Sunday, April 28, 2013

Holy Week

We finally enter Holy Week. We are out of schedule because the King wants to grant Christians their holy days and he asks the different faiths to get together to plan their calendars. We celebrate Christmas on December 25th per the Latin-rite and Easter according to the Orthodox Julian calendar, which is five weeks delayed from the Latin-rite this year. I'm glad it is finally here.

Of course, my kidney stone attack reminds me of the imperfections of the body. I could feel the stone move along today to an uncomfortable place where it will rest and bother me for 1-2 weeks. Soon, I'll be able to sing Hall----jah.

I saw many touching signs of faith over the past few days. This morning as I was walking away from the church after saying mass, a Jordanian driver slowed down and made the sign of the cross. I'm sure he does it every time he passes by the church. I have been treated so affectionately by so many people this weekend who I meet on the street. They simply want a blessing, regardless of their faith, to remind them of God's constant care for them. My heart keeps softening a bit as I encounter such unexpected goodness.

I love hearing confessions. I love it. People aren't so concerned with church rules; they are concerned about living in right relations with God. Their motivations are that they live well and love God and neighbor - especially in a place that does not honor healthy boundaries.

Even as I am driving down the road, I petition God to help me become a Christian driver. I want to be more loving to others as I drive. This morning as I pulled out of the driveway, I was met with gracious patience by a driver who let me go first. That started my day off right and I blessed God for this good reminder to be a Christian driver.

I had to laugh the other day though when I saw a late-teenage boy take driving lessons. I howled when I thought of what it might mean to teach someone how to drive in Jordan. Maybe I should seek a job like this as part-time ministry so that we can learn better driving habits.

A taxi driver asked me the other day as I was waiting for friends to exit the hotel, "How do like find Jordanians?" I replied, "They are such beautiful people, but my friend, please answer me a question." "Sure, Father," he replied. I asked, "How can such beautiful people drive as they do?" The taxi driver choked and gasped and could say nothing. I laughed and let him off the hook.

As this is Holy Week, I always have plenty to bring to Cross. This week I have many people who have asked for prayers of those who are sick or distraught and I have several friends who have recently died, which saddens me. I wish I could have shown up for them at the bedside to say goodbye. I just want to be able to appreciate the person I am with each day. I trust it will be a very good week.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Oh, what a night!

Since the glorious concert performance, I have been dogged with a vicious cold that has changed in character each day. Cold and flu medication helped calm the symptoms, but I needed something new each day. I was very happy when last night I thought I would go to bed while not losing sleep because of the symptoms.

Two friends from Boston have been in town doing a Holy Land tour of Jordan and the West Bank. Yes, Jordan is certainly part of the Holy Land. We enjoyed a nice dinner at an Al-Rainbow Street restaurant, where I nibbled on Squab. (Yes, that means pigeon.) It was very tasty, especially with the Fareehkah cracked wheat bed on which it sat.

We strolled past coffee houses, art galleries, craft shops, and ice cream stands. At one place, I ordered a single scoop of double dark chocolate, which was very creamy. As soon as I tasted it, I realized I would regret it. I felt a sharp pain in my right side and thought that I might be having a kidney stone attack. Thankfully, the pain passed within three minutes.

I have a strange history with kidney stones, having passed seven already. After the first one, the doctor mentioned I had a handful of others, but they were very unlikely ever to move from where they sat. I was thankful for that because it is incredible pain. However, on three different Ash Wednesday's, I have passed a stone.

I realized I am beyond Ash Wednesday so I don't have to fret, but today we celebrate Palm Sunday because we follow the Orthodox liturgical calendar. Holy Week always comes alive for me and the Western Church's Holy Week was eventful this year. I don't want to repeat that dynamic.

I arrived home at 11:30 p.m. and knew I needed to go to bed early because I had an early morning mass to celebrate. As soon I put myself under the covers, I developed a raw pulsing pain on my left front side. I've not had a stone attack there before but the symptoms were the same. I agonized for four hours. I know that I don't have to go to the hospital because they only last two to three hours and then the pain suddenly stops. There isn't much doctors can do except to give morphine and I don't want to take drugs. I writhed about, jumped up and down, paced the hallway, and did everything I could to provide some pain relief, but the blasted thing lasted for hour hours. What a way to enter Holy Week.

I was looking for needed sleep and I did not get it. Soon, I'm off to bed. I hope it is a much better night.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


The concert series is over and it has been a huge hit in Amman. Many Jordanians felt great pride in attending these concerts that featured Arab secular music, nationalistic hymns, American Broadway hits, and songs of love from every sphere of life.

Several Jordanians thanked us as we walked out the door and encouraged us to go internationally to build pride in being Arabs and Middle Easterners. Our songs communicate the traditions and cultures of the region.

The concert was led by Shireen Abu Khader, was choreographed by Lana Abu Khader (very distantly related), and accompanied by the Damascus High Institute of Music in Syria. Portions of the proceeds were given to Syria as a benefit.

Dozan wa Awtar was founded in 2002 to promote choral music and to create unique performing arts projects. Dozan is now the leading secular choir in Jordan with a diverse membership and repertoire.

With six performances this week, we are exhausted. During the afternoon of the first performance on Wednesday, I started feeling the symptoms of a vicious cold. A fever, swollen glands, raspy voice, and nasal and chest congestion did not stop me from performing. I lacked sleep, but I pushed myself because one can always sing with a cold because it is about breath support.

The grueling lead up to performances tired us out. We virtually rehearsed every day a week and a half prior to the productions on an extended schedule with an all-day rehearsal. I've never witnessed cramming like this before. Every other chorus I have been in makes sure rehearsals start and end on time with plenty of days off for rest.

The backstage was incredibly funny. Instead of conserving voices and energy, performers would blare out songs at the top of their lungs while soloists were performing onstage. The pacing and movement was rich. I would find a corner to rest and get away from the energy, but this type of energy pulls one into the dynamics.

Perfume and cologne choked by fragile nasal system. Huge quantities of spray were applied by both male and female performers. The girls here are stunningly beautiful and they wore elegant dresses and loads of meticulously applied make-up, but I was wondering if they thought anyone would smell their perfume. I have to imagine the audience did!

Here is the line-up for the program:

Les Temps des Cathedrales was instrumental and is set is 1482 Paris to honor the building of cathedrals.

Grease: We go together was spirited to open the program with lots of energy and dance.

Grease: Summer Nights - about a youthful summer love affair from the perspectives of girls and boys.

Ya Zahratan Fi Khayali - portrays a lost love as a wilting flower.

Daggi Galbi - expresses a love so strong that life without the loved one is a disgrace. This is a Jordanian song.

Little Mermaid: Kiss the Girl - Sebastian the crab encourages Prince Eric to kiss the silent and beautiful Ariel while floating together through an enchanting lagoon.

Abba: Lay All Your Love on Med - showcases two lover reminiscing about the time they first met and expressing their endless love to each other.

Call Me Maybe: comically expressing some Jordanian women's sense of urgency about getting married.

Yalli Yi'dar Ala Albi: Some say each of us has one love of a lifetime; love is not about finding any person, but it is about finding your soul-mate.


My Fair Lady Medley:

   On the Street where you Live; With a Little Bit of Luck; I've grown accustomed to her face; and I could have Danced all night.

The King and I: Shall we Dance - Anna recalls her first dance and teachers the King of Siam how to dance the polka.

Ana Albi Daleeli - A fustion of oriental and waltz rhthyms that encourages a person to follow one's heart.

Notre Dame de Paris: Belle - Quasimodo, Frollo, and Phoebus sing about their different feelings for Esmerelda: Quasimodo about his growing tenderness for her; Frollow about his fascination with her; and Pheobus about his wish for an affair with her before he marries.

Miss Saigon: Last Night of the World - Chris, a virtuous American GI, promises to take the Vietnamese bargirl, Kim, with him when he leaves Vietnam.

Miss Saigon: Bui Doi - Years after leaving Vietname, the American ex-GI, John, heatedly tells his friend Chris about the aid organization whose mission is to connect street children conceived during the Vietnam War with their American fathers.

Baba Yetu: The Lord's Prayer in Swahili

Hilwa Ya Baladi: With soul, passion, and devotion for one's country, the revolutionary song portrays the epitome of patriotic belonging.

At the last minute, we cancelled Biktop Esmek Ya Bladi, a Syrian song of patriotism and devotion  to one's homeland in the face of hardships.

It was a great peformance. Lots of love and drama flowed forth on the last night as the group was breaking up for the season. Many people are around only for a year or a semester. The group enjoyed some time together at a local restaurant.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Blue Suede Shoes

A few days ago, I went to the Abali market, a temporary souk, and I found a pair of blue suede shoes to use in our concert this week. Who would think I would ever find anything like this in Amman, but there are many weird and exotic things. We are gearing up for the six concerts this week with lengthy rehearsals. One more week and we will have completed the spring season.

The concert will have many Arab secular love songs, plus selections from My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, songs from Hollywood movies, and a very moving Swahili song. It will be great fun. I'm even doing a little dancing - very little.

Anyways, I saw an Ammanian phonebook the other day and I almost picked it up to see if there were any Predmores listed in Amman and then I thought, "how foolish of me." This evening I received an email from a young woman named Amy whose last name is Predmore. Who would have thought this coincidence could happen.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Graduation Day

At my art class today, my instructor asked me if I would like to start painting next week! Yeah! Originally, he told me that I would need two classes of drawing before I began, but he cut it down to one class. One class equals 24 hours. So next week, I'll begin my lessons. The homework he gave me is neat, but he says he wants a more difficult picture with lots of details. Every week he keeps upping the levels tremendously. He is boosting my confidence.

My artwork seems to have a spiritual significance for my reason to be in Amman. It is curious.

Last night as I drove home from chorus rehearsal, I sighed a breath of relief as I put on my directionals to turn into our driveway. I was realizing that I've been through a lot the past two weeks and that the lion's share of the difficult juggling was over. I could retire for the evening and get to bed early. Just then, I heard a boom. The car behind me was hit my another car who was driving too fast. The driver had plenty of time to assess the situation, but he misjudged and he slammed into the car ahead of him. Oh, do I wish people would be more defensive drivers and would learn better driving habits. It kind of shook up my plans for a pleasant evening, but no one was hurt.

I have a guest from Germany who is visiting for two weeks. It is nice to get her impressions of life in Jordan from a fresh perspective. It is interesting to see how much I absorbed. She goofs over the driving patterns. She took a video of some of the drivers because she can't believe what they are thinking as they enter the roadways. I laugh because I can empathize with what she is observing.

The other day we went to Paris Square in Jebel Webdeih. I wanted to look for a mosaic class so I turned into a ceramic/mosaic shop. It is a nice collection of artwork, but they don't really do mosaics, but mosaic-etched pottery. I asked if there was a class, but the language barrier was far too great for any satisfying conversation, but the sweet woman called us into her workshop where she and another worker were making some ceramics. She showed us how she performed her craft. She was very sweet and tried to communicate the best she could and we felt bad that we had to leave before she finished. She thought she was giving us what we asked for, but we were able to see her goodness in sharing her craft. I think we received more than what we sought.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Morning Grace

This morning I invited a woman from daily mass to come to the Monday morning spirituality group. She was a little down and I was surprised, but very pleased that she said "yes." She loved it. It was just what she needed for the day and she was honored by all the generosity and graciousness of the others in the group.

It was a break-through for me because it is connecting one more part of the parish with another. With five separate worship sites, I am pleased when connections from one group occurs with another. This one is significant because it connects (in a sense) a sixth worship site with the larger parish as this woman is part of the daily mass contingent. Often they go to other specific-language parishes during the weekend. I sense that she will be an important conduit of information to other groups. It felt very easy because she is an intelligent woman with keen perspectives. She is very responsible and she is surprised and very pleased to see what I am offering. Such people become good allies and their news can spread out for me in helpful ways. It feels right and just.

I am feeding the birds every day and they are now regular visitors to my sill. I placed a piece of tasteless cake out there for them in small enough nougats, but I think it is tasteless to them as well. Overall, I think they are satisfied. I was told there were few birds in Amman because they have no food. Maybe I can change that.

We are in our home stretch for the chorus. The cake was devoured in seconds. No crumbs left and I am very pleased with the outcome of the butter cream frosting.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ah, the final hours of a long weekend

I'm at the tail end of an exhausting week. A friend of mine arrived for a visit earlier this week and after a run to the airport at 2:30 a.m., I finally was able to get to bed at 4:30 only to be up at 7:30 a.m. for Mass. I've had more of my share of duties this week as my priest-colleague is out of town at a conference. It is a perfect storm of a weekend.

I was exhausted after mass yesterday because of so many demands on my time. I trained a Eucharistic minister, heard the first confessions of children who will receive first communion in a few weeks, trained two altar servers who were too busy fidgeting in the sanctuary, give the hairy eyeballs to their friends who tried hard to distract them, get the choir on track with pre-mass rehearsals, arrange for readers and offertory people, work with a cantor who was doing some new pieces for the first time, greet people, and imploring impatient people to wait their turn. I don't know that I prayed at mass, but we got through it. Because some people don't have the proper boundaries or social skills, it is difficult to let them know social expectations so I can address them in due course. I feel like I was just band-aiding things together. Besides being alone, entertaining a guest, our secular chorus is in its final stages of rehearsal for the concert in two weeks. I was exhausted after that mass.

Today was much easier, but I had to wake up early to bring my friend to the bus station. We called to ask where the Abdali bus collects people and the answer was at Seventh Circle about eight miles away. If I had been on the phone, I would have asked why the Abdali bus doesn't leave from Abdali, but when I got to the station this morning, they told me I could have picked it up in Abdali. Nothing is ever easy in Jordan. I think even if I spoke Arabic fluently, they still wouldn't know how to answer in a helpful way. Well, that is done!

Masses were fine today. To relax, I did five loads of laundry and I baked a cake for our chorus rehearsal tomorrow night. I have to find a better recipe for butter cream frosting. It tastes good, but something within it is not the consistency I want. I am really a man of texture for my foods.

To see photos of our trip, click on the link below:

1. Pics of the Springtime Gardens
2. Pics of What Shall I call These?

3. Pics of Animals near Nebo
4. Pics of Mount Nebo in the Spring

New Focus on the Jesuits' role within the Church

Pope's election puts new focus on Jesuits' role within the church
By Theresa Laurence Catholic News Service

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- The election of Pope Francis, the first member of the Society of Jesus to rise to the papacy, "has been one long infomercial" for the order, said Jesuit Father Brian Paulson, rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola University Chicago.

Not in a bad sense though.

Members of the order hope that "the good example and holiness of Pope Francis will inspire young men to consider the Society of Jesus as a way to serve Christ and his church," Father Paulson said.
Certainly, the election of Pope Francis will bring new attention to the order and the work its members carry out as missionaries around the world as well as in education and on behalf of social justice.

Members of the order admitted that stereotypes abound about the society, but that critics often fail to consider the broad scale of work carried out by the world's largest order of religious men.

"Anybody who thinks they can label the Jesuits are fooling themselves," said Jesuit Father Richard Salmi, president of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. "That's the joy of being a Jesuit, you don't have to be one little thing."

Widely known as missionaries and social justice advocates who are highly educated and rigorous educators, Jesuits also serve as attorneys, researchers, astronomers and now pope.

"The Jesuits were founded to be less cloistered, more out in the world," Jesuit Father Mark Lewis, superior of the order's New Orleans province, told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. "Our religious life is lived in the midst of activity."

Jesuits may lead busy lives, but they take a break once a year for a silent eight-day retreat. They also make two or more silent 30-day retreats during their life.

Jesuits usually live in community with other members, but they stand ready to go anywhere on mission. In addition to the traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Jesuits take a fourth vow of obedience to the pope, to serve wherever he desires they serve. While such papal requests do not come often, "the church does ask us to go to the frontiers, geographically, spiritually and intellectually," Father Paulson said.

Latin America is one such place.

Jesuits have established deep roots throughout Latin America, placing them as intimate witnesses to the region's complicated history. The Jesuits' initial foray into Latin America came after St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the order in the 16th century. A second push began in the mid-20th century to minister to people who were suffering under strong-arm dictatorships.

"The Jesuits were sent to make sure the faith stayed strong," Father Lewis said.

Their renewed presence in the mid-20th century paralleled the birth of the liberation theology movement, which interprets the teachings of Christ in relation to liberation from unjust social, economic and political conditions. Many Jesuits working in Latin America in more recent times acted alongside the people they were serving against military and government oppression.

"Pope John Paul II was very keen that we be involved in theology, not politics, but in Latin America that can be very difficult to distinguish," Father Lewis said.

When popes criticize the liberation theology movement, they are "not rejecting the care for the poor," Father Lewis explained, but rather they are warning against the movement skewing too Marxist or becoming violent.

"If it moves in that direction, it would start to lose its scriptural basis," he said.

The Jesuits also are known for overseeing a worldwide network of educational institutions. Today's schools are a far cry from the way Jesuit missionaries dealt with non-Christians in 16th-century Latin America.

"The focus of our colleges is education, not proselytization," said Spring Hill's Father Salmi.

"We do a lot to help nourish the faith of our Catholic students, but we are mindful and respectful that not everyone shares our faith," he said.

Catholic students at Jesuit institutions are encouraged to know their own faith well "because people are going to be asking questions and you have to answer them," Father Salmi said.

Most of the U.S. Jesuit-run institutions are geared toward traditional undergraduate and graduate 
students who have no intention of entering the religious life. Some schools, including Boston College and Loyola University Chicago, also serve as houses of formation for Jesuit seminarians.

In Chicago, Father Paulson oversees 70 Jesuits, about half of whom are teaching at the university; the others are studying for the priesthood. They share community life together.

Like many Jesuits, Father Paulson holds advanced degrees from prestigious institutions including Loyola, Georgetown, Harvard and the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. He said the years of schooling require Jesuits to "wrestle with the answers to the hard questions" and to do so "in communion with the church."

"Jesuits can have a reputation for being liberal, renegades, and questioning authority," Father Paulson added. "Some brothers who are known for dissident theological positions can sometimes cause the order as a whole to be painted with the same brush, and that's not fair.

"I hope people appreciate that the Jesuits are men of the church who are loyal to the church."

- - -
Laurence is a staff writer at the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Listening and Hearing.

Last week in a group meeting, a woman asked me to explain what the church means when it says the Israelites were God's original chosen people. I gave the best thorough explanation I could. I spent about seven minutes giving an explanation and then we had questions about it. This morning at the meeting, she said she is frustrated because she wants to know why the Israelites were God's chosen people and could I dare to answer that some day!!!!

This morning we discussed the major divide in the celebrations of Easter between the Orthodox and Latin-rite Catholics. I explained that the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar and the full moon as its way of focusing the date. The Christians use the much more precise Gregorian calendar that is used worldwide today. She insists the Latin-rite Catholics and the secular world ought to use the imprecise Julian calendar because it is a great show of unity to the Muslims!!! Then she asked if I could explain why the celebrations of Easter between the Orthodox and Latin-rite Catholics are very different. ARGHH!!!

This evening, I asked a blind man who was sitting in the dark if he wanted the lights turned on. I wondered if that was a foolish question. Then I realized, this man can probably listen well. He spoke very good English and he we followed a great form of conversational etiquette. I was very happy. I felt relieved and heard.