JC’s Confessions #3

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

When Stephen does Midnight Confessions, in his lead-up he often says that he doesn’t get to go to church as often as he would like and he misses one of his favorite things, going to confession. At which point, I usually think, “Said no Catholic ever!” Everyone with whom I have ever spoken about it feels that it is a stressful situation, even with a good confessor (and downright terrifying with a poor one).

For the last several years, our diocese has had a day during which every church is open for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as confession is more properly called. I confess that I find it very creepy that they advertise this on television and with billboards, as though mercy and forgiveness are commodities.

It also makes it seem as though forgiveness is only available through this sacrament, even though the church recognizes many other routes for this, such as the penitential rite during liturgy, asking for forgiveness from someone whom you have hurt, prayer, making reparations, and receiving the Eucharist. Indeed, individual confession is only required in the case of serious sin, one which fractures the relationship of the person with God.

I admit, not confess, that I haven’t gone to individual confession in years. This is partly due to a priest from my past who was so unstable I was afraid to be alone with him. Even though he is no longer a threat to me, it makes the thought of going to confession even more fraught.

What is even more difficult is figuring out how to confess my own part in social sin. I grieve that the United States is participating in violence and injustice, degrading the environment and the climate, and lacking in compassion and assistance for those most in need. We are called in our Constitution to “promote the general welfare”; my faith tells me to love and serve my neighbors near and far. Even though I try to oppose what is unjust and to help those in need, I still bear guilt for being part of an unjust system. Seeking forgiveness for these social sins feels hollow, because I am no less a part of the social system after confession than I was before it.

Wow! When I said in my standard introduction to this series that my reflections would be “more serious,” I didn’t mean to make it quite this serious.  Still, we are living in very serious times with many very serious problems confronting us daily. I can only hope that my trying to do my part in repairing the damage will join with the efforts of other people of good will to improve our country and our world.

Women’s March 2018

I went to the Binghamton NY Women’s March yesterday. Last year, we had about 3,000 participants, but we expected this year would be smaller and it was, although our numbers far exceeded the 500 that were expected. I have seen estimates of 2,300-2,500.

Last year, we were only permitted to walk on the sidewalk, but this year the police blocked the side streets so we could march down the main street. I was lucky to find some poet friends in the crowd as well as some other friends and acquaintances.

We marched to the United Presbyterian Church, where, due to our numbers, the speakers and crowd were moved from a downstairs community room into the sanctuary with overflow gathering in the community room with an audio feed.

The theme of our local march was “Be heard” in order to hear more clearly from some underrepresented groups. One of the most moving speeches was from a sexual assault survivor who moved us all to a standing ovation because of her courage and message.

I was pleased to have daughter T beside me, as she had been at the march last year. We wore our matching Women’s March shirts and had a good discussion on our way home.

I will keep up my activism on women’s issues and other social justice/civil rights issues as well as supporting candidates who uphold those ideals. While things are challenging right now, we will continue to listen to each other and work hard for the good of all.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:
 https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/21/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-21st-2018/

 

 

 

discouraging news

Don’t worry. This isn’t about any particular or personal news. Just a general statement of what it is like for me and for many others in the United States these days.

Watching/reading/listening to news is very fraught and discouraging. Sometimes, such as when there is violence, the news is sad and discouraging in and of itself.

Just about any news story about national government is discouraging as the dysfunction that has been in evidence in recent years has only deepened. This is ironic because the Republicans control Congress and the presidency, which usually means that legislation would pass easily. However, there is so much dissension and confusion within the party and between the president and Congressional leaders that nothing of significance is getting through the process to become law.

In the not-too-distant past, the majority and minority party would cooperate and compromise to pass legislation with a goodly majority of bipartisan votes, but that has fallen by the wayside, leaving very discouraging gridlock in its wake.

One of the things that disturbs me most is how many people are publicly denying known and provable facts. For example, some say that Russia’s interference in the US elections didn’t take place and is just an excuse for Clinton’s loss, but Russia’s role in the DNC hack was publicly known and reported on months before the election. Further evidence of hacking by Russia has also been proven in attacks on various election systems in at least two dozen states. Additionally, we have seen Russia use the same tactics in other countries.

At least as troubling is the ugliness of attacks on individuals and groups of people. Obviously, this is not a new tactic either, but some people are emboldened by the president’s twitter attacks and by other high-profile leaders who namecall and stereotype or even engage in hate speech against racial, ethnic, religious, or gender groups. Public discourse gets diverted away from civil discussion of issues and is dragged into personal or group attacks.

In the midst of all this, we have the many disturbing stories of sexual harassment and assault being unearthed after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, showing how prevalent such stories are. Although the stories are horrifying and sad, the #MeToo movement feels empowering and hopeful to me. Maybe we have finally reached a critical juncture where everyone in the society realizes what sexual harassment and assault look, sound, and feel like so that we can actually put a stop to it.

This also reinforces for me my broader commitment to both feminism and social justice causes. When you see how many individuals’ lives are adversely affected by discrimination, abuse, lost opportunities, violence, health problems, etc., you can more readily see that we are not living up to our societal commitments to fairness, equality, and “the pursuit of happiness,” nor are we following the Constitutional call to “promote the general welfare.”  For me as a Catholic, social justice work is also part of upholding doctrine on the dignity of each person and of all types of work and workers  and on the call to care for all creation with special care being given to those most vulnerable.

The disturbing news of late shows how much work there is to be done.

I hope you will join me and the millions of others in these efforts.

Writer Beat comment

My recent post on the US, the Paris accord, and climate change was picked up by Autumn of Writer Beat and republished here. Due to personal circumstances, I have been remiss in answering comments, but I was up early today and baby ABC was asleep so I managed to put together a response. I urge you to visit the Writer Beat post to read the comments to which this response was written – and to check out the site which has many, many interesting posts from a range of bloggers.
*****
I wanted to share this link which has one of the best explanations of climate change/global warming I have ever read, compiled by knowledgeable scientists.

In terms of social responsibility, I truly appreciate the visions and insights of Pope Francis. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, he describes an integral ecology, which includes both care for creation (the environment) and care for people, especially those most vulnerable. One of the advantages of renewable energy is that it is often produced locally, eliminating the need for long-range distribution grids and powering other development needs.

A real-world example is a project in conjunction with my county’s community college and a remote village in Haiti. Solar panels with battery storage power a pump for a community water well for safe drinking water and a modern bathroom near the church and school. The community has started a garden to grow staple crops to feed the schoolchildren. Solar ovens are allowing the cooks to bake extra goods for sale to people in the village. LED lighting, which does not need much electricity to operate, allows the children to gather at the church and school to do homework in the evenings. Adults and children are able to use computers. Communication can be accomplished with cellular networks rather than by hardwire.

Climate change impacts are felt most acutely by those who are most vulnerable economically. Drought; collapse of native crops, fisheries, and wildlife; coastal, river, and flash flooding; and other climate and severe weather related problems disproportionately affect populations least able to defend against them. We are already seeing conflicts arise over water and other resources. Access to water and/or fossil fuels underlies many of the conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa. Natural gas transport is the subtext for the Russian land grab in Ukraine. The problems in Venezuela are connected to economic dependence on oil.

My personal viewpoint is that the United States, as one of the largest current greenhouse gas producers and historically the largest total greenhouse gas producer, should help people at home and abroad to deal with the effects of climate change as a moral responsibility. Doing so would not impoverish the wealthy or our country. We can re-prioritize our spending, especially in taking some of our current military budget and putting it toward human needs. Our military leaders have been speaking out for some time about the dangers that climate change poses to world stability and have been big advocates for using renewable energy as much as possible when they are in action. It makes sense to redirect some of the military budget to helping population around the world deal with climate change, hunger, water scarcity, pollution, sea level rise, and other problems, both because it is the just and moral course and because it will reduce causes of military conflict.

broken

We are a few days into the season of Lent, traditionally a time of increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for Christians. I like to also do some additional spiritual reading and I am loving the reflections on stories about women in the Bible that my friend Rev. Pat Raube is sharing this year through her blog, A Swimmer in the Fount.

I admit that I am feeling discouraged this year, though. Trying to live a life of charity and advocating for social justice has become even more difficult here in the United States, with many threats to human dignity and to our environment. No matter how hard I try, I can’t protect people from difficulties or make things better for them.

At church this morning, I was looking toward the altar when something caught my eye. Instead of decorating with fresh flowers and plants, during Lent many churches feature bare branches, and our church has two fairly large trees on either side of the altar. I noticed that, high in the tree on the right side, the tip of a branch had broken and was hanging down, held by some bark or wood fibers.

I feel like that bit of broken branch, hanging down, bare, and useless. Still, it is in a place where it is protected from wind, so it won’t be disconnected entirely from the tree. Maybe enough connection remains that, when the sap rises, there can be some healing or some new growth from the brokenness.

Today, though, it does not feel that way.

 

Poem: Beatitudes

Beatitudes
~~~by Joanne Corey

The priest took a risk in his homily,
asking the President to look
again at the refugee ban,
before a conservative congregation
who thought the Sermon on the Mount
was meant only for long-ago Jews;
the poor and hungry,
those searching for justice and peace
have nothing to do with them,
secure in their homes
with well-stocked kitchens,
their children safe
in schools with locked doors.

Who is my neighbor?
Who is my brother or sister?
Questions as ancient
as Cain and Abel,
confined within church walls.

Still, a faithful few
go forth,
march,
chant,
pray,
demand justice,
give shelter,
        food,
        clothing,
        sanctuary,
dare to be Christian
and American.

Note:  Thanks to Sappho’s Circle and the Grapevine Group for their help with this poem. I decided to share it here as it is related to current events and doesn’t have a long shelf life.

More on refugees

I am very grateful for all the judges who have heard various cases on the administration immigration/refugee/travel ban. Their rulings have resulted in a stay on implementation, so refugees and visa holders are once again able to enter the United States, having already completed visa requirements, which, in the case of refugees, are extensive, taking 18 to 24 months to complete, after having gone through initial United Nations resettlement clearance.

I was heartened by our church service this morning. As it happens, our gospel readings in recent weeks have come from the Sermon on the Mount. Last week, we heard the Beatitudes; this week, we heard about not hiding our light under a bushel, but letting it shine for all to see. The hymns, which were chosen weeks ago to accord with the readings, were striking about all finding “a rightful place.” Given the refugee crisis, I was especially glad to sing this text from “Christ, Be Our Light” by Bernadette Farrell (published by OCP, 1993, 2011):

Longing for shelter, many are homeless.
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us your building, sheltering others,
walls made of living stone.

Many the gifts, many the people,
many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
making your kingdom come.

Our regular pastor was ill, so a priest from another area parish came to say Mass. In his homily, he directly asked the President to look again at the refugee situation and told us that our bishop in Syracuse was also dedicating a Mass this morning in solidarity with refugees and exiles. There was a statement from the Bishop in our church bulletin, denouncing the executive order on refugees as un-Christian and un-American.

(Of course, if I were a deacon preaching today, I would have gone further into other encroachments on human rights that fly in the face of social justice, but that is a much too long and complicated story for a blog.)

I realize that we are in for more difficulties with DT’s executive orders and appointments and goals and plans, but the outpouring of people from all faiths, backgrounds, and parts of the country standing up for our Constitution and our moral and ethical values gives us strength to serve and protect one another, especially the most vulnerable.

Refugees definitely fall into the category of most vulnerable. The Syracuse diocese looks forward to welcoming the 220 refugees initially affected by the executive order as soon as new travel arrangements can be made. Other parts of the country are preparing to welcome thousands more.

We are living out the mission to which we are called by our country and by our convictions.

activism refresher

Yesterday, I was able to attend two events that were updated but familiar.

First, I went to a presentation on sustainability in our area, hosted by SUNY BEST. Four speakers talked about different aspects of sustainability, including community revitalization, energy, and building/infrastructure.

My favorite presentation was by Amelia LoDolce of VINES (Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments). Daughter T was involved with this cause before it became a formal organization and I was thrilled to hear about how it has grown and all the good work it is doing and planning to do in the future. Their projects include community gardens, an urban farm in Binghamton which increases the availability of fresh produce for low- to moderate-income folks, youth employment, and educational outreach for schools and community.

It was nice to reconnect with some of the people that I met during the fight against fracking in New York. We have been hard at work continuing to fight against new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects, as well as advocating for renewable energy and increased efficiency. Still, we don’t see each other as often as we used to in the days of frequent rallies…which leads to…

I left the presentation and proceeded to a press conference/rally at Senator Schumer’s local office, part of a coordinated effort around New York State. Senator Schumer is now the Minority Leader in the Senate, so he is vital to leading the opposition to DT’s agenda. We stood outside in the cold and snow to get our message out. Speakers called on Senator Schumer to vote against several of DT’s appointees. There were several speakers who talked about environmental concerns, particularly about Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA chief. We were happy that one of Senator Schumer’s staff members came and spoke to us; she passed out two-page documents that had quotes from Senator Schumer’s press releases of which nominees he is opposing and the reasons for his opposition. It was nice to be acknowledged and to know that the Senator is doing what he can to protect our rights and our environment.

Today, I finished watching a video of the Washington Women’s March. Daughter T and I participated in the Binghamton March. It is encouraging that so many people are banding together to fight for social and environmental justice. The people and groups are diverse, but we are stronger together as we support one another in these tumultuous times.

 

SoCS: What would you do?

People sometimes ask themselves, “What would you do if…?”

We in the United States are now getting the answer to to those hypotheticals when it comes to questions of what we would did if our liberties, rights, and Constitutional protections were threatened.

The answer is “We organize and fight!”

I don’t mean fighting in a physical sense; we are fighting non-violently. We are marching, calling and writing our members of Congress and the president, getting the word out in traditional and social media, and working through established organizations.

One of the heartening things to me is that we are helping each other with various causes, even if we are not directly affected by them.

I have been involved with various organizations for environmental and social justice for years. Most of them would co-ordinate with some other closely related organizations within their areas of interest, such as environmental or health care causes, but not think about other areas, such as racial justice or poverty. Now, everyone is pitching in to help any injustice that appears.

We are all in this together.

It isn’t easy and how effective we will be is unknown, as these are early days.

But we must keep at it to ensure our rights and the fate of our nation.

There is an old story about not speaking out when “they” (meaning the authorities in an authoritarian country) came for the members of this group and that group because the narrator is not a member of those groups. When they come for the narrator, there is no one left to speak up for him.

We are not making that mistake.

And for that I am grateful.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is wood/would. Join us for SoCS and/or Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-and-jusjojan-jan-2817/

 

Haiti project

In these divisive days around the US elections, I have been clinging to any positive news of people reaching out and offering love, hope, and acceptance. I want to share this story from this past Sunday at my church.

There is a parishioner who co-teaches a service learning course at the local community college. Part of this course is a service trip to Haiti, to a village in the northern section of the island. The church has raised funds and donated materials for the projects on a regular basis over the last several years, so she gives us periodic updates.

The group went to Haiti in October. Because of flooding and hurricane Matthew, the village had endured damage to many of the mudbrick and straw buildings, but other repairs had already been made. The water system that protects the people from water-borne diseases was back in service. The two-classroom school that was part of the earlier iterations of the project had re-opened. Two more classrooms will be added soon. They and the adjoining church, which also serves as a community gathering place, are powered by solar panels and there is enough energy storage to allow the children to do homework at the school after dark, using LED lights. Computers that were donated are part of the school curriculum. There is also a newly-opened sewing school with donated machines that is helping local people learn a useful trade.

Last year, land was cleared for a community garden which grows food for the schoolchildren’s lunch. They had been growing staples like corn and beans which can be dried for later use, as there is no refrigeration available. The community had decided to grow rice as well, which wound up being a fortuitous decision; when the floods came, the rice crop continued to grow nicely and they just had their first rice harvest, with many bags of rice in storage for future school lunches.

The school lunch program is especially important as many of the children will eat their only meal of the day at school.

School costs the equivalent of $25 a year, but that sum is too much for some of the families, so there is a new scholarship fund in place to help more children attend school. There is also a plan to add a kitchen with solar ovens to the school, so that the cooks who make the school lunch can also bake breads and pies for sale to benefit the lunch program.

The people in the village are filled with hope, as they work steadily toward making their lives safer and more comfortable with the help of their friends and partners from our area.

We all need hope. We all need to reach out to each other, to help each other, to recognize that every person has inherent dignity.

Thank you to the villagers in Haiti for reminding me of the power of hope.