The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Way To Go, LCWR!

I couldn't believe the news today. This has got to be the biggest thing to hit the Catholic world in a long time:

This just in: Women religious not complying with Vatican study, as told in the National Catholic Reporter.

You may have heard that the Vatican has been conducting an investigation of women religious orders--to examine the "quality of life," which includes a "doctrinal assessment." This has caused quite a stir that this has been an unfair "inquisition" and little more than a thinly-veiled power grab. Tensions have been raised for the last several months.

I'll defer to Colleen Kochivar-Baker's fine summation on her excellent blog Enlightened Catholicism:

Three cheers for the LCWR and may this polite and non violent response reverberate through out the Vatican. This is real leadership and I am impressed beyond my wildest hopes. Thank you once again sisters for reminding us what it really means to respond with integrity and Christian charity in the face of inauthentic religious power and control.

I agree wholeheartedly and this is one of the proudest moments I have ever had with my Church.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Early Church

I have often heard about the "Early Church"--its values, its sense of community, its commitment to justice, its closeness to the roots of Christianity. People use it to back up their claims, "the Early Church did this, the Early Church did that."

Still, I was hesitant to take a course of the Church Fathers. So often, they are quoted in reference to some debate on the nature of the Trinity or some monotonous theological speculation. Many of their works haven't been translated for a century, so you end up reading them in wordy Victorian English with not quite enough paragraph separations to keep your eyes open.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the Church Fathers in my recent class. In so many ways, they remind me of those in the modern peace & justice movements, those in base communities in Latin America or others who have the wisdom honed through facing persecution and struggle. They do have a lot of theological speculation. But they were also truly holy men.

None of these Fathers were pure academic theologians in the modern sense of the world. They were preachers, monks, bishops, many faced martyrdom or lived a severe life of sacrifice in order to follow their Christian call. They seem to embody what many Liberation Theologians today say: To really do theology requires the involvement of our whole being. Theology is always woefully inadequate when turned into a detached mental exercise, confined to the dry halls of academia.

These are some of my favorite quotes about charity and justice, not necessarily in chronological order. I've been quoting some of these on the Columbus Catholic Worker blog:

Tertullian, d. 222 A.D. :

I shall now speak about the characteristics of the Christian society. Each month, if he likes, each puts in a small donation, and only if he is able: for all is voluntary... These gifts are not spent on feasts, and drinking, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the needs of poor children and orphans, and of old persons confined to the house. We help those who have suffered shipwreck, people in exile, or those imprisoned because of their fidelity to God's Church...

"See," they say, "how they love one another."--from The Apology

St. Justin Martyr, d. 165 A.D., says almost the same thing:

The wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together... Those who are able and willing give what each thinks fit. What is collected is deposited with the president, who helps the orphans and widows. He also helps those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in need. Those who are in prison, and strangers staying among us: he takes care of all who are in need.--from The First Apology

St. Basil the Great, c. 329-379

O man, be like the earth. Bear fruit like her and do not fall short of what mere inanimate matter can achieve. The earth bears crops not for her own benefit but for yours. You, on the other hand, when you give to the poor, are bearing fruit which you will gather in for yourself, since the reward for good deeds goes to those who perform them. Give to a hungry man, and what you give becomes yours, and indeed it returns to you with interest. Just as the wheat that falls on the ground falls there to the great profit of the one who sowed it, so the bread given to a hungry man will bring you great profit in the world to come. Let your husbandry be aimed at sowing this heavenly seed: as scripture says, Sow integrity for yourselves.

You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you want to or not. As for whatever share of glory you have received through your good works, that you can take with you to the Lord. All the people will stand round you in the presence of him who judges you all: they will acclaim you as one who feeds the hungry and gives to the poor, they will name you as a merciful benefactor.

Do you not see how people throw away their wealth for a moment’s glory, for the shouts and praise of the crowds in the theatre, at sporting events, at fights with wild beasts in the arena? Where can you get that sort of glory for yourself if you hold on to your money or spend it meanly? God will give his approbation; the angels will praise you; all people who have existed since the beginning of the world will call you blessed. You will receive eternal glory and the crown of righteousness as a prize for rightly disposing of your wealth – wealth that in any case cannot last and must decay.

Why do you think nothing of the future hopes that are stored up by those who despise the cares of the present time? Come, spread your wealth around, be generous, give splendidly to those who are in need. Then it will be said of you as it is in the psalms: He gave alms and helped the poor: his righteousness will endure for ever.

How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how cheerful you should be at the honour he has conferred on you, that you do not have to make a nuisance of yourself at other people’s doors, but other people come and bother you at your own! But at the moment you are grumpy and no-one can get to you. You avoid meeting people in case you might be obliged be part with even a little of what you have. You can say only one thing: “I have nothing to give you. I am only a poor man.” Indeed you are poor and utterly destitute. Poor in love, poor in humanity, poor in faith in God, and destitute of any hope of eternal happiness.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, c. 335-395 A.D.

Let us consider what peace is. Surely it is nothing else but a loving disposition towards one's neighbor. What is the opposite of love? It is hate and wrath, anger and envy, harboring resentment as well as hypocrisy and the calamity of war. Do you see how many different diseases this single word is an antidote? Peace is equally opposed to every one of the things mentioned, and wipes out these evils by its own presence.--from Sermon 7 on the Beatitudes

St. John Chrysostom, c. 347-407 A.D.

In order that you may wear one pearl drop, countless poor people are suffering from hunger. What excuse will you make for it? Do you wish to adorn your face? Do so not with pearls, but with modesty, and dignity... Take off all ornament and place it in the hands of Christ through the poor.--from Second Baptismal Instruction

If you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person's life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need... Need alone is the poor person's worthiness.. We do not provide for the manners but for the person. We show mercy on people not because of their virtue but because of their misfortunes.-- from the Second Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man

Pope St. Leo the Great, c. 400-461 A.D.

What is so suitable to faith, so much in harmony with godliness as to assist the poverty of the needy, to undertake the care of the weak, to help the needs of others, and to remember one's own condition in the toils of others. Not only are spiritual riches and heavenly gifts received from God, but earthly and material possessions also proceed from His bounty. These things He has not so much put in our possession as committed to our stewardship. God's gifts we much use properly and wisely, lest the material for good work should become an occasion of sin. Wealth, after its kind and regarded as a means, is good and is of the greatest advantage to human society, when it is in the hands of the benevolent and open-handed, and when the luxurious man does not squander nor the miser hoard it. Whether ill-stored or unwisely spent it is equally lost.--from Sermon 10 on Almsgiving

St. Benedict, d. 543 A. D., father of Medieval monasticism

All guests are to be received as Christ himself. He himself said: "I was a stranger and you took Me in" [Matt 35:35]. To all, fitting honor shall be shown, but, most of all, to servants of the faith and to pilgrims. When a guest is announced, the abbot or brothers shall run to meet him, with every service of love. First they shall pray together and thus shall be joined together in peace... Christ, who is received in them, shall be adored.--from The Rule

Picture above is of Sts. Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hanging Laundry!

You've got to fight. For your right. To . . . hang your laundry?


Glad to hear some others are turning this into a movement.

I guess one person's "trailer trash" is another person's treasure. I'd rather see clothes hanging on the lines than sterile cookie-cutter rows of suburban homes any day. But if sterility is your thing . . .

It is not simply a matter of aesthetics, though. Clothes drying by electric or gas dryer is an absurdity of the wildest proportion. According to the above article, it accounts for 6% of residential energy use. And the biggest issue is that it is simply not necessary. How in the world are we going to manage the world's resources better and potentially make some sacrifices if we can't eliminate something that is energy intensive and absolutely unnecessary? In all honesty, drying by nature doesn't take much more effort than drying in a dryer.

I restrict the use of clothes dryers to when I am in an urgent hurry or if weather conditions are so unfavorable that I have no other choice. Every so often some items can be fluffed up a bit, but more often than not they dry just fine by Mother Nature.

If I can't hang them outside, I have a large wooden drying rack inside. You can put one right next to your washing machine if the physical labor of carrying wet laundry is unmanageable. The only caveat is that I don't like to spend much time in the room where they are drying. Fumes from the detergents bother me, and I do question the health effects.

On hot summer days, a load of laundry can be bone dry in less than an hour hanging outside, and not much longer drying inside. Even on the murkiest, dampest days, it rarely takes longer than a day or two to dry anything. Putting an electric fan directed toward them can speed up the process with less energy inputs, and that is a better alternative than the dryer.

I don't understand at all why people have reservations about laundry hanging outside. It is simply too practical to avoid, in my opinion. Just dry your underwear inside, like the woman in the article does. What other problems can this possibly cause?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fats and Oils

What's the most nutritious part of a chicken?

That's sort of a trick question.

The answer: All the gelatinous juices left in the bottom of the pan after you cook the chicken.

Why is this so nutritious? It includes all the extracts from the bones, cartilage, and organs that you either can't (or won't) eat. It is full of minerals and important fats and oils. It is also the exact nutrition that most of us eating westernized diets lack.

I share the concerns of folks at the Weston Price foundation when it comes to fats and oils. It scares me when folks think that a low-fat diet is somehow ideal. Skim milk, zero calorie this or that, meats with all the fat trimmed off, etc.

Let's get one thing straight: Fats and oils are nutrients. Nutrients! You need them. You won't be doing your body good to dismiss them en masse as empty calories.

There is an important distinction to be had between good and bad fats, though. This is where it gets tricky.

Our ancestors sought out fats and oils in their diet. They hungered for them. Killing a fatted animals in the fall could make the difference between surviving a winter or not. Granted, they also spent a lot of time outdoors in the cold and exercised a lot. Still, we can assume that our bodies are hardwired and function best on a high-fat diet, if we look to evolution as a guide.

The fats and oils from animals raised in captivity on grain-based diets with little exercise are actually not as good for you as their natural counterparts. All the good fats, such as the popular Omega-3's, are found in high concentrations on free range animals who are fed a diet that is consistent with what the animals would eat naturally.

The worst are the artificially produced fats, such as trans fats, hydrogenated oils.

Health and weight loss cannot be determined solely by a linear accounting for calories. The kinds of foods you eat affect your metabolism and can change the way your body manages the calories you take in.

It is crucial to secure good fats and oils in your diet--olive oil, cod liver oil, and fats with good concentrations of omega-3's, such as any fat from grass fed beef or naturally raised animals. Avoid factory-farmed animals and the fat that comes with them.