A Dry, Weary Land
Water is something Americans take for granted—until it’s not there. Just ask the residents of Gloucester, Mass., the fishing town known to readers of The Perfect Storm. It recently labored under two weeks of a “boil-water” restriction, thanks to some persistent bacteria, that had local restaurants scrambling to keep their businesses alive.
In Kenya it is the people who are struggling to stay alive. Hit with the worst drought in years, even the tonier parts of Nairobi sometimes now go without water for a week. But it is typically the poor who live in the sprawling slums of the capital and in the tiny villages that dot the vast bush country who are hardest hit. Drought leads to a terrible cascade of problems: no potable water, to be sure; then no water for crops; then no crops for livestock to consume. The Daily Nation, the country’s leading paper, reported two other ill effects: Eight people in the north died from cholera after drinking foul water from a well that would normally be avoided. And local poachers are slaughtering the animals on the country’s game parks, not surprising in a land where the word for animal is the same as the word for meat. The United Nations estimates that because of the drought and a grain scandal, in which tons were sold to funnel money into government officials’ pockets, four million Kenyans need food. The next time you turn on your faucet, remember to be grateful; the next time you open your wallet, remember to be generous.
That Was Close!
Mortgage applications are up; jobless claims are down; housing starts are on the rise; credit markets and regional economies are unfreezing; federal banks report their fiefs are “firming up”; Wall Street is churning out bonuses for comically overpaid executives once again. Some economists are worrying that gambling revenues are down and average Joes are saving too much instead of bulking up on new flat screens at Costco.
Though the horizon is far from clear and the suffering is not over—toxic assets remain unaccounted for and new rogue waves of foreclosures still threaten—some economists are beginning to suggest that the nation has survived the Great Recession of 2007-9. What now?
Are we as a culture planning to do anything differently? Are we going to look at new finance and banking regulations (or reinstate old ones that were cravenly repealed during an era of big bank overlordism in Washington)? Is someone finally going to explain in English what a derivative is?
Are we going to address seriously our addiction to foreign oil, our weakness as a global economic and diplomatic power and our overuse of military might to deflect the same? Are we willing to sacrifice more, consume less and pay down our public and private debt? Are we willing to pay as we go with higher taxes and fees and restrained spending instead of passing debt on to our grandchildren?
Are we finally willing to invest in our crumbling infrastructure and debilitated human capital instead of the morally hazardous capacity to launch two major ground wars at the same time? Are we ready to behave like serious people coming to reasonable decisions about the future of our nation?
Are we planning to exhale deeply, emit a low whistle and exclaim, “Whew, that was a close one,” thank our stars we were not one of the unlucky ones laid off in this collapse and get back to business as usual in this credit and carry culture? Or will we change?
Praying as Family
“The closer people sit to each other [at Mass] the better they understand the meaning of Eucharist. Conversely, the farther apart people sit from each other, the less their understanding.” Such is the index suggested by Paul Bernier, S.S.S., to measure the depth of understanding people have of the Eucharist (Emmanuel magazine, September/October 2009).
Does this apply to your parish? Or to your choice of a pew or seat? The point Father Bernier is making is that during Mass we are not to focus on our own individual personal piety or devotion. Rather, we gather as God’s community in public worship around the table of the Lord for a sacrificial meal. We are not scattered individuals, observers of what the priest does for us. The congregation, led by the priest, offers together the sacrifice of Christ.
In most African churches on Sundays, this matter of people sitting far apart is almost never a problem. Whether the church is a small outstation or a large cathedral, Sunday Masses are often overcrowded, with standing room only. Surely that contributes to the spirit of celebration that is so apparent and tangible. In the United States by contrast, many of our large, ornate churches have diminishing numbers of parishioners. Might not one of the functions of the ministers of hospitality be to direct people to come up front and center? Then we might begin to see the congregation not scattered throughout the church but rather sitting, kneeling and even singing close together as God’s family.