Monday, November 17, 2014

25 years

Today's the 25th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuits and two of their staff in El Salvador. Here's a great blog tribute by my fellow Capital District Catholic blogger, Fran Szpylczyn.  Well worth the read.

back to the land

Awhile ago I published a book on the Catholic rural life movement.  During the first half of the twentieth century more than a few Catholics found "life on the land" quite attractive.  Much more so than the usual urban, "parish factory" Catholic style dominating cities and larger towns in the American northeast.  A great idea, lots of neat eco-Catholic spirituality generated (and all this in the time PRIOR to Vatican II), but it sort of flopped--which I addressed in the book.

OK, so what?

Well, that call back to the land ain't dead--and it can reach corners presumably impervious to the ascetic call.  Check out this story about former-NFL player Jason Brown.  Obviously his previous occupation helps with certain financial realities, but then that's precisely why he's able to farm differently (something the Catholic rural lifers wanted to do, too):
See, his plan for this farm, which he calls "First Fruits Farm," is to donate the first fruits of every harvest to food pantries. Today it's all five acres--100,000 pounds--of sweet potatoes.
"It's unusual for a grower to grow a crop just to give away," said Rebecca Page, who organizes food collection for the needy. "And that's what Jason has done. And he's planning to do more next year."
Brown has 1,000 acres here, which could go a long way toward eliminating hunger in this neck of North Carolina.
"Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone," said Brown.

Decisions and people like this keep the Gospel's vibrancy and dynamism before our eyes.  When we get too comfortable, well, things get mechanical and unloving.  Quite frankly I have struggled with this myself over the years.  Many of my colleagues--people whose work, scholarship, and sense of humor I have admired--have come to begrudge Catholicism (and really Christianity generally, as G. K. Chesteron observed) for its intrinsic difficulty.  It hurts, basically.  So we seek and prefer the easy--and then metalwork the Gospel to fit our desires.  The consequences bother us NOT because, well, we don't care.  Blogger Kevin O'Brien recounts a version of this here.  Good stuff--read it.

Meanwhile, Mr. Brown plans his next crop--to grow and give away.

Monday, November 10, 2014

resist the temptation

...to abuse the privileges afforded us on the Internet and social media.  Latest installment:  Deacon Greg Kandra notes Father Z's reasons for moderating comments.  Basically, as Kandra puts it, some people really are sick.  And the anonymity of the Internet gives free reign to their sickness.

Father Z:
Conservatives and traditionalists certainly have their wickedly vicious commentators, who, emboldened by anonymity and a lack of immediate consequences, puke their bilious dreck into public view. It is one of the greater concerns I have in my life and work here.
But I have to say that what you see from liberals outstrips the bile of conservatives by orders of magnitude.

Let me remind you of something. When you post something on the internet, there are consequences, both for you and for others.

You may be a matter of scandal to others, weakening their faith. Direct ad hominem attacks are horrid and unfair, especially when lobbed into the arena with cowardly anonymity. You endanger your immortal soul when you do these things. I sincerely fear that many of the commentators in the combox at the Fishwrap are in danger of going to Hell. Anyone who can write some of the things you see over there has to be spiritually sick in dangers ways.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

internecine

No, that's not a reference to the Synod on the Family.  Rather two broader, certainly not necessarily "religious" debates going on that indicate that, well, things are rough all over.

First, LGBTQ activists turn out to be a cannibalistic species.  Readers of this blog and/or blogs quoted here or of like-mindset might be more accustomed to phrases like "Gaystapo" or other complaints about the LGBTQ movement.  <<Note:  I don't employ that language here>>  Folks, it might be worse within than over here on our side.  Part I:  an openly bisexual man gets smeared for discussing more traditional parenting arrangements. Part II:  a feminist, raised by a lesbian, asserts an incovenient truth:  divorce hurts women, period.  That a few divorces stem from gay men discovered their sexual orientation can't cover this up;  women still get hurt.  That message wasn't very popular, either.  The main character within Part II contributes her own piece here.

The interesting point with all this, says this outsider, is the ferocity, speed, and viciousness with which LGBTQ voices turn on each other.  And, apparently lacking some sense of the virtue of charity, the gloves come off quickly.  Have LBGTQ people been bullied?  Yes, of course--but notice how quickly the same tactic gets used within the walls of the community itself.

SECOND, how about Gamergate, y'all???  How real is this?  Mention "Gamergate" to any standard undergraduate classroom and watch the eyes light up, regardless of demographic within the 18-30 age group.  They know about it.  And it indicates a similar level of willingness to engage in brutal and shameless tactics of humiliation and degradation.

In both cases, probably more so with Gamergate, the theological conversationalists seem remote, unconcerned, or more likely, unaware.  The response, if there is one at all, might tend towards "dialogue."  Evangelization demands we "dialogue" with these others in order to reach them better.

*crickets*

The call to evangelization remains intact and inclusive.  We are all called to do it.  However, I do wonder about the current default method.  Are these groups that accept or even recognize "dialogue"? Such romanticized notions of everybody getting along, respecting differences and yet all progressing towards Truth, seem exhausted and ill-equipped.

 Prayer, of course, is the first step--even if they don't join us (and they probably won't).  But then...how might the Church encounter, engage, and eventually convert those who not resort to, but seem to thrill in using, such harsh tactics?  ISIS is not the only group delighting in the use of bloody spectacle and brutal suppression.  We need a new mix of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Josemaria Escriva--a spirituality to moves outward to engage and convert yet peacefully so, that creates a presence in the world yet retreats for prayer and regeneration to emerge anew to call the worldly powers back to the Gospel.  This very well could involve a very real martyrdom--either of the body or of the spirit or at least of one's online presence.

And even then, salvation is a mystery known ultimately to God.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

superstition or clear-eyed reason

Turns out that maybe we're better off living in a world we enchant (falsely) on our own than sit around pretending we have it all figured out.   We know how well that works out.  See David Hammond's post about Halloween, Cardinal Newman, and the movie Vertigo over at the St Joseph's College Theology blog.

What's that noise?

Religion, as it turns out.  Here's Art Remillard, an emerging scholar of American religion and culture, with a post by David Krueger reviewing Isaac Weiner's new book Religion Out Loud.

Krueger:
For the Pentecostal street preachers, turning up the volume was the means by which they proselytized the community. In this instance, it wasn’t the content of the religious speech that was most important. The services were conducted in Spanish, but most of the youth targeted by the church members spoke only English. Nonetheless, the church’s occupation of the sonic landscape (sonicscape?) for a few hours on a summer evening symbolized to many the presence of God.

Read it all here.

Roman Catholic street missionaries in the 1930s and 1940s pursued the same agenda.  They'd roll into a small southern or midwestern town, unpack the trailer chapel (seen, of all places, in Lilies of the Field starring Sidney Poitier), hook up their speakers, and start the Mass.  Sometimes they'd make converts, other times they'd have water balloons thrown at them.  Read about that phenomenon in American Catholic life here.   Weiner, Krueger, and Remillard recognize this trope in so many other places.  A good blog read and what looks like a great book, too.

One of the best Lilies scenes, of course, occurs when Homer Smith (Poitier) trains the exiled German nuns in the "Amen" chorus.  That's not Poitier singing, but rather composer Jester Hairston's voice.  Hairston arranged traditional African-American spirituals for several other Hollywood productions.   Here's your sound of religion at work.  That scene appeared in 1964;  within a decade suburban white parishes across the nation had appropriated it for youth choruses.  Remillard and company are onto something perhaps more elemental, which the motor missions priests understood, too.  Sometimes increased volume helps spread the message.  Let those with ears....

Just who is in charge here?

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University in Atlanta, surveys the currently sad state of humanities and concludes:  It's your own damned fault.

If you believe that the Great Books comprise human thought and creation in their highest expression, it’s not enough to preserve them as an option on the menu, where they might fall alongside courses in robots on TV and Harry Potter (yes, juniors and seniors studying English at Emory last semester are enjoying these classes). Your conviction demands more than inclusion. A heterogeneous jumble of classic and contemporary, traditional and multicultural, Eurocentric and “otherly,” sounds like a positive expression of enlightened liberality, but in truth it is a confession of apathy. They just don’t care.

Furthermore, the humanities in this view have become (how it's not very clear) the purview of the wealthy elite.  Therefore, to the extent that they do so, 'we' (i.e., everybody else, apparently) can and should get rid of them.  

Museums and concert halls maintain paintings, manuscripts, ballets, and folk music, but Reich registers only a “lifestyle.” To him, arts institutions have no humanistic meaning, only a social meaning. Nothing inside the buildings would interest the poor, he implies, even if they had the chance to enter. Many artists inside were themselves poor and marginal, while artworks portray domestic scenes or impart religious content which the poor revere, but that makes no difference. People in East Harlem want food, Reich would say, not inspiration. Reich’s policy proposal makes perfect sense given his class-based impression of the art space—a pure and simple redirection of money is in order.
The parallel with literature professors who underscore the identity elements in Whitman and Millay and overlook poetic language and moral depths (unrelated to identity) is clear. Did they realize, however, that as they did so an analogous redistribution would happen in the curriculum, one that would damage their departments? 

So therefore, "don't cry for me, humanities," because the dilemma you face, Bauerlein argues, stems from the decisions you yourselves have made.

Read it all here.