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Archive for February, 2010

Is this article suggesting that religious people are only spiritually-inclined because they are brain-damaged?  Hmmm. 

(Feb. 11) — Scientists have identified areas of the brain that, when damaged, lead to greater spirituality. The findings hint at the roots of spiritual and religious attitudes, the researchers say.
The study, published in the Feb. 11 issue of the journal Neuron, involves a personality trait called self-transcendence, which is a somewhat vague measure of spiritual feeling, thinking and behaviors. Self-transcendence “reflects a decreased sense of self and an ability to identify one’s self as an integral part of the universe as a whole,” the researchers explain.
Before and after surgery, the scientists surveyed patients who had brain tumors removed. The surveys generate self-transcendence scores.
Selective damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions of the brain induced a specific increase in self-transcendence, or ST, the surveys showed.
“Our symptom-lesion mapping study is the first demonstration of a causative link between brain functioning and ST,” said Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from the University of Udine in Italy. “Damage to posterior parietal areas induced unusually fast changes of a stable personality dimension related to transcendental self-referential awareness. Thus, dysfunctional parietal neural activity may underpin altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors.”
Previous neuroimaging studies had linked activity within a large network in the brain that connects the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortexes with spiritual experiences, “but information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking,” explains lead study author, Urgesi said.
One study, reported in 2008, suggested that the brain’s right parietal lobe defines “Me,” and people with less active Me-Definers are more likely to lead spiritual lives.
The finding could lead to new strategies for treating some forms of mental illness.
“If a stable personality trait like ST can undergo fast changes as a consequence of brain lesions, it would indicate that at least some personality dimensions may be modified by influencing neural activity in specific areas,” said Dr. Salvatore M. Aglioti from Sapienza University of Rome. “Perhaps novel approaches aimed at modulating neural activity might ultimately pave the way to new treatments of personality disorders.”

Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain.

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Prayer:  Lord, as I begin these days of Lent, give me the grace to tear apart my heart for sorrow at my sins, and give it over to you.  Change my heart.  Make me new.  Have pity on me, Lord and spare me.

A reading from the book of the prophet Joel

Joel 2:12-18
Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
 
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
 
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God.
 
Blow the trumpet in Zion!
proclaim a fast,
call an assembly;
 
Gather the people,
notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders,
gather the children
and the infants at the breast;
Let the bridegroom quit his room,
and the bride her chamber.
 
Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?'”
 
Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land
and took pity on his people.

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Today is Ash Wednesday.  When I was young, this day was one of my least favorite days of the year, competing with Good Friday for awfulness.  The Lenten season was drudgery and pain and meant that I couldn’t eat chocolate or the newly delivered Girl Scout cookies.  I felt bad about Jesus dying.   Forty days dragged on and on.  But God is good and I grew in my faith and my understanding of this liturgical season.  Lent is now my favorite season, and Ash Wednesday one of my favorite days on the Church calendar.

Tonight, something wonderful happened at our parish for our Mass.  It was full of people!  Not just “Sunday morning at 11 am” full, either — it was overflowing, as in Midnight Mass overflowing.  All the seats were taken, we squished in, my family took our usual “no kneeler” pew and every spot was filled.  People lined the back walls and sat on folding chairs in the narthex.   It was very moving.  Fr. Tom watched in awe as more and more people came in.  This, for a Wednesday Mass that is no longer a holy day of obligation.  When we sang the Kyrie Eleison, the sound of so many voices brought tears to my eyes.  Fr. Tom, known for his good homilies, knocked it out of the ballpark with a straightforward challenge to each of us to fast earnestly throughout Lent, to suffer and deny ourselves.  He said, if there is no medical reason why you cannot fast, there is every spiritual reason to do so.  Can you do it?  Will you do it for Jesus?

On the way out of church, I noticed that the little Lenten black books were being snatched up too.

What does this mean?    Is it a reflection on our economy?  on the state of the nation?  Are people scared?  Is it a revival within our parish or the Catholic Church?  I don’t know, and I can’t speculate on that, but there were a lot of souls who needed to be there tonight, and it was a blessed thing to see.  So many souls receiving ashes on their forehead and reminders to turn away from our sins and be faithful to the gospel.

To that I say, “Amen, Amen.”

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Scientists have once again proven a common wisdom.  That is, being exposed to goodness helps us to be good ourselves. 

Witnessing Uplifting Behavior May Spur Good Deeds

SATURDAY, Feb. 13 (HealthDay News) — Seeing someone else do a good deed appears to inspire you to do the same by making you feel uplifted, new research suggests.

In an experiment, researchers recruited volunteers who watched a “neutral” video clip of scenes from a nature documentary or a clip from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in which musicians thanked their mentors. The participants then wrote essays about what they watched, were paid for their time and asked to indicate whether they’d want to take part in another study.

Those who saw the Oprah Winfrey clip were more likely to volunteer to take part in another study.

The positive, uplifting emotion that makes people feel good and may inspire them to help others is known as “elevation,” the researchers explained in a news release about the experiment from the Association for Psychological Science.

In another experiment, participants watched one of the previous two clips or a third clip from a British comedy. Afterwards, a research assistant said she was having trouble opening a computer file connected to the study, and told the volunteers that they were free to leave, but as they exited she asked the participants if they would be willing to fill out a boring questionnaire for another study.

Volunteers who watched the Oprah Winfrey clip spent almost twice as long helping the assistant as those who watched the other clips, the researchers noted.

The study authors concluded that “by eliciting elevation, even brief exposure to other individuals’ prosocial behavior motivates altruism, thus potentially providing an avenue for increasing the general level of prosociality in society.”

The findings are to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

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Overall, not an unfair article from Errin Haines on the Associated Press wire.  I applaud this Atlanta group’s efforts, and I am very happy it is making national news.  Yay for the discussion!  Pro-life groups can only benefit from these types of stories, I think, because slowly it raises awareness of these previously unreported and consequently unknown issues, like the overwhelmingly racial element in the abortion industry. 

I am wondering — Is this the first time that the Associated Press has reported the link between Margaret Sanger and eugenics?

Controversial Ga. billboards link abortion, race

By ERRIN HAINES, Associated Press Writer Errin Haines, Associated Press Writer Sun Feb 14, 12:54 pm ET

ATLANTA – The message on dozens of billboards across the city is provocative: Black children are an “endangered species.”

The eyebrow-raising ads featuring a young black child are an effort by the anti-abortion movement to use race to rally support within the black community. The reaction from black leaders has been mixed, but the “Too Many Aborted” campaign, which so far is unique to only Georgia, is drawing support from other anti-abortion groups across the country.

“It’s ingenious,” said the Rev. Johnny Hunter, national director of the Life Education and Resource Network, a North Carolina-based anti-abortion group aimed at African-Americans that operates in 27 states. “This campaign is in your face, and nobody can ignore it.”

The billboards went up last week in Atlanta and urge black women to “get outraged.”

The effort is sponsored by Georgia Right to Life, which also is pushing legislation that aims to ban abortions based on race.

Black women accounted for the majority of abortions in Georgia in 2006, even though blacks make up just a third of state population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationally, black women were more than three times as likely to get an abortion in 2006 compared with white women, according to the CDC.

“I think it’s necessary,” Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue, said of the billboard campaign. “Abortion in the black community is at epidemic proportions. They’re not really aware of what’s actually going on. If it shocks people … it should be shocking.”

Anti-abortion advocates say the procedure has always been linked to race. They claim Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger wanted to eradicate minorities by putting birth control clinics in their neighborhoods, a charge Planned Parenthood denies.

“The language in the billboard is using messages of fear and shame to target women of color,” said Leola Reis, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Georgia. “If we want to reduce the number of abortions and unintended pregnancies, we need to work as a community to make sure we get quality affordable health care services to as many women and men as possible.”

In 2008, Issues4Life, a California-based group working to end abortion in the black community, lobbied Congress to stop funding Planned Parenthood, calling black abortions “the Darfur of America.”

Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler said a race-based strategy for anti-abortion activists has gotten a fresh zeal, especially in the wake of the historic election of the country’s first black president, Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights.

“He’s really out of step with the rest of black America,” Scheidler said. “That might be part of what may be shifting here and why a campaign like this is appropriate, to kind of wake up that disconnect.”

Abortion rights advocates are disturbed. Spelman College professor Beverly Guy-Sheftall called the strategy a gimmick.

“To use racist arguments to try to bait black people to get them to be anti-abortion is just disgusting,” said Guy-Sheftall, who teaches women’s history and feminist thought at the historically black women’s college.

“These one-issue approaches that are not about saving the black family or black children, it’s just a big distraction,” she said. “Many black people don’t know who Margaret Sanger is and could care less.”

___

On the Net:

Too Many Aborted: http://www.toomanyaborted.com

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_abortion_race_card

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Important reminder:

Please keep praying for Haiti. 

Since the situation on the ground does not allow us to jump on a plane to Haiti, roll up our sleeves and do our Christian work in a hands on fashion, to do charity work there means to find reputable charities and donate good hard cash.  United in Prayer that Cory Heimann at Likable Art is involved with is supporting Catholic Relief Services.   Watch his video here. And you can download a great cd of Catholic musicians for your donation at AfterMass, too!  Please support this great cause by clicking here now.  The album is fantastic!  I support Catholic musicians; you should too.

Another truly fantastic charity is Food for the Poor.  One of their priest missionaries came to our parish and in a moving and sometimes very funny ways, painted a grim picture of the need in Haiti even before the earthquake.  Food for the Poor is an ecumenical charity, though it appears that it is mostly Catholic and it has the astronomical efficiency rate of 97%–meaning that 97 cents of every donated dollar goes into food, shelter, education, etc. for the poor the charity serves.  Those Christian missionaries all have vows of poverty and unlike SOME charities, the head of the charity isn’t making 6 figures and flying from one big fundraising black tie event after another.  (No, I’m not looking at UNICEF, what gave you that impression?  there are …so many from which to choose, sadly.)

On a related note, the Detroit Free Press recently published that Michigan Catholics have donated over $1 mil dollars to Haiti.  Way to go, fellow Mitten Catholics!

Catholics in southeastern Michigan have raised more than $1 million so far for the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, officials said today.

The Archdiocese of Detroit has been collecting donations from local parishes in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair, Lapeer and Monroe counties. As of Monday, the total passed $1 million, said Archdiocese spokesman Joe Kohn.

“After the earthquake happened, Archbishop (Allen) Vigneron expressed his confidence that the people of the Archdiocese would offer their support by way of prayers and financial support,” Kohn said today. “His confidence was well placed. Given the economic situation we’re in, it’s encouraging to see people step up and show this kind of generosity.”

The archdiocese has been collecting donations on behalf of Catholic Relief Services.

Haiti, which has a Catholic-majority population, suffered enormous losses in the Jan. 12 earthquake, in which Port-au-Prince Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot died.

Haiti’s government said today 230,000 people died.

To donate to Haiti through the Archdiocese, visit:
https://www.gifttool.com/donations/Donate?ID=1516&AID=780

 

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Death and tragedy.  So common and yet, we are seemingly unprepared to handle it, or help others handle it.  How are we dealing with grief these days?   This news article from the Globe and Mail (reproduced below) raises questions about the predominance of ‘grief counseling’ in our modern world.  I think it is thought-provoking, or at least it was for me.  It brought to mind a couple experiences I’ve had, and I wanted to share the article with you.

Do you remember the Love is Kind article from Catholic Exchange that I made a page last fall?  Well, I was reminded of the story that author Christi Derr related about the shoe-shining minister’s wife in the article.   The story goes–when there was a death in a church family, the minister’s wife visited the house to shine the shoes for the grieving family to help them prepare for the funeral.  Her reasoning was that it probably needed to be done, but her ulterior motive was that it gave her an excuse to be on hand as a presence for the spouse and family in their grief. (Read Love is Kind is you haven’t–click the tab at the top of the blog!)
 
The Globe and Mail article on grief counseling also puts me in mind of one of the best movies I have seen in recent years, Lars and the Real Girl (a quirky independent movie that may not be everyone’s cup of tea but is the only movie I know in which the phrase “what would Jesus do?” is asked sincerely).  In a quiet scene showing the main character Lars dealing with tragedy, several older church women come over and sit with him.  They bring casseroles, place themselves around on the chairs, and calmly knit while quietly waiting with him.  He wants to do something for them but they assure him–this is what people do when tragedy strikes: they come over, and sit.  It’s a comforting thought, and a very touching scene, and like the whole movie makes important points about the meaning of community, Christian love,  acceptance and kindness.

In a wider sense, I believe modern Western people and especially Americans are losing our Christian values.  We are opting to be “nice” instead of choosing to be “kind.”  What is the difference? As individuals, we no longer reach out to people who need, are hurting, are poor or homeless.     Instead, we look to the government and say, you should be doing something about that!  We assume that the Red Cross, or FEMA, or Catholic Charities or the mental health community will “do something” for our hurting neighbors.  We are diffusing our responsibilities to each other by handing them off to the greater body.  Let’s reconnect with the our individual responsibility to alleviate sickness, poverty, and grief in the lives of the people around us; Christ calls us as his followers to do just that.

I am repeating myself but remember:  Jesus didn’t teach us to “go vote for the politicians who will go vote for projects to do good on your behalf with your tax dollars.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me, all you who labor and are weary and I will send you Social Security and Fair Labor laws. He didn’t say, when I was sick, you asked casually if I was seeing a mental health professional.  When I was hungry, you donated to a food bank from time to time.  When I was thirsty, you thought it was a real shame that the United Nations hadn’t gotten clean wells built in my part of the world.

There are people in each of our lives that is hurting.  Family, friends and neighbors.  What a shame it is that we do not see it.  What a sin that we do not respond personally.  Most likely our parents or grandparents did, at least in times of grief and tragedy, with casseroles and their comforting company.   If we can’t quite live up to WWJD?…why not try asking, What Would Grandma Have Done

January 15, 2010

Grief industry to the rescue

By Margaret Wente
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

Not long ago, we had other ways to cope with loss: community and casseroles

Help is finally trickling into Haiti, the scene of such unfathomable suffering that the TV news reports are almost unbearable to watch. The people need everything – water, food, medicine, shelter, doctors, rescue specialists and, of course, psychologists. Many of the medical teams sent to Haiti include psychologists. Perhaps they plan to hold group counselling sessions so mothers who have lost five children will be facilitated to freely express their emotions in a safe and nurturing environment.

Psychologists everywhere are offering their insights into what Haitians are likely going through. “In every moment, the level of emotional anguish ratchets up,” says Russell Friedman, who ought to know. He is the director of the Grief Recovery Institute, a counselling organization in California that helps people deal with death and natural disasters. It offers “the highest level of training in the area of helping grievers complete the pain caused by significant emotional losses” – whatever that means.

The idea that crisis counsellors have anything to offer Haiti strikes me as the most astounding hubris. Yet, the underlying assumption of their trade – that anyone who goes through trauma needs a therapist – has become conventional wisdom. There’s even help for us. Are you traumatized by the news from Haiti? The American Psychological Association offers this advice: Maintain your daily routines. Get plenty of exercise and rest. And turn off the TV. If symptoms persist, consult a licensed health professional.

The grief industry is bigger than ever, even though it’s taken lots of knocks lately. A new study by researchers from Dalhousie University concludes that psychological debriefing after a traumatic event does little good and, in fact, can do harm. “When people are put into a situation and then asked to relive, remember and sometimes even re-enact their feelings and thoughts, it actually makes things worse for them,” says Stan Kutcher, co-author of the study.

Yet, the ethos of therapism is so embedded in our culture that psychological counselling is routinely recommended for disaster survivors, for students who have lost a classmate, even for people whose dogs have died. Psychologist Sally Satel says that, days after the tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, U.S. mental health workers were dispatched to the scene. “Psychological scarring needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible,” one psychologist told The Washington Post. “The longer we wait, the more danger.” Sri Lankan health officials disagreed. “We believe the most important thing is to strengthen local coping mechanisms rather than imposing counselling,” said one.

The foundation of the grief industry is something called Critical Incident Stress Management, a technique that was developed in the early 1970s for paramedics, firefighters and other professionals who regularly witnessed traumatic events. It was thought that, if they talked out their feelings and reactions immediately after the event, they’d be less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder later on.

This thoroughly unscientific idea soon spread to ordinary people, including people who had only heard of (not witnessed) traumatic events. Soon the grief professionals began descending on schools any time a child died in some awful way. In the workplace, onsite debriefing services became a standard feature of employee assistance programs. Today, tens of thousands of people are trained in Critical Incident Stress Management and related techniques. Because of the spread of “war, terrorism, school shootings, and natural disasters,” says the CISM Foundation, “the need for trained crisis responders has never been greater.”

Obviously, some people are unhinged by trauma and loss, to the point where they permanently lose the ability to cope. But most of us are actually quite resilient. The grief industry is built on the premise that human beings are much frailer than they really are. On top of that, it assumes that trained professionals are much better than untrained ones – friends, neighbours, colleagues, family – at helping people cope with terrible events, including those that will eventually affect us all.

Here’s part of the career profile for a bereavement counsellor, a profession that now has its own academic degrees, associations, conferences and licensing bodies: “Often when people die, the feelings of grief, anger and dismay of those they have left behind become overwhelming. Individuals or whole families can fall apart as a result of a death, and it requires an outside party to come along and see them through this difficult time.”

Not long ago, we had other ways to cope with tragedy and loss. We had community and casseroles. We had friends to sit with through the night. They weren’t experts and they didn’t have degrees. They didn’t pester us to talk about how much it hurt, or how bad we felt. But they kept us company, and they allowed us to share what we wanted with people we knew and trusted.

“Tincture of time,” my grandma would counsel when someone had suffered a terrible loss. But what did she know anyway?

As British writer Frank Furedi has observed, the relentlessly expanding role of expertise into the private sphere conveys the message that individuals are unable to manage important aspects of their lives without professional guidance. This holds true not only for grief and trauma, but for parenting (especially parenting!) and relationships in general. “Today every aspect of life from birth [actually, from well before birth] through to school and career to marriage and mourning is subject to professional counselling,” he writes. “We live in an age of personal trainers, mentors and facilitators.” Some of what they tell us is nonsense, and some is painfully self-evident (see American Psychological Association). But we’re supposed to trust it all because it’s scientifically based.

A wonderful New Yorker cartoon from 10 years ago shows two cowboys gazing across a canyon, looking at some tiny dots in the distant sky. “Could be buzzards, could be grief counsellors,” says one. “Can’t tell from here.”

As we rush to help the Haitian people, perhaps we ought to keep in mind our limits. We can treat the trauma to their bodies. The trauma to their lives is another matter. Their pain and loss are unimaginable. Yet, despite their devastating losses, they may be more resilient than we think.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/grief-industry-to-the-rescue/article1433336/

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