Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Letter of Resignation - A Poem by William Baer

Can you imagine sending a letter of resignation to a lover?

This poem, from today's "Writer's Almanac," made me laugh, sigh, and say, "Thank you." I am thankful for knowing love, and thankful for trusting in its unceasing presence in all of our lives.

Oh! And I say, "thank you" to William Baer for writing this; and "thank you" Minnesota Public Radio for sharing it!

Smiles, Peace,

Letter of Resignation

by William Baer

Dear [blank]: After much deliberation,
without qualm, scruple, or further delay,
I hereby tender my formal resignation
as your lover and future fiancé.
The job provides too little satisfaction:
too many hours of unneeded duress,
a paucity of productive interaction,
uncertain working conditions, and endless stress.
Pay-wise, I'm undervalued and disenchanted:
advancement's slow, the bonus is routine,
my "on-call" overtime is taken for granted,
and benefits are few and far between.
This document, I'm hopeful, underscores
my deep regret. I'm very truly yours....

"Letter of Resignation" by William Baer from Bocage and Other Sonnets. © Texas Review Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

On DNA - From Today's Writer's Almanac

This information in today's Writer's Almanac about DNA makes me happy. "Deoxyribose nucleic acid." Say that three times really fast! To contemplate the building blocks of our bodies, beings.....?!

I say "Thank you" to Watson and Crick for their work compiling others' research efforts. I celebrate the initially, un-acknowledged Rosalind Franklin. I marvel considering who and where our next Nobel-prize winning scientists are. I stand in awe considering all the information that is held in my own DNA, as well as yours. "What will we discover or learn next?"


It was on this day in 1953 that Watson and Crick published the article in which they proposed the structure of DNA. The article appeared in Nature magazine, and it was only about a page long. It began, "We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest." Their hypothesis about the double-helix structure of DNA revolutionized biology and paved the way for the field of genetics. Some science historians rank their feat with Newton describing the laws of physics.

Watson and Crick's discovery was actually the result of synthesizing many other people's ideas and research. They spent relatively little time in the laboratory doing experiments. They relied on the research of others, especially Rosalind Franklin, who had taken X-ray photographs of DNA samples. Their initial failure to acknowledge their huge debt to her caused a great debate in the scientific world. Many people felt that she should have shared the Nobel Prize, which Watson and Crick won in 1962.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Change in the Church: Looking to Religious Orders

The Church is changing. And religious orders are really going to show the rest of the church how to survive. They are going to embrace change, in the way that the hierarchical church cannot. Religious orders will model this transformation.
- Bob Burke, former Director of Pastoral Planning, 1980 - 2003, Minneapolis/ St. Paul Archdiocese

Where is the Catholic church today? Where has it come from? Where is it going?

These are some of the questions that burn in my brain, keep my spirit soaring, and my whole body alive in wonder, outrage, desire, curiosity, and discerned courses of action. The church has problems. But the radical call of Christ to love all and work for peace and justice keeps me committed and posing these questions:

Who are we? Where are we going?

As many of you know, I love nuns. (I would be a nun, if I could also commit my life in marriage to one living man!) For all intents and purposes then, I have found a way to be as committed as possible to the devout, religious life, without being a professed sister. I have the privilege of being affiliated with the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis as a Visitation Companion. This lay membership rocks and feeds my soul. As these women rock and feed the North Side community through their contemplative presence, and commitment to "Live Jesus!" (For those who aren't familiar with these women, they are affectionately referred to as "Nuns in the 'hood" -- given their presence on the street and the way they open their monastery to the poverty, wealth, reality of their neighborhood.) In addition to spending time with this order, I also have significant relationships with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, (who founded the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, and march for peace every Wednesday outside my apartment). I'm also fortunate enough to have a dear spiritual director and poet friend at Rochester's Assisi Heights Convent, where the Franciscan nun Sr. Rafael Tilton resides.

Anyone who is catholic or who reads the papers, knows there's stuff going down in the church. If you are a member of the Minneapolis/ St. Paul Archdiocese, then you are privy to this "stuff" in the transition from Archbishop Harry Flynn to Archbishop Neinstedt. You recognize a distinctly different style of leadership. Your masses and liturgy may start to feel a bit different, as well. If you are a long time member of St. Philips, you might refer to this change as "reverting to Pre-Vatican II times." You may or may not understand how what's occurring in Minneapolis, Minnesota is somehow connected to what's occurring in Rome, Italy, under Pope Benedict's rule. If you are politically engaged and a critical thinking citizen, then perhaps the recent brew-ha-ha over President Obama's invitation to speak at Notre Dame has caught your eye. If you are in a rural area and attending mass, you may note your priest's exhaustion over having to run and preside over several different services in several different communities, in the name of consecrating the eucharist. You know there's a shortage of priests. You recognize membership in the church is dwindling. You see pews emptying out and perhaps overhear your friends' discussions about finding a different faith community to join. You may be celebrating a whole host of immigrant members, and yet struggling to understand how this evolution will include authentic communication and honor the roots of liberation theology.

Who are we? Where are we going?

So. I am part of the Visitation Companions; I sit on their Circle of Collaborative Leaders, and have the privilege of thinking about the challenges and opportunities of our current situation with this diverse group of nuns, catholics and non-catholic leaders. As part of addressing this reality, the Visitation Sisters have been leading in - what I'd say is - a progressive and inspiring manner by addressing the facts of this current environment, posing questions, praying communally and taking action. Through the Circle of Collaborative Leaders, the lay network of Vis Companions and given the support of the larger monastery, the Vis Sisters have opened a retreat house in the North Minneapolis community called "St. Jane House." This space for communal prayer and activity is, ostensibly, a way that models and exemplifies change in how the aging community will continue to "Live Jesus!" in North Minneapolis, when God forbid, they are gone.

In addition though, we are collaboratively, passionately working to recruit new sisters to the order. As the youngest lay member of this initiative group, I find it so exciting to get to be part of this work. I love the questions grounding us, and the task of identifying, naming WHY this life and call to be a nun is so beautiful and such a gift to a woman -- and to the larger world at this time! I find this ministry/ vocation/ marketing work especially provocative during this period in our lives, and in our church's transformation.

Who are we? Where are we going?

This past Tuesday afternoon with the Vis Sisters, our Strategic Planning Group met and was joined by a guest speaker, Bob Burke. As a church historian, former college professor, and retired Director of Pastoral Planning for the Archdiocese, Mr. Burke offered our group further perspective on what is taking place in our local and larger church. And this perspective inspired me! He was naming what I already felt true in my bones, and what is backed up by centuries of experience in the Catholic Church's history.

Bob Burke began:
The Church is changeable. People think it's unchangeable, but it is changeable.
He went on to outline the evolution of the monastic orders from the time of Christ's death, underscoring how the church has been changing since the beginning:

Church History:
Death of Christ
500 AD. – First Religious Order: Foundation of Monasticism
Benedict and Scholastica – founded in the countryside.
1,000 AD – Foundation of Mendicants, or Begging Orders. Franciscans/ Dominicans. They bring religious life into the city.
1600's – REFORMATION – all types of religious orders were founded for countering the reformation, answering charges of reformation by Protestants.
Note: this is HUGE CHANGE!
1610 – Visitation is founded.
1800's – French Revolution – orders are still in the city, country, there were beggars…but now: the religious orders are being founded around Charism.
Vatican II
Bob Burke stated, matter-of-factly and with hope:
"We are going to see the demise of religious orders…The Holy Spirit is calling us to do something new."
His acknowledgement of the current reality was such a validation of what we all know are incredible challenges today. At the same time, his words were a source of deep inspiration for me, as they came from his twenty-three years plus of service and leadership in the church, and his own expertise as not only a church historian, but a man similarly committed to the Salesian Charism and the Visitation Sisters. I appreciated deeply his critical questions about the future and his frank assessment about how we move forward.

"There are a diminishing number of practicing catholics. Mass attendance is way down. Participation is in jeopardy because of the shortage of priests. The Eucharist brought us together, but now with the decline in presbyters, what are we to do? The solution is known, but no one is talking about it. What is it? Let's expand the notion of ordination. "

His honesty, clarity and wise counsel gave me pause. It made me cry. It resonated with what I know to be true in my own lived experience with the sisters, and my current journey as a Catholic living, working, volunteering, serving in North Minneapolis and beyond. I took great hope from his prophetic words. I close this reflection as I began, with his words and my opening questions. I challenge you all in your respective faith communities and places of work and leadership to respond.
"The Church is changing. And religious orders are really going to show the rest of the church how to survive. They are going to embrace change, in the way that the hierarchical church can't. Religious orders will model this transformation. "

Who are we? Where are we going?

To Love! Hope! Change! Transformation!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On South Africa's Election

The turnout today at the polls in South Africa has been amazing. This headline from the BBC inspires many thoughts and questions:

What is the future of this beautiful nation?
What role do the young people play in today's results?
Who is Jacob Zuma to the average South African, and to globally-conscious -people abroad?
Where is this country economically and spiritually, fifteen years since the fall of Apartheid?
How will the emergence of this new opposition party, Congress of the People (COPE) impact the present and future direction of the country's leadership?

I am writing to send good thoughts to my South African friends abroad - and to all citizens who discerned their votes today, taking action to make change. In my travels last November to this beautiful land, I entered into so many political discussions. On the heels of the United States' election of President Obama, people from areas all over South Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana) engaged me in critical discourse and reflection on democratic governance and change. No matter where I went -- whether it be the urban areas of Johannesburg, East London, Pietermaritzburg and Durban - to the rural communities of Msinga and Nquthu -- the questions and knowledge about the recent election in the United States blew me away. It was so inspiring to be engaged with so many differnt people, and to realize time and again how much the election of Barack Obama was triggering the critical engagement of other people in their own governments all over the world.

I encourage us all to take note of what is happening today in South Africa. The circumstances broaden and challenge us - no matter where we are in our local communities, or where we claim citizenship. As we tune into developing and transforming democracies all over the planet, we take notes, ask questions and in turn, support ongoing change for the liberation and prosperity of all people.

It's so exciting! Blessings to South Africa!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Médecins Sans Frontières: A Documentary about "Living In Emergency"

The following is a trailer for the documentary film "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders."

Living in Emergency Trailer from LivinginEmergency on Vimeo.

I had the privilege of seeing this film today with friends from my North Minneapolis Faith community. A small group of us from St. Philip's Catholic church were joined by the Northside Visitation Sisters at the St. Anthony Main theater, for this Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival screening. It blew my mind. It made me ask a lot of questions:

What does it mean to be a medical practitioner living and working beyond borders?
What are the frontiers of health care workers?
What implications does the work of Médecins Sans Frontières have for the rest of us?

How does entering a war-torn country resemble anything remotely familiar to your average US citizen?
How does a film like this push us all beyond our comfort zones and challenge us to step into the messy circumstances of conflict, terror, trauma, seeming scarcity, the absurd?

What does it mean to navigate the chaos of war -- the cruelty of the ridiculous and possibly insane?
Why even try?

I sat next to Antoinette Bennaars Lukanga. Behind me were Ann Shallbetter, Kristin Moffit, Carol Assiobo Tipoh and her cousin Adjo "Ellie" Amouzou. Sisters Mary Frances, Mary Virginia, Mary Margaret, Katherine, Suzanne and Karen were about five rows up and to the right. We were a crazy cross section of women from African countries and American states. Pink and brown-skinned; blond, brunette, black and grey-haired. Some of us work in the sciences with healthcare careers ; others were employed in education with classroom experiences. Still others had expertise in business, with human resource management and leadership roles. All of us were connected in one way or another to the film's central characters --the doctors without borders -- all struggling with the responsibility of trying to heal, mend - step in and witness what is bleeding and broken.

I cried watching this film. I laughed out loud at the absurdity of what I was seeing. I squirmed and squeezed my eyes shut at the horrific but ridiculous reality presented. (Drilling into a human skull to aleviate pressure on an already blown open-by-gunfire brain?!) I cursed alongside the isolated physician in Liberia without resources or support to do his job. I marveled at the arrogance and egos at play between the blessed humans doing this work. I wondered a lot about translating communication and culture in spaces like Congo. I thought long and hard about how connected we all are. I returned to the privilege I have to see such things and truly contemplate them. What exists at the heart of such war-torn spaces? Why do these conditions persist?

I invite all of us to see this film, support the efforts of such work, and recognize how we all might - as individuals and a larger global community --step into solutions.

In peace,
Your contemplative friend, (and catholic beyond borders),

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter: Prayer as Poetry

This is what I do, right? Contemplate conditions, write in response. Today, in light of Easter, I find myself meditating on Christ's crucifixion. I write. I laugh. I weep. I wonder. I entertain myself in the prayer that is my poetry.

Peace. Love,

Trade Offs
by Melissa Borgmann

What if we stepped into that space?
Recognized our nearness to death:
Thorny piercing of skin
Nails through the wrists
(because the palms would not have worked, right?)

See this:
Sharply hammered iron pins that are driven through epidermis, veins,
move over bone.
[Can you imagine the craftsman who forged that spike?]

Lungs collapsing from the tug of ribs
Pulled down by the weight of legs
Chest cavity crushing spirit.

And we try to breath.
We try.
He tries. We try.

Something like blood or sweat trickles down from the temples.
Do you get a headache? Appropriate, or not?

Yes, “This crucifixion gives me a headache.”
[“Me, too.”]

Pain is so inconvenient.
Suffering so easily remedied by, say, a cocktail?
A glass of wine appears.
The bitter irony of drink.

This is my body, given up for you.
This is my blood, shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in remembrance of me.

Have the meal, it is much easier.


Meditation on Nail Man
by Melissa Borgmann

My name is Ike and
I make the spikes
That drive through flesh and bone
Of one called Christ.

It’s hot and sweaty labor
To forge steel in fire
But the point is to honor God
With these gifts that never tire.