Souls in Flight

 

 

Alone in his room, alone in his mind

No one to share, no one to care

Guns at the ready, loaded and locked

Sights cleaned and polished, mounted and focused

Bags crumpled and empty, his hiding completed

Ammo in clips, stocks oiled and burnished

His mind was empty, his feelings aside

The shooter takes aim and squeezes the trigger.

 

Where was his soul, who knew his fate?

Who will miss him and then wonder why

Fate brought him this far and left him to die,

A soul which flies and dashes to pieces?

His life left in ashes adrift in the wind,

No honor left here, no story to tell.

 

Fifty­ nine souls freed from their hosts

All came for music to brighten their lives.

They hoped for a story to carry back home

Of songs which they liked and maybe they loved.

Their troubles forgotten at least for the time,

No fears for the future, no time for that now,

The music consumed them and lifted their souls

A flash in the sky and then there was silence.

 

Their souls were enchanted and ready to fly.

Not ready to leave, not really their choice,

Their time had arrived with no warning in sight

Their memory stays, their future cut short,

Their stories now passed to those they loved best

Before they expected, it came time to rest.

 

Five twenty ­eight, the number of those

Who were touched by a bullet but not left ice cold.

An instant of fear, but no time to wonder

If next they would live or cease to exist.

The music cut short, panic ensued

Everyone running, ducking for cover.

Would they be among those with stories to tell

Or would they be silenced and murdered as well.

 

Their souls remained, their lives left in tatters

So close to death but spared for a while

Not this time but maybe not too far ahead

A chance for another, a more thoughtful life.

The stories now theirs, they speak in the stead

Of those whom they left and whose lives they now led.

 

 

 

 

 

What Follows Trump and Trumpism?

Review­ of One Nation After Trump­ by E.J. Dionne, Norman  Ornstein, and Thomas Mann

 

I happened upon this book in The Bunch of Grapes, an independent bookstore in Martha’s Vineyard which I have never left without finding a writing treasure.  I picked up and put down the book several times. Did I really want to delve any further into the Trump quagmire? I finally let my sense of obligation to my country overcome the increasing trepidation I have felt since the last election day.

I feared it might just be another diatribe against Trump. I imagined everything the authors might say. Once I began the book, I discovered that they had a plan which made sense to me and offered hope for the future of our country.

They distinguished between the person of Donald Trump and his disregard for the traditions, values and customs of our country and the movement of Trumpism which has taken on a life of its own and created its own horrors.

Part one chronicles the descent of the disaffected into a world of resentment, cynicism and anger about the loss of standing, chiefly of white males who have declined from the relative prosperity they had achieved over many decades. This dissatisfaction has focused on non-­whites and immigrants as the reason for their decline. Their white plight has resulted in a combination of racism directed toward minorities who could further erode their economic well-being and protectionism from those who would come to their country and take what little they had left. In addition to explaining the nature of this movement, the authors also demonstrate how cultural, economic and political trends have fueled the rise of Trumpism over a period of decades.

The second part of the book outlines possibilities for moving forward as a society rather than disintegrating into irrelevance. They suggest ways that patriotism can be reborn, how a new civil society can be reborn and how conservative and progressive ways of thought can come together to restore our standing with ourselves and with other nations while bringing hope to disaffected white males as well as the groups against which they rail.

In my opinion, this book is a comprehensive, thoroughly researched manual for understanding the state to which we have descended and ways we can all work together to bring ourselves back to our roots and convictions.

How to understand and deal with terrorism

If we continue to create a world where there is poverty and disrespect,
there will continue to be terrorism.

~Jodie Evans~

Lately, it has become common to associate terrorism with religious groups, particularly radical extremists within Islam. Ben Norton quotes Max Abrahms’ observation that scholars have traditionally conceived of terrorism as, “a political communication strategy in which groups use violence to amplify their grievances and the costs to the target countries of ignoring them.” He notes that no one claims responsibility for the majority of terrorist attacks unless they have something to gain from it politically.

Abrahms notes that terrorist groups are not acting with a common motivation. He sees these groups as varying significantly. He also cites differences in motivation between the leaders of such groups and those actually carrying out the terrorist acts.

Daniel Pipes writes in an article in the New York Sun that at one time terrorists generally noted their goals such as the release of imprisoned members of their groups. In more recent times, demands are not usually made before acting and terrorist attacks take place without any announcement of what the terrorists are aiming to accomplish. He suggests possible motivations such as personal grievances of individual terrorists related to their anger about poverty, cultural alienation or prejudice, and attempts to get various governments to change their policies. Lately, a major goal has been the establishment of a caliphate, although it is unclear what that would actually mean if the goal was met.

It is easy to forget the role of our country in creating terrorist movements. In the case of ISIS, the United States and other Western powers–probably unintentionally–destabilized the government of Iraq through misguided intervention and left a power vacuum and lack of leadership as well as warring factions. This in turn created fertile ground for the roots of ISIS to take hold.

There is no easy solution to dealing with ISIS or other terrorist organizations. Their leaders are bent on destroying the influence of the “devil” United States in the Middle East. Reasoning with them does not appear to be a promising strategy.

Many of those at the bottom of terrorist ranks who actually carry out the terrorist attacks are alienated individuals who see life as holding no future for them, at least on Earth. These people tend to escape our notice, much as do youths with potential violence in their future in our own country.

Tori DeAngelis suggests characteristics of potential recruits to terrorist organizations stated by John Horgan, director of the Pennsylvania State University Center for the Study of Terrorism:

  • Feeling angry, alienated or disenfranchised
  • Believing that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change
  • Identifying with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting
  • Feeling the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem
  • Believing that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral
  • Having friends or family sympathetic to the cause
  • Believing that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity

As a world society, it is our challenge to identify these people, understand their frustrations, and help them see more constructive alternatives. This is a big order one more humane than trying to destroy everyone with such leanings.

Joanne Bourke in her book, Deep Violence, says, “Evidence suggests that killing leaders of terrorist organizations pushes those groups into becoming more aggressive, in part by fueling fury about the power of Western nations such as the US.” This piece of wisdom should humble us and remind us that we are not all powerful.

DeAngelis suggests that there are several promising avenues of approach to changing the “hearts and minds of terrorist detainees.” These include:

  • Engaging moderate Muslim clerics to work with them focusing on the “true teachings of the Qur’an” about jihad and violenceShowing authentic concern about their families through real life programs to improve their family functioning
  • Engaging reformed former terrorists in efforts to help others understand that “violence against civilians compromises the image of Islam”

Before such efforts can lead to success, those working with captured terrorists must first manage their own perceptions and emotions about the people with whom they work, looking beyond their initial reactions. Next, let’s take a look at violence in our culture not related to terrorism.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose “Look Inside.”)

How to balance life, religion and spirituality

Sunrise over Lemon Bay

Sunrise over Lemon Bay

Life is your adventure. Religion and spirituality can help you make sense of your life and navigate its challenges. When was the last time you stopped to consider what your life is all about? Why are you here on Earth? Children hear that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. That is not quite true. Some paths require resources, money, skills or connections which might not be readily available to you. Your choices are not unlimited. 

Yet you still have many options available to you. Your family, friends, life circumstances and talents guided you toward certain paths. Those paths, suggested by people who care about you, might have been easier to follow than forging your own path, although theirs might not take you quite where you want or expect to go. More challenging paths await you down the road. These will require more effort from you when they are less familiar. Yet they might be more satisfying in the long run as you learn to manage them.
If fame, fortune and power are your main goals in life, you probably see little need for religion or spirituality. You will pursue your goals at all costs regardless of the effect on your life and the lives of those you encounter on your way through life. But you could end up living in a spiritual vacuum. You might want to at least think of reconsidering your priorities. Religion and spirituality are important to people who want their lives to be about something more than what they can grab for themselves. They form a context for living a life directed toward a higher calling.
When I was a child, a “vocation” was considered a call from God to pursue a higher purpose. At that time it meant being called to be a priest or a nun. Later it came to mean living any life in the context of a greater meaning.
How to find meaning outside the limited context of your little world is not always obvious. Where do you start? What are the steps? Spirituality is the process of finding, accepting and sharing the larger meaning of being alive as you journey through life. You can learn from others on a similar path to yours and share what you learn with your fellow travelers.
Religions are formalized systems intended to help you find the meaning for which you search on your spiritual journey. Obviously various religious systems cannot all be the one true path to spirituality and to God although many claim to be the only right way. Regardless of their claims, most religions start with the same premise, offering a way to live in unity between you and God.
How do you know if you are on the right path? Spirituality and religion both suggest reflection and meditation. If you never stop to see where you have been, where you are headed and the effect of your choices on you and those around you, you have no way to check your course or predict where you will end up.
Honest reflection will help you evaluate your life path to see whether it is taking you in the right direction. If you are hurting yourself or someone else as you proceed, you might have made a wrong turn and need a course correction.

How do I get my body to be at peace?

How do you get your body to be at peace and in harmony? Once you see the answers to this question, they might seem like common sense. Unfortunately we do not always use common sense in our approach to our bodies. Sometimes we take partial or baby steps. That’s a good start, but the more you understand about your body’s needs and the more you treat your body kindly, the more at peace you will find yourself.
What does a peaceful body look like? On the surface your brow is smooth and not wrinkled in distress. Your face is calm; your hands are relaxed and your fists are not clenched. You stand straight and are not stooped over under the weight of your daily stress.
Looking inside, your bloodstream is distributing nourishment and collecting waste and not chronically clogged with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As we saw before, these hormones serve a useful purpose in preparing you for approaching danger and shutting down regular functions of your body not specifically needed to fight stress.
This is fine when your body is under attack, and you need to defend yourself or get you out of harm’s way. Yet immediate threats pass fairly quickly, and your body hopefully returns to a more relaxed and peaceful state. When you are constantly beset by worrisome thoughts, emotions or both, your body stays in a state of high alert preventing you from feeling at peace and eventually exhausting you and keeping you from living a productive life. Your body, mind, emotions and spirit are all interconnected.
Your blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate all rise when you are in a state of stress or anxiety and become lower when your body is at peace. When you are peaceful, you have more energy to use in constructive activities rather that spending it all fighting stress.
Once you get stress out of your life, you will find that in addition to more energy you will a better appetite and better digestion. Rather than finding natural ways to achieve peace within your body, you might be tempted to seek the help of prescription drugs, alcohol or street drugs as a way to compensate for the unrest inside you. Chemical approaches can be helpful at times. Yet better long-term results can be found by considering changes in the way you live your life. What changes? That’s a long story which I will get to another time.

How do I find peace in my life?

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me

~Sy Miller and Jill Jackson~

When we think of peace, we tend to focus on what it is not. Peace is not being in conflict with others or within ourselves. It means not being at war. This is part of it. We have an idea about what we don’t want. Yet it is possible to not be at war or in conflict with anyone and still not be at peace. Sound strange? It’s not if you consider peace as more than the absence of conflict.

Here is the definition of peace proposed by the Christophe Barbey for the Institute for the Progress of Peace, “Peace is part of human dignity. It is living in, as well as the right and the duty to live in, to prepare, to maintain or to restore a creative state of permanent harmony amongst all.”

In this sense, peace is not a construct or an invention of people or governments. Peace is part of the recognition that human life is worthy of respect and that we all share in a sense of dignity just by being born human.

Of course, people have not always viewed their fellow humans with dignity. Throughout history, various groups of humans have been viewed as possessions or objects to be bought, sold and used with impunity as we might do with any other possession. In some countries, only certain people are allowed to vote. Others are not seen as full citizens.

By viewing everyone with the same human dignity shared by the rest of us, we necessarily change the way we look at each other. No one is beneath us, less a citizen, without rights or unworthy to be included in the discussion about how we conduct ourselves locally or globally.

We all have the same dignity and should respect this dignity in each other. When we define peace in this way, we learn to approach each other with generosity, empathy, common sense and non-violence.

 Looking at peace this way is certainly not part of how some people and some nations approach each other in current times. It has been the exception rather than the rule throughout recorded history and perhaps before then. Yet it can be a goal for the future and would be to the benefit of all of us, presenting a healthy alternative to destroying or controlling each other for our own selfish purposes.

Most people who pray at all pray for peace on Earth. Maybe we think God will bring us this peace. We have had times of peace but frequently return to times when peace seems out of reach. Is that God’s fault? I don’t think so. God has left peace as something for us to earn. Sadly, we are often preoccupied with getting what we want for ourselves rather than working together toward what would benefit us all. Our journey toward peace starts with ourselves. Let’s get started on that journey.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose Look Inside.)

What Do Teens Like Best about Themselves?

teen girl

Teens like a wide variety of things about themselves. Being able to entertain friends or having a nice personality come to mind for several of the teens I talked with. If you are fun to be around, you will be popular and never lacking for company. Did you ever wonder what makes you attractive to others? It’s not so much what you look like. Being very pretty or handsome might even make others jealous.

A researcher in the nineteen sixties studied what people look for in a friend. The number one quality is being able to listen. If you can keep your mouth shut when you need to, hear what someone is saying, and understand how that person feels, you will be very much in demand. As Amy puts it, “I have the ability to put myself in others’ shoes.”

Some see their sense of themselves as their best quality. Ellie says, “I know who I am and stick with my values.” This is not always easy to do. You have to think about what’s important to you and decide that what you believe in is more important than making others happy.

Did you know it’s impossible to keep everyone happy? No matter what you do, there will be some people who like what you do and others who don’t. If you follow your own sense of values, you will attract friends who respect what you believe in. You probably wouldn’t enjoy the company of others who don’t share your values anyway.

Can you imagine having a friend who changes his or her mind all the time? Maybe you have a friend like this. You never know what to expect and probably wouldn’t be able to count on that person for anything important. Being consistent in your values makes it easier for you to decide what to do when something really important happens. It also helps your friends know what to expect from you. Consistency is probably the most important quality of a good friend after being a good listener.

Other teens like their physical qualities such as their appearance or sports ability. As with personality, these might be just as much a reason for others to be jealous as to like you. However, what is important is that your physical appearance or sports ability might give you some confidence which you might not otherwise have. Your self confidence just might attract others more than your special abilities or appearance.

Sometimes it is not so easy to choose one quality you like best about yourself. Punkman sees his grades and willingness to help others who need him as tied for his best qualities. This is not surprising. Most teens have several things they like about themselves. Did you know it’s easier to think of things you don’t like about yourself than things you do like? When I asked teens and adults in counseling to make two lists, the list of dislikes is usually longer than the list of likes. Maybe people tend to take their good qualities for granted.

(Excerpt from my book, Make the Best of Your Teen Years: 105 Ways to Do It. Read a free sample by clicking on this sentence and choosing Look Inside.)

How can I communicate effectively?

Effective communication is the glue that helps deepen your connections to others and improve teamwork, problem solving, and your social and emotional health. But all too often, what we try to communicate goes astray. We say one thing, the other person hears something else, and misunderstandings, frustration, and conflicts ensue. But whether you’re trying to improve communication with your spouse, kids, boss, or coworkers, you can learn the skills to interact more effectively, improve your relationships, and build greater trust and respect with others.

What is effective communication?

Effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. As well as being able to clearly convey a message, you need to also listen in a way that gains the full meaning of what’s being said, builds trust, and makes the other person feel heard and understood.

More than just the words you use, effective communication combines a set of 4 skills:

  1. Engaged listening
  2. Nonverbal communication
  3. Managing stress in the moment
  4. Asserting yourself in a respectful way

While these are learned skills, communication is more effective when it’s spontaneous rather than formulaic. A speech that is read, for example, rarely has the same impact as a speech that’s delivered (or appears to be delivered) spontaneously. Of course, it takes time and effort to develop these skills and become an effective communicator. The more effort and practice you put in, the more instinctive and spontaneous your communication skills will become.

(Excerpt from  from Lawrence Robinson et al’s article in Helpguide.org. Read more.

 

My First Real Life Choice

I looked around during meditation that evening, especially at the priests and realized that in another ten or twenty years my life would probably resemble one of theirs. Was there anyone in the monastery I wanted to emulate? I respected several of the priests for their intelligence. Of the three priests I respected most, one seemed rather paranoid and fearful of expressing his own ideas. One I saw as selling out to the establishment and not sticking up for what he thought, much less what we thought. The third appeared broken and bereft of his dreams.

Most of the other priests I saw as unhappy in a variety of ways, or as having made compromises in their commitment to the religious life. After I had considered everyone, I realized there were no priests in the monastery I would like to turn into in the foreseeable future. I also realized that in another ten years I probably would be like one of them. None were willing to challenge the system and the few students who did want to see change were outnumbered and constantly under a cloud.

I reviewed my observations with God. I tried not to be judgmental about the priests I had just finished considering. It was up to them to decide whether they were living the life God wanted for them. It seemed clear that this was no longer the life for me. I didn’t know what God had in store for me next. It seemed that whatever it was, I had learned something about difficult times and felt ready for the next challenge.

I told Father Xavier I wanted to meet with my Uncle Bob who lived in the Union City monastery across the Hudson River from Manhattan. With his permission, I called my uncle who suggested we meet for dinner in a restaurant in Manhattan. He traveled by bus and I took the subway. Remarkably, we both arrived at the restaurant about the same time. After a few pleasantries, I told him that I was thinking of leaving the monastery. He was not surprised, based on our previous conversations and word which had filtered back to him through the Provincial.

He explained that he had always wanted to preach, but never had much of an opportunity to do so. He went to college to prepare himself to teach Physics at Holy Cross. Then he then became Rector of St. Mary’s Monastery, Rector in Scranton and eventually Provincial Consultor. I told him I thought this must have been quite frustrating. He saw it as his being willing to do the things that needed doing so others could do what they wanted.

I told him I admired his self sacrifice, but found it very difficult to let go of any dreams I had. I also found it hard to trust superiors who seemed to know so little about student development in a changing world. They seemed afraid of the changes which progress implied.

Despite our differences, he understood my position and agreed to respect whatever I decided to do. I told him I had thought about all the priests I lived with and did not want to turn out like any of them. I did not feel I had the self sacrifice to live as he did. I told him I thought it was time to leave the monastery. I felt sad on the way back to Jamaica, realizing how happy he had been when I joined the seminary and how disappointed he must be to see me leave, even thought he did not express it.

The reality of leaving seemed to come upon me fast, although I had been dissatisfied and frustrated for some time. I held out the hope that there would be a resolution to the concerns several of us had raised about the limitations and contradictions of our way of life. It became increasingly clear over time that the order was not about to budge and seemed fearful of change. The only possible resolutions seemed for me to give up my interest in change or to leave. I did not think the first choice would be possible for me without leaving me very embittered and resentful. This was not how I wanted to live. Leaving the monastery remained my only choice.

Excerpt from my memoir, Young Man of the Cloth. For a free sample, follow the link to the Amazon page and choose Look Inside. 

My Profession of Vows

The Provincial had selected my Uncle Bob to receive our vows as well as to give our Profession retreat. He would preside over the Vestition and Profession ceremonies in Father Provincial’s place. I was impressed by his quiet appreciation of our faith and of our way of life. I was also happy that he had a chance to preach as he had always wanted to do.

After the Vestition ceremony and a meal of celebration, I had a chance to walk in the monastery garden with my uncle and talk with him a little about the novitiate. “Over the past year, I have had to change my life almost completely. I don’t feel like the same person I was a year ago.”

“You’re not. You have given yourself to God and have let go of your own desires. You will be following God’s will from now on in everything you do.”

“Right now that doesn’t sound too hard. I wonder if I will have trouble with it when there is something I really want to do.”

“No doubt. Everyone has times like that. It is a trial of faith which makes us stronger.”

“I have read about such trials in the lives of the saints. I hope I am strong enough to face them, whatever they are for me.”

“That’s why you have a community to live in. You don’t have to face anything alone.”

My uncle was an intelligent, thoughtful and wise man who also had a good sense of humor. In contrast to my father’s family, most of whom were quite serious and quick to annoyance and harsh words, Uncle Bob was always the voice of reason and was able to use his humor to diffuse any conflict.

He was present at all the major events in my life. He had married my parents before I was born. He baptized me. He was present at my First Communion where I thought he was a visitor. When it was time for me to receive communion, he came down from the altar, gave me communion and then returned while our pastor finished. He was here now to help me with my next major step in life.

I told God I was as ready as I ever would be to take the next step. I knew I was not perfect, but I didn’t think he expected me to be. I promised to do the best I could to follow the religious way of life and live my life the way He wanted me to. I told Him I could not do it on my own and asked again for His guidance.

We entered the monastery church for Profession of Vows in a solemn procession, the newly vested novices singing hymns from behind the altar. I saw my parents, three brothers and sister sitting near the front of the church. Most of the ceremony was a blur to me as I focused on the commitment I was making. The religious community prayed over us. Confrater Gary’s uncle preached a sermon outlining the life we had chosen and the meaning of our vows. Father Augustine Paul served as master of ceremonies. Confrater Daniel’s and Confrater David’s brothers, Bernard and Claude, assisted as ministers for the ceremony.

As at our Vestition, each of us climbed the altar steps and approached a chair in the center of the landing in front of the altar, this time occupied by my uncle. We knelt one at a time before him and placed our folded hands in his hands to signify our connection with the Passionist Order, with my uncle as Father Provincial’s representative and ultimately God’s.

As we knelt, we professed that we would follow each of the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as the fourth vow of promotion of the Passion of Jesus.  We said all of this aloud. At the end we whispered, “…for three years.” Temporary vows were a chance to try out the religious life without a permanent commitment. If we decided not to continue in the religious life, we could request release from our vows any time during the three years. If we decided to continue in the religious life, we would take permanent vows. If someone still was not sure of a permanent commitment, he could renew his temporary vows. If someone later decided to leave the religious life, he could request release from permanent vows, but only by petition to Rome.