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Showing posts from May, 2013

To the Class of 2013

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It's hard to believe that the first crop of freshmen I taught starting in 2009 graduated last night. At U of D Jesuit there's a tradition of having the "Senior All-Night Party" following graduation, a party that concludes with a prayer service. I believe they used the prayer I composed last year for the occasion but, at the invitation of some of the parents, I sent a letter giving my final "lesson" as their teacher. This is not to be confused with Abba's Advice for College which tended toward more practical advice.

Spiritu, Corde, Practice

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After Saint Ignatius had completed the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, he faced a task equally as daunting as its composition: communicating the document to the early Jesuits. This task he entrusted to Jeronimo Nadal who went from community to community, sharing and explicating the Constitutions as he went. Apparently a master teacher, Nadal developed a simple triad - the Latin spiritu, corde, practice - to explain how the Jesuits were to live out their mission: in the Spirit, from the heart, practically.

Spiritu: God's Spirit is active in the world, inviting ongoing, everyday response. Sometimes, I think, we are too quick to compartmentalize our spiritual lives as though the "Spirit" only mattered when we prayed or went to Church. For Ignatius, however, God's Spirit is at play within the world at all times and our lives, our entire selves, can be lived in response to this presence. Spirituality isn't something we have, as we might have a preference in win…

New Residence

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After some prayerful discernment, the men of Chabanel House (my current residence) have elected to change the name of our residence. 



A Class Act

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My well-laid plans to take the train to New York on Saturday were scuttled on account of the calamitous derailment that took place in Connecticut on Friday. Without a car and scrambling to find a ride to the Putnam Feis, I was fortunate to catch a ride with the matriarch of Boston's Irish dancing scene, Rita O'Shea.

I thought I'd share this video from the Boston Globe. It's a short piece about Rita's involvement in Irish dancing and it captures, as well as anything I could ever write, why I love being involved in the world of Irish music and dance.

A lesson learned both as a high school teacher and as an Irish musician echoes what Rita says. That is, years from now students will hardly remember what grade they were given, what honor they received, what medal they won. They will remember, however, spending time with those who have loved them and supported them, those with whom they have laughed and and shared a significant part of their lives. I'm no stranger t…

Notes on a Growing Scandal

"Mythology," literary theorist René Girard writes in The Scapegoat, "is the very best school in the training of silence." Myths, so considered, are stories told to keep concealed some truth; a myth can act as a dark blanket, wrapping up and hiding truth in its folds.

The myth gives us a sense of security, a sense of stability: in the early 1980's, the myth of GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) helped to make the burgeoning AIDS crisis a "gay issue" when, as we know all too well, it affected heterosexual and homosexual populations. In 2008, we saw the devastating result of the myth of the self-regulating market: misplaced confidence in the ability of the economy to achieve natural homeostasis blinded us to the catastrophic erosion of the market, leading to financial crisis.

Indeed, it seems that a certain mythology around the sexual abuse of the vulnerable has coalesced within the last thirty years. The "pedophile priest" has become a stoc…

Which Craft?

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I just learned that this is "American Craft Beer Week." I didn't know such an observance existed but, then again, we live in a country where there apparently exists "Crochet Week" (2nd week of March), "Reading a Road Map Week" (1st week of April), and "Nude Recreation Week" (2nd week of July).

I don't observe any of the latter. I am not crafty, I have a GPS, and while "Nude Recreation" might sound like fun to you, it sounds like a recipe for a felony conviction and a profile on "To Catch a Predator" on Dateline.

That said, I'll be glad to observe Craft Beer Week.

I am a proud supporter and devotee of Great Lakes Brewing Co. located in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. My alma mater, Saint Ignatius High School, is next door to the brewery. When I was a student, legend held that in addition to a bowling alley in the Jesuit Residence there was also a direct line running underneath the football field connecting the JR t…

Musings from the Side of the Stage

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Regular readers know that one of the most important, and cherished, elements of my life is my involvement with Irish music and dancing. If I'm not mistaken, I've now been playing Irish music for twenty-five years (starting on the tin whistle and progressing to the accordion a few years later). When I returned from studying abroad in 2000, I became very involved in playing for Irish dancing competitions (feiseanna) all over the country.

A feis is an Irish dancing competition where dancers compete with one another, dancing to live music in front of a certified adjudicator. In this it's like figure skating, gymnastics, or the Westminster Kennel Club: there's a unique subculture governed by its own rules with its own personalities.

So my "role" within the world of Irish dancing is to be one of the musicians who provides live music at the events. Sometimes I play for what we call the "grades" - these are the newer and less-experienced dancers. Very ofte…

To Hand on to Others

Last night I began to read Denys Turner's new book Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait. The first chapter, where Turner traces a brief biographical sketch of Aquinas, seeks to draw attention to a particularly remarkable feature of Aquinas's style of teaching. Aquinas, Turner suggests, sought always to disappear behind his teaching, to dissolve and become invisible so as not to stand in the way of the light he tried to share. His goal as a teacher was simply contemplata aliis tradere - to hand on to others the fruits of his contemplation.

I have long felt a strong tie between my own experiences as a teacher with my experiences as an Irish musician, particularly as a musician playing for Irish dancers. In both cases, my primary function is to dissolve in some way, to get out of the way so that the student, or dancer, can encounter the material, or melody, in an authentic way. A successful class session isn't one where students walk away saying, "Wow! I learned Mr. ____ really w…

Body Language

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A few days ago, I went to the mall with a friend who seemed to spend an ETERNITY in one of the stores. While she shopped, I sat on a mall bench and people-watched.

I stretched out, coffee in hand, and watched as people moved by. Some never looked up, wholly engrossed in their smart-phones. Some were apparently deaf to mall sounds: they had their ear buds in, listening to their iPods rather than the piped-in mall music. Young and old, singles and couples, men and women went about their business.

One sight in particular caught my attention. A young mother pushing a stroller with a little boy in it, probably around 12 months of age. Mom was attentive to highlighting the kid's cute quotient, dressing him in denim overalls and a red polo shirt. The little boy was bubbly and bright, smiling as he played with a stuffed dog in his lap. Mom queued up in the line at Dunkin' Donuts, right behind an older African-American woman. The woman turned, smiled politely at the mother, and then c…

Real and Unreal Religion

During my reading this morning, I came upon a distinction between "real" and "unreal" religions made by the Scottish philosopher John Macmurry (1891-1976). The maxim of unreal religion, he writes, runs accordingly:
Fear not; trust in God and He will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.  The maxim of real religion, as you might expect, rejects this. Instead, real religion's maxim runs:
Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of. So expressed, it is hard to ignore that real religion has a bit of a bite to it, a certain degree of pessimism. If Christianity is a real religion, then its engagement with the world must be defined not by fear but with courage and love.

Real religion ought to make us uncomfortable. It should plague our hearts a bit, making us restless, nagging us with a sense that "there's still so much yet to be done." It should drive us out into t…

A Thought on Discernment

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The other day, I received an email message asking for advice on discernment. The gist of the question can be stated pretty easily: How does one discern the nature of a spiritual experience? That is, does one merely take the experience 'on faith' or should one reflect on whether it is some sort of psychological coping mechanism?  I suspect many of us have had the experience of a profound spiritual awakening and a sense of calling, a new-found resolve, a new vigor. In the wake of this experience, after time has passed and our ardor has cooled a bit, we're left wondering: did I feel this at all or did I manufacture it? Is this a movement of the Spirit or is it an early sign of psychosis?

Without a doubt, I'm far from a spiritual guru. Yet I do know something of discernment and I tried my best to share with my correspondent something that might help him. The slightly edited message is as follows:

Dear _______,You're raising the question each spiritual seeker must confro…