Trusting In The Power Of Prayer

St. Mary, our neighborhood Catholic Church, is concerned about the direction of the country. It has set up a tent on a brisk autumn day and is asking people to pray for America. When I walked by this afternoon, about two dozen people had answered the call.

I’m not a religious person, but I applaud efforts by those of faith to help the country in their own way. I don’t know if prayer will help, but it sure can’t hurt. And as we try to deal with the hurt and rage many people are feeling right now, we can use all of the help we can get.

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The Right Way To Proselytize

On Saturday afternoon Richard, Russell and I went to the Strawberry Festival at the St. Florian Catholic Church in Hamtramck.  After goggling at the church, which is a huge, beautiful, quasi-Gothic structure that looks like it should be in a European capital rather than towering over a modest American working class neighborhood, we walked downstairs to watch younger people from the congregation enthusiastically and energetically perform some native Polish dances wearing colorful native costumes.

After applauding the dancers until a break came, we went back outside to check out the rest of the festival.  On a walkway between the church and a neighboring school, we were approached by a pleasant-faced woman who appeared to be in her 40s.  She was holding an array of prayer cards.  “Uh oh,” I thought.  “Here we go.”

She asked if we were enjoying the festival, and we said we were.  Then she asked if we were Catholic, and after we confessed that we weren’t, she asked if we were Christian.  We stammered a bit in response to that one, because none of us are churchgoers.  Then she proceeded to talk, in a very polite way, about her faith and how important she thought it was, and eventually asked it we would pray with her, right there.  Richard said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that, and Russell and I agreed — and she let it go.  She thanked us for coming, gave us each a prayer card, and said she would pray for us, and we thanked her for that and went on our way.

When you go to a church festival, you’ve got to expect to be approached about religion.  Often it isn’t a particularly pleasant experience, because the proselytizer comes on way too strong about how you’ll burn in hell if you don’t convert, right then.  In this case, I was struck by the gentle way in which the woman raised the question, made her points, and then let us go without an unkind word.  It made me admire the woman and her determined, resolute faith, even though I don’t share her beliefs.

There’s a right way to talk to complete strangers about religion, and lots of wrong ways.  This pleasant woman did it the right way.  I don’t have a problem with people who are religious talking about their beliefs and often admire their commitment to their faith, and I hope that religious people don’t have a problem with those of us who aren’t true believers.  We’ve all got to get along.

What The Hell?

According to an aging Italian journalist — so take it with a grain of salt – Pope Francis has declared that there is no hell.  The Vatican has denied that he said that, exactly.  Apparently, the Vatican says he has been misquoted.  Hard to believe that any Italian would misquote the Pope, but there it is.

825150531185141541Not being a Catholic, or particularly religious, I must nevertheless admit that the Pope’s declaration is a bit of a relief.  I’ve been spending the evening listening to Beatles music, downing Lite beers, and trying to follow the Cavs game, and my understanding of Catholic theology is that my actions have probably involve a number of sins.  Like sloth, for example, or gluttony because I’ve downed a few brewskis, or maybe envy too because I’m a Cleveland sports fan and, well, envy is about all we’ve got to go on.

I’m not saying that I thought I was going to hell because I’ve downed a few beers, but it’s nice to have some reassurance from the Ultimate Authority on that front.  But having quaffed a few beers I wonder:  If you’re Catholic and you don’t have to worry about going to a fiery hell, doesn’t that cause you to revisit the very basic tenets of your faith?

Heaven Or Hell

Yesterday Kish and I were walking home after watching a movie.  As we passed the Ohio Statehouse, an earnest young man wearing a coat and tie handed us a small pamphlet entitled Heaven or Hell — Which One Will You Choose?

img_2904I don’t think I’ve ever actually read a religious tract handed out by a street corner Bible thumper.  This time, though, rather than immediately toss the pamphlet into the trash — which is what the woman walking directly in front of us did — I decided to put it in my pocket to review later.

Admittedly, the colorful cover page is provocative, with its depiction of Earth in the balance between an ethereal heaven and a fiery-lettered hell.  Printed in nearby Lebanon, Ohio, by the Fellowship Tract League, the pamphlet clearly had some decent production values.  But, in my view, the contents weren’t exactly written to persuade the presumed audience.

The pamphlet begins with the words  “Are you going to heaven or to hell?  The Bible teaches . . . . ” and then launches into quotes about lost souls being tossed into a lake of fire and how to be saved from that grim fate.   But if you don’t already believe in heaven or hell, why would you worry about this threshold question?  And if you aren’t already a believer, why would anything written in the Bible be considered especially compelling — any more than, say, the words found in some Hindu religious treatise?  Fortunately, the publishers ask anyone who is saved by the pamphlet to write and let the publishers know, so at least there is data being gathered that will let us know whether the pamphlet is doing its job.

Well, at least now I can say that I’ve read a street corner religious tract.

The Pope And The Donald

While aboard the papal plane today, flying back from an appearance in Mexico, Pope Francis was asked about Donald Trump’s notion of building a wall between Mexico and the United States.  The Pope said that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”  When Trump heard about the Pope’s comment, he replied that it was “disgraceful” for “a religious leader to question a person’s faith.”

pope-mexicoI suspect that the Pope will soon regret his response, if he doesn’t regret it already.  It’s not that the Pope doesn’t have every right to give his opinion on what qualities or actions are “Christian” and what are not — of course he does, because after all this is the Pope we’re talking about.  As the head of a Christian denomination with millions of members spanning the globe, he obviously can, and regularly does, speak about such topics.

In this instance, though, I think the Pope’s comments were ill-advised, because they come in the middle of an American presidential campaign and obviously were directed at a particular candidate.  It seems to diminish the Pope, somehow, for him to weigh in on something so secular and tawdry as an American political campaign.  We’ve come a long way since the days of the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960 — when John F. Kennedy’s Catholic faith was a big issue, because opponents whispered that he would be taking direction from Vatican City — but the Pope’s comments on a candidate still seem . . . unwise.  When most people associate the Pope with a focus on the spiritual, even a brief foray by him into an increasingly bitter, mud-slinging political campaign is a bit jarring.

And, of course, Pope Francis’ comments just serve to allow Donald Trump to mount his high horse, clothe himself in righteous indignation, and further burnish his reputation as the anti-establishment candidate.  I’m afraid that Pope Francis will learn that anyone who associates or interacts with Donald Trump ends up being tarnished by the experience.  Why stoop to comment about such a person?

 

An Ancient Perspective On War

Why do human beings make war on each other?  It’s a question that has intrigued philosophers and scientists, poets and peasants for centuries.

A more interesting question, though, might be not why, but when — because figuring out when the mass killings began might help us to isolate why the human species fights wars in the first place.

prehistoric-skull-discovered-nataruk-kenya-reuters-640x480A recent archaeological dig indicates that war is, unfortunately, much more ancient than we might have suspected.  The find at Nataruk, Kenya, on the east coast of Africa, reveals a horrific battle between two tribes of hunter-gatherers that happened 10,000 years ago.  One band captured the other, tied them up, and ruthlessly slaughtered every man, woman and child, including a woman whose pregnancy was far advanced.  The 12 victims of the attack were shot with arrows, beaten, and suffered crushed skulls and broken necks.  Their bodies were then shoved into a lagoon, where they sank into sediment and were preserved, to be found and studied by modern-day scientists.

Modern wars have been blamed on religion, nationalism, ideology, and quests for political power and glory by ruthless leaders.  One school of thought — reflected in John Lennon’s Imagine — postulates that if those causes of conflict were somehow removed, people would live in peace.  But the find in Kenya undercuts that simple premise, because 10,000 years ago was before the development of towns and villages, much less nation states, before the development of agriculture that caused humans to settle and begin to accumulate wealth, before the development of any known organized religion, and before any of the other attributes of modern culture that are typically cited as the causes of war.

The slaughter on the banks of the lagoon long ago occurred between two roaming bands of hunter-gatherers on what must have been a fertile and sparsely populated plain, with plenty of food for everyone.  So, why the slaughter of an entire tribe, rather than the decision to reach an accord, share the land, and live in peace?  It may be that humans, as a species, are just predisposed to war — which is a sobering thought, indeed.

The Leftovers, Season 2

Look, I knew that The Leftovers was a bizarre show.  Kish and I watched it faithfully (pun intended) last year, found it weird but fascinating, and were primed for this season — which has turned out, if anything, be even stranger and more inexplicable than the first.

In season two, we get glimpses of a social order, and people, falling apart, now years after part of the world’s population suddenly vanished.  People are still trying to figure out what happened, and one set of investigators suggests that its simply geometry run amok — and that it will probably happen again.  A man digs up a body of a woman who dies from a punctured jugular vein, goes to the police to confess his presence when she dies, and is simply released by a police officer because the woman is a member of a hated cult.  People are flocking to Miracle, Texas, because no one supposedly vanished from that town, but not everyone can get in.  And the encampment of the unfortunate — who have been left behind, in effect, a second time — is a toxic mix of filth, perversion, and religion.

The characters each are moving along their own arc, too.  Kevin Garvey continues to sleepwalk, now seems to be suicidal in his slumber, and is routinely counseled by the dead cultist — and now he’s starting to talk back to her.  His daughter seems at peace with the weirdness, but his son looks to be on the cusp of starting his own hug-based evangelical movement.  And his girlfriend Nora Durst — our favorite character — is willing to do just about anything to try to get back to a normal life, from spending $3 million on a ramshackle house in Miracle to adopting a baby left on her doorstep to handcuffing herself to her sleepwalking boyfriend before they go to bed at night to making anonymous phone calls that will allow her to smuggle her brother and his comatose wife back into Miracle.  Her moxie and her willingness to do whatever it takes to try to have a real life are enormously appealing.

And speaking of Miracle . . . well, something’s not right there.  There are earthquakes, and a hermit who lives on a downtown flagpole, and a kind of armed camp feel.  High school girls are glimpsed running naked through the woods.  People have disappeared, even though the general public won’t admit it yet, and one of the chief citizens is just angry at the world and his predicament.  He’s willing to burn down the house of a friend who he thinks is a charlatan, and he lurches between normalcy and simmering rage — and he nevertheless is somehow one of the most likable people in the town.

And then a guy with a goat appears.  Sometimes the goat gets its throat cut in a busy cafe during lunch hour for no readily apparent reason, sometimes the goat trots by without incident, and sometimes the goat is hit by a car.

We watch the show with keen interest (and some dread) and we wonder:  what the heck is up with the goats?  We really are enjoying this season’s voyage into weirdness.