Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Oireachtas Musings

I have a few minutes before I go downstairs and watching episodes 7 & 8 of "OZ" season three, so I thought I'd post some thoughts about the Oireachtas.

First off, it was really great to return to playing music. For those of you who don't know, before I entered the novitiate I used to play for Irish dancing competitions (feis, pronounced fesh, not fetish). Many of my dearest and closest friends are affiliated with Irish dancing and I count it as one of the greatest singular graces in my life to have been able to serve my culture and heritage by providing music for its dancers.

This being said, I had a very difficult time transitioning back into the fray. I found the number of people and the absolute "excess" of the whole affair to be overwhelming. I'd like to say that I am concerned on a day-to-day basis with the needs of starving babies and the poorest of the poor, but that'd be a bit disingenuous. I am, however, much more acutely aware of the needs of the world than I was, say, two years ago. So it was rather jarring to return to the relatively affluent world of Irish dancing - well-dressed adjudicators and teachers and musicians, expensive costumes, excessive make-up, etc. - when my attention has been directed toward those who have very little. This is not a slam or an indictment, only the confession that I had a hard time relating to the concerns of many of the people with whom I used to feel that I had so much in common with. I think I was very frustrated with myself for much of the weekend, particularly as I used to love so dearly to play for these events and relished in the social scene that accompanied it.

What I am learning is that part of my Jesuit formation - the part that has thrust me into a number of different experiences like teaching math or working in a hospital or teaching kindergarten - has changed in a radical way my perception of reality. I see things differently than I did two years ago...even from one year or six months ago! I guess this means that Jesuit formation is working, that it is stretching me in many ways. This weekend, I feel like I was stretched...I feel like I was torn. The experience of being "torn" was one that indicated that, although I will forever be an Irish musician, my role in the world of Irish dancing is neither all-important nor self-defining. I realized that I am not the person that I want most to be when I'm staying in huge hotel rooms (or small rooms, for that matter) and going to dinner dances and talking about reels and wigs and expensive costumes. Sure, it's a part of me, but it's not me in my's not how I define myself any longer.

As I sat on the airplane Monday morning, I had a thought that I'd now retire from playing feiseanna (that's the plural for fesh). But I don't think it's in me to give it up -- I love too much to play for Irish dancers. But whereas before my identity was as a "Feis Musician" I feel now more comforable in relocating my designation to a "Jesuit-feis musician." My vocation as a musician has graced me with being enter the lives of countless children and adults through their ears and, through my music, I have been able to enter their hearts. What was special, though, about a number of my conversations this weekend is that while music was the point of departure for my exchanges with people, the conversation flowed naturally into deeper topics, topics that touched at the core of our shared experiences and led me and my conversation partner to a deeply shared sense of one another. Sometimes these were random exchanges held in the lobby of the hotel, in-between rounds of dancers, or in the evening after the awards had been distributed. As random as they were, it was these conversations that gave me the strength to endure 134 slip jigs or 65 set dances because they reminded me that, beneath much of the superficial nonsense of Irish dancing, there are very many good people who are truly in love with and committed to their culture and its preservation.

Enough of my rambling! It's time now to watch OZ -- the prison show that aired on HBO a few years ago. Since Drew, Eric, and Ben are working at the county jail, they thought it would give them an insight into the prison experience. It's become an addiction for several of us and I'm two episodes behind, so I have to make them up before the DVD is returned tomorrow!

Ben Krause produced this composite picture. Under the aegis of Coach Walter Farrell, Team Detroit battled Team Chicago, led by Coach Bill Verbryke. Posted by Picasa

Turkey Bowl

In every age, the cry of the people rings out calling for new champions, new titans to represent the hopes and dreams of the masses. This cry echoes far and wide and here at Loyola House, the weary world found its champions, its gladiators of sport who would play out on the theater of the football field the eternal drama of good versus evil, light versus darkness, Detroit versus Chicago.

The Arena: Turkey Bowl 2005

It's probably an annual tradition (read: if it's done for more than two years at this house, it becomes somehow a tradition) for the Chicago novices to play the Detroit novices every Thanksgiving. While Denis Weber and Richard Beebe slaved away in the kitchen, I got to go out and play football (I was the "center" and I caught one interception). It was a lot of fun, despite the frigid weather and wicked wind.

After memorizing a great victory on the gridiron (Detroit 35 to Chicago 21), some of us repaired to the kitchen where we worked slavishly to prepare for dinner. If I can do so, I'll put the recipes up on the net, but here's the menu:

Prosciutto and Hazelnut Encrusted Turkey
Sweet Potatoes
Garlic Whipped Potatoes
Apple and Cranberry Stuffing
Cornbread Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce with marmalade and orange juice
Cheddar Biscuits
Tim McCabe's Shitake gravy
Ginger Honey Pumpkin Pie
Spiced whipped cream
Strawberry Cloud from Drew

Not a shabby spread!

Ok, I'm just back from the gym and pretty stinky. I'm going to shower (too much information) and then I'm off to UD Mercy to have office hours, write two tests, and get ready for my own class. If I have time later, I'll write about the Oireachtas.


Team Chicago Posted by Picasa

Team Detroit Posted by Picasa

All of the players post-game. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 28, 2005

Return from the Oireachtas

Well, it's over!

Oireachtas 2005 has come and gone and I couldn't be happier. I'm going to be busy for the next few days, but I hope to find time this week to write down my reflections on the event and the great relief I feel now that it's over.

My trips to and from Columbus were wholly uneventful.

So that's it for the moment. I'm WAY behind in some grading so I need to set about marking a slew of papers, then I need to prepare for class tomorrow!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Quiet Weekend at Loyola House

It's hard to belive that it's already Sunday evening...where has the week gone?

Sadly, Adam's grandfather passed away this week. On Thursday, several novices drove down to Cleveland to attend the funeral mass/burial. I was honored to be invited to play a slow-aire for the mass. I could not attend the burial services as I had to turn around and drive out to Chicago for my CPE interview.

Without going into too much detail, I am now officially accepted for the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Loyola University Medical Center. I met a number of the other chaplains and residents and I'm so excited to have this opportunity. My goals are many, but I really want to cultivate an ever-present disposition of attention, reverence, and devotion. That is, I hope to be attentive to God's presence in the life of the person with whom I am dealing, I want to reverence that person as being a bearer of God, and then be devoted to that person in order that I might companion that person in his or her unfolding awareness of how God is working in his or her life. I also want to work on empathy skill that will make me more of an affective/effective listener.

I went to see Harry Potter on Friday night (after driving with reckless abandon in order to make it back to Loyola House). I liked it. I'd say that the character development was a bit dodgy, but I can't complain too much as it's a movie that attempts to condense several hundred pages of writing into a 2.5 hour movie. Besides, I'm not looking for it win an Oscar; it is what it is: Mind Candy.

The rest of my weekend seems to have been spent in the kitchen. I made steak for dinner on Saturday and Denis and I made pork roast tonight. Now my eyes turn toward Thanksgiving dinner, which ought to be quite the culinary event.

This week will be pretty nutsy. I'm going to play the Oireachtas in Columbus, so I leave Thursday evening and return Monday morning. It'll be nice to be away from the house and to re-connect with the Irish dancing world.

Apart from this, there's not much Jesuit stuff to talk about. I think I'm going to go out for a walk and then come back to watch our videotaped episode of Smallville.

Happy Belated Birthday to Mike English who turned 16 this last week (November 15th). I remember my 16th birthday very well: I didn't get a car. I don't expect that Mike got one, either.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Sons of Luther

My Uncle Jack commented that I have not made much, if any, mention of the influence my father's Lutheran faith has had on my life. I'm sure that it was a conscious slight against the Missouri Synod Lutherans (as my father sez, the "Defenders of the Faith").

Because my mom went to church, we children went to church. My father preferred to worship at the altar of the Blessed Pillow on Sunday mornings after, of course, he had made eggs and bacon for breakfast. Dad did acquiesce and joined his family for mass on Christmas and Easter. It was kind of a treat, sort of like ecclesial show-and-tell, to bring my Dad to church - he was the token Protestant in attendance! Indeed, I can still recall vividly sitting in the back pews at Easter Sunday Mass with my father who pulled out his Watchman (mini-tv) and watched, I believe, some type of sporting event.

I consider myself to be a Mudblood (like in Harry Potter), the product of the union of a Catholic and a Lutheran. If there's been anything that has kept my view on my tradition in perspective, it is my father's observations about the Catholic church. I wouldn't necessarily call him a major critic, but there are good reasons he's not a Catholic and he's quite able to articulate these reasons. Perhaps it is the years of clashing theologically that I have developed my own stance on a number of issues and find myself, more often than not, trying to take a more ecumenical view on issues.

I am annoyed to no end by those who seem to think that it's a slight against my "evangelical zeal" that I have not converted my father to the Catholic church! I don't suspect that any of us chooses his or her faith tradition idly; in fact, I think that an adult assent of faith involves an enormous amount of struggle in order to appropriate it fully. It is for this reason, this struggling and chafing, that people take their faiths so seriously - as an investment of spiritual, emotional, and physical capital, our faiths are deeply cultivated relationships. If my father is a better man for being a Missouri Synod Lutheran, if he in conscience feels that this is who he is called to be and how he is called to live, then all I can do is witness my own faith in such a way that I am open to him and his tradition while allowing myself to be informed by his.

This raises the stentorian cries of relativism from a number of persons. I'd sooner a person who lives out fully his or her faith commitments than a milquetoast Catholic. I also take seriously the church's teaching on conscience and trust that my father has, in the encounter between and God and himself in his conscience, responded in faith in the way that he is best able.

(He doesn't know that I baptized him in his sleep. He's really an unaware-Catholic.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

Home on a Friday Night

I can tell I'm getting old because it's Friday night and I'm glad to be home for the evening. I remember the old days of boarding planes and spending evenings talking the politics of Irish dancing, only to stay up too late and wake up far too early to play for thousands of Irish dancers at the feis, go out to dinner, and talk more of Irish dancing.

I don't miss that part at all.

Not much to say, really. My professor liked the paper I wrote proposing a narrative context against to situation the debate concerning ordinary and extraordinary means of treatment for persons in persistent vegetative states. It's a mouthful, to be sure, but he liked it well enough to suggest that I send it off for publication. So I spent the better part of my afternoon putting a few touch-ups on the essay.

Tomorrow morning I'm running TWO miles. Yeah, it's far away from the goal of 13 miles, but please recall that I am by no means a runner and two miles will be something of a stretch. Know, however, that my three 1-mile runs this week grew progressively easier and I'm pretty confident that I'll have no need for a crash-cart to follow me on my run tomorrow morning.

So that's the news. Nothing terribly exciting - I expect it to be a quiet weekend here at Jesuit camp. This means, of course, that something catastrophic is bound to happen rendering my hope for peace and quiet a far-distant and blissful (yet unfulfilled) memory.

Ok, time to watch FoodTV or something.

OOHH! Taco Bell Tacos (when made 'fresca') are actually quite tasty and have not too much fat in them. They're surely not as healthy as rice-cakes (which I ate enough of when I was in Weight Watchers) but they're still pretty all right. Try them some time.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Well, a new twist has developed in my life:

I think I'm going to train for a half-marathon (that's 13.1 miles).

It was during time spent in prayer that it came to me that this might be something to do. As I trace the scope of my life, I've always been pretty self-conscious about the way I looked when I ran. But it seems to me that my ungainly stride doesn't necessarily mean that I can't try to do something new and wholly out of regular character. I mean, as I see it, why not? What's there to lose? Going to the gym didn't kill with any luck neither will this.

I don't know yet when any such marathon will be. To be honest, I don't reckon it matters as I'm interested more in the training process than in the actual race. This is more for personal benefit and proving to myself that I can do it than it is anything else.

It also advances me one step further to my ultimate goal of being a member of a super-secret and elite Jesuit ninja squad.

So this week I'll run ONE MILE Sunday (in about 15 minutes I'll be outside doing my version of running - not quite running, not quite jogging, it's to be called Rogging), Tuesday, and Thursday and then I'll make a big leap to TWO MILES on Saturday morning. It doesn't sound like a lot, to be sure, but I've got to start somewhere.

Besides, I need a new hobby in addition to cooking and the accordian.


Thursday, November 03, 2005


Okay, so it's time for me to stroke the ego. I'm including in this post the (rather lengthy) story that was written about mein the Midwest Irish Focus. It was written by Mary Lewis who works at Rockhurst University.


Jesuit Finds Calling in Irish Accordian

This month we introduce you to Ryan Duns. We first became aware of Ryan when we read a short paragraph in the Jesuit Magazine Company, which lists new seminarians each year. Ryan is in his second year of seminary, preparing towards professing his first vows in the Society of Jesus. The fact that Ryan plays the Irish accordion professionally caught our eye. Through a bit of research, we caught up with Ryan via email, and he shared some wonderful stories from his life.

Ryan stated he had a pretty traditional Catholic upbringing; his mother is Irish Catholic, he had two great-aunts who were nuns, and his grandmother was always encouraging him to be a priest. “In fact, it was my astute observation as a child that if I were to respond to "Ryan, what do you want to be when you grow up?" with a wry smile and an innocent "I want to be a priest" that I earned not only favorable looks, but a couple of quarters from my grandfather.”

When he went to college, he knew that he wanted to teach in some capacity. He loved chemistry, so he pursued that as a major until he “realized that as much fun as it was and as well as I did in it as a course of study, phosphoric acid did not fire me up. Reading the course catalogs one night, I found myself drawn to courses in Religious Studies and, when I decided to change my major, I informed my father whose only caveat was "just don't become a priest!" Well, I guess I met him half way in joining the Jesuits.”

When Ryan was a little boy, his little sister was heavily involved in Irish dancing.
Seeing the fun she was having, Ryan asked his parents if he couldn't be a dancer.
“Being too young to understand that I was a terrific klutz, my parents made an eminently sensible decision: they told me that all dancers needed music, and promptly signed me up for tin whistle lessons.”

Ryan took to the whistle pretty quickly, and after a few years felt ready to move on. He says that when he was in the fourth grade, “my parents made yet another great decision for my musical life: while other kids got drums and guitars and saxophones, I received a dusty mother-of-pearl accordion. Yeah, I was the envy of every kid on the block!”

This was the beginning of lessons. Ryan says “To be honest, I pretty much hated playing the darned thing until I was in college when, in the glow of interest generated by Riverdance, I found it both fun and lucrative to be a professional accordion player.” Ryan spent hours in the bathroom (according to him, “it's the best room for acoustics in most houses”) practicing on the rim of the bathtub and, after several months, he was playing pretty regularly. “Luckily I made friends with a number of influential people and I will admit to working very hard so, in the course of three years, I went from playing *maybe* 14 feiseanna each year to playing almost 40 out of 52 weekends in 2003!”

I asked Ryan if he had entertained dreams of being a professional musician. He responded he never had much of a desire to live full time the rock-star life of a professional accordion player. “I'm actually much more of a home body and love to make dinner for friends or spend time reading and listening to music. Weekends away, delayed flights, carrying an accordion on my back...they are part of my passion, and it paid the bills, and it allowed me to share my culture with others....but it would not be my vocation to play professionally. I rather enjoy teaching, though, and have had great success with my music students at various competitions.” I asked Ryan if he taught lessons regularly. He said he seldom teaches the accordion, and that is has been hard, particularly since joining the Society, to meet with students on a regular basis.

He does teach, however, the tin whistle and he has at present two what he describes as BRILLIANT students, Michael and Brian English. “They came to me last summer (2004) wanting lessons and, sad to say, they were in pretty sorry shape. Loving a challenge, I took them as students and made them commit to practice. After several weeks of teaching them, Mike and Brian came in one day. Looking dejected, Brian gave me a forlorn stare and said, "Ryan, nobody knows me. I've got to be out there, man! I've got to be living the life." This out of the mouth of a then ten-year old. Almost one year later, Michael won the 15-18 Tin Whistle competition at the Fleadh in St Louis and his little brother, Brian, took 2nd place in the under-12 competition! They've made great strides both as musicians and as young men and it has been my great honor and joy to teach them.”

Ryan has taught for a number of years, but says it is hard to maintain close contact with all of his students - changing schedules, college, sports, etc., made it difficult. With Mike and Brian, however, Ryan does "phone lessons" every week so that they keep up on their material and, whenever possible, he has lessons with them in Cleveland or they come up to Detroit to see him. Sounds like they are true fans of their teacher!

I asked Ryan what it was that attracted him to this particular instrument and to Irish music. “What I loved about music - celebrating my heritage and helping to free people to dance - is the same thing I loved about my faith. So it came as little surprise to many when I announced in 2004 that I'd be entering the Society of Jesus. On August 21st I celebrated my one-year anniversary and I can't say that I've ever been happier.

Ryan also shared a bit of Jesuit irony. When he was in the 8th grade, he began to play with a local Irish band called "Tap the Bow." This band had been started two years earlier by Brother Jim Boynton, SJ, then a young teacher at St Ignatius High School. Ryan’s first year in the band coincided with his last year teaching there, and Ryan says “for all intents and purposes, he was the first Jesuit I'd met. I saw Jim once while in Detroit in about 1999. In 2003, I decided to apply to the Jesuits and, when I went to inquire, learned to my great delight that Brother Jim was now the vocation director and was in his first year as such. Well, long story made short, I became one of the members of his first class of recruits; now, on most weekends, you can find us on the porch of the house playing Irish music accompanied by several singers, drum players, guitarists, and spoons!

“I play Irish music on the piano accordion -- making me, in some sense, a version of Steve Erkle from the 90's sitcom "Family Matters" except that I'm white and play Irish music! I asked Ryan to talk with me about the differences between the Irish accordion and any other accordion. He replied “The piano accordion is preferred by Irish dancers because of its full sound and the fact that the right and left hands (treble and bass) are easily synched. The Irish accordion, or button-box, operates on a different system than the piano accordion. Most are known as "diatonic" meaning that each button plays two different notes depending on how you are squeezing the accordion. Such coordination is beyond me, and my parents wisely opted for the piano accordion, for which such problems as "two notes" seldom arises.”

“In terms of music, I think Irish music is so phenomenal because it is a living tradition, one that changes and grows and evolves over time. It's immigrant music, notes written long ago that traveled across the Atlantic to find new soil here in America; notes that became smudged with coal dust and soapy water and ground down with poverty and oppression; notes that remembered fondly the home and family in Ireland and, though with longing for the past, cast eyes forward to the home and family newly started in this new land; notes that carry joy and sadness, hopes and fears, the life and death and struggles and triumphs of a people. It is the music of my grandfathers and grandmothers, the music of my students, the music and story of my heart. Then Ryan added, “Forgive me if I wax and wane somewhat poetic -- it's a topic I feel strongly about!”

It is this passion for his music that is so endearing.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Ho Hum

So I'm now killing the last thirty minutes of my weekly office hours. Having worked two crossword puzzles, developed a bank of twenty word problems, and written an exam, I'm not officially bored.

The fact that I'm still a bit sore from my infection doesn't make sitting here any more pleasant!

I'm going to update the blog again this evening, provided that the soon-to-be released article about me arrives in the mail. I want to make sure that the advanced copy I received matches the one in the paper. It's a nice piece - quite long, in fact, and it goes a long way in capturing all of my endearing qualities...if there were any.

I have class today at 4:00. This means I need to find sustenance and I fear that means I'll make a run to the border at good 'ol Taco Bell. Come to think of it, I shall wrap this post up here: I have a new task to find out the nutrional information for some of the things I eat there. This ought to be fun!

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame