Category Archives: Family Spirituality

Film Review: “An Inconvenient Sequel”

It’s mesmerizing to watch the slow, melting drops of water on the polar ice cap and the explosions along Greenland glaciers due to heat. Until we realize what it means—later footage shows water filling the streets of Miami.  All that water has to go somewhere, and it’s hard to suppress cynicism when the Miami mayor promises to raise protective walls a foot. Try twelve feet, maybe?

Attempting to skirt the political implications, this beautiful planet was given as our home, for us to be good stewards. The devastation that occurs when we ignore scientists’ warnings is heart-wrenching, yet we persist…

Perhaps the best part of the film comes towards the end, with the record of countries like Chile and US cities that are converting to 100% alternative energies. Though it seems unlikely, the Republican mayor of Georgetown, TX, simply realized that solar and wind power would deliver the cheapest energy to his constituents. With some guffaws, he poses for a photo standing beside Al Gore.

I hadn’t realized before this film how Gore had intervened to help the Parish climate accord talks. India was poised to reject the agreement, because the country needed cheap power for many citizens who had none—and coal-fired plants, spewing black smoke, were the obvious way to go, as the US did 150 years ago. Somehow, Gore finaigles a low-interest loan and solar cell technology so India can build alternate power grids. They then sign onto the accord.

It’s a stark tragedy when Trump pulls out of that hard-won global consensus. But Gore quotes poet Wallace Stevens:

After the final no there comes a yes

And on that yes the future world depends.

Sounds suspiciously like talk of death and resurrection…

Movie Review: “The Zookeeper’s Wife”

It’s an older film (try the library) about a brave Polish couple who save 300 Jews during the holocaust by hiding them in the tunnels, basements, nooks and crannies of the Warsaw zoo. The natural response is to delight in their ingenuity, keeping the Nazis at bay, transporting Jews out of the ghetto in garbage trucks, secretly sending some to safety, keeping some until the end of World War II. The couple eventually receive the “Righteous Gentile” award from the Israeli government for their heroic stance.

 

The scene that haunts me, however, is one where children aren’t saved. Four-to six-year olds are being loaded onto trains for transport to the death camps, almost certainly the gas chambers. Jan, the Polish hero, sees an elderly rabbi accompanying them, and whispers to him, “My car is outside. I can get you to safety.” The white-haired rabbi declines the offer, however, insisting that he must go with the children so they won’t be afraid.

 

The gesture that broke my heart was the small children who weren’t rescued, standing on the train platform, lifting their arms to the rabbi and Jan, so they could be hoisted onto the terrible train. Their action reflects total trust, also seen in their eyes. My own grandchildren do the same thing, when they want out of the crib or a lift to see something beyond their small range of vision. I’ve held them up at aquariums, to mirrors, at ice cream counters to choose their flavor: all completely safe and innocent. So when the Jewish children raise their arms and we know the fate that awaits them, it’s heart-wrenching.     

 

Some would say there’s a grace even in the worst situation. Here, perhaps, it’s the nobility of the resistance, those who saved as many as they could, or the rabbi who holds hands tenderly as a grandfather at the cost of his own life. For Christians, it may recall Christ “lifting his arms to the cross.” In a mystery inconceivable to us, perhaps those children save us as he did, their suffering not meaningless but redemptive. And ultimately, they lift their arms to an eternal Father, eager to warmly welcome them home. Lift your hands to bless us again, small saints.

 

Film Review: Go See “The Big Sick

 

“I was thrilled to see a mainstream, wonderful film about a Muslim who’s not a terrorist!” said Maram, a delightful Muslim in my interfaith women’s group. If it’s still playing near you, “Run, Forrest, Run” to the movies.

Without ruining the plot, the lead actor plays himself, Kumail Nanjiani, a comedian whose family emigrated from Pakistan. The crux of the dilemma he confronts: his mother insists on an arranged marriage for him, as they were always done back home in Pakistan. He, meanwhile, falls in love with an American girl (who becomes desperately ill, hence the title.) When his mother finally finds out, a question arises that has probably been raised by every immigrant group: Irish, Chinese, German, or African.

Mom: “Do you know how much we sacrificed to bring you here? I haven’t seen my mother in 15 years, or my sister’s children. Your father had to completely redo his graduate work.”

Son: “I appreciate those sacrifices, mom. But if you wanted so much for us to grow up in the US, why are you trying to recreate the culture of Pakistan?”

When our interfaith group of Muslim, Jewish and Christian women discussed the film, the conversation was lively. We learned especially from a lovely Pakistani-American, wearing a hijab, who explained why she had an arranged marriage there. Her father, a doctor, and her mother, a professor, gave her a sheltered upbringing. She was transported to and from school, never dated, and hadn’t a clue how to choose a spouse. Because in that culture, it meant marrying into a whole family, she naturally trusted her parents to make the choice from their circle of friends. Apparently, it has worked well, although bride and groom didn’t meet until their wedding day. (North Americans may be surprised, that the statistics on arranged marriages are actually quite good.) Key to her story, though, was the closing line: “But I’d never do that for MY children!” How much can change in one generation…

Not to spoil the ending, but it’s happy. The audience in Oakland roared with laughter when girlfriend Emily’s tiny mom who had initially been doubtful about Kumail, tackles a large, clueless heckler at one of Kumail’s comic performances. Awkwardly thrown together while they keep vigil at the ICU, Muslim boyfriend and American parents eventually become quite close.

That supports the Pew research: when asked which religion they hate most, Americans respond, “Islam.” That changes, however, when they actually know a Muslim. Hasn’t that also been true for relations with people of color and gays/lesbians? Heartening to think that we’re living through a time of remarkable shifts in attitude, when we slowly come to realize that all humans have the same DNA as precious children of God.

Transfiguration: Prayer in Another Key

“Try it in G,” the musician suggests and we hear the same song in a different key. So Jesus models a transition from his glorious mountaintop experience to a frustrating one that follows today’s gospel. Descending, he scolds a “faithless and perverse generation,” then rebukes a demon, curing an epileptic boy.

“Will the real Jesus please stand up?” We’re inclined to believe in the one whose face dazzles and whose clothes shine, affirmed by the Father’s voice. Clearly Peter is stunned into babbling an elaborate plan for building tents, so Jesus can converse with the prophets in peace.

Yet it is no less Jesus who repeats, “how much longer must I put up with you?” in exasperation with the disciples’ lack of faith and inability to cure the boy. He heals him “instantly,” so his power is still intact; his compassion still overflows.

We also go through various transformations in our days. We might be praying, then cooking, gardening, paying bills, caring for children or the elderly, chatting, reading, singing, shopping, working on the computer, filling the car with gas or doing the laundry. It’s the same self, in different keys. But because of Jesus’ transfiguration, we do all these things as divine children of the Great King. It’s all prayer in different ways. The disciples who saw Jesus in dazzling light also see themselves anew.  The radiance might not be obvious, but it is there nonetheless, hiding beneath the surface.

Feast of St. Martha 7/29

Today, she’d be the CEO of Google or Apple. Brilliant, outspoken, direct, she gave Jesus exactly the affirmation he needed to proceed to Jerusalem and his passion. But let her tell the story…

“I was at my worst then: exhausted, vulnerable, grieving for Lazarus, angry at Jesus. I was so outraged, I spewed pure venom when he arrived. Lazarus’s place at our table was empty, the brother I loved had vanished, and Jesus’ delay became the target for my fury.

People with better social skills might have welcomed him with, ‘Thanks for trying,’ or even, ‘Your friend is dead,’ but I dumped the guilt trip: ‘If you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.’

The accusation hurt; I could tell by the sadness in his eyes. Still it didn’t paralyze him; maybe he continued our conversation because he could trust I wouldn’t mask the truth. I would look him straight in the eye and speak without a shred of syrupy politeness.

Still, he hesitated. It was as if he needed something from me, some mysterious affirmation before he plunged ahead. The roles were reversed: just when I needed to lean on him in grief, he asked for my support!

Even if I’d lost Lazarus, I could still encourage Jesus. Maybe he had taught me how to give people exactly what they need. He had wept with Mary; he had discussed the afterlife with me; now it was my turn to answer the question he hated to ask. So few people understood him; all he wanted was one person to show some inkling.

And I did know who he was. In some quiet, sure place within, I was bedrock certain of his identity. So I said it aloud. Not to sound arrogant, but Jesus forged into that foul-smelling tomb as if propelled by my words. I ran after him, just in time to see Lazarus lurch forth. Three days before, weeping, I had covered my brother’s face with the same linen. Now, I unwound the burial cloths as if unwrapping a splendid gift.

I barely thanked Jesus or noticed him leave. But neighbors said he walked purposefully toward Jerusalem, driven as he had been to Lazarus’s grave. Did my words still echo in his ears? Had I ignited some fire within him? As I had a hundred times before, I asked myself, ‘Now what have I said?’”

Excerpted from Hidden Women of the Gospels by Kathy Coffey, Orbis Books, orbisbooks.com, 800-258-5838

Feast of St. Martha

 

Today, she’d be the CEO of Google or Apple. Brilliant, outspoken, direct, she gave Jesus exactly the affirmation he needed to proceed to Jerusalem and his passion. But let her tell the story…

“I was at my worst then: exhausted, vulnerable, grieving for Lazarus, angry at Jesus. I was so outraged, I spewed pure venom when he arrived. Lazarus’s place at our table was empty, the brother I loved had vanished, and Jesus’ delay became the target for my fury.

People with better social skills might have welcomed him with, ‘Thanks for trying,’ or even, ‘Your friend is dead,’ but I dumped the guilt trip: ‘If you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.’

The accusation hurt; I could tell by the sadness in his eyes. Still it didn’t paralyze him; maybe he continued our conversation because he could trust I wouldn’t mask the truth. I would look him straight in the eye and speak without a shred of syrupy politeness.

Still, he hesitated. It was as if he needed something from me, some mysterious affirmation before he plunged ahead. The roles were reversed: just when I needed to lean on him in grief, he asked for my support!

Even if I’d lost Lazarus, I could still encourage Jesus. Maybe he had taught me how to give people exactly what they need. He had wept with Mary; he had discussed the afterlife with me; now it was my turn to answer the question he hated to ask. So few people understood him; all he wanted was one person to show some inkling.

And I did know who he was. In some quiet, sure place within, I was bedrock certain of his identity. So I said it aloud. Not to sound arrogant, but Jesus forged into that foul-smelling tomb as if propelled by my words. I ran after him, just in time to see Lazarus lurch forth. Three days before, weeping, I had covered my brother’s face with the same linen. Now, I unwound the burial cloths as if unwrapping a splendid gift.

I barely thanked Jesus or noticed him leave. But neighbors said he walked purposefully toward Jerusalem, driven as he had been to Lazarus’s grave. Did my words still echo in his ears? Had I ignited some fire within him? As I had a hundred times before, I asked myself, ‘Now what have I said?’”

Excerpted from Hidden Women of the Gospels by Kathy Coffey, Orbis Books, orbisbooks.com, 800-258-5838

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

 

Hope this isn’t “beating a dead horse,” but her feast July 22 offers a good time to revisit what happened to this central figure in Christianity. In the seventh century,  Pope Gregory lent authority to a mistake: the conflation of texts about 3 women in scripture. The mud-slinging against Mary Magdalene continued until a correction in 1969, but the good news of scholarship takes a long time to reach the public. In many groups, one still hears the identification of her with a prostitute. Or in Dan Brown’s novel, the wife of Jesus.

All four gospels agree she was one of the first witnesses to the resurrection, apostle to the apostles. Why did early church fathers shift her role to financier/ crazy woman/Peter’s rival, or ignore her? Partial answers include sexism, misogyny, opposition to women’s leadership, growing emphasis on celibacy. For 1400 years, the authority of a major woman witness was sadly reduced. The amount of energy that has gone into suppressing Mary Magdalene’s voice indicates she must have posed a huge threat to the religious establishment.

Reclaiming her true identity, we can appreciate how Jesus calling her name in the garden after his resurrection is a pivotal turning point, not only for her but for all subsequent human history. She was the first to realize that God can vanquish even death. Which makes all other obstacles seem minor.

Patron Saint of the Environment

The month of July is laced with wonderful saints’ feasts. Seeing them intertwined with the events I’ve planned for this month is a visible reminder that we’re all together in this “magnificent enterprise which is God’s work” (St. Ignatius, 7/31).

First is Kateri Tekakwitha, July 14. Biographical details are sparse: daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Christian, Algonquin mother, she was orphaned when her family was wiped out by the smallpox epidemic of 1660, which left her pock-marked and half blind. Adopted by her uncle, she asked for baptism at age 20, and celebrated it in a chapel festively decorated with feathers, ribbons, flowers, and beads. The beauty of nature, which she had always loved, took on new intensity because she knew the creator.

The Mohawks, however, could not accept her conversion and ridiculed her. Eventually she made a long journey on foot to the Sault mission south of Montreal in Canada, where she could live among other Native American Christians. Early French biographers describe her as solid and joyful. She nursed the sick and dying with remarkable cheer, considering that her own health was precarious. Her joy was so contagious that children were drawn to her for storytelling. She showed a key hallmark of holiness: people wanted to be around her. At her burial there was no mourning, only public rejoicing.

At a time when much progress to preserve clean air, water and wilderness is threatened with dismantling, we can ask Kateri for wisdom, reverence, and her sense of the earth’s irreplaceable sacredness.