August 27, 2018

Essay: Pope Francis teaches how to love those we see as sinners

  The death penalty is wrong in all cases.  That’s what Pope Francis proclaimed in early August, and that’s what the Church’s Catechism will be revised to say. It’s an important statement about faith and human rights.  And its impact extends beyond those convicted of serious crimes and threatened with execution. The Pope’s order, culminating of an evolution in church teaching that goes back to St. John Paul II, is a lesson to you and me about how to treat those we see as sinners. Under the revision, the Catechism will say, “The Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.” In 1992, John Paul II began to take strong stands against the death penalty.  There was one exception as he saw it — “cases of absolute necessity” when the death penalty was needed to protect other lives. The announcement from Pope Francis closes that “last remaining loophole” in Church’s stand against executions, writes Sister Helen Prejean, a longtime opponent of the death penalty.   “The dignity of the person” The Church […]
August 26, 2018

Chicago History: Haki Madhubuti, the most influential African-American leader you’ve probably never heard of

This is an expanded version of an article that appeared 8.29.18 in the Chicago Reader.   Don L. Lee was ten years old when his mother Maxine took him and his younger sister to visit the minister of one of the largest black churches in Detroit. It was mid-20th century America, and, abandoned years before by her husband, Maxine, a beautiful, vivacious woman, had been trying to keep the family afloat with the odds stacked against her. Suddenly, with the minister, she was in luck.  A man in his fifties, with a kindly demeanor, he offered her a job as a janitor at the four-story, twelve-unit building he owned next to his church — and free housing in a basement apartment.  During the week, she’d be responsible for cleaning and dusting the public areas and hauling the garbage cans down the backstairs. Oh, and one other thing — as the interview came to an end, the minister leaned over and whispered something to Maxine.  “I knew what was going on,” her son tells me. Thereafter, come Monday and Thursday afternoons, the minister would visit the family’s apartment “and she would service him.”  She was what was known at the time […]
August 21, 2018

Book review: “Bone on Bone” by Julia Keller

  Julia Keller’s latest novel Bone on Bone is a story of misery and love. It is the story of people whose lives are full of misery.  Sometimes, for them, love ameliorates the pain.  At other times, it feeds the pain. Like Keller’s six previous books in this series focused on the fictional town of Acker’s Gap in West Virginia, there is a murder and mysteries in Bone on Bone.  There is a search for truth amid the chaos and confusion of existence. Yet, this isn’t a whodunit.  This is a literary work grappling with the existential pain of breathing, pain we all suffer.   The misery in Acker’s Gap The misery in Acker’s Gap has to do with the loss of jobs and potential and with the increasing use of illegal drugs by young people who don’t see a future, even young people with advantages. Not only are the teens and young adults in this novel eaten up by their drug addiction, but the lives of their parents are grotesquely twisted by the suffering of watching their children suffer. So grotesquely twisted that one mother seeks release in the bed of a pick-up lover as her husband, out of […]
August 20, 2018

Essay: The death penalty and the evolution of faith

    The Church’s understanding of what it means to live a Christian life has been evolving for 2,000 years and will continue to do so. For instance, the early Church accepted slavery as a permissible aspect of human society but later came to see bondage as immoral. Earlier this month, another step in the evolution of the Church’s teaching took place when Pope Francis announced that the death penalty is wrong in all cases.   “Inadmissible” At the Pope’s order, the Catechism will be revised to say: “The Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.” This shift in doctrine began in 1992 with St. John Paul II who took strong stands against the death penalty “except in cases of absolute necessity” to protect other lives. The announcement from Pope Francis closes “the last remaining loophole” in Church’s stand against executions, writes Sister Helen Prejean, a longtime opponent of the death penalty.   “The dignity of the person” While the new step has many ramifications, the important lesson for most of […]
August 15, 2018

Book review: “Wyrd Sisters” by Terry Pratchett

  That great and silly American writer Christopher Moore, in recent years, has mined the Shakespeare canon for sources for his comic novels. You could call this thievery.  Or you could call it homage.  Either way, the results are hilarious — Fool (a rip-off, excuse me, homage to King Lear) and The Serpent of Venice (Merchant of Venice and Othello). (And, after all, the great Will stole all his plots from earlier writers, right?) Two decades earlier, that great and silly English writer Terry Pratchett did the same thing in Wyrd Sisters.  This 1988 novel borrows a lot of the plot of MacBeth.  It’s got an evil Duchess to play the Queen part, and a Duke who takes the hand-washing bit way too far.  There’s a forest that moves, and a murdered king, and an unexpected heir. And, like many a Shakespearian effort, there are characters who are masquerading as other people. Quite a lot, actually. There’s a play within a play. And ghosts and “divers alarums” and witches. Ah, yes, Pratchett’s witches — the two old standbys, Granny Weatherwax, the crotchety uber-witch, and Nanny Ogg, an earth-motherish sort, as well as Magrat Garlick, the junior witch who’s still a […]
August 13, 2018

Book review: “Building A Revolutionary State: The Legal Transformation of New York, 1776-1783” by Howard Pashman

      For Great Britain, the late 18th-century conflict with its North American colonies was a civil war.  The colonists were in rebellion and needed to be policed. For the newly minted United States of America, the Revolution was a war for independence.  The colonists wanted to control their lives and fortunes. Either way you looked at it, however, the armies, officials and common people opposing the mighty British forces were insurgents.  They were the same sort of insurgents who, over the next 200-plus years, would rebel in France, Russia and Cuba, and in dozens of successful and unsuccessful attempts at achieving self-government. And, either way you looked at it, the time of the revolt, particularly in the early years, was a time of great chaos for new Americans. The history of the American Revolution, most frequently, has been portrayed as a story of great men who thought great ideas and brought about independence by the sheer weight of the righteousness of their creation — an early sort of manifest destiny. It was as if the new nation, as designed and proclaimed, made so much sense, how could anyone, except those dense Brits, ever think to question it?   […]
August 8, 2018

Book review: “A Book of Silence” by Sara Maitland

    Since 2000, British writer Sara Maitland has been investigating, searching for, reaching for silence.  Eight years through the still-ongoing process, she wrote about her endeavor in A Book of Silence. As part of this journey, Maitland has done 40 days and 40 nights of something approaching complete silence in a remote, isolated house in the far north of England.  She has looked at the stories of people who have experienced many versions of silence down through history. She has recognized two very different groupings of silence — one in which silence is a way to wall off the self from distractions in order to do creative work, and one in which silence is an openness to all of existence, a kind of praying. This is a complex book that will perplex many who are steeped in Western civilization’s values.  Maitland herself is complex, a self-described Roman Catholic socialist feminist writer of fiction and non-fiction.  Such a counter-cultural combination of beliefs and enthusiasms will also perplex many.   Unless you’re searching You don’t want to read this book unless you’re searching.  This isn’t the sort of book with warm and cuddly and/or humorous and/or entertaining anecdotes about some subject […]
August 6, 2018

Poem: “The lost tribes”

  The lost tribes   for Haki Madhubuti     I found the lost tribes in America, eating fries with city workers at the McDonald’s on Western Avenue.   I found them sport-shopping at Gurnee Mills.   I found them in the bleak hours on Ecclesiastes Road, in the cathedral’s unused confessionals, in the self-help section at the public library, after the wait, under the weight, over the rainbow, up the street, dedicated to the proposition, under the gun during the workshop on neighborhood crime.   I found them with Colonel Mustard in the library with the rope.   I found the lost tribes in that river bend where garbage collects, amid the splayed newspapers and dead fish and truck tires and basketballs and plastic bags and condom snakeskins and lost souls and bitter winners and empty milk cartons and broken rosaries and gasoline sheen and abandoned virgins and abandoned promises and a single shopping cart loaded with rusted chicken wire, sodden stuffed animals and my sins.   I found them hiding behind the talking heads with the sound off.   I found them in the purple noise of the laugh track, hellbent for distraction.   I found them staring […]
August 1, 2018

Essay: “My soul magnifies the Lord”

For 2000 years, Mary the mother of Jesus has been a major figure in Christian theology, liturgy and art and a major inspiration to believers working to live their faith in daily life. Yet, in the Gospels, Mary doesn’t have many lines. In fact, she only speaks on four occasions: when Gabriel appears to her, when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, when the 12-year-old Jesus stays behind in the Temple and when she’s at the wedding feast of Cana with her son. The Feast of the Visitation, celebrated at the end of May, commemorates the event when, for me, Mary shines the brightest, singing the Magnificat, perhaps the greatest song in the Bible. It starts: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” Many modern translations begin, “My soul proclaims…” or “My soul praises…” But I like the earlier word “magnifies” because it’s kind of odd and mysterious. What Mary is saying is that she is like a magnifying glass. By looking at her — by looking through her — other people see God better. Isn’t this what we’re called to do as Christians? To be a magnifying glass — to help others see, through our actions, […]