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 part of the YES.