spiritual life

I lost baby Jesus!

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

Somewhere in the dank, dark basement is a blue tub. And, in that tub is an abundance of crumpled bits of wrapping paper left over from Christmases past. And, CIMG5895_edited-1.JPGin one of those bits is the baby Jesus figurine that is usually hidden away in a buffet drawer until the morning of Dec. 25.

It’s true. I’ve somehow lost baby Jesus!

There’s no doubt a blog in that — losing the reason for the season in a house that is already decorated ABT. (All But Tree — wink, wink, grad students.) But, that isn’t where I’m going.

On Facebook, my Fresh Mercy mini-blog is presenting a name of Jesus and a corresponding scripture each weekday. Lamb of God, Light of the World, the Amen, Beloved Son, the Rock, He Who Liveth and Was Dead and so forth. Some of the name scriptures are from the Old Testament, particularly the book of Isaiah. Most are from New Testament books written by the Apostle John, one of the 12 men who spent three years or so directly ministering with Jesus.

It’s those latter verses that have captured my attention. John seems to have understood Jesus at a level that even the other disciples did not. It likely not an accident that he was the one Jesus chose for the vision of Revelation. And, John’s awareness of the fullness of Jesus’s identity is most often expressed in names that make me shiver. They’re throughout his gospel, where every action seems to be tied to one. And, in Revelation, the names fly fast and glorious, almost as if there is not enough space on the page or in the world (as John once suggested) to contain just who God the Son is.

Those thoughts were on my mind when I realized the wee figurine that we once used to set the story of the Nativity in our daughters’ minds was missing. They’re nearly grown now. They know the story. We know the story. And, it is a story far too big to be, well, contained.

So, resin baby Jesus will stay wherever he is and I am going to do my best to celebrate a Christmas and a life that lets God the Son be God. Vast, complex and full of mysterious glory.

community, spiritual life

Is there a faith/church balance?

Readers interested in balancing individual faith and church accountability may enjoy this shortened version of a news feature I did for weelunk.com. It focuses on one young man’s regional fight to bring a global pattern of sexual abuse within one church into the light and toward an end.

Just going to the grocery store can be a challenge when your calling, your spiritual work is the pursuit of truth and justice — particularly truth about sexualweelunk spirituality catholic dissenters.JPG misconduct inside the ministry.

A breeze by the frozen green beans can yield a surprising thumbs up from a highly placed priest. Or, in another aisle, Michael Iafrate could just as likely hear the question, “Why are you attacking the church?” If not that, it could be something like, “How can you defend a church that condones criminal behavior?”

The Wheeling Jesuit grad, co-coordinator of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, reflected on this contrast of perspectives from his unassuming office in downtown Wheeling.

“I can’t be a Catholic and not fight for a better church,” he concluded in a gentle voice that matches his John Denver-meets-Mr. Rogers vibe. “I can’t be a Catholic with my back to the people who Catholicism hurts.”

Right now, that means he, co-coordinator Jeannie Kirkhope, the committee and committee friends have a heavy focus on the sexual-misconduct revelations that are unfolding at a weekly, if not daily, pace in the news. The nearly 50-year-old, small-grant-funded group advocates for a broad variety of social-justice issues in a 20-diocese region that includes parts of Pennsylvania. A cloud of dirt from grand jury reports in that state concerning widespread priestly sexual abuse had barely settled when the scandal turned local. Really local.

The recent resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield as head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston under accusations of sexual misconduct toward adults and lavish living at parishioners’ expense cannot help but take center stage for the moment, Iafrate said of committee responses that have included publishing letters demanding accountability.

Since Bransfield’s resignation, more local connections to the scandal and more committee responses have followed. The nearby Steubenville, Ohio, diocese recently released a list of “credible” accusations against priests. Information about a specific Steubenville priest who impregnated an underage altar girl was also announced.

Iafrate, who had already discovered regional interconnectedness meant he knew three of the priests on the Pennsylvania lists, was on high alert. He pondered the word “credible.” He looked carefully at the story surrounding the specific priest, who was soon reported by several sources to have been volunteering with youth activities within West Virginia. He also noticed the general list had limitations he found troubling.

He specifically challenges a list detail that he suspects few outside the Catholic Church would understand. For example, in Steubenville, he said the only released names were those of “diocesan priests” attached to a specific parish. Other Steubenville-area priests — such as Franciscans, Dominicans or Jesuits serving in various capacities — were not included, he said.

That distinction had him on the phone with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which has promised to release a similar list of accusations made in West Virginia over the last 50 years. Will all priests be included, he asked on behalf of the committee. The local diocese, under interim leadership by a bishop from outside the state, assured him they will. Does that include priests who cross diocese borders to volunteer, such as the one associated with the teen pregnancy? Again, Iafrate was pleased with the response.

The local diocese, he said, has, in fact, already gone on to issue an announcement about that priest’s in-state activities in both internal parochial school communications and to the general church membership in recent days.

Pleased? Yes. But, Iafrate said the committee is not yet satisfied. “I would like to see the diocese be more transparent about what they know, how they handled abuse, how they failed to handle the abuse.”

“I would like to see the diocese be more transparent about what they know, how they handled abuse, how they failed to handle the abuse.” — Michael Iafrate

He would also like to see external civil investigations in addition to the internal ones promised by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. The committee may approach state Attorney General Patrick Morrissey to request he follow up on a recent mention of interest in an investigation.

This blend of internal and external advocacy is also expressed at ccappal.org, a website the committee manages. There, diocese news releases are available alongside secular reporting from story leaders like the Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Indeed, Iafrate said he depends on such secular news, which some church officials have called “media attacks,” to give the issue broader context. He pointed to a specific joint Globe/Inquirer report printed in early November. It gave extensive details about the allegations against Bransfield that he has not seen reported elsewhere.

Iafrate — wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Be the church you want to see in this world,” and chipping away at the dissertation stage of a doctorate in theology — pauses for a deep breath at this point in the interview. Keeping that kind of advocacy in balance with his own Catholicism is what it is. He notes his “very Catholic” family includes a priest and a deacon and that he recently had his infant daughter baptized into the faith.

“I don’t think the truth is an attack. Jesus said the truth will set us free,” he said. “I love the church as the people of God. The Catholic faith is beautiful. It orients my life. I think it changes the world when it’s operating the right way. … But, when the church is hypocritical (it) actually hurts people through the way it behaves.”

spiritual life

Why does God matter?

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” C.S. Lewis, British author

It wasn’t a game of stump the teacher. The kid — eight years old and messy haired — looked at me in all sincerity and asked, “Why does God matter?”

Used to years of teaching church kids — who tend to answer any Sunday CIMG5848_edited-1.JPGSchool question with “Jesus,” even if it’s about Elijah or manna — I was flummoxed. I said something about God as creator and judge. It was theologically correct, but in no way satisfied her curiosity. Nor mine.

That question — why does God matter — has been floating around my brain for the last seven years. It shows up in my speech, my actions, my writing. It, in fact, has changed the way I look at all things church.

Which is a good thing — as there’s not a whole lot of “church” left in this world. There is, instead, a vague spirituality that ranges from blatant hypocrisy at its worst to an open curiosity like that little girl’s at best. That latter spirituality — often found in younger people who grew up completely outside of the church world — is disarming. And charming.

It reminds me of God and Moses, meeting nearly face to face on a mountain. They were already acquainted, but Moses wanted to know more. God responded, in person. And, fascinatingly, He literally walked by Moses, both naming and describing Himself as He passed. “Merciful.” “Gracious.” “Longsuffering.” “Abundant in goodness and truth.”

Why does God matter? I suspect that mountaintop encounter probably holds the answer. We only figure out why God matters — and how much — as we get to know Him. And, we only get to know Him bit by bit — the same way He unfolded facets of Himself on that mountain.

Those descriptor names — merciful, gracious — are critical. As are the many names of Jesus, whom church folks all over the world are celebrating this season. Morning Star, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Man of Sorrows. It’s true. The who of God the Father and God the Son drive the why.

So, if you are among the curious, you may enjoy visiting my Fresh Mercy blog on Facebook/NoraEdingerBooks (which can also be viewed on this site by scrolling lower on the page) over the next few weeks. Beginning with today’s Bright and Morning Star, bite-sized weekday posts will focus on the who of God.

Stop by. Hear His names. Take in those names. And, don’t be surprised if you suddenly know the answer to that little girl’s question for yourself. Christmas blessings!

books, writing

Last day of giveaway!

Last chance for a FREE escape from the holiday frazzles. My chick-lit e-book Dune Girl is FREE at Amazon Kindle until 11:59 p.m. California time todayDune Girl cover.

Tuck a copy into your Kindle, smart phone, tablet or other device as an uplifting, humorous break to the holiday crush.

Even better, share this giveaway with friends just all over the place. It would truly encourage this writer’s heart to know my work has brought a moment of hope and joy — especially to harried moms, first responders, residents of states that have experienced disasters in 2018 and anyone, anywhere who just needs a smile.

books, writing

T-day giveaway!

Feeling the holiday stress? A break is here for the taking. My chick-lit e-book Dune Girl is FREE at Amazon Kindle today through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday CaliforniaNora mug plus DG cover time.

Tuck a copy into your Kindle, smart phone, tablet or other device as an uplifting, humorous break to the holiday crush.

Even better, share this giveaway with friends just all over the place. It would truly encourage this writer’s heart to know my work has brought a moment of hope and joy — especially to harried moms, first responders, residents of states that have experienced disasters in 2018 and anyone, anywhere who just needs a smile.