Saturday, June 29, 2013

Rock On

Two friends and I attended a concert at the Odeon Amphitheater downtown last night. I was pleased with the performance. I had no idea what to expect because it was going to be Arabic music and I don't understand much of it. This particular band had a bassist, a keyboard player whose right hand was wrapped in bandages, a lead electric guitarist, a drummer who used traditional Arab drums, and then an Egpytian player who blew into a flute-like object that produced harmonic-type sounds.

The featured singer was a petite, young Egyptian woman with long wavy locks. She had a soothing, pleasant voice even when the hard Arabic sounds came forth from her vocal chords. She sang three types of songs: melancholy ballads, angry anthems, and light tunes. Her character seemed best to represent the light, bubbly tunes, but those were the ones least sung.

I was very pleased to know that musical bands are giving expression to the untold voices of the youth. I felt reassured that they had some outlet for their feelings and thoughts. I know it helped me when I was younger to sing a powerful song by the Who or some other expressive band to communicate my feelings and release the tension I felt from societal pressures. I'm glad to know it exists here.

The band played well, especially the bassist. I like that they seemed to enjoy what they were doing. Towards the end they were finally smiling. Some of the sounds were rifts from the 1970's, while I could detect the 80's and 90's as well, but they were merged with Arabic instruments and influences, which I applaud. Even though I could only understand three words, I felt like feelings and moods were communicated.

The venue was terrific. The Odeon theater is next to the Roman amphitheater; the temperatures was still warm enough not to need a light jacket; and the square around the theaters was filled with young soccer players, lazing cigarette smokers, and young families. It was good to see very many people enjoying themselves.

I like the new perspective I have on the music scene in Jordan. I'll go back for more.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Phone calls

Yesterday when I was in a two hour meeting, I had eleven phone calls from the same person. She must have really wanted to speak with me, but when I'm in conference I do not answer phone calls. During lunch today, my phone rang seven times from the same number (albeit a different caller from yesterday.) I do not answer calls during lunch either to respect my meal time and my community members. I wonder what people think will happen with obsessive-compulsive calling like that. If I'm busy, I'm busy. Call me once and I promise to cal you back.

Do your own work!

It is early in the week, but I find that it is laden with people asking other people to do their own work. It goes like this: "I know so-and-so and so-and-so had an email conversation. She told me that you can send the message to me." Huh? Why doesn't the first so-and-so just forward the message?

Or, "Father, visitors from the U.S. are coming to visit Jordan on this specific date. Will you go to the Baptismal site and do their child's baptism? Well, why don't they get in touch with me.

Or, "Father, so-and-so had a question about this. She didn't know who to ask?" Well, tell so-and-so, who I see every day at Mass, to direct her question to me.

Or, "Father, can you get his person fired because he is an unethical Christian."

The list goes on and on. It takes at least three people to get anything done here because the more people (aka, agents) involved the better (from their perspective.) They must cringe when they hear the familiar words ring out of my mouth, "Have them come see me." 

So much wasted energy is used in getting anything done because everyone finds a way to talk with everyone except the person who can answer their question. All I have to do is to hold steady and let them figure out that the most direct route between two points is a straight line. 

No. I will not do someone else's work for them. Do it yourself.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Boarder

The birth of John the Baptist is set apart of from the birth of Jesus to mirror the solar movements. Since June 23th, the amount of daylight decreases each day until Christmas. This fits with John's saying that he must decrease so Christ can increase. The birth of Jesus becomes the victory of light over darkness when daylight begins to increase once more.

Well, I received a generous gift on this feast of the Baptist. Someone cleaning out her house decided to give my parish a Christmas tree. How wonderful! Now, I just wish I had a church to put it in. It is generous for people to give away large, bulky items to a parish that exists without a church building.


A woman banged on my office door tonight at 9:00 p.m. and shouted at me. She just arrived from the Emirates by bus (an all day tour) and she was looking for Catholic sisters so she could have a place to stay. I gave her directions, but also told her that they would not open the door at this hour of the night and I gave her several hotel recommendations that she refused. Poor woman has no money and no plans. I gave her several solutions, and she still wants me to solve her problem. I have to do my best not to make other peoples' lack of planning my problem, but my heart goes out to her all the same. I hope everything works out O.K. Her life must be real bad if she comes to town without a cent to her name.

Arab Directions

Arab directions differ qualitatively from American directions. Today, I was to meet a group of people at a McDonald's restaurant that is adjacent to a gas station called Manaseer. That's it!

Manaseer is a very common gas station name, but thankfully McDonald's fast food restaurant is uncommon. Not!

I planned to leave early, but as happens in Jordan, a truck was parked in our lot blocking every single car. When I asked them to move it. They asked, "Now? Don't you see I'm busy?" Oh, yes, I'm sorry. My whole life revolves around yours.

I was not looking forward to this meeting, while at the same time I had great energy about it. I was fully prepared to tell them that I was ending the program for the summer because I was doing the lion's share of the work. I had to get there.

As I was misdirected, I was en route to Madaba. My host said, "Great! You are almost there. When you are on the airport road, take the exit to Madaba but don't go as far as the city." Wonderful, I thought! I was take the directions by inches.

Well, once you take the exit to Madaba, you come to a roundabout that has two choices for Madaba. Another strike against me. I chose the first, went into the city, and doubled back and took the next road.

I was supposed to take a right at the supermarket, but I expected a supermarket to be a large building with lots of food products, a pharmacy, bakery, flowers and plants, and greeting cards, but this one was smaller than a corner store, about 1/4 the size of a Seven Eleven. Another strike.

Then I was supposed to look for the airplane on top of the house where I could take a right. Of course!

I would then come to a Petrol Station on the right and I would take the first left. Easy enough.

I arrived at the house at noon, but only after Sana guided me every step of the way. Cleverly she told me to meet her at King's Academy and she would escort me to the house. That was very kind of her. I told her I was only 10 kilometers away. She waited on the main road to see from which direction I was coming.

My GPS took me on single-lane roads that we often blocked by cars who pulled over to the side, except there were no sides to which one could pull over. I had to wait twice for two different goat-herders to pass before I could go further. My GPS had given me the camel's route.

Finally, I ended up at King's College. My GPS said, "You have arrived," but I was in the middle of a deserted field.

I drove along the gravel road and was ready to turn onto the main road, where by serendipity, Sana was waiting. She was so patiently waiting to see me pass on the main road and she had never thought that I would pull up along the gravel road. I could see her laughing her head off at the irony of it, but we finally got to the house within ten minutes.

Funny. I wasn't the least bit upset. After nine months and four days of being in Jordan, this seems like the regular ordo.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pope Francis wants pastors as bishops

Thomas Reese | Jun. 21, 2013NCR Today Pope Francis

In an address to papal nuncios, whose job it is to nominate bishops, Pope Francis described the kind of persons he wants them to put forward. He wants pastors who are "close to the people, fathers and brothers." They should be "gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life." They should "not have the psychology of 'Princes.'"

The pope spoke at an audience to the papal representatives who had come from hundreds of countries around the world for a two-day conference at the Vatican. The pope specifically warned them against ambitious prelates who want to be promoted from one diocese to a more prestigious one. He cited the ancient view that bishops "are married to a Church" and should not be "in constant search of another."

What was missing from Francis's list of episcopal attributes were loyalty and orthodoxy, the two criteria that dominated the nomination process under Popes John Paul and Benedict.

While he did mention the need for bishops who are "vigilant of the dangers that threaten" the flock, the stress was positive not negative. He wants bishops who can "imbue hope" and "have sun and light in their hearts, to lovingly and patiently support the plans which God brings about in His people."

The pope places greater stress on prudence for leaders than on holiness or scholarship. "Si sanctus est oret pro nobis, si doctus est doceat nos, si prudens est regat nos - if holy let him pray for us, if learned teach us, if prudent govern us."

Some would argue that pope's tend to want bishops who are very much like themselves. John Paul wanted bishops who would be aggressive in taking on cultural values contrary to church teaching, even if that meant getting into the political arena. Benedict looked for bishops who could be teachers of the faith. Francis is looking for bishops who with simplicity and joy can reinvigorate the church with a positive, compassionate message and witness.

In the coming years we will see whether the nuncios find such men for the pope.


I just finished an hour's walk in the cool evening air. Half a kilometer from the Jesuit Center on my return trip, two men standing outside a car pulled me over to talk. An older man was sitting in the backseat and he simply forgot where he was going. He was very happy to see me and he kept calling me Walid or something like that. Walid is his son. Poor guy was so disoriented.

The two guys kept trying to reason with him so I just sat in the back seat with the man and started small talk. In fact, all my talk in Jordan is small talk because I can't communicate. I held his grocery bags for him while he calmed down and he held my hand gratefully. The two men kept trying to get a reasonable response out of him. I asked the men whether the man had a phone, or if he had his son's phone number, or a wallet that would list his address. The old man just smiled because he was not as frantic as the other men.

I think one of them was a taxi driver but the car was not marked. Instead of calming down the old man, I think I was there to calm down the others. After a while as the man wasn't coherent, I let myself be his son and I talked him into going home. I spoke about the landmarks that were in the Jebel Hussein area and asked him if he remembered walking with me past those places. He was responding well, but the two guys kept saying, "it isn't true." I let them know what I was doing in case it helped jog his memory. They couldn't see how that would work, but he was remembering some of the landmarks I mentioned. After a while, he said that it is time to go home now. I left the car and I hope he remembered. I would have stayed with him longer to make sure he had a place to stay. Poor guy. He seemed so serene.

Thomas Reese: "Pope Francis tells journalists to attack hypocrisy."

Thomas Reese | Jun. 20, 2013NCR Today Pope Francis

Journalists should “be uncompromising against the hypocrisies which result from the closed, the sick heart,” said Pope Francis to a group of Jesuit journalists. “Be uncompromising against this spiritual illness.”

Telling journalists to attack hypocrisy might sound suicidal to most church leaders, especially after more than two decades of investigative journalism on the sexual abuse crisis, but it shows how much Pope Francis hates the vices he believes undermine the Gospel message: clericalism, careerism and hypocrisy.

Beyond exposing hypocrisy, Francis said the main task of journalists “is not to build walls but bridges” and to establish dialogue with all people. At a time when ratings and readership are built by stirring up antagonism and fights, this will not be an easy teaching.

Although he was speaking to the Jesuit staff of the Italian journal La Civilta Cattolica, Pope Francis laid out a dynamic vision relevant to the vocation of anyone in journalism. “The great spiritual questions are more alive today than ever,” he said, “but there is need of someone to interpret them and to understand them.” But the approach to these questions should be through dialogue not screaming heads.

“It is always possible to approach the truth in dialogue, which is a gift of God, and to enrich ourselves mutually,” he said. “To dialogue means to be convinced that the other has something good to say, to make room for his point of view, for his opinion, for his proposals without falling, obviously, into relativism.” Francis sees fostering dialogue as one of the principal purposes of journalism.

Journalists are also called to discernment. “Your task is to gather and express the expectations, the desires, the joys and the dramas of our time,” he said. While a Christian would offer a reading of this reality in the light of the Gospel, Francis’s view is not parochial. “God is at work in the life of every person and in every culture,” he said, “the Spirit blows where He wills. Try to find out what God has done, and how He will continue his work. ”

Rather than seeing the world as full of evil, a temptation of journalists as well as preachers, he urges journalists also to “recognize the presence of the Spirit of God in the human and cultural reality, the seed of His presence already planted in the events, in the sensibilities, in the desires, in the profound tensions of hearts and of the social, cultural and spiritual contexts.”

Using the language of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, he urges journalists “to seek God in all things, in every field of knowledge, art, science, and political, social and economic life.”

For Francis, “the truth, goodness and beauty of God...are precious allies in the commitment to defend the dignity of the human person, in the building of peaceful coexistence and in carefully protecting creation.”

Finally, Francis urges journalists to work on the “frontiers” of contemporary cultural debate. “The break between Gospel and culture is undoubtedly a tragedy,” he said. To Jesuit journalists, he says the words of Pope Benedict have special meaning: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and acute fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there was and is the confrontation between the burning exigencies of humanity and the perennial message of the Gospel, the Jesuits have been and are there.”

Pope Francis tells the Jesuit journalists, "be men at the frontiers, with a trust and ability that comes from God. Do not fall into the temptation to domesticate frontiers. When you have to go to the frontiers, do not carry them back to your home, to gloss over them a bit, to tame them."

It is especially telling that the pope points to the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci as an example of someone working on the frontiers of faith and culture since Ricci's attempts to adapt Christianity to the Chinese context in the 17th Century were condemned by the Vatican. Having Matteo Ricci as the patron saint of journalists would certainly put a new twist on relations between the church and journalism.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I'm stuffed

I am disappointed that our Dozan wa Awtar concert for the Amphitheater was cancelled. I was looking forward to it so much. It felt odd not going to rehearsal tonight.

Since it was my day off, I took care of some personal business in preparation of heading back to the States for a md-summer's holiday. I joined, Sana, a friend for lunch at Centro, a terrific restaurant that caters to a business clientele. I felt like I was back at my days at the bank. Everyone was dressed well and the cigarette smoking was to a minimum, but the thing I noticed most was that everyone seemed happy. Long tables that sat twenty people to each side (forty in all) filled the center of the room. People were chatting animatedly and the smiles seemed to be freely given. It was like a Chamber of Commerce gathering. The restaurant had a nice river of very clean water separating the seating areas. It was a well-designed concept and it helped to lower the noise volumes. The food was great.

I said hello to a priest who was sitting with an Arab parishioner. He is one of the Archbishops of Baghdad and he seemed like a very nice man.

I then saw Sana's beautiful house renovations before I went to meet a parishioner at the Shanghai Restaurant. I could only drink some water because I already had way too much food in my belly. We talked about many things, but one of them was to make plans to acquire music hymnals for the parish. It is an expensive proposition any way I look at it, but it is something that needs to be done. I toyed with making a manual, but it might just be cheaper to order from the U.S and ship it overseas.

I then rushed back to see a man for a pastoral session. My heart was moved by his good words of affection and care for people of faith. I listened to his fascinating with learning about the Jesuits and what we stand for and that his heart is overflowing with goodness. I knew I was in the presence of a holy man who is progressing well in his relationship with the Lord God. These moments make the day beautiful.

I then rushed upstairs to attend the going-away party for a sister who works at the Jesuit Center. She will return to Egypt to visit her parents for two months. She hasn't seen them in four years. After entertaining for a bit, I wrote an assessment of the parish music program to send to a few select parishioners. I looked at my watch and wondered when and how time passed.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cousin Marriage

Al Jazeera showed a provocative news report that debated the pros and cons of First Cousin marriage. It is taboo in the U.S. and the Catholic Church, but it has not the same stigma in the Middle East.  One researcher suggested that between 10 and 15 percent of Bedouins practice First Cousin Marriage and the percentage rises when there are Second Cousin marriages. I watched the news show because it was both bewildering and intriguing. I wouldn't have given a second thought to allowing cousin marriages.

Two reasons that were given for the propensity of cousin marriage is the accumulation of wealth and the strengthening of the marriage. Most reasons against such marriages has to do with the consolidation of genes and the increased likelihood that recessive genes in families will result. Grotesque genetic deformities result when generations upon generations marry within the family, clan, or tribal structures.

Education levels also increase when people intermarry with other cultures. Tolerance for other customs and practices increase and healthy inter-personal relationships develop. Societies are actually strengthened genetically and socially when cross cultural marriages occur. I will do more research on this because it fascinates me. I wonder how many societies over the centuries used this practice.

I'm sure the city will celebrate

I just completed an hour's walk around the neighborhood and most of the men were preoccupied with their television sets. I knew what was going on and I joined in and watched with them, but Jordan was playing Oman in the Asia World Cup qualifier. The city was peaceful because everyone was attentive to the game, but now I'm sure car horns will be blaring, fireworks will be set off, and shouts will be heard. In fact, I hear the noise picking up right now.

I started my walk descending Jebel Hussein and I took the first set of stairs I could find. They don't build stairs here as in the western world. They believe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and they are right, but that is not how to build stairways. It is better for a person and easier on the body if stairs zigzag along the hill's slopes with built in places for a person to rest along the way. Here, they just build it straight up and down and the stairs aren't even the same height. One has to be extra steady.

I walked down one set of stairs only to find the last eighth of it was blocked off because the stairs eroded. I had to climb the stairs and choose another route. It is a good thing the purpose for my walk was exercise.

I sang with some kids who were outside a storefront. They started singing because I had my IPod playing and I must have been singing along.

I noticed that the men here will look at you and will keep their eyes fixed on you. It isn't a stare and it is not a stare down. I let it go for a while and then I wink or smile and they burst into an ear-to-ear grin.

The days are really hot here and there is a particular blue flower that comes out when it is very hot. These flowers are all over the place this week.

I chatted with one guy as there were two huge piles of sand and stone on the sidewalk. It made walking impossible except to walk on the street. Once I engaged him in the conversation, he said that the owner is making some renovations. He seemed to have no problem with their dumping the materials on the sidewalk. For him, it is just a customary thing to do. One day it will be gone and people will be able to pass again. I have to keep reminded myself that they will not understand proper principles and standards until (a.) fines are levied or (b.) they develop into a litigious society. I don't want the latter, but the first one would help at all levels of society.

With proper fines, parking on sidewalks would cease. Parking on on- and off-ramps would cease. Double and triple parking would lessen. Revenues would be generated for the city, especially if they were to install AND use parking meters. Without financial penalties, the city will not evolve the way it wants and needs. I want better for Amman. I want better for myself.

By the way, congratulations to the Jordanian soccer team.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Catching Up

I just finished watching the first season of Downton Abbey. I had seen previous episodes, but not every one of them. I'm glad I watched it in its entirety because I feel sympathy for many of the characters. I kept thinking of what would happen in their lives when I finished each episode.

I looked at it from an angle I was not expecting because I contrasted it to my experience in Amman. I admire the English sense of orderliness and protocols. In Amman, there are not many established rules for conduct yet.

The British aristocracy of Downton Abbey sets clear boundaries on what is acceptable and these positions are regularly promulgated and enforced. The Crawleys are a leisure class, but there responsibility for their workers is beyond reproach. As I survey the Ammani, many do not know what to do with their leisure time. Reading books, getting exercise, going to museums, and enjoying a cup of tea is not yet a concept for the working people of the city. Just as the wait staff of Downton Abbey take their leisure smoking cigarettes, the Ammani do the same. It makes me wonder about the correlation of our choices for leisure time and our ability to rise to new levels in society. Certainly education is key and education leads to leisure activities.

While the lives of the Crawleys are public and their family chaos is known to the staff, the staff's chaos is kept invisible, despite the prodding of a concerned employer. The worst thing in the world is to be invisible. It is a patriarchal hierarchical system where the Lord is really the Lord of their lives - providing for their welfare, but just as it maintains decorum, it creates a dysfunctional system of dealing with problems.

The conflict within the staff have a life of their own. An orderly resolution to conflicts makes life easier, but these conflicts are so potent that no one wants to touch them. They are deeply ingrained and cannot be fixed easily. While the Lords and Ladies have principles and values to which they aspire, many of the staff deal with personality conflicts and do not have the same values. The middle management find themselves in dilemmas because they understand both worlds and try to bridge the gaps, but they don't know to which world they belong.

I feel like I'm trying to call people to a better standard of principles, but first they need to be seen and heard and known. I want to bring about a more orderly way of proceeding for the parish where the pastor isn't seen merely as the one who will provide for the immediate wants and desires of the parishioners who don't always understand the implications of their decisions. I'm not a priest of the patriarchal system. I do have a vision for what church can be like, but first the people must re-imagine or at least imagine that their church system can be a more effective mediator of God's love. It takes a delicate effort to balance the needs of various groups who have different worldviews. 

The noble visions of the Crawleys inspire me forward and they know of their great responsibility to those who operate in a different system. Onward and upwards we go!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Heavy on their Hearts

Each day of this weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), people have expressed matters that remain heavy on their hearts. Even walking down the street, two people pulled me aside so they could have a pastoral conversation. The stuff people keep inside is enough to anchor a ship. I feel like Jesus when he had compassion on the people and said, "they are like sheep without a shepherd." These types of burden paralyze people and as heavy as the material is, I feel grateful to hold these stories in silence.

In Jordan, things don't remain as they are for too long. Just as I was feeling the great weight of people's stories, I saw a woman covered from head to toe, just with her face showing. She was wearing a huge smile as he drove her convertible fast down the road. She was delighted in her fast car, but the irony of being all covered up in a convertible made me chuckle.

Friday, June 14, 2013

An Average Day

Morning Mass was a bit of a surprise today. Only two Comboni Sisters showed up for Mass so I decided to do as much of it in Italian as possible because they don't understand English well. Halfway through, a Spaniard came into Mass. He was a pleasant chap. He just arrived for an art and architecture tour of the Holy Lands of Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel with colleagues from Columbia University. Every day of his trip is planned with holy Mass.

Afterwards, I had a marriage preparation class for two men who are getting married next month. Not to each other, mind you, but their fiances are in different countries. One of them travelled to Iraq last month to find a bride; the other man's family arranged (on this third attempt) for a bride for him. Though I was skeptical of having pre-Cana classes without the whole couple, these men took it very seriously and participated very well. They did their homework.

I then went to say Mass out in the parish since Friday is the weekend. We treat Friday Masses as Sundays. I just learned that Ascension Thursday is celebrated in Amman.

We did a baptism in Mass. It worked out very well all and was beautiful. The little girl fell asleep right after the pouring of water and the anointing.

However, I scolded the godparents. I have previously met with them to give instruction and most Filipinos say, "yes, Father" to every question. They have an unusual custom of having umpteen or 43 godparents, but I tell them I only want one each. If everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. So, I select one from each gender, that is, male and female. After giving instruction to them, not a single Godparent came up to receive communion. I immediately went down to them and told them I was disappointed in the example they were setting for the young child. And of course, they responded, "yes, Father."

So, then I had lunch with the Arabic-speaking priest. He was asked just last night to say Mass for the Migrant Worker's Day, but the Filipino hosts had nothing prepared for him. He was perplexed by their lack of organization. Their response, "Yes, Father, bring whatever you need." Oi!

I was very pleased that this priest wants to partake of the music education series that I am offering as part of the parish. He wants deacons trained to chant and he wants his choir to understand music fundamentals.

I attended the Migrant Worker's Day activities and I was delighted to see so many people having a great time. They were watching a talent shop put on by the leaders of the group. Some of the skits truly represented more of the Philippine culture. (More on that sometime later.)

I went to the apartment where the choir meets for lunch to say goodbye to a long-time parishioner. She has been in Amman for 12 years. I could not get in the door though. I shouted and blew my whistle, but there was so much noise in the apartment that they could not hear me.

I returned to my office, collected a box of sweets that I delivered to some neighbors. They are the parents of the young man who is getting married in Iraq in three weeks. They speak no English, I no Arabic, but they heard me singing on the street with my barber. We sang a Syrian love-of-country song over the weekend and he remembered it. So, I went upstairs to visit this family and we sang more songs. It was a very pleasant time. When I left the apartment, the barber began to sing with me again. Passersby smiled, turned to listen to us, and were entertained. I think I am gaining a reputation. I can't talk, but music makes people laugh.

Then I came home to reduce my email queue. I'm returning to the States for a brief visit in mid-July so I'm beginning to make some arrangements. Just an average day.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sing! Sing a song

I walked from the Jesuit Center to Shmeisani today to attend our Dozan rehearsal because I needed the exercise. On the way, I was rehearsing some of the syllables for our songs. I don't call them words or phrases because they are merely syllables to me that match the notes on the musical score. I decided that as I passed by my Syrian barber I would sing "Biktob ismek ya bladi" in hopes that he would recognize it. His customer sat up straight and they both started singing along with me. We finally communicated something.

On the way back, I passed by some Christians at a package store who I've spoken with in the past. Two are from Salt, one is from Karak, the other from Amman. As we were chatting, I began singing the song again and they too joined in. One studied the notes as we sang it again. We then sang it again. So, I tried "Ya Beladi" and they joined me in that as well.

All is well when people sing together.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Syrian Artist's Exhibit

Instead of going to art class today, I attended an art exhibition by a female artist from Syria. It was good work and I was interested in examining her techniques so I can find out how to do what I am doing. She had a lot of paintings of young women and two with whirling dervishes. While I was standing there, I realized that if everyone spoke English, I would probably be compelled to engage in small-talk. Since I couldn't talk with anyone except the two people I knew, I felt free. Being unable to communicate made me feel very relaxed. I did not have to rise to the occasion.

With the political regional instability, it is curious to pay attention to what is going on in Turkey because it is almost the opposite of the Arab Spring. What began as an ecological demonstration has turned into a much bigger enterprise with Ataturk as the demonstrators' hero. This is a fascinating place.

Poor Jordan. Their soccer team was sounded beaten by Australia today. The absence of blaring car horns gave it away.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ah, kittens

I dread walking to my car these days because I know underneath it are some young kittens that have found refuge under my car's tires. I check each time I leave, but I always fear I won't see one. All those terrible, night-piercing noises in February produced some beautiful animals. I want to take them into our house and raise them as house-cats, but I don't think their mother would appreciate it. I was thinking, "I could give them a better, more secure life with a full belly and some human attention each day," but I would still be taking them away from their mother and I just can't do that. They are beautiful calico cats. I slip them some food, just as I feed the birds.

I do have to find a bird feeder because the chunks of bread and seeds that I leave for them are still too big for them to chew. As one uses the stairway below my window, the person can see that it is littered with bread crumbs. I'll find a solution. I also want to find a way to give them water regularly. I was told birds don't live in Amman, but there are sufficient ones outside my window and I want to keep them here because they are great entertainment - as long as I don't get an avian flu.

Singing is going well for our concert at the Roman Amphitheater. I still think it will be terrific to sing in a place that existed 2,500 years ago. Singing outdoors at night in an acoustically sound environment will be fascinating. All the songs are in Arabic and I'm coming along. Rehearsals are almost completely conducted in Arabic and I understand the gist of what they are saying, but my eyes do glaze over.

I'm even improving in the sign language with Anjude, our custodial worker. She is deaf and speak Arabic in a very low voice. We are understanding each other better now and we can have fun in trying to communicate. One day I'll get serious about language studies.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Birthday Cake

The other day I made a cake for a woman in the parish to celebrate her birthday. She has done a fine job raising her children and grand-children and she is always shepherding them as best she can. She frets that she cannot do more for them and she is always thinking about the formation of others. She is a good-hearted person who gives a great deal to others. I wanted to give something to her that was uniquely hers so I baked her a yellow cake and whipped up some white frosting so that it was very light and airy. I brought it to her before Mass and we had a piece of cake in her garden to celebrate. I wrote about our time together:

She sat there

a suppressed smile ready to erupt,
but she tucked it away.

Sipping on tea amidst her garden’s glory,
she basked
and picked more ‘nana’ for her brew.

Her long breaths without labor,
she sat tall like a gladiola
blushing bright colors through her cheeks,
and she longed for butterflies to pass her way.
In the gentle breeze, two came,
the same whiteness as the icing on her cake,
and she toiled and spun without care
as time stood still to honor her special day.

And she reached for a second piece.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Restful Week

I feel a sense of accomplishment this week. I realize I use time well. I spent Monday working on a Children's Missal so they can follow along during Mass. I was pleased with how little time I needed to complete the work. It took me a full day, but I suspected there would be loose ends to tie after the main work was done. However, the product came out fairly well. I had 100 copies printed and to my surprise, several adults want a copy for themselves. I feel a great sense of producing something worthwhile and tangible.

It did make me realize that people really do want to hold onto something Christian in their faith. As I already have a collection of poems, I am intent on producing a book of prayers that include many decent ones from the saints and from the Ignatian and Jesuit traditions. I'm sure it will be a big hit. It will promote the Jesuits in the area because if Jesuits are going to be in a parish setting, we must be distinctively Jesuit in our spirituality or else, why are we here?

Since I had some free time, I reviewed and edited a chapter by a Jordanian friend who wants to get his Ph.D. I thought I would take some of my free time and dedicate it to this, but when I did, I felt like my free spirit had worn off. It took me over four hours to review 11 pages of text and this was the smallest of the files. I feel badly for the man because English is not his first language and I only corrected the grammar, not the content. It reveals to me how important language is and that I am insufficient in only one language.

I sat with some Italian sisters last night. I know words and phrases and I have interest in learning Italian, Spanish, German, as well as Arabic. I would feel much more competent because I only speak in sign language and gestures to most people.

I received a few emails from some Indian workers in Amman and while I admire their upper-level English words and phrases, I'm often perplexed in figuring out what they really mean to say. I can tell their education was pretty good, but I never know if we are communicating well. Yes, I do know. We are not, but we try as best we can.

I am working on compiling a small hymnal for the church. This is a big effort, but it will be worth it. I am hiring a group that will teach musical fundamentals to the parish. I'm excited about that, but also a bit wary about how it will work out. I trust the Spirit in this endeavor. I'm told people like what I am trying to do with the music, which encourages me.

This morning, I met with two couples who are planning their marriage. It is such fun to be a part of their preparation time as they dream about the rest of their lives. They are very good-souled people.

I have resumed my ministry of food once again. I bought some of those new silicone baking pans and they work quite well. I like the concept. I made gingerbread the other day and gave it to two lay Teresian associates and today I will bake a yellow cake with chocolate frosting for someone who just had a birthday and I'll make some cookies. When I bake, I eat less because I know what it tastes like so I don't need to indulge. Since I'm half-Italian, I like to see the smile on people's faces when they realize something was created in their honor.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

I'm liking Sunday nights

On my way back from Mass, I ran into several interesting people. A Jordanian man, who is closing up his business, gave me some food for the Jesuit community. He is sad to close his shop and is tired from the many ways his employees have taken advantage of him.

All the storekeepers were standing outside as it was too hot to remain indoors. I'm recognized by many so we have a little chat as best we can. I saw a young teenage boy in his mother's shop. They sell Dead Sea products. After a while, she told me her sister has cancer and needs treatments. Fortunately, I could direct her to the Arabic-speaking priest. However, I gave them a loaf of bread and they were very happy.

I stopped by to see my barber who was busy with a customer. He was napping in his chair as I walked up to Mass. After a few mismatched word exchanges, I was on my way. He was beaming about the visit.

I had a chance to greet other neighbors and I had lovely exchanges with parishioners. It is a most diverse group of people who weekly assemble for Mass. I get little bits of information about how they are doing; and we have the usual rounds of confession before liturgy. Most are happy for the brief exchanges and they seem to wish it could be longer.

The parish seems to be rolling. Baptismal and wedding preps are going on and people are finally asking for the procedures of the parish. Today, I had my two usual visits that go like this, "Father, I have a friend who has a friend who wants me to ask you......"

Basta! Enough! Halas! Tell your friend to call me.

I'm still amazed that arranged marriages continue. One woman today told me her marriage was just arranged two weeks ago. An Iraqi friend of ours just went back to Baghdad to collect a new wife. They are very happy.

Yesterday, I found myself with lots of free time. I planned to dedicate it to some parish work, but I kept getting notices from friends to Skype. I spent hours doing that and I enjoyed it so much. It is just like talking to the person in his or her living room. I got no work done!

Today was likewise leisurely. After my late morning Mass, I went with some of the choir members to Gerard's Ice Cream in Abdoun Circle. This is Jordan's best ice cream. To my amazement, four of them  had vanilla ice cream. Forty-five flavors are sold, but they got vanilla. I told them, "Boring." Meanwhile, I had a double-scoop of Apple Tree Frozen Yogurt. I tried to order one scoop of mango-strawberry and one of Apple Tree, but language most often prevents you from getting what you order. They try their best. The Filipina were very surprised when people I know came by to say hello and to shake my hands.

So, with the day coming to a close, I'm going to paint. One of my artist friends from California really encouraged me to paint every day and to develop my artwork. I was honored by his words.

One parishioner gave me some summer linen loafers today. He paid for them and wouldn't let me reimburse him. I made mention of his dazzling red shoes last week and he wanted me to have the same pair. I felt so honored by his generosity.

Another person called to ask me for prayers for a particular intention. Once she finished, she broke down in relief and told me that she was so glad I came to Jordan.

Our cook, who knows I like jigsaw puzzles, saw that I had about 25 pieces left to place into the frame. I showed him how to do it a few months ago and it bewildered him. Before I left for Mass this morning, he showed me that he finished it for me. He was beaming because he was so proud. I love it.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Now - and Sports

One aspect I life I find missing in Amman is sports. The absence of it must surely shape the people's character. In some countries, cricket or rugby are huge, fascinating attention-getters. In the U.S., baseball, basketball, American football, and hockey capture the minds of many. Throughout the world, the biggest draw is soccer/football.

While national flags of the kingdom wave all over the kingdom of Jordan, the people can't really rally around a sports team. The soccer team made a splash a couple of months ago in their World Cup qualifying matches, but the euphoria fizzled out.

Sports defines local or regional character. I look at the way baseball has been a metaphor for life for many Bostonians, who maintain a Calvinistic demeanor. People are able to relate life's struggles with the ups and downs of their favorite baseball team. Many cities do this.

It also is an outlet for aggression and passion. To some, sports seems trivial, but a good game of sport can brighten up an otherwise dreary day. We can forget about life's disappointments when we marvel at the precision of athletes. We transfer hopes and dreams upon contenders and we forget, for a moment, about life's dreary demands.

The absence of sports is significant in Amman. I'd love to watch a cricket match at Sports City, but they don't have one. I'd love to see rivals from Irbid and Karak play each other in soccer, but I don't ever hear or read about such meets. Local sports team competitions are non-existent. School pride, university-alumni development, and local interest aren't allowed to flourish because there is little to rally around except maybe religion, which many not be so healthy.

I would think that a Jordanian interest in sports would shape the way they deal with time. There is no "Just wait until next year" because everything is "now." Immediacy is the only thing that matters. There is no placing of hope in a local or national team. There is no development of athletes that is visible. I wish a ongoing sports event would be a rallying point for Jordanian pride.

Sure, the Olympics come around but many realize that Jordan is too small to field a competitive edge in any field. Just showing up is the victory. It defines one's character when you think of yourselves as too small or too insignificant to compete regularly. Athletes inspire and they ask people to go beyond what they think are their capabilities. The Middle East could use this mindset. The development of the minds, attitudes, and health of the youth is critically important.

Sports helps pace life and we get to see the cycles and rhythms of life over time. It moves us away from a "now" culture.

Sigh. Maybe next year.