Thursday, February 26, 2015

current internet blog-crush... "Karl Barth for Dummies".

The beauty that is the Internet has managed, perhaps miraculously, to combine the twentieth-century's most important Protestant theologian** with the 140 character limit of Twitter.  Voila!  Little Barth snippets, almost like theological Molotov cocktails, to lob at unsuspecting friends, co-workers, and fellow bloggernistas.

[I would warn against lobbing too many Barth quotations at family members.  Potentially disruptive]


In the Church of Jesus Christ there can and should be no non-theologians. Karl

is the closest thing to the of God. Karl

There are no courageous deeds in theology without the knowledge that by our power alone nothing at all can be done. Karl

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

drop and give me 20

LENT is here again, so it is time to recommit to our spiritual work-outs.  How else would we avoid spiritual diabetes?  Here is a neat Daily Theology piece courtesy of Fran Szpylczyn.  Katharine Mahon, the author, references this image from Catholic Fit:

 Mahon then adds [bracketed comments in original]:
Catholic Fitness Problems
  • There is no way you could ever give up meat for Lent.
  • No meat on Fridays is hard enough. Chicken breast is its own food group for you.
  • Wait, does protein powder count as meat? [It doesn’t]
  • Does a protein shake count as a meal on a fast day?? [It does]
  • You should know better than to schedule a workout on a fast day. [But you don’t]
  • You should know better than to go to Mass the day after leg day/spin class. [Because you won’t be getting back up off that kneeler]
  • You sometimes secretly do glute squeezes during Mass.
  • You’ve wondered how many carbs are in the Host.
  • You don’t understand people who go gluten-free or paleo for Lent [You’re pretty sure Jesus was pro-bread]
  • You’ve considered sneaking some rosary decades into your rep counts.
  • You once accidentally started praying the rosary during your rep counts.
  • You have actually had to pray the rosary to get through high rep counts.
  • You might pray harder in Barre class than in Church.
  • You’ve had someone tell you that yoga is sinful polytheistic practice.
  • You went anyway (but snuck in a couple of Hail Marys during meditation time).
  • But you’re not completely convinced that Cross Fit isn’t a cult.
  • You’ve finally accepted that modest compression shorts just do not exist.
  • Yet you keep searching for a pair that isn’t quite so revealing.
  • You’d be mortified if your priest ever saw your Spotify gym playlist.
  • You feel almost as guilty about missing a workout as you do missing Mass. [Almost]
  • You initially deeply misunderstood the concept of Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises.”
  • “Re-rack your weights, Bro,” is your 11th commandment.
  • You’ve prayed to Saint Sebastian during really long runs. [And here’s a song just for you]
  • You’ve considered praying to Saint Anthony after you’ve lost gains.
  • You once yelled “offer it up!” while spotting someone on bench press.
  • You’ve thanked God when you set a new PR.
  • You’ve considered dedicating a workout to a special intention.
  • You secretly want this shirt
Light humor--but also realistic.  And, no, I don't want the shirt. 

Read it all here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Obligatory Part 2/Doesn't Get Old

Enough kinky sex -- let's talk about Valentine's Day.  Better:  Saint Valentine's Day!

That's St. Valentine's skull resting in Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a particularly ancient church near Rome's Aventine Hill.  You can keep your whips, chains, and poorly-written novels and screenplays.  I'll take the Christian tradition any day.

Second, some background. I grew up in southwest Missouri, an upbringing that has provided more than I could have imagined when I was experiencing it.  At this time I just wanted to GET.OUT. like many teenagers.  Anyway, some of the irritation came from what I have since labeled "the aesthetic of nice," as in "that's a nice house/car/hair-do/boyfriend/girlfriend/baby/dog/tractor/business."  Nice things meant "above average," "more than sufficient," desirable, and perhaps even domesticated.  This survives today because I know same-sex couples from SW MO (and other areas of the country) who employ this aesthetic to describe their own houses/relationships, etc. What's good is "nice."   So let's be clear:  I am not pinning this aesthetic on evangelical Christianity (the predominant cultural version of Christianity there).

the point-->Valentine's Day was "nice" -- an entirely respectable, acceptable, domesticated holiday wherein both sides of a romantic relationship were scripted, understood, and expected.  No surprises. In fact, you considered yourself lucky/blessed when you (finally) found yourself in a relationship so you could participate.

The aesthetic of nice makes the following so darned awesome:

The diners' utter shock is the aesthetic of nice, and the Catholic truth of our "nice" American romantic holiday shatters it. In good Chestertonian form it does so with humor, but also realism.  So why do we remember St. Valentine's martyrdom with chocolates, flowers, and a nice dinner?  The real St. Valentine met his martyrdom at the hands of Rome's pagan imperial power. To be true, the associations with romantic connections came later, but the fact remains:  St. Valentine died as a witness to the Faith, not sweeties and sentimentality.  Those are fine in proportion, but let's not mistake our cultural interpretation for the radical tradition.

This cartoon never gets old, especially when shared on Facebook with friends back home.  It offers a new version of an old (but ever new) message:  being Christian doesn't culminate with merely being nice--we are to confess Christ's death and resurrection.  Ultimately, belief trumps rationality, and that is why Chrsitianity always exihibits that unsettling weirdness, and even terrifying weirdness, that modern life either disregards or is completely baffled by.  (And, as a former mainstream Protestant, I should add that the world also tempts us to conclude we can believe without the weirdness.  It took a while, but I've since concluded that is wrong.  You need not always embrace it, but its existence can't be denied or ignored.  What was that about preaching foolishness? [I Cor. 1:18-25])  Roman Catholicism speaks joyfully about the Theology of the Body but the world basically plays the role of the cartoon's shocked couple--surprised horror at what really is the case.  The Theology of the body is a far more radical--because it goes back to the Gospel roots--vision of marriage and sexuality.  That is worth remembering.  Anamnesis--the Church does so at the celebration of the Mass (Catechism #1099).  in our own lives we, too, must remember where and how God works in our lives and through others. And on St. Valentine's Day that remembering focuses specifically on the one with whom we share our life and our whole self.  That is surely nice--but also so much more.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

obligatory, part I

Since everybody else is blogging about it...The movie Fifty Shades of Gray debuts, in fine ironic fashion, on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.  Ha ha--I get it:  on a day that celebrates romantic love we'll release a movie about not-romantic love, the kink-ed out version.


There are several criticisms of the movie and even a proposed boycott.  Good, earnest stuff--why cede territory without contesting it? If we believe that the Gospel includes a holistic, healthy, and authentically fun and joyful vision of marriage, then we should get the word out, shouldn't we?


So on that note, first, a meme from Matt Fradd at The Porn Effect:


Exactly.  How problematic is this movie?  Just this morning two female students--one a lesbian and the other a Buddhist--both denounced the movie as harmful sham with very slick marketing.  They were both angry about the movie and book's popularity.  So much for the Church being a lone voice in the wilderness...and, for those keeping score at home, there future blog-able material there about the Church, natural law, virtue ethics, and evangelization.   The lesbian, the Buddhist, and their Roman Catholic professor all in agreement.  Who said the Spirit doesn't move?   Even our good friends in the Reformed tradition (where I once, prior to conversion, stood gladly) get it:
yeah, ok

Related, Catholic Memes likewise sees freedom and joy where the world sees oppression and superstition.

Beyond the catchy memes, though, there are more than fifty deconstructions of Fifty Shades.  These range from the breezily orthodox to trenchant quasi-secular to yet another reminder that the Theology of the Body offers a more authentic and joyful vision of human sexuality.  All very good and contributions to our multivalent conversation in contrast to the grim and vacuous bestseller.  Still, it always helps to hear from voices in the trenches, and on the subject of marital bliss few have grasped its truth and expressed this so succinctly for the rest of us as Ginny Lieto does here.  Good stuff--and following Ginny's blog is highly recommended.  There is a Catholic blogger who's quickly found her voice and niche.  You will see more from her in the future.

OK, why "Obligatory"?  Because it seems necessary to chip in two cents on the issues as they pass by.  ISIS, SSM, Super Bowl XLIX--there's so much that this blog has missed.  At this rate, the Resurrection will have occurred two to three weeks before this blog gets around to noticing it.  Hopefully producing "Obligatory part II" won't take as long!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Catholic means here comes everybody until... team is involved, and then it's us against the world.  E. J. Dionne, Jr., the Washington Post's Catholic political commentator, usually leans left on most issues, political and ecclesial.  He's also a dyed-in-the-wool New England homer and thus, despite all the attention paid to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Deflate-gate/Ball-ghazi, EJ's going with his boys, the Patriots.  Dionne in conclusion:

Do the owners of these teams exploit such feelings? You bet, which is why fans feel so outraged and betrayed when a team gets moved from one place to another. But is there anything intrinsically wrong with their loyalties, or with the admiration of fans for heroism in an athletic encounter involving “their” team? I don’t think so.

Given such strong sentiments, the people who own these teams have an obligation to stewardship that they don’t always discharge. Even as a profoundly loyal Patriots fan, I’d be upset if the team and the league simply threw a locker room attendant under the bus to get out of their problem. Loyalty runs both ways, and it most certainly extends to the locker room attendant. (And if he did deflate eleven balls in ninety seconds, he should have been in the Pro Bowl.)

But I know which side I’ll be on this Sunday, without any mental reservations. The Patriots, including the attendant, are my guys.

To be clear, I do not have a horse in Sunday's race/game.  Rather, it is important to note that Dionne, usually a voice of the calm, inculturated, progressivist branch of the American church, has openly declared, well, a side.  It seems out of character, although he's not alone.  Charlie Carmosy, one of the emerging theological voices on abortion and animal rights, teaches at Fordham and shamelessly sides with his Green Bay Packers.  And then there's Notre Dame--American Catholicism's favorite professional sports team.

What's interesting about all this is the American Church has made a point to eschew such parochialism.  The Church is universal, inclusive, and not, well, so limited.  And that is true--don't get me wrong.  However, when theologians and public critics like Dionne show their hand regarding their teams they are really indicating the humanity we all share.  Part of our life involves, and perhaps requires, particularity, identity, taking sides.  After all, Carmosy and Dionne and a whole host of Catholic bloggers and critics would readily embrace the Catholic label.  (That itself is instructive--and St. John Paul II contributed significantly to this perspective--being Catholic in the modern world necessarily involves particular ethical, spiritual, and communal choices.)  The Yale postliberal school--primarily Protestant but includes Catholic voices--would insert here comments based on George Lindbeck's notion of a cultural/linguistic model for religion.  To be "Catholic" means speaking the language and acting within Roman Catholic culture.

Theologically we know these choices quite possibly entail persecution and martyrdom.  And yet isn't that what faith is, or at least involves?  A willingness to risk the present for the (as yet unseen) future?  So perhaps it shouldn't surprise or offend us when some Catholics, given the opportunity, reveal themselves to belong a smaller, and in this case, more tightly-bound, community:  like-minded sports fans.  This is especially true when your team has the misfortune/providential gift of being the popularly reviled group.  Trust me--I get this for these guys and these guys. They're my teams...and they're not the usual "Catholic" teams.  That, in part, is what Dionne asks:  why can't I root for the team I like? Think about it: must we all still root for Notre every game?  What if you grew up loving the Minnesota Vikings?  Must you surrender your childhood for current theological tastes?

Because, basically, the theologically-attuned want instead to insist on universal good choices for all.  The Packers are the best NFL team because their community ownership model bucks the filthy-rich-guy owner stereotype.  The Red Sox are better than the Yankees because rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U. S. Steel (attributed to Joe Lewis or Bill Veeck).  Andrew Greeley lent his considerable powers to claim supporting the Cubs made better "Catholic" sense.  (To no avail:  the Cubs last won in 1908.  The Cardinals have won eleven--and lost eight--between 1926 and 2011.)  The question, though, remains:  when the game's over, will it be fair to apply Dionne's argument to more recognizably Catholic issues?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Not Dead Yet

Rumors of this blog's disappearance have been greatly exaggerated.  Suffice to say, last month and the beginning of this proved to be busier than previously anticipated/expected.

But here we are.

So much to blog about:  Mario Cuomo's death (and his legacy as a Catholic politician), ISIS and Boko Haram, Charlie Hebdo, and the New England Patriots' deflated balls.  Meanwhile at the St Joseph's College theology blog I managed to put together this and this.

In the future look forward to posts about gender and identity in Catholic higher education as well as how Catholics have contributed to American notions of cheating and fair play.  (And still do-->Belichick and Brady are recognizably Catholic names, although any absence of Catholicity on their parts will be part of that story, too.)

And yesterday approximately 200,000 marched in Washington, DC on the 42nd anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

Some day I will attend that. Until then, here was my office view of Albany's Western Avenue:

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, it's been a tough couple months.  That being said, St. John Paul II's "do not be afraid" and "never give up on hope" come to mind repeatedly throughout each day.  Regarding abortion, therefore, it helps to remember Richard John Neuhaus' exhortation "We shall not weary, we shall not rest."  Tolkien wrote about life's "long defeat" and at times everybody surely glimpses the enormity of time's extent and our correspondingly small blip within.  And yet, like Tolkien's hobbits, we do not and cannot give in.  The small and the small actions constitute the basis for conversion and continuity.  Thus Tolkien: Arwen faces the long defeat that we all, as fallen humans, will inevitably face: our death. But there is one final truth that balances our application of this idea, and it comes from Tolkien himself. "I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic," he writes in one of his letters, "so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat'—though it contains . . . some samples or glimpses of final victory."
And as Andrew Barber concludes: "We fight the long defeat because the final victory is coming."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

martyrs, seeds of the Church...

Fran Szpylczyn reminds us of the four women killed in El Salvador thirty-four years ago today.  Strong stuff, especially the photo Fran places prominently atop the blog's post.  It's Advent--shouldn't we be celebrating barns and farm animals?  Y'know, good feelings????    Fran writes, "Ultimately, if you can’t stare at the Cross, deeply gazing at the Creche is not possible."

Exactly.  We celebrate the Creche because of the victory celebrated first in the Cross.  The women in El Salvador--whom Fran notes realized full well that staying in country would likely result in their deaths--understood this.  Part of Advent involves that same assessment.  Hence the waiting.

Read it all here.