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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Why "dialogue" is a bad joke.

Imagine yourself waking up tomorrow morning, lurching to the kitchen to brew up your essential java, pausing only to gaze blearily out the window into the backyard.

You are suddenly and fully awake because you see to your consternation that someone has fenced off half your yard and has started building a small cottage on it.

You charge out of your door and confront the trespasser: "What the hell are you doing in my yard!?"

The trespasser calmly puts down his hammer, crosses his arms before him and assumes a slightly superior air: "Well, I think we need to have a mutually respectful and prayerful dialogue about your notions of 'ownership.'"

The proper response to such pious bunkum is "And that's what I call a 'warning shot.'"

Late last month, the musings of former Dominican Grand Master Timothy Radcliffe on the widening gulf in the Church made a brief splash. In it (which is condensed from his presentation at Cdl. Mahony's Festivus), he acknowledges, albeit with considerable bafflement, that "dialogue" has become a term of derision. Given the prime opportunity, he proves remarkably incurious as to the reason why. Nonetheless, I'll help move the conversation forward with this observation:

Because it has been consistently and condescendingly used as a weapon in intra-church fights, that's why.

Last Sunday offered a prime exhibition of this pietistic shanking in action.

We ended up going to the problem parish for Mass--St. Athanasius in Harrison, Michigan (there are no innocent to protect). For those of you who wonder, yes, there is a history. As of October 2005, things had improved considerably with the Adventus Carlsonum.

Now, to borrow the evangelistic term, St. Ath's has backslid. Perhaps, given the public nature of the goings on, "fallen off the wagon" is a better metaphor. As in staggering-down-the-street-blind-stinking-drunk-singing-The Pogues-at-two-in-the-afternoon-wearing-naught-but-a-codpiece-and-carrying-a-life-preserver-in-one-hand-while-making-obscene-gestures-with-an-empty-bottle-of-Boone's-with-the-other.

Sister is again front and center, announcing the readings, leading the prayers, standing next to the sacramental technician at the altar, preaching the homily and reflexively avoiding masculine pronouns like they were herpes pustules. To be fair, she had the makings of a good homily before she reduced the Good News to some inoffensive exercise in therapy and "growth."

The crowning misery of this ego-driven display was a call in the intercessory prayers for "dialogue and understanding about the practices at the parish."

I don't think my snort was audible, but I remember thinking "ballsy and cheap." It's one thing to exercise squatter's rights over the parish liturgy, as inexcusable as it is. It's quite another to try to use parts of the liturgy as a bludgeon to legitimize your usurpation.

Which is of course what any effort to "dialogue" with her and her supporters amounts to--a concession of legitimacy. Moreover, there's not a chance in hell that she's going to change a thing--her party is already making you publicly pray to forbear. Neat trick, eh? To quote my friend Zach Frey, a veteran of such tactics in the Episcopal Church, this is the "You talk, we'll act" strategem. And it works with roach motel efficiency.

The only appropriate form of "dialogue" in these situations is to treat it like the hostage situation it is and summon the SWAT team. Sure, this being American Catholicism, there's a better than 50-50 chance no one's going to show up, but that's still better than offering the perpetrator a shred of cover.

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