Tuesday, December 31, 2013

mind the gap

Over a year later and I still haven't managed the art of the quick-blog-post-turnaround.  TIME magazine's bestowing Person of the Year status on Pope Francis coincided with the semester's conclusion.  Thus, that moment passed.

Although...as mentioned a couple times on this blog, Pope Francis will surely confront his "Humanae Vitae moment" wherein the world expects him to say one thing but gets something else entirely...and those (not even "Catholics", since many non-Catholics pay better attention to the papacy than many within the Church itself!) who've been paying attention won't be surprised.

Another blogging-moment-missed:  Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, surely two of the most astute cultural-religious commentators alive, question Pope Francis' legitimacy and alleged Communist sympathies.   Quite frankly, this isn't/wasn't news...except that it dovetails with Time's recognition of Francis.  Both world and Church are still getting accustomed to the new pontiff -- remember, he was elected in mid-March!--and thus the "HV moment" alarm I keep sounding might be a year, two, or five off in the future.  However, it does seem prudent to recall that, despite all the media (in)attention otherwise, Pope Francis has not hit the CTRL+ALT+DEL restart of Roman Catholicism.  He has not utterly jettisoned the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  In fact, one could say--and one has said--that Francis simply continues the same message of the previous two popes with a slightly different emphasis.

Among the "unknown unknowns" 2014 will bring, a "known unknown" is Francis' papacy.  And, make no mistake, it is evangelization

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

this is the day

Well, well, well....a while ago (a phrase, btw, that my Ozark dialect would translate as "wall-luh-go") I mentioned Pope Francis' ecstatic followers confronting the news that the Pope, well, is Catholic

At some point I wonder if he'll confront a "Humanae Vitae" moment like Paul VI:  caught between the zeitgeist and the Church's own traditions, which will the pope choose?  And will all those currently enthralled with Francis I's new way still stand with him if he chooses the Church over the world?

And again this past August:

After all, it's currently all the rage to extol Pope Francis as the Church's sha-zam! rehabilitator.  Wait till Pope Francis has a Humanae Vitae moment.

That day of reckoning might have just arrived.  Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) addresses a wide variety of issues, and the commentaries are just beginning.  A couple months the press was all a-rage about interviews with Pope Francis.  Wonder what will happen now that Pope Francis has made it clear that the Church's pro-life stance regarding abortion won't be changed.

Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?

Given this blog's parameters, I'd suggest that this is *not* the authoritarian boom-lowering restorationist counteroffensive so desired by the Catholic right. Section 214 ends, crucially, on a pastoral note.  That should give the Catholic Right pause;  Pope Francis has repeated stressed the Church's reach-out, its evangelization, and not always admonishing sinners.  (I bet, though, Pope Francis still thinks that's required occasionally.)  The same section, though, is a sobering reminder to the Catholic left who embrace Francis' reforms (it's good Pope John all over again!) while overlooking Francis' piety and personal sense of papal style.  No, he's not Benedict.  That is OK.  But that also doesn't mean that Francis has thrown away the Church's teaching role.  As Catholic Memes puts it:

   A couple days ago a couple Catholic bloggers compared Pope Francis to the Honey Badger, as in "he doesn't care--he just does what he wants" (paraphrased).  A fortuitous analogy--and it will be interesting to see what the Pope does next while the rest of us unpack Evangelii Gaudium.

Friday, November 22, 2013

mouth shoots, hits foot

Disclaimer:  this post departs from the blog's usual material:  American spirituality, Roman Catholic studies, sports, popular culture.  At least at first.  Rest assured, the blog is not morphing into some political  hatchet site.   At least not intentionally so...

So first there is Obamacare and its inauspicious debut.  There's probably a semester's worth of lectures about hubris and nemesis in this part of American life, and that extends to Republicans as well as Democrats.  Just check the headlines at Real Clear Politics for the latest in ideological salvos. The problem, though, becomes when confronting one ugly problem (and Obamacare's problems are ugly) the usual response has become:


the corrosion we love

I don't have a smart phone and now I wonder if I ever will.  Can it be that all this--this that 21st century American life has become--all dates back only to June 2007?  The iPhone and all the competitors are even younger than Facebook.

And it's obvious that we now simply can not do without them.  Smart phones dominate my students' lives.  Every element of campus life now involves them:  classes (yes, during--and unless a campus features a particularly tightly-woven culture, find me somewhere smart phones are not used in class), dining, commuting, in-between classes, sporting events.  They are omnipresent.

This blog and all other blogs function, to some degree, because of this.  Blog updates and other little tidbits come in, thus connecting the smart-phone-user to all corners of the world s/he has chosen.  Smart phones are no longer primarily for talking but for connecting:  information, texting (the primary and preferred communication avenue these days), social media, entertainment, directions, reminders, games, photography, etc.

And yet it should be equally clear that this omnipresence is quickly and surely corroding the ways in which we interact with one another.  Notice the story:  device-free meetings, Japanese commuters falling in front of trains, discussions among urban planners of technology-free-spaces.  Simon Grabar writes:

Broadly speaking, any such regulations would require agreement that public computing has negative externalities — that your hand-held device is my problem. ...

But while it is obvious that light, noise and smoke corrupt darkness, silence and clean air, the consequences of smartphone use are far more opaque. What, exactly, does the man texting at the bar disrupt? Is the situation different if he is watching a violent movie or playing a visually arresting game? What does it mean to fellow patrons if his face is bathed in the steady glow of an e-book?

In the past, it has taken decades to pinpoint the external costs of other people’s activities. Though smoking was often considered a bother in the 19th century, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the aggravated parties coined the expression “secondhand smoke.” (All this far before any awareness of its health risks.)

It seems clear that there is such a thing as secondhand glow. It impedes our movement on busy sidewalks, breaks our concentration in movie theaters and libraries, and makes our public places as dull and private as phone booths. The question is what to do about it.

"that your hand-held device is my problem"...whoa, boy, there's a ticking bomb.  It is--when somebody's driving--but Grabar attends to the larger social "web" that is dissolving in our midst.  Somebody once told me that Steve Jobs' biography reads like somebody who suffered from fetal alcohol effect (FAE):  difficulty in bonding with others, stuck in his own world.  Maybe--Jobs is a compelling figure in so many ways.  Yet Jobs, not ironically, created a device that now invites/coerces us all to enter a world similar to his.  Each day I face a room of undergraduates who sit together but apart from each other, each deeply involved in her/his social media world--world that they themselves have.  They're more than willing to look up anything I mention in class:  Google image searches of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, movie updates, political commentary, Facebook memes, etc. 

That being said, I get the attraction.  The functionality, the connectivity, the instantaneous ability to comment.  This blog surfaces occasionally on Twitter where I stand amazed at the constant roll of updated tweets.  At a recent parish council meeting I stressed the need for the parish to join, in some way, that very world.  Social media is "where" the younger generations reside that churches want to attract.  And evangelization, especially the New Evangelization declared by John Paul II and Benedict XVI--and taken to a new level by Francis I--advocates going to meet the people "where they are."  The American Academy of Religion's annual meeting features--which convenes this weekend in Baltimore--roughly eight to ten thousand of the nation's top religious studies scholars, and, despite the AAR's membership self-satisfied sense of objectivity and critical remove from religious subjects themselves, the AAR is no different. The annual meeting consists of the usual lengthy (and, yes, fruitful) sessions on a wide variety of religious phenomena--but now the hallways and book displays are clogged with the AAR members on their phones--just like everybody else as Grabar describes.  

And he concludes with the right note:  "what to do about it?"  Where will this technological cum social transformation take us all?  Because it's clear by now we're all on this smart phone train--but do we really want to end up where this journey is headed?

Friday, November 1, 2013

For all the saints...

...who from their labors rest...

Last night was Halloween, and now in my adult years come two of my favorite days in the Church calendar:  today All Saints Day and tomorrow All Souls Day.  Once it used to be about candy but now, perhaps fitting for a blog bearing the name it does, it's now about something we come to know better as we age:  remembering the many who've died.  Some saintly, some not so much;  some loved, some not, some loved more than they should've been, and others less so. 

This post's title honors Bill Placher, long time Wabash College professor and a dear friend and guide of mine for so many years.  At his funeral in 2008, the assembled sang--as per his request--"For All the Saints" (at, also at his request, a vigorous tempo--no woeful mourning here!). As I wrote last year, I've always treasured that request and that hymn.  These days ask annually for time needed to remember our own humanity (so much for the candy) and that of others.  All jokes aside about the intellectual state of current undergraduates, students "get" death and remembrance, largely because they've seen people die and be buried.  They often don't possess the tools with which to understand fully such things, but it isn't unfamiliar territory.  Always a good time and place to throw in the great G. K. Chesterton line: "

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” 

It took a while but those lines--and the How and Williams hymn--also remind us of the saints whose influence and guidance we perhaps don't want to admit.  For me this ranges from some family members to Dorothy Day to saints like Pope St. Pius X and blessed Raphael Cardinal Merry del Val. So often we seek the saints who look, think, and act like us--and that's the way it should be, at least most of the time.  But what about those saints whose lives call us to some other, higher, and perhaps even more strenuous and rigorous life?    Just as diet and exercise aren't always fun but are necessary elements of any physical health regimen, what about the not-fun parts of spiritual health?  Who are the spiritual fitness instructors we dislike (and/or fear) but whose requirements we recognize we need (somehow)  to follow?

old 80s pop songs direct foreign policy

OK, so everybody now knows that the NSA has spied on basically everybody.  Including Pope Francis.  (On that note, I' like more information.  Did the NSA target Cardinal Bergoglio [and other papabile] or were they just trolling around, fishing for whatever?)  The NSA/Edward Snowden scandal extends far beyond anything this blog would ever dare address.  That being said, the revelation that the surveillance included the Vatican...during a conclave electing the next pope ought to chill everybody's blood. If that's inside the lines of fair play, is anything outside?

At this point it's probably appropriate to blog--as much of the blogosphere already has--about the morality of too-big government, overreach, and humility.  Given some of the parameters within which I've conceived this blog, I should chip in a few cents, too.

However, I'd rather use humor.  When the NSA/Snowden news broke, surely I wasn't the only one to recall the glory days of 80s pop music, like this and this.    Catchy songs with choruses about Orwellian forces watching every move--who knew such pop tunes would become commentary on our 21st century national image?  I know there are others songs, and probably better ones, to add here but the situation seems to beg for some necessary (but still illuminating, hopefully) humor.

There's also a pop music/religion angle.  Currently the nation rages against its own government's intrusions (a government, remember, that we elected), but the Christian culture/secular culture nexus has generated some catchy reflections on secretive (and occasionally insensitive) power.  Some of this boils down to reflections on the Book of Job (a book I just covered with my own students, reminding them that Job isn't nearly as patient as we've been told or like to think).  For example, Seven Nations' Kirk McLeod sings in defiance of the very divine power his band's song captures.  Originally titled "God" the band sped up the tempo, made the guitar heavier (and thus made the bagpipes sound even better, imho), and renamed the song "Up to Me."   As in "it's not up to you, human."  Collective Soul's 2001 hit "Why Pt. 2" takes up that human side, plaintively recognizing the infinite qualitative difference between the divine and human realms.  The song's video subtly adds another layer, depicting the band playing amidst a wild Hollywood party.  As the shenanigans increase among the beautiful people, the police show up and shut it all down.  The band is left alone, being the last ones to leave the house.  The partyers' blithe ignorance of anything other than their own enjoyment contrasts the common-sense, hard-boiled cops who quickly and firmly shoo everybody out.  The scene recalls the cows of Bashan whom Amos warns a day is surely coming when the fun will end.  And as the song tells, it isn't the same.

Now,  the NSA scandal remains open, so who knows the ending there?  But there are signs, even amid pop culture and its still-detectable Christian understructure, that we shouldn't dance around blithely until the authorities show up.

Friday, October 18, 2013


yet another blip in the post supply here.  Will be back after next week....stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Really, what are we supposed to do with this?

And the problem is that our belief in our own prowess and abilities--that we can fix and do anything--leads to questions like "How is combat like my video game?"   And notice the question's order.  The foundational reality is...the game.  We've thus exchanged the real reality we live for a reality we've made--and can bloodlessly and repetitively remake.  But real life, as SO many of know, isn't remakeable.  It happens.  People do good and people sin.  And St. Augustine reminds us that we often prefer the latter over the former because, well, we like it.  That doesn't make it right.

Friday, September 20, 2013

exploding 12-6 curveball

So yesterday I burned through an hour playing blogging catch-up.  Among others I posted this about Pope Francis.

Then, literally 15 minutes later, America magazine posts a lengthy interview with Pope Francis.  And thus I'm again playing catch-up.  At times I feel like the political scientist who specialized in the military reliability of Warsaw Pact nations and finished a definitive study in early 1989. Then just a couple months later...ka-blooey.

To start, as attempted yesterday Pope Francis' first six months have surprised many.  Yesterday Aggie Catholic posted seven good reminders about the new pontificate.  (And, while they don't say it, there's an implication reminding all of us that Pope Francis is still new.  It's only been six months.  Relax.)  Maybe it's Bill Placher or Karl Barth, maybe it's Dorothy Day or Walker Percy or Thomas Merton, but #6 particularly speaks to me:  Pope Francis reminds 'us the being a Christian isn't "safe".' Yep, that pretty much nails it.  The trad crowd needs to shed its nostalgia while the lefties shed their hatred of the past, and then everybody should scroll back through the pontificate of Benedict XVI.  Is this infinite, qualitative difference? 

Uh, no--and to give the usual suspects a rest, I'll abstain from hurling links from Elizabeth Scalia and George Weigel. 

Picking up yesterday's pitching meme, Francis' different pontifical style (something else Aggie Catholic and others duly note) leaves many a knee buckled.  Again, it's the thirst and underlying hunger that generates and sustains the spiritually diabetic condition....and those reacting to the Pope's words--without fully recognizing context and nuance--certainly suffer  here.  It's their knees, so to speak, that are buckling. #throwingbabyoutwithbathwater #legalizeeverything #hopesandfears The right fears Francis will undo the Johano-Pauline-Benedictine era, and the left hopes he'll do the same.

How much you want to be Pope Francis does neither?  He's Argentinian & thus the first pope from the Americas, a Jesuit, has extensive pastoral experience, he's the first religious order pope since Gregory XVI, and it's only been six months.  I hope we have several more innings--to continue the metaphor--to learn from and understand Pope Francis.

Meanwhile, Fran Szpylczyn, one of the Capital District's real and really Catholic bloggers, offers her take at There Will Be Bread.  Fran, apparently channeling Cardinal Dolan, starts with a very good point.  The Francis interview is a wake-up call.  Furthermore, she deftly recalls one of the more important parts of the interview which the mainstream media seems to have utterly ignored:  the pastoral and Ignatian context.  Francis spends far more time talking about his prayer life and the Church's pastoral needs.  Thus I think Fran really hits a chord with TBTG AMDG.  My own few years of Jesuit education seem justified now.  They all brought  me to this:  the task of understanding our new Jesuit pope.

Meanwhile, to link to popular culture if I may, as I read over the interview I listened to The Gaslight Anthem, a band worthy of several blog posts all their own.  One song, "Too Much Blood," from their recent CD Handwritten includes the following:

if I just tell you the truth are there only lies left for you
If I put too much blood on the page
Now as my ear turn witness to the pride and the shame 
are you worried I'll say too much 
are you scared to take me away
Now I am no devil but I've got things on my mind 
and they're gonna come out and they're gonna come up time to time
What can I keep for myself if i tell you my hell
what'll be let to take to my grave

Long story short:  Brian Fallon, TGA's lead singer, is quite a lyricist (and, I should add, a fervent evangelical Christian). Here he sings about the all too real problems of communication, selflessness, and self-centeredness in relationships. The song grasps one of the knots we face with papal interviews:  the papacy is such a focus and media-attractant and yet we all apparently read such interviews with our own sets of rose-colored glasses.  We see what we want to see.  Or, if you prefer, it's another Procrustean bed:  we will either stretch or hack whatever the Pope says to fit our own standards.  And, riffing on Fallon, are we worried what we'll find in the Pope's words?   The telling feature with this particular interview of Pope Francis is that both sides--left and right--fall right into this, each in their own way.

Thus the reactions tell us more about those reacting than anything about Pope Francis himself.  For that we each need to read the article for ourselves.  Yet another slow-and-steady, diet-and-exercise approach.  It's not fast, it's not sexy, but eventually it works.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

ever wondered...

...if things are really going down the tubes--like the prophets of doom always insist?

Well, take a look at this and tell me they're not right.  And if that isn't enough, Liz "The Anchoress" Scalia this week posted on Facebook a reaction to something that boggles the mind.

I know--that last one really threw me, too.

I'll admit, a couple decades ago, in the flush and rage of the twentysomethings I had little patience for the wiser, more patient, "joy and hope" theme pervading theological studies (or at least the circles in which I moved then).  Now, though, I think I might be getting at least some of it.  Humanity can create products like those mentioned above--and all to avoid confrontation with the realities of life.  Given that, surely there's some good in humanity, try as we might to hide it from each other and ourselves.  "Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts." (GS 1)

But look again at products like that...and wow, I can see where the pessimists get their fuel.

violent bear it away

Rod Dreher raises a great point about escalating violent realism of American's video games, the games' culture, and their business success.

My students quickly grow sick of my banging on this drum, but I think Dreher is right on the money about this. Our hand-wringing over public shootings like Newtown CT and the Washington Navy Yard extent far beyond gun control legislation.  If that were it alone, transforming our common life would be easy.

But as the ancient Greek phrase--kalepa ta kala--run, "naught without labor" or, perhaps a bit more literally "good things are difficult."  They're also complex.  And the gut-punch truth is this:  some adults go on and on about gun control, but a huge chunk of America's vibrant youth--women as well as men--spend their free time recreating experiences of sexual violence, torture, and death.

This is why my students get sick of all this:  Aristotle warned us about friendship and the habituation of virtue long ago.  Basically the common excuse "he's a good person who just bad choices" is a non-answer.  We habituate the virtues we want to live. So, surround yourself with a fantasy world wherein you can kidnap young women, rape them at will, and take pleasure from their sobs (as Dreher's blogpost records), then don't be surprised when somebody actually goes and does it.

And, to put a cherry atop the sundae by infuriating as many as I can in one blog post, this passive video-gaming violent habituation obfuscates questions concerning the very real use of violence...and the arguments and reasoning behind the possible use of violence (just and restrained, but violent nonetheless) to stop greater injustice.  Yes, that means Syria.  My Augustinian side says intervention in Syria is a bad idea and won't end well.  That being said, that same Augustinianism tells me that we need to reserve the need to intervene--even preemptively so--when justice requires it and totalitarian powers indicate, as totalitarian powers are apt to do, they won't heed humanitarian concerns.  A "just war," though, is a different sort of violence than the repetitive, play-time, hyper-sexed, consequence-free violence our video game culture entices us to embrace.  And because our appetites drive us toward the one, we now have difficulties perceiving the circumstances in which we might need the other.

covert operations

Academics will write papers and articles and blogs about problems, slicing and dicing the problem myriad different ways, using impressive language as they go.  Let's "problematize" this, let's "read sex" (and/or empire) in that, let's deconstruct, instantiate, etc.

And then somebody else recognizes deft humor works just as well.

zen quack quack

A big duck comes ashore in Taiwan

Hey, that's pretty cool.

Almost cool as the best tv commercial ever.  woo-woo!

feel that? that's the foundations shaking...

Like so many other Americans, I love football.  And by "love" I don't just mean "oh I watch a game occasionally."  No, I mean I have favorite teams whose fortunes I follow and other teams I love to see lose.  No need to dive into all that right now.  Suffice to say I've had my heart broken more than once by the monumental play.  I've also had my spirits lifted by the same.

That level of involvement (my family would probably say "mania" or "addiction") receives a cold shower from George Will's recent column on college football's lack of control.  Will, a well-known baseball aficionado, once wrote that football "combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings."  

Having spent more than my fair share of afternoon and nights in a huddle and now with committee meetings, I always appreciated that insight.  His more recent indictment makes a necessary point, too, and one that's being made more and more.  Is football out of control?  (There's a larger argument about sports themselves being out of control, too.) Combined with our growing awareness that football provides short-term glory and long-term health concerns, it's no surprise that some critics have even envisioned "the end of football."

Spiritual diabetes angle: how does this sport slake our cultural and spiritual thirsts?  And if it does (and I think so), then what do those thirsts reveal to us about ourselves?  That's where Will's recent article seems so helpful.  This great thing that so many love has bolted out of control.  And the difficult part about starting a diet/exercise program applies here;  gaining control of our football addictions (b/c that's what they are) will require some conscientious abstention from what we love so much...and advising others not to go down the paths we're already on.

Or least to exercise extreme caution and be mindful of the problems.  American sports--football, baseball, basketball, etc.--provide too much material to ignore and, quite frankly, I enjoy many of them.  So I want to avoid some hypocritical (and mythical and self-deluding) higher ground that "something must be done" when my actions help perpetuate the problem I demand others fix.  I.e., I'm not a limousine liberal or employing some Marxist double-standard (it's OK for me but not for thee).  That being said, like overconsumption of food and drink leads to a physical diabetic condition, we're facing a point where our consumption of one particular sport has led us all to a situation that we don't like, don't want to face, and can't reverse or undo.

As usual, Rod Dreher (reposting a blog by Diane Roberts) makes a great point here about belonging and college football. Basically, yes.  Cheering in the crowd, us against them, the paegantry, the game--it is consuming.

Pope Francis = Bruce Sutter

I'm resisting the temptation to just leave that comparison out there and wait to see who gets it first.

However, I learned a long time ago that my mind makes connections that few at first (or even second and third) glance 'get.'  So, with chastened and humble mind, to explain....

Bruce Sutter was a relief pitcher in 1980s.  He closed out Game 7 against Gorman Thomas and the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series.  He also pitched for the Atlanta Braves but....

Anyway, Suter's success came, basically, from one pitch: the split-fingered fastball.  Suter's large hands and long fingers enabled him to grasp the baseball with just his right index and middle fingers (hence 'split-finger').  Batters would see this pitch as a routine fastball, but when the ball approached the plate it would drop suddenly ("like it was rolling off a table" as one baseball cognoscenti once wrote).  Having committed to swinging at the presumed fastball, batters usually whiffed and swung only at air.

Now here's the connection:  Pope Francis seems to have had a similar effect, at least on journalists and other media experts.  Bill Donohue of the Catholic Defense League has identified himself contra Francis as a "John Paul II" Catholic.  Katrina Fernandez, as mentioned before on this blog, has voiced some concern over Francis' liturgical style.  Now Daniel McCarthy of the American Conservative weighs in, but he notices how Francis' style fits into a broader (and older!  even preconciliar!) Catholic pattern.

And I started this post LAST MONTH and just returned in September.  In that time Simcha Fischer has linked JoAnna Wahlund's able deconstruction of the "OMG Pope Francis is our ruin" chorus.  Wahlund makes a very good point, and even that presumes that there's something wrong with Francis.  I don't think there is.  He offers a different papal style, to be sure, and currently several are swinging and missing, much like batters once experienced with Sutter's splitter.  However, as a good friend told me recently:  "Everybody loves Pope Francis...until he writes about sex."  Very true.  That will be a curve ball of a different sort.

REVISIONS!!!  And just moments after posting, two new articles came to light:
Elisabeth Scalia on the idolization of Pope Francis--and how this diminishes Christ

And then Scalia's post about Pope Francis' interview with America.

As before, drops "like it was rolling off a table"....

The end of Lamentations

No, I don't mean "the lamenting (that's been done on or about this blog!) will end."  I mean this--Lamentations 5:19-22.  The NRSV Catholic edition reads:

Lamentations 5:19-22

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
19 But you, O Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures to all generations.
20 Why have you forgotten us completely?
    Why have you forsaken us these many days?
21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;
    renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
    and are angry with us beyond measure.

Yep, that pretty much nails it.  I always quote these lines to the undergrad students;  it's one place where the veil drops and you can imagine the author confronting the awful reality--that maybe God has finally given up on Israel.

Spare me the reminders about the unconditional covenant, as in Jeremiah 31 and, of course, the Incarnation.  Today I'm dwelling on the rejection part.  After all, Karl Barth once wrote that God's NO! occurs within His prior and overwhelming YES...but at times we need to remember the NO! still abides...as part of the YES.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


So there was another drug bust in Major League Baseball....

and Fay Vincent, once the Commish himself, says "one strike an' yer'out."

I agree, but I found the tone of Vincent's article provocative, but in a quixotic, almost nostalgic, way.  Such a moral clarion call would've worked better, probably should've been heard much more clearly, back in the mid-90s, right after Vincent concluded his term as MLB commissioner and right in the midst of baseball's season and World Series-killing strike of 1994.  Baseball had to rebuild itself, and a clear stance on PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) could've been part of that reconstruction.

But no, baseball went the other way:  steroids made for record-breaking home run tallies, which brought back the crowds, and when the $$$ rolls in, nobody's going to ask questions.  Scruples?  feh....

Now we know that the late 1990s MLB resurgence was a medically-induced fraud, and now we know that a baker's dozen more--headlined by the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, who if healthy and clean was supposed to make us forget all about the late 90s roiders like McGuire and Sosa--were engaged in the same dirty play. 

Enter Fay Vincent's call for "one strike and you're out--for good."  Would this solve the problem?  To a certain extent, yes, but even Vincent knows the ban on gambling on baseball didn't prevent gambling altogether (cf. "Durocher, Leo" for just one well-known example).  So there'd still be some dietary/medicinal hanky-panky.  Chia seeds!  Whey protein shakes!  Mountain Dew and a Snickers! 

More to the point, Vincent bases his call on similar zero-tolerance bans on smoking and illicit drug use.  Problem:  popular votes in Colorado and other states have overturned "the war on drugs."  This in itself is a problem, again one that even undergraduate students grasp:  just because a majority of people think some action is right--or at least morally permissible--doesn't make it so.  That's exactly Vincent's point--but I wonder if the tide of moral relativism, or at least moral apathy, has already swept over his beachfront property.  Vincent concludes:

There is also the need for education and moral leadership to explain to all of those who play sports that cheating is simply wrong. It may seem odd to contend in a world often saturated by moral relativism that there is such a thing as an immoral act. But cheating at games—whether it be cycling, baseball, football or track and field—is wrong, and we had better begin to say so. Otherwise we risk, quite literally, losing all our games.

Vincent's not alone in defending the need to name immoral acts as such.  See Confucius, "rectification of namesas well as the Church's Catechism.  Ah, but when some moral authorities exercise this right (and this is especially true whenever the Church flexes its moral authority), the masses demarcate where that authority's power lies. So do calls for zero tolerance hold weight anymore? It's not so much moral relativism as "I/we don't want to hear what you have to say...on this particular point." After all, it's currently all the rage to extol Pope Francis as the Church's sha-zam! rehabilitator.  Wait till Pope Francis has a Humanae Vitae moment.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Nothing like a week long, 6-hours-a-day discussion of the theology of the Church!  A very inspired--and inspiring--group, and the upshot is that the human future of the Church has a few more good hands to uphold it.  I say "human" because, obviously, God upholds the Church so its future is assured.  Still, it's nice to know there are some folks doing some good work out there.

Two things:  enthusiasm for Jesus, the Church, and its sacraments.  This is a group that really does love Christ and the Church and thus speaks openly about needing communication with the Lord.  They're excited about what Pope Francis brings and will bring to the Church, and they remain enthusiastic about emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.  There's also a corresponding mistrust of American cultural enthusiasm which bent on sweeping away the Church's global structures of rule of law, as if an immediate decision--often made hastily and without full appreciation and consideration of the repercussions--is always best.

Finally, a growing realization that the Church needs again--a tune we hear frequently--greater catechetics.  The Church's "best kept secrets"--its social justice traditions, its spiritual diversity, and its celebration of human dignity--are not arcane artifacts hidden away in triple-locked safe rooms.  They're all readily available, if Catholics--and quite frankly others interested in bettering human life--would but develop some enthusiasm and immerse themselves in what the Church already offers freely.

It's all there.

Friday, July 12, 2013

find a way--or make one

So said Admiral Perry about his trek to the North Pole.  And it's good advice to remember in these days.  Despair is not an option.  There is far more good in this life and in this world, and God, having made our lives and our world, calls us to it all.  In both the macro- and microcosm, good exists.  We have but to find it, and in so doing celebrate and nurture it.

Sometimes we feel ourselves doomed to failure, and we might often feel as if we don't know what we're looking for, since very little "good" seems evident.  But it is there.  The storm will pass.  The night will end and the sun will rise.  Pray, and press on.

And some times some of the very people who otherwise serve as impediments to our search for the good can, perhaps inadvertently, aid our quest.  One of the best examples from my own life came within the past year from somebody who, in unleashing a stinging rebuke of John Paul II's life and career (a tirade which convinced me to no longer listen to this person at all), riffed on John Paul's favorite--and inaugural line--of his papacy:  "Be not afraid!"  Well, that might have been the only time this person ever got anything right...because that is indeed the case.  "Be not afraid!" is another way of saying "find a way--or make one."

So fret not.  Remember the prayer at Mass: "deliver us, Lord, from every anxiety and graciously grant us peace in our day."  We simply need to remember that Christ has, in fact, freed us--from anxiety and fear.  And in so doing, illuminated our search for the good in our own lives.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

zombie porn mania

<<shameless attempt to grab counter hits: blog titles with only buzz words>>

Fear of the brain-eating, and apparently unstoppable, undead masses.

And we can't turn away from that fear.  In fact, much like the dog and the fool, we can't help but return (Proverbs 26:11).  PS, that's the porn part.

With the release of the movie World War Z, it seemed time that somebody try to make sense of the religious themes with all this zombie mania.  Turns out somebody beat me to the punch--and published a book, to boot.  Something to add to the summer/autumn reading list.

Some of this craziness had to start with 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake (complete with opening credits accompanied by the late Johnny Cash's last hit "When the Man Comes 'Round"):  apocalyptic music singing of final judgment accompanied by harried shots of unrestrainable riots and a quick descent into Hell. Now it's gotten to the point that weekend 5k road races aren't enough.  To have a good time you need to be chased.  You can even buy zombie apocalypse t-shirts.  And not just by telemarketers or bratty teenagers.

All of it sparked by....the brain-eating, unstoppable undead zombie masses.

Spiritual diabetes angle:  it's not just xenophobia, but a sort of xeno-polloi-phobia. We're now afraid of the masses of strange others.  "the stranger" her/himself--we're now fine with that.  Catholic social justice insists on the intrinsic dignity of every human being from conception to natural death.  Liberation theology insisted for decades that the poor retain their dignity and proximity to God.  Even college undergraduates (another set of zombies, perhaps?) with their individual ethical relativism want to insist on a certain laissez-faire morality that recognize the freedom and integrity of other individuals.

But a mass of others--especially if they're....Republicans, Democrats, Roman Catholics, Jews, born-again Christians, Mormons, Unitarian-Universalists, Muslims--that's a different story.  "They" just keep coming--and obliterating "us."  OH MY GOD, WHAT WILL WE DO???  WE ARE DOOMED. 

So in a time when a chunk of the American populace fears Obamacare's HHS mandate for its very real infringements on religious freedom, while another chunk fears pro-life intrusion into reproductive freedom, while third and fourth chunks stew about the political opposition's machinations for electoral control, in such times it might make sense that our most popular meme might be the zombie apocalypse.  The brain-eating, unstoppable undead others hellbent on OUR destruction.

Gee, ain't nihilism great?  Livia Soprano might be the dowager queen of this worldview.

And a biblical note for the runners out there:  train all you want to outrun the zombie.  Buy the t-shirts about "fast food."  And then read Amos chapter 5, especially verses 18-20.

Spiritual diabetes cure--and like all diabetes cures, this takes a while, it's not a quick-fix, sugar-high like the rush of running from zombies--take a stroll through Francis I's Lumen Fidei and recall its predecessors by Benedict XVI:  Caritas in veritate and Spe Salvi.  The Roman Catholic tradition--the Church, yes, and its all-too-fallible members, and its ideas and practices--remains a harbor and feast to recharge, refresh, and encourage us all in these zombie-mad days.

And for Katrina Fernandez, who raises an interesting point about Francis' style, patience.  The day will surely come when those currently loving Francis's cool groove (and, admittedly, it is pretty cool) will find themselves facing an unexpectedly difficult choice:  turn away to follow another spiritual fad or admit Francis, as pope, leads both the revisionists and the traditionalists, the Opus Dei supernumeraries and those struggling to get to Mass on time, the liberal and the conservatives.

Because in the Church there are certainly differences...but there are no zombies.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

once again, holding pattern

The semester ended over a month ago, but I've actually blogged less in the time since than during the actual semester.  We're once again in a holding pattern.  Activity to resume hopefully next week. Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Some days do matter more than others.  Like today, June 6, 69 years ago:

h/t wikipedia

If you ever get a chance to visit the Normandy beaches, take it.  When you make it past the American cemetery, go down to the beach, turn around so the ocean's at your back, and then look up.  As galvanizing as this photo is (and it is iconic), nothing brings it home like being there.

And as riveting as Saving Private Ryan is, being there is different.

13 years ago I went there, having seen earlier in May the British celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuations.  Most of the WWII histories will make the same point:  the astonishing reversal the Allies experienced, going from fleeing continental Europe on fishing vessels and motorboats to, four years later, the largest amphibious invasion ever.  Less than a year later, the Allies and the Soviets stood victorious--and already conspiring about the other's intentions.

All won at the hands of the guys pictured above who, when the gate dropped, walked forward and started wading..

I stood on the beach, looked up and marveled at it.  Feelings similar to visiting the Copse of Trees at Gettysburg or my first view of St. Peter's Basilica -- actually standing at such a historic place and realizing it--can be overwhelming.

There are some times and places that matter more. Of course, along the edges of the beaches, even in 2000, beachside vacation cabins encroached, just like the tourist knickknack shops along the Via della Conciliazione or the Civil War memorabilia shops in Gettysburg.  So it is possible, given inclination, perhaps age (I'll admit I didn't "get" Gettysburg when I first saw it as a high school senior), and historical/spiritual (un)awareness, to see great places and shuffle along unmoved.

Kind of like when AJ Soprano went to Washington DC.  

Friday, May 31, 2013

ice cream wars and Christianity

From earlier this month...

Gloversville, New York, is about an hour away. It's a small upstate New York town, hard luck, trying to get by....AND IT HAS SOME FIERCE COMPETITION IF YOU'RE SELLING ICE CREAM.

Let's be clear:  one ice cream vendor followed another vendor's truck, verbally heckling/abusing this latter guy, playing loud music (Fur Elise?  Pop goes the weasel?  Do Your Ears Hang Low? or something with a little more edge?), and shouting "this is my town!". 

The really scary part:  last summer these guys succeeded in getting rid of the competition--ran some other poor guy off.

And if you're wondering "OK, Spiritual Diabetes....ice cream, I get it, too sugary, bad for us, good stuff tastes bad but...."

NO, that's not my point.

I thought of the Gloverville ice cream wars while out biking this morning.  Went past one of Albany's pentecostal churches and remembered last summer when they hosted a good ol' fashioned tent revival.  All the folks in the surrounding housing development must've loved it:  drums, electric guitars, parking in the yards, etc.  Quite frankly, apart from the sign announcing it as a "revival" you'd be hard pressed to separate it from a local rock band performance.

This morning the same church had a sign out in Korean.  So they've recognized the globalization of Christianity right here in Albany.  We now have contemporary music...AND we reach out to ethnic Christians too.  FEAR US.

That's kind of my point.  Ice cream wars, pentecostal Christians, and John Paul II wrote about this, basically, in Redemptoris Missio back in 1990:


meaning = situation normal--all prejudices firmly in place

OK, disclaimer time:

1.  I am not a Notre Dame fan.  Period.  I know, I know, Catholicism, God, Country, Notre Dame, Father Hesburgh, Touchdown Jesus, blah blah blah. No. 

2.  I get tired of playing the #lastacceptableprejudice tag all the time.

3.  I bet other people are tired of me playing that card!  :/

That being said....

Isn't it about time we get beyond the notion that the only two groups you can still make fun of in this country are:
* rednecks
* Catholics.


I do not recommend a string of anti-Mormon jokes to even the playing field.  It's just wrong and in poor taste, and quite frankly Gee should know better.

This is the sort of situation that the Church's utter bungling of the clergy sexual abuse scandals has undercut.  I.e., in light of the "Long Lent of 2002"--now over a decade ago--it seems as if the Church, and, in this case, just "Catholics" generally and perhaps the clergy specifically must sit here and take this sort of joking from the likes of academic power brokers like Gee.

Is this really "dialogue"?  Instead of running an part-time defense of the Obama administration, why can't somebody like E. J. Dionne, Jr. or the editors of America or Commonweal tackle this sort of callousness?  Must every defense of the Church be left to the Catholic League and the Cardinal Newman Society?  Gee's prominence among the elite academic administrators should give _any_ Catholic, but especially those who think/argue that a closer, warmer, "inculturated" embrace of American life comes consequence-free.  Folks, the other side still doesn't always play fair.

(Although it might be more accurate to say "other sides")

Update:  Yahoo! sports writer Dan Wetzel traces Gee's success as a university fundraiser...and NCAA reformer. Money line:

There is nothing noble or enlightened or moral or dignified about these people. They're just desperate, look-at-me fundraisers who, when not saying or doing ridiculous things, claim they and they alone know what's best for all.

That's always the most offensive part here. 

Yeah, that pretty much nails it.

Revised:  Terry Mattingly at get religion examines the issue and sees it less threatening. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

whoops, self-poisoned well(s)

Turns out the Chinese one-child policy, so long a feature of our modern life, isn't so great.  The NY Times article referenced is well worth the read.  China leads the world in female suicides.  That alone grabbed my attention.  Mirror of Justice's Rick Garnett also indicates that some American commentators would rather look the other way than address this.

That the Chinese themselves recognize what's being done to their own nation--physically, psychically, and demographically--must register.  "The big plan that can't fail"--the one-child policy, the Cultural Revolution, "socialism in one country," Lebensraum, the HHS mandate, and some visions of the Global War on Terror--surely reveal that 1) you better believe such plans can fail, and miserably so; and 2) it's human nature (there's your Augustinianism for the day) to a) screw things up; and b) think we ourselves are free of that unfortunate predilection.  In other words, yes, sometimes we need big plans but at the same time don't think big plans cure all ills and come consequence-free.

Same theme, different focus-->how about this sugar-whipped little sweet-tart (if your political leanings tilt left instead of right) from L. Z. Granderson?   It's this sort of op-ed column from the "mainstream" that leaves the like-minded slavering for more while those NOT-like-minded walk away muttering hateful things.  Was Michelle Bachmann presidential?  Probably not, but in many ways a far more serious candidate--and person--than Sarah Palin.  Who cares?  The Bachmann-haters will tolerate no dissent:  she's simply evil.  Lacking even basic dignity, she's therefore a consequence-free target.  Whatever's said about her--"stupid party," homophobe, Christian wacko--is completely morally permissible.  Remember the corn dog photo?  Or how about joking about sexual violence?

So amid the sugar-rush of "let's diss the bitch one more time," we overlook some of the good Michelle Bachmann accomplished. Folks, she's a foster mother several times over.  She, along with Hillary Rodham Clinton, are the only women to organize serious nation-wide presidential campaigns for the two national parties.  All the stereotypes about Tea Partiers being close-minded fools, and their leading candidate was an evangelical Christian woman from Minnesota?  Did anybody every consider the incongruency there? Apparently not--"we" (whoever that is) stand pat with what we already know about her.

All to the detriment of our American public discourse--and this through one of the most prominent 'mainstream' sources.  Just like the Chinese who are slowly awakening to what they've done to themselves with their one-child policy, at some point the mainstream media and at least some of the political left/center will realize what their dismissive and condescending rhetoric has brought about--their own marginalization (or factionalization), and the ever-accelerating nastiness of our national "tone."

a dish best served cold

George Weigel, never one to shy away from controversy, argues persuasively that Cardinal Ottaviani might have been right all along.

At one level I must admit a secret love for such columns;  the ones that champion something unfashionable, especially if it involves the pre-Vatican II Catholic right.  It can't just be simple misty-eyed, mawkish sentimentalism, but vibrant, up-to-date, positive assessments of Monsignor Joseph Fenton, Pascendi, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP (the 'sacred monster of Thomism'), Cardinal Manning, Raphael Merry del Val, Rochester NY's Bishop McQuaid, and, yes, Cardinal Ottaviani....YES PLEASE.

Why?  Well, balance--too much of postconciliar American Catholic history, for far too long, simply accepted the bit and pulled the cart along:  things are better now, we're evolving and more attuned to American culture, our liturgies make sense now, our music is culturally informed, etc.  SSSooo, let's not recount stories about the unpleasant figures of the past, shall we?

Landing a shot beneath the waterline of this sort of thinking, though, was this view's own soft spot for figures of the Catholic left who bucked this very trend:  Dorothy Day, of course, and yes, even Daniel Berrigan, SJ, but for that matter a chunk of the entire liberation theology movement.  Those folks also desired a counter-cultural encounter with American life.  They didn't want to accept everything modern America handed them.  Ah, but this form of countercultural embrace is okay, but we simply cannot have any of that right-wing countercultural stuff.

Admission:  I write this on G. K. Chesterton's birthday.  As Max Lindemann posted on Facebook, you simply can't escape Chesterton on the Catholic internet.  If a day goes by when you do miss a Chesterton reference, everybody else must be retreat.   That's certainly true, and to that list I'd add Newman, Merton, and Day.  Notice that they're all converts.  Anyway, the point is that Chesterton was neither "left" nor "right" as the American ideological spectrum sees those terms.  (Most of the Catholic left today, though, still seems to ignore him.)

Weigel deftly indicates that maybe these lefties-who-really-constitute-the-mainstream might have more in common with Ottaviani than they (or even he!) might first admit.  Ban modern war?  Gads, that's Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin!!!!

Another reason for such writings:  diversity.  It's one of the Church's great open secrets, and why can't this diversity extend beyond ethnicity and geography to historiography?  We all benefit when the history's complete, which means including the Fentons and Merry del Vals.  Besides, do you really think a comparative study of Monsignor Fenton and Boston's Cardinal Law would conclude favorably for the latter?  No--sometimes we might learn that the residents of American Catholic history's dustbin might provide some strength for answering today's problems, too.

Finally, back to Weigel's argument for Ottaviani.  Is the world/culture/nation undergoing something of a religious nap (the opposite of an 'awakening') or an awakening of utterly decentralized spiritual wandering?  Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis I all seem to recognize this and sought/seek to call us back to the good and the Gospel.  Here my students would chime in--completely in sync with the zeitgeist:  it's all up to the individual when all opinions are ultimately free.  So the Church once again wants to assert a fundamental truth while simultaneously accepting that everybody ultimately enjoys religious freedom to say, do, and worship as they see fit.

Besides all the indescribable rewards and enjoyments, I've also wondered if Heaven also includes--sort of like the concluding vision of Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation" (Flannery's another permatrend on the Catholic internet)--a divine correction of our deeply held sense of self-justification.  So with that in mind, I suppose Cardinal Ottaviani and Monsignor Fenton have, since their deaths, experienced some of that divine instruction.  On the other hand, I also think Weigel has a point--Ottaviani might look down on our current predicament and be allowed to think "I told you so."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

catchy hooks

Don't get me wrong, I love good ol' fashioned rock music.  And for the most part I tend to let it just "be";  it cycles through fads, singers and groups come and go.  Sometimes songs suck, and other times they freakin' rock.  And now in my 40s, we can look back at different decades and bestow appreciation or condemnation as we see fit now--or as we saw fit then. 

After all, think of how we regard Rupert Holmes' "Escape" (better known as "The Pina Colada Song")???

All of this to say I basically ignore most "rock criticism."  However, there are some sources that have unearthed pure gold. E. g., Perry Pettrich SJ's column on Taylor Swift's "Never Ever Getting Back Together."  The Jesuit Post is a great blog on so many levels; young Jesuits, thoughtful & reflective writing, theologically well-grounded, etc.  Pettrich's column, though, reminded me of my own time within Jesuit education and thus my admiration for the order's intellectual sophistication.  This is part of the new Catholic Intellectual Tradition. Pettrich dissects Swift's song ably with ample cultural and musical references.  If a young Jesuit can't or shouldn't write about contemporary pop music, then are we wasting our breath with this "New Evangelization" stuff? 

Well, obviously they can and, no, we aren't wasting our time and breath. In fact, this sort of writing--while perhaps not as "weighty" as Trinitarian reflection or ethical formulation--points towards a refreshing view of spiritual discernment.  Ig

Another group I discovered through, of all places, First Things is the Alabama Shakes.  By now they've of course become well-known. Mentioning the power of "Hold On" thus takes on another age-worn trope of rock music:  "They were really good before they became  popular...."  Quite frankly THAT is actually a form of spiritual diabetes--thinking that you're "better" because you "got into" something--music, movie, theater, art, political career--at the ground level and thus can claim 'experience' when your chosen thing becomes more popularly known. 

Just listen to "Hold On" a few times -- and you'll appreciate a great rock sound. 

Two sources for these musings:  1) Critics just LOVE to go on about Bruce Springsteen's Catholicism -- and some do a great job-- but Jim Fisher made the point over 25 years ago.  2)  In 2006 National Review released a list of great conservative rock songs.  Besides introducing new or overlooked songs (e.g., The Rainmakers' "Government Cheese"), the article illuminates anew familiar songs like the #1 conservative song The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."  Somewhere there's critic thinking "yeah, but that's not what Pete Townsend meant when he wrote...."  So what?  the song wonderfully illustrates (meet the new boss, same as the old boss) the sobering realization that youthful rebellion often changes little, if anything.

while the other blogposts mature in the blog cellar...

...here's a neat post by Patheos' resident Catholic historian Patrick McNamara.  Longstreet is a fascinating character;  it's not surprise that he figures prominently in Michael Shaara's Killer Angels (the basis for the movie Gettysburg).  Longstreet stood outside the Virginia aristocracy running the Confederacy (and its main army, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia).  Longstreet also grasped what the Civil War demonstrated quite bloodily:  the then-current Napoleonic fad of achieving military victory through massive frontal assault, almost like an ancient Greek phalanx, was doomed when facing the increasing technological sophistication of infantry rifles.  European generals didn't figure this out until they'd burned through troops between 1914 and 1918.  However, the future was foretold in the hot afternoon of July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg.  Longstreet saw it all happen--even before it happened, if you've read Shaara's novel--and then gave the order to charge anyway.  He was a soldier, after all.

And later in life--perhaps because of his work in New Orleans, perhaps because of his experiences working with Catholics in the war, or perhaps he'd seen Catholic sisters serve as hospital nurses to both Union and Confederate wounded--he converted to Catholicism.  A great story, and many thanks to Dr. McNamara for drawing this to our attention.

Two things:  1)  Of course, Longstreet's conversion probably actually confirmed the stereotypical link between Catholicism and the Confederacy in the minds of northern Protestants like Thomas Nast and the American Protective Association.  Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion and all that...

2)  Lots of posts started over the past couple weeks and they'll get completed soon.  Patience please...

Friday, May 24, 2013

lies, damned lies, and statistics

Over at Catholic Vote Tom Peters has some fun.

Two interesting points:  1) #2 -- 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.  Wow.  2)  The uptic in the number of priests.  That's a Pope Benedict bump, so to speak.  Given Francis I's popularity, maybe that number will continue to rise.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dude, really

Here's the straight (ha ha), unvarnished truth:  Gene Robinson can shut upEven other Episcopalians recognize this.

Ed Peters, the Internet's (and, more importantly, the Church's) prominent canon lawyer, issues a rebuttal here.

I'm sure several (thousands) will read Robinson's column, nod sagely, and conclude "That Catholic church really needs to sweep in front of its own door step first!"

Yeah, whatever.  Really when you read it you hear--distantly in the background--Robinson pleading for relevancy.  It's been ten years since his elevation to the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, and both he and the Church have nothing to show for it.  New Hampshire, like the rest of northern New England, remain America's least churched, least religious region.  Nobody cares, Gene.

Now that's a problem for all religious communities, so that means Roman Catholics, too, obviously. Future blog posts will deal with that reality.  Here it's enough to say that Robinson's column is why Spiritual Diabetes exists.  It's my attempt to name a spiritual yearning--and disease--that afflicts both liberals and conservatives and the 'nones' in America.  Robinson, who clearly possesses a wealth of theological education, simply can't "digest" all the spiritual realities--terrorism, government intrusion, spiritual flabbiness of some, the spiritual resistance of others--and thus strikes out at a familiar bugaboo.  It's sort of like blaming fast food restaurants for obesity.  The problem, at least at some level, though, lies with the one consuming--and that person's refusal to change his or her ways for the better.

Friday, April 19, 2013

_almost_ invincible ignorance

So, among the many topics in the news these days, there's the Kermit Gosnell trial.  Arrested in 2010--on drug trafficking charges--Gosnell operated an abortion clinic in west Philadelphia, providing late term abortions...and apparently no questions asked.

The key point--if you've read the grand jury report or any of the media coverage (more on that angle later)--is that at least one woman died from Gosnell's malpractice...and he apparently killed several viable babies.  I say that because when Gosnell ended their lives by snipping their spinal chords with a pair of scissors they were all _born_, as in "out of the mother."

That alone is blood-chilling but there are several accounts of body parts found in the clinic (baby feet in jars of formaldehyde, bags of body parts stuffed in refridgerators, etc.) and malpractice and unsanitary conditions throughout the clinic.

Across the board awful, basically.  So he's on trial for murder.

The pro-life Twitterverse went into hyperdrive a week ago to draw further media attention to what one reporter at the Washington Post originally cast as "a local crime story."

What's finally surprising about all this, though, has been the utter flippancy and refusal to recognize the root problem with abortion among several friends, students, and, more broadly, members of the 'intelligentsia.'  As in they twist the awful story of Gosnell's clinic into an argument for further, extended protection of Roe v. Wade and all other pro-abortion sanctions.  Some students don't even go that far;  they really don't care if somebody's dismembering babies. Robert George calls for honesty, asking if we're really shocked by Gosnell's actions given pro-choice rhetoric.  A very good point.

As their ethics professor this makes me wonder, well, lots of things.  And while I accept George's point, I am still shocked by the utter disregard the Gosnell story raises in my students--and especially my faculty colleagues, many of whom 1) are women; and 2) are mothers themselves.  Several of the people not worried or bothered by Gosnell's clinic have held more small babies than I ever have--or ever will.  It's as if these students and faculty--all of whom are adults--become robotic when confronted with the details of Gosnell's one and a half decades of abortion. So when it comes time to discuss basic values--like the Catholic social justice principle of 'intrinsic human dignity'--the words are literally falling the deaf ears.  I'm surely not alone in realizing that several of my friends and colleagues--good people, not the straw monsters we make anonymously out of other people on the Internet--simply can not hear, see, contemplate what went on in Gosnell's clinic.

The knee-jerk response is start posting, start tweeting, and start damning.

And that's precisely what must be resisted and avoided--at all costs.  Ezekiel 37 tells us the dry bones can live, so these deaf ears and blind eyes can be opened.  It starts with prayer--and an apostolate of charity and love...but also firmness and a recognition that admonition might be needed.  This will take time, but we are dealing with God's plan and God's time frame, not our own.  Given the resistance to accept the magnitude of the Gosnell trial, that's a good thing.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

In and out, up and down

Steve Snyder, a gifted and hard-working photographer in the Missouri Ozarks, photographs barns.


He writes:
As a child, growing up on a farm, my friends on farms, relatives on farms, we all had barns. We would play in barns, work in barns and get into trouble in barns. These great structures were everywhere just waiting for us to explore. We would build hay tunnels for our parents to later curse us for as they stepped off into them, jump from the loft onto the backs of unsuspecting cows. We would break arms falling out of them, run across the occasional black snake, find a batch of newborn kittens. These were our castles, our forts, our domain.

When we weren’t playing in them we learned how to milk cows in them. As we grew we learned how to stack hay in them, vaccinate livestock, and all the purposes they were originally intended for.

A brief note:  not all of us in the Ozarks had barns, but we certainly played and worked with those who did.  In fact, this barn-centered world was one of the reasons we'd visit our friends living on farms.  They had the forts and castles (and, yes, the snakes and kittens) unavailable in town.  (OK, yes, you could find snakes and kittens in town, too, but finding them in the barn, especially like one pictured above, made the kitten--or the rare owl--discover all the more cool.  Finding snakes was a mixed bag;  neat to freak out your friends, not neat if the snake demonstrated its dislike of your discovery....)

Anyway, Steve continues that while usually Ozark photographers shoot barn exteriors, he prefers the interiors for their architecture and idiosyncratic personality.  In other words, we can learn more about a barn once we're inside it. Wittgenstein argued that languages--and religions--were like games;  we truly come to "know" them once we've actually played (or spoken or practiced) them.  Reading about basketball will give you information about charging and blocking fouls, but you need to get out on the court to know the difference.  As with basketball, so too with barns and, well, Roman Catholicism.  Like Steve says, the same space can be used imaginatively and pragmatically.

Check out Steve's work and its beautiful, transcendent locality.  I'm partial to his work since I know Steve and the area, but other locations surely have their own local photographic experts:  the great places like the Rocky Mountains and the Maine Coast, but also like the Ozarks the often overlooked and under-appreciated: western New York, interior Maine, the Nebraska cornfields, the Texas panhandle...the list goes on.  Rod Dreher celebrates the local--in his case, St. Francisville, Louisiana--and the reasons to return here.  Rod uses words and Steve uses photographic images, but both through their concern for the local point us toward the transcendent. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Take a little break and wham-o! The Internet hates you...

Or least you're left floundering, trying to ingest and understand it all.

Man oh man, did that 3 week coughing fit leave me in the dustbin of history.  Lots of stuff happens.

There's a new pope: Francis I. Perhaps you've heard that news already.

Then there's this blow-up within the Catholic blogosphere between Catholic traditionalists and new defenders of Pope Francis I.  Mark Shea points to another take here.  So much for Catholic bloggers keeping it tight and in the family.  Oh no, when we air out the dirty laundry, we drop it from a helicopter, apparently.   There's FILTH to be EXPUNGED.

didn't get the memo

NOTE:  Started this post about a month ago and then experienced a long and involuntary hiatus.  So here it is--basically untouched.  Pope Francis I's style has already made some of this irrelevant, but that's a topic for another post.

Wowzers! The Pope, it turns out, is actually Catholic and, can you believe it, actually expects Catholics to listen to him.  He is, after all, the POPE.

Not that it matters to journalists like Tim Padgett.

To come clean at the start, Padgett and I both graduated from Wabash College, the small, all-male liberal college in Indiana.  Wabash alumni are a tight-knit group, known for defending the brethren against all critics.  Amongst themselves, though, the gloves come off when the arguments start.  Tim recognizes the "bloody knuckles" rhetoric as much as I do;  loathe to break ranks in public, we'll lacerate each other in our endless conversations over beer, coffee, food, whatever.  I can't speak about other institutions, but the oral tradition--mythology, folklore, etc.--remains alive at Wabash.  The stories about the place--prior to us and in our own experiences--make the place and made us, its graduates.  Part of those stories involve fierce, intense disagreements.

I wonder if Tim will recall that shared heritage, because his article about Pope Francis falls a little flat.  Granted, Padgett is an award-winning reporter covering Central and South America.  He knows that territory.  But this piece involves some territory familiar to me, and therein lies the problem. Padgett concludes:
That should be a reminder to the new pope that if the Holy See he now occupies wants to    re-evangelize its own worldwide flock, it needs to renew its Christian role and leave behind its cruel rhetoric.

 The Church's cruel rhetoric?  Renew its Christian role?  Pray tell us, Tim, what's the foundation for this renewal?  Eschew the Church's entire past--good and bad--and align itself with your own perspective?  Or those Evangelical Protestant churches that you (rightfully) acknowledge are growing so quickly in Latin America?  Are they any more gay-friendly?  Is the Catholic Church solely responsible for the region's legalized opposition to abortion?

It's loose, lazy thinking--"it's all so simple:  be like Jesus and love others (just don't be like THOSE people!)--and Padgett is certainly not the only guilty one.  This isn't the time or place, but a fisk of Augustinian piety (thank you, Pope Emeritus Benedict!) reveals that we're all broken.  We all make mistakes--intellectual, moral, and otherwise--and this includes things we write.  Like this blog :P

That being said, Padgett's column represents yet another criticism wherein outsiders tell the Church what to do.  The problem is that, like many organizations religious and not, the Church has internal machinations to correct for such external 'intrusion.'  The Church does as IT--following God's revelation--sees fit, not as Tim Padgett or Spiritual Diabetes or MSNBC see fit.

And who knows?  Given Pope Francis' already-known penchant for being his own pope, Tim Padgett and others might find themselves pleasantly surprised.  But if Pope Francis does change things, will they--and the rest of us--be willing to hear it?

Or will we only accept the changes that we've already approved?

Monday, April 8, 2013


A three week hiatus and not voluntarily so. Back in the office and feeling better.  A post or two to appear later this week.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Talking heads...

Yes, during papal conclaves I appear on local media: tv, radio, newspaper.  It's a chance to do my part to clarify some of the media's difficulties with things like papal conclaves.  This problem is, apparently, very widespread.

Then there's Eye of the Tiber to keep it all real and serve as a crucial reminder:  the papal conclave involves the Holy Spirit and can't so easily be contained in a media outlet sound bite.