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Death and Life

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.  One hundred sixty-eight people lost their lives that day, in what was, until 9/11, the deadliest terrorist act in the United States.

One one of my visits to the home of my friends Michael and Maria Scaperlanda, they took me  to visit the memorial of the bombing.  Here is the statue that stands across the street from the memorial entrance (which you can see in the background).

Part of the memorial is the Field of Empty Chairs, on which is placed one chair for each person killed, in the approximate position of where the person would have been in the building at the time of the bombing.  Large chairs for the adults and smaller ones for the children.

As we pray for the victims of terrorist acts….and for those who commit them, there is one other thing we should keep in mind, and that is what we celebrate during this Easter season: that death is not the end.  Although I didn’t take a pictures of it, there is something else on that memorial site I have never forgotten: an American Elm called the Survivor Tree. The tree withstood the full force of the attack that day and there is no earthly reason it is not completely dead and gone. Yet it continues to stand and to grow. I felt its life and its power when I stood touching it during my visit to the site. You can literally feel the life pulsing through it.

Dom Helder Camara writes, “in those most critical, most agonizing of moments, we Christians have no right to forget that we are not born to die; we are born to live. We must hold on to hope, to inner peace, since we have the deep certainty of having been born for Easter, the everlasting Easter Day.”

Here is the reflection my friend Maria Scaperlanda wrote for the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing.  It is worth reading again today.

I grew up in an apartment in Brooklyn, so gardening was not a pasttime of my youth.  Even now, Dave does most of the gardening.  Our prior arrangement, when we first moved into a house with a yard, was that Dave’s domain was the flowers and mine, the vegetables.  But after putting up with my overplanting as long as he could stand it, Dave took over the planting of both.  My quip re the vegetables has become, “Dave sows, I reap.”

But there is something special about working outside.  I spent a good bit of time earlier today raking out the leaves which served to protect various plants during the winter months.  It was hard work and required care to not disturb some of the early growth, but it felt so good.  I’m not sure if it is the consciousness of the change of seasons, the feel of the sun as I labor, seeing the green emerge from beneath the leaves, or just getting my hands dirty – likely it is some combination of all – but I came in from my work with a feeling of well-being and peace.

Even those of us who have academic jobs like the one I have are not meant to sit at our computers all day. And while I’m happy there is a Snap Fitness around the corner I can go to early mornings to work out, there is no substitute for getting outside.

So go get your hands dirty.  If you don’t have your own yard, join a community clean-up, or help a friend in their garden.  Get outside.  And enjoy.

In honor of his birthday, some words by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on hope:

“To have Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence. The core of faith rests upon accepting being loved by God, and therefore to believe is to say Yes, not only to him, but to creation, to creatures, above all, to men, to try to see the image of God in each person and thereby to become a lover. That’s not easy, but the basic Yes, the conviction that God has created men, that he stands behind them, that they aren’t simply negative, gives love a reference point that enables it to ground hope on the basis of faith.”

Happy Birthday, to Pope Benedict!

Times of Stress

Our law students are moving into the last couple of weeks of the semester, which can be a stressful time of year. (For some, it is their couple of weeks of law school before graduation.)

The Wellness  Center at the University of St. Thomas publishes a list of “Stress Tips.”  As I perused them, they seemed not only useful for our students as they deal with final papers and get ready for final exams, but during any period of stress.

Here are some of their suggestions; the parenthetical comments are mine:

Start a gratitude journal – Reflecting on positive experiences, feelings, and relationships in your life can bring you a greater sense of peace.  (I was happy to see this listed first, as I think gratitude is a very important spiritual practice.)

Get enough sleep – Getting more sleep can help your mind refocus, recharge, and rebalance.  Sleep helps you be the best you can be!  (This is one I tend to forget, as so many busy people.)

Exercise – You don’t necessarily have to work out every day for an hour to see benefits from exercise.  Sometimes a 15 minute walk is enough to clear your head and get you ready to tackle the world! (I heartily second this one from my own experience.  I find a short work does me a world of good when things start getting out of hand.)

Avoid unnecessary stress by learning how to say no – if you really don’t want to do something or its’ too big of a time commitment those asking will understand why you’re saying no! (I’m still learning this one.)

Accept the things you cannot change – remind yourself it doesn’t help to worry about things you have no control over.

Remember to laugh!

Don’t stress yourself out about stress.  Remember, small amounts of stress are not necessarily a bad thing – it can be your friend! Moderate amounts of stress are okay and natural, think of it as your body’s way of staying focused and on track.

***

If you have other suggestions – ways you deal with stress, please feel free to share them in the comments.

My friend Rabbi Norman Cohen, senior rabbi at Bet Shalom Temple in Minnetonka, who is often a speaker on interfaith dialogue, has been working on a book on Stereotypes and Misconceptions Christians and Jews Hold About Each Other.  Last fall, I invited him to come to speak to the law school community on the subject.  During that visit, he only addressed half of his project: stereotypes and misconceptions Christians have about Jews.  Today we had him back for a lunchtime presentation on the second half: stereotypes and misconceptions Jews have about Christians.

The following are some of the misconceptions Rabbi Cohen identified as ones Jews have about Christians. (He had 11; I’ll just mention 5.)  He was very clear that not all Jews think all of these things, but that these is some prevalence to these views.

1.  That Christianity is monolithic.  Just as Christians often fail to appreciate the enormous differences within Judaism, Jews often do not appreciate that there are differences, not only between Catholicism and Protestantism, but between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Catholics, or between Southern Baptists and UCC folks.  He feels the need to sometimes remind members of his congregation that you don’t understand “Christianity” by watching a few TV evangelists on Sunday morning.

2.  That Christians mean the same things as Jews do in using certain terms.  A good reminder for all of us that words we take for granted like “Bible”, “Messiah”, “sin” and “salvation” mean different things to people of different faith traditions.

3.  That Christians only care about heaven and hell and not about his world.  Rabbi Cohen noted that his response is to point out how many soup kitchens and other works of mercy and charity are performed by Christian churches.  The commitment of especially the Catholic Church to social justice is, he believes, apparent to anyone who looks objectively at their actions.

4.  That the New Testament is nothing more than anti-semitic blaming of Jews for killing Jesus.  This is one I sense Rabbi Cohen loves to talk about with Jews, as he has become convinced from his own experience of the value to Jews of studying the New Testament.  He believes it is source from which Jews can better understand their Christian friends, what first century Jews were like, how a young Church develops, and so on.  This is a subject I’d love to hear him elaborate on.

5.  That the Holocaust is totally the fault of Christianity because it took place on a Christian continent and the Church did not prevent it from happening.  This strikes me as one of those over-generalizations that have some germ of truth.  It clearly is a misconception to place the blame of the holocaust on Christianity.  However, it is also clear that the Catholic Church could have taken more decisive action in challenging the Nazi regime, something it itself has acknowledged.

There was much more in his talk, but this gives you a few highlights to think about.  I am grateful to my friend for taking time with us.

 

 

Yesterday was the the final session of the program I offered at UST Law School during this academic year on Discerning my Place in the World. In our prior sessions we’ve addressed a number aspects of discerning vocation, including getting in touch with our giftedness, identifying what brings us joy, prioritizing our values,  reflecting on our deepest desires, growing in our appreciation that we are each individually called by God, and gauging the internal freedom with which we approach discernment.

In our final session yesterday, our topic was What Happens When Things Don’t Go the Way I Thought They Would.  That is, despite our best efforts to discern among options presented to us, it is sometimes the case that things don’t turn out as we expect.  Sometimes our discernment is faulty, but even where it is not, any number of external factors can arise that thrwart what we thought was God’s intention for us.  My talk addressed some of the feelings that may arise in such a situation – such as disappointment, loss of confidence, envy of others – and how to deal with them.  At various points, I invited participants to share from their own experience, leading to a rich discussion.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 31:03.)

We may be a week past Easter Sunday, but we are still in the Easter season. Since I haven’t mentioned them in a couple of years, I thought this would be a good time to suggest praying the Way of the Light. Although most Catholics are familiar with the Stations of the Cross, a popular Lenten devotion that follows the course of Jesus’ passion and death, fewer are familiar with the Way of the Light, the Stations of the Resurrection.

As I wrote once before, these Stations were inspired by an ancient inscription found on a wall of the San Callisto Catacombs on the Appian Way in Rome. The stations combine the events mentioned in the Saint Callistus inscription with other post-Resurrection events to create 14 stations, thus paralleling the Stations of the Cross. They emphasize the hopeful aspect of the Christian story and can serve to deepen our appreciation of this Easter season.

Here are the fourteen. My suggestion would be to take one each day, perhaps reflecting on the scriptural passage associated with the event, a number of which I include below. You can also find version of these stations online (e.g. here).

1. Jesus Rises from the Dead

2. The Disciples Find the Empty Tomb (Luke 24:12)

3. Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

4. Jesus Walks with the Dsiciples to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-26)

5. Jesus Reveals Himself in the Breaking of the Bread (Luke 24:27-32)

6. Jesus Appears to His Discipes (John 20:19-20)

7. Jesus Confers on His Disciples the Power to Forgive Sins (John 20:23)

8. Jesus Confirms Thomas in Faith (John 20:24-29)

9. Jesus Appears to His Disciples on the Shore of Lake Galilee (John 21:1-14)

10. Jesus Confers Primacy on Peter (John 21:15-19)

11. Jesus Entrusts His Disciples with a Universal Mission (Matthew 28:16-20)

12. Jesus Ascends into Heaven (Acts 1:6-12)

13. Mary and the Disciples Await the Coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:13-14)

14. Jesus Sends the Spirit Promised by the Father to his Disciples (Acts 2:1-3)

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