Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The road goes ever on and on

Great article in the Washington Post today about a group of Franciscan friars on a six-week, 300 mile walking pilgrimage from southern VA to to the Franciscan Holy Land shrine in DC. Following Jesus' orders when He sent disciples out on missions, they took " no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic." Their story of relying on kindness of strangers, and offering their own kindness, brought tears to my eyes.

"Dressed like we are in our habits, it's like a walking sign that says, 'Tell us your life's problems,' " explained Cliff Hennings, the youngest of the friars at 23.

In every instance, the friars made time for conversation. They shot the breeze with a gang of drunk bikers, dispensed relationship advice to the brokenhearted commuters and bore witness to one and all, yea, even to the Chik-fil-A employee dressed as a cow.

What a beautiful, and humorous, tale of living simply and relying on Providence.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alumni update

I am a guest blogger on my high school's alumni website today, thanks to an invitation from one of my former English teachers. He had visited this blog, and so asked me to write about my VSC experience. It was a good exercise to try to distill a year into one short article. I hope the stories I chose to tell will help people realize what a volunteer year is all about.

While I was killing time in San Antonio, I was able to read Pope Benedict's new social justice encyclical Caritas in Vertitate (Love in Truth). Besides making me look business-like in the hotel restaurant, this was serendipitous, as I discovered a great quotation to use in my article.

Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature, to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that ‘becomes concern and care for the other.’” You can't get much more Vincentian than that. The Holy Father also cited a scripture verse that is the Daughters of Charity motto: The charity of Christ urges us. (2 Cor 5:14)

P.S. Fun Fact: The teacher who requested this article also got me on the road to Museum Studies. I wrote my first public history paper for his class my sophomore year of high school. He forbade any "depressing" topics, so I researched the history of the Smithsonian Institution. I liked the idea, but it turned out to be even more fun than I expected.

Two Palaces

On my San Antonio trip, I visited the Spanish Governor's Palace, a well-preserved downtown adobe building dating to around 1749. I thought it would be fun to compare it to the reproduction Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg. Besides the contrast of Spanish and English building styles, their difference connote the difference in political clout and trade access of the two cities. CW's palace strives to be an equal with mansions in the mother country, while San Antonio's one-story, six-room home appears to be making the best of local materials.

The biggest history lesson I took away from San Antonio's palace was that people of the past were much hardier than we are! That morning was about 90 degrees. Even wearing shorts and walking past electric fans, I was ready for a break from the stuffy indoors in about 10 minutes. How did those Spanish aristocrats in ruffled shirts and high-collared jackets survive? How did business meetings not deteriorate into bickering between sweaty, cranky colonial staff? Were they just accustomed to the climate from birth?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cathedral sights, Southwest Edition

Last week I unexpectedly got to spend some time in San Antonio, Texas. I quickly fell in love with the festive, friendly atmosphere there, not to mention all the incredible Tex-Mex cuisine. I don't know if I will ever really accept salsa from a jar again.

The sights were also amazing. Besides the Alamo, downtown is dotted with dozens of fascinating historic buildings. I went to Mass at the San Fernando Cathedral, which was built in 1749. Pope John Paul II visited in 1987.

Despite its 18th century style, the magnificent retablo of Christ the and evangelists was added only during recent renovations. The original sanctuary decorations were lost in an 1820's fire. (Which makes San Fernando a survivor in the style of the Wren, for all you WM alums.)

I loved this painting in the narthex of the women at Christ's tomb.

A shrine to El Cristo Negro is decorated with prayer requests.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"A wild sojourn so I can learn"

"How the Other Half Lives" from the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie helped inspire my blog title. In it, we meet Dorothy, a socialite who wants to try being working-class; and Millie, a small-town girl who wants to find a wealthy husband in the big city. AS they journey into the unknown, the girls become friends.

The VSC was like that, since the 8 of us came from experiences and hometowns all over the country. In many ways, we took a year off from our normal lives and selves. I know that several of my old hobbies and habits went on hiatus.

Now that I am re-connecting with friends back on the East Coast, it does seem like I have been on a trek into the wild somewhere. They really have no idea what I experienced there, but I have returned a year older and, I hope, wiser.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Archeological dig in my parents' garage

During all this epic packing, I've come across artifacts from my past life that I haven't seen in years. Old textbooks and class notes, even the half-completed application from that time I wanted to study at the Jagellonian University in Poland. Now that a few years have passed I have no qualms about pitching all the physics tests and modern Russian fiction readings from the early WM years.

I also found the calendar pages that decorated my walls senior year of high school - cathedrals and architectural photography of India. The more things change...

Friday, July 17, 2009

"I'll take my heart into battle/Give that freedom bell a rattle!"

Today marks the passing of another celebrity - legendary journalist Walter Cronkite. Being young'uns, my siblings and I know him better as the voice of Benjamin Franklin in the animated TV show Liberty's Kids. We just bought the entire series on DVD - nerd party!

LK is a surprisingly good PBS production dramatizing major events of the Revolutionary War. We see Independence unfold through the eyes of Franklin and his print shop assistants- Moses, a free black man; James, an apprentice; Sarah, a British ex-pat girl ; and Henri, a mischievous French orphan. The newspaper business conveniently takes the spunky but often whiny kids around the colonies and back.

Just watched the Williamsburg episode, which was pretty well done. On an errand for a new printing press, the group attempts to rescue Moses' brother Cato from slavery. Cato instead tries for freedom by anwering Governor Dunmore's call for slave soldiers. There's still time to hear Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech at St. John's Church in Richmond. James and Henri even partake in the fine tradition of colonial wall jumping!

My one beef with LK is its' often self-righteous modernity. Any mention of the South must contain ardent denunciations of OMG SLAVERY. Did you know slavery is evil? Just in case, we'll say it a dozen more times and assure you that Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were more enlightened than bad old Virginia. James' passion for up-to-the-minute headlines also borders on laughable. He has the attitude of a frantic Twitterer releasing self-important news blasts to the world.

Oh yeah, and then there are the celebrity guest voices. Ben Stiller as Thomas Jefferson? Sylvester Stallone as Paul Revere? We nerd haven't stopped laughing about it.

New adventures in living simply

Yesterday I got my first grad school stipend payment. Yay for money in the bank! It's a good bit more than my VSC allowance, but then I have to factor in new expenses like rent, utilities, the car that St. Joseph will find me etc. After some mental math I was in sticker shock.

Good news kids - I am still going to be poor. My "pocket money" will likely be only slightly more than in St. Louis. Good thing I like rice and beans.

Right now I'm in the midst of packing mania to prepare for the big grad school move. As usual, I have too much stuff. Today I spent much more at Wal Mart than I anticipated. I almost cried when I saw the total. Sure, I need a lot of miscellaneous things to start out in a new place, but not that much.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Crimes and Misdemeanors

I think I'm back in one of my detective novel phases. Brother Cadfael, McGurk, and Sherlock Holmes were my good buddies in middle school. Lately, I've rediscovered the Sister Mary Helen mysteries by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie.

These breezy stories feature a semi-retired San Francisco nun with a knack for assisting two Irish homicide cops in their investigations. Re-reading them after a year with the Daughters, I'm amazed at how much I can recognize in Sister Mary Helen's lifestyle. I also suspect that royalties from the novels fund the author's real work at a drop-inn center for homeless women. Sister Carol Anne writes about the world she knows, and makes you feel like you live there. Fun fact: she is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who were founded in - you guessed it - St. Louis.

While I was living in St. Louis, I got hooked on another set of female sleuth novels. Elaine Viets has penned two series about St. Louis detectives. Reporter Francesca Vierling and mystery-shopper single mom Josie Marcus are both no-nonsense girls from South St. Louis. You can bet that at some point in their novels, they will make a crack at residents of wealthy STL neighborhoods, and then go eat pork steak or fried ravioli. Theirs is the midwest where my parents grew up - you chat with your neighbors on their well-manicured rectangular lawns, and the kids all walk past mom-and-pop businesses on their way to school. It's a world I don't inhabit, but appreciate. Through her funny writing and her detective's investigations, Viets takes readers on a tour of STL zip codes and landmarks. Some of the information can sound dated, but overall it's a fun picture of a great city.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lindell Boulevard at sunset

One of my first attempts at serious photoshopping. I love how the modern Bank of America building contrasts with its older neighbors.

What dreams may come

President Obama met Pope Benedict XVI yesterday, and by all accounts things went very well. Besides discussing immigration, the Middle East, economics, etc, the Holy Father gave Obama a copy of his recent document "Dignitatis Personae." The President's response to this medical ethics gift? "I will have some reading to do on the plane."

Say what you will about the Obama's past faux-pas with British dignitaries, they did very well with this audience. Instead of useless DVD's, they gave a thoughtful, appropriate gift - a stole that had been placed on the body of St. John Neumann. Michelle is wearing her trademark cardigan and belted dress, but the look is understated and dignified.
On a side note, I'd like to learn more about this apparent female dress code of black dresses and mantillas for Papal audiences. Is that a rule or just a safe call? What would happen if I showed up in, say, blue or red?

The only downside of all the coverage of this happy meeting is that it gave me really, really weird dreams. Just before my alarm went off, I had a nightmare involving ponds, colonial stone walls, and a Papal visit to my hypothetical parish. Everyone got to meet the Pope except me!!
I was next in the receiving line when he wandered away with a group of well wishers. Then his SUV drove away when I was right outside the window. Why God, why???

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ugly As Sin?

Hilarious Catholic blogger Carolina Cannonball is sponsoring a contest on her site to find the "Ugliest Church Art." Since I grew up attending Mass in 1980's modernist buildings, I have a special place in my heart for religious decorations that make you go "wait...WHAT?!?!"

Here are my entries, all from my Monroe Scholar project on modern Catholic architecture.

At a Chicago parish, the Brain Coral Tabernacle. (I think it's supposed to be a burning bush, which is not a bad concept in theory.)

At Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, a tabernacle that I have heard compared to both a Weber kettle grill and the flames of Hell. This item is one of many questionable modern pieces installed in the late 1960's "renovation."

Back in a Virginia parish, here's a tabernacle that always makes me think of a Star Wars TIE fighter.
Lastly, lest tabernacles get all the attention, here's a statue from my home parish, St. Mark's. It's supposed to be the Holy Family with St. Mark's symbol, the lion. As a child, I just thought it was terrifying. Why does St. Joseph look like he's in a coma?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Leaving St. Louis

Hey Arch. You're looking fine as usual in the early morning light. It was awfully nice of you to see me off from the Amtrak station last week. I miss you already!

Walking around downtown Chicago with my cousin made me realize how truly small St. Louis' is. Still, I kind of miss how I could get downtown in less than 30 minutes. I also miss how the streets are in a reasonable grid, and how you can usually hit the speed limit on I-44 at rush hour. The past three days of northern Virginia traffic have reminded me of how insane the "National Capital Area" is.

Moving On

Sorry for the lack of posts in the past week. As you may have guessed, I have moved back to the East Coast from St. Louis. I spent a few days visiting relatives in Chicago, and now I have begun the long process of sorting and packing belongings for my move to grad school.

Leaving VSC is very surreal. I may be moving on, but most of my fellow volunteers are still there. The school teachers will be busy with summer school until the end of July. My family and friends may have seen pictures of my co-workers and roommates in STL, but they don't actually know them. They don't really know what the past year has been like. At times I am not even sure if I know myself. As I fall back into the routine of my family's house, it's like my VSC year didn't happen.

But it did.
I may not feel it right this minute, but "a year of service makes a lifetime of difference." I'm going to keep blogging here for the time being, remembering experiences from St. Louis and processing what I have learned. God's will and purpose for my life still feels as mysterious as ever - what purposes for my volunteer year will I disover long after it has finished?