Thursday, July 10, 2014

holding pattern

Folks--
There will be fewer posts through the rest of the summer.  Writing, traveling, and family....

Best wishes, peace and all good for all!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

cathedral-ic response

One of Mark Shea's readers inquired about Medjugorje and the apparent lack of authoritative declaration from Rome.  Shea's response hits all the right chords--Rome doesn't rush anything, look how look it took to declare certain Christological affirmations and then there's Trent, the not-so-speedy-response to the Protestant Reformation.  Shea couches all this with language about the Ents, the ancient-of-days, slow-moving tree-people from Tolkien's Middle Earth.  The Ents took their time--slow from the hobbits' perspective, but actually swift from their own--and when they did act, they did so decisively and turned the battle for the good.  Shea's conclusion:

Bottom line: when the Ents finally get past hooming and homming and finally speak, the bishops who referred the matter to them will be totally and completely vindicated.  The trick will be figuring out a way to break this to the honest and good people who have been lied to so that they listen to the Church  and do not, like victims of Stockholm Syndrome, identify with the crooks and liars who have snookered them with this fraud for thirty years.  It’s a pastoral issue, not a truth issue, that is primarily the problem here.

At some point the obligatory "I'm a Catholic blogger so here are my two cents on Tolkien" post will appear.  For now, though, Shea's use of the Ents as an analogy for "thinking with the Church" reminded me of European cathedrals, especially the Roman basilicas (this perhaps because those were the ones I saw first, thanks to a semester abroad in college).  The space, the sheer physical scale, and for Rome the physical and archeological connections to the ancient Roman past, and yet throughout a great attention to detail and personal expression (one example out of a gazillion:  Pope Leo XIII's tomb at St. John Lateran) are supposed to blow your mind.  The Barthians out there will kill me, but this is the one time when I understood Schleiermacher's "feeling of absolute dependence."  But in the bigness there's also all that detail and thus it takes time to digest it all.  Anybody's who's been on a pilgrimage tour to Rome (or Paris or London or Moscow or Prague or Madrid...etc) knows this point:  there's too much to see in one trip.  So you must return.

In like fashion, responses from the Roman authorities take time.  It's as if they, in responding to real pastoral crises as mentioned above as well as all-too-real theological crises, too, need  to construct a "cathedral" in their response.  By comparison, Protestant churches--which by style and theology benefit from a "quick response," or as I've said, a "sugar-high" spirituality (feels good for a short time, then comes the crash)--have the flash response but little depth or sustainability.  True, sometimes the cathedrals need work and restoration and, equally true, we pilgrims don't always understand every nook and cranny within, but the cathedral--space or response--is worth the wait.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mark Shea goes digging

and I'm glad he does because he finds things like this.

subterranean connections

Geez, one blog post about Jesus Christ Superstar and then stuff hits the fan.  Steve Webb, the prolific and flamboyant columnist at First Things, fires a salvo:  Christians, especially Roman Catholic ones, need to ditch their distaste for 'praise music."  Webb:

I suspect Christians dislike praise music for the same reasons as the unchurched. The words are too simple, direct, and demanding, the emotions too transparent. Musical sophistication often means little more than genre compartmentalization, which leads many musically sophisticated Christians to try to keep their listening habits separate from their prayer life.

There is a bias among many rock aficionados against any contemporary music that makes the lyrics audible, indeed, that subordinates the tune to the words. Christians should not buy into that. It is especially sad, I think, when Christians immersed in hard rock turn their noses up (or shut their ears to) any music that is uplifting, as if only dark sounds are authentic.

Webb makes two good points here:  "we" (the sophisticated churched and our cultural counterparts, the equally if not more sophisticated unchurched [hipsters]) detect the sappy and immediately, instinctively, turn away.  Back in the 80s the "college music" crowd adored anything by REM but winced anytime pop music surfaced. "Real" music was, by definition, partially, if not wholly, unintelligible.  The bright and clear was necessarily a lie.  Hence Webb's second point:  it's only good if it's dark and dismal.  Unspoken satire here:  we really do like French existentialist ennui.   Oh, the misery that is life!  This Webb seeks to root out of American Catholicism:

Cynicism is a far greater spiritual danger than naiveté. And if you are Roman Catholic, what’s the worst that can happen to you? You might learn that you actually like singing, and you might take that lesson to the mass.

the essential irrationality of the eschatological type

a phrase from my dad whenever I would come from school wondering about the latest Biblical challenge thrown by the neighborhood evangelicals....

It mystified me at the time, but I've since come to appreciate the insight fueling the remark:  arrogance.  That and self-righteousness.  Eschatology--that part of Christian doctrine dealing with the "end times,"  the Final Judgment, when God calls in all the chips and settles the score.

And along comes some individual or group insisting that they know the infallible, unmistakeable, guilt-free, easy path to negotiating that event.

One time, when I'd really pushed Dad about the confidence with which my classmates insisted on their own rectitude, Dad waved his hand around the sweltering hot southwest Missouri farmland, looked me right in the eye, and said:  "Do you really think that Jesus would pick to come back here first??"  The old man always did have a way of ending arguments....

just wow

Wow, so much going on but here are two utterly riveting stories.

First, Rod Dreher points us towards an Omaha-based blogger reflecting on the recent double-funnel tornado that ripped apart Pilger, Nebraska.  Everybody should look at that photo.  THAT, folks, is a tornado's end.  Not the wild footage on The Weather Channel.  Not thrilling car chases in the 1996 flick Twister (although, for reasons to be mined later, that movie puts forth a lot of neat dichotomies).  No--just a town destroyed and a little five-year old girl dead.  "Some day" won't come.

Pilger lies about thirty miles south of the equally small town where I was born.  When I was three we moved to southwest Missouri where I went through my share of tornado warnings.  (For the uninitiated, a "watch" and a "warning" are two very different alerts.)  I only saw one tornado, and that was one swirling above in the clouds that later killed somebody in nearby Springfield.  Now for the past few years The Weather Channel and meteorologists from the rest of the country descend on the Midwest for the thrilling chase.  And for the upstate NY readers--why leave?  Times are so bad--and the region is so starved for attention--that this foolishness is not only tolerated but encouraged.  They should look at Pilger, or Joplin in 2011, or any number of other places, to remind ourselves what those storms can do.

And in the midst of despair, Dreher notes, 5 times the town's entire population showed up to help Pilger rebuild.  Stories like this abound--the willingness of folks to help out others--and we need to remind ourselves of this goodness AND its calling forth by inexplicable disasters.  Too often we fixate on the next impending disaster.  Through God's grace, though, charity abounds.

And then there are stories like this where a Capitol District native does good--great grades and Columbia Law School and public service--and then inexplicably descends, ultimately, into death. I won't pretend to understand post-partum depression, but it is important that this sort of psychiatric illness needs help--and intervention--just as much as the Adam Lanzas of the world.  Yet again, we focus so insistently on individual freedom and self-expression that we often lose the opportunities--often few and far between--to bring about some change.  And even here, though, grace--however inexplicable--abounds:  her son lived to walk.

We are so accustomed to congratulating ourselves for having it all figured out, and then stories like these reveal the hubris generating that satisfaction.  Obviously prayer helps, but the enormity of either story leaves us shaking our heads.  And that's probably a healthy reaction.