Saturday, October 28, 2006

Embracing Reality and the World Series...

“How about those Cardinals Man? Were you down there last night?” These were the words of a random African American man to me on the street this morning. We didn’t even say hello, nothing, just a quick greeting of “How about those Cardinals?” The reason why I mention that he was African American is because of the simple fact that this can be very racist city, divided very clearly somewhere near Delmar as being White or Black. By in large to the north, people are black, and to the south, people are white. Often times it is a horribly divided city, and then there is the reality of living in the city verses the county, where often the division is between the rich and the poor.
Divisions, all around. Here we are too often, contrary to Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians, Gentile and Jew, Slave and Free, Woman and Man. I think so often it is a component of our society, which transcends St. Louis, to put us all in a neat little box and to admonish us from birth not to go outside of it. It’s not even a race question primarily, though that is one way it manifest itself, it’s not a class issue primarily, though that is another way it manifests itself, it is the prevailing sense that this little box which is your identity is the context from which you are to relate to the world. This little box you are given is there to keep you safe, and increasingly for the purposes of your own comfort. This box can dull the heart and blind the mind too though, because being comfortable excludes us from large portions of reality, being safe demands a surrender to the mediocrity of out own myopic stances. The truth is that we come more face to face with the world, and with the wonderful reality of an incarnational faith, when we can see as brother and sister those who are outside our neat little boxes. Its when we transcend the plastic of our own little packages that we become able to really live, to experience joy, sorrow, love, passion, full rationality which is in touch with the world, and perhaps maybe, just maybe, the revelation of God’s undying love for the whole world. The incarnation is borne out of a love for the world both inside and outside of our little plastic boxes, but to love God means to love what God loves, which means everything beyond the little packages we are socialized into which keep us comfortable and safe.
“How about those Cardinals?” This man outside of the context of a World Series victory probably never would have said anything to me, and if I am honest with myself, I probably never would have gotten comfortably into a conversation with him outside of the context of my sense of duty as a Jesuit to do so. It’s strange how things like this help people to transcend the differences which make us feel uncomfortable. It is as if at that one moment something which is common to both of our realities provides the middle ground to, at least for a little while, encounter each other outside of our boxes as human beings. I was down at the Stadium last night after the game, walking around with some friends, and there was the normal celebration one would expect going on, but it seemed like, if only for a few hours, everyone could be joyful together. That common moment of joy provided the vehicle for a brief transcendence of that which divided us and made us stay content in our own comfortable little spaces.
As we were leaving, Ben Bocher, subject of a previous post on this blog, said “Man if only we could get people this excited about Jesus.” I think his intuition is dead on, but perhaps not for the reason he suspects. Something about these equalizing and uniting moments mirrors just a glimpse of the Kingdom of God for us strangely enough. In those moments if we pay attention and look beyond the particulars of the event (viz. the drunken revelry that was also going on) to the unified reality as a whole we can see what we are meant to be, people living out of a common love, which just is a to love and be loved by God. If we could get that reality out there, then we would love what God loves, each other. If only we could get people that excited about Jesus, about an incarnational God that comes from the ultimate space of comfort and safety, eternity, and becomes human, while still being God himself, a God who goes out into reality, to love it and bring it back to himself. The manifestation of that Love would be the kingdom of God. Simple Social Justice may not be enough, Social love may be the only answer.
Monday morning the parade will be done, the lights in Busch Stadium will be off for the winter, and North St. Louis, South St. Louis, the City, and the County will all probably fall back into their normal divisions, but for one moment there can be a brief glimpse into what should be, if only we look close enough……

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Prophecy and Preparation.

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the definition of prophets as being the interpreters par excellance of the Law. As someone who has felt a certain amount of indignation as the injustices of our society as being contrary to God’s Law, as one who has felt called to and has taken prophetic action at the gates of military forts and the steps of the Capitol building in DC, as some one who feels called, genuinely called, to be who I am becoming, the thought intrigues me, because now I find myself in that place of preparation to become the person I was created in God’s image and likeness to be in a much fuller sense. The thought that the prophets were the interpreters of, and the truest experts about, the law implies that in order to make one’s calling fully present, if it is to prophecy, one must necessarily first know the Law.
I know many very good intentioned people who would like to think of themselves as living or acting prophetically. These can be very genuine people of very good will, but often times it seems that they have accepted various interpretations of the Law or various ideologies not their own, or perhaps they lack the discipline, drive, or desire to learn, for themselves, about the Law. It seems that they encounter God’s law only secondarily, or worse even in some tertiary light, and they never fully get it, their faith praxis becomes bound up with political positions rather than tenets of faith and pangs of conscience. For some, I have seen the actions they take as being prophetic to merely be salve on their white suburban guilt, something which makes them feel like one of the good guys in the light of all of the poverty and injustice that exists in the contexts of systems of which they, themselves, are the greatest beneficiaries. There is a real arrogance in their ignorance, because they don't realize the privilege that makes their choices easy. Often times for those people there is a real sense of belonging in a community of prophetic voices as well; and those who have no genuine vocation, or who would choose not to speak in the fullness of truth join a cause for the sake of their own comfort. There is simply something too comfortable, to blissfully ignorant, and falsely joyful, and while these are good people, they often do more harm than good, making genuine prophetic action trite and genuine concern meaningless. I know that if I am not careful, I can just as easily become one of these people, and perhaps have been tempted to be one at times.
The prophets, particularly Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, and Hosea, teach us that there is no salve for the fire that burns in the bones of the prophets; there can be no quelling of guilt, or easing of shame. They are, in fact, consumed with a zeal for God’s word. This is a sign of a true prophet. That they learn for themselves what the truth is, until like Ezekiel and Jeremiah they devour the very word itself, and it becomes a part of their being. Every word read, every thought produced in that tabernacle of the mind where man encounters God brings forth a moment ripe with the expectation of revelation. It is not about what the prophet wants the law to say, it is about what the law says, what the Lord says, even if it convicts the prophet’s way of life, and the way of life of those around him. It cannot be about one particular issue, but rather about the law taken holistically, as worship and justice, love of God and love of neighbor, so intimately bound up in one another that they simply cannot be put asunder. The role of the prophet is to speak the truth, but first he has to know the truth, first he had to have studied it, and have had in emblazoned on his heart.
So it is with me, I want to follow God’s call, but I want it for real. Each of us called to priesthood is called to share in the ministry of Christ, called to act someday in his very person. If we view Christ as prophet, priest, and king, then we too are called to share in those offices, to act with that authority. So I study, so I engage what some who are in the business of acting prophetically view to be the obsolete academic life. In the end, it is that loving relationship between God and man worked out in the mind that is the only thing that can really change the world, my prayers enforce my thoughts, my thoughts inform my actions, my actions always lead me back to prayer, and so it begins again. I want to know the law so that when I act in the person of Christ as a priest in the Catholic Church I can act with the fullness of the prophetic office of Christ. As the ordination rite commands I want to know what I am doing… and in doing that serve the people of God in the fullest, most genuine love and concern, so that in that I can serve the one who created me to someday act as a prophet.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Coming Attractions....

Coming Attractions....
Originally uploaded by mikerogerssj.

Dreaming dreams can be a bit tricky sometimes, because we can dream for things which aren’t reality, or idealize things which just aren’t so ideal in reality. Such is the case with the discernment of my assignment to regency. As most people closer to me know by now, it looks like after I finish up here in St. Louis (hopefully) in May I will be heading to teach in a high school for the next three years, and I am actually really joyful about that possibility because it engenders a freedom I couldn’t have chosen for myself.

When the whole question of where my next assignment would be began to come up, there was some question that perhaps given my academic qualifications that I should go teach in a college. I went along with it, and was fairly puffed up and prideful about the opportunity, externally at least. Inside I was conflicted though, I felt a little bit of anxiety about not being ready, and about being a second class citizen at any higher education institution because of having only an MA. Now while an MA is good enough for a teaching assistantship at a big PhD granting university, most of the places I could have gone to work at pride themselves on being places where their faculty members all have terminal degrees. So I was nervous, at the very least, about that possibility. Meanwhile, I thought about going to a high school and felt calm and at peace at that opportunity. I felt like it was what I deep down wanted to do right now. Eventually maybe I would like to go back and work in Philosophy in higher education, but for now it just doesn’t seem to make sense. I couldn’t say that though, until my superiors said “let’s try high school” Which brings me to my point.

Sometimes we need help saying no to our pride to be really happy. There are things which we would try to do and commit the sin of presumption in attempting to do them in first place, simply because we’re not equipped to handle it at that point. I probably would have said yes to working in a college just to say “I teach at ___________ college” but been miserable for three years doing it. I wouldn’t have been happy simply because I am not sure I am ready to do that work yet. There was a strange and wonderful relief in the opportunity to work at a high school because I have done it, I have learned from my previous experience, and I know I can do it again. I think this is true for everyone too, sometimes we become so fixated on what we think the dream reality could be that we lose sight of the deeper realities. Sometimes, perhaps, we set up some sort of strange self image of what we think we should be, and we forget that what is most important is who we are, with all of our gifts, our talents, and even our shortcomings. We need, I need, to get away from that and just let ourselves be. When we can do that we become the gift God intended to give the world in bringing us into existence, with all of our abilities and shortcomings. To just be who we were created to be, to fulfill our vocation in the deepest sense, is to allow ourselves to experience radically that son or daughtership with God that Christ exeperiences in the Jordan “This is my beloved son on whom my favor rests…” That place of humility, that place where we can get past our own self aggrandizing deceit and get down to knowing ourselves more fully for who we are and in that we begin to experience ever deeper right relationship with a God who loves us.

So it looks like I will be coming to teach at a high school near you soon….. (that is of course if you live somewhere within the boundaries of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus)

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Dangers of Getting Greedy

So I have to admit, I now expect that my beloved Red Sox, and my much admired Patriots will now always win, they will always make the postseason, and that now the next title is just around the corner…. And then I realized, good lord, I am becoming what I hate…. A sports fan in the style of one from New York.

You see, we were spoiled in the afterglow of 2004, when the Sox won the Series, the Patriots won the Superbowl, the banners at Logan Airport welcomed people to title town, God was in his temple, and all was well with the world. That was 2004, this is 2006.

I think I forgot that for 8 teams to make the playoffs, 22 other teams had to have their seasons end on October first. I remember now. I forgot that for many, many, years of my life that neither team made the postseason, and I think I forgot how much I despised people who had expectations like I now do. Now those people have returned with their smug grins and intolerable consoling “Well there’s always next year for you guys..” Growing up in Connecticut and along the Rhode Island Shoreline I grew up on the border of Red Sox Nation and the Evil Empire. I grew up in a place where fights would break out on playgrounds about what ball cap you were wearing, and where even our Yankee fan Cub Scout masters would taunt us poor Red Sox Fans, just a little. I grew up hating what it seems that I have to be careful not to become, or if I have become it, to now be humbled and eschew it.

Sometimes success blinds us to our past failures, and makes us forget what it was like when we were on the bottom. Sometimes the pride that one can take in success can make us forget deep down who we are, and how it is that we hurt and were humbled when we weren’t always succeeding. It’s an addiction, this success thing, and it becomes something we feel like we need to feel validated all of the sudden, as if the honor made the man, and not the man himself, or better yet God, in whose image and likeness man is made. We can’t rely on our success, or in this case the success of others who we live surrogately through, to make ourselves feel more alive, to feel better about who we are. That has to derive from that inner place that says “you know what, I am a child of God, God made me, and God doesn’t make garbage, in fact God only makes things that are good.” So it has to be with anything we do, we can’t measure self worth by success, but by love. We can’t measure self worth by honors, but by that deep sense of our own worth. It is at that moment that we can recognize ourselves as children of God and really, truly be free.

So the Sox season is done, sadly, disappointingly. That minor disappointment means less in the long run, if we can just remember who we are, and maybe that should be a new Mantra for the Red Sox organization, we’re not the Yankees, let’s not try to be. The season is done, that means that its time to dig in and do some schoolwork, and time to cheer for my other favorite team, anyone who will BEAT THE YANKEES.