Saturday, March 31, 2007

S'More Controversy About Jesus?

I don't suspect that it's only because I live in New York City that the artistic rendering of Jesus executed by artist Cosimo Cavallaro. You can both read a report and watch news footage on CNN's website concerning how Cavallaro has sculpted a life-sized and anatomically correct statue of Jesus out of chocolate.

Apparently thousands of NYC Catholics - including Cardinal Egan and the Catholic League's Bill Donohue - have demanded that the exhibition of "My Sweet Lord" at the art gallery of the Roger Smith Hotel be canceled. In fact, on Friday the hotel released a statement that they will not be hosting the exhibit of Sweet Jesus - set to debut Monday - a date which just happens to coincide with Holy Week, the most solemn and holy week of the Church's year.

Here's my thought: I think people have, yet again, blown this totally out of proportion. I can't quite call his art tasteless - the 200 lbs of milk chocolate that went into creating this piece resists such attack - but I can say I don't particularly care for it. I think it's garish and ugly, although I'm impressed that Cavallaro has such skill with chocolate crafting (perhaps he could take his piece to FoodTV where they have chocolatier contests?).

The piece didn't involve human urine or elephant feces. I don't see it as a slam against Christians. Nor does the fact that the sculpture is of a fully naked Jesus bother me terribly - after watching the brutal scourging of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ where chunks of Christ's flesh were torn from his body as he lost more blood in one scourging than the Red Cross collects nationwide in one day, I can handle the fact that Jesus did in fact have genitals.

It's interesting that this particular rendering of Jesus is scandalous to many. Artistic merit aside, consider what could be seen as a deeper spiritual movement: do we respond so viscerally because it is really offensive, or is it because it challenges our image of Jesus? Why is the blue-eyed Jesus of the Passion okay, but the chocolate Jesus an offense? Should we reflect on how quickly it is that we can domesticate Jesus, reducing him to the unobtrusive, kinda boring "I'm okay, You're okay" model affirming us even when we ought to be challenged? We often want Jesus to fit into our categories, to be clearly delineated in a way that allows us to remain complacent with our Christianity.

"My Sweet Lord" comes to us as one unknown. This Holy Week he has broken into the world of many Christians, challenging them with another view, another image, another rendering of the Christ. Even if (and I don't believe he did) Cavallaro intended it to be hugely offensive toward Christians, we should pause before demanding the closure of the exhibit. Why is it offensive? How does it challenge us?

I guess I experience art as an encounter, which is probably why I can pray at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even when I react viscerally to something, I try not to walk away from it; rather, I stay with it trying to discern just what it is that bothers me. Knowing the intent of the artist helps, but I do have to search within myself to see why I react the way I do. Such discernment is illuminating of my own prejudices and preferences, leading me to a greater knowledge of who I am and how I view reality.

I'll be candid: I think it's foolish to close the exhibit. This sculpture will, undoubtedly, appear elsewhere (not during Holy Week) and will probably be a huge draw. But then the opportunity will have passed: a challenging image of Jesus that breaks in upon us just as we are going (yet again) through the Passion. I feel as though a good opportunity for conversation and discernment has been lost, a chance for us to interrogate our own images of Jesus - potentially even breaking down idolatrous constructions - that we might come to know the Lord more fully.

Were it to have run, I'd probably have gone to see it. I'd have brought friends, my journal, and some graham crackers and a marshmallow. 200lbs of chocolate? I'm sure they could spare a big toe....

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Weight Loss

First off, I have to say that I am simply tickled by some of the emails I've received (and blog comments) about my Faith Watchers post. If my mother can find one, I'll have her send a picture of Ryan circa 210lbs for public posting. It's a different version of me: 5'8, 210, lots of red hair, and glasses/contacts. Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.

Someone asked me how I lost/kept off the weight. If I might be so bold, I'll make a few quick suggestions:

1. No soda (totally empty calories)
2. Drink Guinness (after you're 21, of course. Less calories than regular beer)
3. Skim milk rather than 2% or Whole
4. Blot the oil off of your pizza with a napkin -- you can get upwards of 1Tbsp of oil per slice
5. Skip cream sauces

Those are the "Thou shalt not" commands. I have one major suggestion for "Thou Shalt" :


I walk everywhere. To class. To the store. To the train. To take the steps.

When in grad school particularly, I used to pray in the car on the way to and from John Carroll and then, each evening, I'd take my cell phone and go out for a walk. I had a huge circuit to cover (I saw myself as the neighborhood block watch) and I'd catch up with friends while I exercised. Unless it was pouring, I walked every night for about an hour. I was never lonely (had the phone) and it allowed me to socialize AND exercise all at once.

So that's my secret to weight loss. I go to the gym now (hence my rippling physique) but, in general, I've found walking to be the best way to keep off the weight.

Weight loss and praying are similar: they take time, the benefits aren't immediately recognizable, there are days you fall off the wagon (or eat the wagon), but it's never too late to try again. In time you begin to "put on" a diet mentality, a prayerful mentality. You transform not just your body, but your whole way of being. When Paul counsels us to "Pray without ceasing" it points to the attentive stance of one always aware of God's presence; to "diet without ceasing" does not demand that we give much up, rather, it calls us to embrace a path of moderation that both nourishes and delights us.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Faith Watchers

I've mentioned it here before, but I suspect that there are many readers who don't know that I am a proud alumnus of Weight Watchers. When I was a sophomore in high school, I think I tipped the scale at around 210 lbs. At 5'7" or 5'8" I did try to convince myself that I was big-boned or husky. Ultimately, however, I was able to recognize that, plainly and simply, I was fat.

This led me to join Weight Watchers. Each week I would attend meetings, I'd pay a $10.00 fee, and I would get weighed. As a group we would laud those who had lost certain increments of weight (every 5 or 10lbs) and our leader would give us advice about healthy eating and exercise. Our leader - Juan - was a successful attorney who had himself struggled for years before joining Weight Watchers. His way of expressing his gratitude was to act as a guide and resource for others who wished to lose weight.

I remember how nervous I was each week. I really did try to watch what I ate, skipping candy bars and ice cream and sipping water rather than soda. Instead of three helpings at dinner, I learned to be satisfied with one. Instead of watching television, I'd go for a walk each night. When I grew listless or bored, I'd practice music rather than bake brownies.

As I look back upon it, I realize that I could not have lost weight on my own. I needed the support of a community, the wisdom and resources of others who had gone before me and who had experienced success and failure. I needed that weekly accountability, I needed the weekly grind of losing 1 or .5 lbs. I needed people around me who could celebrate with me when I moved from a size 36" to a 34" waist; I needed the encouragement I found there to lose almost sixty pounds in six months. I needed to know that I was not alone.

On some level, I'd love to see the Jesuit Weight Loss program called 'Faith Watchers' that would couple weight loss and spiritual practice. This might be a few years in the offing. But if the Jesuits can carve out an Irish music niche on YouTube, I suspect anything is possible!

I think the model of Weight Watchers resonates well with and offers a challenge to our own Christian praxis. As sinners, we do realize that we cannot heal ourselves, that we cannot craft our own salvation. This insight highlights a still small voice calling us forward, calling us into relationship with the Holy Other who is and has been waiting for us. It is a call that invites us as broken and sinful. It is a call that proffers healing and rest. It is a call issued to all who will listen and who will respond. It is a call, consequently, to community.

But do we support each other? Do we know those who sit each week with us at Mass? My family pretty well sat in the same pew each week but I don't know that I ever knew very many of those who sat around us. I spent several months with "Mary" and I know her entire narrative of weight loss; I spent years praying with members of my parish community and I still don't know their names!

I think Weight Watchers operates out of three moments that Christians should take note of:

1. The recognition that one is fat. (I am a sinner)
2. The recognition that one cannot lose weight alone. (I need outside help)
3. The entrance of a community called together for a common purpose.

The analogy limps at points, but my point is this: Weight Watchers is successful because it is community of persons who are journeying together toward a common goal. They support one another, they challenge one another, they aide one another. The weekly "confession" of the scale keeps us honest - it acknowledges our failings and our successes. The periods of plateaus that frustrate us parallel the spiritual aridity that plagues so many of us. The failure of those around us recall our own failing and lead us deeper into solidarity; the success of others inspires us to re-double our own efforts.

If Weight Watchers is successful, it is because it isn't a crash-course diet. It trains you to see eating and health and fitness as an integrated whole. It calls you to moderation and to balance. So, too, does the spiritual life! If the Weight Watcher imagination trains you to see your lifestyle anew, then the Catholic imagination does much the same. Balance and moderation (ascetism), failure and success (Paschal Mystery), aridity (Dark Night), and the day-to-day discipline of prayer (the work of dieting) all contribute to the way you see the world, the way you see yourself, and the way you come to know God.

I mention this because I think that our Christian communities have much to learn from the success of programs such as Weight Watchers. Joined together as pilgrims in search of Living Water (not Living Soda) we are called upon to be our "Brother's Keeper" and support and challenge our fellow journeyers. We are fed on the Eucharist, a table set with bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Christ who invites, challenges, encourages, and nourishes us.

I'd love to write more on this, but I have to go and buy several wheels of Brie cheese. I'm making Baked Brie (three types) for our social gathering this evening. Delicious Brie, slathered in preserves and baked in puff pastry served with fresh many Weight Watchers points do you think that is???

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'll adMITT it!

So in addition to procuring a handy new rosary, I also bought something totally out of character for me: a baseball mitt.

For some reason I've been persuaded to be on the Blaqrobes Intramural softball team. Comprised mostly of Jesuits, we play our first game tonight against the Ram Van crew (they drive the shuttles here at Fordham).

This may come as a surprise to many, but I do know which end of a bat to swing. (The skinny end with a rubber grip). I don't move very quickly (or gracefully) and I'm hoping to play catcher - I make a decent backstop, even if my catching isn't great.

I do not operate with any great delusion about being a good baseball player (note: I operate with very many delusions, but this is not one of them). I figure it'll be a lot of fun to play with the other guys and to get more exercise. Perhaps we'll manage a team photo that I'll be able to share!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New Site

I no longer wish to post sheet music on this blog, so I've created a new blog that will host videos and sheet music to accompany "Fordham University's Introduction to the Irish Tin Whistle" course.

Check it out!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rosary Woes

I'll admit it: I'm intrigued by the concept of the day spa. There is a part of me (a very very very small part) that has entertained the thought of spending a day in a bathrobe and having avocado or cucumber or tomato slices (whatever) put over my eyes to reduce the puffiness and then having a hot stone massage, a kelp--mayonnaise-sand body wrap, all while sipping trendy power drinks like guava broccoli twists.

I offer this because I do have a hard time relaxing. I'm not a big one for lounging around, so the idea of a day where to relax I have to show up for a bunch of appoints that will make me relax is seductive.

I face a similar dilemma in my own prayer/spiritual life. I hate to sit still. I pray best when I'm moving, when I'm able to have a LONG conversation with God as I take a walk. Insofar as I live in the Bronx and I find it distracting to talk to God while dodging traffic and side-stepping piles of dog doo, I tend to pray indoors.

Helpful over the years has been the habit of using the rosary to help me to remain quieted. Whenever my mind begins to wander or I grow listless, I knock out a quick decade and I find myself re-focused. I suspect it has got a lot to do with the fact that it involves some physical movement - the beads being counted off - as well as a set number of prayers - 10 HM's and a quick OF.

So imagine my dismay when I broke my rosary today! I really don't know how I managed to do this. I power walk, but I never thought that I power prayed the rosary. I think I can jerry-rig the little wires that split, but I think it's about time to go and invest in a new one. This inexpensive set has lasted me about seven years...I recall having it in Ireland (1999) and I am pretty sure that I had it even before then.

So after I read for a bit, I think I'll walk over to a local religious goods store in order to buy a set. I'm sort of nervous - have you seen the variety that is out there? There are glass, wood, metal, plastic types. Some are in strange shapes - I've seen shamrock, football, and baseball rosaries. Some are blessed by the pope, others have been pressed to the relics of saints I've never heard of.

So indulging my private devotion arouses tremendous anxiety. It's like buying a new car or getting a new pair of glasses. What will the neighbors think? Were someone to see them, would I appear trendy? Pious? Is wood the new pewter? Is black in or out this rosary season?

What about weight requirements? I often keep them in my pocket, so I don't want to lug around a hefty set of beads. But I want to know that they are there, so I don't want a mini-set, either. But then what about the texture of the beads - round, oval, etched with Celtic designs, flat? Scented or unscented?

Sadly, I suspect that I'll have to pray before going out to buy the beads with which I pray. It's really a vicious circle, a never-ending struggle between cosmic forces vying for my soul. One would think I'd need to enter into a long-term discernment, weighing the attractions and repulsions, analyzing where my heart is drawn and where it is turned away, noting how my affect is moved by each option before me.

When I bought my car, my dad came along with me. But he's a staunch Lutheran and doesn't seem to care much for rosaries - as I recall, he thought Rosary was a spice used to flavor pork roasts. I'd ask Grandma Hagan - she's quite the connoiseur and has good taste - but she's in Cleveland.

I think I'll just bring in my broken pair and see if I can't find the same model. Why mess with a good thing?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Unicorn's Shadow

Karen Hall has issued something of a fatwa, or declaration of war, against me for introducing my dear friend Charlie the Unicorn to her and her unsuspecting family. Oddly, novice Jason and Karen's five year-old son and I have something in common: we all find Charlie to be lethally hysterical.

Let me offer this as an apology:

I am a Jesuit. I am poor, chaste, and obedient. In addition to this, I am going bald. I like to pray. I play the accordion. I teach a course on the tin whistle.

Do I sound like the poster boy for GQ?


I like cartoons - my father will attest that I would make every effort to watch the X-Men cartoons (even in college) and that I enjoy Pokemon. I still read the Harry Potter books (and the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings) and I'm proud of the fact that I am really little more than a big, bald kid.

So, Karen, I am SO SORRY that I find inane unicorns funny. I'm sorry that the spiritual quest they embark upon to find the fabled Candy Mountain is not funny to all. I'm sorry that the magical leopluridan and a rickety bridge aren't downright hysterical.

Perhaps I should say: I am sorry.

If it is any consolation, apparently my maternal uncles (and probably my paternal uncle) think I'm crazy, too. Nonetheless, I stand firm in saying that I do laugh each time I watch Charlie.

By the way, a Happy Saint Patrick's Day to all. And Karen, if your anger has abated by the time you arrive, I'll look forward to seeing you next week. Otherwise, I'll lock myself in my room...alone, except for Charlie!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Spring Break

I'll be in Chicago until Thursday, March 15th. It'll be nice to see my Jesuit classmates and friends studying at Loyola University. I doubt I'll blog from the conference but, then again, who knows how the Spirit will strike!?


Song of the Chanter

Sorry for posting all of these tunes!

This (final) tune is entitled "Song of the Chanter" and is yet another tune from my early days of playing.


Another trip down memory lane with Boulavogue!

Roddy McCorley

This tune is a blast from my past: it's the first one I learned (Mom, remember me playing this OVER and OVER and OVER again?). I am thinking of establishing a blog to host the sheet music I use for my YouTube videos but, until then, I will make use of this site. Thanks to Tom Hastings (my teacher) for sending me a copy of the music!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Charlie the Unicorn

Okay, Jason. I'll put it back up!

This is so darn funny. I've watched it about ten times and I can't help but laugh each time.

Trip to the Dentist

For many years, I have found it rather helpful when, in times of boredom or unease, to occupy my mind by saying the rosary. So when am waiting in line at the supermarket and not paging through the current edition of People, when I'm caught in traffic and getting annoyed, when I'm standing cheek-to-cheek with a burly biker on the subway - I find it helpful to slip in some "prayer time" if, for no other reason, than to make good use of the time.

Well I had to have a cavity filled yesterday. So, having been loaded up with a good dose of novacaine, I inclined my head back to give the doctor wide berth and access to my chompers.

I believe prayer to be a powerful weapon against the forces of darkness, against the listlessness of traffic, against the awkwardness of crowded buses. I believe prayer to put me into a space of greater receptivity to God and that it connects and places me into communion me with all those whose prayers strain outward from their hearts toward the Holy God. I believe that I am at my best when I am animated by and feel a call to return to prayer.

Alas, I have found one thing that prayer cannot withstand. The chink in prayer's armor that causes all peace, ease, and tranquility to drain from my person leaving me with pain, sadness, and irritation.

The dentist's drill.

She started drilling. I started praying. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb
. HOLY [Mary should go in here, but the drill hit its mark thereby necessitating a word change].

It seems that I have a pretty darn high tolerance for the novacaine. Really high. Scary high.

Who knew?

Well, the doctor and I

So yesterday was a pretty sore day. The mega doses of novacaine (or whatever it was, I can't remember) didn't wear off until about 5:30 -- eight hours after my injection. I spent most of the remainder of the day in my room looking at my reflection in the mirror - I now know what I will look like if I ever suffer a stroke.

It's strange because I had a filling done on the other side of my mouth two weeks ago and, although a bit uncomfortable, it was not nearly as bad as yesterday. I do not blame the dentist - I reckon that, in the future, I'll know that it takes a lot to make me numb (what violence on television can't accomplish, novacaine can).

So that's my story about the newly-discovered limits of my prayer. One can do many things with prayer, but having it comfort you while receiving a filling on an insufficient amount of novacaine is probably not one of them.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hat in the Ring

I'm probably not supposed to plug a political candidate, but hey -- he's family! My uncle Brian F. Hagan has declared his candidacy for Judge of Rocky River's Municipal Court. You can visit his website at

Above is a picture of Mary Lou, me, and Brian at my vows this past August.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


I went last night to see the play Translations written by Brian Friel. The play takes place in 1833 and concerns the events that transpire involving a hedge-school in Baile Beag, Ireland. A detachment of [English speaking] British soldiers/cartographers are sent to Ireland in order to create a new and up-to-date map while, in the process, standardizing the various names (all in Irish) by putting them into English. The creative tension is found in the love awakened between an Irish girl [Gaelic speaking] and a young Lieutenant named George [English speaking].

At the heart of the play, in a sense, is the radical insufficiency of language to communicate the reality we inhabit. In a particularly poignant scene, the two young lovers strain to communicate with one another, resorting to pantomime and gestures and loud words to break past the language barrier. But it is the in the embrace of the other, in the surrender to the gaze that defies language, that the reality of their love for one another - a love that transcends all words - is able to speak.

All in all - a good show. Can't say I liked the ending, and it did tend to drag a bit at parts. But most enjoyable nonetheless.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Let's update on what's going on in Ryan land. I'm now settled on being in Chicago this summer where I will study German with April Wilson. April is something of a legendary teacher who has long worked with student at the University of Chicago's Divinity School. She holds classes out of her condo (with her two cats) and I'm very excited to be able to work with her this summer.

Next Friday I will be in Chicago for a Jesuit Philosophy Conference and then I'll have a few days of relaxation in the Windy City. I will return to NYC on Thursday in order to work on a paper and attend a fund-raiser at one of our retreat houses on St. Patrick's Day.

So that's about it. I'm hoping to record a few more YouTube videos and post the notes later today. I'm thinking of doing three supplemental videos to Week 2 in order to expand the repertoire of beginners. More thought needs to take place on this (in the next few hours) so stay tuned!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

In Defense of (Christian) Atheism

If there is a topic to make the blood of a believer boil, it tends to be atheism (or the liturgy, but that's a post for another day!). In light of a conversation I had with my friend Jane , I have been thinking a great deal about the topic of atheism and its importance in the life of faith.

To my mind, the intolerance and derisive way I have watched believers talk about "The Atheists" is deplorable. It is as though moral righteousness is de facto for one who avers belief in and denied to one who questions the existence of God. CNN carried on Sunday a story about a family that has been ostracized by their small town for demanding that their children not be subjected to Bible Study and Prayer at their public school.

I have always taken comfort in Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner's quote "I am a man who has been sorely tempted by atheism...but there is nothing more self-evident to me than the existence of God." For I, too, have long been wracked with doubts and questions and it has been only in prayer that I have been able to nestle my restless questioning into the heart of God's Mysteriousness and find peace. In a country that is so God-fearing as ours, the fact that Anna Nicole-Smith has occupied the headlines for over two weeks when there is a war being waged in Iraq and there are homeless people freezing to death in the US inspires me to pray: "I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief."

As a believer, I cannot say that I "understand" atheism. With Rahner, I will attest that God's existence is self-evident - "I believe because I pray." But I do know the doubt that always threatens to swallow me whole is also present to the atheist. Joseph Ratzinger, then a young professor of theology, wrote in his Introduction to Christianity that no less than doubt unites the believer and unbeliever.

Lent, I would suggest, is a period of Christian atheism. How quickly we have become complacent and at-ease with God! And now Jesus begins his journey toward Calvary, ending with the heart-churning cry from the cross "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?"

The response to this cry? Silence. Doubt-filled silence.

Christian atheism demands that we break ourselves free of the self-securing idols that we erect in the place of the holy and living and mysterious God of Jesus who leads all who claim discipleship toward the cross. This is not meant to say that we must but that doubt is very much a part of our faith lives. Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane is a prayer of doubt and fear, of sheer terror at the realization of where his Abba had led him.

My opening salvo concerning "atheists" intends only to call our attention to the fact that we are all looking. The doubt that has often threatened my own faith is, nevertheless, outstripped by my belief in God. This does not make me morally better or more worthy than the person for whom doubt is the horizon that greets the eyes. Both journey, led by nagging questions doubts, with hopes for fulfillment. The true crime is the out-of-hand dismissal of one side or the other, a refusal to gather to dialogue that both parties might find unity-in-doubt and come to respect one another as genuine seekers of Truth.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame