By Any Name

Two books of religious teachings, the Quran and the Bible.

A young man walks into a restaurant full of families enjoying their meals. Little kids run around the servers who try and balance the pizzas, beers and milk filled cups with straws poking out of protective lids.

The young man, in righteous wrongness, pulls out an automatic weapon to free child sex slaves that he knows are hidden in the basement of this otherwise idyllic scene.

The staff and patrons escaped to nearby bookstores and coffee shops. The police arrived and the young man, self-radicalized by conspiring theories on the internet, surrendered with his hands over his head. Thankfully nobody was hurt. I guess nobody was hurt.

This in a very tony area of Washington, D.C.

He later said that maybe he made a mistake.

After recently having internet service installed at his house, he was “really able to look into it.” He said that substantial evidence from a combination of sources had left him with the “impression something nefarious was happening.” He said one article on the subject led to another and then another.- NYTimes

He was under the belief that this wild and unsubstantiated about Hillary Clinton being involved in child sex trafficking was true. And that he should do something about it.

Another time, another young man entered a church. He executed nine people who welcomed him into their prayer circle. He killed them because they were African American and he wanted to start a race war.

Roof wrote he was radicalized via the Internet following the Trayvon Martin case. Roof wrote he researched “black on white violence,” which took him to the website of South Carolina-based hate group the Council of Conservative Citizens (formerly the White Citizens’ Council). – The Daily Beast

You tell me he acted alone. Or that he was radicalized by social media and people spewing hate over the internet. Like other young terrorists.

[R]esearchers identified 16 key “mindsets” of members of terrorist groups….Among those mindsets: A belief that the world is a disaster, that peaceful change is not possible, that self-sacrifice is honorable, that noble ends justify immoral means, and that it is possible to create a utopia. – NPR

Terrorists believe they are making the world a better place.

It seems like there is a cohort of generally young terrorists that spans religious and political spectrums. They speak similar languages of antipathy and want to take actions to fix the world. They pick up and hone their ideology from online sources with improbable and flat out incorrect sets of “facts.” They study techniques that they find on like-minded websites to learn how to accomplish their attacks.

It’s critical to understand the actual problem we are trying to solve. Otherwise we risk solving the wrong ones. Are we running down a rabbit hole by focusing on specific ideologies? If we look at the characteristics of home-grown terrorists should we be looking for disaffectation? Youth? Fear? Bloated sense of honor? Is there a trigger that incites action? Are there interventions that could stop attacks? Is a focus on specific and deeply held moral or ethical beliefs helpful? Harmful? A distraction? Are there specific sets of ideologies that are more fertile ground for terror activities?

People who commit heinous acts of terror may read different holy books or have different motivations, but their wrongness is the same. Let’s work on the right problem.


Empty bike share in the evening

“Do you know Jesus?”

It was both loud and muffled. A budget bullhorn.

“Do you KNOW Jesus? Watch where you’re going. Look up.” He started to quote some scripture, I think. It was a little mixed up. He started singing a Christmas hymn.

“God rest you merry gentlemen, a child was born on Christmas day…I just called to say I love you, I just called to say how much I care. I just called to say I love you. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”

And ended with some Stevie Wonder.

He stood in the street near the curb. He was straddling a bike, his head covered with a pith style helmet and the bullhorn held in his left hand near his mouth. He staked out the spot at the corner by the subway entrance, across from the newly erected Christmas mart in front of the Portrait Gallery. Good pedestrian traffic for his message.

People across the street glanced his way and smiled. People on his side of the street looked down or away as they scurried past. He called out another sinner for not looking both ways. The next group of cross walkers looked hard to the left and right. The peace officer on the other corner kept an eye on him. She was looking out for him.

“Jesus knows you. You can’t hide from him.”

And you can’t hid from Jesus’s spokesman, either.

Sinners and Saints

Saints in stained glass.

I am definitely a lapsed Catholic. I just need to put that out there. I talked about it before.

But I am a cultural Catholic through and through. Catholicism was my conduit into faith, and spirituality. It was also my baptism for ethics and morals. I am a big fan of Jesus. Super big fan. For realz.

I was conflicted by my draw to Pope Francis as he visited my fair city. I think I give him too much slack, on the basis that he’s not totally awful. Actually, he is frequently brilliant. No need to pull out that old Catholic guilt. But that’s not today’s story.

To be truthful, Catholic news grabs me and makes me look. Because lapsed or not, it’s my identity. I get it. It made me. I embrace much more of it than  I reject. Even though I’d intellectually like to reject more. But I am not of the majick view of religion. I am of the philosophical bent.

Anyway, today’s big news, the induction of Mother Teresa into the Catholic Church Hall of Fame, also known as canonization into sainthood, stood me at attention.

Being inducted into the club of Saints isn’t like the yearly ceremonies at Cooperstown, Canton or Cleveland. No, there is not a regular rhythm of nominations and voting. But there is a process. And an officiating body, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This almost sounds like a J.K. Rowling invention. But it’s real. It’s a  department in the Catholic Church that makes recommendations to the Pope on saints. I am not making this up. Seriously, look it up.

There is a five step process to become a saint.

  1. Step one: Wait five years after you die. This is to minimize the emotional push to sainthood. HOWEVER, if you’re super popular–like a recent Pope–you can get a papal dispensation from this requirement. So much for a sober choice.
  2. Step two: Become a servant of God. This means that your local Bishop thinks you’re worthy and petitions the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to open a case. If they say okay, you’re an official Servant of God. But the Bishop has to vouch for you.
  3. Step three: This is where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints does their own legwork to see if there’s proof of a life of “heroic virtue,” and getting the Pope to agree. Passing through this gate means you are now venerable, but not yet a saint.
  4. Step four: This one is called beatification. This is some hocus pocus stuff,  AKA verified miracles. A modern example is someone is miraculously cured of some disease after saying your name in a prayerful way. This somehow proves that you are in heaven. That place in the clouds, just on the other side of St. Peter. Super holy ground. And you are now at stage four.
  5. Step five: This is Canonization. To get there, people dig around to find another example of a miracle that occurs after your beatification. I guess to make sure that you’re still paying attention. This second miracle step may be waived, but only if you’ve been martyred. So if you died a natural death, you need a second miracle and then you get a huge special mass with Latin chants that make you sainted. Tu autem in sanctoTu autem in sancto. Tu autem in sancto. If you say something three times, it’s true.

Now, I truly mean no disrespect to my non-lapsed brothers and sisters, but what does sainthood mean in 2016? What does it mean to modern people? People of science and letters, of the internet and DNA sequencing. Why would an unexplained remission of Parkinson’s Disease be credited as a cure via the intervention of a dead guy or gal? Seems like an incredible stretch, to me anyway.

That all said, there has been more than one occasion when I have lost something precious or something important and I have beseeched St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, to intervene on my behalf. And to be truthful, he has delivered. Dang, I can’t quit this thing.

What Does the Pope Eat?

Walking up to the small shrine in the hill at Kylemore Abbey, County Galway.

I grew up in a Catholic church filled with banners of doves and peace signs draping the altar and hanging behind the choir of earnest guitarists singing folk versions of psalms. And, once, even bongo drums.

My favorite priest was Father Mike. The other priests were Father LastNames. Mike had a beard and longish hair. He was Jesus-esque. Jesus was a carnie in a play, and his disciples were nice carnie hippies.

This was working class Detroit.

Parishioners were UAW members, many were immigrants from Italy, and most everyone’s last name ended in a vowel. Ventimiglia. Bornkowski. Buscemi. Kozlowski. Lucido.

We went to public school and were threatened occasionally with Catholic school if we didn’t straighten up.

To relieve boredom at a time when you didn’t bring activities for kids to Mass, I poured through my misselette reading next week’s gospel–or The Adventures of Jesus as I thought of them. My favorite stories told of houses built on sand, or the hero saving a woman from a crazed crowd, or the magic feeding of a mountain with a few fish. The ones I that bored me started off, “Beloved…”

I didn’t like confession in a dark phone booth, but we did it as a group and that was easy. I received Confirmation–also known as the sacrament of exit. And I, too, mostly left.

I was indoctrinated, though. I knew the secret handshakes. And I knew that Jesus was love.

I got married in Church and, in the sacrament of re-entering, I had kids. We could afford the parish school and the city schools were mostly sketchy.

My son was an altar server. He wanted me to be a lay minister of communion. The choir director would see me singing and asked me to join the music ministry. I served on the school committee to help in technology, but refused Parish Council. Because I’m a really bad Catholic. If I served during Mass I’m sure that the bigger than life size crucifix would crash onto the altar and it’d be my fault.

I am a cafeteria Catholic. I take what I want and maybe need, but when the Church veers from the Jesus-of-my-youth’s message of love, tolerance, compassion and forgiveness, I leave my tray at the cash register. Even if that means I leave behind community, spirituality and faith.

I really don’t believe in God. Not some old white guy who directs our lives. Really, if you were the Maker of the Universe, would you meddle in the individual heartbreaks of the human-ants? Really?

But we meddle in each other’s lives. And we sometimes do it with love, tolerance, compassion and forgiveness. And we make God when we do that.

And that’s what I placed on my battered cafeteria tray this week as I rapturously followed Pope Francis storming my city.

And he’s right. The Pope that is. God is love. That’s it. All the rest is decoration.

So today, and tomorrow and every day, I’m gonna make me some God.