Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Can't Put on the Happy Face Today

I am so angry at the Jordanian system of driving. I can't understand why everyone has to dare by driving recklessly fast and dash all about without any regard for traffic rules. No one likes it, but why does everyone permit it?

Instead of daring death by passing by an illegally parked car that was half on the sidewalk, I chose the narrow route. To squeeze by, the decorative gate door with sharp protruding objects ripped apart my brand new athletic ear plugs that I just bought in the States. The country is telling me that nothing new and safe can exist here. My source of pleasure while exercising is gone. I've had too much of this that I just have to vent.

Why don't people innately care about the lives of others? They seem to get joy out of driving fast and swerving around you instead of respecting the sanctity of one's life. I don't see how anyone can sleep at night knowing they caused someone great fear that their life could be taken away. Frustratingly, this happens thousands of times a day.

Monday, July 29, 2013


I'm not quite sure what fireworks have to do with Ramadan, but they go off nightly. They are keeping me awake tonight. I've never known the attraction to fire-crackers because they are only there to disrupt the quiet.

I took a walk tonight down the new Abdali projects, which is the new downtown area. It is a massive project. From the Jesuit Center, it appears as if the project is going slowly, but as I walked through the new boulevards, I could see a lot more ground-level activity. Most impressive is that they have done some tree and flower planting, which is usually a finishing touch project, but the area looks rather attractive. A nice edgy style is planned for the buildings and I suppose it will bring in a lot of moneyed people to the area as it is near Parliament and the Courts. It can change the character of the neighborhood a great deal. This area of town is in need of serious renovation.

As I was walking home, I heard the Beatles "The Fool on the Hill" on my IPod. I felt like that man as Iftar was just called and all the Muslims were gathering for an evening picnic.

I'm still amazed at the power of singing. One man I know started singing with me weeks ago. He came to confession and has been going to church every Sunday since then. Incredible. I think something like this is what Francis, the Bishop of Rome, speaks about in his homilies.

I'm delighted that Francis seems to be leading the Church back into Spirit of Vatican II. That the Church is so willing to go there - that it is so easy - speaks of its rightness. Everyone I know is feeling good by his initiatives that come from our Council - our Church's Constitution.


My return from the States has been a bit unsettling the first few days because of jet lag and because the residence where I lived has been demolished for renovations. I'm staying in the nearby Jesuit apartment, which is O.K., but it is foreign to me. Most of the day, I cram into my small office and try to resume a normal schedule. It will come along.

I'm also trying to understand Ramadan. I know the call that signals that the daily fast is over. I understand the call to prayers and I enjoy seeing everyone heading to the mosques for their prayers. I'm not quite sure what is happening at 2:30 a.m. when the drumming and chanting begins. At 4:30 a.m., there is the call to prayer and I assume everyone has breakfast after that to bulk up for the day's fast. Sunrise is about 6:30 a.m. It seems to be a night culture these days and I like driving the streets during the daytime because the traffic volume is much lower.

Ramadan ends August 10th.

Other than that, I like the read the spin on the Bishop of Rome's Brazil visit and his press conferences. I also like reading about the NFL training camps. I know it is a slow news season and that is quite O.K. with me because everyone needs a break from a frenetic year's pace.

Liturgically, I've always enjoyed this week of the year with the Feast of Ignatius of Loyola and the Memorial of Peter Faber, but it also seems to signal the finality of summer's holiday as preparation work for the new academic year begins.

Friday, July 26, 2013

             I seemed to have slept well enough. I had a pleasant traveling companion, but no empty seat. I watched "GI Joe" but I slept before it ended, then I watched "Identity Theft," which was merely all right. Melissa McCarthy had an interesting part.

              I reflected that I met the nicest people while traveling. I kind of hung out with an Indian man from Denver who is visiting his mother in Delhi; I sat with a Jordanian Christian who was returning home from a Stateside visit; an Osteopathic Surgeon introduced himself to me as he is visiting from the States. All along the way, I met the nicest people.

            I laughed when others laughed when they asked how long I was visiting. I said, "I live in Amman," to which they replied, "I never expected an answer like that."

           Returning to the Jesuit Center is a challenge at the moment because the tile floors are ripped up as construction work is happening. It confronts my "lack of home" feeling, but I'll adjust. I realized my entry into Jordan was less "in your face" than my arrival last year. The beautiful terminal helps to welcome a person and the desert doesn't seem so omnipresent

Pleasant People

A few days ago many young pilgrims were on their way to Brazil. I haven’t heard much about the Bishop of Rome’s trip to the South American nation, but I’m sure he will inspire the hearts of many. I’m still thrilled that he has been elected. I keep pinching myself and saying, “wow.”

I spent two days in San Antonio where I visited the Alamo and Riverwalk. The Alamo is a national shrine and I was pleased how the Park Service made sure that no one took photos and took off their hats to honor the dead. The information booths were informative to tell about the historical facts and military battles. There certainly is a different character about Texans because their history includes being incorporated into the U.S. by a treaty.

My father made me take photos of Audie Murphy’s Memorial in front of the V.A. hospital. He says that Mr. Murphy is the most decorated and the most famous American soldier ever, but when we ate at MadDog’s English Pub, I ordered my own famous military icon – Sam Adams.

We stayed at a friend of my father’s house, Bobby, who offered us such rich hospitality. She was a gracious host. She loves her Mexican food. She took us to Ajuua’s restaurant where we had double sized Marguerita that contained a Dos Equiis beer in the center of it. I felt as secure standing as the Alamo was.

Bubba seemed to like me. He is a yellow-nape tropical bird, like a parrot, who does a lot of mimicking. Bobby was surprised at how easily he took to me, but we can quite a few sustained dialogues. The poor thing was shivering most days because the air conditioning was turned on and lowered to keep my father’s wife cool, but the poor bird was visibly shivering for hours on end. Eventually, I got him moved into another room for his own comfort.

Here I am at the Chicago airport. I lost track of where I was because I thought I was still in San Antonio. I came to reality when I met some nice Arab passengers. I am quite tired and I think that I will be sleeping well tonight if accommodations allow. It is eerie knowing that I board at 9:30 p.m. and deplane at 5:30 p.m.

The gate at the airport contains people on their way to Amman and Switzerland. All the blondes on their way to Zurich and now all the dark hair, browned-eyed travelers are seated in anticipation of their flight. I do wonder how travelers keep Ramadan. I would imagine the rules are lax because of the unusual circumstance they face with time differences and daylight.

It is interesting the see the characteristics of those who are at gates in the International terminals. It is fun to guess the Italians from those going to Abu Dhabi versus the Brits. However, it is no longer easy to see how is American because we are everyone.

I started reading two books – first fifty pages of each – that were recommended but I could not go forward with them. The style in one was just too imprecise and the other one started with a shocking store too early on. I just did not want to finish. It looks like it might be another six movie flight. Last time was: Jack the Giant Slayer, The Croods, Beyond the Pines, the Wonderful (Magicians), and a couple of others. I trust I’ll be watching re-runs. The good news is that I am tired. I hope I can sleep.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Airport Conversations and a Gift from God

The flight from Boston to Chicago on my way to Detroit was surprising. As I walked onto plane to take my seat, a young woman near the window cheerfully greeted me. I suspected that we would be talking a great deal on the trip. Then a man sat down in the center seat and he seemed like he would be silent. He pulled out the Autobiography of St. Ignatius, which began a lengthy discussion of the Church and all things Jesuit. He just finished a five-day retreat at Campion Center in Weston, Massachusetts. He graduated from St. Louis University High School and Boston College, but he also has his advanced degree from Harvard University. As a Catholic, he is very involved in his church in Wayland, Massachusetts.

I slipped and told him I was a priest, which often makes for weird airplane conversations, but this dialogue was very refreshing for him. As we deplaned, he said that this was the most enjoyable flight he has had in a long time.

I was puzzled by the words of a few girls who were in their last Twenties. They were complaining that being this particular age was awful. They didn’t say which age would be tolerable, but it made me realize how much they may be missing out on their opportunities.

The time in Detroit was brief, but full. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon even before Carrie, the mother of the newborn, was released from the hospital. This trip was made to baptize their newborn son, Theodore, which means “gift from God.” I held Theodore for many hours as Carrie and Dave rested and entertained family. Instead of a baptism, I blessed the child using some oil from the Holy Land and water from the River Jordan. It was more fitting that the parents be ready to celebrate baptism when they are alert and can look forward to the sacrament. After all, Theodore was just a day old.

Dave an I celebrated the arrival of his second son with Johnny Walker Blue and some entertainment from his new stereo system – vintage 1983 speakers. We inaugurated it with Pink Floyd before moving to Dire Straights, then Chicago, and  a few other albums. It is very nice to listen to an album rather than solely a song.

Detroit is a maligned city. The city portrayed in the newspaper is true, but incomplete. The city in real life is happening. It is a fairly good looking city and right now it is quite green and filled with grass and corner garens. Improvements are coming lot by lot, but a number of high end shops are moving into the downtown areas. They are small steps towards the future and it is going to work out well because it is a grassroots improvement process. It is a feel-good process and I believe that one must own a corner of beauty before it can grow to other areas.

From Detroit to Dallas, a group of women wearing similarly striped dresses boarded the plane and sat nearby. They were going to a massive Mary Kay cosmetics convention. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. They spoke loudly, just as the 28 year-olds from Boston to Chicago. What makes a person project so loudly? Wouldn’t someone in their lives tell them the learning volume control tips can make them more receptive to more people?

O.K.  Off to see my father. He is in San Antonio and my visit will be brief, but he has a few medical procedures on the horizon. Soon, I’ll be back in Amman and I’ll be able to sleep and rest. I feel like a citizen of the world. Oh, the soul searching one does when one travels. Life is good, but my next vacation will be to advance my writing in a couple of books I’m working on (I should choose one and finish it) and to take photographs, draw, and paint. I think those activities will relax me. I want to see what emerges.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Travel Updates

This trip is far too short, but there’s something about it that it done right. Unfortunately, I could not see everyone and had little time to breathe. I was very glad to see a few good friends and my family, but it was much too short and I want to be ab le to commit to them. Especially, it is sad to see friends who are aging or need some care in their recovery from illnesses. I even realize my own mortality and the need to get yearly physicals although my health is very good.

Not having a cell phone or consistent internet access made planning quite difficult, and I realize for future trips that planning has to be complete before I board the plane.

While in the U.S., I am reminded of the great healing effect of a smile and courtesy. Americans seem relatively happy. Of course, I’ve run into the occasional TSA agent who is a grump; actually, it is not too occasional but rather frequent. I’m glad they are offset by well-integrated people who realize their jobs are to protect and care for the public. The Detroit airport has a very grumpy TSA agent. I almost spoke to a manager about him and I would have if I did not have to rush for my next flight.

The number of genuine smiles I received has been a great blessing on the trip. Strangers, vendors, and agents have made the journey quite pleasant.

I’m very edified by Boston drivers. Mostly, they are kind and they care fo the pedestrian’s well-being. The memory of one’s driver’s action lingers. I was walking my luggage from one of the Jesuit houses in Cambridge to Harvard Square and as I approached the crosswalk, a driver from far off quickly applied his brakes. He fit it so hard that he swerved, but in doing so, the tire popped out of alignment and I thought it might fall off. He was very concerned about my safe passage.

All the other drivers stay in their lanes, they approach a highway with great caution, they wave on certain drivers or pedestrians to pass, and overall, they seem to be happy and respectful. Sure, there will be some who are aggressive and reckless, but I’m very pleased with the care and respect that I see of neighbor. Even on the plane, I witnessed great kindness. I bumped my sleepy head on the seat in front of me and the man in that seat raised his seat to the upright position. I petitioned him to lower the seat, and he eventually did, but his kindness was amazing.

My time in Boston was incredibly happy. I witnessed much grace in my friendships and family. Of course, many people wanted to prepare a meal for me. I did not even have enough time to call people who reached out to me. Several friends offered me rides to and from the airport and around the Commonwealth. I am honored by their goodness. Some friends bought clothes and other helpful goods for my return back to Jordan. I see so much goodness and I feel cared for very well.

I regret that I was unable to see my older brother and younger sister. I wish I had more time with my older sister and younger brother. My younger sister’s schedule didn’t match mine when I visited Maine and my brother offered to have a cookout for my family, but I had to run back to the College of the Holy Cross to pack and to get a few items at the pharmacy.

Unfortunately, I didn’t even get to see many brothers at the College of the Holy Cross. Aside from my Province brothers, there was also a friend from Egypt in the house and his friend from Syria. I wanted to connect with them, but time did not allow. When I stayed at Newbury Street House and the Cambridge House, I saw a few guys in passing, but had no real conversation with them. I wish it could have been different all along the way. Next time I have to figure out how to have quality time with a quantity of friends, brothers, and family.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Religious Caricatures?

Religious caricatures undermined by data

Thomas Reese | Jul. 19, 2013NCR Today

American believers are often pictured as red-neck conservatives who support Republican causes. There are other religious caricatures as well:

·         Millennials are more likely to be religiously conservative than baby boomers.
·         Most religious progressives are mainline Protestants not Catholics.
·         Catholics are a significant part of the conservative religious coalition.
·         Hispanics are more theologically conservative than white Americans.
·         On economic issues, white Catholics are closer to white evangelicals than mainline Protestants.
·         Hispanics are more socially conservative than white Catholics.

Every one of these statements is false, according to a study released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution. They developed a new religious orientation scale that combines theological, economic and social outlooks to classify respondents.

It is true that there are more religious conservatives (28%) in the United States than religious progressives (19%), but the largest group is still religious moderates (38%).

The good news for religious progressives is that they are significantly younger than conservatives. The average age of religious progressives is 44, while it is 53 for religious conservatives. Only 17% of Millennials are religious conservatives. The idea that there are large numbers of young religious conservatives is a myth.

Catholic progressives will also be happy to know that they make up the largest block (29%) of religious progressives, followed by white mainline Protestants (19%). Not surprisingly, white evangelical Protestants constitute the biggest group (43%) among religious conservatives, followed by Catholics (17%). It is the leadership of the Catholic bishops that makes people believe that Catholics are a significant portion of the conservative religious coalition. The data say otherwise.

The bad news for Catholic progressives is that although they make up the biggest bloc of religious progressives, they are still a small minority in their own church. But this is also a fact of life for most progressive Protestants.

For example, when we separate out the PRRI theological scale from the economic and social scales, we find that 38% of the country is theologically conservative, 28% are moderates and only 19% are liberal. An additional 15% are nonreligious. Contrary to stereotype, Hispanic Americans are more likely to be theologically liberal (23%) than whites (18%) or blacks (14%).

Catholics are more evenly split on theological grounds than the country at large with 29% conservative and 28% liberal. (Numbers for Hispanic Catholics were not given in the report.)

When PRRI and Brookings looked at economic issues, they found that 25% of Americans are economic conservatives, 42% moderates and 34% liberals. Not surprisingly, whites were more likely to be economic conservatives (34%) than were blacks (4%) or Hispanics (7%).

Catholics do not stray much from the national numbers with 24% economic conservatives, compared to 32% who are economic liberals. Hispanic Catholics, who are 40% economic liberals, help push up the liberal tally since only 26% of white Catholics are economic liberals, almost the same as for white mainline Protestants (28%). White evangelicals are more likely to be economic conservatives (44%).

The third scale in the study deals with social issues (same sex marriage and abortion). The country as a whole is 29% social conservative, 46% moderate and 24% liberal. Catholics, as other studies have shown, are less conservative than the population at large with 55% moderates and 21% liberal. Again, it is the Hispanics who help make the Catholic population less conservative. Hispanic Catholics (67%) are more likely than white Catholics (51%) to be social moderates.

There are lessons in this data for different people.

·         The lesson for politicians is, “White Catholics are not like white evangelicals. White Catholics are susceptible to economic arguments from the Democratic Party.”
·         The lesson for the bishops is, “Don’t expect Hispanics and Millennials to support a conservative agenda either in the church or in politics.”
·         The lesson for progressive Catholics is, “You are still a minority in the church and society at large.”

Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
Author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fun Visits

I lack internet in my travels and I have not yet been able to get to a store that cells travel phones or SIM chips. I think at this point I’ll do without. I can see the list of emails growing in my queue, but I can’t respond to them because when I get access to the Internet, it is late at night and I have no strength to reply to even one. I’m still on Jordanian body clock time, which is a seven hour difference.

I was disappointed that when I went to the dentist in Maine (yes, I know I need to get a dentist who is closer), I did not get to see my sister or her family. I was hoping to see them and they received my messages saying that I will be at Tim Horton’s in Scarborough for much of the day. I know none of them were able to make it, but I was disappointed because I would have liked to see them. Also, Robin, another friend was supposed to come at 3 p.m. I know she often doesn’t arrive on time, but I decided to leave at 3:30 p.m. and we missed our chance to connect.

I do like the emails I receive when people ask, “When are you going to be in Maine?” to which I reply “Thursdays, at Tim Horton’s in Scarborough across from Enterprise Park near Scarborough Downs.” They reply, “Fine. Where can I meet you on Friday or Saturday? I’ll come to wherever you are.”

In my visits, I find that I simply have to say that I am going to a particular place and ask people to come see me there. Otherwise, I’d be driving around until kingdom come, racking up miles, expending a great deal of time and energy, and getting frustrated because time is limited. People are so good in wanting to plan a meal for me. It really is quite nice, but I’ll explode if I take in all those requests, but the real issue is time and wear and tear. The personalized invitations are heart-warming, but when traveling as I am, very impractical. It is so much healthier to suggest a central location and let people drop by.

I had two fun chance encounters. When I traveled to St. Joseph’s Abbey to visit a monk spiritual directee, I ran into a Jesuit who used to be a community member. He was on a silent retreat, and we were not expecting to see each other. He has been supportive in his prayers because he knows overseas ministry can be challenging. He was in Burma for a couple of years and he knows the joys and pitfalls of being a missionary. It was great to see Brian again. He just moved from the Rochester-Buffalo area in New York to Philadelphia.

I also ran into a friend of the Jesuits of Jordan, Beth. I stopped at her place on Kittery Point and we had a glass of lemonade before I went to a cookout in Rockport. We caught up on our mutual friends, but even though we just met, we have many points of contact. It was great fun to place a face with a name. She laughed when she heard by car coming up the Point.

I had a lovely cookout with friends in Rockport. I miss them as I miss so many people. The cookout was great fun, but I knew I would not get to spend as much time individually with people as I hoped. The food was very good, the company was enjoyable, and the news updates were consoling. I will not stop praying for my friends even though I’m have a world away.

I was exhausted and ready to travel back to Worcester when Ruth said I ought to stay with her and Mel for the night. It made sense, but I first had to go to Gloucester, Eastern Point to pick up a package that was awaiting me. I ran into a Jesuit scholastic who is doing a summer program at the retreat house and he filled me in with the good and happy details about his life. However, he told me Sr. Maddy fell and broke her legs and needed surgery, while Joe contracted shingles, and this Brent was having tonsillectomy on Monday. The retreat house needs prayers.

It was a stroke of genius to stay in Beverly for the night because it reduces my travel a great deal. I have a doctor’s appointment on the North Shore later in the day, so I’ll run my errands and take care of some of my projects.

I’m grateful for so much care.