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Showing posts from January, 2010

Literal or Literalist? Yes, Catholics DO take the Bible Literally!

Over the last few weeks, I've begun to notice a common refrain from my Hebrew Scripture and New Testament students. Very often, they will say things like, "Yeah, Mr. Duns, Catholics don't take the Bible literally." So, then, how do we take it?

You see, the trouble is that the students are not making a very important distinction (If they did this already, I'd be out of a job!). The distinction is between a literal and a literalistreading of Scripture. Allow me to put on my teacher hat and help to bring out the importance of this distinction.

Catholics associate a literalist approach to the Bible with fundamentalists. On this view, if the Bible says that the world was created in six days then it was created in 144 hours. If the Bible says that humans were present at the very beginning of Creation, then the entire fossil record that shows no presence of human life for millions of years must be false. One might summarize the literalist position by saying: "The B…

Another Missive From the Front

I'm hoping to have some time this weekend to share some thoughts from the beginning of the semester. I've been really busy with classes and sporting events so it's been hard to find the time to write. Here, though, is the latest from Brother Boynton:
Every day we hear the common story of people who want us to hire them for translators, workers, or anything possible. Most of this large city is homeless, without work, and in grief. The tent cities everywhere are improving in some ways, and deteriorating in others. After driving through the city several times today I became aware of just how long the rebuilding process is going to take.

There are now many medical teams in town, and most of the wounds we see have at least been treated one time. Much of what we are now doing in the city is badly needed follow-up work. Wounds once treated are getting infected, and people are now starting to report the problems associated with living in their new conditions.

One of our doctors …

From Haiti

Brother Jim's reflections for 24 Jan 2010Today started out as any other day this week. We went to our site, found the wounded and set up camp. The usual wounds and the usual infections were there. NPR visited us so maybe you'll be able to hear about it on the radio. Three things stick out in my mind today, the cases of diarrhea, the orphan, and the transportation of patients.

Diarrhea is now starting to take over the camps. Many many mothers came in with their babies, and adults came in as well. We offered them water with sugar and salt. There was little else we could do. My guess is that soon the entire camps will be infected. We also saw a case of conjunctivitis, which as any school teacher can tell you spreads quickly. To this point my previous third world experience has shown me that a child can be playing one day, get diarrhea the next, and be dead the following day. As we were leaving the camp I noticed a number of children playing. What is in store for three days from no…

More From Brother Boynton

“He descended into Hell”.... I have said these words every time I have prayed the Creed at Sunday mass, or the rosary. I have prayed these words often, but have never understood them until now. The smell of stale death is something that until now I have only experienced in roadkill in Northern Michigan roads. Usually a raccoon or a skunk, but never a person, and never many persons. In the past 6 years I have had the honor to serve on numerous medical brigades to the garbage dumps of Guatemala and Honduras, but nothing I have ever seen or done prepared me for the sights of the last few days. I am new to Haiti, and only arrived on November 1st to work in a school. To be honest I was nervous about that, but a school in Haiti now seems no more daunting than a classroom at University of Detroit Jesuit High School, or St. Ignatius Cleveland, where I taught history for years. What is daunting now is Haiti itself. “Haiti cherie”, or “dear Haiti”, as this country is called by those who love he…

Update from Brother Jim Boynton, S.J.

Reflection One:
The young boy who came into the ER with his father yesterday had
bandaged feet, head, and arm. Our only doctor on duty, at the largest
hospital in Haiti one week after the earthquake, asked me to remove
the bandages to see how he needed to proceed. I worked with a
Milwaukee fireman, and helped remove the bandages. The skin came off
with the bandage, and the smell was enough to make me dizzy. As I
lifted the leg for the fireman to remove more bandage, my fingers went
into the flesh like I was holding canned tuna fish. Other than
teaching about trench warfare during World War I, this was my first
experience with gangrene. I knew immediately that the leg would have
to be amputated, but I also wondered how the child was still alive.
The doctor explained to me that gangrene rots limbs of body, but that
it shuts off from the main torso. Basically, even with the poison,
the main body still survives. A sad part of this story was that had
he been in the USA this would be unheard of. Had he se…

The Jesuits Have the Most Essential Thing Whose Lack is Hampering All Relief Efforts: Water

Michael Barger, of San Francisco, sent me this link to an excellent story about the relief efforts going on in Haiti.
In his message to me, Michael writes:
I am writing to let you know about an article I have written on Team Rubicon's remarkable collaboration with Bro. Jim Boyton in Haiti. I am a former Jesuit from the California Province, and was deeply impressed by what Jake Wood and Bro. Boyton and the rest of the team are doing. I am working my Jesuit alum veteran contacts to get support for the effort. I quoted your blog in the article, and I hope you and the Detroit Province Jesuits will find it of interest and a support for the effort.
Please follow this link to his article entitled "Team Rubicon: Jesuit - US Marine Veteran Medical Response in Haiti." These are dire hours for so many of our sisters and brothers and I am very proud and deeply moved by the generosity shown by so many in such difficult circumstances. In the midst of such a difficult economic climate, I…

More from Haiti

Brother Jim Boynton, S.J., a former teacher here at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, sends this update from Haiti:
Things are now starting to be affected here... all of our gas, many groceries, money & banking, etc. come from Port au Prince. Tonight we will have canned corn for dinner. Anyone with money in the bank may not have lost it, but they have no access to it for the foreseeable future. At this point I will have no way to pay the teachers, and our Jesuit community has very little cash on hand, the only real currency now. The other thing is that people are now leaving Port au Prince in droves, and by the accounts, they are headed our way.

Today JRS sent a delegation to Port au Prince to survey the situation, but I almost hated to see them go. They have no place to stay, no plans other than to see what they can do, and their supplies (especially gas) will not last. If there is a second delegation bringing more aid I may go with that.

The good news…

First Semester: Accomplished

I am frequently asked the following question: "So, how's teaching going?"
It's hard to offer a really good answer. Simply put, my response to teaching varies by the day: some days I think I'm actually doing a good job, some days I wonder how it is that I'm still walking, other days I praise God that the wheels remain on the proverbial bus.
I have sought for an image, a symbol, to offer people in the hopes that it might encapsulate the experiences of this first-year high school teacher. There have been many to choose from:
a refugee a patient who is now cancer free but who had to have a limb amputatedMiguel Pro, who was executed while calling out "Viva Cristo Rey!"For that matter, any martyr willing to die for a cause strongly heldA ring master at a circus of the absurdThe list, undoubtedly, could continue on for a long time.
Yet none of them really captures my true feelings. The wonder. The awe. The excitement. The at-times absurdity. The admixture of …

Pat Robertson: This is why people become atheists!

As I've told my sophomores, "The best argument in general against God and in particular against Christianity is....Christians."

If I hear Robertson correctly, he is saying that due to apact with the devil sworn two-hundred years ago, God has wholly forsaken the Haitian people and allowed them to sink to the level of being the poorest country in the West. Furthermore, this God has decided to kick the Haitians while they are down: crushed by poverty and beset by political turmoil, God has unleashed an earthquake to help prompt a spiritual awakening. But, Robertson hopes, if they just turn away from this "pact" and have a "great turning to God" then everything, apparently, will be okay.


Here's the rub: this is not the Christian message. As I wrote earlier in the week, the message of Christianity is not that if we follow Jesus Christ that we will not suffer. Indeed, it seems to me that the message is that if we follow Jesus as he lived and love as he lo…

Friends and Vocations

I heard this morning from a college friend who informed me that a mutual acquaintance of ours had recently died. Well, I should say, the deceased was actually an acquaintance of mine was friends with my friend. I certainly knew him fairly well and was always happy to see him, but I would be hard pressed to call him a "friend" in any meaningful way. For my friend, on the other hand, the deceased was a true friend and confidant.
One thing my friend recounted to me was the number of people who have said, "Nothing will ever be the same." The cynic might hear this and say, "Of course it will. You will all grieve and move on and, pretty soon, everything will go back to normal."
I should like to think that the cynic is desperately wrong.
I do not think it an exaggeration to say that each death alters the very fabric of history. A person who has left his or her mark on many people has died and there is now a vacuum in many hearts and lives. Indeed, and far too oft…

Detroit Entrepreneurs Opt to Look Up

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I seldom post links to newspaper stories, but I liked that Detroit was featured in the New York Times. I checked out the website for the Burton Theater and I can tell you what I'm doing this Wednesday night: going to see a 9pm showing of "The House of the Devil." (The next morning, my students will take their final exam in theology which, I hope, they will not regard as "The Test of the Devil." Time, of course, will tell.)
Before I go to the film, perhaps I will go to Good Girls Go to PARIS Crepes. Who knew that you could find 20 different varieties of crepes? And in Detroit of all places!
I now have all but four of the seniors' final papers corrected; I need to go back over them and add some commentary, but I'm glad to be nearly finished with that round of correcting. I'll be glad tomorrow when I can drop off the exam bundles to the registrar: my bedroom floor is in a state of complete chaos, as demonstrated by the attached photo:


I really look forwar…

Religion, Observed

Written in the wake of his wife's death, it begins with the line "No one ever told me grief felt so like fear." Grief, for Lewis, isn't something that affects simply the emotions, nor is it a matter of the 'head and heart.' It is, rather, a whole-body affair, drawing the whole person into renegotiating the life after the loss of a loved one. It contains a raw exploration of the process of grief: one watches as a bereaved husband rages against the cosmos, cries out to the supposedly good good, and then collapses into the arms of his loving creator. It is not a how-to book about grief. Instead, it is the offer of a gift of companionship, made by one of the great Christians of the 20th century, to walk with someone through the process of grief and loss.
One little section that struck me: Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about …

Foiled Again!

I woke up this morning with the great and, ultimately, futile hope that we'd have a Snow Day. Now I'll get to face students who will undoubtedly whine that they had to come to school today and how the administration is totally unfair and blah blah blah. How do I tell them that I'm just as disappointed?!?!
Just a very quick anecdote:
Yesterday, my department chair came in to evaluate my teaching. As a tactical move, I alerted several students in my class that would be visited that I was going to be observed. The subtext to this was, "Please, for the love of God, don't do anything to make me look incompetent!"
When I told one student, he looked at me and deadpanned his response. "Don't worry Mr. Duns, I won't do anything to make you look bad." Relieved, I said, "Thank you." Sandwich in hand, he continued, "I mean, if I didn't like you, I'd throw you under the bus."
This response from a student - who'll become eith…

Happy New Year!

I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very happy and blessed new year. We're entering the 7th year of blogging and I'm hoping to be more diligent about posting than I was last year. Now that I have a semester of teaching just about tucked under my belt, I'm hoping to have a little bit more time for other pursuits.
One area that I know I will be blogging about more often is the issue of vocation. Not only vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood but also vocation as applied to what each of us is being invited into as disciples. I fear that sometimes the word vocation is used in a very limited sense. I should like to reflect in this "Year of the Priest" more broadly on the theme of vocation and think through how each of us is being called.
Mor of that, though, later.
I have to give a special shot out to my uncle Jack Duns. Uncle Jack, Aunt Nancy, and my cousin Melissa Duns were over to the house on Christmas Eve and complained that I did not me…