Busted Halo

Busted Halo distributed Flip videocameras to undocumented individuals and agencies and asked them to start videoblogging. We hope Busted Borders gives a personal glimpse into the humanity of these strangers in our midst.

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October 2nd, 2009

In this third video, Prerna’s family is trying to avoid foreclosure on their home.

In video two, Prerna becomes an activist, a blogger and a volunteer.

In video one, we learn how Prerna, Fijian student, who was applying for residential paperwork, became the only undocumented member of her family.

October 1st, 2009

A seeing eye puppy in training at church

My dog Lily is a therapy dog, meaning that she is trained to bring companionship to the lonely, comfort to the sorrowful and joy to the depressed, just for that moment. Together, we visit nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions where people may benefit from Lily’s presence.

Lily got a lot of her early training to be a therapy dog by going to weekday Mass with me as a puppy. Our little mountain parish in western North Carolina is small and everyone enjoys her presence. Lily learned how to greet friends nicely; how to wait to greet them until she was instructed to do so; how to sit quietly by my side; and how to stay while I went to communion. She doesn’t go on Sundays, just weekdays.

We leave Mass and go directly to the nursing home where we take communion to a few residents, and she visits everyone. Mass puts her in the right frame of mind and behavior for the visit — and I always said she carried an extra bit of grace with her. She’s been working about eight years.

We are always greeted enthusiastically at the nursing home — though with some odd misunderstandings. Our area is largely Baptist, and the presence of a Catholic dog can stir the imagination.

September 30th, 2009


It may have been the most incriminating moment of my childhood.

The culprit: one chubby eight-year-old (me).

The accomplice: a sympathetic classmate-slash-junk-food smuggler.

The goods: a bag of Doritos.

The teacher caught me — and the entire class’s attention — when she asked me to stop eating and turn to face her. “Krissy,” she said. “Your parents and your doctor don’t want you eating that.” Then, her words wailed in my ears like sirens:

“You’re on a diet.”

I dropped my head and rolled up the bag as the class stared in shock. Just like that, I was busted. Orange-handed.

My grandfather had just died. He and I had been super-close and without him I had grown achingly lonely. My brother and I began to visit our newly widowed grandmother every weekend, and I filled my loneliness with the massive homemade meals Gram served — spaghetti with sausage and meatballs, ham and potato chip sandwiches, and for breakfast, pancakes and omelettes as big as my head.

An internal battle at every meal

I was sure I was the only kid I knew who fought an internal battle at every meal. I was ashamed about who I was becoming. I’d been an incredibly happy baby, always known for my big personality and bright smile, but at only 8, I felt like there were extra outside layers I’d have to chip away at to get to that little girl. She was lost.

Every month that year my parents and I traveled two hours to visit pediatric weight specialists and nutritionists. At 98 pounds I was the heaviest child in my class, and I never would have dreamed I’d be one of the three in ten children who outgrow childhood obesity. I simply ate too much at every meal and had no idea how to turn off my cravings. Like many of the 10 percent of American children today who are clinically overweight, I began to battle depression, low self-esteem and poor body image. The worse I felt, the more I ate and the less I wanted to help my body by

September 29th, 2009


As a child, I yearned to be good. Not just pleasant-table-manners good, but profound, give-away-all-your-belongings-like-St.-Francis good. This may surprise anyone who knew me back then, since I appeared to be a competitive, selfish, critical little pill of a girl, but that’s the story of my life: I want to be good and I don’t know how.

I don’t mean that I don’t know what actions are good. That’s usually clear enough: be honest, be kind, help others, and share what you have. The difficult part is how to be the type of person who really is good, who has good impulses, who wants to be good. How do you become more compassionate, more kindly, and more patient? How do you transform yourself so that you are happily, not grudgingly, good?

My well-meaning Sunday school teachers and family never gave me any tips that worked to achieve that goal, though I know they tried. Adults who tried to teach me Christian virtues made it sound like all you have to do is want to be more kind and more patient, and somehow the wanting will turn into being. But everyone knows that wanting to be good doesn’t work any better than wanting to lose weight. What I needed was a not a diet to lose weight, but a diet to gain compassion.

Putting awareness in the driver’s seat

As I continued to practice meditation daily, I began to find that the impatience and anger that everyday life stirred up in me was being replaced by something slower, something softer — something I have to call compassion, or kindness. As I talked with other students and read more about meditation, I found that a lot of people have the same experience.

Several years ago, almost by accident, I started attending a class on Vipassana meditation, a type of Buddhist meditation that focuses on one’s breath as it naturally rises and falls. A therapist had recommended the class to me as a way to deal with stress. And it certainly helped me do that. When

September 28th, 2009

An undocumented student becomes an activist, a blogger and a volunteer.

September 28th, 2009


Call it the Daisy Complex: So many of us worry ourselves sick — think of that silly game where you pluck the petals off a daisy: “She loves me… she loves me not…” seeking an arbitrary answer — and our fear of rejection keeps us from taking the first steps to happiness.

In his head, Thomas plays out the negative scenarios: He asks her out, she says no, and the friendship is ruined — he’s lost her entirely.

Or, he asks her out, she says yes, but then things don’t work out, and everything is weird after that.


The scenarios of doom are endless. But one scenario is nearly guaranteed: If Thomas doesn’t ask her out or show his interest, she’ll never know he cares about her that way. And that, to me, is the saddest of all possibilities.

“I know it’s a problem,” Thomas told me. “I just don’t know how to fix it.”

Conquering the Daisy Complex

I gave Thomas two bits of advice… and told him I’d share his story with other young adult readers who might be struggling with similar fears. Here’s my advice. What’s yours?

September 24th, 2009


In the Jewish yearly cycle, Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, is most holy. On Yom Kippur, we Jews simulate death, in order to stimulate life. We refrain from such life-affirming activities as eating and drinking, creative work (as we do each Shabbat) and sex. Our rituals nudge us to focus on the value of our lives in this world.

Leviticus 19 teaches: “Be holy, because I, the Eternal God am Holy.”

(A rabbi, a priest and a minister are discussing their own funerals. The priest imagines a eulogy about his compassionate listening, his sage advice and his encouragement of the poor. The minister hopes for words about his work for civil rights, peace and health care. The rabbi wants those at his funeral to say, “Look, he’s moving.”)

Seeking a definition

To “be holy,” we need a functional definition of “holy” — a practical way to live it. Nechama Leibowitz teaches that holiness is not a category, where one person is holy and another is not, where we are holy at one moment and unholy the next. All of God’s creatures possess some level of holiness at all times. The challenge is, how can we raise our level of holiness?

Martin Buber takes us the next step: Holiness can be achieved through relationships. Buber describes a spectrum of relationships between people, from the I-It to the I-Thou. If we treat a person as a machine, as an object, we form an I-It bond. In contrast, when we show respect, love, trust and caring for another, we move towards I-Thou. And if that other person treats us that same way, then we reach the I-Thou, the ultimate level of holiness.

By the way, we can also move from “I-It” towards “I-Thou” within ourselves, within groups and between groups.

MORAL factors

I propose five factors to judge the holiness of our relationships. (Though since our holiness derives from God’s holiness, which has no limits, we can undoubtedly imagine more factors.) For these five, I suggest an acronym, MORAL — an unsubtle hint that holiness and ethics

September 23rd, 2009


I’m not a fan of circumcision, though the bris milah is required for male Jewish children and is considered an essential component of Jewish identity. I do know some modern Jews now have the ceremony of the bris without the actual circumcision. When my sons were born in 1962 and 1963, I didn’t want to have them circumcised, which was an unusual position in those days. My husband felt strongly about the boys being circumcised, however. I allowed him the final decision and actually I’m glad I did: as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more aware of the value of our family’s connection to its Jewish heritage.

When my oldest son and his wife had a son, there was no consideration of the baby not being circumcised, and my husband proudly held the child in his arms during the entire ceremony. I was unable to watch, but by that point in my life I could understand and appreciate the value of the tradition.

Some years after my husband’s death, our daughter married a man who is Greek Orthodox Christian. When their son was born, my daughter, out of deference to her deceased father, decided to have a bris and have her son circumcised. Her husband and mother-in-law graciously agreed. To me, it was a very moving ceremony as I felt my husband’s presence.

After the bris… the baptism

My grandson was fifteen months old when he was taken to Greece to meet his relatives there. Somehow, I intuitively knew his Greek grandmother would want him to be baptized, and I was surprised that I was disquieted by the thought. I wished I could return the openness and generosity she and my son-in-law had shown, but the truth was that I felt very threatened by the possibility of the baptism.

I casually asked how the baptism went. They blinked and said it went well… I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of loss and feelings of sorrow. For a few moments, I felt, irrationally, that the child was lost to me.

When my daughter and

September 23rd, 2009

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What happens when a girl, a boy and a blind beagle jump in a ’97 Buick LeSabre and take a road trip across America? We’re not sure yet, but it should be pretty awesome — and we want you to be a part of it.

Brittany, who does development at Busted Halo®, her boyfriend Samuel, who does a different kind of development at an internet startup, and their loveable and perpetually hungry beagle Shiloh, who makes a profession of sniffing and snoozing, are headed for Google in San Francisco, where Samuel is presenting at the SVG Open conference it’s hosting. They’re jumping in the LeSabre, Flip video camera in hand, and hitting the road for an old fashioned cross country trip, ending at one of the most futuristic places in America. And along the way they want to meet you.

Busted Halo® prides itself on talking about old truths in new and innovative ways. One of the oldest truths is that the Catholic Church is universal — just take one look at our Facebook fan page and it’s pretty obvious you are all very different, but with a common desire to explore, share, and grow in your faith.

We want to help. So in true Busted Halo® fashion, we’re mixing the old with the new in a fun way, and road tripping to see you.

We want to know what you’re passionate about, what inspires you about your faith; we want to know where you find God, and we want to help you share that. We’re taking a sort of digital pilgrimage, to find what faith and spirituality means to us — and to you and others in our nationwide Busted Halo audience.

Here is a map of Brittany, Samuel and Shiloh’s proposed route: They leave NYC late night September 25; although the evening stops are not definite (aside from Cleveland to visit their parents), they need to make it to the tech Mecca by October 2, and back to NYC by October 11.

So, if you’re along

September 22nd, 2009

In this fourth and final video, 24 hours before their move to Mexico, Nicole and the kids say goodbye.

In video one, Nicole explained how her husband was barred from returning to the United States. Because of this, she is planning on moving with her kids to Mexico.

In video two, Nicole talks about the difficulties she’s facing uprooting her four kids and moving to a foreign country.

In video three, Nicole and the kids begin the process of leaving their home for Mexico.

September 20th, 2009


I was on a retreat this weekend, and do you know what one of the little pleasures was for me? Coming to the dining room at mealtimes and being presented with a single option — simply accepting what is offered. Why is this lack of choice a comforting treat rather than an annoying limitation? Because having to choose from dozens of options — having to decide what to do every minute of the day — can be exhausting, and stressful. And, like the dinner menu, many of the decisions we face every day are entirely unimportant.

I live in New York City. More than any other single place on this planet, perhaps, it offers lots of options. This can be exhilarating, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. On any given night, there are a dozen amazing events I could attend. On any given day, there are a dozen things I could do to advance toward my goals.

Now, though, thanks to technologies that open up the entire world to us through our cell phone, cable TV and laptop, this characteristic of New York City is becoming more prevalent for everyone, everywhere.

Getting things done

Task management guru David Allen devotes a lot of his attention to the issue of choice. As he sees it, one of the biggest obstacles to getting things done occurs in that moment when we have to decide what to do next. Allen says that often it’s much more efficient to just do something reasonable rather than spend time deciding what to do. His approach, dubbed “Getting Things Done” or GTD, can be overly fussy, but it has a lot of useful techniques.

September 17th, 2009

charles_darwinSIMCHA2.INSIDHave you heard the one about the time the monkey escaped from the zoo? The zookeeper looked high and low, and after a long search, he finally found the monkey sitting in the public library.

His mixed-up looking monkey was holding a Bible in one (opposably-thumbed) hand, and Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” in the other.

“I’m confused,” the monkey told the zookeeper. “Am I my brother’s keeper – or my keeper’s brother?”

You’ll forgive a rabbi for starting off with a little joke. (“Very little,” I can hear some of you saying.) It’s a hazard of the job. But for a rabbi like me, the subject of evolution is no joke.

And as an Englishman now living in New York, I’m conscious of the fact that the topic is never far from the surface here in America. This is the country where atheists “celebrate” Christmas by trying to get “Silent Night” silenced from school pageants, then furious Christians respond with unchristian fury – and we Jews get blamed for it all!

I kid! Again. (Mostly.)

Creation Across the Pond
But yes, in the United States, the fallout from the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial — which pitted evolutionists against creationists — is still in the air.

So I’m not surprised that the producer of a new British movie about Charles Darwin is blaming “religious American audiences” because his film, “Creation,” can’t get a distribution deal across the pond.

“Creation” stars Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connolly as Charles Darwin and his devout wife, Emma. The film depicts events leading up to the publication of Darwin’s world changing book. In particular, the death of Darwin’s ten-year-old daughter, Anna, caused him to question his Christian faith and paved the way for his theory of evolution and natural selection.

No sooner had the London Daily Mail trumpeted the producer’s claim that right wing Christians were trying to ban his movie, than Twitter and Facebook lit up like (soon to be banned) Christmas trees, with calls to defend “Creation” against those redneck censors.

The trouble is: a reporter from New York Magazine (hardly an …

September 16th, 2009

Nicole and the kids begin the process of leaving their home for Mexico.

In video one, Nicole explained how her husband was barred from returning to the United States. Because of this, she is planning on moving with her kids to Mexico.

In video two, Nicole talks about the difficulties she’s facing uprooting her four kids and moving to a foreign country.

September 16th, 2009

Shawn preaching in the Union Square subway station

Union Square is a historic and lively outdoor space in Manhattan, known for its plethora of restaurants, live entertainment, farmers market, college students and — most infamously — skateboarders. It is a crossroads for all people; a place where the rich and poor, young and old, goth and suits meet for entertainment and leisure. Entrepreneurs, extreme sport enthusiasts and people watchers are not the only ones taking advantage of this unique space; street evangelists are too.

They are part of the two percent of Christians who share their faith, according to statistics released by the evangelistic organization, Crusade For Christ. These street preachers are spreading the love and message of Jesus Christ right in the middle of New York City, and adding religion to the mix at this outdoor Manhattan hotspot.

This sparks some questions. How do they have the guts to do what they do in such a city? Are they simply Jesus freaks who should be categorized with the other “crazies” that roam Manhattan? And, is anybody really listening?

I took several different approaches as I watched these street preachers on my biweekly visits to Union Square. As a Christian, I admired their willingness to spread the message and inquired about their motivation. As a minister, I admired their preaching boldness, analyzed their audiences’ responses, and learned some indirect yet valuable lessons about spreading the Gospel. And at times, while I respected their mission, I had issues with the message they chose to share (particularly in regards to judgment, hell, and dogmatism) and questioned whether the best and most relevant methods were being used to reach their audience.

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September 14th, 2009

Nicole talks about the difficulties she’s facing uprooting her four kids and moving to a foreign country.

In video one, Nicole explained how her husband was barred from returning to the United States. Because of this, she is planning on moving with her kids to Mexico.

September 14th, 2009


On a recent Friday night a friend of mine called to tell me her husband had died suddenly. He didn’t suffer and she was with him, but he was young and they’d only been married for a little over a year. At first I thought I hadn’t heard correctly. I was expecting the news that she was pregnant, or that there was a new job on the horizon. Even when someone calls to say they have bad news, death is far from my mind.

“I’m so sorry” was all I could keep repeating. The next week I flew out to see her, brought chocolates and sat there as she told me the whole story. I told her again how sorry I was, and wished there was something more I could do.

While I hope this isn’t something that any of you have to deal with, I was so unprepared to be supportive to my friend that I did some research on bereavement within a Catholic context, especially for young adults. Here’s what I learned:

What to say

Words can’t express the pain you feel for them, or the pain they will suffer through. Just being a compassionate listener, saying how sorry you are and expressing your support, is enough.

“Listen to her pain. She will want to tell you her story over and over,” advises Ingrid Seunarine, president of the National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved. “She will be very angry at God, the world, the doctors and even at her spouse for leaving her.  She will rhetorically ask you questions for which of course you will have no answers.  Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t have the answers, but I’m here for you.’”

September 11th, 2009


One of country music’s great survivors, Charlie Louvin has a career that reads like a Southern gothic novel. He grew up singing sacred harp music — a harmonically complex form of Southern congregational music — with his brother Ira, and the duo would help lay the foundation for the country-rock movement with their close harmonies and stark tales of faith, family, and death. Among their early fans were a young Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Both would later open for the brothers, and carry their influence around the world.

The Louvin Brothers’ story was soon shrouded in the same kind of tragedy that hung around the corners of their songs when, after years of alcoholism and erratic behavior, Ira died in a car wreck in 1965. His duet partner gone, Charlie was left to spend the rest of his career hearing his brother’s harmonies echoing through his head.

In the mid-1970s, a generation of bluegrass and country artists stretching from Emmylou Harris to Ricky Skaggs regularly paid tribute with Louvin Brothers covers, and Charlie was hip again. Some lean years and overlooked releases followed, but by the turn of the new century, Charlie was the patron saint of the alternative country movement — Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Elvis Costello, and George Jones all turned up to sing with him on his 2007 self-titled return. Now, as he progresses through his 80s, it’s fitting that he has returned to where he began nearly 60 years ago, with an album of songs from the hymnals of his youth, the Grammy-nominated Steps to Heaven. Humble and happy to talk to whoever wishes to phone him, Charlie is making sure he takes time to enjoy the latest chapter in his remarkable story.

Busted Halo: So I saw your Steps to Heaven record got a Grammy nomination. Was that your first Grammy nomination?

Charlie Louvin: No. I had one in 1964 when I first became a solo artist. And in 1968 me and Melba Montgomery got one, and then I had one in 2007. But

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September 7th, 2009


I’ve written several columns here with suggestions that are rather directive — get enough sleep, use the downturn to find your calling, meditate regularly… and then there was my column about not saying ‘should’ and ‘have to’.

“Um,” said a reader after the ‘don’t should’ column, “How do I know when to make a change and when to go easy on myself — how do I know when to apply which principle?”

It’s a great point, and I’m grateful to be called out on it. It’s all well and good to say we should live in the now and accept God’s plan as it unfolds, but that doesn’t mean we should be passive. Using the metaphor of the stream of life, there are times to watch the water flow by, and there are times to row the boat. We have to decide which is called for, and the right answer will vary depending on the situation.

A lot of the religious guidance out there is in the form of directions — do this, don’t do that — and there’s a place for structure — the banks of the river, to continue the metaphor. But, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger has said:

” have the impression that the Church’s real function is only to condemn and to restrict life. Perhaps too much has been said and too often in this direction — and without the necessary connection of truth and love.”

September 4th, 2009

A red Hyundai with a Darwin fish and an “atheist” license tag eases up to a fast food drive-through window in Huntsville, Alabama. A van pulls up behind it. Five children slip out, line up along one side of the car and chant “God loves you” and “Praise Jesus.” The kids scramble back into the van, congratulated by a high-fiving mother.

Blair Scott — the 38-year-old, cherub-faced man in the red car — still chuckles about it a year later, joking that the kids yelled “god-scenities” at him. The quick-to-laugh Scott shrugs off the negative attention — which also includes 75 hate emails and at least one death threat a week. Scott is the founder of the largest atheist organization in the state, the North Alabama Freethought Association (NAFA) in Huntsville.

In 2004, NAFA had two members; today it has more than 200. Scott says that a decade ago, three atheist organizations in Alabama floundered, but now 10 thrive. “Atheists are on the rise in Alabama. But we may not be what you think,” he beams.

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