Plastic II: LOL

July 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Well, when I wrote my blog on Friday, they were predicting a high of 100, but actually it went to 103. My brother said that while driving on the Long Island Expressway, his car registered 123 outside.

One response to extreme heat like this, of course, is to buy bottles of cold water. But, as you perhaps know, buying bottles of water, unless (and even if) you assiduously recycle the bottles, only adds to the problem. In the first place, producers use millions of gallons of fuel to make plastic bottles and transport them, after draining already declining aquifers to fill them.  Then 75% of all plastic bottles go  straight into landfills, thus increasing the methane in the atmosphere, which traps more heat, which causes even more global warming.

I have to confess, however, that yesterday when my husband and I drove in the hundred degree heat down to the Jersey shore so he could officiate at an (outdoor!) wedding, I forgot to bring my metal water bottle with me . So I bought some bottled water,

But I’m  almost glad I did, because if I hadn’t I would have missed  the opportunity to explode with the biggest guffaw of my recent life. The 16.9 fluid ounce bottle was produced by “Poland Spring,” that is to say, Nestle, one of the most massive, richest producers of bottled water on earth. I brought the bottle home to recycle so I have it right here. It’s 8 inches tall and two inches in diameter, with a plastic cap that measures 1 by 1/4 inches. And on the back of the label there’s a green leaf and the following bit of information:

SMALLER CAP=LESS PLASTIC. Did you notice this bottle has an Eco-Slim cap? This is part of our ongoing effort to reduce our impact on the environment. This bottle and cap contain an average of 20% less plastic than our original 500 mL Eco-Shape bottle and cap. Be Green.

Of course, the bottled water industry spews forth ideological crap like this all the time. On World Water Day they advertise their contributions to countries whose droughts are driven by climate change. And now Nestle invites us to congratulate them because they are in effect, nuking the  environment with only four thousand warheads, or smoking four packs of cigarettes a day instead of five. I mean, seriously.


Carrying Plastic to Philadelphia

July 22, 2011 at 11:09 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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To begin with, just so you know, they’re saying it’s going to be 100 degrees here today, and will feel like 110. It was 99 yesterday. But there’s no global warming, or climate change or anything. It’s normal for it to be this hot in NYC.

Meanwhile, we New Yorkers are getting on with our lives. One aspect of my life is a long-term effort not to put plastic in the landfills. Of course, here in the Big Apple, we are allowed to put “plastic bottles and  jugs” into the recycling, but  all other plastics are verboten. The Department of Sanitation makes it sound as if there really aren’t so many other kinds of plastics: “deli and yoghurt containers, styrofoam, plastic toys and furniture.” They fail to mention clear plastic food containers, containers for baby and moist wipes, frozen entrée trays, the plastic that toys and electronics come wrapped in, endless McDonald’s and Dunkin Donut containers, and on and on. Multiply these by seven million people and you’ve got some serious non-biodegradable land-fill.

I have found a solution, however. Some dear friends with whom I’ve been working on the Catholic women’s ordination issue for twenty years live a couple of hours south of here, in Philadelphia, and it just so happens that the City of Sisterly Love recycles all kinds of plastic. They even give residents reward points for recycling.So when I go down to Philly on the train to visit my friends, I take a bag or two of plastic with me, and Regina Bannan, with whom I stay, puts them in her recycling.  I had to stop doing this for a while when I broke my wrists, but now I’m accumulating quart yoghurt containers and frozen entrée trays again big time. I store them in the trunk of our beat up old Corolla between trips. My husband loves it. ( :

Now you may think that Philly can afford to do this is because it’s a much richer city that New York, but you would be mistaken. Fact is, Philly recycles because the Mayor, Michael Nutter, is committed to doing so. And Mayor Bloomberg has other concerns. Of course, if Bloomberg were in on this conversation, he might remind us that only 20% of New Yorkers bother to recycle what they are allowed to recycle, so why spend money saving the likes of me the trouble of hauling bags of plastic to Philadelphia? NYC did recently award a $45,000 grant so a group can continue to collect compost at a handful of greenmarkets across the city. That would be about .0001 % of the city budget, I reckon.

But why, when it is so hot, would anybody be concerned that we are dumping vast quantities of plastic into landfills which will then spew out more methane and make global warming even worse?

Distinguished Pastor Emeritus Gets the Boot.

July 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Recently, a number of distinguished US Catholics have been condemned, or insulted, or excommunicated by the church to which they committed their lives. Among these are Mercy Sister Mary Margaret McBride of Phoenix, excommunicated for saving the life of a mother of four unable to carry a non-viable fetus to term; Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, excommunicated for speaking publicly in support of women’s ordination; and Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, whose book, Quest for the Living God, was condemned by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for making God sound too connected to human beings.

I have met several of these folks, or heard them speak, but I can’t say that I know them well. Now, somebody I do know, somebody I consider a friend, has joined the list of the institutionally abused.  Father George Crespin, 75 years old, pastor emeritus of St. Joseph the Worker Parish, in Berkeley, CA, has been put out of the rectory where he lived for the past thirty years by the new pastor, Rev. John Direen. Since his retirement  as pastor in 2005, Father Crespin has been the primary minister to the large Latino community in the parish.

St. Joseph the Worker was for decades a hub of Catholic social justice activism in the San Francisco Bay area. The pastor who preceded George Crespin was Father Bill O’Donnell, a social justice icon and disciple of Cesar Chavez who was arrested approximately 250 times during his years as a priest. George Crespin became pastor in 1995, continued the parish’s commitment to social justice and the poor, and welcomed the presence of the admittedly feisty O’Donnell in the rectory for seven years, until O’Donnell died in 2002. Now, however, Direen has put Crespin out, though Crespin is downright mild compared to Bill O’Donnell.

To grasp what’s going on here, it’s helpful to know that Crespin, and O’Donnell before him, were appointed by Bishop John Cummins, a “John XXIII” bishop, widely revered for his Vatican II sensibilities and practice. In 2003, Bishop Cummins was replaced by Bishop Allen Vigneron, a “John Paul II” bishop, now the archbishop of Detroit (and one of the bishops who condemned Elizabeth Johnson’s book). His successor in Oakland, Bishop Cordileone, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.

The occasion for George Crespin’s removal from his home. according to a report posted on the diocesan webpage, was Crespin’s violation of  rules regarding the administration of the sacraments. Now two other things you need to know about George Crespin are that 1)he was the head of the Marriage Tribunal, and then the chancellor of the Oakland diocese under Bishop John Cummins and 2) he’s a Chicano. The odds that the former chancellor of a diocese is just breaking the rules are not high. Doubtless what’s at issue is a difference of interpretation regarding the administration of the sacraments, one exacerbated by ethno-cultural differences. But in the Catholic Church, the guy on top (and I use word “guy” advisedly here) always wins.

Having observed Crespin celebrate the sacraments over a number of years, I can guarantee you that his behavior falls well within the Catholic tradition, though perhaps not the obsessive-compulsive strain introduced by Bishop Vigneron. (Vigneron was noted for saying, when he was the rector of the seminary in Detroit, that it was the only orthodox Catholic seminary in the US.) The mistreatment of my friend George Crespin reminds me of a story told me by a priest friend here in Brooklyn: a younger priest, recently arrived in the parish, warned him that it was irreverent not to vest before returning the host to the tabernacle after  weekly all-afternoon exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. My friend told him God was more interested in his service to the poor. Luckily, the young priest was not the pastor.

My final reflection on the expulsion of a highly respected pastor and former diocesan chancellor from the rectory in which he lived for thirty years has to do with the declining number of vocations to the Catholic priesthood in the US. Anybody who would become a priest after witnessing this kind of spectacle is too dumb for us to have him.

“America Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary”

July 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Well, with the summer reading season upon us, you may be looking for a great read–and have I got one for you. In 2010, Orbis published the second of Deirdre Cornell’s mesmerizing autobiographical volumes, American Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary. It’s about devotion to Our Lady in Mexico, and among Mexican migrants in the United States, in the context of the life and work of Deirdre, her husband Kenny, and their five children, who are deeply involved with the Mexican migrant community in the US. Here’s my review of Deirdre’s book, which appeared a while back in Gumbo, the newsletter of the Grail in the US:

In her first book, A Priceless View, Grail member Deirdre Cornell returns to her childhood home, Newburgh, NY, to share the life of the burgeoning migrant community there. But by the last few pages, she knows that she will leave. And her prediction is fulfilled: in 2004, Deirdre and her husband Kenney and three children move to rural Oaxaca, Mexico, as Maryknoll lay missioners, to deepen their understanding of the migrant cultures surrounding them in upstate New York. In American Madonna, Deirdre welcomes us into that experience.

At the heart of Deirdre’s reflections is Mary, the Mother of God. Here in the U.S., what with women’s liberation and the assimilation of white ethnic Catholics into the American middle class, devotion to the ostensibly sweet, passive Virgin Mary would seem a thing of the past. Yet as Deirdre observes, pilgrimages to sites of Marian apparitions around the world have mushroomed in the modern period, while the Madonna, bearing the marks of her various local inculturations, helps huge numbers of Latin American migrants in their journeys across the border to a new life in the North. Indeed, as Deirdre makes clear, the Virgin Mary is an ideal patroness for our globalized age, crossing borders during her lifetime between Israel and Egypt, and in her Assumption, between earth and heaven, even as she has accompanied travelers, missionaries and migrants across borders over the centuries.

Deirdre organizes American Madonna around three different manifestations of Mary: the Virgin of Solitude, the mourning Mother at the foot of the cross who watches over the capital of the southeastern Mexican province of Oaxaca; Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose apparition to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in 1532 marks the beginning of the inculturation of Christianity among the indigenous
peoples of Mexico; and my own particular favorite, Our Lady of Juquila, whose diminutive triangular figure has protected hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at her shrine on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca since 1719. In all cases, the Madonna crosses borders with her devotés, whether they are the Spanish missionaries who brought her with them to the Americas, the pilgrims journeying over hazardous
terrain to reach her, or the migrants who bear her north and sometimes return home to her motherly embrace.

It would be a pity for you to conclude from this that American Madonna is a theological study of the Virgin Mary, however.  It is that, in part, but it is also much more. Indeed, what makes this book a wonderful read is the deftness with which Deirdre weaves together the multiple strands comprising the reality of the Madonna. The lives of Mexicans encountered on both sides of the border
comprise one such strand; the history of the various Marian apparitions and the communities they inhabit is another. A third is the complex figure of the Virgin herself, her ancient history, her sexist appropriations, the protection and liberation she bestows on her followers. Yet another is the anthropology of pilgrimage and community, rendered accessible by clear writing.

And pulling it all together is the lyric voice of the author herself, from the wonderful portrayal, in the first chapter, of her own journey away from and back to Mary, to the traditional benedición with which her Oaxacan neighbors send her and her family back to the US at the conclusion. Indeed, it becomes clear as one drinks in this book that the “American Madonna” of the title is as much the
mother who brings her high-risk twins to term in the middle of her time in Mexico as it is the Madonna with whom she crosses and re-crosses borders throughout.  Those of us still inclined to wonder how the Virgin Mary can inspire communities and individuals to resist their oppression have only to read Deirdre’s mesmerizing connection of the bonding process between mother and child–in this case, her own–with the solidarity engendered by devotion to the Virgin Mary in Oaxaca. As she asks, “Can we from the dominant culture catch new glimpses of our mother–even when she does not look like us–in images that originated beyond our borders?”

More about Mary Louise

July 1, 2011 at 10:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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At the splendid memorial service for my friend Mary Louise Birmingham, held at Tibet House in Manhattan yesterday, four of her five children read moving reflections on her life and death. One of them, by her son, the photographer Tom Birmingham, is posted on his blog. There’s also a lovely picture of MLB when she was younger, in case you’re interested.

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