls… originally aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992. I remember my grandmothers watching it when they came to visit my home, but I wasn’t a fan until it was in reruns. Each of the four older female

December 27th, 2010
Given the painful revelations of the sex scandal, why are Catholic churches not empty?

Every Sunday, all around the globe, a minor miracle is occurring that has gone almost unnoticed: despite continuing revelations about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, somehow the churches aren’t empty. Despite all the terrible news about the Catholic Church sitting at the top of everyone’s RSS feed for days on end, it was still standing room only at the Holy Week events. While it is strictly anecdotal evidence, people are still coming to church even when the reports of the sex scandal are so dire. Can you imagine any other organization on earth weathering this type of negative publicity over this long a period and still being able to function?

December 26th, 2010
They block us from our full potential -- are you willing to let go of yours?

In my recent interview about the spirituality of being on time, I talked about the fact that the spiritual answer is not just to behave, but to change oneself interiorly. Of course, that’s beyond the scope of this column, but I want to talk in this column about one aspect of what needs to change: character defects.
In twelve-step recovery programs, there’s an inventory process, where the person identifies those recurring patterns or tendencies that have caused them trouble — things like dishonesty, self-seeking, and envy. (Opinions vary as to the benefits of listing specific versus broad defects.) The Sixth Step then says, “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects…

December 22nd, 2010
Convert, mystic, evangelist, American

Isaac Thomas Hecker died on December 22, 1888, at the Paulist House on 59th Street in Manhattan.
As the following biography of Hecker illustrates, being a “spiritual seeker” is not unique to the 21st century. Hecker’s own faith journey in the mid-19th century included Methodism, political activism, struggles with depression and dark nights of the soul, Transcendentalism, and, ultimately, Catholicism. It also brought Hecker into associations with such titans of 19th-century American thought as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and Orestes Brownson.…

The harvest moon hung round and fat and orange over New York City’s East River that warm October night.

December 20th, 2010
How sincere are you when winning friends and influencing people?

Is being polite honest? Young adults aren’t quite sure. And as Christmas and New Year’s parties abound this time of year, there are lots of opportunities to ponder this question as you smile and glad-hand your way through the holidays.
We young folks are a generation raised in the therapeutic culture, readily turning inward to analyze our emotions. But we are also a generation known for blunt communication styles and a lack of fidelity to social conventions. Indeed, for many of the college students I teach, being too polite or conscious of the feelings of others is a concerning sign that you are out of touch with your core self.
Case in point: Ask a college student to define honesty and the response invariably…

December 19th, 2010
Suggestions we've made in recent weeks, if you still need a little help

Still struggling to find a Christmas gift for someone? Consider these suggestions we’ve made recently.
If you have someone on your list who would appreciate a book, we’ve highlighted two gorgeous options recently that are easy choices.
The Saint John’s Bible is an amazing new illuminated bible we featured last month (Meeting Scripture Through the Illuminated Word…) and it has been reproduced in seven gorgeous coffee table volumes, following the classic sections of the Bible. The first six are available and each can be purchased separately. Whether as a treasured home bible, a collection of sacred art, a tool for lectio divina, or all three, it’s hard to imagine a better gift for the

December 19th, 2010
Purifying the Christmas Air

As the days shorten and darkness covers our late afternoons and evenings, we naturally have some extra time to ponder significant moments of our lives. At holiday times, we remember Christmas and New Year celebrations of decades past. For those of us who grew up in households crossed by the affliction of addiction, holiday celebrations were often marred by unpleasantness, if not outright violence.

My Dad had numerous “worst moments” in his life, but it’s the holiday snafus that stand out in memory, when alcohol too often fueled his smoldering rage. One Thanksgiving was ruined when, after a liquid feast of Schmidt’s beer and Canadian Club instead of turkey, he lost his temper and started wailing on us kids. There was a Christmas when I was home from college, and Dad — who hadn’t lived with us for years — showed up drunk. Long and short of it, I had him arrested that Christmas Eve. The image of him, handcuffed, being led to the cop car past the trees he had planted in our front yard years earlier remains burned in my memory.

December 16th, 2010
The most valuable gifts don’t involve frantic trips to the mall

Christmas without spending money, to some, may seem like an impossibly stingy suggestion. However I can guarantee that these five tips will both make your Christmas season less hectic, and probably enrich others much more than anything you can buy at Best Buy.

December 14th, 2010
Coming home to Christian faith through Buddhist meditation

I don’t think it was my parents’ goal to raise a family of passionless, non-churchgoing Protestants of an indeterminate denomination, but my religious education was made up mostly of playing Handel’s Messiah in the school orchestra and feeling a wistful crush on St. Francis in the movie Brother Sun Sister Moon…. That sounds flippant, but those impressions rang a thrilling chime deep inside me that was hard to describe. I found that trying to talk about that feeling with adults brought out the same tone of condescension they would use concerning pre-adolescent crushes. Yes, they seemed to say, you’re having some strong feelings you don’t understand, but there’s time

December 12th, 2010
The only gift we can all afford this holiday season

We look to the holiday season to lift our spirits and yet come January we are sometimes utterly depressed because our expectations were not met. There is reason to hope despite our engagement in two wars (or, to be more exact, one war and one occupation); facing global financial insecurity because of corporate greed; people losing their homes to foreclosure; millions of others who have no medical safety net; still more who are homeless, hungry or living under brutal and repressive regimes in Africa and around the world. Despite all this and more, there is reason to hope as we embark on the holiday season. In the center of all of this, in the center of our lives as families, faith communities, neighborhoods —…

December 9th, 2010
The author of Full of Grace reflects on the many ways Mary is relevant in our lives today

A while ago, just as summer was ending, I went to an art opening at Yale University. I met a student, a young girl about 18 years old, who possessed the kind of guileless beauty that needs no embellishment. As we talked in the heat of the crowded galleries, she took off her jacket, revealing to my surprise that she was covered, neck to wrist, with tattoos. Inscribed into her body were beautiful, artful images of flowers and storybook characters — several of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things crept along her upper arm, Ariel from the Little Mermaid swam cunningly on her forearm, the rag woman Sally in Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas peeked from behind her elbow. These characters were the ones she loved best from childhood, she said, inflecting her words as though her youth were decades past.

We continued to make small talk, and eventually drifted off into conversations with others, but the memory of her painted skin and quiet beauty stayed with me. I was overwhelmed by the feeling I had been looking at the Virgin Mary, who bore the wounds of the world as her own.

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