Monthly Archives: January 2015

Becoming Aware and Having Hope

Dear Pope Francis,

You may have noticed that I didn’t write you any letters last week. Life happened, and it took me to New York for three days for a reunion and symposium on Professional Ethics with Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics. It was a fantastic trip, but it totally threw off my week.

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The Freedom Tower when I was in New York in June 2014

One of the highlights of the trip was finally going to Ground Zero, where the World Trade Towers fell in September 2001. I have wanted to visit Ground Zero since my first trip to New York (with Meredith) in March 2012. It was even more powerful because the Freedom Tower that was built near the same site, was my landmark for navigating between the hotel I stayed in and the museum where the symposium met. Every time I went outside, I located the Freedom Tower so that I would know if I was going the right way.

The Twin Towers collapsed when I was eleven years old. That day, and the ones that followed, marked a turning point in my consciousness. Not only did these events have practical implications for travellers around the world, but more personally, it was the first time I remember being aware of current events. It was after this point that I noticed how many car accidents I heard about, or robberies, or poverty. I began to grasp the fact that, while I live in a very safe place where I had enough food, clean water and access to education, not everyone did. I knew that bad things had happened in the past, like World War II and slavery because of stories and books I read, but September 2001 was the first time I remember realizing that bad things were still happening.

Seeing the building foundations, various missing posters, and memorials from the collapse, only served to reemphasize that awful things are still going on. It’s hard to know where to begin, what to think or do in light of these things. It’s overwhelming because I am just one person. No matter how many times I (or others) tell myself (me) that I can do anything, that I can change the world, I must still face the reality that I am still just one person, with the limitations of time, physical abilities and resources. I don’t have the financial means to solve world hunger. I don’t have the luxury of time and language to solve the deep-seated conflicts in the Middle Easter. But I do have something; what I do have is hope.

In X-Men: Days of Future Past, when a young Charles Xavier refuses to use his powers because it means feeling people’s pain, the older Charles Xavier tells his younger self: “it’s the greatest gift we have, to bear their pain without breaking, and it is borne from the most human power – hope”. Having hope doesn’t magically grant me more time, physical abilities or resources, but it does give me perspective. It reminds me that I’m not the only person who is saddened and outraged by what is going on around the world. It also helps me work in my sphere of influence, in my corner of the world, but I’m not alone in that; there are thousands, if not millions, of people working for good in their own spheres of influence. It’s by doing it this way, in a seemly disparate fashion, that we will change the world.

Developing my superhero name,

Lauren

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Being Professional

Dear Pope Francis,

Within five months I’ll be done of my master’s degree. There is something unique about a Master of Divinity, namely that while it’s a master’s degree, it’s specifically intended to be a professional degree, rather than a primarily a research-based degree. A large component of the work I do in this program is applying the theology I’ve been learning. That might be appropriating it into my own life and spirituality, or developing programs or talks incorporating the information. Some parts have been incredibly practical, like learning some of the ethical issues of being a minister in the Roman Catholic Church, or any Church for that matter.

Often times, people turn to their faith with their questions, their joys and their fears. Turning to their faith can also mean concretely turning to the Church. They build relationships of trust with the various Church leaders, be it a priest, deacon, lay minister, chaplain, whomever. Whether we agree with it or not, leaders are put on a pedestal, held up as an example of how to live, what to think and how to practice the faith. These factors put the minister in a unique position, because they are privy to sensitive information about the people in their congregation, and how the minister responds to that information can drastically influence people’s impressions of the Church as a whole.

Ministers in the Church are not necessarily unique in this relationship of trust. Without realizing it, society often attributes greater respect to different roles and jobs than others. For instance, doctors are often more highly respected than hair stylists based solely on their career. While it is important that we question these unspoken assumptions about respect-based-on-career, people in those careers need to be aware of their position, and act accordingly. There are limits on what is acceptable behaviour for a doctor, police officer, lawyer, journalist, and a variety of others.

My assumptions about some of these professions were highlighted in December when news about a scandal at Dalhousie Dentistry School hit the media. A group of young men had been making misogynistic and utterly inappropriate comments about their female classmates in a private Facebook group. While I don’t want to downplay the important conversations about rape culture and gender inequality that are happening because of this, there is also an important conversation to be had about professional ethics.

Dentists, like other professions, are privy to some sensitive information about their patients. Having spent my fair share of time in a dentist’s chair, I know how nervous some people can be before opening their mouths and letting someone, even someone who has studied for years, poke around in there. I would be even more nervous knowing that my dentist could have been making inappropriate comments about drugging women with the gases he has easy access to.

I understand that these young men are still in school, but they are in a professional school.  When I was doing my field placement as a student, I made sure that I was professional, including how I dressed and interacted with everyone in the placement. Professionalism is not something you graduate into, you receive the diploma and then you have to start acting professional. It is something that should be practiced as a student. It is a habit and a skill to be learned, it needs to be practiced.

Does this mean professionals can’t share inside jokes with their peers? Certainly not. What it does mean is that they must be aware of what they are saying about whom, and what they are saying. Are they slandering others, either patients/clients/etc. or peers? Are they spreading gossip? Would they want the person they are talking about to hear what is being said? Depending on your answer, maybe you should rethink what you’re categorizing as ‘inside professional jokes’.

 

In Christ,

Lauren

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Respect and the Freedom of Speech

Dear Pope Francis,

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris are awful, and, like many other attacks, draw other issues to the light. This time, it’s the freedom of the press.

Let me say from the outset that I think freedom of the press is important. It is imperative that people have an opportunity to express their beliefs using the printed word and editorial cartoons. But is there a point when this is taken too far? People were obviously offended by what Charlie Hebdo was publishing about Islam, even though it was intended to be satire. Does this mean there needs to be a level of civility in the freedom of the press? I can’t speak to the content of Charlie Hebdo, as I’ve never read it or knowingly seen any of their editorial cartoons, but this question goes beyond this one tragic incident.

I know that the opinions Meredith and I express in these letters are not held by everyone in the Catholic Church, and certainly not in the world. But when I sit down to write to you each week, I don’t do so with a malicious intent towards anyone else. These letters provide me an opportunity to think more deeply about things, and a platform from which to share these ideas. I would hope that journalists and cartoonists don’t set out to offend anyone when they sit down to write or draw either.

These ideas are then juxtaposed with the scandal around the American television show 19 Kids and Counting, starring the Duggar family. This scandal stemmed from the family’s involvement with the pro-life movement and advocating against laws granting more freedoms to trans-gendered people. Many people took issue with how these beliefs have been expressed, particularly because they seem to revert back to a time when being homosexual was unacceptable and illegal, thus infringing on other human rights. As a result, protesters called for the Duggar’s show to be cancelled.

While people jumped to the defence of the Duggar family on the basis of the freedom of speech, I see a parallel with the freedom of the press. What gives anyone the right to take away someone’s right to express their beliefs, whether or not we agree with them? This right does not take away the importance of being civil and respectful, nor does it matter whether it is print journalism, cartoons, a speech or an interview. What I see developing is a horrible double standard: if we are going to poke fun at religion, then it is acceptable to be shared with the world, but when someone stands up and expresses their religious beliefs clearly and chooses to stand by them, it’s a problem.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything either group, Charlie Hebdo (what I know of them) or the Duggars, expressed in their opinions, nor how they presented it, but there needs to be more civil ways of addressing my concerns than resorting to violence and eliminating one’s platform. Maybe that means getting involved in organizations that have the power to lobby the government or raise awareness in the public. Maybe it’s as simple as a writing a letter. Regardless of how it is done, it needs to be done in a way that fosters dialogue and respect, not violence and hatred.

Praying for the world,

Lauren

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Settling into Ordinary

Dear Pope Francis,

The last few weeks have been very energetic, with the holidays, travelling, seeing my friends again and starting new classes. It’s now almost the middle of January. School is back in full swing, complete with reading to do, papers to write, and extra-curricular meetings and events to attend. I have swapped holiday stories with my friends, and now the opening question is ‘how are your classes?’ or ‘did you finish the reading?’Ordinary Time

While school can be stressful, and there are a lot of different tasks to get done, there is something comforting about being back in my routine. As much as the break I had during the holidays was much needed and relaxing, I began to miss the ordinary things in my regular life, like my friends, my apartment and – to some degree – the structure that school gives my week.

This time at the beginning of the semester is what I consider ‘ordinary’. It is the quiet period after the busyness of the holidays, but before the stressful times of the semester. It’s the time when I can work at my own pace, or linger in a conversation without feeling guilty. It’s also the time when I forget to pay attention because everything seems so far away. The paper isn’t due until February, and from here, that seems like an eon, so I don’t start it right away, even though I have the time now.

It’s not just school where lack of attention can be problematic. This is often the reality in my faith life.

There is no big feast or liturgical season coming right away; we’re in ordinary time. I attend the regular liturgies, I pray in the evening like I usually do, and, as terrible as it sounds, I can forget to look for God in my life. As a professor once reminded me, this ordinary time, both in the liturgical sense and in day to day life, is time that is meant for God, just as much as any liturgical season, feast day, or exam period. God will come and be with me just as much in this time of low-stress school work and socializing, as He is when I am on edge with deadlines.

Finding Him now is no different than finding him in those big moments; I need to be quiet and attuned to the Spirit, perhaps even quieter and more attuned, because God will speak, I need to be paying attention.

Enjoying the ordinary,

Lauren

Seek Kingdom

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Cheering for the Underdog

Dear Pope Francis,

The World Junior Hockey Tournament is wrapping up in Toronto tonight with the Gold medal game between Canada and Russia

Watching the World Juniors is a holiday tradition in my family. Without fail, regardless of where we are and what’s going on, my dad and I are keeping tabs on how the tournament is going. This generally includes watching the opening game on Boxing Day (December 26) and the game on New Year’s Eve. As I have mentioned before, and perhaps it goes without saying, I cheer for the Canadians from beginning to end.

This year, I was surprised to find myself also cheering for Denmark. They were truly an underdog team in the tournament, having never won a game before they beat Switzerland in the preliminary round. They surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves, by making it to the medal round. As I watched them play Canada in the quarter-finals, I still couldn’t help but cheer them on. Everyone was saying how lopsided the match was, in Canada’s favour, but the Denmark team played hard anyway.

It’s easy to cheer for the top teams and players, those who dominate in their chosen sport, just like, in everyday life, it’s easy to cheer for the people that we like. When our friends are up for awards or coveted positions, we support them by cheering and praying for them. Of course we want them to succeed, they’re our friends.

But, just like in sports, there are underdogs in everyday life, the people who perhaps had a tough start in life, are a little rough around the edges, have some additional challenges to overcome, or simply grate on your nerves. I can think of several people who fit that description for me. But that doesn’t mean I can treat them any differently.

I may not admire these people, the way I admire the Denmark hockey team, but I still need to support the everyday underdogs as best as I can, whether that’s praying for them, helping them out when they need a hand, or simply accepting them as they are. I know from personal experience, this is easier said than done. I struggle a lot when I have to work with people that I may not get along with. It is in those moments, I strive to remember that Jesus commands us to love the unloved, loving our neighbour as ourselves. So I will root for these everyday underdogs, I will pray for patience and understanding when working with people that I may not enjoy working with, because at the end of the day, I want to know that I tried my best to be Christ in the world.

Gearing up for the gold medal game,

Lauren

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Making New Year’s Resolutions

Dear Pope Francis,

Happy New Year! There have been lots of reflection about 2014, and wishes for 2015. One big part of New Year’s rituals that receives a lot of attention is the New Year’s Resolutions. There are memes and articles offering advice about the resolutions to make (or not), humour and practical tips about how to make Resolutions stick. Despite reading many different articles in my time, I (like many people) have yet to actually follow through on a New Year’s Resolution.Brace Yourselves

In many ways, I have become disenchanted by the whole idea of New Year’s Resolutions. It puts a lot of pressure on a single time of year and a particular set of goals. Explain ResolutionsInstead I have lots of smaller times throughout the year when I focus on different goals because they make sense at that point in time. For instance, this semester in school is going to be crazy, so I want to focus on being proactive, and setting (and keeping) boundaries for the time I spend doing different things. While these are both good things, they won’t be necessary in the same way when I finish my school work. Come the spring, when I’m (hopefully) finished of my degree, I’ll take some time and re-evaluate goals then.

All of that being said, New Year’s is always a time to reflect on what has happened in the last twelve months, and there is a sense of optimism that comes from the fresh start. What I have been reflecting on this year is the fifteen spiritual maladies you presented to the Curia in your Christmas Address. It seems so appropriate to talk about the challenges to living a life of faith as illnesses, when you described the Church as a field hospital (“Big Heart Open to God”, interview with Anthony SpaOne Does Not Simplydaro).

I can think of times when I have fallen with each of the maladies you mention. What gives me hope is that you opened the list by mentioning the normalcy of catching these ailments – we all fall victim to them. You don’t leave us there, you remind us that we are always called to “grow in communion, sanctity and wisdom”. This isn’t just a reminder for when the year changes, it is a continual call every day to resist these illness and actively take care of our spiritual lives so that we can grow.

So, while I’m spending the next few months being proactive and keeping tabs on boundaries, I am also going to work to keep myself spiritually healthy. This isn’t necessarily a New Year’s Resolution, because it’s something that I should be doing regardless, and the very faith I profess continually calls me deeper, with the changing liturgical season, with receiving the Sacraments and daily prayer.

Wishing you health, joy and peace in the New Year,

Lauren

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