Monday, April 4, 2016

Can a Film (and you) Change the Nation's Gun Laws?

Here's a cause that could use the untiring efforts of the unretired, who still want to make a difference in this very violent country. Because otherwise change will never happen. Namely, spread the truth -- the emotional and physical toll and the terrible statistics aided and abetted by the easy availability of guns.
That's what filmmaker Robert Greenwald is doing with his powerful documentary,  Making a Killing, which he is distributing free around the country. To find a screening near you or learn how to host your own house party or group screening, go to bravenewfilms 
The LA Times has also written about it here : 

I saw the film yesterday, and you can't walk away without feeling in your heart the devastation of a parent whose child goes to play at a friend's house, only to have one child accidentally kill another after discovering a weapon thought to be unloaded.
(More than 40 percent of gun owning families with children keep their guns unlocked.)

Or the horror of learning the many times, over a period of two months, that the Aurora, Colorado movie-theater gunman blithely ordered thousands of rounds of ammunition  and weaponry on the internet before executing his mass murder. Besides the bullets, he bought 2 tear gas grenades, 2 Glocks, a Remington shotgun, a Smith & Wesson rifle, handcuffs, a laser sight, incendiary explosive material, and more.
(A limit on ammunition purchases would have stopped the shooter from buying 6,000 rounds of ammunition.)

Or the despair of parents and a young soon-to-be-bride over the impulsive suicide of her fiancé, who might have reconsidered his rash decision had there been a waiting period before buying his gun.
(Every day 55 Americans kill themselves with a gun. And one of every four suicide attempts is decided in five minutes or less.)

Or the stories of children killed walking the streets or going to church in cities like Chicago, whose gun laws are routinely circumvented by gun shops on its periphery, gun trafficking  from other states, and by straw buyers.
(Between 2001 and 2010, more Americans died from Chicago gun violence than from the war in Afghanistan.)

Here's where you can stream the film. Give it the time it deserves (nearly two hours)
Or you can also pick a shorter segment most pertinent to your interest group (suicide, for instance, or domestic violence, or child gun safety.)

And here's where you can read more statistics, all sourced.
For instance, did you know that in the United States:
*Up to 40 percent of gun owners did not go through a background check;
* Every 16 hours, a woman is shot and killed by her boyfriend or husband;
* In states which require background checks, 46% fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.
And let's talk about the children.
*7 children are killed every day by gunfire.

Why is Robert Greenwald doing this? He thinks the nation may be at a tipping point when it comes to guns. Remember when no one wore seatbelts? When smoking was allowed everywhere?
And then finally after a long battle, everything quickly changed.
He's taking a grassroots, bottom-up  approach, giving the people his film to help them grasp the calamity of easy access to guns and rise up and have their voices make a difference, at last.

He makes it really easy. Just click here, type in your zip code and up pops your Congressmen and choices on how you want to reach them.  At the very least, tell them to support waiting periods, universal background checks, and mandated gun safety mechanisms.  Then invite your friends over for a showing of the movie and tell them to do the same.
(According to a national poll of gun owners and NRA members, 74 percent support universal background checks)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Prayers for Events of a Longer Life

So you've just signed an "advanced directive," maybe at your lawyer's office. You know, that's the  legal statement that spells out under what conditions you simply want to be allowed to die.
You head home and realize that this is not an ordinary moment that has just taken place. It's a powerful moment, one in which you have truly confronted the understanding that you are mortal and that your life will end.
Should there be a ritual for such a passage? A prayer or some kind of marking of this event?
Well there is, and it is just one example of an effort to bring spirituality and meaning to new transitions emerging as we live longer lives.
That's the mission of Rabbi Richard Address of Jewish Sacred Aging, whom I heard speak recently.
Here's one prayer for the signing of an advanced directive, among several others found here.
Rabbi Address on weekly radio show  

Blessed is ...God who has given me the power of choice and who has brought me to strength to make these decisions today.
Thank you for granting me the wisdom to think ahead and to understand the great range of possibilities that could come in the future.
When my time comes that I am no longer able to make decisons on my own behalf, may my wishes be carried out by those who are close to me.
I have been blessed with so much. May my family be at peace with my decisions. May we support one another through good times and bad. May we love one
another and cherish our time together. 
What about a prayer for the decision to enter hospice?
How about a blessing that a  widow or widower might say when they finally decide to take off their wedding ring and seek companionship again? 
Or what about a blessing that a married man or woman might want to receive to lift the feeling of guilt for seeking a relationship outside their marriage because their own spouse, long afflicted with Alzheimers, no longer recognizes them? Very controversial from the point of view of organized religion, but that doesn't mean that clergy aren't hearing such requests from their aging flock.
Rabbi Address attributes this change to the Boomer generation, who are essentially saying, "I'm undergoing life stages that I never thought I'd go through.  I want my Judaism to speak to me about this to give it some sense of foundation."
Imagine, what the new ritual for taking off a wedding ring is like,  Rabbi Address said.
The widow or widower enters the synagogue and quietly stands at the alter where he or she was married and where their spouse's funeral began.  Maybe a few friends are there to witness the moment, maybe adult children. Or he or she might be alone with the Rabbi.

This precious ring you slipped  on my finger as we stood under our chuppah, I took to my heart as a continuAous circle of love. 
It remained a symbol of our unity as we held our babies, celebrated our milestones, and soothed our hurts. 
A witness to all of our married days, it was once new and shining. With the passing of years, the color deepened and warmed as did the exquisiteness of our life together. 
Now I am without you and I must move to another way of living. I must begin a new life. As I remove this circle of love, I know it is not easy to let go and surrender into memory what once was and can no longer be. 
As I heal and go forward, I will always be strengthened by a life we cherished and that part of my heart that is forever yours.

Are other religions facing the same issues and seeking ways to  recognize these moments in a spiritual way?
Are there other events for which you'd like to see a ceremony or have a prayer?
I'd be curious to hear.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Retirement: Deja vu All Over Again

I know, I know. It's been months since I've written on this blog, and even now I feel as if I'm climbing a mountain coming back to it. It's as if I were leaving my job all over again and trying to figure out where to direct my energy.
Backing up: when I left the Philadelphia Inquirer, I began interviewing people for this blog about the transition from work to whatever dream they might have. Then suddenly, something I never dreamed of happened to me. I was asked to write a book on a topic I never thought I'd care about. It was a bit like an arranged marriage. As I got used to the idea, I fell in love with it. (Book comes out in the fall -- will tell you about it as we get closer.)
A couple weeks ago, I turned it in to my publisher – the culmination of two years of research and writing and wrestling down photos. And while there will be work to do as we go through the editing process, I'm in limbo right now. Betwixt and between. At loose ends.
As I confronted my last deadline (having blown several), I was getting up at 5 a.m. and getting off the computer late at night to finish. My mind was racing 24-7; the adrenalin was surging. My mind would not even rest at night as I dreamed of facts I had gotten wrong, people I should have interviewed, ways that I might fail.
Now,  with the manuscript turned in, it feels as if, once again, I've just walked out of  a pressure cooker job and into this unstructured world where I'm free to do what I want with my time.  There's plenty on my list of what I think I want to do. It's just that I'm not ready to motivate myself to tackle them.  Instead, I meander around the supermarket, imagining complicated meals I will cook for my  spouse, long neglected. Or browse online websites like Amazon, Zulilly, and RueLaLa for clothes I haven't bought myself in ages or gifts for the grandkids. But at the end of the day have little to show for any of my time.
When I worked on long projects during my newspaper career, whether as a reporter or an editor, I felt this same inertia when the Sisyphean effort finally made print. Let down. Lethargy. So I know this is normal.
Bear with me. I'll be back to my old unretiring self soon, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

100,000!! (but who's counting)

Happily tunneling through

Today, "Unretiring" passed the 100,000 hits mark. Wish I could say it was for one day, but it's more like several years, though frankly, I got my flu shot so I don't expect a virus to attack.
I have immersed myself lately in a subject I never planned to know anything about. But my path to discovery has been exciting and invigorating. Within a few days, I'll be turning in my book, having tunneled through records of the last century and a half. If anyone had  told me that I'd become perhaps the foremost expert on the history of Boathouse Row in Philadelphia when I left newspapering, I would have cracked up laughing. But a couple years later, ask me anything!! Which goes to show that there's life after newspapers for those many who have sadly lost their jobs and those likely to follow.

I'll be picking my blog up again soon. But thanks to search engines, people keep finding old posts which accounts for the  record today.

Thanks, everyone!  May you have a happy new year with a little risk taking to explore outside your comfort zone. Never know what excitement you may find.

Friday, December 11, 2015

What I learned from a Young Buddhist Nun in Vietnam

A young Buddhist nun in Hanoi shares her ideas

What wisdom can a 20-year-old Buddhist nun impart to a group of people more than three times her age? This young Vietnamese woman, who at the age of 15 joined a nunnery  in the Imperial city of Hue, had us almost in tears by the end of an hour-long conversation.  First we asked her all kinds of questions:
Why did she decide to become a Buddhist nun? (She was inspired by the way an older brother who had become a monk had changed.)
What is her day like? (She gets up at 3:30 AM, brushes her teeth, chants for 45 minutes, does some cleaning,  has breakfast at 6, goes  to school, returns, more cleaning, more chanting and bed by 9:30 PM.)
 What does she find most rewarding and most difficult? (Finding inner peace is the most rewarding--and also the most difficult.)
And then she asked us a question: What was the greatest difficulty we had experienced  in our lives? Some answered "raising children." Others said "balancing work and family." But most said "losing a loved one."
To which she responded that "Yes, that is the most difficult. You are sad but we meet people and then they leave, just as we are meeting today. And we must let them go though they stay in our hearts. That is Buddhism. We believe the one who has left us also feels our pain and we must find peace so that they may find peace. (And maybe be reincarnated.)
Except for the reincarnated part, her words touched home.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

In Absentia (Wondering What I'm up to?)

Almost every day,  recently, I've wished I had the time to get back to my blog.
But others have been speaking up on issues about which I am passionate:
--The front page editorial in the New York Times that lambasted our national policies and politicians for their support of guns, as we so easily arm our own terrorists at home.
--Stories about Pennsylvania's Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin who can sit smugly in his black robes with his hammer of justice while emailing buddies and male co-workers material some describe as pornographic, misogynistic, and racist.
Even the governor of Pennsylvania has called for his resignation. I second that.
On a more upbeat note, I was interested in an article about how companies are getting smarter about keeping older workers, even using technology to help them get the job done easier.
Here's one on companies doing i right.
And another on new technologies.
I really liked this one about an exoskeleton you can wear with sensors that helps older folks continue to do jobs that require heavy lifting.

My excuse? I'm finishing a book ... my unretirement project.
Happy holidays. Don't let the grinches get to you.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope in My Back Yard: The News Scoop

The pope at St. Joe's U.  --Gia Avallone

In a surprise detour, Pope Francis and his good friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka dropped by the new Jewish-Catholic sculpture at St. Joseph's University. Fortunately, I had been to the dedication of the sculpture two days earlier and  had just  interviewed Rabbi Skorka, in from Buenos Aires for the dedication. With the adrenalin racing from my old reporting days, I turned around this story for The Forward in a couple of hours. Because of my access, it's one you won't read elsewhere. You can read  the story in The Forward here.

With the words of Pope Francis 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope in My Back Yard: Sightings

Philadelphia at its best
With our street facing the Pope's sleeping quarters and totally blocked off, we did an end run and came up a side street this morning just before he arrived. I got to see his arm waving out his Fiat. But later in the day, came the fun. Riding through empty streets on our bikes to go into Philadelphia, past smiling, friendly uniformed police, National Guard, Border Patrol, Secret Service.
Friends with a high view had invited us and while you could see the Pope better on TV and hear his impassioned ex temp speech on love better there, too, we had spectacular views of Philadelphia.

Looking towards the Philadelphia Art Museum

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope in My Back Yard: The Rabbi and the Sculpture

"Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time," dedicated today
Pope Francis' good friend and co-author Rabbi Abraham Skorka  arrived in Philadelphia a day ahead of the pontiff. (And like the Pope, he is also staying just a block from my house, though not at St. Charles Seminary. We have quite a high-end bed-and-breakfast community going here)
This afternoon Rabbi Skorka  was the keynote speaker at a dedication of an important sculpture -- one that shows Christianity and Judaism on an equal footing.
A dialogue between Rabbi Skorka and his friend, when he was Cardinal Bergoglio, deepened their relationship and their conviction that both grew spiritually from a closer understanding of each other and each other's theology.
Rabbi Skorka
That belief -- and also the effort to fight longstanding anti-Semitism, often within the Church -- led St. Joseph's University to establish, in 1967, The Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, which is responsible for the new sculpture, along with a number of Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee. (*See list of other participating organizations below)
So, about that sculpture: All over Europe a sculptural representation of Judaism and Christianity in the form of two women,  shows the Christian "Ecclesia" -- tall and proud and wearing a crown -- and "Synagoga," who is blindfolded by a serpent, her staff broken, her tablets slipping from her hand. It represents the triumph of Christianity over Judaism.
The new sculpture, called   "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time," by Joshua Koffman, shows the two women seated beside each other, almost like two sisters, reading over each other's shoulders.
Below is the Medieval version:
Medieval version, Strasbourg Cathedral

Beside collaborating on their book, On Heaven and Earth, Rabbi Skorka and Pope Francis appeared together on TV 31 times, showing how debate and dialogue with each other deepened their respective faiths. It's time, said Rabbi Skorka, for a "new world in which we are no longer foreigners with each other." The new rendition of the sculpture, he said, is a "reminder of our past and the challenge of the future."

Here is the text, from Nostra Aetate, which opened the door to an improvement in Catholic-Jewish relations:
"True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ."
*Other groups collaborating with the Institute are the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Anti-Defamation League, Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia and World Meeting of Families.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Pope in My Back Yard: Countdown Two Days Out

There was a buzz this morning. Helicopters practicing their landings at St. Charles Seminary., When I went out to look, I found my own personal port-a-potty, right on my corner. But first (since some have complained about my touting too many toilets),  a view of the Chapel where Pope Francis will receive the Bishops on Sunday. It was serene, the lull before the storm. The only people out were a few neighbors along E. Wynnewood Rd.
Chapel Building
And here's the building across the street from me, where the Pope isn't sleeping, It's the Seminary's school. It dates from not long after the Civil War.
Photo Courtesy Gerry Senker

Of course, downtown, excitement  is beginning to build: Personal prayer intentions posted at the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul
Notes at the Cathedral: Photo - Terry Fernald

And now, my corner. We think the facility may be for the Secret Service and police who will be shooing people away. Anyway, I'm presuming the pictures will be a lot different come Saturday.