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.