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From Where I Stand

In-between is a dangerous place to be

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Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois is under threat of excommunication for giving a homily at the unauthorized priestly ordination of a woman sponsored by the group Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The question, especially for those who know this priest to be a justice-loving, selfless prophet of peace, is how Fr. Roy’s “case” will be handled by the Vatican. No doubt about it: The situation is an important one -- both for him and for the church who will judge him.

A glimpse of oneness for a change

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The looks on their faces as they went round and round me were something I had never seen before in my religious life. I realized as they all went by that something very different had just happened in this assembly. The Sufi drum beat an even pace while the group sang “La-a-illa-ha” over and over again, then, alternatively, “al-le-lu-i-a,” and then “Amazing Grace.” All of them sung rhythmically, softly, persistently -- full heartedly. Which a person could surely expect of Sufis.

But the people at this zikr, dancing and chanting around the Sufis who were leading it, were not members of one of Islam’s Sufi orders -- religious groups much like Christian religious orders around the world. They were Buddhist monks, Jewish rabbis, Hindu swamis, Christian monks, Muslim imams, Indian Sun Dancers and lay practitioners of all the world’s great contemplative traditions. This zikr, this particular sufi devotion of praise, was suddenly a universal one, truly a prayer of all these peoples from all these separate traditions praying one same prayer -- but differently.

By the way, while we're changing Washington Ö

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The election that the numbers said ended almost a month ago -- whether anyone really noticed or not -- is just hours from being over. And not a day too soon for a country whose mental health has been taxed over and over again for the last four years. It's time for someone to start cleaning up the mess rather than simply go on creating it. We hope.

We need a better butterfly

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Sometimes it isn't just one thing, sometimes it takes a confluence of things to make the invisible visible and the dark light. Things like butterflies and somebody else's mortgage and Irish bookies and attitudes all coming together, at once, and apparently independent of one another. But, underneath, not really isolated or unconnected at all. In fact, together, they say something very important to us all.

Cost is no mark of quality

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This is, they tell us over and over again, "The most important presidential election in our lifetime." And they may well be right. After all, we are fighting two wars and facing the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression of 1929. If that weren't enough, we have major social issues -- health, education, job creation, energy -- to deal with on the side. Not to mention an obligation to be a good citizen of the planet, as well.

Tell me again: who's who in this game?

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With the political conventions over for this electoral season, I found myself haunted by the memory of an old child’s game called “Pickup Sticks.” In the game of “Pickup Sticks” somebody throws a bundle of long, thin pieces of balsa wood into the air. What had been an orderly assortment of wire-thin skewers is now a higgledy-piggledy mound of wood with each stick of different value.

The greatest shows on earth?

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In the interest of full disclosure, as they say, I will admit my collusion with showmanship at the very beginning of this article: The fact is that I watched the opening night of the Democratic Convention from 6:00 p.m. to midnight. But I'm not sure what I saw. Was this a solemn civic event or a political variation of "Entertainment Tonight?"

I'm a news freak, however, so I plan to watch the Republican Convention next week, too.


The problem is that I'm not sure why I'm watching either of them.

Now wait just a little minute there

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It was a touching, powerful and embarrassing piece of media. In fact, it was enough to make the average, newspaper-reading U.S. citizen blush. There stood the president of the United States speaking passionate words into a Rose Garden microphone. He was excoriating Russia's "dramatic and brutal escalation" of violence toward Georgia, "a sovereign neighboring state," in retaliation for Georgia's suppression of Ossetia, its breakaway province. The action, George Bush said with properly restrained indignation, has "substantially damaged Russia's standing in the world."

Why them and not us?

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The church world got a really good piece of advice this week. The pope, we're told, warned the Anglicans not to split over their internal controversies about homosexuality and the ordination of women bishops. He warned, quite wisely, about the dangers and the destructiveness of schism. (See Pope rides to Rowan's rescue) As easy as it sounds to simply go away and play in your own ecclesiastical sandbox, the fact is that divisions are never neat -- if for no other reason than that they not only fail to resolve the present problem but they model how not to resolve the next problem, too. After all, if we can fix one issue by simply leaving it, we can do the same with the next one -- and there will be a next one -- until what was intended to be a nice, clean division becomes one fracture after another, more a splintering and a slivering, than a surgically healing separation of unlike tissues.

The message in the sand is a changing one

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This week, in a very real way, I watched the world both come together and fall apart. The interesting thing is that the insight came from where I least expected it. In the middle of Atlanta, Ga., sits Drepung Loseling Monastery, a quiet little Buddhist community intent on reminding us that we may be ignoring one of the basics of life. Here? Us? How could that be? .

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April 11-24, 2014

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