Feast of St. Stephen

St. Stephen

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” – Tertullian

I remember the story of Saint Stephen vividly from my elementary school religion class. A disciple of Christ, he proclaimed the good news and was brought before the Sanhedrin. He refused to recant about Jesus and so he was condemned by none other than Saul who would later convert and become one of the greatest Apostles. Even as he was stoned to death Stephen praised God and forgave his executors. The whole story is told in one chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

The story is very similar to that of Christ: a man falsely accused, put to death, yet forgiving his enemies. The lesson is that anyone, even the fully human, can follow the path of Christ. It’s a tough lesson, because it is a hard choice to make to lay down one’s life for one’s faith.

Stephen is the first martyr and thus his feast day was placed near the day of Christ’s nativity. Because of the proximity to Christmas, St. Stephen’s day is celebrated in many countries as a holiday in it’s own right, akin ot Boxing Day. This includes Ireland where on St. Stephen’s Day children celebrate the Wren Dance. The events of one of my favorite Christmas carols “Good King Wenceclaus” take place on the Feast of Stephen, in which the Czech saint gives alms and miraculously rescues his page. Another favorite song of mine, “St. Stephen” by the Grateful Dead lyrically appears to have nothing to do with the saint, but is a good song nonetheless.

More on St. Stephen can found at Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic Online, and Saint of the Day.

Happy St. Stephen’s Day!

Charlie Card is Here

My plastic Charlie Card arrived in the mail today. This is the bold new venture of the MBTA, a reusable debit card of sorts that can open turnstiles and pay for buses with just a tap. This should be great news to people concerned about security (“thieves will steal my card with all that money on it”), conspiracy theorists (“the governments gonna use this chip in the card to track me”), and curmudgeonly types (“wait and see how this one’s going to flop”).

Personally, I’m not as negative as many commuters are regarding the T, and except for some occasional grumbles I appreciate having an effective public transit network. That being said somedays I feel the MBTA is a center of entropy. The 18-month process of installing the new turnstiles abd card readers has several examples of the MBTA creating chaos despite their best intentions.

  • The new turnstiles were first installed at Airport station where vistors to our town could buy passes that didn’t work anywhere else on the system.
  • Replacing reusable tokens with one-time use tickets and the inevitable piles of litter that ensued.
  • Tickets have to be dipped down into the fareboxes on buses, slowing down the boarding process.
  • Naming the new ticket after a satrical political protest song in the first place doesn’t bode well for confidence in the system.

Let’s hope the new plastic cards are the end of these types of problems for the T and not the source of a whole bunch of new ones.

To keep track of things I’ve added Charlie on the MBTA to the blogroll.

For a peek back to Charlie’s MTA, take a look at this sweet scan of an old system map I discovered through Universal Hub.

Boston Globe article on Paulist Center campaign

The Paulist Center Boston is in the midst of a campaign to reach out to Catholics who feel alienated by the clergy sex scandal, parish closings, and others who may not feel welcome in the Catholic church. Today’s Boston Globe has an article on the campaign, “Priests campaign to win back flock.” My favorite part of the article is this quote from Fr. John Ardis:

“We decided we could no longer hide a good thing,” Ardis said. “Fewer and fewer Catholics are connecting with the church. They’re not necessarily finding another home, and they’ve, in a sense, somewhat given up. . . . This was the time to really let people know this is a place that welcomes all.”

Baptized Pagan has a good commentary on the article and how the Globe writers overlook the lay staff and Paulist Center Community participation in this ministry.

It’s appropriate that this article is published today, the day after the anniversary of the passing of Fr. Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulist Fathers. Fr. Hecker’s mission is alive and well in the Paulist Center Community.

People Who Are Not Me

I don’t have a common name, at least not in the United States, but there are a few people more famous than I with the same name.

First there’s Liam Sullivan, an actor who appeared in guest spots in numerous TV shows from the 50’s to the 80’s. I remember as a child having moments of glee seeing my own name in the credits of “The Twilight Zone” and “St. Elsewhere.” His most famous role is that of the telepathic Parmen on the “Star Trek” episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

Until recently if I searched my own name in Google I would get hundreds of Star Trek related hits. I chalked this up to the fact that there’s an overlap between geeky people who like “Star Trek” and geeky people who like the internet. In recent months this has changed thanks to the efforts of Los Angeles-based comedian Liam Kyle Sullivan. This namesake has scored an internet phenomenon with his video “Shoes.” (NSFW language)

I didn’t know quite how popular it was until the other night when I got a phone call at 11 o’clock at night. “Are you the guy who did that ‘Shoes’ video.” I sent an email to the creator to let him know I’m getting his phone calls and got a nice message back. If you want to contact Liam Kyle Sullivan and not me, you can find his email on his website.

News of the Road

Yesterday during my lunch break I noticed at least a half-a-dozen news vans from competing TV stations parked on the grassy bank of the Charles River off Soldiers Field Road. If it was one news van I’d figure they’re just filming location scenery for the weather report, but with so many vans on the scene it had to be something big. What the big news was I could not determine, and finally decided it must be geese-related.

As it turned out, I missed quite a bit of excitement. A driver who may have had a seizure collided with another car and then he and his SUV plowed into the river. The most touching part of the story is that passersby jumped into the river to try to help rescue the driver. They commented that the water was cold and I personally consider it a blessing that the weather has been so mild for this time of year. Usually by this time the Charles is frozen over which could have caused almost instant death to the driver and his rescuers.

Another Boston Globe article suggests that driving could be made safer if there were fewer signs telling drivers what to do.

According to some researchers who study the psychology of driving, an overabundance of traffic signs makes drivers less likely to pay attention to any of them. And yet at the same time, drivers also pay less attention to their surroundings, secure in the knowledge that there will be instructions quite literally at every turn.

The researchers say the solution to this problem is to reduce — or perhaps even eliminate — traffic signage. It’s a solution the European Union, for one, is giving a try.

It immediately puts in mind of Leonard Wibberley who writes in The Trouble With the Irish that one of the differences between the English and the Irish is respect for signs. His example is that in Hyde Park there are no signs that say “don’t throw rocks at the swans” and no one throws rocks at the swans, but in St. Stephen’s Green there are signs and yet people do throw rocks at the signs. Since Boston is an “Irish” city I figured this might explain Bostonians casual indifference to road signs. But perhaps psychology explains it better.

The final road-related note comes from the Newton Streets and Sidewalks blog where Sean Roche makes a good case for why bicyclists need to be nice to motorists even though they tend to be careless and hostile toward bicyclists.

Objectively, we cyclists are far more put upon than putting upon. But, practically speaking, it’s irrelevant.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but if we want to live in a world that is more bike friendly, we really have to be model citizens. Being model citizens is not enough. We have to be active in our communities to create a more bike-friendly infrastructure and culture. But, if we want allies (or at least neutrals) in our activism, we also have to be nice to motorists. The world is generally hostile to us. Nice people like my mother-in-law are looking for reasons to dismiss our concerns.

It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It just is.

Last night, I dropped my bike off for a tune-up with the wonderful people at Broadway Bicycle School so I won’t be on two wheels again until after I return from my holiday travels, but it is something to think about for the new year.

News of the Spiritual

Three articles regarding faith, religion, and spirituality I’ve recently read, all from The Christian Science Monitor.

First, a story on the “common cathedral”, people who gather together by the fountain on Boston Common to worship al fresco. I’ve often seen this gathering after celebrating Mass at my own church which is in a building facing Boston Common. I hadn’t realized that the outdoor worship services actually are a ministry for the homeless, which makes it more interesting to me.

Second, an article on the little town of Bethlehem, where the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict and the security wall have kept away Christian tourists who usually benefit the community where Christ was born.

Finally an article on how humanitarian aid helps combat terrorism. Ryan Beiler comments on this article in his post on the God’s Politics blog, The Sermon on the Mount Actually Works.

And now a bonus article from the National Catholic Reporter, Ten mega-trends shaping the Catholic church by John Allen

Book Review: Cow Poetry by M. Frost

My friend from college and former housemate M. Frost is possibly the most talented person I know. She is a veterinarian, a photographer, a science fiction writer, and a poet among other things. Finishing Line Press just released her first chapbook of poems Cow Poetry as part of the New Women’s Voices Series.

Forget the concept of the pastoral, idyllic images of cows ruminating, or the anthropomorphic ideal of cows. These are cows as they are, down to their sinew, amuck in their own manure (in one case dried amusingly in the shape of a map of America). These are not “pretty poems” yet medical terminology dances lyrically across the page. M. Frost finds inspiration in death and decay and the occupational hazards of anthrax as well as in Edgar Allen Poe and the Irish epic The Cattle Raid of Cooley. I wouldn’t call these morbid poems though. Undergirding them all is the constant effort to learn from life as well as hope and healing.

If this type of poetry appeals to you go and buy many, many copies of Cow Poetry.

Cute animal stories

At risk of resembling the Metro newspaper (which I like to call The Daily Litter), I’m dedicating this entire post to news from the animal kingdom.

First, good news for homo sapiens who for reasons religious or otherwise find it disagreeable to be closely related to chimpanzees. According to Scientific American recent studies show that human beings and chimpanzees are not as genetically close as previously believed.

The new finding supports the idea that evolution may have given humans new genes with new functions that don’t exist in chimps, something researchers had not recognized until recently. The older value of 1.5 percent is a measure of the difference between equivalent genes in humans and chimps, like a difference in the spelling of the same word in two similar languages. Based on that figure, experts proposed that humans and chimps have essentially the same genes, but differed in when and where the genes turn on and off.

It feels good to be unique.

Other news reveals that human beings are not unique in the miracle of virgin birth. Specifically, a komodo dragon named Flora at the Chester Zoo in England has laid fertile eggs without mating with a male.

When Flora laid the 11 eggs, keepers discovered they contained embryos. Tests carried out by University of Liverpool scientists showed that Flora was both the mother and the father, a system of reproduction known as parthenogenesis.

Parthenogenesis – a term combining the Greek words for virgin and birth – occurs in some inspects, such as bees, as well as a limited number of vertebrates. A few other lizard species can reproduce without a male, but this is one of the very first times it has ever been reported in Komodo dragons.

Merry Christmas, Flora!

How to feel old

Step 1: Read the Pitchfork Media Top 50 Albums of 2006
Step 2: Count the number of albums you’ve listened too and/or own.
Step 3: Count the number of artists you’ve actually heard of.

If you’re like me, the results of this exercise will make you feel incredibly old. I own exactly two albums from this list and have heard of only nine of the artists.

In all seriousness, I don’t really know how to keep up with current music. At least not without spending a lot of money buying all these album’s on recommendation of Pitchfork, or NPR or whomever. Or subscribing to satellite radio which I am loathe to do. And music played on terrestrial radio is either the same classic rock/oldies I’ve heard a million times before, or dreck.

What a pickle!

News: Discouraging and Encouraging

Rocco Palmo broke the news last night in Whispers in the Loggia that Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was removed from his post at St. Leo’s Church in Detroit. The news was confirmed today in the National Catholic Reporter where Gumbleton regularly contributes “The Peace Pulpit” column. While Gumbleton is gracious in his quotes I suspect there is a political motivation of the type that plagues our Church behind the removal. The most interesting quote to me is Gumbleton’s commentary on clustering of parishes:

“I don’t think the church becomes most alive when parishes become mega-churches. I think smaller communities are much more vibrant and much more expressive of a community of disciples than big churches. [Big churches] become big service stations.”

In totally unrelated but more encouraging news, Streetsblog reports on a pedestrian safety initiative in Chicago which includes sting operations by police disguised as ordinary pedestrians.

Streetsblog emphasizes the lessons New York could learn from Chicago, and I add that Boston too could profit by example. Drivers on the Larz Andersen Bridge turning onto Soldiers Field Road in Boston and Memorial Drive in Cambridge are notorious in driving in a manner that puts pedestrians, cyclists, and their fellow motorists at risk. I’ve long thought that police stationed near the bridge fining all the violators could solve the financial problems of both cities.