Rogue Nuns

A plaque at Plaza Mayor depicting the punishment inflicted on the unorthodox during the time of The Spanish Inquisitions

The Vatican recently accused U. S. nuns, specifically the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), of radical feminism because they focus more on the human rights and the poor, rather than pushing Church doctrine against contraception and homosexuals. 

This was the lead article that I was reading on my iPhone that was streaming from The National Catholic Reporter the day that I happened to be sitting in Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain. The irony did not escape me. The Vatican, particularly arch-conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke and pedophile protector Cardinal Bernard Law, is now targeting “rogue nuns”. As I sat in the very place that The Spanish Inquisitions took place, I couldn’t help but think that Burke and Law, like Ferdinand and Isabella, must feel very confident that they are purifying the Church and maintaining Catholic Orthodoxy – cleansing it of those who would dare to question the hierarchy.

God bless our rogue nuns! What the bishops fail to realise is that WE are the Church and that WE have been heavily shaped by the love and nurturing of those religious women in our lives. Cradle Catholics like myself were often taught by sisters who sacrificed their personal lives to enrich our own. My own three aunts were Sisters of The Most Precious Blood and tirelessly gave of themselves day in and day out – building up the Kingdom of God on earth. But mostly the nuns that I knew (and know) loved us. Lived with us. Laughed with us. Cried with us. And faced the joy and heartache of life with us. If they questioned official Church teaching it was only because they walked with us as we ourselves questioned a hierarchy that at times seems woefully out of touch with our lives.

So bring it on Vatican! Silence the nuns! Demand obedience above all! Threaten excommunication! But the love that these women have inspired and The Church that they have built will never go away!

I think of my Aunts Lucy, Noel, and Gene Marie and thank God daily for their presence in my life. I think of great teachers: Thecla – who inspired in me a love of architecture and design (and was instrumental in my career choice), Jeanine – who gave me the opportunity to speak in public (some folks wish I would shut up now), Fidesta – who always made learning fun (even when she was a little bit scary), and so many more. I think of friends like Lucille who gave my family refuge when I transferred to Wisconsin for a new job (and left Deb alone with 3 small kids), Nivard who welcomed me to a new city when I was feeling very alone. And Helen, Dorothy, Mary, Ruth, Annette, Carol, Cindy, and countless others that have lived, loved, laughed, cried and walked with me.

We all know that the Spanish Inquisitions were really about power and never about love. The WE that is The Church will never abandon the Sisters that have built US. And loved US.

Come Holy Spirit Come!

Peace,

Denis

Holidays, holidays and Bank Holidays…

No one in the U.K. takes a vacation. They go on holiday (small “h” – pronounced “haytch”). Which is, you know, a vacation. We celebrate Holidays in the U.S. – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, etc. (capital “H” – pronounced “aytch”). And then there are Bank Holidays in the U.K. which are similar to our Holidays; Boxing Day, Whit Monday, and St. David’s Day (in Wales) to name a few. So here in England we go on holiday and we have Holidays but those are called Bank Holidays. Are you still following me? It all gets very complicated for this American.

Dancing in honour of Her Majesty in Warwickshire

Of course the Bank Holiday that we’re most looking forward to here in the United Kingdom is The Queen’s Jubilee. Next Monday and Tuesday we will have two days to celebrate Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne. Already many towns and villages have begun celebrations. Union Jacks and bunting abound! Street fairs, barbeques, and garden parties are being held in honour of Her Majesty.

But it has occurred to me that celebrations for Elizabeth’s Jubilee are not that different from our Memorial Day celebrations in the U.S. in the sense that the reason for the holiday seems to sometimes be lost in the revelry. Do we really pause on Memorial Day to remember our fallen heroes – those who have offered the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom? Is the dancing at the beer gardens in the village pubs truly a celebration of the Queen’s realm? I’m not so certain.

Memorial Day tends to be the official kick-off of summer in the United States. Swimming pools open. Burgers and corn-on-cob are grilled. School is out (or almost). Shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops are the order of the day. Of course we wave a flag or two but mostly it’s a day off work for most folks and a nice day to enjoy the outdoors.

I suppose that it doesn’t matter if EVERYONE celebrates the Holiday (or Bank Holiday, if you will) as it is intended. Lots of folks enjoy a day off at Christmas and it doesn’t diminish my celebration of my Saviour’s birth.

So grab a flag (or grab a beer) and hail the Queen or honour your war heroes. And remember at some point if you can’t give thanks for those being honoured on these special days, at least be thankful for the politicians who had the good sense to set aside some days for rest and celebration. You see – government’s not all bad.

Cheers,

Denis

International Man of Mystery

My job requires travel. I visit factories, construction sites, and customers wherever and whenever necessary. In the last three weeks I’ve been to Portugal, Germany and France. This week I travel to Spain. Next week perhaps a return trip to Germany or a quick trip to Italy. Based in England most of my travel is one day trips – one L O N G  D A Y ! I’m not complaining (well maybe a little bit) but traveling the way I do requires leaving my house here in England at 2:30 or 3:00 AM to catch a flight and spending most of the day traveling (planes, trains, and automobiles). Then I return the same day at midnight (or 1:00 or 1:30AM – technically the next morning) only to repeat the process the next week or several days later. Eventually it catches up with you.

Of course on the weekends Deb and I like to see as much of England as we can, so we stay busy traveling around here, too. And I love it (mostly)!

You won’t find this in any Holiday Inn Express Lobby

My continental travels are almost always comical at some point. Like the time in Spain I was looking for a rest room: “Donde esta el bano, por favor?” only to be directed to the swimming suits or bath towels in a major department store. Turns out ‘aseo’ is the Spanish word for restroom – seems I was asking where I could take a bath. Or in Portugal when I spread some kind of creamy cheese all over my bread thinking it was butter. My hosts were quite amused – apparently you eat it with a spoon like yoghurt. In Germany I have stayed in a hotel (?) that looks like something out of Grimm’s Fairytales. I got busted taking pictures of the dining room and lobby. The proprietor must have thought I was some kind of corporate hotel spy: “Was ist los!!??” I just thought the place was quaint but didn’t know a way to politely tell her without sounding insulting.

So I stumble along, nodding, smiling, pointing at items on menus, signs, and maps. God only knows what kind of idiot I must appear to be to my “new friends”. But even though most of my international travel contains much mystery, I occasionally learn something new along the way and try to remember it for next time. And I pray that my guardian angel is multilingual. I miss the ease of traveling in the U.S. but sometimes even that can be challenging, so I tuck my ‘Rick Steves Guide to Europe’ in my briefcase along with my Google Translator app and trudge along. How lost can I get?

Safe Travels,

Denis

Cautionary Tale

We have toured a lot of churches in Europe. A whole lot. And I love each and every one of them. Most of these churches, abbeys and cathedrals are old. Some are ancient. All are magnificent. But sadly many seem to be more like museums than active places of worship. Some don’t even have regular services – maybe two or three Sundays per month. And some of the congregations seem as old as some of the buildings.

These churches, abbeys and cathedrals represent centuries of Christian worship that time has seemed to have forgotten. Why? How can so many of these grand structures be empty, hollow remnants of their former glory? Where are the faithful?

My workmates marvel at my Catholicism. And further, they have the notion that most folks in the United States are very religious and avid church-goers. Not quite sure where they got that impression. They are more curious than disrespectful of my beliefs; however the comments by some veer toward contempt. “No Church would tell me how to live!”

All Saints Church in Oaksey, Wiltshire                     Ancient and mostly empty

So when touring these beautiful sanctuaries and contemplating the lack of public displays of faith I am conflicted. Did people grow tired of a Church that was more interested in control than service? Did the Church focus their attention more on the ‘haves’ than the ‘have-nots’? Did common folk grow weary of trying to walk in lock-step with a hierarchy that was increasingly out of touch with their lives and needs?

I believe that in our American Catholic Church today we risk alienation of millions of faithful by increasingly focusing on our “worthiness” and forgetting the real message of Jesus. After all the Church is us – the faithful; not just the priests, bishops and cardinals. The Church should embrace all of us; not exclude us because we may have listened to our consciences and made informed decisions that might not be in keeping with strict church teaching. Let us not forget that God has gifted us with intellect. Sometimes discernment means more than just following the rules.

And finally, never forget the power of love. Love unites us, heals our wounds, and binds our hearts. And love should influence all of the decisions in our lives. Let’s fill our churches, abbeys, and cathedrals with love. Then perhaps they won’t someday become little more than curiosities.

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. ~Thomas Merton

Peace,

Denis

April In Paris

Two weeks ago Deb and I fulfilled a life-long dream. We went to Paris. The real Paris; the one in France.

Turns out the real thing is way cooler than the ‘Paris Hotel and Casino’ in Las Vegas or the Paris section of Epcot in DisneyWorld. But part of me kept expecting to see Louis Jourdan or Leslie Caron stepping out of a five-star hotel with Charles Boyer or Maurice Chevalier at their side. I suppose I thought that La Vie En Rose would be playing on every corner. Everyone wearing berets and eating baguettes.

Growing up in the sixties Paris was the epitome of class and style. Everything French was fabulous. I watched movies like ‘Gigi’ and ‘An American in Paris’ and ‘Paris When It Sizzles’ and all of the ‘Pink Panther’ movies. I thought that French Provincial furniture was the pinnacle of design and good taste. And Paris fashion was, well, haute couture. Everything that was French or Parisian seemed to me to be jet-set, sophisticated and très bon. For a boy living in a small town in the Midwest it sadly also seemed unattainable.

Of course as I got older my perception of Paris has changed but only slightly. No longer did I expect to see the Hollywood version of Paris but a more crowded, grittier, busier, less glamorous version.

Turns out most of my assumptions were wrong. Paris is beautiful and very assessable. Most of the major tourist attractions are an easy walk or Metro ride away. Like London and New York it is a busy city but not overly crowded (at least where we were). Generally speaking the hotel staff, café waiters and museum personnel that we encountered were friendly, helpful and appreciative of our feeble attempts to speak a few words of French.

But being there – walking through the streets of Paris is hard to put into words. I just kept being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it all. The monuments – Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, The Obelisk in The Place de la Concorde were all more impressive in person than what I have seen in photos. Notre-Dame Cathedral and The Louvre are simply magnificent. The River Seine was amazing. And a personal delight were all the statues, plaques, and place-names in honor of St. Denis patron saint of Paris.

But being in the ‘City of Love’ with the one that I love was the greatest experience of all. Deb and I started out young, poor and in love. Dreams of one day walking arm in arm through Paris seemed like that – just a dream. But there we were.

Sometimes dreams do come true…

And by the way, we did eat baguettes and listened to La Vie En Rose compliments of someone playing an accordion on the streets. It was sublime.

La paix et l’amour,

Denis

 

Ten Things Americans Should Know About England

After living here for 4 months, I am now of course an expert on all things British. Please don’t be intimidated by my vast knowledge of the culture, the geography, the history and the people of this great place; this Great Britain. Just learn from my wisdom.

Here are (in my exalted opinion) the top ten things Americans should know about England:

  1. Brits don’t understand (or care to understand) anything about American baseball. Don’t try to explain it to them, it will only make you crazy (or in English parlance: mad). Really, don’t bother.
  2. No one in England drinks beer from a bottle. They may drink it from a (sometimes less than clean) glass at a dodgy pub but they won’t drink it from a bottle. Only Americans and Barbarians drink beer from bottles.
  3. Left is right. The origin of driving on the left allegedly has something to do with jousting but that sounds like bollocks to me. I think it’s retaliation for our Independence from England – that and the bloody roundabouts. Just remember to stay on the left and yield to the right – you’ll be fine.
  4. “I need to spend a penny.” A quaint expression meaning ‘to use a public toilet’. Never leave the house without 20 or 30 pence in your pocket. Most toilets don’t give change and none take bills even though there have been times I would have gladly paid £5 for much-needed relief.
  5. People are really very friendly. If you’re in London you may not encounter the most welcoming folks but it’s no different from New York. When’s the last time someone in New York held a door for you or smiled at you? Plus the majority of people you’ll encounter in London are likely tourists. If you want friendly, come to the towns and villages. People there are truly nice; proud of their homes; and happy to meet you. Plus a pint is cheaper in a pub in the Cotswolds or Midlands than some posh pub in Central London.
  6. Don’t wear big white tennis shoes. Also don’t wear your favourite team’s jersey or T-shirt unless of course it’s Manchester United or Liverpool (but then you could still be in for a fight). The white tennis shoes and “I love Opryland” T-shirt just makes you a target for ridicule, not to mention pick-pockets.
  7. Brown Sauce. The most popular brand, HP, has a malt vinegar base, blended with tomato, dates, tamarind, and spices. Good on everything, particularly fish and chips.
  8. Garden Centres. Not to be confused with the garden center at your local Home Depot or Lowes. This is not just an area of the parking lot cordoned off for seasonal sales of shrubberies and manure.  These are permanent structures with toys, apparel, garden furniture, giftware, butcher counters, bakeries, wine bars, cafes and playgrounds for the kiddies. Additionally they sell plants, flowers, shrubberies and all other garden necessities.
  9. “You alright?” The equivalent to our “Morning, how are ya?” or “Hi!” No real response is expected here. Just a “Hi” or “Fine, and you?” will suffice. Or “Okay.” It’s one of those mindless greetings that we are all familiar with. No one really wants to know ‘how you are’ or ‘if you are alright’.
  10. Long Live The Queen! Although it’s been bandied-about that the Royalty is outdated or unnecessary; don’t be confused. She’s beloved. She’s an institution. And Elizabeth has NEVER brought dishonor to the Crown. Suggestions that she should step down and let Charles become King are ridiculous and American. Her Diamond Jubilee is receiving more press here than the 2012 London Olympics. Plus two days off work!

Who can resist the charm of an English pub?

I hope that this helps those of you that are planning travel here, or even better, those of you contemplating “taking the plunge” and actually moving here as we have.

We’re traveling to Paris this weekend and then I have business in Portugal next week. Stay tuned for my Continental wisdom. Rick Steves – watch your back!

Cheers,

Denis

Alleluia!

Easter. Spring. Rebirth. Resurrection. New Life. Alleluia!

On Easter Sunday after six weeks of Lent, the Alleluia returned. Triumphantly we proclaimed that He is risen – He is risen indeed! And we sang Alleluia. And we shouted Amen!

Easter Joy!

This Easter Sunday was exceptional because I was shouting and singing Alleluia because He is risen and because we were re-united with our children and grandchildren. All the more reason to shout Amen! And so there is new life and rebirth and hope and joy and love in our lives. We are experiencing the eternal springtime that we find in Christ.

Next week we will head back to England but we will carry with us a rejuvenated spirit in our hearts and we will fill our home there with it until we are re-united again. Don’t misunderstand me. Our life in England is good. And we are thoroughly enjoying it all – the travel, the sightseeing, the new experiences, the new people but I miss my life here, too.

So this week we are savoring simple pleasures and quiet moments. We are sharing time with family and friends and filling up those empty places in our soul. And it is wonderful. And being here this week and tucking my grandkids in at night after bathtime and bedtime stories and prayers is the sweetest reward life has afforded me. It’s God’s gift to me; so precious and true. And waking up to smiles and hugs and kisses. And chants of “Pawpaw, Pawpaw, Pawpaw!” is music to my ears.

We’ll head back to England next week and make more memories and have some experiences of a lifetime (I hope). And we’ll remind ourselves (most days) how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.

And when we get homesick and melancholy we’ll remember that just like the Alleluia, our life here will return, too.

Peace,

Denis

English to English Translation

I’m learning to speak English (proper English) but more importantly I’m learning to understand it. There have been a few embarrassing moments (like when I asked a work mate what his brother’s medical speciality was upon learning he was an M.D. – turns out M.D. means Managing Director – I think he’s a real estate developer) but more often I just vaguely understand what is being said. So I am often dependent upon context clues but I’m learning some new words and old words with new meanings (to me anyway).

Here are a few examples:

Shortly after arriving here I was driving to work and listening to the radio. The traffic report warned of a bonnet on the Motorway and that traffic was being diverted to avoid it. I wondered aloud, “Who still wears bonnets?” “Maybe there’s an Amish community nearby?” “And why can’t cars just drive over it?” Of course now I know that a ‘bonnet’ is the hood of a car. Also the ‘boot’ is the trunk. Too bad – because “junk in your boot” just isn’t as poetic!

‘Cheers’ is not just a toast but means ‘thanks’ or ‘good day’. Sort of an all-purpose greeting. Like ciao or aloha.

‘Fancy’ means ‘I would like’ something. As in, “I fancy a cup of tea and a scone!” Whereas  something fancy is ‘posh’. As in, “My favourite Spice Girl is Posh Spice!” Besides, Fancy Spice sounds stupid. ‘Posh Spice’ just sounds a little dated and very 1990’s now that Posh is married to Beckham and they have little Spices and Becks.

‘Mad’ means ‘crazy’. No explanation required unless you’re mad.

‘Brilliant’ – everything and everyone is ‘brilliant’ or wants to be.

‘Keen’ means ‘I love it/I like it/I want it/I covet it’. As in, “I’m keen on Adele’s latest Album.” “Or I’m keen to see Season 3 of Downton Abbey.”

You should never wear a ‘fanny pack’ here in the UK or refer to one – ‘fanny’ means ‘vagina’ and this could be very embarrassing for all involved.

‘Knackered’ means ‘worn out’ or ‘tired’ but getting ‘kicked in the knackers’ means something else entirely.

A ‘bap’ in a bakery is a roll but don’t ask the woman behind the bakery counter if you can see her ‘baps’, that will likely get you a ‘kick in the knackers’!

A ‘bloke’ is a guy. A ‘bird’ is a young woman. A ‘duffer’ is not a golfer but a ‘geezer’. An old lady might be called a ‘twirly’ because they show up at the Post Office at half past eight and exclaim, “Am I too early???” (pronounced twirly)

Of course I’ve learned much of my new English from my work mates but the bulk of it is from watching English television. Probably not the best way to learn the language but at times it is very entertaining. My favourite adverts (they’re not called commercials here) are Aldi or Dulux. They’re brilliant!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssnxi2eDV9g

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCKgCkubGc0

I must admit that the accents and regional dialects can be a real challenge. And it’s complicated further by the Welsh, Irish and Scottish folks that we encounter. Just about the time we think we have a handle on the language we encounter a shop clerk or neighbour that we can’t understand. Of course they probably just think that Deb is a ‘twirly’ and that I’m a ‘duffer’.

Cheers,

Denis

Contemplating Stonehenge

Last Sunday we visited Stonehenge. And I must admit that initially I wasn’t all that thrilled about seeing it. My mates here in England apparently have traveled to Stonehenge through the years on school trips, family outings, etc. and have “seen enough of it”. Some friends in America who have toured the site reported that “it wasn’t worth the trip”. So even though Stonehenge is just an hour from where we live, I hadn’t been highly motivated to make the journey south. What could I see there that I hadn’t already seen in books or documentaries?

But all my preconceptions were wrong! Stonehenge is massive, that I knew, but the magnitude of the work involved in carrying and assembling the stones is astonishing. More interesting to me of course is the ‘why’?

The true purpose of Stonehenge remains a mystery. The massive stone circle was erected 4,500 years ago by ancient people using simple tools. Was it a temple, or a burial site or maybe some kind of solar calendar?

Legends and theories abound. One of my favourites is that the wizard Merlin magically transported it to Wiltshire from Ireland. Some folks believe aliens built it as some sort of celestial observatory. Others are convinced that it is some great spiritual destination and that stones have healing powers (we even encountered a few self-proclaimed Druids on our journey).

Walking through Stonehenge I was struck with a great sense of loss. These giant stones were assembled by ancient people using tremendous strength, spending countless hours, and employing precision calculations. This must have been an important place! How sad that today we have lost whatever significance was once attributed to this great monument?

Will our own churches, mosques, and temples someday only be a curiosity to future generations? Will our places of worship become just tourist destinations? Will they someday only be a place for smiling photos with friends with no consideration of the significance of our beliefs?

Recent trips to great cathedrals, abbeys, and ancient churches have made me ponder if my own Church is not at risk of someday becoming extinct. As I’ve walked through many hallowed buildings it seems there is more tourism than worship; more photography than prayer; more indifference than belief.

I believe that Stonehenge may be a cautionary tale. Were the “men in charge” more interested in ‘the rules’ than they were in the worshippers? Were some people deemed unworthy and forbidden entrance to this sacred place? Did Stonehenge become a center for intolerance, derision, oppression, discrimination and hatred based on nonconformity or failure to walk in lock-step with those in authority? Were wars and tyranny justified in the name of Stonehenge?

In my opinion, my church, the Catholic Church, can avoid becoming obsolete (and a hollow ruin) by embracing the love that Christ preached. We should be building bridges; not walls. We should be reaching out to all peoples with open arms; not turning our backs on those with whom we disagree.

During this Lenten season I am trying once again to embrace Jesus’ love for all. And struggling in my own humble, flawed way to follow His tremendous example. I’m reminded that God didn’t create me to hate me. Why should I be any less loving to others?

Peace,

Denis

A Tale of Two Countries

At home again in England after a week of traveling in the United States. And this feels like home now (albeit a quiet one without kids or grandkids) because Deb has filled this place with love and comfort that only her special touch can provide.

So now I’m a man living in two countries at one time. My heart is in both places and my head – well my head bounces back and forth between the two – how to drive; how to speak; what to eat; how to tip; what to watch on the Tele (or T.V.); etc, etc.

Traveling to America with my work-mates was great fun. I felt like a cross between a tour guide and an indulgent parent. In New York between customer visits we managed to see The Word Trade Center, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Times Square (at least twice), Bryant Park, The Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In St. Louis they were forced to go on “The Denis Wilhelm Boyhood Tour” complete with a drive past most of the important places of my youth. In Las Vegas (well what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas) let’s just say a good time was had by all.

A bittersweet goodbye

A bittersweet goodbye

Of course for me the best part of the trip was the evening I spent with my daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and grandson. Deb was there, too (she had spent the week with them while I was traveling about). The welcome that I received from Anna and Noah can’t be put into words. It’s suffice to say that their cheers of “Pawpaw, Pawpaw, Pawpaw!” are still ringing in my ears and will live in my heart forever. And my tears of joy were mixed with sorrow the next morning on my departure.

In New York I had the opportunity to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and while there amidst all the grandeur I found myself missing St. Peter Church in Cirencester (our tiny Catholic Church here in England) and wondered if others there were missing their home churches, too. It’s odd (to me) that I didn’t think first of St. Joseph in Cottleville – our U.S. church.

So I’m happy to be back in England and I know that I can leave and return and leave again because there’s a piece of me in both places now. And I believe that’s how it should be.

Peace,

Denis