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.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Self-Immolation 2017-style

fire garbage dumpster dumpster fire trash fire

So a recent post here discussed alt-right gay celeb Milo Yiannapoulos and his unhidden Catholicism.  Well, beware the riches of fame--they come with a price.  In a few short days (February 20 & 21), Milo self-imploded.  An old video (the existence of which, apparently, was known) reemerged on YouTube wherein Yiannapoulos 1) bragged about being sexually abused by a Catholic priest sharpened his own skills as a gay lover; and 2) extolled the virtues of intergenerational sex between older men and younger (i.e., early teenage) boys.

source: Giphy

As one might imagine, the reaction was swift and extreme.  Within hours Milo had lost a prominent book deal, a prime-time speaking engagement at CPAC, and eventually his job at tech editor at Breitbart, the well-known right-wing alt-news outlet.  

Then the fun really started.

Basically, the Catholic social media universe went nuts.  Prominent Catholic blogger-writers such as Mark Shea, Simcha Fischer, and Scott Eric Alt denounced Milo's statements and initial coy refusal to retract any of it.  

And then, as if on cue, the Catholic Milo-defenders sprang up.  Yes, Milo said some awful things but, since he's Catholic, we must defend him.  Or, "the Left hates Milo so we must love and protect Milo."

Shea, Alt, and Fisher, of course, were having none of it.

This British writer pulls back the curtain on the entire Milo entourage, a scary world run by straight white males scarcely out of their teens.  And then they meet real, violent resistance...and soil their shorts. It is a wince-inducing read--but a necessary one.

The entire conflagration blew up at the right time: just before Lent.  The Stream asks the perennial question: Had conservatives sought the world's riches, personified by Milo's gay bombast, at the expense of their souls?  And the honest answer is, well, YES.  A free society, the author reminds us, is a good one first.  Author Joshua Charles:

Conservatism that abandons, explicitly or implicitly, the idea that virtue is necessary, not optional, for a free society, is conservatism that has lost its way and ceased to be conservative. Conservatives who maintain that “moral chains” are not all that important so long as they get in the way of temporary “winning” are not conservatives, but anti-conservatives. They know not what they do. They have forgotten that one can gain the whole world, and yet lose one’s soul.

And in blindly accepting Milo, or another other earthly savior, conservatives eschewed the good for the hard-hitting and powerful.  A house built on sand...

To survive the Trump presidency--or any other secular political reign/regime--requires the Gospel and thus the Church. Both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI described a Roman Catholic "communion ecclesiology" wherein the bonds of community, seen precisely in the Eucharist, provide the sure pathway to and with Christ.  Chasing after the latest dumpster fire--Milo or anybody else--might provide a sugar-rush, but just as surely there will follow a disastrous crash.

Adjunct Faculty & Catholic Identity: the hidden connections

American higher education's adjunct dilemma is well-known.  Colleges and universities, facing the very real financial bottom-line, hire adjunct faculty to expand instruction.  Thus more courses are available to students. What could be wrong with that?

Well, lots, actually.

There's a justice issue:  adjunct faculty provide more than fifty percent of all instruction in American higher education yet receive exponentially less pay and benefits.  The increased profit margin--get the same instruction for far less money--insures institutions will not break their reliance on adjuncts easily or willingly.  See, for example, this satire here. Let's be clear: sometimes the line dividing full-time from adjunct faculty does involve ability.  Faculty searches are structured, supposedly, to return the best qualified candidate given the institution's parameters.  So, even when institutions seek to fill faculty lines according to categories like race/class/gender, the faculty search is supposed to result in the hiring of the best-qualified person fitting those parameters.  That is an important issue.  It is also important, I think, to acknowledge that institutional bias--where'd you get your degree?--and perspective bias--do you think like us?--exert real influence on faculty searches.  Not every single one, obviously, but those factors do exist.

Students do not benefit, either.  As reliance on adjunct increases, first-year students take increasingly more courses with adjunct faculty. Full-time faculty--the ones who've made it through the extended hiring process--actually teach fewer students.   More and more, adjunct faculty are the first "teachers" students see, and this experience occurs precisely in the foundational courses institutions and major-granting department insist are so important.  In other words, precisely where and when students need quality instruction, they are least likely to obtain it. The result of all this is that student retention sags.
Why keep taking classes when they're all like this?

source:  Giphy

I have taught long enough to know that could be anybody, full-time tenure-track or adjunct faculty.  But the student array--all jammed into an anonymous lecture hall, wondering what the point is--is quite accurate.

Friday, February 3, 2017

TFW Rogue One Reminds You of Silence

TFW--That Feel When...

No, really, when watching Rogue One with my kids recently I recognized a connection with Silence:

Image result for galen ersoGalen Erso and Father Rodrigues face the same dilemma:

How do you resist silently?

Answer:  They respond differently.  Galen actually does something.  Depending on the book or the movie, Rodrigues does little or nothing.  But at the moment of decision, they face the same demoralizing, annihilating reality:  they can resist immediately and surely suffer, or they can submit outwardly and seek another avenue of resistance.  

Image result for damned if you do damned if you don't