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 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...'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.