When she was born, William Howard Taft was President…

I got a call over the weekend from my mother about Aunt Aldea. Aunt Aldea is the younger sister of my maternal grandmother and is the last of her generation. She was born in December 1910 and is still with us. The last few years have not been a friend to her as she is now living in a nursing home; she lives with congestive heart failure (CHF), renal (kidney) failure, anorexia, and arteriosclerosis. Because of the limited blood flow she has a necrotic toe that will turn into gangrene if not treated. If it hasn’t happened already a vascular surgeon will examine her to see what can be done. As someone who has worked for hospice for over 9 years, my response is for the love of God, let her go but I’m not the one who decides. The doctors are having a hard time with her because even the tests they want to do are too invasive for her, but they hope to have a plan later in the week.

Aunt Aldea’s husband (Uncle Bill) died on January 9, 1981. Between his death and funeral Aunt Aldea made a dress for her to wear at the funeral. This says as much about her as anything. It’s hard to hear that such a strong woman is going through this, and I pray she passes with dignity and peace. You can see pictures of her here and here.

Reflections on the Empty Tomb

I’m writing this on the evening of Easter Sunday. We celebrated Easter at church last night; the mass began at 10PM and ended this morning a little before 1AM. This Lent has been difficult for me in that I haven’t been able to get a handle on it. At the beginning of the mass as I watched the lighting of the fire I realized that perhaps that was the point. We see Lent through the eyes of Jesus and the 40 days he spent in the desert before his entry into Jerusalem; during that time he was presented with certain temptations (presumably including the temptation to forget the whole thing and fade into obscurity). In a sense to try to “do Lent” is to miss the point. The inability to control my experience of Lent became for me exactly the desert experience it was supposed to be.

The most poignant part of the mass for me was the beginning. The Easter fire was lit at 10PM and the image of light out of darkness was clear. As I watched the fire I thought that the mystery of Easter is …. well, a mystery. OK, I know that sounds like a horrible cliché but we (I) spend so much time trying to understand what is simply to be believed in all of its shrouding. Jesus died, rose from the dead, and has promised that same resurrection for us all. I don’t know what that means, and I work in a profession where I can’t count the number of people I’ve seen die. I believe what I believe not because it makes sense, but because it doesn’t make sense. More later…

If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention

I read an article a few days ago and this is the first chance I’ve had to talk about it. Our local newspaper The San Diego Union-Tribune ran an article yesterday on what happens to the remains of our fallen troops when they are returned to the United States. It tells the story of Army SPC. Matthew Holley who was killed November 15, 2005 in Iraq. When his body was flown back to San Diego his parents found that most of those killed are placed in the cargo area of commercial planes. On arrival back home the caskets are moved by forklift to a cargo warehouse where the family can pick them up. There are no words to describe the lack of dignity here and Matthew’s father John has been working with local Congressman Duncan Hunter to pass the Holley provision. It mandates that these fallen men and women are transported home by military aircraft and are met by a military honor guard. The honor guard will escort the casket from the plane to the mortuary. I’m grateful that they are finally being given the dignity they deserve, but who in God’s sake thought that flying them home in cargo holds and unloading them by forklift was acceptable?. This is (for me) just one more example of this administration’s hubris. They have created a climate where they believe they can do what they wish and nobody will question it. Using commercial aircraft and forklifts are cheaper than military escort and it allows them to fight “on the cheap,” much like the ongoing rape of the VA budget. It also shows once again that if you are no longer useful, you no longer exist.

…but our torture is OK because we’re doing it and we’re the good guys

This past week 15 British sailors were released from Iran after being captured (kidnapped) in Iraqi waters on March 23rd. During their capture several of them appeared on videotape admitting they were in Iranian waters and their capture (kidnapping) was justified. Now that they have been released they admitted they “confessed” under duress. They were isolated from each other, aggressively questioned, and subjected to what one of them called psychological intimidation. They were routinely told that they would be released if the confessed, otherwise would serve 7 years in an Iranian prison. At one point they were blindfolded and liked up against a wall; they believed they were about to be shot. They are receiving some criticism for “confessing” to crimes they didn’t commit, but to be honest I don’t blame them at all. I’ve led a pretty sheltered life and I can’t imagine enduring something like that. I’m grateful they are home.

But this raises a troubling issue for me: how do we as Americans decry the treatment these sailors endured while not acknowledging what is going on in Guantanamo? As a reminder, here are a few of the techniques used by our government (in our name) as a way of gaining information against people who have never been convicted of a crime or even had their day in court:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Forcing the person to stand or kneel for hours at a time (try this yourself)
  • Force feeding prisoners on hunger strike (ie, forcing feeding tubes down their throat without analgesics; this caused some of them to vomit blood)
  • Waterboarding (strapping someone to a board and pouring water on them or dunking them; this gives the impression of drowning)

In 2002 the Department of Justice sent a memo claiming that interrogation techniques are not considered torture unless they are “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” This allows not only waterboarding, but also mock executions and the like. If the British sailors made false confessions under the conditions they were subjected to in Iran, how can we trust confessions made by prisoners in Guantanamo who undergo much for stressful techniques for much longer (Guantanamo was opened in 2002 for enemy combatants; some of the current prisoners have been there since the beginning).

Remembering Martin

It was 39 years ago today that Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Tennessee. I lived in Memphis in 1994 and could walk from my home to the motel. After the assassination the motel continued to operate for several years; by the time I lived there it was vacant. It’s now the Civil Rights Museum and a must see on any trip to Memphis (after Graceland of course).

More Thoughts on Easter and the Empty Tomb

A few days ago I wrote about some of my unease over Easter both in its meaning and how it is celebrated. I’ve been thinking more about this. Certainly a large part of this is unease over how it is celebrated. I’ve never been a big fan of the “more is better” school of liturgy; our Easter Vigil celebration this year begins Saturday night at 10PM and will almost certainly last until the wee hours of Sunday morning. Typically parishes pick only the best readers to read, the choir sings the most complex and difficult music, and nearly everything gets thrown into the mix. Also, everyone who has been journeying to join the Catholic Church (through a process called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, or RCIA) is welcomed into the church that evening. We are blessed, as always, with a large group.

But that said, where does an empty tomb on a quiet morning with a few grieving friends fit? Certainly we celebrate an empty tomb only because it lacks what it was supposed to contain: the body of Jesus. But how did we go from that nothingness to this celebration of everything-ness? Can we find a way to celebrate the stillness of that morning? Is there away to allow the quiet to speak for itself? Unfortunately that quiet has been much of the penitential nature of Lent, the season that is closing.

In fairness I see the burst of excitement and energy that comes with the recognition that even death could not defeat Jesus, and that our worst fear has turned into our greatest joy. Perhaps Easter would be easier for me if I saw that the day after Easter wasn’t much the same as the day before. Jesus preached that he would rise from the dead and give eternal life to everyone but he also preached a Kingdom where the hungry would be fed and the enslaved would be freed. I wish I saw more of that. A few days ago on Andrew Sullivan’s blog a reader wrote in to talk about how upsetting it was to listen to the account of the Passion knowing that we continue the torture of “enemy combatants” in the same way that Jesus was tortured. That puts us on the same plane as the Roman soldiers. Well, enough for now.

Remembering and Celebrating Lives

Yesterday I neglected to recall that it was the 2nd anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). He and I didn’t agree on everything but he was a larger than life presence in the Church and I doubt if I’ll ever see a Pope who served as long (over 26 years) or had as much of an impact on the world. Today is also the anniversary of the death of my grandmother, Emma Allain (1887-1988). She was a woman of deep faith and it was appropriate that she died on Easter Sunday. She was 73 when I was born and the whole time I knew her she was almost blind; it prevented her from reading but always had her rosary with her. You can see her wedding picture from 1918.

How Do You Like My New Look?

I’ve been talking about this for a while, but I finally made the leap to my new page. My friend from church Chip is hosting this page. Now you can respond to my posts and tell the world what you think. It’s a little scary: up to now I’ve been able to live with the illusion that scores of people are reading my blog. Now if I’ve been posting for months and nobody is responding, I’ll have to face the bitter reality that I’m really just talking to myself. So at the risk of sounding desperate, please respond and tell me what you think.

Holy Week: That Magical Time of the Year

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. Most of us have images of how the events of Holy Week looked and don’t really think about where these images come from. The sermon we heard last night was really good in challenging this. On Palm Sunday we read the account of the passion and this year we read the account from the Gospel of Luke. All four gospels recount the passion but have different details (Luke’s gospel does not say anything about Judas regretting his actions, Jesus being flogged, or crowned with throns). There are scores of movies about the passion and most of them cobble together details from all the accounts and those are the images we carry. A few years ago Mel Gibson produced The Passion of the Christ which he claimed was how those events really happened. It’s worth noting that he included Veronica wiping the face of Jesus as he was carrying his cross which is nowhere in the Bible.

I have to confess a certain unease when it comes to Easter. Part of my unease comes from the elaborate liturgies we celebrate; Easter Vigil on Saturday night will normally go over 2 hours and this week has more RSI (rehearsals per square inch) than any other time of the year. I sometimes describe myself as a closet Quaker when it comes to these celebrations (less is more); I’m grateful that I don’t have to participate in the planning of these things. In addition to that there’s a paradox to Easter: we celebrate the empty tomb. After Jesus was crucified his followers came to his tomb and expected to find his body but found instead….nothing. Jesus made a few appearances and promised that we would all be raised from the dead, and that he would return someday. Over 2000 years later we continue to believe in the ressurection and await Jesus’ return and don’t fully understand it. But, as Fr. Dominic told us yesterday, since we don’t fully understand this, we continue to tell the story.