religion

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: LGBTQ

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.Papa Frank cares about all of his flock — and just what part of all don’t you understand?

To wit, in a worldwide survey launched by the Vatican today, questions about how to care for (pastorally) LGBTQ folks and their families were among those posed in a lengthy questionnaire sent round the globe.

According to a report from Agence France Presse:

The Vatican on Tuesday launched an unprecedented worldwide consultation on the new realities of family life including gay marriage as part of Pope Francis’s efforts to reform the Catholic Church.

A questionnaire has been sent to bishops around the world asking them for detailed information about the “many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care”.

“Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation… to same-sex unions,” it said.

The 39 questions are unusual because of their non-judgemental, practical nature in what could be a signal of greater openness and increased pastoral care regardless of a believer’s background.

Referring to gay couples, one questions asks: “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?”

“In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”

I’m so grateful Papa Frank is being, well, frank about issues related to LGBTQ and families in general (which are complex, no matter how they are created.) It’s much better than sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting “LALALALALALALA” with the hope that it might go away if he wills it to be so.

I like him. A lot.

Cartoon of Papa Frank tending to his flock by cartoonist Tony Jones: http://www.cagle.com/2013/09/pope-francis-tends-flock/
Cartoon of Papa Frank tending to his flock by cartoonist Tony Jones: http://www.cagle.com/2013/09/pope-francis-tends-flock/

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

~ Proverbs 31:8-9

ADDIS ABABA — These words of King Solomon have been running through my mind since our ONE Moms delegation — 13 mothers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France — arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday.

I hear these verses as a clarion call to action. As someone who strives humbly to follow the Way of Jesus and be involved in The Work that God is doing in the world, I want to respond and do what these verses command.

And as a believer who also happens to be a mother (a fairly novice one, still learning the ropes, if you will), I must do.

Sunday afternoon, after us ONE Moms dropped our luggage at the hotel, piled into our chartered bus, and drove to the outskirts of the city to the Mary Joy Aid Through Development Association, we met our Ethiopian sisters who are speaking out for those who cannot; who are advocating on behalf of the destitute, judging with righteous wisdom, and defending the rights of the poor and the needy.

The verses that follow Solomon’s charge in Proverbs 31 are well known. He goes on to describe the ideal woman, mother, and wife — the one who is “far more precious than jewels.” She is industrious, good with money, makes beautiful things with her hands, tends to the needs of her children (and those of others), has strong arms (here I picture Michelle Obama), rises early and works late, spins and weaves and sews.

“She opens her hand to the poor,” Solomon says. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

And her children “rise up and call her ‘blessed.'”

As we alighted the bus at the gates of Mary Joy, dozens of Ethiopian mothers and children — from babes in arms to older teens — greeted us with flowers and mega-watt smiles that would light up even the darkest of places. They embraced us, kissed our cheeks, shook our hands, and then they broke into exuberant singing and dancing.

Our welcoming committee were those “Proverbs 31 women” that, as an evangelical Christian, I’ve heard so much about over the years. Such women are precious — and scarce. I have met only a true few in my lifetime. That is, until Sunday.

You see, the mothers at Mary Joy (with a few fathers as well), have heeded the words of Proverbs 31: 8-9 by reaching out to orphans, widows, the elderly, and others who are struggling to survive amidst poverty and tragedy such as the loss of the family matriarch or patriarch and breadwinner, disease (often HIV/AIDS), or some other cataclysm that has left them bereft, voiceless, alone on the margins of society.

Mary Joy, which is a non-religious, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) has, since 1994, been working tirelessly to assist and empower women, children and families through a host of educational programs — from HIV/AIDS prevention and hygiene to nutrition and other vocational training — and by assembling a small army of “peer mothers” who act as stand-in parents for children who are parentless.

ONE Moms got to know the Mary Joy organization through one of our own members, Maya Haile Samuelsson, a model and native of Ethiopia who, with her husband, Chef Marcus Samuelsson, supports the education and wellbeing of 10 children at Mary Joy. (Maya’s even more beautiful on the inside than she is out — and she’s absolutely stunning; the picture of grace and a generous heart.)

UNICEF estimates there are 5 million orphans in Ethiopia — about 650,000 of them having lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Of those orphans, more than 2 million live below the poverty line, which in Ethiopia is about 80 cents a day. Many thousands end up living on the streets.

During our visit with the mamas and children of Mary Joy, we were briefed officially by executive director about the work the organization does. But we learned so much more just by being with the mothers and kids as they celebrated life and welcomed us into theirs.

A group of adolescent boys performed acrobatics, juggled brightly colored bowling pins and blazing batons — one boy even filled his cheeks with lighter fluid and spit flames into the air as we collectively gasped the way mothers do.

And we danced. Some of us more gracefully than others, some of us with a child on our hip, or the hand of new friend in ours. But we all moved with joyful abandon.

We sat in a happy heap on blankets on the ground, flirted with babies, smiled at each other — affirming one another in that motherhood-is-global-and-mighty-powerful way that doesn’t need a common language to be understood. It just takes a look. Straight in the eyes. Deep into the soul. We see each other and we know.

It was a glory day. And it was the perfect the beginning of a journey here in Ethiopia, a land oozing with sacred spirit and beauty at every turn — perhaps most vividly in the places where people have the “least.”

In the slideshow below, you can see some of the faces of the mothers from Mary Joy and a few of my traveling companions from ONE Moms.

The journey continues with blessings, lessons, and audacious grace.

I’ll have more stories to share soon. (Dear St. Isidore, patron saint of computers and the Internet, please put in a good word for this weary traveler).

Thank you for joining us on this adventure.

If you’d like to learn more about Mary Joy or consider sponsoring one if its children, please click HERE.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

See the thing is …

Before I went on CNN live this afternoon to talk about the current debate about President Obama’s faith, one of my best friends handed me a cool bottle of water and a copy of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, which she had marked with a post-it note on the chapter titled, “Faith.”

I had hoped (alas) that the anchor would ask good questions and that I could, at some point, make reference to the following quotes:

First of all, faith is not an emotion, not a feeling. It is not a blind subconscious urge toward something vaguely supernatural. It is not simply an elemental need in man’s spirit. It is not a feeling that God exists. It is not a conviction that one is somehow saved or ‘justified’ for not special reason except that one happens to feel that way. It is not something entirely interior and subjective, with no reference to any external motive. It is not just ‘soul force.’ It is not something that bubbles up out of the recesses of your soul and fills you with an indefinable ‘sense’ that everything is all right. It is not something so purely yours that its content is incommunicable. It is not some personal myth of your own that you cannot share with anyone else, and the objective validity of which does not matter either to your or God or anybody else.

But also it is not an opinion. It is not a conviction based on rational analysis. It is not the fruit of scientific evidence. You can only believe what you do not know. As soon as you know it, you no longer believe it, at least not in the same way as you know it.

AND

Too often our notion of faith is falsified by our emphasis on the statements about God which faith believes, and by our forgetfulness of the fact that faith is a communion with God’s own light and truth. Actually, the statements, the propositions which faith accepts on the divine authority are simply media through which one passes in order to reach the divine Truth. Faith terminates not in a statement, not in a formula of words, but in God.

THE AUDACITY OF HOPE: OBAMA ’08?

A few years back, about a week after he’d handily won the Democratic primary in Illinois — long before he gave that famous keynote address at the 2004 DNC and looooooong before the rest of the country knew his “funny” name — I had the opportunity as the religion reporter for the Sun-Times to interview Barack about his spirituality, an interview that eventually made its way as a chapter unto itself in my book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People.

As we left the cafe on Michigan Avenue where we’d had our interview conversation, the soon-to-be US senator walking south, me walking north, I got out my cell phone and called my father in Connecticut and said, simply, “Daddy, I just met the first black president of the United States.”

Here’s one of my favorite things Barack told me from that chapter in The God Factor:

“The most powerful political moments for me come when I feel like my actions are aligned with a certain truth. I can feel it. When I’m talking to a group and I’m saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I’m just being glib or clever.

Is that the power of the Holy Spirit? I asked him.
“I think it’s the power of the recognition of God, or the recognition of a larger truth that is being shared between me and the audience. That’s something you learn watching ministers — what they call the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come down while they’re preaching, right? Not to try to intellectualize it, but what I see there are moments that happen within a sermon where the minister gets out of his ego and is speaking from a different source. And it’s powerful. There are also time when you can see the ego getting in the way, where the minister is performing and clearly straining for applause or an amen. And those are distinct moments. But I think those former moments are sacred.”

Here’s a little of what Barack had to say on CNN last week during an interview with Larry King: