Sunday, July 12, 2015

Jesus Cures My Paralyses

 This morning this Gospel passage came to mind during silent worship:

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.  Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—  “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”  And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mk 2: 1-12 (NRSV)

    That's quite a dramatic scene.  Jesus "speaking the word" to the crowd when suddenly this mat with a man lying on it starts to descend in front of him.  (Jesus didn't notice some bits of mud falling on his head? Or maybe he chose to ignore it.)  And the first thing Jesus says to the paralytic is "Your sins are forgiven."  Why?  Maybe because back then people considered illness and misfortune as a result of sinful behavior?  Or perhaps Jesus read into the man's heart and knew he was troubled by past sins and wanted to assure him of the Father's forgiveness. Either way, this healing is highly charged with symbolism. I often feel paralyzed -- if not by some current dilemma or inability to decide which course to take, then quite often by the memory of part wrongdoing on my part for which I am still berating myself. Jesus' assurance that I am forgiven, that the Father is not waiting to reprove or scold or punish me is a powerful gift that cures my paralysis.

   Picking up the mat is also a detail rich in meaning.  It signifies taking into my hands that thing I was leaning on, the bad habit or other false consolation, the excuse for not doing what I've been prompted to do -- taking it into my hands and purposefully putting it aside. I will lean on it no longer.

   "Go to your home."  Stop hanging around, wasting time where you don't belong (physically or mentally).  Go to where you need to be, accomplish the things you were meant to accomplish.

   I see a similar symbolism behind the stories of Jesus' restoring the widow's son and Lazarus to life. Jesus conquers the lifelessness caused by unrelieved remorse for past sins and restores my spiritual and psychic vitality.  I can move, act, experience life in all its fullness and be a companion and collaborator with others.

    "Your sins are forgiven."  Again, that central and most important message of Jesus' ministry. The Father doesn't hold grudges. He's not the great Scorekeeper in the sky. New beginnings are possible. I can move on.

Image source:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

There's no loneliness where she's gone

The five of us graduated together from the same master's program...back in 1977. We've all stayed in the same area, although life events would cause us to drift out of touch now and then. Still, every once in awhile, we'd have a reunion at a restaurant and catch one another up on our happenings. More recently, we made this a ritual a couple of times each year, especially on birthdays. So, although we were not very, very close, we were in touch and cared about one another. That's what makes it so difficult to understand why she never told any of us about her breast cancer in 2008 or its more recent recurrence. This week we all got a phone call from one of her relatives letting us know that she had passed away. The funeral had already taken place. The family wanted to keep it private.

Did we fail her in some way, I wonder? Why did she feel she had to go through it all alone? Perhaps she was very depressed and --in a downward thought spiral-- believed that even we wouldn't care. We would have.

I cannot imagine her pain and loneliness. But I believe that there is no loneliness where she now dwells.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Just One of the Usual Suspects

This past week has been so hectic that my Megabus journey to D.C. seems like ages ago.  Before too many more day pass, just want to record my trip to our nation's capital to celebrate   protest the 13th anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Despite the recent release of about a dozen prisoners, 127 still remain, most of them held for over a decade without criminal charge. WAIT!  JUST IN-  make that 122, as 5 more Yemenis were transferred out this week. 

   There was a great deal of focus on Shaker Aamar, the last remaining UK resident detainee, who remains in Gitmo although twice cleared for release.

   I've been doing this twice a year for the last five years or so. It's gotten so that I know many of my fellow human rights activists by name: Jeremy, Matt, Beth. I'm proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

Heard Andy Worthington speak passionately about the moral imperative of closing Gitmo and the disgraceful, outrageous facts revealed by the Senate's recent report on CIA torture.  Other speakers included Debra Sweet of The World Can't Wait, Rev Ron Stief of National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Noor Mir from Amnesty International.

    Witness Against Torture has created a video collection of the speakers' remarks here.  I can only echo what they say and add my heartfelt wish that this be the LAST Close Gitmo rally!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


They went to buy food
     how could they possibly know
     Death was in the bag?

Attentats : les noms des victimes de l'épicerie casher dévoilés

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Scribblings in the sky
    bleed red. On earth pens, candles   
    held high...sad, defiant

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Our country's torture policy explained

Thought I'd start the new year out right by sharing my enhanced understanding of our country's EITs (or enhanced interrogation techniques).  Thanks to Vice President Cheney's Meet the Press interview of 14 December, I am much clearer regarding our country's torture policy.  In addition, I thoroughly comprehend now why a majority of my fellow countrymen/women are totally down with it.

Here's our policy, simply stated:

1. Our country does not torture.  Our country will sometimes use techniques that stop short of our definition of torture: the physical pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."  In other words, we only "torture" (quotation marks required), but we never torture.*

2.  We "torture" to save our asses.**

3.  If "torture" cannot save our asses, it's at least worth a try.***

4.  If we sometimes torture innocent people, well, it's an honest mistake.  Besides, those guys have brown skin and Arab names, so they don't count.****

5.  We can "torture" because we're the good guys.*****  No one else is permitted to torture or even to "torture."

Stellar statements

* "We were very careful to stop short of torture.... All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were, in effect, blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those without, in fact, committing torture."  Transcript of Meet the Press Interview

**"Our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States."

*** (excerpt of Senate Torture Report) "A review of C.I.A. cables and other C.I.A. records found that the use of the C.I.A.'s enhanced interrogation technique played no role in the identification of Jose Padilla or the thwarting of the dirty bomb or the tall buildings plot."

 ****Chuck Todd: "25% of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released...Is that too high? You're okay with that margin for error?"  Mr. Cheney: "I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective."

*****"Chuck, if you look at it and you look at what the people running the agency said and what Jose Rodriguez said who ran the program, he's a good man."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tortured haiku

Pain inflicted on
  foreign bodies, not human
  Bring the cleansing rain

Muscle, sinew, soul
   torn, punctured, quashed. Is there no
   Balm in Gilead?

Haiku of the season

Scent of evergreen
  pepperminted chocolate
  Now just need a hearth

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Italian Hypertype Hit Parade

  I’m concluding a Coursera course entitled "Latino Popular Culture for the Clueless." The instructors, Frederick Luis Aldama and Paloma Martinez-Cruz, are from Ohio State University and they're really fantastic. Aldama has written over a dozen books, many of them in the collection of the library where I work.

  To sensitize us to ways that Latinos are stereotyped in the media, the instructors have us doing assignments about stereotypes of our own ethnic background.  The last assignment was a “hypertype”  -- in other words, a super souped-up stereotype.  We had a choice of submitting an image, a poem, or a sound file.  So I put together clips of stereotypical Italian songs.  Ironically, some of them are sung by Italian-American singers, like Louis Prima and Joe Dolce (who emigrated to Australia).  We had to write an essay too, talking about how the elements of the hypertype express our identity and also our “otherness” with respect to the dominant culture.

  I also learned about the website, where you can upload sound files and also search and download others.

   While I've learned a lot about Latino pop culture, this course has really been an opportunity for me to spend time reflecting on my own feelings and relationship to my own Italian-American culture ...reflections that I've avoided for quite a while, as some of the experiences are painful. There are Italian-American writers whose works I've also bypassed for the same reason.  However I now feel ready to approach them without fear.

Track 1 - Tarantella - traditional
Track 2 - Where Do You Work-a, John? sung by Louis Prima
Track 3 - Shaddup-a You Face - Sung by Joe Dolce
Track 4 - That's Amore - Sung by Dean Martin
Track 5 - C'e la luna mezz 'u mar - Sung by Jimmy
Track 6 - Theme from film The Godfather - composer: Nino Rota
Track 7 - La Bohème, Act 2 Finale - composer: Giacomo Puccini

The Italian immigrants that came to America at the end of the nineteenth century originated principally from the regions of Abruzzo, Molise, Campagna, Basilicata, Apulia, and Calabria, located in central and southern Italy, as well as Sicily. My maternal great-grandmother came from the town of La Fara San Martino, a town in Abruzzo known for the De Cecco pasta factory. My father's family came from this region as well.

This hit parade is an expression of that is often a love-hate relationship with my Italian heritage. The hit parade starts, of course, with a traditional tarantella. Track 2 (with echos of the tarantella in its introduction) and Track 3 hold a great sense of identity for me, as they remind me of my great-aunts and uncles who spoke English with a strong Abruzzese accent. I have my doubts about the affections of Tin Pan Alley composer Harry Warren who wrote “Where Do You Work-a, John?” And the scolding Italian mamma is --well-- something I know too well. So I sort of feel that it exposes family secrets to the greater public. However, when sung by Louis Prima and Lou Monte, songs like these strike me as inside jokes. Children of immigrants, these performers felt secure enough in their American identity that they could laugh affectionately both at and with their elders.

On the other hand, I feel the “otherness” in the memory of the menial jobs Italian immigrants held when they came to this country, and I think of Latinos currently supporting themselves and their families at low-wage jobs. My grandmother and her sisters and brothers worked in the garment factories of Philadelphia. They did piece work, and my grandmother told me how she would limit her trips to the bathroom so as not to miss the next shirt coming down the assembly line. While I have fond memories of their accented English, I also know that it is a stereotype evoking lack of education and a lower socioeconomic status. Dr. Aldama reminds us that Latinos do not all come from Mexico or Puerto Rico, but from other countries of Central and South America as well. Many Americans also do not realize that Italians who have emigrated more recently come from the northern regions and have a very different accent when speaking English.

“That’s Amore” (Track 4) evokes the Italy of romance and the stereotype of the great Italian lovers, like the Latin lovers mentioned in one of last week’s videos. Dean Martin, of course, projected this stereotype, as did Rudolph Valentino, Rossano Brazzi, and Marcello Mastroianni. By the way, take a moment to savor the mandolin and the tambourines –the stereotypical Italian instruments-- in “That’s Amore.” “C’è la luna mezz ‘u mare” (Track 5) is sung in Sicilian dialect. I found many interpretations on the Internet, but I liked this one the best, although I have no idea who the singer “Jimmy” is. This song is sung in one of the early scenes of the film The Godfather and is associated with Italian weddings, although few people know that it is full of double entendres. My grandmother, who learned to understand many Italian dialects while working in the garment factory, told me that “it was fun” when this song came out. The lyrics are a conversation between a mother and daughter. The moon is full and shimmering on the surface of the sea (c’e la luna mezz ‘u mare), and the girl is feeling romantic. She tells her mother she wants to get married and her mother starts to tick off various suitors... commenting on the sexual appetite of each. The reality is that the Italian immigrant milieu of my grandmother’s time was very strict and sex was not a subject of polite conversation. This song was fun because everyone got the double meanings and could share a knowing laugh.

Track 6, the theme from The Godfather. This is the most difficult song for me to discuss. I abhor the stereotype of the Italian as Mafioso, an image similar –perhaps—to the bandido, as described by Dr. Martinez-Cruz. I have seen only the first film of the Godfather trilogy. While I must acknowledge Coppola’s cinematic talents, I am appalled that there are Italian-Americans who find the Mafia a source of pride. I have not bought into the dynasty of Mafioso products spawned by the Coppola series, nor have I watched a single episode of the TV series The Sopranos. (OK, end of rant.)

Giacomo Puccini hailed from Torre del Lago in Tuscany, not my family’s place of origin. However, my first exposure to Italian opera was through 78-rpm Victrola recordings that belonged to my grandfather, and it was love from the first scratchy earful. Since La Bohème is my favorite work, I thought I’d bring this love-hate hit parade to a close with the rousing Act II finale.

I'm grateful for the insights I've acquired in this course. Learning the meaning behind the Dia de los Muertes and the Quinceañera celebrations has helped me understand and appreciate the lived experience of Latinos/as.

Grazie for listening and reading!


"C’è la luna mezz ‘u mare.” (Traditional). Sung by Jimmy. mp3

Dolce, Joe. “Shaddup-a You Face.” mp3

“Harry Warren.” Wikipedia.

“Napoletana Tarantella.” (Traditional). mp3

Puccini, Giacomo. Act II, Finale. La Bohème. Thomas Schippers, Conductor. Opera d’Oro, OPD-1143. 
       1969, reissued 1998. CD

Rota, Nino. Theme from The Godfather, 1972. mp3

Warren, Harry. Lyrics by Jack Brooks. “That’s Amore.” Sung by Dean Martin. mp3
Downloaded from Amazon

__________. “Where Do You Work-a, John?” Sung by Louis Prima. The Wildest 75. mp3 downloaded
from Amazon

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The magic will go on

It was hard to distinguish the tears from the sweat this morning. Another rockin' Zumba class led by the incomparable Julie White at Unique Phyzique, only the most fun fitness studio in PA if not the world. However, hugs and fond farewells followed today's class, the last until UP opens its doors at a new location in the (hopefully) near future.

So, along with so many other UP members, I'm sending my very best wishes to Julie and husband John for success in their future ventures. And to the owners of that little strip of business real estate on Rt. 30, expect a large water bill getting it to cool down!

Speaking of which, today's cool-down was "Magic" by Cold Play.  And indeed, the magic will go on...

(BTW, if you have to develop arthritis in your knees, I highly recommend Zumba as the most entertaining way to do it and the easiest way to remain blissfully oblivious to the symptoms.)