Busted Halo
Features : Religion & Spirituality
August 30th, 2003
Art's power to transform reality

Art has the power to transform us into something better, something greater, so long as we don’t merely place it on a pedestal. On my recent trip to Nicaragua, several images revealed the sensitivities of my heart in a way that I did not expect.
The streets in Leon, Nicaragua, were filled with youngsters hawking everything from small trinkets to newspapers to water. As we made our way to the Cathedral, other small children found their way to us, asking for food or money. Even in the Cathedral, there were dozens of people begging. I felt uncomfortable. My friend Ken, remarked that “we’ve learned to ignore the poor at home.” Here it wasn’t so easy.
Where’s Jesus?I decided to focus…

August 22nd, 2003
Finding Marguerite's Dream in the Red Rock Desert

Ash Wednesday, 1932
An art student stands on the avenue in New York City in 1932, looking up at the Empire State Building, recently completed.
Most people from around the world have been impressed by the mammoth structure, awed by its ramrod straightness. Inevitably some visitors think of King Kong.
But on that day Marguerite Brunswig, en route home from Ash Wednesday mass, saw in the building’s art decco structure something unusual—the bulging form of a Cross. And it spun in her head the idea of a cruciform, almost-Gothic church built in the manner of these massive modern buildings (she passed Rockefeller Center on the way to her 85th St. apartment).
Seventy plus years later I—adopted New Yorker, priest,…

August 3rd, 2003
Service Call on the Road of Faith

Somehow, getting a flat tire in a church parking lot seems wrong. After all, I could have used that hour to get a head start to the beach. Joined friends for champagne brunch. Slept in and perused the Sunday paper over a soy latte . But nooo, I went to church.
And promptly parked on a nail. Obviously the Big Fella doesn’t play favorites, a fact that agnostics should find somewhat comforting.
To the shop, do not pass GoBut be it God or serendipity, I believed my flat tire occurred for a reason. Obviously I was not meant to be on the road at that particular time. So only somewhat grudgingly I steered my limping Toyota in the direction of the nearest auto shop, which I recalled had recently advertised their new Sunday hours.…

August 1st, 2003
The Confessions of St. Augustine and My Journey to Faith

As for every young man brought up in an Irish household, for me watching Notre Dame football on Saturday afternoon is practically a religion.
But that Saturday, in the autumn of 2000, there would be no Fighting Irish.
‘This time with an open heart.’
Instead, I found myself tucked away, in seclusion, in the basement of the Emory University law library.
Having just written a paper critical of St. Augustine’s Confessions, my professor, Ann Hartle, suggested I re-write the paper over the weekend. Her only piece of advice: “This time, read it with an open, sympathetic heart.”
At that point in my life, I was less than one year away from graduating college, soon to begin law school, and…

July 29th, 2003
A Perspective on the Cost of Denying Women Ordination

Nearly six years to the day that I received my first theology degree, I was back in Boston at an ordination (see box below).
I was at the Episcopal cathedral, not the Catholic one. Jen, a former roommate, asked me and two other women friends from divinity school—a Jew-nitarian (and Wicca-friendly) minister and an Episco-Lutheran postulant to participate in her “deaconing” (being ordained a deacon) as presenters.

Ordination
In Christian churches ordination is the ritual by which the Holy Spirit is called down upon leaders of the community. In the Catholic, Orthodox, and certain other Christian traditions ordination is reserved for men only, while in most Protestant denominations it is open…

July 29th, 2003
Christian Faith Comes Alive on Pilgrimage in El Salvador

Summertime…and the living is on the go. This summer I headed south to El Salvador in Central America.
It’s a breathtakingly beautiful land country, but with a turbulent history that includes many modern-day Christian martyrs. The capital city, San Salvador, is a major Latin American pilgrimage stop.
San Salvador is not exactly Cancún—it’s not a fun vacation. But it is a deeply moving one—you get to know about some of the most courageous and extraordinary Catholics and people of faith of the last 30 years.
A few must see sites:Monseñor Oscar Romero’s house, next to Hospitalito Divina Providencia: Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador surprised the minority wealthy and the majority…

July 26th, 2003
Letting Summer, Fall, and Company Do Their Thing

A couple weeks ago, with Labor Day behind me and school back in session, I gave in to the temptation of calling it quits for the summer, and mentally fast forwarded to the bleakness that is fall.
Falling from summerEven the name itself is a downer. Fall. Leaves leaving trees. Rakish, spindly gardening tools itching to come out of their tool shed hibernation. I knew fall was just the appetizer. The main course was a little thing we like to call winter, and it was coming right up.
Reluctantly I covered my patio furniture, dragged it to the side of the house, and let go of my summer mind.
But then I decided this was way wrong. Even though it was already mid-September, summer’s warm weather remained, and it wasn’t…

July 1st, 2003
Poster Boy for Appalling Prelates and…Man of Faith

“My deepest vocation,” spiritual writer Henri Nouwen said, “is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.” Here’s one:
I attended Mass recently at the Cathedral in San Francisco where I live, and even though the space is lovely and the experience of worship good, since I had been in an ebb time, spiritually speaking, I didn’t expect to run smack into the Holy Spirit.
A priest who believed“The body of Christ,” he said, offering me the host. Truly the priest before me believed it was. I could see the faith, the hope, the expectation in the eyes which met mine.
I always like a priest who will meet your eyes when saying to you, “The body of…

July 1st, 2003
The Magdalene Sisters and Catholic Guilt

Guilt and shame are two Irish-Catholic traits that are as typical as corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick’s Day to Irish-Americans. It’s one thing to be Catholic, but to be an Irish-Catholic is a whole new ball of shameful wax.
When I was a child, the God I was taught to believe in was a judging God, and I think I spent more time trying to stay out of hell than I did practicing baseball.
The theme of Irish-Catholic guilt is placed at the center of the film, The Magdalene Sisters , where guilt chastises and shame paralyzes.
The Magdalene Laundries are a chapter of Catholicism that has been relatively unheard of outside of the Emerald Isle. Even in Ireland, the insular world of the laundries has been relatively…

June 1st, 2003
A Cardinal Complains, a Board Chair Resigns - What Does It All Mean?

JUNE 18, New York – This week the head of the U.S. Catholic Church’s National Review Board, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, resigned suddenly from his post. The National Review Board is charged with monitoring the Church’s reforms in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal.
Governor vs. cardinal
The drama that led to this conclusion occurred in full public view last week. Though pretty complicated (even to church insiders), it seems to have unfolded pretty much like this:

In May, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles had led the California bishops in resolving not to fill out a research survey on clergy sexual abuse, alarmed by the specter of lawsuits and media leaks.
In a June 12 L.A.

June 1st, 2003
A Little Bible Study Didn't Hurt

For years I’ve recited the same prayer, every morning as I drive to work and every evening before I go to bed: Lord, help me feel your presence and be nicer to people. But my morning prayer is usually interrupted by some nimrod doing 80 in the slow lane who has just cut me off. And more often than not, my evening prayer is preempted by pondering that age-old question: what will I have for breakfast, a smoothie or soy latte?
But hey, God knows what’s in my heart. It’s not like I’m asking to win the lottery or anything (although if you’re listening, Big Fella, that would be nice too). So surely He’d be willing to grant a prayer so selfless.
He hasn’t. And every time I’ve cursed…

May 14th, 2003
Leaving, Learning, Coming Back for More

I know that my mother suffered terribly from postpartum depression after giving birth to my brother Franz and me, yet she and my father weren’t finished. One day, Franz and I were being good and looking incredibly adorable, and it coerced my parents into having Jimmy.
‘You’re adorable’ momentsRight now, I’m on a silent retreat and honestly, I’m exhausted from the experience of living in a community.
However, I’m also having one of those “you’re adorable” moments. We yell at each other, we lean on each other, we’re sick, we’re up, we hate work, we’re down, our family situations aren’t what we want them to be, we’re…

May 12th, 2003

Before I came to live in Arica, Chile, spending a week in silence sounded ridiculous. I love constant motion; I enjoy bumping into people and I gather strength from personal interaction. The idea of voluntarily submerging myself into my thoughts for six days, allowing for a minimum of human contact, appeared to be a terrible one.
But after I completed a second retreat during Holy Week as a required component of my JVI placement, I have never been more comfortable alone. I firmly believe that silence gives someone exactly what he needs, and particularly during the retreat I gained two major guiding principles: acceptance and awareness.
Doubt and acceptancePerhaps the most significant challenge of voluntarily…

May 3rd, 2003
Saved provides a smart critique of the evangelical teen subculture

I went to Saved , a new comedy about teenagers in a Christian high school expecting to get a few laughs at the expense of bible-based yokels. What I got instead was an entertaining, intelligent and surprisingly subtle teen comedy that pokes fun at the simplistic thinking and hypocrisy of white-suburban-conservative-evangelical culture.
Jena Malone plays Mary, a devout teen who accepted Jesus as her personal savior at the ripe old age of three. She attends the American Eagle Christian Academy a cliquish school where a towering billboard-esque icon of Jesus greets the students outside of the schoolhouse. Inside the classroom a picture of George W. Bush looms in the background while a buffoonish evangelical…

May 1st, 2003

Several years ago, after I made a pretty self-righteous remark at a church meeting, I was reproached as having “no right to be so flip for someone so young” (I was 24 at the time, in my first year of seminary). Feeling bruised in the ego, I counterattacked, accusing the person of discriminating… against me because I was young. Oh brother.
Things have a way of coming back to haunt you.
I was in Toronto (last summer, pre-SARS) when the Pope came to visit . At an assembly of about 150 college and high school students, a bishop from California was speaking from a prepared text about reconciliation, what it means to turn back to God. He then gave the students a chance to talk to one another in groups and then to report

May 1st, 2003
A Student Activist's Take on Incarceration from the Inside

As my second week in prison comes to a close, it becomes increasingly clear that the prison system serves little purpose than that of a multi-billion dollar industry.
The economics of incarcerationEach federal prison receives $20,000 and up per year per inmate for room and board. This money is supposedly used for the upkeep of an eight feet by nine feet cubicle housing two people, and to purchase our food (despite most of the food being expired, unsellable goods donated by supermarkets for tax write-offs).
In comparison, it costs less than $15,000 per year to live and eat at most private colleges, institutions hardly known for skimping.
The prisons also receive funds for inmates enrolled in GED classes, drug programs,…

May 1st, 2003
The Consequences; Surviving Cancer at 30

With my tongue outstretched and her hand on my pulse, the acupuncturist fired questions and conclusions at me:
“You worry too much. You think too much. Are you angry?”
I groaned to myself; she knows way too much for someone I’d just met.
“Uh…”
“Are you angry?”
“No.” I lied.
The heart of the matterShe picked up on the thing I avoid the most and, thus, the thing that causes me the most pain. I’m 30 years old and in the last 15 of them have battled three different types of cancer a total of five different times. I have every right to be angry but I’m usually better at hiding it.
I’m angry about the fallout of illness. The lasting physical…

April 27th, 2003
Some Women Need Not Apply

While my elementary school teachers told me to believe in myself, my parents warned me it was not good to be full of myself. Love thyself and trust thyself, yes, but not too much.
Be confident, yes, but not obnoxious, said mentors. Pride, or “excessive belief in one’s own abilities,” taken to an extreme, leaves no room within the human persona for the priceless virtue of humility.
The wrong pitfall?
Warnings against pride are well and good, but a qualification must be added. When discussing the pitfalls of pride and the honor in humility, it is necessary to nuance the discussion with special attention to gender. The ancient sin of pride was defined during a time in history when women’s experience…

April 19th, 2003
Thirtysomething, Divorced, and Catholic

Down for the count
During his homily on World Marriage Day, the priest asked everyone who had been married less than a year to stand up. He then asked everyone married one to five years to also stand. Then five to 10 and so on, until he got to 50 plus married years. He looked around and paused. Slowly he said, “Now everyone who is married should be standing up, right?”
I knew why he was asking the question. I too was surprised. About half of the adults in the pews were still sitting. I was also sitting although technically still married. But in a few months my divorce would be final. And so I sat. I didn’t know I had so much company.
Looking around I thought, well some of these folks might be single, some widows…

April 14th, 2003
Wisdom from Jesus and the Corn Guy

No one’s in the kitchen with Martha
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things,” said Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) after a productive Martha rebuked her lazy sister Mary for sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him speak instead of helping her. An indignant Martha stormed back to the kitchen and continued making a snack for her company. Jesus was on a house visit and the very least she could do was to feed him.
This scolding may sound more like something out of the Brady Bunch than the Bible, but lately I’ve found a lot of wisdom in it.
Like a lot of people, I identify with Martha’s compulsion to be productive. Within our culture, we value the “Martha time”…

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