Sunday, April 29, 2012

Catholicism- My Take

     I haven't had too much of a problem with Catholicism, not after a dream I had when I was a teenager.  In the dream I was trying to kill a robot nun as she crossed the lawn.  My uncle finished the figure off for me.  It obviously represented my freedom from the doctrine, much of which I absorbed by half-listening to sermons.  One sticks in my mind because when I was a kid, it made absolutely no sense- something about tight sweaters and short skirts.  It was the 60's and these must have been dangerous.
     Years of living in Europe kept a benign image of the church alive.  I loved cathedrals and ritual.  One of my first published poems was "Lighting Candles is a Solitary Act".  But living in Spain led me to the Inquisition and when I visited the Vatican I was horrified.  All of this wealth was what my parents (on their limited income) tithed for, not the mention the poor around the world adding to the collection basket what they couldn't afford.
     So I was one of the people who sought the spiritual elsewhere. I don't think I ever considered the church as having much to do with my ideas of spirit.  There was Buddhism, astrology, and Jungian psychology to explore, mostly on my own.
     This week two things came up which show once again how disconnected the church is from reality.  The Pope reprimanded nuns for being "radical feminists" and focusing too much on social justice.  Kristof and Down address this brilliantly.

     And on Friday I took immigrants and refugees to a health fair.  Catholic Charities (which no doubt runs some great programs) had a stand dedicated to what the church does best- sexual education.  There was information on natural family planning.  If that works for you, I'd love to hear about it.  That was the most innocent.  One pamphlet denounced Planned Parenthood as promoting promiscuity while another warned that condoms cause cancer.  Something to do with talc. Where do they get their science? I was grateful most of the attendees didn't have the level of language to understand this dangerous misinformation.  Dangerous for people who deserve accurate information on how to protect themselves from disease and how to have fewer children if they so choose.
   Where to go from here?  What's next?  The writer, Anna Quindlen has formally renounced the church.  I'm coming closer.  The only thing that keeps me is the hard work of those chastized nuns.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The European Debt Crisis- My Take

A friend of mine in Spain travels often from Barcelona to the Priorat, a wine growing region about two hours from Barcelona.  On two Saturdays he experienced the horror of someone leaping onto the tracks and committing suicide.  Suicides are hitting the European countries that are subjecting their citizens to severe austerity measures.  Even the American press has published articles on the subject:
Of course, reading about a suicide and witnessing one are worlds apart.  The same way that from a distance we are viewing the debt crisis in Europe from the perspective of what the media wants us to see- the result of corrupt spending by lazy wastrels.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In my years in Spain, I had longer work hours and higher quality jobs than I have had here.  Not to mention the healthcare.  Here I was recently quoted a health insurance plan from Cobra that was $200 a month with a $10,000 deductable.  Insane!  Another indicator of the cost of US healthcare was a price for eyedrops I was prescribed for conjunctivitis- $460.  Needless to say, I didn’t get them.
What stands between workers in the United States and the Chinese economic model (no rights, no pensions, any work schedule up to 16 hours a day) ?  Europe, of course.  Europe has a social safety net and workers’ rights but these are being threatened.  We are fed the propaganda that the European worker is bloated by those social benefits. Universal health care, reasonably priced higher education, and pension plans are requirements for a society, not luxuries as we are being led to believe.    Meanwhile, public workers in Spain are taking large pay cuts and we’re not talking about high level politicians, but teachers and office workers (some of whom earn the equivalent of 1000 euros a month which would be about 1300 dollars).  That would be below poverty level here.  These are the people bearing the cost of the housing and banking scams that originated on Wall Street and spread throughout the world.  
The consumption that identifies life in the US is not present to such a degree in Europe.  Though there is wealth in Western Europe, it is never as conspicuous or as obscene as it is in America.  Sometimes I feel like I’m witnessing the decadence of the last years of the Roman Empire.  Turn on reality TV and be prepared to be disgusted as the “wealthy” bicker and consume.  You’ll see them rent $20,000 a month apartments in New York or take private jets to Morocco.  In the Sunday section of the NY Times there was an article called, “Bridal Hunger Games” describing a woman who spent 4 days on a feeding tube so she could fit into her wedding dress.  Decadent or what?
And, my tax rate is higher than Mitt Rommey’s.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The American CIty

            So far this year, I’ve visited three American cities, four if you count my Christmas holiday trip to San Francisco.  The first city I lived in (and visited frequently as a child) was Buffalo, NY.  Over the years I watched its downtown transform from a busy place with department stores, shops, and restaurants into an after work ghost town unless there’s a special event taking place.   That’s increasingly the way an American city functions- it’s a place to escape from to a suburban home or it’s a place to go for entertainment like seeing a team play or going to a play.  The idea of including activities with living space has largely vanished except in larger cities like NY. 
            In a smaller city like Buffalo many essential needs can’t be met within the city.  My neighborhood has a cafĂ©, restaurants, and boutiques.  For all practical concerns, I have to take a bus.   Contrast that with my neighborhood in Barcelona, called Gracia.  It had all of the above plus a supermarket across the street, a gym minutes away, and a medical center and cinema all within  walking distance. 
            “City Life” by Witold Rybcznski addresses how American cities have changed, and why, and how some may even thrive.  All the American cities I visited required a car thought if I lived in one of them, I’m sure I’d find a way to manage without one just as I have here in Buffalo.  I think that’s because they’re older cities (Philadelphia, Charleston, and Pittsburgh) all created before the car was the measure of all things.  I might not be able to manage in the newer cities like Phoenix and Dallas.  Let me know if I’m wrong. 
            In any case, I’m still clinging to my image of what a city should be, perhaps formed by the second city I lived in, Paris.  Need I say more.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Semana Santa- a re-visit to my post on the theme

Religion, Myth, and Magic*

The writer, Chris Albani says you can come back from torture, rape, violence. He should know having survived Nigerian prison, not once, but three times. Resurrection is the theme of this week.

That leads me Palm Sunday. I was raised Catholic but for decades only attended church for weddings and funerals. Since I returned to Buffalo, I reconnected with an old friend from my UB teaching days who had since become a priest (progressive, of course). Mass is familiar from a childhood of mouthing the words. Yet there are some differences: no male pronouns are used and the Holy Ghost has become the Holy Spirit. I’d forgotten Palm Sunday is a solemn celebration. It touches on the modern themes of betrayal (Judas) and abandonment (my God, why have you forsaken me?)

Albani was also raised Catholic which might help account for the theme of redemption in “Graceland” where as he puts it, “everyone is redeemed”. From there he went to Buddhism. As my Korean student who attended a Buddhist university put it, in Buddhism, you become the saint. Instead of the “I am not worthy to receive you” you have a pervasive basic goodness and the goal of an enlightened society (in the form I’m familiar with). As my Iraqi student says there is no God. You’re on your own. And my question is where is the witness that has been part of our modern therapeutic culture?

In the end, Albani tattooed the traditional Igbo deities on his arm. Besides Catholicism, I was raised with the distant remains of Pre-Christian Latvian culture with spirits inhabiting all of nature. My personal gods are my grandmother and a polar bear. I like to think of the polar bear as a totem animal from the far north of my mother’s ancestors. My grandmother is the muse of my first published poem.

Yet, I still love the saetas- the songs of love sung to the statues of Mary (or Jesus) in the processions of Andalusia and the shouts of “guapa” (pretty) when she passes. The processions go on all night and the drums are heard long before they appear. They can be solemn or the waiting time for the procession to appear can be spent in a bar. My apologies to the faithful.

I love the geese of the 16th century Barcelona cathedral and the L’ou com balla- the egg dancing in the fountain on Corpus Christi.

Ritual, tradition, and repetition. Does one ever really escape them? Or even want to?
* the title of an anthropology class I took