I'm still a believer

{mosimage}I’m really not a true believer. I learned this at a recent workshop. People like me who receive the host at Communion-time but walk past the cup are showing that we really don’t believe God is present in both species.

I’m not a germ-phobic person. I shake hands at the Sign of Peace, even in cold and flu season. I don’t use hand sanitizers obsessively. I even dip into those 1950s-style sponges in Holy Water fonts (even if they look as though they’ve been there since the ’50s, gathering bacteria). However, something just stops me from drinking out of the same cup as family, friends and strangers.

    Economic crisis a deadly sin misdiagnosed

    What we know for sure is that the economic crisis that began perhaps as long as two years ago and began roiling the stock markets and the real economy in the summer-fall of last year is real. We know it is causing huge amounts of real pain, provoking increasing amounts of real fear and causing consumers, producers, politicians and pundits to assume the position of a deer caught in the headlights. There is no shortage of advice, most of the same in deep conflict with each other. And the other thing we know for sure is that we don’t know how bad it will get or how long it will last.

    What we don’t really know, but seem to argue about nearly ad nauseum, is how it all started. The immediate cause cited by most is mortgages to Americans who couldn’t afford houses. The underlying cause is argued to be the greed of the banks making the loans and the cupidity and greed of the borrowers. And the poster image that encapsulates the entire mess is bankers spending $1,800 on waste baskets while earning tens of millions in bonuses and corporate executives flying in on private jets to plead for public dollars to bail them out.   

      Loneliness: spectre of human life

      {mosimage}Frederick Olmstead’s design of the 19th century’s Central Park in New York during the Industrial Age was meant to act as a place to breathe and relax amidst the pollution of an emerging manufacturing colossus. The park was a respite for the weary factory worker who could not afford the more pleasant surroundings of upstate New York. No doubt, the park was also a place to socialize and be with family.

      Sociologists of the time suggested that the sudden rush to dense urban living was contrary to social evolution and the maturation of the human condition; while the body would accept the changes, the human soul would be hard pressed to acclimatize. This seems a paradox; more togetherness creates a cloak of invisibility around persons whom, to coin a new saying, were not in our calling circle. The paradox employs anonymity, the cold rapidity of technology and the theft of time’s true meaning.

        Housing key to breaking cycle of poverty

        {mosimage}The face of poverty and homelessness is often hidden in Canada. Unlike the stark faces of children and families that stare at us from photos in stories about the millions huddled together in refugee camps in Africa and elsewhere, we do not see the same faces here.

        They are hidden away in shabby apartments or isolated rural areas. They are not gathered together in camps as in Darfur but they still shoulder the burden of poverty and homelessness made more stark and bitter because it occurs in a land that is bountiful and abundant.

          Are Darwin and Galileo a tag team against religion?

          {mosimage}“Be afraid, be very afraid!” is perhaps a tad too dramatic, but on the other hand be prepared for a year that promises to go too far in setting up one of the great fake dramas of all time.

          The first hint of what 2009 portends was in the last issue of New Scientist for 2008. The editors of the magazine in their collective wisdom decided to poll leading scientists around the world on the vital question, “Who did more to knock man off his pedestal: Darwin or Galileo?” As with any vital question of the day, the framing of the question is truly much more important that the answer. The question is timely because this year marks two “very special” anniversaries. It is 400 years since the Catholic Church put Galileo on trial for heresy and 150 years since the publication of Darwin’s groundbreaking work on evolution. To round out the trifecta of anniversaries, it is also the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

            Through God our lives can be extraordinary

            This time of year is a low point for some people. The festivities of the Christmas season are over, the lovely decorations have been packed away (ours not too long ago) and we’re back into the rhythm of everyday life. Resuming routines is a relief to some of us, but for others the predictability is monotonous.

            All of us go through periods where life seems rather tedious. We may feel like we’re in a holding pattern, biding our time until something exciting happens. Perhaps we’re awaiting specific occurrences: the weekend, a vacation, the next season, our next raise, a new job, a birth or a milestone anniversary. But life goes on in the meantime, and we need to make the most of it.

              Scarboros have made a difference

              {mosimage}It was a celebration I was sorry to miss. On Nov. 9 close to 300 people gathered at the headquarters of the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society in Toronto for the 90th anniversary of the founding of the society by Msgr. John Mary Fraser. Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins, who is the president of Scarboro’s civil corporation, was the main celebrant for the anniversary Mass. It appears to have been a genuinely festive occasion full of memory, gratitude and solidarity.

              When I received the invitation to attend it was with the greatest reluctance that I declined — other commitments made it impossible — and it was only when my copy of Scarboro Missions magazine arrived that I appreciated the measure of my loss. But also the measure of my indebtedness.

                Christian hope in times of global economic crisis

                {mosimage}That our faith bears responsibility for discerning and responding to the “signs of the time” is a conviction Christian theology has constantly maintained. In this tradition crisis is defined as kairos, a moment of truth and judgment that reveals us as we truly are. Though that moment may indicate failure and disaster, when surmounted, it provides a sense of freedom, an opportunity for growth and renewed effort. The challenge facing Christians in a time of crisis is: “how do we understand and respond to this moment?”

                Early in the present economic disaster, an American single mother returning from work with her daughter discovered that the bank had locked them out of their home. Her surprising reaction was: “I know that my redeemer lives, I firmly hope that God will see me through this.”

                  Christmas hospitality should be year-round

                  {mospagebreak}Early in the new year most people are winding down from Christmas socializing, including entertaining at home. Considerable preparation typically goes into hosting guests over the holidays: making lists, shopping, preparing food, de-cluttering, cleaning and decorating, and perhaps also doing minor repairs or even major redecorating or renovations. The goal, of course, is to create a hospitable atmosphere.

                  Hospitality has many positive connotations: welcome, comfort, kindness, acceptance, attentiveness and generosity. For Christians, it extends well beyond laying out the welcome mat for guests to our home. It’s a year-round practice, a certain attitude towards everyone with whom we come in contact.

                    Family history fills this Christmas tree

                    {mosimage}In magazines and on TV, the Christmas trees are tall, symmetrical and tastefully decorated using just the right amount of restraint. Sets of ornaments are evenly distributed and garland perfectly draped. Oftentimes there’s a colour scheme — blue and white or red and gold, for example — with impeccably co-ordinated trimmings.

                    In contrast, our family Christmas tree (always a real one, and so intrinsically imperfect), contains an eclectic mix of embellishments accumulated over many years. All of them, though, have meaning, and so rather than one more holiday task to be completed, decorating the tree is a welcome walk down memory lane.

                      Herod's shadow is still with us

                      {mosimage}The Christmas season is the prime film-launch time of the year. There are the award nominations to consider as well as the simple commercial fact that this is the time when families go to movies in droves. So, brace yourselves for the onslaught of the sublime and the absurd, the elegantly crafted and the insipid, the insightful and the hopelessly banal. 

                      Alas, the numbers of genuinely accomplished works of art are few, the formula-driven installments of previous successes omnipresent, and the range of offerings shamelessly constrained by myopic distributors.