Category Archives: Religion

Reflection on a Year Overseas

London – Eleven months and eleven days ago I moved from Kansas City, Missouri, USA to London, England. Eleven months and eleven days ago I left home and went on a great adventure that has forever changed the way I see myself, and the world. In the past I have said that one of the best ways to begin to know oneself is to understand the places from whence one comes. And, while time away has given me a greater appreciation for all the trappings and comfort of home, it has also given me the chance to explore some of the places from whence my own ancestors came: particularly in Ireland, in England, and in Finland.

As a historian, but perhaps more importantly as an American, this was a rare opportunity that very few of my fellow countrymen could ever hope to achieve. On the last Friday of May 2016, I quite possibly became the first descendant of my third great-grandparents, Juho Heikki and Anna Sophia Kuivaniemi, to return to their hometown of Rauma, Finland since 1879. On the other hand, I followed in the footsteps of my grandparents and was able to walk the roads and visit the town of Newport, County Mayo where my grandfather’s parents were born, and visit the nearby cemetery at Burrishoole Friary where the ancestors of so many of my relatives are buried. So many names from America are carved into those tombstones, yet here on the shores of Clew Bay they are in their original setting.

Yet perhaps most importantly over the past year I have had my beliefs, my understandings, my very philosophy of life and nature challenged time and again by friends and colleagues alike. I am eternally grateful to them all for those discussions, for those opportunities to think anew, opportunities which one day will lead me to act anew. Those beliefs, those views of mine which held water remain, while others have been left by the wayside, abandoned after much debate and discussion. I hope I am all the wiser for the people that I have met, and the great friendships that have been forged. We come from such different corners of the world, with different backgrounds, different views, different languages, yet respect abounds amongst us far more than contempt.

Next week I will at long last be returning home, to Kansas City, Missouri, in the heartland of the United States. I will return to the heat and humidity, and the allergies. Yet I will also be returning to my family, to many friends old and young. I am excited to be coming home once again, and looking forward to being surrounded by all those familiar things, sights, sounds, and smells. I did not realise it until I had been away, that even the softest sensory detail can be missed. Whether it be the sound of the wind whirling through the branches of the trees, or the familiar voices on NPR’s All Things Considered set to the backdrop of Kansas City at sunset, its streets filled with cars heading to and fro. In London I found that on winter nights, when the sky was clear and the street lamps glowed in a distinctly mechanical way, I missed hearing the familiar voice of Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace coming over the radio as I’d often hear at a similar time of night back home.

Yet I return to a country on edge, a country that has seen so much anguish, so much anger, and so much fear over the last year. The signs have been about for a while now. Since President Obama was elected in 2008 nearly every racist, closeted or not, has come out of the woodwork and ensured that the rest of us would have to hear their nonsensical cacophony rattling on. We could ignore racism as the rantings of the mad if it were not for the reality that words plant seeds, seeds sprout actions. Once again, around the world bigotry seems to be in fashion like it was in the 1920s and 1930s. There is always someone available for people to hate or fear. As Woody Allen put it in a recent interview with Catherine Shoard of The Guardian,

It’s in the nature of people to have someone to scapegoat. If there were no Jews in the world they would take it out on blacks. If no blacks, they’d move over to Catholics. No Catholics? Something else. Finally, if everyone is exactly the same, the left-handed people would start killing the right-handed people. You just need an other [on whom] to vent your hostility and frustration.

I know that bigotry has been around for a long time, and probably will still be around long after I’m dead, but I honestly did not really experience it until when I was at least around thirteen or fourteen. I remember some of the boys at school using the word Jew as an insult, which didn’t make sense to me, as I had always gotten along well with my Jewish friends and neighbours. I also never really had anything against African Americans, but after years of hearing from my classmates and friends that “Troost was dangerous,” I was less willing to go to the African American neighbourhoods east of Troost Avenue in Kansas City, MO. Subconsciously or not, I was accepting a racist ideology that I consciously abhorred.

Perhaps the best example of my reaction to bigotry comes from a strange experience that I had when I was fourteen, where an individual who I was working with at the time told me to my face, “I don’t like Catholics” knowing very well that I was a Catholic. I was shocked by this, not necessarily because he was saying that he didn’t like me because of my religion, but more so because his dislike for Catholics simply didn’t make any sense. Over the years as I have been exposed to a variety of opinions and ideas, and I have found myself adopting some similar views, whether it be a dislike for one particular nationality, or religion, or political philosophy, or a preference for a particular country over another. Yet each of these blanket opinions have been swiftly overturned as soon as I have met someone who fits into one of those categories.

How can I say that I hate someone or fear someone simply based upon their nationality, religion, politics, or even based upon the colour of their skin? It makes no sense. Bigotry of all kinds makes absolutely no sense!

I am proud of who I am. I am proud to be Seán Thomas Kane, or Seán mac Tómas Ó Catháin as it is in Irish. I am proud to have been born in Chicagoland, and to have lived most of my life in Kansas City. I am proud to be my parents’ son, and my grandparents’ grandchild, a nephew of my aunts and uncles, a cousin of my cousins, godson of my godparents, and a friend to all my friends. I am proud to be of Irish, English, Welsh, Finnish, Swedish, and Flemish descent. I am proud to be an American citizen. I am proud to have been a resident of the City of London for the past eleven months and eleven days. I am proud to be a historian, a writer, a filmmaker, an occasional musician and sketch artist. I am proud to be a Catholic.

But beyond all of these categories and more within which I fit, I am most proud, and most humbled to be human. We are all unique, we are all different, yes, as the crowd shouted up to Brian, “We are all individuals!” But most important of all is that we are all human. If we consider less what separates us and more what we have in common then surely we will be nicer to each other, and have better lives. If those in my country screaming against immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, Latinos, and all others considered what they have in common with the rest of us then surely they would think twice about their words and actions.

I am not proposing any sort of edifiable change, any sort of reform for our prisons, our city planning, our law codes, or our schools, all that will come next. What I am proposing is the essential necessity for any reform to happen. We must have a change of heart. We are all human.

On Service

Over the weekend I have been thinking about how my three main academic foci, these being History, Theology, and Politics, can intersect and cooperate. I find it far easier to find the intersection of History with Politics, after all much of my work has been in the realm of Political History. That only leaves the gap between Politics and Theology.

Earlier this evening I realised that it is Martin Luther King, Jr day back home in the United States. Dr King’s lifework was a direct human embodiment of the correlations between Theology and Politics. While I firmly support maintaining the separation of Church and State, and preserving the secular nature of American politics, as dictated in the early years of our republic, I recognise one vital theme which flows within the hearts of both disciplines: that of service.

Good theology centres on themes of selfless service. To quote the Gospel of John, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down [one’s] life for [one’s] friends.” In this case, as is more common, the laying down of a life is not actual martyrdom, but rather sacrificial service, a giving up of some liberty or possession or individual possibility for the good of another or of the whole community.

Good politics in turn is founded upon a similar principle. To devote one’s life to public service is not only a great choice but also a great sacrifice. Once one has chosen to align one’s individual interests fully with those of the public, one loses a degree of independence yet gains a greater appreciation for others. Marcus Aurelius writes in his Meditations, “Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than according to the perfect principles of art.” (Med. IV:2). As an actor on the political stage, be sure to have a reason as to one’s presence on that stage, but let that reason be founded upon one’s role as a citizen, a “member of a civil community.” (Med. III:7).

As Marcus Aurelius writes, “Nothing is evil which is according to nature” (Med. II:17), so too with good theology and good politics. One might say that some policies, such as support for same-sex marriage is contrary to nature, yet I disagree with that assessment, after all if nature is an element of the divine, accepting that all that is natural was created by a Divine Essence far in the past, through what science has called the Big Bang, then one cannot say with verity that anything non-artificial, that is anything not made by humans, is contrary to nature.

Nature is something which is too vast a concept to truly define in a few words, though we certainly have come up with ways to explain elements of it. Among these are theology; an  explanation of nature’s relationship with the Divine, and politics; an explanation of how human societies can organise and survive in light of the whimsical manner of nature.

Perhaps the best manner in which one can act for the good of nature, and the good of others is through public service. In this way theology and politics do intersect in a common purpose: the betterment of individual lives, and the promotion of common liberties.

Why Kansas City’s Catholics must Come Together

Let me begin by admitting to the fact that I haven’t written anything for this site in some months. After having written so frequently, so fervently on many a topic, I found myself exhausted, unhappy with the prospect of setting my thoughts to ink and paper. However, the greatest, most pressing issue at hand for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph, my home diocese, is one which brings my pen forth from its stupor.

As many will know, I have been highly critical of the now Bishop Emeritus Finn. His authoritarian leadership style, as well as his suppression of any official dialogue between social conservatives, liberals, and moderates within the diocese left me unwilling to offer anything but criticism towards his administration. All that said, I do not intend to demean his character. I have met Finn, on a number of occasions. On my first assignment as a journalist, at the 2009 National Catholic Youth Conference which was held here in Kansas City, I interviewed both Bishop Finn, as well as his counterpart from across the border, Archbishop Naumann. I found both men highly intelligent, and Finn in particular to be quite friendly and personable. For one thing he actually remembered my name, and stopped to ask me how I was doing the next time I was in the same room.

In most regards, as a liberal, I have frequently found myself in disagreement with my friends and colleagues. In recent years, as I have began to shed the scales of fear, I have in turn become more outspoken in my views, more willing to speak out when something that I find something good, or ill in the world. Let me be clear, though, to those who do not look on my views and persuasions favourably, that all that I believe, all that I espouse, is founded upon the two greatest commandments given by God to humanity: to love God, and love one’s neighbour. It is for this reason that I do not seek to insult Finn’s honour, only to speak out against his actions.
On Tuesday, I celebrated, and breathed many a sigh of relief. At long last, the leadership of the Catholic Church in my adopted city does not outwardly favour my fellow Catholics whose views are on the opposite side of the aisle from my own. Yes, I say yes, all things are political! All things are related to politics, especially in the Roman Catholic Church! Any body as old as ours, as powerful as ours, as wealthy as ours, any body with named “Roman” must be political by nature. We may not like that fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. It is better that we embrace the truth than continue to deny it.

I write today to my fellow Catholics in Kansas City with a simple request. We must work together again, as we have in the past. We must heal the wounds that have been wrought over the past ten years. We must reconcile, and as one body in Christ reunite our increasingly divided diocese. Liberals, conservatives, moderates, Tridentine Mass attendees, as well as those who prefer a more progressive type of Mass should come together, work together, to build a better diocese, a better community.

This coming Sunday, I will be at my home parish, Saint Francis Xavier, for Mass with the parish community that my maternal family has been a part of for five generations. I ask my fellow Catholics here in the Kansas City-St Joseph Diocese to do the same. Let us all pray for our diocese that we might reconcile and reunite. Let us also pray for our most recent Bishop Emeritus, as he moves into the next phase of his life, that he may think of his time here in Kansas City, and consider both what he did, and that which he chose to forgo doing. Let us also pray for our Pope, Papa Frank as I call him, that he might find the best candidate, with God’s guidance, to become our next bishop.

I thank you all for your attention, and ask God for his blessings upon each and everyone of you, no matter whom you are.

23 June 2014 – Humanity

I don’t care who you are

I don’t mind if you are conservative or liberal

nor if you are a communist or a fascist.

I don’t like that you might see this person or that person

as lesser than yourself

and am more saddened that your view of the world is so small.

Beyond all other possibilities we have seen

throughout history that narrow-mindness dies out

as it blinds the observer from pluarlity

and the ability to change when necessary.

I don’t care who you are

I don’t care what you think

I don’t care if you love me or hate me.

You could put the gun to my head

You could drag my name through the mud

You could desecrate all that I hold dear

and I would still have respect for you.

Why? How? Am I mad?

Perhaps to some I may seem unhinged.

My respect for you comes from something simple

derives from something beautiful

born from the sea-foam like Aphrodite

or out of the head of the divine like Athena.

It is sacrificial like Christ’s death

it seeks truth and wisdom like the Buddha

it sings out like the Adhan from the minaret.

It burns eternally like the fire of Zoroaster.

I respect you for one simple reason

I respect that name by which we are all called

I respect your humanity

Thus I respect you.

Link

Care – a good aid organisation

Washington, D.C. – This afternoon, I was stopped by a Liberian gentleman working for an organisation called Care, which does aid work around the globe. We talked for about 10 minutes, in part because he was doing his job trying to raise money for that organisation’s aid work, but also because frankly I was rather interested in what he had to say.

Every penny can help the poor and needy around the world. Those of us who live rather well, who don’t have to worry nearly as much about finding food for the day or clean water can easily give to those who do have to go through those struggles. As is written in Leviticus, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” That is something worth living by. I explained to him that I didn’t have much money to give to him at the time, but what I could do was to write an article promoting Care, which would go out to my readers around the world.

If my Liberian friend does read this, peace to you and thank you for the enlightening conversation that we had today.

What’s to come in March

Kansas City – March is always a big month on the calendar. It’s the Trinitarian month, the month when the activities of Winter begin to give way to their Summer counterparts. It’s a month of change. Often, for my fellow Catholic and Orthodox Christians, March is completely consumed in one of the holiest seasons of the year: Lent.

If you want to know my views on Lent, don’t worry, I’ll be brief: Yes, if it is in your tradition do observe it! I take a more simple route compared to some of my fellow Catholics: no meat on Fridays, and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This means only 2 big meals and 1 small meal on those days, and no meat. Also, key is the giving up of something which you feel can keep you from Christ. I tend to take this more spiritually than physically, meaning that I don’t give up sweets or chips (fries). Rather, in the past few years I’ve given up negative emotions and mentalities such as hate, irrational fear, and this year excess and unnecessary worry. Yes, I haven’t always been successful with these: hate was simpler to give up than irrational fear, but I find it to be a good exercise in self control, which is a habit that is necessary in any and every social setting.

A huge part of this is foregoing the self, not focusing on one’s own person as much, and instead focusing that energy upon the wellbeing of society in general. We should try to challenge ourselves to forgo having “I” at the top, favouring “We” instead. Many Christian mystics have argued that the first step towards a fuller relationship with the Divine is to forgo one’s own self in favour of the will of another, in this case God.

Now that’s sorted out, onto some of the articles you can expect to find on this website in the coming weeks.

Image

Courtesy of Red Bull Racing

Thursday evening for us in the States (Friday morning for Europe and the Middle East, and Midday Friday for Australia and New Zealand) marks the start of the official race schedule for the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship! This weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, taking place at Albert Park in Melbourne, is sure to be a thriller. With longtime contender Mark Webber out of the running, the starting grid will seem a bit more empty, and without the old V8 engines it’ll certainly be a wee bit quieter, but undoubtedly it’s bound to be an eventful and exciting race weekend from the capital of Victoria. I’ll begin my coverage of it on Friday afternoon with thoughts on the Practice sessions, continuing Saturday and Sunday with the qualifying and race results in due course.

One thing to make note of regarding Formula 1: considering that I’m writing from North America, most of these races take place in the middle of the night my time, as I’m on Central Time (March to October GMT -5, November to early March GMT -6) I’ll probably be posting my articles up to 24 hours after the actual events occurred, in part because I’ll be watching tape-delayed, and also because as much as I do enjoy F1, it’s not generally something that I’ll get up at 3 in the morning to see. Now, I will write on the races in Western Europe and the Americas closer to time, but I’ll let the lads at NBC Sports do the graveyard shift for the rest of us here in the States.

Next, and closer to home, is the start of the summer sporting season here in the US and Canada. In particular, I’m referring to Major League Baseball’s Spring Training and Major League Soccer’s season’s start. I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys baseball to watch the season opener between the LA Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia. It’ll be broadcast as a double-header on Saturday 22 March at 3.00 and 22.00 CDT, and will be nationally broadcast in the United States on MLB Network. The Cubs’ home opener will be on 4 April vs the Phillies at 13.20 CDT, and will be broadcast as per tradition and reason on WGN (hopefully nationally as well.) The Royals’ home opener will also be on 4 April at 15.10 CDT and will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Kansas City.

Major League Soccer began its 2014 season last weekend with much gusto! Though Sporting KC didn’t leave Seattle with a win, they still played quite well over the course of the 90 minutes. I was also glad to see the Vancouver Whitecaps give the New York Red Bulls a stunner, beating the Supporter’s Shield winner 4-1 on Saturday evening in Vancouver. Hopefully tonight Sporting KC can return home and play for a win over Mexico’s Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions’ League. We’ll just have to see…

Remembering Mandela

Image

 

“Let there be peace for all. Let there be justice for all. The Sun shall never set on such a glorious human achievement.” – Nelson Mandela.

Kansas City – Yesterday evening, South African President Jacob Zuma made a mournful announcement to his fellow South Africans, and the World, “My Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding President of our democratic nation, has departed.” Mandela was 95 years old.

For me, Mandela was always who I thought of when South Africa, and Africa in general, came to mind. He was a figure who entered the zenith of the world stage in 1994, just a few years after I was born. Mandela’s life was one of struggle and determination, fortitude and intense humanity. What allowed him to stand out and above the rest was that he was able to see the humanity even in those who imprisoned him for so very long. His uniting of South Africa behind Springbok, their national rugby union team, is just one of those genius moments of his presidency. Known to many by his Xhosa clan name Madiba, Mandela has been someone seen as a model in grace and perseverance for the rest of us to look up to in admiration. As British Prime Minister David Cameron said last night, “He was not just a hero for our time, but a hero for all time.”

Requiescat in Pace, Nelson Mandela. It is a well deserved rest after such a long and eventful life.