Price Tag On A Soul

Rudimentary to a price tag, of course, is that fundamental belief in the immortal soul, a soul that registers consequences backed up against a belief system.

Identifying the belief system is a balance of the famous walk and talk comparison. Stumble along with that murky bit for a while. Then try to sort those quietly held truths vs. so-called doctrines or universal truths. The stumble decreases to stalemate.

“This Great Country of the United States of American…The American People have spoken…The greater good demands…Mama Grizzly.”

Public officials have the research. Pick a word, pick a pair, pick a hot button of most compelling, most able to incite action, most conservative, most liberal, most blah. Name a prejudice and the handbook of electability will furnish the words to exploit. Identify a pork and you can bet a politician is slipping it under the radar.

Our shoulders should ache from carrying that burden. We elected them. We read the history and we turn the page allowing a rewrite; same ideas different names.

Part of the reason that this blog stayed quiet for some time is my inability to process the cover up of the abuse of children. The Church, that was my life anchor for well over six decades, covered for and protected the abusers. The abusing priests were more important that the anguish of the abused.

When recently asked why I thought that the Catholic Church got more press than other organizations who have abusers in their ranks, I didn’t hesitate to answer.

The Catholic Church set itself above all others, named itself as the one true, holy, catholic and apostolic church. From earliest memory, the Catholic Church set itself apart and above, the single pathway to God, the true keeper of the words of Jesus. No other denominations need apply.

Right there on top of the flag pole, waving the flag of a Pope speaking directly from God, unable to err on doctrines of faith or morals. Catholics first, all others diminished, setting a bar that demanded a higher standard. Sow and reap.


A Conversation

On Thursday, July 7, my letter referencing abuse of children appeared in the Kansas City Star. Rain-soaked, my copy was too soggy to open so a late afternoon phone call was an interesting surprise.

A former high school classmate took me to task, politely and sincerely, but with conviction. Line by line he let me know how distant I was from the truth, how difficult it was for him to understand how I strayed from the church that nourished my school years.

Peter (for this blog) gave me directions to his church where Vatican II had no place and where all the traditions of the Catholic Church were thriving: Latin Mass, busy confessionals, altar turned away from the people, servers of the right sex. Of our entire high school class, only Peter and one other classmate attended this church. Repeatedly, Peter wondered how that could be, how only two out of so many could be with the truth. Peter read his carefully written response to my letter, though he said it was not for publication but rather to inform me.

Vetting, he said, was the problem in today’s church. Candidates for the seminary are not vetted as they were in the ’40’s, ’50’s and early ’60’s. Nuns, he said, knew everything about every kid and ‘deviants’ were not allowed to study for the priesthood. That, of course, led to his position on abortion, homosexuality, the role of women, gluttony, the fall of civilizations, legal questions and his truth that life was simply a time of hardship and tears.

In high school, I knew and liked this man. During our time on the phone I reminded myself how often I had lamented the loss of civil discourse during disagreement. I reminded myself that most anger is a defense designed to shut down any fair and open discussion. Peter was sincere and I had no illusion that his mind was open to change.

Still, I tried. When I pointed out that abuse by the clergy goes well into those years when vetting plucked the weeds, Peter dismissed that as a minor problem and too long ago to actually be relevant.

I defended my position that civil authorities are denied access to records of abuse and that legal procedures should be enacted against priest’s who abused children. Peter, with disdain, dismissed lawsuits as a way to open justice.

Peter cares and defends his church. He brought his arguments without anger even though he found my thoughts difficult to comprehend. Peter phoned fifty-five years after high school graduation to express his belief that healing happens inside his version of being Catholic.

With all due respect, I don’t live there anymore.

The Space Between

There is a space betweenthe past as it was and the past as we remember it. This is a space of rescue, a space to temper the reactions of then with whatever adjustments we need. It is easy to allow the rescue to become more than the reality. It is difficult to trust memory knowing that the space between has time as dampener.

Cookies in the oven, sheets fresh from the line, chalk dust from clapping erasers, grass in the early morning, smoke from a campfire, all more vivid in the past than in the now.

A sense of long and empty afternoons, a stirring of forgotten passions, evenings lost in anger that can only be choked (but rarely hidden) head-to-head with undeniable facts–all wrapped in pain and all able to be survived in the space between.

Mistakes, selfish choices, times of going for the instant, going for the easy do not go away. Locked. Maybe that space between helps us live despite knowing that we own those choices. The consequences are just.

Her Journal

About a year before Bob died, an acquaintance experienced the death of her husband. Because we shared an ongoing activity we also shared many conversations about her grief. She told me that she started a journal in which she wrote about every aspect of passage.

For this blog, her name is Karita. She is in her seventies, has grown children, attends church, is a constant volunteer and reaches out with open friendship. Her husband, Ray, with no advance warning symptoms, died at home.

When Bob died, Karita opened her journal. The writing is harsh, angry, filled with pain. Her attempts to excuse what she perceived as abandonment by friends does fail her even as she tries to understand with compassion. There are even pages of self blame as she wrote about her failure to adequately express her needs.

As expected the early journal entries poured grief and loneliness onto the page. Fear and uncertainty overshadowed everything but most days ended with comfort, a list of names offering “Whatever you need, just ask. You are in our prayers.”

“But I don’t know what to ask…I am too lost to figure out what I need…help me…do something…do anything but do something…don’t pray for me…help me…give me your friendship, your time…damn the words you give me about time and tears and triumph…I gag at your audacity telling me that I will find a new normal while you do nothing to take me there…don’t speak to me about anything except about what actions you are doing to show me that my pain is important to you…cram the cheerful stuff…I need help.”

Karita never told her friends how she felt. She told her journal holding little back as she learned to understand that friends spoke the words, did not rally but moved back…moved away from her emotional needs.

Karita took my hand, blinked back her tears and spoke with a softness that only pain can produce.
“You are alone”, she said. “Your old friends won’t speak it, but they have no room for you now. You have become casual to them. You have family and maybe some neighbors, but your old friends are old now…gone except to use platitudes and then pretend like you don’t exist. Don’t believe? Count. Count what you have experienced as you hoped for their help.”

Karita invited me to a grief support group. I went once. Last Tuesday. Tonight should have been the second time, but I am here. Not there. Not in a room full of strangers gathered to talk about an unavoidable human commonality…death. I cannot build on death.

My Country Tis of Thee

Yesterday someone dear to me stated that I was not overly sentimental. This person reads me as more practical and dispassionate instead of overly demonstrative. Maybe. Maybe sentimental is a whisper no less felt than thunder.

Births, deaths, holidays, most milestones evoke sentiment. Each Wednesday and each Friday tears spill as family members start down the drive-way after a weekly visit. Family returning to either Colorado or South Carolina requires my face towards the ground, a plastic smile and a mighty stab at self-control. Good-bye is an avalanche of loneliness.

Today is July 4, Independence Day, a celebration of country and patriotism. My activities for the day include painting, stripping wax and buying paper products, laundry supplies and a favorite candy from the nearby Wal-Greens.

As I stood at the card aisle looking for the perfect birthday message (unsentimental but covering all the love and pride I feel for the person), the piped music was My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty…

My reaction caught me…sentimental, nostalgic, sad, and even angry. As a fairly liberal-minded old person, I tend to focus on the warts rather than white-wash over the problems. I absolutely know what a privilege it is to live in the United States even as I lament the excesses and the failures to honor the all-men-created-equal declaration.

Politics lacks integrity and diminishes our system as it pays for professional advice on how to exploit integrity and patriotism. The John Edwards and Sarah Palins of the scene push collective buttons and hide behind personae and rhetoric.

We did learn from Viet Nam and our military men and women are given all deserved honor. The branches of the Armed Services will be prominent in 4th of July celebrations.

People, American people, celebrate this day together. Patriotism waves with new unwrinkled flags, with yearly resurgence of hope that the best can make its way forward and that appreciation can resurrect the best of My Country Tis of Thee I Sing.


Disclaimer First: This is a ramble, a struggle to understand with no conclusion to the journey.

As much as we might believe it is possible to separate our logical selves from our emotional selves, the evidence is otherwise. Research continues to present evidence that emotion, and the unconscious parts of the mind, determine the values that serve our needs.

In pre-school, we learn to discern patterns in shape, number or color. Long before that mathematical kind of pattern search, we learn to discern patterns in very complex behaviors around us. From birth, we build our values based on emotional responses, sorting the structure of our values, not opposing reason, but melding.

Mr. Spock of Star Trek did the mind meld as if Vulcan’s alone had that ability. Not so. Again, from birth we enter the minds of those around us. We meet our needs and build our value system by staying tuned.

Equally important, as we mature,is the monitoring of our minds as we correct for prejudices and mistakes. We reconstruct our values, our emotional responses, our ability to live within a social group.

Finally, motivation completes our package, tying together what we have structured as our logical set of values and our emotional response to any given situation. In those times of exquisite moments, immersed in love of another person, caught up in a joy of challenge and even in our search for God, we taste the hunger. We know the motivation that goes so far beyond material success.

Recently a number of events have gifted me with the awareness that it is time for yet another restructuring. Recent church related blogs have skirted the issue of responsibility and expressed values opposing perceived values.

Continuing generosity of family, neighbors and friends are both amazing and comforting. My blessings are people who cover all the visible bases while understanding the more difficult needs.

Far too often we handle difficult issues by dumping at the gates of a higher power to which we have assigned attributes build on an emotional need to explain what has no satisfying explanation.

Attempting to comfort, standard expressions give God the credit and reserve the pain for those unwilling to accept God’s offering.
When God closes a door, he opens a window.
God never gives us more than we can handle.
God reached out and saved (a name) when others perished.
There are no atheists on the battlefield.
God is trying to tell us something by the destruction of nature.
God spoke to me and showed me the way.
Pray, and God will answer…maybe not the answer to the prayer, but God’s answer to the need.
Why me? God is trying to tell me something.
The church is God’s emissary on earth, leading us to eternal life.

For the sake of communication, let’s accept that God is…that God is in a place, in the lives of people.
Why is a tsunami allowed to destroy a huge section of a country? Why do earth quakes strike down life without regard? Why is one family’s child less valuable than other children and signaled for early death? Why do the deluge of prayers for peace seem impotent? Genocide? Aids? Cancer? Addiction? Prejudice? Governmental dishonesty? All the mistakes of humans and not correctable by the powers of God?

Of course I know that these are questions from my late teens and early twenties, years of searching followed by years of diligently toiling. (Thanks, Mark.) I know that these are the questions of depression, sadness and grief, questions that are very easily answered by blindly believing, by giving God the design manual.

Perhaps an equally important question is How. How do the beautiful, caring and generous men and women continue to live their values in a culture that mocks, satirizes and bullies? How do people, with no reliance on god-rules do that diligently toiling thing while giving up chunks of self to care for those around them?

Could it be that humans have taken characteristics of those beautiful, caring and generous men and women and designed a power in that image and likeness.