Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page


Noble Rot

This story was in the wine.  A wine bottle presented the issue of identity.  Where was it from?  Anyone was like a wine.  The answer from a stranger would reveal something.  Like a bottle of wine, about your tradition, your exposure to the sun, to climates, to the land, a place of ideas and ideals on how to develop.  In advance, at the wine shop, people in search of a wine, with a desire for something, still liked to have an expectation, a sense of the taste inside the bottle.   And this land, its make up, would determine what would happen to the grapes.   Expectations of a wine critic were like the expectations at a movie: To come to the theater with no expectations resulted in true joy when the consumer was overcome by what wine could taste like, move her/him to jubilation.   The French had a term for wine called “noble rot.”  So did God evolve? 


 Was every year different?  This story was in the wine.  When I was 14 years old, I was taught a class by Wild Bill Ozark with the name ”Salvation History.”  Wild Bill is long since dead.  But of late, I think often of that course.  Especially at Easter.  For me, there was an ever visible theme to world history.  And “Salvation History” seemed to include the infinite time when God lived alone in the heavens with His creative impulses.  And all along he kept trying.  When he formed man in his image and likeness, men and women kept trying.  Again and again, people failed.  The story of Abram and Isaac seem to foretell the story of Easter. “Salvation History”  seemed to apply for world history as well as some kind of personal history, where no matter who we are, everyone at some point, each person, personally fails. 


 Resurrection consequentially is about forgiveness.  Resurrection was God’s diivine way to demonstrate that all of history was about the attempt to keep trying.  Woman, Man, generation after generation of people, people I have met and people I never knew, some related to me, have kept trying.  People of Ireland who formed a nation once again on Easter.  People whose DNA I shared.  People who forgave and started over, with the resolve to try to do good. 


 Noble rot.  Because we were divine, from age to age, from east to west,  we all were here to keep trying.   Salvation History was that story about God, demonstrated in the tradition of  Abraham who really had lived.  Moses was a true person.  David had actually ruled as king.  And Jesus had really lived and died.  That was the story of Advent that led to Easter.  Expectations.  Scribes and Pharisees who had their own expectations.  This story was in the wine.  People who had not been open to a new wine, were not open to a developing story, like people I knew alive today.  The story of Jesus was not about how he was put to death, about man’s inhumanity to man, but the purpose of His life was about re-birth, resurrection and an afterlife.  His life was about the meaning of all history.  The story this year was in the wine.   


The vintage was all about a new season.  It was all about starting over and trying again. 


 So did God evolve?  Was every year different?  Is he still growing with the world population?  In love?  It was all about relationships that lasted.  That was true romance, with relationships that ring true. Love,  with God and a partner.  It’s part of the romantic tragedy of our age that our partners must be seen as compatible on every level.  Sometime a relationship ended up as some kind of private fantasy where, “sometimes end up liking the same things for vastly different reasons.  And they build up these whole private fantasy lives around the meaning of these supposedly shared books, shared music, only to discover too late that the other person had a different fantasy completely.”  And it was false.  There was certitude instead of doubt.  Was your relationships with God, with friends, one that had developed and lasted over time?  And was the taste one to be savored?   


Charlie the Tuna

It was the last Friday for 46 more weeks of the rule imposed of abstaining from meat.  I had started to wonder if this was one way to honor all those fishermen with whom Jesus hung out.  In a home that observed the pre-Vatican II statutes, we always had canned tuna.  It seemed a custom akin to eating cat food.  I hated tuna from the can. 

It was a luxury in those days to be with my paternal grandparents on a Friday night, who always ate canned salmon.  My grandfather who had married a non-Catholic in the days when there was discomfort over such integration, had made a promise to his wife to ban tuna fish in his home before he was allowed to consummate his marriage.  As he got older, he thought it the best decision he had ever made. 

Humanity/Divinity, Part II

As a tutor/instructor, I had this tendency not to wait. Not to pause. It might be because of my age. It might be because of my excitement over the knowledge. With all the bigger, stronger, faster kids, there was not the quickness that I expected. Because I had been separated from the slow kids, in the early stages of Advanced Placement, I had an expectation of quickness in a student. But one one day I discovered the Living God in the pauses, as a tutor — in all the vacant looks — this slowly evolving God who had to be discovered by the next generation. And since I was running out of time, I wanted to share all of my knowledge so fast. And there was the conflict. With a sixth grader.

The student who said she did not like to answer my questions. She did not like my method to discover what she did not know. I saw she was naked. And she wanted my knowledge, if not my help. There was a barrier if I could not question her to diagnose her missing knowledge, but she did not want my Plan of Action to get well. And she already was in college. I could see that she was headed for failure, with her idea that people should keep helping her – by supplying her with the answers. As a college freshman. As an exploited college freshman, by the system.

A prophet in his native land. As if you are entitled to have this protected status, carrying a name, as a descendant of the Prophet Abraham? Yes, over time a prophet becomes unwanted, like the presence of Ishmael was an unwanted intrusion, in his native land. There is the realness of raw emotions after a son seemingly lost if not his father, a closeness to his father. Like both Ishmael and Isaac, did, in the story of The Akedah. For a while. And did you note how the son really ends up saving the father …or, in the case of Ismael, the mother? In a collective memory of forgiveness of others in the name of a forgiving God, on issues of inheritance and birth right — note the discovery of forgiveness through the son, in all the Abrahamic religions — with all the eye-popping tension in the story between those who were not good enough with those who seemed to be too good, there is this indescribable pain which creates memory in a culture, in questions about an imitation of attachment, directed at union. After Abram, in The Call, gave up his homeland.

Advanced Placement.  The ‘Better than the rest?’ theology misconstrues everything about creation. That we – in my tribe – are better than the rest? Above them? So there was this sixth grader today who could not subtract.  What had happened?

I did not expect this. I told him to come back next week when I had three hours and not three minutes to spend with him – he had to get home for dinner. I had felt my own unease over his schooling. His teacher must have to contend with a certain amount of ease and unease every day in a school, with all of the discomfort in waiting for the right answer, over the First Command, to KNOW. When a sixth grader had all of this time, and at my age I did not.

No one with all of the public accommodation in public education is allowed to ask about a child’s spiritual development, in a world that now separates Church and State, as prayer becomes much more private.  One of the distinctive tradition in public ministry, in connecting private life – from a Jesuit education – has been teaching while using the available means of persuasion – in writing, in speech, in film, through music and dance, in the curriculum – about how to present myself quietly in public. To feel mostly connected, in public, to Creation.

Just as God is revealed to me in worship, from my worship … oh so gradually, I came to see things in the outside world… the revelation is this waiting, out of my own vacancy. For greater faith.

In the beginning, faith does not seem to be much. But over time, with action, faith does grow. And one day you wake up with more faith, having comprehended the displays if not the mystery of the wonders of Creation. From out of my own emptiness. 

Persuasion. With a holiness, in waiting.  For private individual growth. So what is this spirit within every human? How is this spirit developed? What are the principles at work concerning spiritual muscles? Exercised? So at what age spiritual development? The spirit ached after a while when it had no muscle. 

To name. To give someone an identity.  The challenge of the ethereal involves form and formation.  The same but different.  The variations on a theme.  The ‘Spiritual, not religious’ seemed reluctant to give the Creator a name. Why? Does the God question involve identity? Is there an excitement connected to the point when you really KNEW someone? Do I carry a spirit with my personality? And there is this silence connected to spirit.

How about the spiritual part – the part of me that I felt when there were no photos, no mirrors to look at – which constitutes spiritual identity? Who was I? Who am I? If the “to KNOW God?” part of faith ever reaches a part of what is called religion, if I choose to gather with a community? Does the “to KNOW” part of the identity of God, developing slowly into the identity of me, connecting, with an understanding about the forces within, which tethers any faith to the world? Shared belief is all that we have left in what comes from a faith, in the lingering presence after an ancestor is gone. With a wound in belonging, it was good that we were there to absorb, after using the available means of persuasion – with Spirit alone –in reaching acceptance. To plea so very little, not for more, in a world with so many who live on so very less. To listen is a prayer of persuasion, with the holiness in waiting.

With a beauty in the invisibility, the ‘God question’ should involve identity.  Many had difficulty with the absolute awe that there was a God without trying to figure out why. There was enough difficulty in the life of a being, any being, as with any love, to answer the question of why about themselves, without having to figure out the reason for God. It was hard enough one day to match up my identity living in the free world with the identity of God. And for a student who did not like to answer question, there would always be a need for help. Love is not a science … nor is God. When a student really knew so little, and English was her second language. And I could not help but to compare her to the sixth grader who had been passed along his entire life. Until he no longer belonged there — in the sixth grade. This college student was willing to be passed along, because she expected the world to keep helping her … with her “better than the rest” theology, maybe because she would have this college degree.

Yeah as a tutor/instructor, I had this tendency, from my questioning, not to wait — not to want to wait — for the answer. So I did a poor job with that college student by proof-reading her essay due in ninety minutes. In an essay she attempted to compare the Native American, an indigenous population with a higher suicide rate, with increasing violence within the indigenous community, to a lack of caring by the dominant culture. And she asked me to write her conclusion, after I spent close to sixty minutes proof-reading her paper that discussed how historically the native-born had been isolated on reserved lands, with their native language stolen, and the practice of their own religion prohibited. So I had collaborated in the process of cheating in correcting the errors that no paper should have at the college level, in a comparative essay about jobs in casinos to well-paying summer jobs that white kids got, which continued a process of power-keeping. When the conclusion should have been about what happened when people kept being just passed along, in an impersonal system, with so little understanding about the ways of coming to belong, with an emotional attachment to something or Someone you had come slowly to know, with a developed quickness over time in the real world. What she never interpreted from the reading material was how even women like her — she did wear a head scarf — can get isolated from people from their place of origin, with no one to turn to. And the elders did not know what to do, in this society, as the American Indian got weaker and weaken, threatened further with extinction. And with no one to question about their new experience, the entire tribe felt oh so vulnerable. The young woman was unable to express her own ideas, about the New World that she had entered — about how much she identified with the people here first who had their old world taken away, like her native land had been removed from her every day life. And she carried so little interest about the reasons that her new country is the way that it is. And for now, she did not want to answer my questions but hold onto her own isolation.

It can take some time to distinguish the difference between charity and a “just” charity, when a human gives their time to people in need of help. Why is there that need and what can I do to change the existence of the social problem/economic problem/moral problem? Like at a university, in one PLACE, what is a good commitment to true justice, in the relationship wedded together, of the human and the divine? Charity is good – addressing needs, like a mid-term paper that was due by the end of the session in thirty minutes, with a twenty minute commute to get to class, with no time for the pauses – but what is justice? Why is there that need, and what can I do to change the existence of the social problem/economic problem/moral problem, without just collaborating with my own kind of privileged knowledge? At one PLACE, there is this knowledge committed, at least from where I have come, to the relationship wedded together, of faith and justice…. of the human with the divine. For those still trying to reach some conclusion, in a world with so many problems and with students facing deadlines, the twenty minute documentary by Nico Sandi seems sure to lift up your heart.

English as a Second Language at Saint Paul College. Creighton University, Faith that does justice, Larry Gillick.