Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Embracing my own rejections

So, usually this blog cheers the Wojtylas, the Ratzingers, and the Extraordinary Form.  TotB (Theology of the Body) and Gregorian chant.  Mt. Carmel and Opus Dei.  Not all of the usual right-wing Catholic stuff, but obviously some of it. ((mitigated by the Trump presidency!)) Oh yeah, and a bunch of 80s hard rock.

This post appeared in draft first during LENT, though, so let's instead this time feast on some of which this blog usually trashes:  polyester pant suited nuns and moms, felt banners, schlocky "spirit of Vatican 2" songs, Communion in the hand, no kneelers, Paul Tillich, LBGTQ and the social construction of gender, bad 80s pop music, and fast food.  In other words, all the things that cause, foment, exacerbate, and sustain spiritual diabetes, not that which, in my view, actually cures this spiritual malaise.

Why?  These, too, are parts of God's creation.  The Creed tells us this.  We ask God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Both Karl Barth and Romano Guardini remark on the remarkable presumption this request makes.  Who are we--humans, part of creation--to bargain with God, the creator Himself?  It makes no sense, and the extension of responsibility that this forgiveness we desire relies on the same which we extend to others.  Moltmann thought Barth left nothing to say until future eschatology was too reductionistic.

So whether it's mainline Protestantism shrinking though it is with its goofy, inept evangelization:

Source: BadVestmentsBlog

Friday, October 20, 2017

Super Caboodle is more like it, part I

Blogger's note:  Further proof that the time between a post conceived and a post posted cannot be determined easily.  Please enjoy anyway...

So Lady Gaga.

Yes, you just knew that eventually she would make an appearance on this blog.  A Jesuit blogger posted this in 2016 as a reflection on mercy and pop music. And here she is singing "Perfect Illusion."

Scored a couple bonus points with my students by pointing out the Buddhist allusions here.  "At least now I were a perfect illusion."

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Are you bleeping kidding me?

A (melo?)drama in several acts...


Father Anthony Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and prominent Pope Francis advocate, authors with Reverend Marcelo Figueroa an extensive post in La Civilta Cattolica detailing the surprising ecumenism between Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic traditionalists, particularly in the United States.  Normally the response for this would be:


Not for the topic itself but rather the level at which this discourse proceeded.  Let's get it straight:  one of the Pope's closest Jesuit buddies and an Argentinian Presbyterian minister hand-picked by Pope Francis himself to edit the Argentine version of L'Osservatore Romano, co-author a piece about ecumenical cooperation in a continent neither of them come from or live in. (Let's put aside for a second the rather curious fact that there's a Protestant minister playing a prominent role in disseminating a Catholic publication...)  OK, got it--now what are the National League Central standings?  On the surface it just doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

But you know where this story leads--of course it's a big deal.  Spadaro and Figueroa waste no time in alleging a "ecumenism of hatred" between the two groups.  Both harbor deep hostilities about modern life, seeking instead to reassert a baldly theocratic order wherein many elements of progress would be reversed. The authors mention Lyman Stewart's funding of The Fundamentals in 1910-5 (overlooking the complexity of this phenomenon) and John Rushdoony's Christian reconstructionism.  These figures contribute to an apocalyptic world view wherein anything leading to dialogue is suspect and anything validating conflict with the forces of (modernist) evil are celebrated. The Scriptures say a big fight with evil is coming, so let's get to work, good guys.  Spadaro and Figueroa finger George W. Bush as particularly susceptible to this thinking.

They then name Breitbart chairman and Trump cabinet strategist Steve Bannon as a fomenter of this "ecumenism of hatred." They seem unaware that Bannon's religiosity is questionable or that in 2014 Bannon gave a now-well-publicized talk beamed to a Vatican audience.  Of course the Vatican is not a monolith (as John Allen Jr has so ably detailed in his books), but still--is a little awareness too much to ask?  Linking anything Catholic with Rushdoony and/or Stewart is, on the face, just plain wrong.  It is an anachronism for which any undergraduate scholar would be scolded.  Furthermore, the authors posit "Integralists" as if we all know what that means.  Just as the authors themselves are a little fuzzy on what exactly constitutes a "fundamentalist," the same could be said about Sparado and Figueroa's Catholic counterpart.  Google "Catholic integralism" and you get first the Wikipedia entry on the 19th and 20th century anti-Modernist movement.  (And their own article link comes up third.)  That's important because the authors never define "Integralism," nor do they distinguish what that means in the post-conciliar Church.  Instead "Integralists" loom like boogeymen in the dark recesses of the Church where the light of Vatican II just hasn't yet shone.  Again, if an undergraduate student submitted a paper with these unsubstantiated claims, a rather low grade would be forthcoming.  It's not a well-crafted argument.

No matter.  For Spadaro and Figueroa, Catholic traditionalists suspect Pope Francis of closet Marxist sympathies, while evangelicals, when they're not damning Catholic liberationists for confusing social justice with salvation, throw their weight behind alt-Right fantasies and the morally corrupt leadership of figures like President Trump.

Read all the original post here.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Prayers Requested: Blogger Transmogrified

It had to happen.

Things change. The changing itself is a constant. As Rush sings in "Tom Sawyer," "no change is permanent, but change is!"  Sometimes these changes can seem magical, bizarre, or just weird.

Hence "transmogrify" ="to change in appearance or form, especially strangely 
or grotesquely;transform."  This process has occurred more than once recently, and for these your humble blogger requests your prayerful intercession.


A couple years ago, unannounced on this blog, the Spiritual Diabetes family moved from Albany itself to a nearby suburb.  The subsequently much longer drive to and from work has provided many opportunities for spiritual reflection (among other tasks, e.g., questioning the decisions of my fellow commuters).  I've blogged about this here, and the process continues daily.  From the outset, though, I couldn't help but think of this song:

In some ways this song is perfectly Reagan 80s:  "in the shopping malls, in the high school halls, be cool or be cast out."  Because that's exactly what life was like thirty years ago and it became de rigueur to castigate facile white middle-class conformism.  Hence college music (REM, the Cure, the Dead Milkmen), grunge like Nirvana, and rap.  Listen to those kinds of music and you were, in some small way, rebelling. Oh happy fanciful, so simplistic.  Now, of course, the suburbs foster another kind of conformism. In the suburban northeast, at least, conformity involves an entire platform of sexual, social, spiritual, and political conclusions that must, in an secular parody of the Church's gospel of life, be accepted in its entirety.  Catholics practice their faith cafeteria style, but NOBODY, rest assured, may deviate from contemporary secular suburban values.  You must, as Geddy Lee sang, "be cool or be cast out."  It's just that what currently defines "cool" has changed--significantly.


Speaking of work,  I now occupy a new office: the Dean's office.  So, yes, I have made the move (temporarily) from faculty to administration.  This has produced already several insights into higher education which I would not have had otherwise....and will not blog about.


One day after my official start on the new job, my father died.  It was not a surprise in that his type-II diabetes had, through dialysis and dementia, greatly reduced his abilities and mobility.  On the other hand, when my sister called that things didn't look good, I asked "is this THE time?" She responded it was--and less than six hours later Dad had died.  Many friends from all over sent condolences (for which I'm very grateful, of course), some of which presumed I was more worked up than I actually was/am.  Allaert Claesz once depicted death as a drum-beating skeleton who surprises a respectable couple.   In Dad's case, death came as a welcome friend, releasing and accompanying him to the after-life.  Thomas Merton, in a far different situation, once quoted Genesis 5:24: "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him."  That pretty covers the story.  Over the five years of this blog I've written about the deaths of friends and teachers, losses that I still feel daily.  My father's death, which I'm just beginning to process, leaves me instead with a desire to less, not more.  I've taken comfort in the Rosary, especially the Luminous Mysteries.  Scott Eric Alt has written about these, pointing to their sacramentality.  Along a slightly different line, I've seen the Luminous Mysteries as celebrating transitions and transformations;  Jesus undergoes them and so do we.  Sometimes, of course, these transformations seem to us at least more like transmogrifications.  So in your prayers, please include a petition for me and my own transformations, but more so please include my father and all the departed that they may be granted eternal rest in perpetual light from the Father.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


That's all mainline Protestantism has in the gas tank.  So says Ed Stetzer, Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College and director for The Graham Center there, in this recent Washington Post piece.

Movies GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
source: Giphy

It's basic demographics, folks.  Stetzer:
Mainline Protestants, which has been the tradition of several U.S. presidents, aren’t “multiplying” with children as rapidly as evangelicals or others of differing faiths. And geography matters. Places where Protestants live are now in socio-economic decline, and parts of the country like the Sun Belt are become more evangelical with every passing winter.

Here's Stetzer's data:

The top line shows mainline Protestant identification, and fewer say they go to churches affiliated with mainline denominations. The bottom line shows attendance, and now less than one of 33 people you meet on the street regularly attends a mainline Protestant church.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Surprising Inclusivity of Catholic Devotionalism

Ah, yes:  Catholic devotionalism.  Where would we be without it?

This is the tradition spurned as "superstitious" by generations of Protestants as well as the past fifty-odd years of Catholic liturgical scholars.  The "Spiritual But Not Religious" crowd sees a vast wasteland of rules, regulations, social conformism, and external authority.  Classrooms of undergraduate students dismiss Catholic devotional practices as repetitive, going-through-the-motions, and inauthentic. (But, curiously, have no problem ascribing reality and authenticity to phenomena like the Duggar family's particular [and particularly narrow] evangelicalism, the Peoples Temple suicides, and the Creation Museum. But I digress...)  My faculty colleagues, some of whom are ex-Catholics, harbor nothing but contempt for the old ways, that of their oppressive parents and grandparents.  Even St. Josemaria Escriva castigates mindless recitation of the Rosary (Furrow #477).

At one level, it must be admitted, they have a point.

On the other hand, Catholic devotionalism is an irreducible part of American Catholic history and varieties of Catholic social and spiritual identity.  A sine qua non--without it you really don't have anything "Catholic."  Consider:

Caesar Chavez's invocation of Our Lady of Guadalupe in his organization of migrant farm workers:
(3246) Processions, Cesar Chavez, Mack Lyons, 1971
Source:  Wayne State Library

Pope John Paul II, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, leading peaceful and popular resistance to Polish Communism:
John Paul II comes to Warsaw

Source: on Pinterest -- St. John Paul II's 1980 visit.

Personal aside:  I love this photo's contrast between the vast crowd's vivid colors and the drab backdrop of Soviet-style housing.  How many divisions does the Pope have?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Walking through the Desert

Stark lack of blogging activity this month and really the entire year 2017 so far.  Given the variety of tasks set before me, I doubt things will improve markedly any time soon.  Without asking for sympathy (others have it far worse than I) or providing a detailed list of problems, the barrenness and problematic nature of the blogged statement/response has become ever more apparent. Even if there was enough time (and there is not), the question remains: Why persist?

It is not for lack of material.  The 2016 election, the Trump administration's first days/weeks/months, the unceasing "small war" conflict running between Pope Francis and some very vocal and conservative critics--and that's just a start.  There are plenty of things to blog about.  However, it has become apparent that instead of that rich banquet I am seeking a way out of the desert.  Christ Himself spent forty days in the desert, only to confront temptations from Satan upon return.  Only then did the angels tend his needs (Matthew 4:11).  

Ivan Kramskoi, Christ in the Desert (1872); source: Wikipedia

More and more recently this is where I find my own life:  the desert--and wondering about what is to come. And who knows?  The burdens faced today might seem light by comparison tomorrow.  A good friend and mentor reminded me last summer that before resurrection we must experience the cross and then the tomb.  So, really, only God knows what will happen, but I do know that I need to reconfigure my priorities. This blog, like many other nice things in my life, has become part of that load one needs to lighten in order to cross the desert.  I hope to add a post or two every month, but probably no more.  

I ask for your prayers and will remember you in mine.  Meanwhile, here is yet another crisp, ringing video by the evangelization master, Bishop Robert Barron.  

May we stay off the Schleiermacher autobahn and remained focused on Christ.  Only with and through Him shall we see new life.