Another Saturday at St Nick’s

Most Sat­ur­day nights find me fol­low­ing my wife to St Nicholas Ukraini­an Catholic Church in Mil­lville NJ. I’m often chas­ing kids and this Sat­ur­day was no excep­tion. Tonight I snapped as I chased. Most of the­se shots have a tou­sled head just off cam­era. It’s a nice lit­tle church. You can learn more at their web­site at http://​www​.stni​cholas​mil​lville​.com.

In album St Nicholas 2/25/12 (8 pho­tos)

The inte­ri­or from the bal­cony.

Places like St Mary’s

I’m writ­ing this from the back of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, a small church built in the 1920s in the small cross­roads town of Mala­ga New Jer­sey. It was closed this past Novem­ber, sup­pos­ed­ly because of a bro­ken boil­er but real­ly because the Dio­ce­se of Cam­den is try­ing to sell off its small­er church­es – or any church with prime real estate along a high­way. It was reopened with­out per­mis­sion by parish­ioners in ear­ly Jan­u­ary, while we were still in the hos­pi­tal with baby num­ber three, a.k.a. Gre­go­ry.

We’ve spent a lot of time here since then. It’s a 24 hour vig­il and has been and will con­tin­ue to be. In Boston there are vig­ils that have been going sev­en years. I try to imag­ine Gre­go­ry as a sev­en year old, hav­ing spent his child­hood grow­ing up here in this lit­tle church. It’s not an impos­si­ble sce­nar­io.

I also spend a lot of time talk­ing with the faith­ful Catholics who have come here to pro­tect the church. It’s a cacoph­o­ny of voic­es right now – con­ver­sa­tions about the church, sure, but that’s only one of the many top­ics that come up. Peo­ple are shar­ing their lives – sto­ries about grow­ing up, about peo­ple that are know, about cur­rent events… It’s a real com­mu­ni­ty. We’ve been attend­ing this church for years but it’s now that I’m real­ly get­ting to know every­one.

I some­times pon­der how I, the self-dubbed “Quak­er Ranter,” got involved in all of this. Through my wife, of course – she grew up Catholic, became a Friend for eleven years and then “returned to the Church” a few years after our mar­riage. But there’s more than that, rea­sons why I spend my own time here. Part is my love of the small and quirky. St Mary’s parish­ioners are stand­ing up for the kind of church­es where peo­ple know each oth­er. In an era where menial tasks are hired out, the actu­al mem­bers of St. Marys tend the church’s rosary gar­den and clean its base­ment and toi­lets. They spend time in the church beyond the hour of mass, doing things like pray­ing the rosary or ado­ra­tion.

The powers-that-be that want St Mary’s closed so bad­ly want a large inper­son­al church with lots of pro­fes­sion­al­ized ser­vices and a least-common-denominator faith where peo­ple come, go and donate their mon­ey to a dio­ce­se that’s run like a busi­ness. But that’s not St. Mary’s. There’s his­to­ry here. This is a hub of a town, an ancient cross­roads, but the bish­op wants big church­es in the splurge of sub­ur­ban sprawl. Even we Friends need places like St Mary’s in the world.

Lessons in Social Media from Egyptian Protesters

A few days ago the NYTimes ran a fas­ci­nat­ing ear­ly look-back at the rela­tion­ship between social media and the largely-nonviolent rev­o­lu­tion in Egypt writ­ten by David D Kirk­patrick and David E Sanger. I doubt we’ve seen the last twist and turn of this tumul­tuous time but as I write this, the world sighs relief that long­time auto­crat Hos­ni Mubarak is final­ly out. Most of the quotes and inside knowl­ege came via Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engi­neer and a lead­ing orga­niz­er of the April 6 Youth Move­ment, who became an activist in 2005.

Lesson One: Years in the Mak­ing

The Times starts off by point­ing out that the “blog­gers lead the way” and that the “Egyp­tian revolt was years in the mak­ing.” It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that the­se things don’t come out of nowhere. Blog­gers have been active for years: lead­ing, learn­ing, mak­ing mis­takes and col­lect­ing knowl­edge. Many of the first round of blog­gers were ignored and repressed. Some of them were effec­tive­ly neu­tral­ized when they were co-opted into what the Times calls “the timid, legal­ly rec­og­nized oppo­si­tion par­ties.” “What destroyed the move­ment was the old par­ties,” said one blog­ger. A lesson we might draw for that is that blog­ging isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a step­ping stone to “real activism” but is instead it’s own kind of activism. The cul­ture of blogs and main­stream move­ments are not always com­pat­i­ble.

Lesson Two: Share Your Expe­ri­ences

The Egyp­tian protests began after ones in Tunisia. The con­text was not the same: “The Tunisians faced a more per­va­sive police state than the Egyp­tians, with less lat­i­tude for blog­ging or press free­dom, but their trade unions were stronger and more inde­pen­dent.” Still, it was impor­tant to share tips: “We shared our expe­ri­ence with strikes and blog­ging,” a blog­ger recalled. Some of the tips were exceed­ing­ly prac­ti­cal (how to avert tear gas – brought lemons, onions and vine­gar, appar­ent­ly) and oth­ers more social (shar­ing tor­ture expe­ri­ences). Lesson: we all have many things to learn. It’s best to be ready for counter-tactics.

One of the inter­est­ing side­lights was how the teach­ings of Amer­i­can non­vi­o­lence strate­gist Gene Sharp made it to Cairo. A Ser­bian youth move­ment had based their rebel­lion on his tac­tics and the Egyp­tians fol­lowed their lead, with exiled orga­niz­ers set­ting up a web­site (warn­ing: annoy­ing sound) com­pil­ing Sharp’s strate­gies:

For their part, Mr. Maher and his col­leagues began read­ing about non­vi­o­lent strug­gles. They were espe­cial­ly drawn to a Ser­bian youth move­ment called Otpor, which had helped top­ple the dic­ta­tor Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic by draw­ing on the ideas of an Amer­i­can polit­i­cal thinker, Gene Sharp. The hall­mark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues that non­vi­o­lence is a sin­gu­lar­ly effec­tive way to under­mine police states that might cite vio­lent resis­tance to jus­ti­fy repres­sion in the name of sta­bil­i­ty.

As an aside, I have to say that as a longterm peace activist, it tick­les me no end to see Gene Sharp’s ideas at the heart of the Egyp­tian protests. Amer­i­ca real­ly can export democ­ra­cy some­times!

Lesson Three: Be Relent­less in Con­fronting Lies

The Times reports that Maher “took spe­cial aim at the dis­tor­tions of the offi­cial media.” He told them that when peo­ple “dis­trust the media then you know you are not going to lose them. When the press is full of lies, social media takes on the fact check­ing role. Peo­ple turn to inde­pen­dent sources when they sense a pro­pa­gan­da machine. The cre­ator of a Face­book site was a Google mar­ket­ing exec­u­tive work­ing on his own. He filled the site We Are all Khaled Said “with video clips and news­pa­per arti­cles [and] repeat­ed­ly ham­mered home a sim­ple mes­sage.”

Lesson Four: Don’t Wait for Those Sup­posed To Do This Work

Most of this social media was cre­at­ed by stu­dents for good­ness sake and it all relied on essentially-free ser­vices. Everyone’s always thought that if Egypt were to explode it would be the dreaded-but-popular Mus­lim Broth­er­hood that would lead the charge. But they didn’t. They scram­bled not know­ing what to do as protests erupt­ed in the major cities. Even­tu­al­ly the Brotherhood’s youth wing joined the protests and the full orga­ni­za­tion fol­lowed suit but it was not the lead­ers in any of this.

When we’re talk­ing about pop­u­lar orga­ni­zat­ing, mon­ey and estab­lished cre­den­tials aren’t always an advan­tage. What’s inter­est­ing to learn with the Egypt protests is that the gen­er­a­tion lead­ing it doesn’t seem to have as strict a reli­gious world­view as its par­ents. This came out most dra­mat­i­cal­ly in the images of Chris­tian Egyp­tians pro­tect­ing their Mus­lim broth­ers in Tahir Square dur­ing times of prayer. This is hav­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tion in copy­cat protests in Tehran. Ira­ni­an lead­ers tried to paint the Egyp­tian stu­dents as heirs to their own Islam­ic rev­o­lu­tion but it seems prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions are more impor­tant than set­ting up an Islamist state (stay tuned on this one – protests have begun in Tehran on one hand and the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood might well take over from Egypt pro­test­ers now that Mubarak is out).

On a per­son­al note…

It’s inter­est­ing to watch how the three-year old Save St Mary’s cam­paign has mim­ic­ked some of the fea­tures of the Egyp­tian protests. Their blog has been pret­ty relent­less in expos­ing the lies. It’s attract­ed far more media atten­tion than the professionally-staffed Dioce­san press office has been able to muster. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes talk­ing with church­es in oth­er regions to com­pare tac­tics and antic­i­pate counter-moves. As far as I know it’s one of sev­en church­es nation­wide with round-the-clock vig­ils but it’s the only one with a strong social media com­po­nent. It’s aver­age age is prob­a­bly a gen­er­a­tion or two younger than the oth­er vig­ils which gives it a cer­tain frank style that’s not found else­where. The Philadel­phia Arch­dio­ce­se is explod­ing now with arrests of recent Dioce­san offi­cials and rev­e­la­tions from the Dis­trict Attoreny that dozens of priests with “cred­i­ble accu­sa­tions” of pedophil­ia are still min­is­ter­ing around kids and while church clos­ings and the pedophil­ia scan­dals are not offi­cial­ly con­nect­ed, as a non-Catholic I’m fine admit­ting that they arise from a shared Dioce­san cul­ture of mon­ey and cover-ups. Again, “repeat­ing­ly ham­mer­ing home a sim­ple mes­sage” is a good strat­e­gy.

Gregory Gets Baptized

Depend­ing on your the­o­log­i­cal ten­den­cies, Gre­go­ry was bap­tized or sprin­kled this past week­end. It was a very mov­ing cer­e­mony, though an emer­gen­cy trip to the pot­ty for the 4yo meant I missed the best part. Appar­ent­ly the priest raised him over the altar and made the sign of cross with him. This is at St Nicholas’ Ukraini­an Catholic Church in Mil­lville NJ. We all went across the street to a Polka dance after­wards and then had some cake and snacks at the lib­er­at­ed St Mary’s in Mala­ga.

Godparents holding the baby

And for new read­ers, I long ago explained why the Quak­er Ranter’s kid was get­ting bap­tized. Sor­ry for the weird for­mat­ting, I haven’t cleaned up all the back arti­cles.

Introducing Gregory Kelley Heiland

Bothering babies to make them make cute faces is fun!

On Tues­day, Dec 28 my love­ly wife Julie gave birth to our third son. After some dither­ing back and forth (we’re method­i­cal about baby names) we picked Gre­go­ry. Every­one is hap­py and healthy. Vital stats: 20 inch­es, 7 pounds 9 oz. The broth­ers are adjust­ing well, though Theo’s first respon­se to my phone call telling him it was a boy was “oh no, anoth­er one of those.”

Francis is now also a big brother! Proud brother

That’s 5yo Fran­cis (aka “lit­tle big broth­er”) and 7yo Theo (“big big broth­er”) meet­ing their new sib­ling at the hos­pi­tal. More pics in the Gre­go­ry! and Gre­go­ry in the Hos­pi­tal sets on Flickr.

As you can see, we’ve basi­cal­ly bred triplets spaced over three years apart. As fur­ther evi­dence, here’s Theo and Fran­cis in their first pics (links to their announce­ment posts):
Brotherly love

As I men­tioned, we’re method­i­cal about names. When we were faced with Baby #2 I put togeth­er the “Fal­l­en Baby Names Chart” – clas­sic names that had fal­l­en out of trendy use. It’s based on the cur­rent rank­ing of the top names of 1900. “Gre­go­ry” doesn’t appear on our chart because it was almost unused until a sud­den appear­ance in the mid-1940s (see chart, right). Yes, that would be the time when a hand­some young actor named Gre­go­ry Peck became famous. It peaked in 1962, the year of Peck’s Acad­e­my Award for To Kill a Mock­ing­bird and has been drop­ping rapid­ly ever since. Last year less than one in a thou­sand new­born boys were Gregory’s. While we rec­og­nize Peck’s influ­ence in the name’s Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry pop­u­lar­i­ty, Julie is think­ing more of Gre­go­ry of Nys­sa [edit­ed, I orig­i­nal­ly linked to anoth­er ear­ly Gre­go­ry]. Peck’s par­ents were Catholic (pater­nal rel­a­tives helped lead the Irish East­er Ris­ing) and were pre­sum­ably think­ing of the Catholic saint when they gave him Gre­go­ry for a mid­dle name (he dropped his first name Eldred for the movies).

Easy Prey

This pas­sage from Ezekiel struck me this evening:

What sor­row awaits you shep­herds who feed your­selves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shep­herds feed their sheep?.. You have not tend­ed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone look­ing for those who have wan­dered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harsh­ness and cru­el­ty. So my sheeph have been scat­tered with­out a shep­herd, and they are easy prey for any wild ani­mal. They have wan­dered through all the moun­tains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them…

For this is what the Soverign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shep­herd look­ing for his scat­tered flock… I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safe­ly home again. I will ban­dage the injured and strenght­en the weak. Book of Ezekiel 34.

It seems appro­pri­ate for all sorts of rea­sons. Last week the priest of my wife’s Catholic church shut it down under false pre­tens­es (see savest​marys​.net/​b​log), the cul­mi­na­tion of a long plan to close it and ulti­mate­ly most of the small Catholic church­es in South Jer­sey. There are sheep that will be scat­tered by the­se acts. I’m also just so acute­ly aware of reli­gious of all denom­i­na­tions who are so caught up in the human forms of our church body that we’ve lost sight of those who are wan­der­ing in the wilder­ness, easy prey for the wild ani­mals of our world­ly lusts. I take solace in the promise that the Lord’s Shep­herd is out look­ing for us.

St Marys