Monday, October 20, 2014

Suffer fools gladly: St. Paul and Bl. Paul






My wife and I were admiring  Michelangelo’s celebration of pity and compassion, his marble sculpture of the most favored of moms caressing her dead son, just inside the doors of St. Peter’s. In an instant we were ducking back from a swaying sedia  gestatoria, man-powered predecessor of the horsepower Popemobile. Pope Paul VI was aboard this Vatican sedan chair.  It was close, but Sally and I were spared the embarrassment of being sideswiped by a chair.

Many journalists did not like Paul VI. I did like him, even though I did not like Humanae Vitae, his controversial  encyclical on human sexuality. I had served on what Lawrence Cardinal Shehan called the Abortion Committee. Other members included highly regarded experts in theology and medicine.  Our job was to explore the issues with Cardinal Shehan, who was a member of the committee appointed by the Pope to advise him before the encyclical was written.

I learned later that Cardinal Shehan had voted against the position taken by Paul VI, as had a majority of the committee. The encyclical stopped the church pendulum on its way up.

Cardinals are still stressed by human life concerns, as they revealed during  the October synod in Rome. They disagreed on matters of marriage and divorce, which none of them has experienced, and matters affecting gay life for Catholics, which if experienced would be in academic terms of celibacy, chastity and abstention.

The struggle for wisdom is constant. The cardinals and the pope certainly prayed daily for understanding, for knowing how to apply God’s mercy and justice. This was time for the beatification of Pope Paul VI, the saintly pontiff who years before had denied Italian newspaper reports that his personal views of homosexuality were inconsistent with church teaching. Popes, like presidents, are respected by many and despised by haters. “All  the world is full of suffering,” said Helen Keller. “It is also full of overcoming.”

I am eligible to place a Disabled marker on my car. The catch is that the disability that entitles me to the parking  spaces prevents me, along with my high regard for pedestrians, from driving a car. This devaluation of my driver’s license occurred in the fourth year of a progressive disease coveted only by spelling bee hosts.

“The whole Christian life,” said the progressive Thomas Merton, “is a life in which the further a person progresses, the more he has to depend directly on God. The more we progress, the less we are self-sufficient. The more we progress, the poorer we get so that the man who has progressed most, is totally poor—he has to depend directly on God. He’s got nothing left in himself.”
The same amazing Thomas Merton also said, “The very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me.”

Suffering is one of the favorite topics in the Bible and on television shows of all sorts, hospital shows, shooting and siren shows, painful pratfall shows, sports bone-crunching shows and of course the news shows, where facts can be smashed and enriched with sound effects.

Pope John Paul II wrote about it in an apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering).  He said, “We could say that suffering…is present in order to unleash love in the human person…”
It is easy to cause suffering, and many defy Christ by harming others on purpose, by confounding  trespasses instead of forgiving them as Someone suggests in a famous prayer. Suffering is part of every human experience, but causing it in anger or carelessness is to pound a nail into real flesh. My own sledgehammer always misses the nail and nails me in the foot.

Elsewhere in his letter John Paul II wrote, “…in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace. To this grace many saints, such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and others, owe their profound conversion. A result of such a conversion is not only that the individual discovers the salvific meaning of suffering but above all that he becomes a completely new person.”

I’m a Catholic Christian, even though a fundamentalist pal says there’s no such thing, and I have many Buddhist friends who seek Nirvana. Most of my Buddhist friends are smarter than I am in one important respect. They stayed in Hawaii.

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Second letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, NRSV, Chapter 11: Verse 16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish; but even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17* (What I am saying I say not with the Lord's authority but as a fool, in this boastful confidence; 18 since many boast of worldly things, I too will boast.) 19* For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if a man makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!






Sunday, October 12, 2014

When the locomotive is loco



Yesterday morning I rode the B&K Railway from my hunker bunker up to to the kitchen, and there the vehicle stuck. It just won't move. We await a service call.

There I was, up on the first floor while my laptop, Kindle, headphones, TV, La-Z-Boy chair, books and bathroom were on the floor below. That’s where my daughter and son-in-law created a bedroom and den for me, big enough for hockey. But I’ve lost my pucks.

We have no photos of my daring descent, via derriere loco motion, one step at a time, with daughter Marie one step ahead of me and granddaughter Kristen one step behind. For Kristen, this was a procedure that may not be taught in her P.A. school.

So it is possible to keep one step ahead of multiple system atrophy, MSA, which science so far finds incurable.

Brilliant scientists explore the universe, extend life expectancy, even merge the dreams of George Eastman, Alexander Graham Bell and Ma Bell so that telephones can take snapshots. One of these days men and women of science will discover a master tool for the cure of all the incurables. This will be followed by a decline in the amount of time humanity devotes to prayer.

© A. E. P. (Ed) Wall

  



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Religion with an attitude?



Religion is an ongoing investigation of the unfairness of life.

Edward Stasack
Religion looks at heroic humans who rescue strangers from floods and fires. It looks at others who murder, rape, steal and take pleasure in the pains of their victims. It looks at the brilliant and gifted, and at children born troubled. It sees the well-nourished and the starving and tries to understand why God’s standards sometimes seem to be lower than human standards.

Christians celebrate centuries of sermons, liturgies, sacrifices and praise by eliminating poor boxes because they attract thieves, and spending sums of congressional dimensions to pay off victims of abuse in churches, orphanages and schools.

Those who believe that God is Love are certain that God is not Hate, even though love and hate are both evident in the world. Christians famously denounce each other for thinking outside of catechisms and tenets. Christian homes are not always the cheerful centers of cooperation and forgiveness that faith might encourage. Churches have been known to explode in angry confrontations between people, lay and clerical, who despise each other in the name of God. What can be more chilling than that? It was people of religious faith who favored the death penalty for Jesus, crying out for capital punishment on the cross.

Scripture scholars, such as the late Father Raymond E. Brown, the brilliant Sulpician priest, have liberated venerable writings from some of the restraints imposed upon them by well-meaning guardians. They guarded the past, dragging their sandals as the past became the present. Customs changed, cultures developed, languages took on new meanings, but religion’s guardians kept it separate from life and froze it solid, right where it was many cultures ago. Although that attitude is described today as fundamentalist, it has little in common with fundamental, ongoing creation, symbolized as seven days by long-ago scribes, who did not copyright and lock up their scrolls after writing about the first day.

There are folks who think faith is a bad habit, like smoking. They dream of replacing No Smoking signs with No Faith warnings. Sometimes folks disbelieve in the same god, maybe the gimme god of creedal capitalism, or the god who permits waterboarding and decapitation, or the god kept in retirement. I began life in a country that “restricted” some clubs and neighborhoods from Jews and African Americans. Catholic priests risked being tarred and feathered. 

Some states prohibited interracial marriage, even as many still prohibit gay marriage. Only five years before I was born, and one year after my mother and father were married, the U.S. Constitution was amended to say: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of by any state on account of sex.”

One blessing of advancing age is its gift of interior sight, which is beyond the need for bifocals. I’ve seen members of a majority race battle in legislatures and in courts to assure equal rights for everybody, without reference to ethnicity or gender, or the sexuality given them at birth. These battles are not over. No effort for freedom of conscience is ever over.

God is more than father and mother. The scribes who wrote about Adam and Eve could not imagine them watching TV in an air conditioned home. Scribes are not the only ones who cannot imagine what remains to be learned.

Edited 10/9/14





Monday, October 6, 2014

Don't forget Aunt Addie




My Aunt Addie was born on October 18, 126 years ago in Jamestown, N.Y., where I was born 89 years ago. Aunt Addie Vaughn taught me to tie my shoes, gave me rides in the rumble seat of her car, took me to movies, from time to time led me down the stairs into the basement of Clark’s Drug Store, where books were sold. I could pick out any one of them to take home.

She was Addie Olmstead, named for her grandfather, Addison Olmstead of Gerry, N.Y. Sixteen years after her birth in 1888, her sister Doris was born and Doris became my mother in 1925. Addie loved her husband very much. Artimus (Archie) Vaughn died of an anonymous and mysterious disease in 1955. It might have been Alzheimer’s. For many years Addie and Archie lived on their farm in Sinclairsville, N.Y.
   
In her teens Addie played the piano in McCrory’s five and dime store, where she sold popular sheet music at a time when lots of people had pianos in the parlor, and radios were just catching on. Later she went to work selling women’s apparel at Nelson’s department store. One of her regular customers was a long-time friend and neighbor, Lucille Ball.

Years later she became a master seamstress for a maker of women’s clothing. She had no children, but she had lots of love to share with my kids. Aunt Addie used to worry that they would not remember her. She was cheerful and friendly. She played the piano for her Methodist church longer than she did for McCrory’s.

As she approached her 90th birthday, Aunt Addie was pruning some plants when a neighbor warned that she could drop dead working in the heat. She said, “I can’t think of a better place than here among my flowers.” She’ll appreciate it if you remember her today.



               

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Secretary of Neurology for the president's cabinet?



If this sounds crazy it is because some elements of craziness float around in olivopontocerebellar atrophy/multiple system atrophy, which begins to appear in some persons not long after their 50th birthdays.  Like many others, I acquired the neurological disease without knowing it. In my mid-50s I had to use a walking stick to keep from tripping and tipping, and I began making a few goofy decisions while holding responsible positions, but doctors failed to identify the disease for many years.

Neurological ailments can move in on anyone, silently at first, and hard to recognize. Even the most responsible officials and leaders can be affected. The very positions they hold may shield them from diagnosis and drape a blanket of privacy over their ailments. Changes in the goals and behavior of a president may be watered down in anybody’s White House. Think of Woodrow Wilson’s stroke and the concealment of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s deteriorating health. Remember Ronald Reagan, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years after he left the White House. His son Ron said he saw early signs of the devastating disease while his dad was president. He recalled that in an interview with ABC and in his book, My Father at 100: A Memoir.

Psychiatrists at Duke University Medical Center wrote, in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, that 49 percent of presidents from 1776 to 1974 were touched by mental ailments. This was reported by Haley Hoffman in Duke’s The Chronicle in 2006. The study of 37 presidents found that 18 suffered mental illness in some form. Depression was the most common ailment.

One problem leads to another, sometimes, and the problem of invisible health issues in government leads to this problem: Questionable claims of mental disease have been used to discredit political figures, even to confine them against their will in mental institutions. Although this was commonly associated with Stalin’s USSR, it is not unknown in the land of waterboarding.  Establishing controls for testing and diagnosis may not be possible. Ask Congress to legislate a system of mental examinations? Supply your own punch line to that.

My prejudices have supported Barack Obama ever since , not long after the 2004 Democratic convention, I wrote an Orlando Sentinel op-ed column beginning like this: “When Barack Obama was a schoolboy in Hawaii, I was managing editor of The Honolulu Advertiser, unaware that a major figure of the next century might have been surfing nearby.” That boy, I wrote, had the soul of a Martin Luther King and the heart of an Abraham Lincoln. And by the time I wrote it he had been elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, serving in Washington alongside Hawaii’s venerable Daniel  K. Inouye. Believe it or not, a half-century ago I wrote an editorial proposing Inouye for vice president. I am not singling out Obama in suggesting that all presidents are susceptible to depression, the flu, to anything that might afflict anyone.

There’s no more demanding job than president of the United States, whose every move is disputed by someone — millions of someones — somewhere. In some respects the demands are inhuman, but the president is human no matter what Fox News says.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Terse verse


    © A. E. P. (Ed) Wall, 17333 Deer Point Drive, Orland Park, IL 60467-7821           aepwall@gmail.com

Monday, August 18, 2014

Two heads abetter of one


I’m living a double life. I was talking with my daughter when I noticed how intently I was trying to pay attention. My duplex head was giving half of its focus to our conversation, while the other half was dealing with MSA, the multiple system atrophy that short circuits my attempts to stand more than briefly, or to walk more than a few yards with my rollator.

While one half of my apparatus is happily punching the computer keys or reading a timely mystery novel, another half is occupied by MSA spinoffs, literally a pain in the neck, some hammering on the inside of my skull (who’s trying to get out?), a punch in the shoulder or the sudden weakening of an arm, like a pricked balloon.
It is as though every 24-hour day comes in a 12-hour capsule. Time is always short. Actions often leave no trace.

Why am I telling you this? Partly because I was born this way, a journalist whose story-telling affliction is as old as the hieroglyphics. Partly because the more people know about MSA, a rare and incurable disease, the more likely is support for research. And partly as my excuse for being slow. My chow hound fame was wiped out, like gravy with a napkin, and I’m now the slowest eater at any table. I’m slow to answer letters and sometimes MSA wipes out my memory of a letter that needs answering or a promise made. This is a disease of falling and then getting up again.

Thanks for being one of the reasons to get back up.

     --Notes in an OPCA/MSA Diary