Vie de l'église

‘Grief is the price you pay for love’

My wife Vickie died eight months ago. At first, the sense of her presence was as palpable as my heartbeat. She was in heaven, sure, but she was also here, there, everywhere. That awareness lasted a week. Then it faded. I felt dull and rarely left the apartment.

Grief is more than missing someone. It’s the thought that you have lost someone or something essential to what you are here for.

I didn’t want to do anything. I forced myself to do the basics. I made my bed right away, shaved and got dressed. I ate cereal with strawberries and read The New York Times with a cup of Folgers coffee, just like always. Then … I didn’t know what to do. I was still asleep and couldn’t wake up. 

Grief is a snake that you deny is slithering around your spine, paralyzing you. You don’t want to believe it. After all, wasn’t I grieving for 20 years as I watched my best friend slowly disappear in the grip of Alzheimer’s? Wasn’t that enough?

Grief is being in a movie and watching your leading lady walk off the screen. You don’t know what your role in the movie is any more.

Vickie and I used to love to go to the movies in the early afternoon, when few — if any — people were there. We would share a bowl of hot buttered popcorn and an iced Coke sipped through the same straw. But soon Vickie could no longer keep track of the plot of the picture or the storyline of her own life. I’d let her know what was happening. « Shhh, » she’d say, « I’m watching a movie. » 

The days after her death on Oct. 27, 2022, when her presence was still as real as the vivid colors of the season, I wrote about how she had let me know she would always be with me, and that love wanted me to keep on living. I haven’t written anything since. I didn’t know what to write. Even now, the words come out of my fingertips in slivers. 

I have pretended to be OK. Why drag others into my dreary movie? « How are you doing? » they ask. « Fine, » I say. If I say that often enough, maybe it will be so. What did Zooey Glass say to his actress sister Franny when she was so depressed, she couldn’t get out of bed? « The only thing you can do now, the only religious thing you can do, is act. Act for God, if you want to — be God’s actress if you want to. What could be prettier? »

That’s me. The actor. 

My heart tells me it’s time to change the reel. It’s time to get real again, and plead to God that I need his grace to wake up. It isn’t easy to wake up when a movie puts you to sleep. I can’t snap out of it like Nicolas Cage in « Moonstruck » when Cher slapped him in the face. I don’t want a slap. I want a kiss.

I know if I close my eyes and ask God sincerely, no holds barred, to tell me what I need to know to be awake, God will. I haven’t done that in eight months. I will now. Hold on …

God answered me: « You can’t do this for a column you’re writing. »

OK then. How do I escape the blues? American philosopher Cornel West describes the blues as a song of despair that is not despair. It is « a naming of the pain. » It is singing, « I can’t go on. I will go on. I can’t go on. I will go on. » West is paraphrasing a line from Waiting for Godot. 

I am waiting for God. I know it. I sing the blues but am lost, yearning for a way back home, to peace, assurance. I don’t want to just « go on. » I want to be like the prodigal son and climb out of the ditch and return home. I want my father to rush out of the house before I’m half way there and throw his arms around me and give me a kiss and make me a feast. « Son, » he’ll say, « In my eyes you never left me! »

I can’t scratch my way out the ditch with my fingernails. I need God to raise me up on eagles’ wings. I need a Good Samaritan to stop by the side of the road and bind my wound and carry me home. I can’t wake up alone. 

Cencia, the caregiver from heaven via Haiti, stops by the apartment on Fridays after picking up Roobens from day care. Vickie had asked her to make sure I’d be alright. She asked me to make sure Cencia would be alright. Cencia’s goodness makes my burden light.

Cencia and Vickie were BFFs. She cleaned, clothed, fed and talked with Vickie as if Vickie were perfectly alright, and both of us held one of Vickie’s hands as the three of us watched « Ted Lasso » cheer everyone up. 

Four-year-old Roobens and I are buds. We play soldiers with the rubber Disney characters — Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Goofy — that my grand twins used to splash around with in the tub. Some Sunday afternoons, I take Cencia and Roobens and his big sisters Tanisha and Naomi down to the pool. Cencia puts water wings on Roobens and I pull him around the shallow water and teach him how to float. Cencia sits on the edge of a folding chair and holds a towel, like Veronica with her veil.

One Wednesday a month, I have lunch with two of my friends from our support group for husbands with wives who have Alzheimer’s. We’re widowers now. Len is a mensch and Gary is as sweet as the good fruit on the biblical fig tree. I always get scrambled eggs with bacon. Len gets a turkey club, and Gary studies the menu while we bust him. I used to think that only old friends could be best friends but that isn’t true. We are Simon of Cyrene to each other.

Yesterday afternoon, my old friend Jon was celebrating his 80th birthday with a flock of friends from everywhere. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to pretend to have fun with people I didn’t know. I didn’t want to disappoint Jon either. I put good clothes on at the last minute. On the way out, I hesitated at Vickie’s picture on the mantle. « I don’t want to go, sweetheart, it’s too far to drive. » Her voice whispered within me, like the voice that told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to an unknown country. « You have to go, » she said. « It will be good for you. »

Was she never wrong?

A spark of life ignited my soul at a birthday party I didn’t want to attend. I took that spark home and fanned it like the contestants do on « Survivor, » with the dry grass of my grief, the tinder of my joyful memories and the oxygen of connection with friends old and new. I’m still grieving, still in the movie, but as the late Rabbi Earl Grollman wrote, « Grief is the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. »

Experts say the grieving process can last from six months to four years. The greatest of them, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, said

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.

I’m sharing all this with you, my readers, because I love you and know that many of you, too, are grieving or suffering from unresolved grief. I hold your hand at the crossroad of hope and despair. We will wake up together. It’s alright. Your feelings are alright. Everything is going to be alright.

Vie de l'église

Pat Robertson played a part in the rise of conservative Christianity

The death of Pat Robertson on June 8 marks the end of an era. If the Scopes trial began the internal, cultural exile of most born-again Christians, the emergence of Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the last decades of the 20th century marked the reentry of conservative Christians into the mainstream culture. They both built empires, but Robertson’s lasted and was always larger.

Before Robertson and Falwell, the public face of religion in America had been liberal Christianity: Civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, and antiwar activist, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. After the rise of evangelical Christians like Robertson, the public image of Christianity was conservative, especially in the arena of politics. It still is.

When I was researching my biography of Falwell published in 2012, Robertson seemed always to be over Falwell’s shoulder. The two men had very different personal life stories. Falwell had been born into a poor family, while Robertson was the second son of a U.S. senator. Falwell attended a small Bible school in Missouri, but Robertson graduated magna cum laude at Washington and Lee University, and later went to Yale Law School. Robertson’s conversion coincided with his flunking the bar exam, so he went into ministry. Falwell’s empire lasted only about a decade, but Robertson started his first radio station in 1961 and grew it into the largest Christian network in the world. Falwell would always be at his best in the pulpit, but Robertson excelled in the conversational format of his « 700 Club » television show.

The two men also had very different theological perspectives. Falwell had a charismatic personality but his theology was strictly fundamentalist. Robertson was charismatic in both senses of the word. These differences were sharpest when Falwell first started building his empire. When he launched a glossy magazine, The Fundamentalist Journal, in 1982, editor Nelson Keener made clear in the first issue that the journal would avoid charismatic Christians like Robertson and Oral Roberts. The theological differences were foundational: What counted as authority? For Falwell, it was the literal reading of the biblical text and for Robertson it was the promptings of the Holy Spirit, which he thought would always cohere with the biblical text.

Despite the different foundations upon which they built, the two men and the religious movements they led converged when they turned to politics. Both believed the sexual revolution and other forms of social liberalism had eaten away at the moral fiber of the country, and if the country wished to return to greatness, the restoration needed to start with morals. Both men took an uncritical stance toward American power, whether it be military power exercised abroad or economic power exercised at home. Both swallowed some historical foolishness about the founding of the United States and endowed the Constitution with quasi-divine authority. In different ways, they helped forge the alliance between conservative Christians and the modern Republican Party.

This was the opposite of what happened to Catholics. Our entry into politics brought forth the ideological divisions among our co-religionists. Democratic Catholics and Republican Catholics both accept the revelation of Jesus Christ, expressed in Scripture and tradition and received with an authoritative magisterium. We Roman Catholics all believe in the seven sacraments. We put different emphases on the relationship of grace and nature, but reject neither. It is when we get into politics that we begin to argue.

Robertson was strategic and cool, where Falwell was enthusiastic and impulsive, but their common vision of what ailed America — both men saw AIDS as God’s retribution on gays for their lifestyle choices — allowed them to become more frenemies. Still, when Robertson decided to run for president in 1988, Falwell backed the mainstream George H.W. Bush over his fellow pastor. « I think Pat Robertson would make an excellent president, » Falwell told the press. « I just think George Bush would make a better one. » Falwell also liked to back a winner, and he thought, correctly, that Bush would snag the GOP nomination that year.

One of Falwell’s last, most regrettable media appearances came on Robertson’s « 700 Club. » It was a few days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In this instance, the two men agreed on the role of God’s providence. « God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve, » Falwell said. Robertson agreed. 

The dystopian vision that Donald Trump would later make his hallmark is sourced, in part, in this prophetic Christian vision Pat Robertson and others articulated: God would punish those who transgressed his purposes for America. Robertson was part of a long chain of preachers, stretching back to Increase and Cotton Mather, right through to Bishop Joseph Strickland today for whom America is a promised land beset by liberalism, and so bigotry becomes a sign of Christian virtue.

The people I interviewed for my book on Falwell all described Robertson as a gentleman, someone who was kind and encouraging to his colleagues. He was undoubtedly intelligent. The sincerity of his faith is beyond doubt. Still, he played a part in the coarsening of religious faith at a time when the culture was only too susceptible to such a coarsening, and that fact continues to harm the Christian churches. I hope he makes it to heaven. I also wish he had not failed that bar exam so many years ago.

Vie de l'église

Pope Francis ‘alert’ and resting well on day after hernia operation

Pope Francis is « alert » and resting well, the Vatican said on June 8, one day after the pope successfully underwent a three-hour operation to repair a hernia.

The 86-year-old pope entered Rome’s Gemelli hospital just before noon on Wednesday, June 7, for the previously announced operation. Later that evening, Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the surgeon who operated on the pontiff, told reporters that Francis had responded well to the surgery, was awake and even joking with the medics. 

The operation successfully removed the scars from his July 2021 surgery where he had a portion of his colon removed and was able to repair the hernia through the abdominal wall with the aid of a prosthetic mesh. 

A June 8 Vatican news bulletin said that the pope’s doctors continue to monitor his progress and that the pope has responded well to follow-up tests after getting a peaceful night of sleep. He is expected to spend the entirety of today continuing to convalesce in the special papal suite on the 10th floor of Rome’s Gemelli hospital. 

Alfieri told reporters that the typical recovery time for such an operation is between five to seven days. The Vatican has canceled all of the pope’s scheduled appointments until June 18. 

« The pope is informed of the messages of closeness and affection that have arrived in the last few hours and expresses his gratitude, asking at the same time to continue to pray for him, » said the Vatican communique. 

Vie de l'église

Pope Francis enters hospital for unannounced intestinal surgery

Pope Francis on June 7 was hospitalized at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, where he is scheduled to have surgery on his intestine later today and is expected to remain for a recovery of several days. 

News of the unexpected operation was announced by the Vatican just after 10am following the pope’s weekly general audience, and one day after the pope made an unannounced visit to the hospital on June 6 for what the Holy See Press Office later described as clinical tests. 

The 86-year-old Francis is scheduled to undergo surgery on his abdominal wall under general anesthesia to correct an incarcerated incisional hernia, which the Vatican described as causing recurring and worsening pain. 

In July 2021, Francis underwent intestinal surgery where he had half of his colon removed due to a condition known as « stenotic diverticulitis, » which leads to inflammation inside the intestine. At the time, Francis spent 11 days in Rome’s Gemelli hospital before returning to the Vatican. 

During a Jan. 2023 interview with the Associated Press, the pope revealed that the bulges in his intestinal wall had returned. 

« I might die tomorrow, but it’s under control, » he joked at the time. « I’m in good health. »

Throughout the last year, the pope’s primary health difficulties have stemmed from limited mobility, primarily related to a bone fracture in his knee. Last year, he said he did not want to have the knee operated on due to the side-effects he experienced from anesthesia during his July 2021 hospitalization. 

Although the pope underwent a three-night hospitalization at the beginning of April for bronchitis, his June 7 operation will be the first time he has undergone anesthesia since his July 2021 surgery. 

According to the Holy See Press Office, the pope’s current hospitalization had been arranged « in recent days » and he is expected to have a « full functional recovery. »  

Vie de l'église

Kenya diocese’s coffee farm spreads conservation skills to local community

Surrounded by hills, valleys, dirt roads and vast, uncultivated, semi-arid lands dotted with acacia trees and cacti sits the Archdiocese of Nyeri‘s Nyeri Hill Farm

Approximately 103 miles (166 kilometers) from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, and less than 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the small town of Nyeri, the more than 3,000-acre farm was established to facilitate evangelization and help eradicate poverty and disease. But over the years, its goals have expanded and the farm has heavily invested in afforestation and other environmental conservation efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change that results in more droughts, flooding and soil erosion.

Among various cash crops, an animal farm and institutions, 825 acres of Nyeri Hill Farm are dedicated to coffee and 100 acres are dedicated to tea. According to farm archives, the Catholic archdiocese ownership of Nyeri Hill Farm coffee estates dates to 1904, when the Consolata Fathers established the first coffee demonstration plot at the current site of a Consolata Mission Hospital. 

Commercial coffee and tea production officially started in 1914. Currently, the diocese has two factories for coffee and tea processing, one at Nyeri Hill Farm and the other at nearby Kamwenja. 

Alfred Munyua, an environmental activist and a private coffee farmer in Nyeri County, said effects of climate change — like drought — have rendered the Mount Kenya region, where the farm lies, food insecure and have imposed a reliance on food from the government and well-wishers.

« All of these problems have been instigated by drought which is driven by illegal logging and encroachment in the forest hence decline in rainfall amount, » Munyua said.

According to MyKahawa (my coffee), a platform dedicated to raising the profile of Kenyan coffee, coffee does well in areas about 1,970 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level with annual rainfall of 47 inches (1,200 millimeters.) However, Nyeri Hill Farm — an ASAL (Arid and Semi Arid Land) area — averages just 37 inches (950 millimeters) of rainfall per year. 

The farm used to experience low crop yields due to lack of rainfall, so they have started to install an irrigation system to boost production. Though the process is slow and not yet fully complete, the farm plans to eventually stop relying on rain-watered agriculture. The area with the irrigation system has seen an increase in production from 88 ounces (2.5 kilograms) to 352 ounces (10 kilograms) per tree. 

And to conserve water, Nyeri Hill Farm has invested in a water recycling system that reduces water waste, contamination and costs, reducing their water bill by almost 50%. The farm has also invested in hulling of the coffee husks, which it uses as organic manure.

Munyua applauded Nyeri Hill Farm for its afforestation strategy, saying that it will restore the weather pattern and help eradicate hunger. Places like the nearby town of Mweiga, which was known for little rainfall, now are getting rainfall in all seasons. That means better farm yields, especially for those who rely on rain-fed agriculture and do not have irrigation systems.

According to the Standard Newspaper, a Kenyan news outlet, though the country has seen some rain recently, the meteorological department has warned farmers that the rainfall amount won’t be enough and they should consider planting drought-resistant crops so they will have something for harvesting at the end of the season. 

In addition to adapting its own operations to climate change, Nyeri Hill Farm helps local communities on matters of conservation, focusing mainly on afforestation, proper waste dumping and soil erosion management. 

As part of those efforts, the farm has established tree nurseries with thousands of seedlings of various species, including native plants, which they give to the surrounding communities, parishioners and institutions, including the diocese, which takes seedlings for planting in the Mount Kenya area. 

« What we need is to increase forest cover in the region which has been ruined by illegal activities in the forest, » said Joseph Wanjau, the farm manager. 

He said the farm raises thousands of tree seedlings every year to battle the effects of climate change and boost the government agenda of planting 15 billion trees in the next 10 years.

According to AfricanNews, the region has suffered almost three years of persistent drought, and IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) announced that below-normal rainfall is expected in most parts of the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) over the next three months. As the country experiences the worst drought in four decades, Bishop Anthony Muheria of the Nyeri Catholic Archdiocese warned of severe climate changes if Kenyans do not take environmental conservation seriously.

It is « the responsibility of each individual to ensure that the environment is conserved for the future generations, » the bishop told EarthBeat. He applauded the Nyeri Hill Farm for its conservation efforts.

« If we want to make a better future for our children and great-grandchildren, then we must embrace environmental conservation. Let us plant trees. We must stop cutting trees maliciously and, instead, we protect them, » he said.

The bishop appealed to corporate leaders « to come to the rescue of the world by supporting environmental conservation activities like planting trees and cleaning rivers. »

Last year during national prayer day at Subukia National Shrine, Muheria, who often preaches about the environment, urged pilgrims to take responsibility and pray for environmental conservation. 

Mary Nyambura, a farmer and a parishioner in Nyeri, said that she got most of her conservation skills from the coffee farm. She does mixed farming on her 1.5 acres in Mathari village, just a few miles from Nyeri town. 

« I have learnt a lot from this farm, from conservation to farming skills which has totally improved my farm produce, » she said.

Vie de l'église

With Franciscan sisters’ $1.5 million gift, Network to take on climate lobbying

Thanks to a recent $2 million gift from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization founded by religious sisters more than 50 years ago, will expand its lobbying portfolio on Capitol Hill to include climate advocacy.

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Network describe this new « collaboration in mission » as emerging from their shared commitment to « confront the existential threat of our time that is climate change, » according to a joint press release issued by the two groups.

The first $500,000 donation from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration will complete Network’s 50th anniversary endowment fund campaign. The remaining $1.5 million will support the expansion of Network’s political ministry into the climate justice arena, which will include hiring more staff and acquiring a larger office space to start.

« We know we cannot do everything alone, » said Sr. Sue Ernster, president of the congregation. « This moment calls for a more unified Catholic sister voice … to face the enormous challenge of climate change. Whom we bring together for mission matters, just as whom Jesus called as his disciples mattered. »

Network’s decision to add the issue area of climate justice came out of its own recent strategic planning process, as well as ongoing calls from women’s religious communities and other climate advocacy organizations, said executive director Mary Novak

Network’s aim is not to duplicate the work spearheaded by other Catholic entities, she added, but to build upon it.

« We are still listening to our Catholic colleagues to determine the full scope of what Network is called to do, » Novak said, « so that we can be a value-add to the climate justice advocacy ecosystem that exists already. We want to fill the gaps and strengthen and expand existing efforts. » 

She hesitated to elaborate on specific legislation that Network will take up, calling that premature.

This August, Novak will be on-site in Wisconsin to meet with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration to share the initial results of her meetings with other organizations that share the climate space in Washington, D.C. 

She also hopes to learn more about the congregation’s long-standing commitments and partnerships in the work of integral ecology, an approach to addressing the climate crisis that Pope Francis underscored in his 2015 encyclical, « Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home. » Integral ecology sees the current environmental, social and economic crises as inextricably intertwined, requiring a holistic approach where « right relationships » are centered.

« I’ll be able to fill [the sisters] in on the results of our listening process and our discernment on Network’s initial scope, » Novak said, « and then we’re going to invite their input. … This move into climate justice advocacy really does flow from the wisdom and discernment of the sisters. »

Novak anticipates having a scope of work identified by midyear.

For the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, this new partnership with Network was forged specifically with Laudato Si’ in mind, using the « seven-year Laudato Si’ Action Platform journey to intensify actions for greater social and environmental justice, » Ernster said. The sisters have committed the use of their land near their motherhouse, St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, to model sustainability practices and spiritual values, including a green burial option for the sisters.

« Both FSPA and Network recognize the need to have monetary support [for this work], » Ernster said, « but more importantly, we share the vision to evolve the work of environmental justice into right relationships at all levels. »

José Aguto, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, called this new alliance and Network’s foray into the climate justice lobby « fantastic » news. « For 50 years, Network has been lifting up the moral voice of the sisters, one of the most powerful moral voices we have nationally and globally; this is a real boon for those of us working for climate action. »

Aguto said that Catholic Climate Covenant was open wholeheartedly to collaborating with Network. Catholic Climate Covenant had set its own goal of being more intentional about potential institutional collaborations in the coming year.

« It’s about all of us within the Catholic community dialing down our institutional egos to come to more unified positions, so that the Catholic voice is one of greater influence. In other words, us living into the value we celebrate at Mass of one bread, one body. »

Network was founded by Catholic sisters in 1972 in the spirit of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council to respond to the issues of the day showing up in congregations’ various ministries. The goal was to create a nationwide network of women religious who would engage in political activism at the federal level for social justice.

Early lobbying priorities included poverty, congressional reform, minimum wage, child care, consumer protection, the environment, farmworker rights, health care, opposition to the Vietnam War, prison reform, tax fairness, welfare reform and women’s rights. This agenda has evolved over succeeding decades as new issues such as immigration reform have emerged on Capitol Hill.

Network’s recently completed six-year strategic plan (to coincide with the timing of federal elections) prioritizes influencing federal policies that dismantle systemic racism, center equity and reparative justice, build economic security, secure democracy, and protect the Earth.

« Our foundational commitment is to center racial justice and equity at the heart of our ministry, » Novak said, « and hold ourselves accountable to communities of color, both inside and outside of our organization. It’s part of the large mosaic where we understand ourselves called. »

Aguto surmised that Network’s moral voice would add a powerful ingredient to the Catholic climate advocacy space. 

« One of the dimensions I imagine the sisters will bring to their dialogue with legislators is a moral call and an ability to reach them in their hearts beyond concerns about getting re-elected, » he said. For Catholics, « this is our ‘section of the orchestra’, so to speak, and we need to reach into the hearts of legislators contrary to the way political culture is operating in America. »

Editor’s note: In 2020, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration gifted $1.5 million to the National Catholic Reporter to amplify integral ecological education and journalism in the spirit of Laudato Si’. This donation ensured that environmental reporting and stories of climate crisis, faith and action would become permanent components of NCR’s coverage.

Vie de l'église

Three in one

« If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company » (Exodus 34:8). 

Trinity Sunday

Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18

We approach the mystery of the Trinity by keeping in mind that everything we know about God we have learned from Jesus. He is our point of entry into the unfathomable question of who God is and who we are. 

The early church experienced Jesus first as a human brother and fellow human being, the man from Galilee who went about announcing a radical notion of God and the purpose of life. Unlike the images of God people heard from organized religion – a distant, unapproachable judge -, Jesus spoke of God as his « Abba » a loving father who offered his children, including sinners, unconditional love and acceptance.   The essence of Jesus’ message was that God was filled with mercy and compassion, a generous father willing to take back his prodigal children, a good shepherd out looking for lost sheep. This was the Good News.

His death on the cross seemed to shatter their dream of a restored Israel, but his resurrection from the dead took believers to a whole new level of understanding, that this man Jesus was much more than a charismatic leader meant for their time and place. He was God’s chosen one, the Christ, whose death and resurrection had to do with redeeming the whole world. He had fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, overcome sin and death. He was none other than the Lord, the revelation of God present in history. 

This awesome realization began a profound theological reflection in the light of their experience and of the many images and prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that produced the letters of St. Paul and the four Gospels about who Jesus was in relation to the One God. This reflection evolved within the faith communities’ experience of the risen Christ, still with them and active through his Holy Spirit given to the baptized members of the church.

The translation of the Christian faith in Jesus through Greek concepts during a time of competing understandings of his identity led to the credal formulas of the first church councils. Jesus was the Son of God, yet equal to God the Father, and united in the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, the divine Trinity. These words somehow contained the truth about Jesus but as a mystery that could not be explained logically. It could only be believed and lived. 

How we understand this brings us back to the same starting point of our encounter with God in Jesus.  We only know about God and about Jesus from our own human experience. Because we were made in the image and likeness of God, we already know something about the Trinity – the challenge of love that produces unity in diversity. We also know from experience that we only know ourselves in relationships. No human individual is complete in himself or herself but only becomes fully alive in community. And just as our desire for maturity and wholeness leads us to community, so our journey toward God is toward the Community of God, the inner life of God as Persons united in love – the Trinity.  

God comes to us in encounter. On this celebration of the Holy Trinity, we pray to encounter Jesus, our brother, who draws us through his human nature and experience toward his divine identity. This is our destiny, to share the life of the Trinity.  We will know it by seeking an intimate knowledge of Jesus, who is one of us.  He is also our point of entry into the inner life of God.  

Vie de l'église

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: The lure of the unimaginable

How to approach the unapproachable? How to imagine the unimaginable? The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity raises questions like these. The Scriptures offer tremendous help in our search to know what God is like, not because they give us a clear answer, but precisely because they do not. 

The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures offer us images of God as omnipotent creator and as an artisan who fashions creatures from river mud; God dwells in unapproachable light and walks and talks with Abraham. God appears in cloud and fire, and is heard in thunder and the gentlest breeze. God speaks in the direst warnings of the prophets and the consoling words of a stranger on the road to Emmaus.

Today, Exodus reveals more than we might realize as Moses leads us up the mountain. One of the first things to notice here is the name, « Lord. » That word replaced the sacred Tetragrammaton, the four-letter Hebrew word, YHWH, the divine name. From earliest times, the Jewish people regarded that name as too sacred to even attempt to pronounce. Wherever it was written they circumvented it, usually saying Adonai (« my Lord ») to refer to God.

The early Christians respected that reverence, translating the name as Kyrios or Dominus. In 2008, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship reminded Catholics to continue that practice. The first thing Exodus tells us today is that God’s name is immeasurably sacred. We cannot define God.

As we read this Exodus passage, we realize that only God pronounces the sacred name and follows it with a self-description. According to this auto portrayal, God is « merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity. » Those interrelated words create a litany that portrays the gentle and loving ways the Lord relates to humanity. No wonder Moses begged God to come along with his unruly flock! 

Today’s Gospel enlarges our sense of the divine image in two ways. First, while we are accustomed to encountering John 3:16 (« God so loved the world ») on billboards or at sports events, scholars offer a slightly different translation from the slogan we ordinarily hear.

According to Scripture scholar Edward Klink, this passage is best translated as, « For in this way God loved the world. » That subtly nuances the idea, not measuring how much, but rather how God loves, telling us that God loves through the « unique son. » Secondly, this passage from John elaborates on Exodus and the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures as it explains that God’s love is always demonstrated in action: Every moment of Jesus’ life demonstrated how God loves the world.

Today’s Scriptures insist that the God of Christianity is a God who loves real people in real time. Anyone who understands this would, like Moses, invite this God to accompany them along the road of life. That’s a bit of what we can derive from our selections from Exodus and John. 

Today’s selection from the end of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians was chosen because it is one of the few passages in Scripture that clearly speaks of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Speaking of the Trinity, it draws us into what is the most mysterious of Christianity’s beliefs.

While the New Testament does not really develop a Trinitarian concept of God, Jesus subtly introduced the concept of the Trinity by referring to his relationship to his father and in his promise to send his Spirit. Paul’s letters are more specific when they refer to God under the three distinct names of Father, Son and Spirit. Over a period of nearly 400 years, these references, combined with prayer and theologizing, came to fruition in what we now pray as the Nicene Creed. 

What then, does this feast day mean for us? What are we celebrating? Based on today’s Scriptures, we can say that this feast focuses our attention on God’s self-revelation as loving and deeply involved with humanity from the moment of human consciousness. More specifically, this feast invites us to contemplate the depth of God’s love and God’s desire to draw all into divine life. It celebrates the love of God revealed in Jesus and our invitation for God’s Spirit to be active in and among us. 

We cannot adequately name God, yet we experience the unapproachable mystery inviting us to awe and drawing us close. Through creation and revelation, we can experience uncountable ways in which the unimaginable one lures us to share divine life. Now, we can bask in miniature glimpses of God. We await the day when « we will be like Christ because we will see him face to face » (1 John 3:2).

Vie de l'église

Can money-making microgrids empower Black churches to close the clean energy gap?

Editor’s note: This story, originally published by Faithfully Magazine, is part of « Growing a Green Church, » an ongoing series focused on churches’ efforts to steward their buildings and land effectively in the context of a changing climate. The project is produced in collaboration with The Christian Century, Episcopal News Service, Faithfully Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, and Sojourners, with support from the Solutions Journalism Network and funding from the Fetzer Institute. Find more stories in the series here.

A Black church in California has set out to develop a microgrid that could generate up to $1 million annually. The project, spearheaded by Gemini Energy Solutions and Green The Church, is part of a larger effort to empower Black churches — and their communities — to join the clean energy movement.

Although transition to green energy has become more common, Black and Hispanic Americans, disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards, are still missing out on its benefits. A 2019 study published in Nature Sustainability found that Black communities are significantly absent from the rush to solar, even when factors like homeownership and income are accounted for. The racial disparity could be due to higher costs and a lack of access to financing.

According to Dr. Anthony Kinslow II, one way to help accelerate the transition and level the playing field is to empower Black churches, often the nucleus of their communities. Kinslow is CEO of Gemini Energy Solutions, which provides energy audits.

« I think the greatest chance we have of that happening, addressing our climate goals, is the Black church leading, » Kinslow, a lifelong churchgoer, told Faithfully Magazine.

Those belonging to historically Black churches believe, more than other Christians, that climate change is an « extremely or very » serious problem, that the Bible addresses environmental issues, and that « God gave humans a duty to protect and care for the Earth, » according to the Pew Research Center.

Gemini Energy Solutions and Green The Church, a nonprofit that promotes green theology, have joined forces to help 100 Black churches transition to clean energy hubs this summer. Gemini is currently in the early stage of assisting five churches with feasibility studies that could secure funding for their microgrids.

But Gemini’s growing partnerships likely would not have happened without Glad Tidings International Church and its pastor, Bishop Jerry W. Macklin.

« At the point where we are, there are shortages of water, shortages of energy, the heat. … It affects everybody that’s here. And I think now people are beginning to understand that this is everybody’s problem, and everybody has to be a part of the solution, » Macklin said in a video highlighting his church’s intention to transition to clean energy.

Known for spearheading transformation in its Harder-Tennyson community, once beset by drugs and violence, Glad Tidings International Church may be the ideal prototype for Gemini Energy Solutions’ clean energy hub movement.

About a 25-minute drive from Oakland, the Hayward church is a member of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the nation’s largest Pentecostal and predominantly Black Christian denomination. Macklin is also the First Assistant Presiding Bishop of COGIC, one of seven historically Black Christian denominations in the U.S.

Through its Northern California Community Development Corporation (NCCD), Glad Tidings has created more than 120 affordable housing units. The church, which owns five buildings spread across four blocks, also offers various services to the public, including employment and mental health resources.

In another push at transformation, Glad Tidings has linked arms with Gemini Energy Solutions to retrofit their worship, administrative, and community outreach facilities. The plan is to make the campus carbon-free by replacing its HVAC systems and gas stoves and installing 500 LED lights, among other renovations.

But the centerpiece of its transition is a money-making microgrid.

This June, Glad Tidings is expected to break ground on a solar-powered microgrid estimated to generate millions in the years to come. The revenue will support the development of a new community center, which will host classes about energy efficiency. The church sees this venture as a way to extend services to the community and do its part to fight climate change.

Glad Tidings will become a clean energy hub by installing solar panels on its buildings and solar carports at its parking structures. The solar array will generate 1 gigawatt of energy annually, enough to power nearly 100 homes. The church will also maintain 12 bidirectional electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and two EVs. In addition to stationary batteries, the EVs will serve as backup power during emergencies, making the church a resiliency center for the community.

It is common for churches to transition to solar and store that energy locally for freedom from the grid, as seen with Florida Avenue Baptist Church, the first African American church in Washington, D.C., to transition to solar power. In addition to reducing its carbon footprint and energy bill, the church receives a monthly payment for selling surplus energy to utilities.

But what makes his clean energy hub scheme unique, said Kinslow, « is the revenue-generating allocation » and focus on church ownership.

Most churches lease their solar panels and EV charging stations. Instead, Gemini Energy Solutions advises churches to own the hardware. It also advises churches to create a limited liability company to serve as co-developers in the project.

In Glad Tidings’ case, Gemini projects that its microgrid could generate $400,000 to $1 million annually, based on EV charging rates. In addition, the amount the church usually pays for energy, about $30,000 yearly, will be redirected to its LLC.

« I thought [the revenue model] was a fascinating idea, » said the Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll Sr., founder of Green The Church, whose reach extends to about 5,000 churches.

« It hit[s] some of the points that my colleagues always ask about, » Carroll said.  » ‘Who’s going to own it?’ ‘What do they want from us again?’ And it’s like, no, this is empowerment. »

Glad Tidings received grants from nonprofits and a loan from Inclusive Prosperity Capital, Inc. for the $1.4 million project. Kinslow admits that the microgrid could only move forward because of $300,000 in grants from California.

Yet, he believes his revenue-generating microgrids can be set up in any state, regardless of available incentives.

The main hitch in Glad Tidings’ microgrid project, Kinslow said, was related to supply chain issues delaying delivery of the switchgear needed for the fast-charging EV stations. The switchgear is used to control the flow of electricity to and from the stations.

The microgrid could be completed by September if one of Gemini’s solar developers acquires the switchgear in time. Otherwise, « final inspection for this project wouldn’t be till mid-February, » he said.

Carroll, of Green The Church, said now was the time for Black churches « to use not what somebody gives us, not to beg, but to use what we have » — land and buildings — to « capitalize in a way that we begin to build and move into industry. »

« We want to wake up the sleeping giant that is the Black church on this issue because there has not been a successful social issue without the Black church at the table, » Carroll insisted.

Though his model has yet to be fully tested, Kinslow believes empowering thousands of Black churches to become clean energy hubs is more than possible.

If every COGIC church, which numbers about 12,000 in the U.S., transitioned to clean energy, « that would be $4 billion in annual revenue generated for the Black community, » he claimed, using calculations reflecting one-fifth of Glad Tidings’ energy consumption and its minimum projected revenue.

Such a mass transition could create thousands of jobs, he added.

« Those numbers are not anything to sneeze at, » Kinslow said. « Those are numbers they’re probably not accustomed to seeing. A billion — not million — dollars. »

Vie de l'église

Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight on ‘The Office,’ wants a spiritual revolution

As a scholar of spirituality and a Catholic theologian, I was predictably skeptical when I first saw that the actor Rainn Wilson, best known for his portrayal of Dwight Schrute in NBC’s hit sitcom « The Office, » had written a book titled Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution. But I was also curious to see what the actual person behind the persona « assistant to the regional manager » of the fictional Scranton-based paper company Dunder Mifflin had to say about spirituality.

And so, I read his book.

Right away, I was pleasantly surprised by a few things. First, Wilson is a talented writer who is both engaging and direct. Reading his prose is neither tiresome nor an exercise in tolerating a celebrity’s vanity project. The text flows well in that mass-market conversational way, which is accessible without being overly trite.

Second, having known little about Wilson apart from his brilliant performance on « The Office, » I appreciated the openness he demonstrated right away in sharing his experiences of family and faith. His upbringing, like most, was not perfect and has its own dark dimensions. And he, like most, also has had ups and downs over the years with a range of unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

Although you get to know him along the way, he advises that if you want to hear more of his personal story, you should check out his earlier memoir, The Bassoon King: Art, Idiocy, and Other Sordid Tales from the Band Room.

Third, you discover quickly that, while Wilson and his family belong to the Baha’i faith, his approach to spirituality is deeply inclusive. You get the sense that when it comes to spiritual resources and practices, Wilson would be a fan of the old Latin adage de gustibus non disputandum est (literally: « in taste, there is no dispute »), which is to say that there should be no judgment or dismissal when it comes to one person’s faith journey or religious tradition over another.

Wilson is unapologetically Baha’i, referencing his tradition’s sacred texts, practices and prayers, and sharing about his family’s pilgrimage to the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh — the founder of the Baha’i faith — in Israel. 

But he also demonstrates respect for spiritual wisdom found across various traditions from the major monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to the philosophical insights and sacred texts of Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism, to the Indigenous wisdom of Native American and First Nations peoples, to the secular humanistic traditions of modern North American and European literature.

Some people, especially those self-identified practitioners of a classic religious tradition, view this kind of broad selection of spiritual wisdom as a problematic form of syncretism. And that kind of reductive quest to level all religious traditions and belief systems as « essentially the same thing » is a problem, not the least because it grossly overlooks actual differences and real conflicts across traditions. 

But Wilson does a reasonably good job avoiding such ham-handed amalgamating (although he does dabble with it a bit in Chapter 7 when trying to identify what he calls « universal commonalities » of faith).

Wilson appears more focused on one of the fundamental aspects of human personhood shared in common; namely, that all people — regardless of cultural context, religious tradition, secular priorities or anything else—are fundamentally spiritual creatures.

As Wilson explains early in the preface, « This is what I’m referring to when I talk about the word ‘spirituality’: this eternal/divine aspect of ourselves that longs for higher truth and journeys toward heart-centered enlightenment and, dare I say it, God. »

This is something that I also believe (as do all the great Christian theologians ancient, medieval and modern — from St. Augustine of Hippo to Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner). Each of us has an innate capacity for what I like to call « the more-than, » an inherent openness to what Rahner famously called Mystery and the Holy Other. 

Whether one opts into a given world religion or not; chooses to engage with some concept of a Creator, Source of Life, or God or not; or deliberately contemplates existential questions like the possibility of an afterlife or not, each person is, as Rahner also taught, « more than the sum of our parts. »

To read the reflections of a Hollywood actor known for playing an eccentric office character and see him taking this universal and intrinsic dimension of human existence seriously was a nice experience. This book allows us to accompany a self-described « weird, spiritually curious actor » and ponder some interesting ideas along the way.

While I didn’t always care for some of Wilson’s quick summaries of otherwise complex religious beliefs, practices, traditions, texts and sites, I did appreciate his regular reminder to readers that he was not a theologian or an expert in religious history. 

The main thrust of this book is not didactic but invitatory. I took this book to be less about introducing people to any authoritative understandings about religion or faith and more about inviting readers to reflect on these existential questions and meaning-making frameworks alongside his own process of spiritual journeying.

Wilson summarizes this goal at the outset of the book: « I hope this book will ignite discussion and inspire you, gentle reader, to view some universal spiritual ideas through some different-colored lenses. Sometimes silly, sometimes profound and earnest, I will attempt to explore some very old ground with some very new perspectives. »

Whether every reader will relate to Wilson’s personal journey or always appreciate his prompts for reflection or proposals for spiritual practices, one thing is for sure, this book provides an opportunity for contemporary spiritual seekers — those part of a classical religious tradition, something else or nothing at all — to think through some important themes. 

For example, Wilson (who is a theist) dedicates a chapter to the concept of God, challenging readers to think about what or whom we are talking about when we talk about or affirm or reject the word « God. »

In another chapter, Wilson invites readers to ponder the universality and mystery of death. In another, he talks about the importance of pilgrimage, something that religious practitioners can all appreciate. 

Still, in another, he reflects on the systemic issues facing this planet, including climate change. « Our world is strangely disordered. So much about how we do things … is upside down, backward, and inside out. And things have to change if we want to achieve the mental, physical, and spiritual wellness we long for on a personal and a global level. »

At times, Wilson can wax optimistic in overly ambitious ways. In one chapter he outlines what he considers to be a possible framework for the development of a new religion, one that might appeal to the increasing number of religiously disaffiliated people (especially young people) in our societies. Personally, I’m not sure how useful such a proposal is in practice, but it makes for at least a mildly engaging thought experiment.

I completely agree with Wilson insofar as he accurately names the personal and institutional dysfunction present in religions, including Christianity, that has resulted in continued subjugation, oppression, violence and dehumanization. 

In such cases, including within my own religious home of Roman Catholic Christianity, I would rather see us actually live up to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in concrete ways rather than set out to establish yet another religion.

That said, if Wilson’s book can get Christians (and Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and others) to think deeply about their own traditions, consider their own spiritual capacities and journeys while coming to respect the spiritual capacities and journeys of others, and invite those not already inclined to contemplate spirituality in these ways, then I think the book will have accomplished its goal.