Friday, June 17, 2011

Sustainability and caring -- a way to go

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

For many years I've been working on the crisis of civilization that has befallen mankind dangerously. I have not been content with the structural analysis of its causes but, through many writings, I have attempted to develop positively possible solutions in terms of values and principles that provide real sustainability to the world to come. Participating in the development of the Earth Charter, in my view one of the most inspiring documents for the current crisis, helped me a lot. It states: "common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. A new beginning that requires a change of mind and heart, a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility."

I believe two values are essential for this new beginning: sustainability and caring. Sustainability, addressed in my previous article, means the rational use of scarce resources of the earth without harming the natural capital, keeping it in a position to reproduce, in order to meet the needs of future generations which also have the right to a habitable planet.

This is an activity involving a type of economy that respects the limits of each ecosystem and Earth itself, a society that seeks fairness and global social justice and an environment preserved enough to meet human demands.

As you might guess, sustainability affects society, politics, culture, art, nature, the planet and the life of every person. It is essential to ensure the physical, chemical and ecological conditions that support the production and reproduction of life and civilization. What we really note increasingly clearly is that our lifestyle, globalized today, does not have enough sustainability. It is too hostile to life and leaves out much of humankind. A wicked global social injustice reigns with its terrible consequences, a fact often neglected when dealing with the issue of global warming.

The other category, as important as sustainability, is caring, on which I have written several studies. Caring implies a loving, respectful and non-aggressive, and therefore non-destructive, relationship with reality. It assumes that humans are part of nature and members of the biotic and cosmic community, with the responsibility to protect, regenerate and care for it. More than a technique, caring is an art, a new paradigm of relationship with nature, Earth and human beings.

If sustainability is the objective, environmental, economic and social side of management of natural resources and their distribution, caring denotes its more subjective side: the attitudes, ethical and spiritual values that accompany the whole process, without which sustainability itself doesn't happen or isn't guaranteed in the medium and long term.

Sustainability and caring should be taken on together to prevent the crisis from becoming a tragedy and to make effective the practices that seek to establish a new paradigm of coexistence between human beings, life, and Earth. The current crisis, with its serious threats that weigh globally over all, poses a pressing philosophical inquiry: What kind of beings are we? Are we capable of preying on nature and endangering our very survival as a species, or of caring and taking responsibility for our common future? What, ultimately, is our place on Earth and what is our mission? Is it not to care for and preserve this sacred heritage that the universe and God gave us, which is this living Planet, that regulates itself, and from whose womb we all come?

And here again, caring is used as a possible operational and essential definition of the human being. Caring includes a certain way of being-in-the-world-with-others and a certain praxis, one that is protective of nature. Not without reason, a philosophical tradition that comes from antiquity and culminates in Heidegger and Winnicott defines the nature of the human being as a caring being. Without essential caring, he would not be here, nor the world around him. Sustainability and caring, together, show us the way to go.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gaming for Church Reform

UPDATE 7/14/2011: Cheyenne Ehrlich, the founder of SGR Games, LLC, makers of "Vatican Wars", reports that "players of Vatican Wars today elected their first Pope. By a margin of less than 3%, Higgins defeated Karolka Wojtyla in a tight race. Higgins ran on a platform that supported abortion rights for women, same sex marriage, the use of birth control, the ordination of women and an end to priest celibacy." A new Pope will now be elected each week in Vatican Wars. Stay tuned....

The news release launching Vatican Wars, a new Facebook game aimed at Catholics, was irresistible:

"SGR Games, LLC (“SGR”) today announced the launch of Vatican Wars, a revolutionary social game that exists at the intersection of religion, politics and social issues. Players are divided into two teams based on their opinions on topics including abortion, same sex marriage, the ordination of women and the use of birth control. Each team then works to ensure that a player from the other team is not elected Pope.

“We did extensive surveying of Catholics before launching the game and were surprised to find that 80% of Catholics surveyed supported creating a game where they could debate these topics,” said Cheyenne Ehrlich, Founder of SGR Games, LLC. “It will be interesting to see if that’s because they want to elect a liberal Pope or because they want to prove that Catholics are unified and conservative on these issues.”

In Vatican Wars, a player who is elected Pope can make gradual changes to the Church’s position on each topic. Gradual changes made by ten consecutive liberal Popes could, for example, reverse the Church’s position on same sex marriage. Popes are elected based on their own gameplay, their team’s gameplay and actual voting by all players. Gameplay within Vatican Wars is based on the Catholic liturgical calendar, daily readings, Saints of the day and debating theology.

Vatican Wars is not SGR's first venture into Catholic Facebook gaming. Last year, the virtual company created another game called PriestVille, which has ended (the "Play Now" link on this Web site redirects the viewer to the Facebook page for Vatican Wars). According to one player, Dustin Faber, who posted a review of the game on his blog, PriestVille involved first naming your virtual priest. "Immediately after naming your priest, it asks you to state your beliefs: Whether or not you think Priests should marry, if a bishop should be picked by the diocese or Rome, and if the statute of limitations on a priest should expire after 20 years or have no expiration...The game has you carry out priestly tasks to level up (using indulgences instead of points), such as saying Mass, giving homilies on certain topics, etc. In addition, you can buy priestly items such as bibles, stoles, chasubles (some of which you'll need to do certain tasks), and challenge other priests with different beliefs to win their parishioners. The game does a decent job at making you feel like a priest (minus the 3 a.m. phone calls from college kids going through a mental crisis), making you choose between improving your charisma or religious knowledge, or choosing what duties you carry out in a certain day..."

PriestVille seems to have had a positive impact on the faith of its players while it lasted. SGR Games commissioned a user survey involving 461 players who had played the game through Level 15 or above and at least 18 hours and posted the results on the PriestVille blog. Among the findings:

  • 45% of young men (age 24 and younger) said that playing PriestVille made them more interested in becoming a priest (Vocation directors, time to brush up on your social media and gaming skills!).

  • 54% of seminarians surveyed said that playing PriestVille could help their friends and families better understand why they are considering the priesthood.

  • 30% of practicing Catholics who attend Mass less than once per week said that, since they started playing PriestVille, they attend Mass more often, and
    the percentage of this group who do Daily Readings at least once per week grew from 4% to 52% since they started playing PriestVille.

  • 83% of Catholic clergy surveyed said they would recommend PriestVille to members of their parish and 76% said they think it would be a useful tool for bringing people back to the Church.

So who, or what, is SGR Games? According to the original Facebook app page for PriestVille, the acronym "SGR" stands for Saint Genesius of Rome, an actor who mocked Christianity and then had a conversion experience and became a martyr for the faith during the reign of Diocletian.

Cheyenne Ehrlich, the company's founder, responded briefly and enigmatically to questions about his firm with the following:

"SGR is a virtual company. We are a handful of people, in different cities around the world, working together to make PriestVille. Everyone works from home. Most have other jobs and do this as well. As such, we don't provide an address or phone number. And we won't, unless we get an actual office somewhere. However, we are reachable by email...We LOVE the Catholic Church. However, we don't want to give anyone the impression that PriestVille is owned and operated by the Catholic Church. It's not. As such, we have a disclaimer on our site making that clear."

Both PriestVille and Vatican Wars contain similar disclaimers that "SGR Games LLC has no business relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican or the Holy See." The disclaimer for Vatican Wars also adds that the company isn't affiliated with the maker of Mafia Wars and the one for PriestVille adds that there is no relationship to Farmville.

But actually, there is a post office box for SGR Games in Pa'ia, Hawaii which, coincidentally, happens to be the same PO box as on the Learn To Sit, Inc. Web site. And Learn To Sit is a meditation instruction workshop connected with the Pa‘ia Meditation Center founded and run by Cheyenne Ehrlich (photo), who also holds a computer sciences degree from Vassar. Learn To Sit describes Ehrlich as having spent "most of his adult life focused on the unlikely pairing of incubating early stage Internet companies and intensively studying and practicing meditation." An article published last year in the Maui Weekly, says that "Cheyenne was raised in a meditation center, one of the first Tibetan Buddhist centers in the U.S., and was exposed to meditation teachers, scholars and practitioners throughout his childhood... 'Whatever you create for yourself in your life is simply you acting out what’s going on inside your mind,' he said. 'So it just makes sense that learning how to change your relationship to your inner dialogue can change every aspect of your life—that’s what we’re doing at Pa‘ia Meditation.'" You can also read more about Ehrlich's meditation career and beliefs in this article in Maui News.

Bottom line: A meditation instructor with a Tibetan Buddhist background is now teaching Catholics about their faith and stimulating debate about Catholic Church policy via Facebook gaming. The only question is: Why? Does Ehrlich have a hidden agenda on Catholic Church reform? It's a rich irony, one that Saint Genesius would undoubtedly have appreciated.

I'm on leave from Facebook but those who are still playing the social media game could sign up for Vatican Wars and try to tip the balance towards progressive Catholic Church reform and, since there are papal elections involved, it may be possible to have a woman Pope in virtual reality where it's impossible in Rome.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive: A full-time Spanish speaking priest for St. Ann's (Take 2)

Long time readers of this blog may recall that back in December 2009, we celebrated the appointment of Fr. Jorge Acho as the first regular Spanish-speaking priest in residence at my former parish, St. Ann's. The appointment came after the Hispanic community there had maintained a liturgy for 15 years with visiting priests. The visitors were good, and sometimes even excellent, but it made for a haphazard pastoral care situation and the community needed someone who would be available on more than just Sundays if it was to grow physically, spiritually, and sacramentally. I fought the battle with the diocese and, though we won -- only temporarily, as it turned out, the struggle was emotionally costly and I ended up changing parishes.
To make a long story short, what looked good on paper -- a Peruvian priest coming to attend to the needs of a predominantly Peruvian community -- ended up being a failure. We can debate about the factors that were to blame for this failure but the bottom line was that, after only a few months, Fr. Acho was uncomfortable at St. Ann's, and between that and family problems back in Peru, he decided to leave the Arlington diocese and go home. So back to visiting priests...until now.

Today, I was delighted to read in The Catholic Herald that Fr. Lino Rico Rostro (photo) has been promoted from priest in residence at Christ the Redeemer to parochial vicar at St. Ann's. This is a coup for the entire Hispanic Catholic community in the Arlington Diocese because rarely have our Hispanic priests risen into the parochial administrative ranks. His appointment to St. Ann's reflects the hard work and prayer of that community, as well as his own qualifications. Fr. Lino is calm, kind, and hard-working. His presence will be helpful both to our hermanos y hermanas as well as to the Spanish speaking patients at Arlington Hospital where St. Ann's also ministers.

To my brothers and sisters at Cristo Redentor: Lo siento. Santa Ana now has your Padre Lino. I hope they will take good care of him and that this appointment will last a while. Felicitaciones, Padre Lino!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From Facebook to Face to Face

Some readers of this blog know that I used to have a Facebook page. I have chosen to deactivate that page because it was consuming too much of my time that could be better spent on other activities, even online ones like this blog. I effectively "unfriended" everybody electronically, even my sister, so none of you need to take it personally. Those who were real life friends before Facebook know how to contact me through other means. Those who friended me on Facebook just to promote their causes or argue about Church doctrine...well, you'll have to find another electronic sparring partner.

My venture into FB began largely to humor one individual who was playing with a variety of social media to explore different venues for self promotion. He has a comfortable foothold on FB now and no longer needs this member of his supporting cast. I have found that the more I'm tempted by an electronic forum into self promotion and wanting to tell MY story, the less I have to usefully contribute to the public debate about the issues that matter. Ego takes over instead of common sense and moderation and I find myself spending more and more time in fruitless arguments with ideological opponents whom I will never persuade and who will never persuade me. The ego-driven urge to have the last word takes over and I end up taking time away from the activities and individuals who should be my priority.

So no more Facebook for now. There is such a thing as Facebook addiction and I would encourage all readers of this blog to examine their relationship to the social media. Like drug and alcohol addiction, if it is interfering with your sleep, your work, and your real life social and family relationships, it's time to remove yourself from your fix and choose life...a REAL, offline life.