Friday, September 19, 2014

Classes are Rolling Along

Wow. I’m back in school. I love it. I realize I bring a different dimension to study than I did as a college-age student. The classes have an interesting mix of students. Most of them have taken these courses and instructors previously and many tend to do their own thing. I simply intend to follow the promptings on the instructors because (a.) I don’t know better and (b.) they do.

In the first class, we are spending time with live models. It is fascinating to draw in this way because of the rare gift of stillness for an agreed upon period of time. The drawing feels authentic because a person is standing before us. I’m amazed at what others see as they draw and at the techniques they use.

Our primary exercise was a blind contour drawing, which is examining an object so fully that we do not even look at what we are drawing. The idea is to move the hand/pencil when our eyes move. Most of the time we hasten through this process very quickly. During my time with the models, I used this approach for twenty-five minutes. I began to understand the process with my body as I moved my eyes slowly to soak in the details of the image. What made it work was using my yoga prayer breath to slow me down and keep me focused.

During the next class, we painted from still life. Only two other students and I followed the instructors, which confused me a bit, but it helped me understand what the professor wanted. Most people went to class to paint their own projects while the instructions were to paint from observation. This means that the project must be complete in one sitting, which I did not understand until the end of class. I’m getting used to a whole new vocabulary.

We painted apples in the watercolor class. It was fun because there was no pressure, nothing to learn intellectually. It was just a chance to get together in a studio and paint with others who are learning techniques just like me.  

I set up my easel. It was like a Do-It-Yourself project from IKEA. It feels good to have a proper workspace for my activities.

Other notes:

I went apple picking in Stow the other day. It is so nice to be in nature and to pick from the bounty.

As I was driving down the road, three cars passed me. Each of the women drivers was texting and their heads were not looking at the road. What are we doing?

When I was taking the subway, I notice a service dog sitting in the middle of the aisle next to a blind man who spent his entire time texting.

I keep meeting extraordinarily kind people. I like that. I've always liked the word admire (ad- to mire- to look). I look to people whose traits I want to acquire as part of my personality.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Filipina, Filipina, Everywhere

I presided at mass today and I enjoyed it so much. Prayer was easy and the quiet times at mass were filled with the presence of Christ.

I loved the music because it enhanced and complemented the liturgy. I wish I could have brought respectful liturgy to Jordan. It will take a long time to get it there because you have to wait until people are finally educated in music and liturgy. Liturgy and church traditions are so rich, but people have to finally let go off what they can control in order to trust someone who is trained in the field. Education really is essential for growth.

Anyways, after mass a Filipina came up to me and said, "I have been praying to God to give me an answer to my dilemma and you've given it to me in your homily. I took my friend's hand and I squeezed it because it was just so right." I took this woman's hand and raised it to my forehead and she squealed in delight. Five other Filipina came over to me and gave me their hands to raise and then we took photos.

Last week, I acknowledged the great number of Arabs in Boston. The Filipino community is just as numerous. I love to see their families as they are out at picnics. I always wished that the Filipinos in Jordan had their families with them because that would have been a major support for them.

Anyways, we are having a great time conversing in the Boston area - and taking photos. I think they felt at home in mass because they made a larger connection.

Today, I remembered the Filipino community as I went apple picking with some friends who were in Jordan. Since it was a little cold, I brought along the sweaters I received from the Filipinos as Christmas gifts. I appreciate their thoughtfulness and generosity. It is always so consoling to know of the enormous generosity of the Filipinos. I'm also delighted the Pope is going to visit them soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Iraqi Refugee Assistance

Iraqi refugees in Jordan can seek protection and assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The UNHCR refers a small number of refugees for resettlement.  I'll note that refugees are individuals who are outside of their home country fear persecution in their home country for particular reasons.

IRAP provides free legal assistance to help some refugees navigate resettlement processes. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

First Day of School

My first day of formal art classes was quite fun. As I walked to class, I asked myself, "What am I doing? I'm the age of these students' parents," but I kept walking. When I finally arrived in the classroom, I realized I am the median age. Seven women appear to be older than me, several students are in the college level, and three are high school seniors.

Class started out with a bar of ginger-chocolate. The second half began with a bar of orange-chocolate.

The first half of class was instructive as we saw various prints on a slideshow that revealed different aspects of drawing. I enjoyed it a great deal as I was able to see what the instructor pointed out.

The second half of class was to do live drawing, which is sketching a model who strikes different poses. We began the session by doing six 2-minute drawings, followed by five 5-minute poses, then several 10-minute poses, and ending with one 150 minute pose. This was the first time I ever used a live model. The professor was impressed and encouraged by my first-time efforts.

A nearby student, who has been painting for most of his 22-years of life, was very accomplished in his style. It was great to see how quickly he could set and form and image and then fill in the nuances in short order. I enjoyed seeing the techniques the other students used.

At the end of the day, I feel encouraged and grateful.

I came home and ate a pumpkin cookie. Tis the season. It matched my pumpkin latte the other day.

Last night I attended choral rehearsal for an Advent concert. It was so good to sing again. The downside is that I have to drive an hour to get there. Boo. Drawing comes easier, but singing likewise cleanses the mind of all distractions. These things just make me happy.

Yoga class stretched me today. I loved it. I cannot believe the difficulty my body has in making certain poses. I don't know if I will ever master an Eagle pose. I can't seem to wrap my ankles around the back of my leg while contorting my arms in the opposite way. I do my best, but it must be quite a sight.

Today's limber instructor had us do an abdominal routine. He took off his shirt so we could see how it is rightly to be done. For a guy in his 60's, he has a six-pack abdomen. He inhaled it so deeply that his skin must have sunk six inches. Then he rolled the muscles down systematically in succession. I've never seen anyone in control of his abdomen so skillfully. Fortunately, he did not laugh as we tried it and struggled. The nice part is that this is the first time I've ever seen anyone show us abdominal exercises. Wow. I'm impressed. The yoga exercise is called Enya Crea (Fire in the Trash) and it is designed to cleanse the intestinal tracts.

All in all, I've had an uplifting twenty-four hours.

The makeup of Synod of Bishops on the Family is disappointing

Thomas Reese  |  Sep. 9, 2014NCR Today

The list of those attending the Synod of Bishops on the Family is a disappointment to those hoping for reform of the curia and for those who hope that the laity will be heard at the synod.
The appointment of 25 curial officials to the Synod on the Family is a sign that Pope Francis still does not understand what real reform of the Roman Curia requires. It makes me fear that when all is said and done, he may close or merge some offices, rearrange some responsibilities, but not really shake things up.
According to current law, moto proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo, an extraordinary synod is made up of major episcopal leaders of the Eastern Catholic churches, presidents of episcopal conferences, and three religious chosen by the Union of Superiors General. It also states, "The cardinals who head offices of the Roman Curia will also attend." The pope may also appoint additional bishops and clerical and lay observers.

Having curial officials as members of a synod fails to recognize that they should be staff not policymakers. They could attend the synod as staff but should not be voting members. For the most part, they should be observers and not speakers. They have all the other weeks of the year to advise the pope. This is the time for bishops from outside Rome to make their views known.

If Francis and the Council of Cardinals is not willing to change the makeup of the synod of bishops, it is hard to believe they will really fix the Roman Curia.

The American prelates at the synod will be Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and Cardinals Timothy Dolan, Donald Wuerl, and Raymond Burke. Kurtz is attending because he is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dolan and Wuerl attend as members of the council of the ordinary synod. And Burke attends because he is prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
Besides the bishops who are members of the synod, there are collaborators (experts) and auditors. Half the experts are clerics, which seems strange at a synod on the family. None of the 16 experts is from the U.S., 10 are from Europe (including five from Italy), three from Asia, and one each from Mexico, the Lebanon, and Australia.
There are more lay people among the observers, including 14 married couples, of whom two are from the United States. Many of the observers are employees of the Catholic Church or heads of Catholic organizations, including natural family planning organizations.
For example, one couple from the United States is Mr. Jeffrey Heinzen, director of Natural Family Planning in the diocese of La Crosse, and Mrs. Alice Heinzen, member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The other U.S. couple is Steve and Claudia Schultz, members of the International Catholic Engaged Encounter.
We will have to wait and see whether the auditors will represent to the bishops the views of lay Catholics, but it is hard to argue that they are representative of Catholics at large. Certainly any who think natural family planning is the church's great gift to the laity will not. And those who are church employees could fear losing their jobs if they spoke the truth.
At the 1980 Synod on the Family, the lay participants were remarkable for how totally out of touch they were with the views of average Catholics. I fear this is a rerun. 
Most of the collaborators and auditors were chosen on the recommendation of episcopal conferences, and this is the fundamental contradiction of Francis' papacy. He wants to change things, but he also wants to defer to local bishops on many things.
There is also some irony here. In the decades following Vatican II, Catholic progressives constantly called for decentralization in the church. Now that they like what the pope is doing, they want him to do things by executive order. Meanwhile, conservatives are beginning to see the advantages of subsidiarity in the church. God does have a sense of humor.
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Arabs, Arabs, Everywhere!

Everywhere I go in Boston, I see someone from the Arab community. I really did not even know many were here before I spent two years in the Middle East. Now, I see them everywhere and there are lots of them. I also see hookah bars, shawarma houses, and kebab restaurants.

The other night as I walked along South Boston's waterfront park, I saw three skunks on the side of a path hidden among shoulder-high decorative grass. I saw two young men approaching from the other direction and I tried to get them to stop and circle around the path where the skunks were hidden, but they did not stop. The men were probably around 19 years old and they had little English. This one man was offended that I was trying to stop him, so he stopped two feet away from the skunk and started yelling at me. I kept waving him closer to me, but he did not understand. Eventually, they passed by the skunks without incident. They probably do not even know what skunks can do.

As I walked a few steps further, a very large photo with a Palestinian head covering caught my eye. I did not know whose image was on the poster and I did not dare to peer any closer because two Arab men were sitting on the deck smoking cigarettes.

The week was fun because a friend of mine was visiting from Amman to get her son settled into an apartment in Boston as he attends university. His good friend from Jordan and his sister came to visit as he settles in.

As I reached my 10,000 daily steps with a nightly walk, I took a shortcut across the lawn of Castle Island. This one man came out to greet me because I think he thought I was crossing the law to speak with him. His family was having a picnic, smoking shisha, and just soaking in the evening's last light. He told me about his family and his ventures then he noticed his three-year old daughter was missing. After he went running for her, I said, "Marhaba." Her eyes lit up and she started speaking in Arabic with words I understood. I felt happy to speak - even though it was at a toddler's level. We exchanged goodbyes as I continued with my walk.

Walking is still therapeutic. It is better than ice cream. It lifted my spirits for a week that was merely O.K., but left me feeling a little down. The exercise and the connection helped me get my energy back. The whole school week begins in earnest this week and somehow I'll get myself going.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Politics of American churches & religions in one graph

Ideologies map
Mapping out the politics of religions and churches in the United States Created by Corner of Church & State, and RNS blog
What are the political positions of religions and churches in America? This new graph maps the ideologies of 44 different religious groups using data comes from Pew’s Religious Landscape survey. This survey included 32,000 respondents. It asked very specific questions on religion that allow us to find out the precise denomination, church, or religion of each person.

How to read the graph

  • Each circle represents a denomination, church, or religion. There are several circles for types of Americans with no religion: self-identified “atheist”, self-identified “agnostic”, and those who say that have “no religion in particular”.
  • The size of the circle represents the relative size of the religion in the United States. For very small groups, I put them in groups with other similar churches. In these cases, the circle represents collections of similar churches, e.g., nondenominational evangelicals, all Baptists who aren’t in one of the larger denominations, or all Hindus. The decision for how specific to make the circle was based on the size of the group in the survey.
  • The color of the circle indicates the religious tradition of the group: evangelical Protestant (historically white), Mainline Protestant (historically white), historically black Protestant, Catholic, a catch-all category for other Christian groups, all other religions, and those with no religion. (yes, there are some disagreements about whether some groups should be coded as evangelical (e.g., Seventh Day Adventist) or even Christian or not (e.g., Jehovah’s Witness). We can debate these decisions in a future post.
  • The location of the circle represents where a group’s members stand on the two major ideological divides in American politics. The numbers represent the percentile location of each group (details below). The political ideologies of religious groups are placed along two dimensions.
    • Government involvement in the economy (x-axis). This is the major ideological divide in the country. At one end are the “small government” folks who want a  less regulation, fewer services, and more market-oriented policies. At the other are those who want a stronger safety net, tougher consumer protections, and greater checks on the economy. In the Pew survey, this is measured by a question asking whether they wanted: “a smaller government providing fewer services” or “a bigger government providing more services”?
    • Government involvement in morality (y-axis). How much should government be involved in regulating morality? Some people believe that the government should protect morality and should uphold traditional values and religion. Others think government should “stay out of bedrooms” and keep up a high wall between church and state. This can be measured using a question that asked people to pick which statement comes closest to their beliefs: “The government should do more to protect morality in society” or “I worry the government is too involved in this issue”?

Observations from the graph

There’s a lot of information stuffed into this one graph, but here are a few key things we can see:
  • Churches that are similar religiously are also similar ideologically.
  • Evangelicals are classic conservatives (small role in economy, protect morality). Pentecostals want a larger role for government on economic issues.
  • Presbyterian Church in America, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and smaller Methodist churches have historical ties to both evangelicalism and mainline denominations. On the question of government and morality, they are between other evangelical churches and mainline denominations.
  • Mainline churches hold similar economic views as evangelicals but want less government involvement protecting traditional morality.
  • Christians in traditionally black denominations and evangelicals are similar in their views toward morality policy, but there is a large divide on economics.
  • Catholics are large and represent the center on both dimensions.
  • Jews are centrist on the economy. There is a major divide between both Conservative and Orthodox Jews and other streams of Judaism. This divide falls along the morality dimension.
  • The “nones” are united on their ideology toward morality (keep government out!) but there are interesting divides on government services. Atheists want more government services; agnostics favor less governmental involvement in the economy. If you consider Unitarians part of this group, then they’re the most supportive of government services.

Geek note on measurement

The range of each dimension ranges from zero to 100. These scores were calculated by calculating the percentage of each religion giving each answer. The percentages were then subtracted (e.g., percent saying “smaller government” minus percent saying “bigger government”). The scores were then standardized using the mean and standard deviation for all of the scores. Finally, I converted the standardized scores into percentiles by mapping the standardized scores onto the standard Gaussian/normal distribution. The result is a score that represents the group’s average graded on the curve, literally.
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