Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Gentle readers, I need your input.

My wife has a request for book recommendations. Please offer your suggestions in the comment box here--the comment software at TL&B makes Haloscan look like a model of Prussian efficiency.
Peyton Manning Is. The. Man.

Six touchdown passes. Some of us fantasy league addicts are feeling a little smug this week.

Thanks--and sympathies--to Fr. Sibley.

Hey, I started Deuce McAllister, too....
Maybe they need a straight eye for the queer guy?

Allegations of scandal haunted the Gay Softball World Series last month when the Houston Force alleged that the Atlanta Power was playing it a little too straight:

The Houston Force, of the Montrose Softball League, sought to disqualify the Atlanta Power for having two more straight players than the rules allowed. After a rigorous inquisition -- they brought players in one by one and asked which side of the plate they swing from -- the Atlanta club was exonerated and allowed to play.
Their coach, however, complained to a local paper: "The only reason that they brought the protest was that they had never seen the guys at a gay establishment and they don't talk gay…It was a bogus protest basically." He accused our local fellas of trying to slow the momentum of the Atlanta team, although the Houston Force finished third in the elite "A" division, ahead of the Atlanta Power. The series drew 157 teams from all over the United States, making it the largest gay and lesbian team tournament in the nation, a spokeswoman said -- and competitive enough to suspect straight ringers.

Thanks to Jim Rome for the tip.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Your one stop Passion News emporium, Part II.

2. Frederica Matthews-Green Weighs in on the Gore Factor.

She says Mel's missing the point.

As is usually the case with FM-G, there's a lot to chew on, and the Eastern perspective-as-corrective is welcome. Well, at least to me.

But in the earliest Christian writings we see a different understanding of the meaning of the Cross, one which, shockingly, didn’t think it was important for us to identify with Jesus’ suffering. For contemporary Christians it’s hard to imagine such a thing. The extremity of Jesus’ sacrifice has been the wellspring of Christian art and devotion for centuries. It has produced great treasures, from late Renaissance paintings of the Crucifixion, to the meditations of Dame Julian of Norwich, to Bach’s glorious setting of “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded.” Mel Gibson’s “Passion” arrives as the newest entrant in a very old tradition.

A funny thing happens, however, if we press further back in time. Before the middle ages, depictions of the Crucifixion show very little blood. Though the event itself was no doubt horrific, artists preferred to render it with restraint (like the Gospels, but unlike Gibson). The visual elements in an ancient icon of the Crucifixion are arranged symmetrically, harmoniously, and the viewer is placed at a respectful distance. The depiction is not without drama: Mary and the disciple John, at the foot of the Cross, reel in grief. But Jesus does not reveal any sense of torment. He is serene, almost regal.

* * *

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” promises to be a landmark expression of the strand of devotion that emphasizes identification with Jesus’ sufferings. It is a strand that has produced powerfully affecting works of art, and moved and inspired Christians for centuries. The Crucifixion was, in fact, bloody and brutal—Gibson is on solid historical ground in wishing to depict them this way—and when he prayerfully reads the Gospels, no doubt these are the pictures that appear in his mind.

But these pictures are not, actually, there in the Gospels. The writers of the Gospels chose to describe Jesus’ Passion a different way. Instead of appealing to our empathy, they invite us to awesome wonder, because they had a different understanding of the meaning of his suffering.

But I don't think her case is ironclad. There's an obvious explanation why the evangelists wouldn't include a lot of detail regarding crucifixion: they wouldn't have to. Everyone in Israel would have instinctively known what it was and what it entailed. As Josephus points out, crucifixion was a favored and horrifyingly common implement of state terror, used by Romans, Greeks, and even one of the Maccabean Kings, Alexander Jannaeus. Little explanation would have been required to the listeners/readers of the time. They would have known it instinctively, a little like the connotations of the word "flogging" reverberating in the ears of American slaves or freedmen. In our time, we've lost the connotations of it.

3. The Jesus War (the New Yorker article).

Peter Boyer's article is now available. Must reading on the subject, especially for the helpful admission from the critics that the film is not anti-Semitic, just that it could incite it. For the people getting worked up about the bad language and "intestines on a stick"/"kill his dog" references--come on. It's called exaggeration. Has Frank Rich hired security since? Started packing a .357? When I say "If I get home late, Heather's going to smother me with a pillow in my sleep", please don't call the authorities.

And Boyer himself understood from the context that those who would "burn my house down" are all of his critics, not just the Jewish ones.

Buuut...as depicted in this article, Mel's theology is not without spot or blemish. His strict Feeneyism (only professed Catholics are saved) can be, as the late Boston priest learned, refuted without even sniffing at a Vatican II document. And, there's some evidence of sedevacantism on his part. If he's screwed up on those points, then caution is in order. I don't know that I'd go so far as to call him "not Catholic," though. He's clearly in transition, and by his own admission isn't the same man he was ten years ago. He's also clearly bound by his loyalty to his father--a commandment last time I checked--and not an easy person to distance yourself from in any event. In other words, give him time.

Further, let's also stipulate that flawed Catholics can make great Catholic art. A Canticle for Leibowitz was written by Walter Miller, Jr., a troubled man for all intents and purposes on his way out of the Church at the time--but you'd never know it from the finished product. Which, by the way, is an absolute classic of religious fiction.

4. "Dario's just this guy," Walter explained.

In the face of an enthusiastic review by the Cardinal in charge of the Vatican's office for priest formation,Walter Cardinal Kasper responded, helpfully pointing out that it can't be considered an "official" review. True enough. But the implication that Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos' views are about as important as those of the guy who empties the ashtrays is still pretty funny.

Nothing quite like watching one of these intra-Vatican steel cage matches come to light.
Your one-stop Passion news emporium, Part I.

In four segments, this time.

1. I hope you have a Plan B, Prof. Fredriksen.

Contrary to the good professor's prediction in The New Republic, biblically-literate evangelicals, instead of savaging the film, are giving it a thumbs up. Dr. Darrell Bock, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of a recent work about Christ and the Gospels that has been favorably compared to Raymond Brown, finds the griping about the film ludricrous, and offers interesting historical facts that buttress the film (i.e., the Gospels). Most significantly, history tends to support the idea that Caiaphas did have impressive influence over Pilate:

What do you make of the dispute involving the use of work by the medieval Catholic visionary, Sister Emmerich? Her writing includes a mystic vision of the cross being built in the Jewish Temple. Apparently that scene has been removed from the movie?

I don't know if it's been removed--it's been discussed. I've not only seen the movie, I've seen the report [of the Catholic-Jewish scholars' group]. That was one of [their] complaints, that this scene was happening in the Temple at night. There was a huge crowd associated with this initial trial scene.

I spent a year researching the historicity of the Jewish examination of Jesus and wrote a monograph on it. I don’t believe it’s a trial scene; it's more like a grand jury investigation. The Jewish high priests were trying to gather information to take to Pilate. They were seeking a political charge, because if they get a political charge and Rome agrees to Jesus’ guilt, they're protected.

So this is what happened in the film?

This is what happened in the film, because this is what happened in the biblical story. I think it's what happened historically. There are Jewish historians who say that their leadership was responsible for the death of Jesus. Josephus wrote a very famous passage in Antiquities, in which he says the Jewish leadership shares blame for the death of Jesus.

Caiaphas and Pilate had an ongoing relationship. Pilate appointed a high priest every year, and every year he ruled for Rome, he appointed Caiaphas. It was a very close relationship.

Was that usual?

Caiaphas came from a family that had five different relatives over a three-decade period who were high priests. Caiaphas was high priest for 9 or 11 years out of that total. This family had a lot of power and a very good relationship with Rome.

Pilate also had a very sensitive relationship with Jews because twice he was insensitive to them. He put standards in the city of Jerusalem, little ensigns with the Roman eagle on them, which the Jews viewed as idols. When they reacted he removed them.

In one of the passages from Josephus, Pilate threatens to kill Jews who protest. They all lay down in front of him, saying that if he wanted to cut their heads off, he could go ahead. The story as Josephus tells us is that [Pilate] was so impressed with their devotion to the law that he backed off. There are two incidents of this in Pilate's rule.

And there's a third one that Philo, yet another Jewish historian, writes about. The Jews come in and say, "If you don't do what we want, we will write the emperor." And he doesn't do what they want, they do write to the emperor, and he's called back to Rome. Of course, by the time he gets back there, the emperor has died, so he's spared. But the point is, the claim in the [USCCB scholars'] work that the Jewish leadership could not influence Pilate is false, according to ancient Jewish writers.

There are several points about which the scholars have challenged the film. One is the use of Latin by the Romans—in that, the scholars are almost certainly correct.The language would have likely been Greek, and the everyday street language would have been Aramaic. Although I think in terms of the substance of the film, it doesn't make much difference. It's the feel of the foreignness that artistically drives this film. So that didn't bother me that much. If I'd been asked, I would have told them to use Greek, but in terms of what the film is doing visually and conceptually, that's a minor detail.

The other thing was the gathering in the evening in the Temple. That wasn't the location of the meeting where the Jewish examination of Jesus happened. The Gospel accounts have them meeting initially in the house of the high priest of the family of Annas and Caiaphas. But whether there was a larger meeting in another location--that's possible--because there were a series of meetings portrayed on the last evening.

In the gospels?

In the gospels, yes. When you string everything together, all four accounts, there are as many as six. There's debate on the meeting with the Jews at which they finally get the charge, because the time is in the evening in a couple gospel accounts, and in the morning in Luke. There are debates about whether there were two separate meetings, an inquiry and then the more official one, or whether there was just one meeting that stretched from evening into morning.

What do you think happened, based on your research?

I think it could well be one meeting. Some scholars will play those two facts against one another, saying that since we have an irreconcilable contradiction, we really don't know what happened. But I think the likelihood of knowing what happened at this meeting is pretty good. Although we only get one side of the debate in the New Testament, in the public square at the time, there certainly would have been a Jewish position as to why Jesus would have been crucified.

This was part of an ongoing debate. Annas the Second, who was a member of Caiaphas' family, in the 60s C.E. executes James, Jesus' brother. It's a three-decade-long family feud. There's a long history and a long debate. These facts would have been known even if—and the more skeptical scholars point this out--there weren't any disciples at the scene. Another contributing fact is that you may have had some members of the leadership at the scene who may have become Christians afterward, someone like Paul. In all likelihood, this trial scene wouldn't have taken place in the temple and would not have involved a crowd.

Read the whole thing. It's very illuminating, and tends to reinforce my belief that a lot of the criticism of the film is driven by the fact the historical-critical scholars regard this as a turf war--provoked by the temerity of one of the unlettered infringing on their prerogatives.
Sorry, Casey.

The special misery of Mets fans remains the exclusive property of the 1962 expansion team. 120 will remain associated with only one franchise, thank you very much. Odd as it sounds, 119 is a much smaller number.

The Detroit Tigers evaded history today, battering the playoff-bound Twins, 9-4.

A week ago, they were a cinch not only to break the mark, but to shatter it. They'd lost sixteen of seventeen. Instead of mailing it in, the overmatched Tigers rose up, taking five of the last six. They've actually been fun to watch, doing all the little things to win over the past six games (the only loss by a run in 11 innings) that they failed to do for most of the previous 156.

But, we'll take it. And we'll happily leave infamy--and the albatross--to the denizens of Shea. It belongs in New York. It can stay there.

By the way: it's nice to not have the knack for prophecy.

I'll leave the last word to the exhausted author of the Detroit Tigers Weblog--a man with a cast iron stomach--when he gets around to it.

Friday, September 26, 2003

I'm trying to go a dozen blogs without referring to a certain film currently in production that shall remain nameless.

I do other things besides dissecting religious controversy for fun and nonprofit.

Like, say, reading! And not just "religious stuff", either, although I obviously do plenty of that. I am a certified sci-fi/fantasy geek, and I've made the mistake of launching into a new, open-ended fantasy series that I'm happy to recommend.

It's the Lord of the Isles by David Drake. Drake is a recovering attorney who served as an interrogator for the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment--the Blackhorse--in Vietnam. That this experience has echoed into everything I've read by him is obvious. He also has a St. Blog's connection, to boot: tenacious writer and comment-boxer Sandra Miesel knows him personally, and has collaborated with him on a few occasions.

Drake's always worth a read, and if you're looking at military SF, try the Hammer's Slammers series, which is explicitly based on his time with the Blackhorse. Likewise, I can recommend his collaborative efforts with S.M. Stirling, whose military SF style is a perfect blend with Drake's. Drake/Stirling's The General series, whose first five books are set on a planet struggling to recover from the collapse of galactic civilization, belongs on every SF bookshelf. They also happen to be based on the life and campaigns of Byzantium's great captain, Belisarius--a hero of mine. As a bonus, there's an amusing reinterpretation of the split between Arian and Orthodox Christianity, as read through the lens of a society that had gotten a little too infatuated with technology. Finally, there's the last functioning military computer, an artificially intelligent machine called "Center," determined to push man back to civilization. The catch? It needs a talented, free-willed and (very importantly) moral instrument, which it finds in the person of Raj Whitehall, the Belisarius to the ambitious, paranoid and untrustworthy Barholm Clerett (Justinian). Whitehall is charismatic, loyal and brilliant. Barholm is the third. For its part, Center acts as an occasionally tart-tounged tutor/mentor to Whitehall, but never as a chess master. Whitehall is left to make the essential military and related moral decisions affecting the fate of a planet. As Center constantly reminds Whitehall, the wrong step means the fragile civilization he fights for will spiral downward to a place where men hunt each other for food. Indeed, what may be best for civilization may be worst for Whitehall himself.

Set in a well-imagined world, peopled by the descendants of American soldiers, Mexicans, Texans, Arab Muslims, and funny/frightening barbarian Quebecois psychos (the influence of the Canadian Stirling), as with all things Drake and Stirling, it's not for the squeamish--war is not sanitary, and both of them make you know it. But you'll blast through the first five in nothing flat. Number 6, The Chosen, is a must for readers of Stirling's terrifying Draka series (more on that another time).

The General is important for its theme that civilization--no matter how corrupt, or open to corruption and domination by evil men--is far better than the barbaric alternative, and must be fought for.

Likewise Redliners, a book that still haunts. Set in a future where humanity is locked in an endless war against the cat-like Kalendru, Redliners is the story of a burnt-out ("redlined") company of troops pulled out of frontline combat by Earth's authoritarian government and assigned to escort duty for a motley lot of involuntary colonists. Unfortunately for both groups, they crash-land in the wrong spof of what can only be described as a death world, where even the foliage is hostile to non-natives. The troops, exhausted and unused to civilians, are forced to herd the hapless men, women and children and protect them from everything the hostile terrain can throw at them. Which, as it turns out, is a lot more than anyone could have reasonably expected. Not a light read by any means (Drake is all too willing to remind us that war kills innocents--and innocence), it's one that sticks with you long after you put it down.

All of this is a lengthy lead-in to the Lord of the Isles, a rare foray into straight fantasy by Drake. LOTI, currently at four books, follows the lives of four villagers, a repentant hermit and a likeably humble female mage from the past. None of the characters is quite what he or she seems at the beginning--even to him- or herself. Set on an archipelago where the last High King (the Lord of the title) fell trying to keep civilization from collapsing a thousand years earlier, the series follows the exploits of the characters, who are caught up in struggles they can dimly see. For the most part, wizardry is an ugly thing done by ugly, ambitious men and women. Generally, the more powerful a mage happens to be, the worse he is. The system has an Egyptian-gnostic flavor, with repetitiously-chanted power words and material foci being essential. Worse yet for its wielders, magic is cyclical and karmic in flavor. Cyclical in that it waxes and wanes over the millenia, and karmic in that it can quickly turn on the wielder and bite him or her on the tuchus. Yes, you might be able to use magic to sink the enemy's entire fleet--but the backlash could sink your island. The main wizard character, Tenoctris, is a woman whose skills are not flashy (she's more a sage or diviner of magic than anything else), but whose awareness of her limitations and temptations serve her far better than the powers of those who can sink fleets.

The essential storyline rotates around the struggle of the characters to save civilization and themselves in the face of a waxing cycle of magic and a series of natural and supernatural foes whose actions threaten to destroy humanity once and for all.

There is more than a little Robert E. Howard in the depiction of swords and wizardry--for those of you who remember, Conan spent a lot of time threatening to dispatch or actually dispatching mages, who tended to be thoroughly rotten. In Drake, like Howard, a good piece of steel is often better than the flashiest wizardry. Likewise, Drake is agnostic about the existence of the Great Gods (two of whom, unlike the indifferent Crom, are depicted as benevolent), although a possible heaven is visited, and, for one of the main characters, Hell is all too real. And the theme of the mentor is imported nicely from The General to LOTI in the form of a magic medallion embodying the essence of--well, no spoilers.

It's not flawless. It seems jumpy in parts, moving either too quickly or too slowly to resolution. Some characters are introduced but never developed. Some of the main characters are less-well realized, and tend to devolve into types. To his credit, however, Drake is willing to let his characters make mistakes, and, surprisingly for fantasy, kill them off.

The problems with the books are quibbles, as it is also a profoundly moral series, where temptations to do the wrong thing, or the right thing for the wrong reason, are continually present. The theme of repentance is, for two of the characters, essential. As Sandra Miesel puts it, a major theme of Drake's works is the redemption of imperfect men in an imperfect world. It is a central theme here, and is, as it should be, both tragic and moving.

Prepare to be surprised.
I can't think of a title for this post.

The indefatigable Cajun Canon, Fr. Bryce Sibley, has found yet more religious errata for your edification. The discoverer of The Jesus Mullet, the compiler of the Anti-Pope Compendium, and the author of the devotional "Beer for Jesus" now draws our attention to his latest find.

Behold: He'brew. And you thought some people got worked up by Bad Frog beer.

Assuming it's not an internet gag (big assumption), I guess some folks just like being boycotted.
Thanks for the notice!

To the Against the Grain, Lane Core, Recovering Choir Director, Mark Sullivan and Jeff Miller.

The site counter has been spinning like an altimeter on a Saturn V the past couple of days, and I have y'all to thank for it.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Edgardo Mortara.

Has become the subject of discussion at Mark's place as he awaits the diagnosis. It's also the subject of a recent book which looks interesting.

My thoughts? Let me quote a less-controversial film involving Mel Gibson:

"Give me back my son!"

Those of you inclined to give Pio Nono the benefit of the doubt should consider a recent case where a similar tactic is being used against a Christian mother by her Muslim brother-in-law, with the backing of the courts of Jordan. In light of this, the superiority of John Paul II's approach is beyond question.
Mark Shea could use your prayers.

His son Peter has come down with an intestinal difficulty, possibly appendicitis, that they're going to have checked out.

The actress Kathleen Turner said that being a mother meant she'd never again have a day without fear for the rest of her life. Exactly.

There is no word for the emotion you feel when your children are hurt or ill. It's a nightmarish cocktail of helplessness, rage, anxiety and terror, felt separately and at once. Even when you know it's going to work out, it's horrible. I'll never forget Madeleine's ear tube surgery last April, clenching my fists and glaring at the clock throughout (when I wasn't nervously prowling the waiting room with my son), and the relief of holding her afterward as she gradually woke up from the anesthesia.

Go put in a good word. Especially if you're a parent.

[Update: Good news! Whews all around.]

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

How Bullwinkle Helped Me Find Liturgical Peace, Part II.

Or, How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Dumb.

Here's why it won't work: Rome can issue all the "disciplinary documents" in the world. It can drop them into the hands of well-meaning, orthodox prelates. It can drop them from the sky if it wants. Unfortunately, that's where the buck stops. If priests and diocesan liturgists want to follow it, they will. If they won't, the directive becomes so much toilet paper covered with Latin cognates. After all, no one ever gets disciplined for liturgical abuses. Ever.


Nighty-night, Inaestimabile Donum. Rock-a-bye Liturgiam Authenticam. Sleep well, Ecclesia et Eucharista. Rest in peace, As-Yet-Untitled Liturgical Disciplinary Document XXIX.

I'll give you four examples from across the nation. Let's start in Beantown, where new Abp. Sean O'Malley has given the thumbs up in response to the finger routinely extended by the very experimental Fr. Walter Cuenin. Yep, No. 29 is going to strike fear into the heart of Fr. Cuenin. I can hear him trembling here in the Wolverine State. Or is it shaking with laughter...?

Closer by these parts, for those of you who prefer something completely different, we have St. Sabina, whose pastor, Fr. Michael Pfleger, also extends the Tall Finger of Fellowship to his ordinary, Francis Cardinal George, another archbishop renowned for his orthodoxy. Amongst the liturgical innovations promulgated here are allowing such luminaries as the Rev. Al Sharpton to give the Sunday homily, using a non-Catholic lectionary (yes, on average, I like the NIV translation better than the NAB, but it's still seven books light), and, joy of joys, inviting Louis Farrakhan to speak to the parish. I don't know about you, but I prefer to take my Catholicism with a little less heretical racist Islam, thank you very much. Response from the Chicago Cardinal? Brooding resignation. Message sent, and received.

[Actually, there's a lot St. Sabina's does that is praiseworthy and should be copied in terms of witness, outreach, ministries and going into the community--boldly, but it comes with a big price.]

Finally, no parish survey would be complete without a visit to the smug, granola-gobbling pantheism that is St. Joan's in Minneapolis. What's not to like? The DRE is, uh, an unmarried woman whose partner conceived via artificial insemination (very Catholic), and the summer "Bible" Study consisted of an encomium to one of Aussie apostate Michael Morwood's Sp*ngian flatulations.

And the liturgy? Say what you will about Fr. George Wertin, the ringmaster of this exemplar of Barnum Catholicism: he only periodically bothers his flock with a homily. Why do that, when anyone can do it on any ol' inoffensive subject they desire. Note also that St. Joan's stands shoulder to shoulder with St. Marcion in dispensing with that scary, turgid Old Testament with its scary, turgid and judgmental god. No sir--why listen to the neuroses of a bunch of homophobic, patriarchal dead white males who didn't have indoor plumbing when you can listen to St. Joan's Mission Statement instead [read it quick--they only stay up for a week]?

St. Joan of Arc is a joyful Christian community which celebrates the loving Word of God in worship and in action.

We transcend traditional boundaries and draw those who seek spiritual growth and social justice.

We welcome diverse ideas and encourage reflection on the message of the Gospel.

We are committed to the equality of all our members and strive to ensure their full participation through liturgy, education and service.

By these means we seek to empower all who come to grow in wisdom and bring to reality the promise of Christ.

Ah, yes--Celebrating the community as though it were the Word of God! Good self-esteem there. I guess they "welcome diverse ideas" with the caveat that it not include anything found between Genesis and 2 Maccabees. Apparently, there's only so much you can tolerate in a week. Next week's homilist? Some guy who's going to expound on the inspired word that is the Kyoto Treaty. Boo-yeah!

Response from well-regarded Minneapolis archbishop Harry Flynn? Protracted

No one expects the Badger Inquisition! Poke them with the soft cushions!Oh, St. Joan's is made of sterner stuff! Monsignor Fang: fetch the comfy chair!

Finally, we make our way to St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, and Susan Benofy's exasperated recounting of the 2002 Gateway Liturgical Conference, sponsored by then Abp. Justin Rigali's archdiocesan office of worship. Marvel at her report, the story of reams of recent Liturgical Vaticanum completely ignored by bold promoters of reform relying on mildewed 35 year old documents by American fans of liturgical sitar, cowbell, 'n' community. All under the nose of the sternly orthodox fellow who just got promoted to the head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and is about to get a red hat.

I could go further west to Los Angeles, where the planning for the 2004 Religious Education Conference is well underway, and where Reforming Folk are no doubt planning to suggest that, say, for Children's Masses, the priest, deacon, lectors and EMEs dress up like Teletubbies to mime the Passion for the youngins. I haven't the stomach, though.

Go ahead and tell me that someone at the RLC won't suggest something equally ridiculous next year. I dare you.

That's why No. 29 doesn't matter.


Strange as this seems, this is not a counsel of despair. It is a counsel for realism. If your parish has good, reverent liturgy, keep it that way. Fight like a maniac any efforts to water it down. If anything, yours might be one of the few where No. 29 does matter. But that's only because Nos. 1-28 mattered, too.

If you are in a parish that has some abuses but not others--expect a middling response. You'll get some, but not the others--if you nag the right way.

And if you're stuck in a parish on the road to St. Joan's, well--expect squat. Rome's not riding to your rescue. Your orthodox bishop's not riding to your rescue--take a run at trying to bend his ear, though. Just don't be surprised if his liturgy office is really, really cool with the "reform." Understand--No. 29 doesn't matter. It won't matter until it really matters to your ordinary. By now, you should know whether it does or not.

Stop getting worked up over the failure of Bullwinkle to pull a character from Watership Down out of the top hat. You'll find more peace that way, and even more by going somewhere else, even if the drive's a lot longer.
How Bullwinkle Helped Me Find Liturgical Peace, Part I.

A mighty tempest today about the leaked draft of the new liturgical directives coming out of the Vatican.

To which I give a three word response.

It doesn't matter.

So, it addresses the abuses seen in Mass, and explains why they shouldn't be permitted.

It doesn't matter.

It shows the depth of Rome's concern about the issue.

It doesn't matter.

It heralds the end of the do-it-yourself "eucharistic celebration."

It doesn't matter.

Oh, it's clear-eyed and chock full of perfectly appropriate and inspiring language about the importance of the Eucharist, and the dangers of noted abuses, as the following quote shows:

But these encouraging and positive aspects cannot suppress concern at the varied and frequent abuses being reported from different parts of the Catholic world: the confusion of roles, especially regarding the priestly ministry and the role of the laity (indiscriminate shared recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer, homilies given by lay people, lay people distributing Communion while the priests refrain from doing so); an increasing loss of the sense of the sacred (abandonment of liturgical vestments, the Eucharist celebrated outside church without real need, lack of reverence and respect for the Blessed Sacrament, etc.); misunderstanding of the ecclesial character of the Liturgy (the use of private texts, the proliferation of unapproved Eucharistic Prayers, the manipulation of the liturgical texts for social and political ends). In these cases we are face to face with a real falsification of the Catholic Liturgy: "One who offers worship to God on the Church's behalf in a way contrary to that which is laid down by the Church with God-given authority and which is customary in the Church is guilty of falsification."

None of these things can bring good results. The consequences are -- and cannot fail to be -- the impairing of the unity of Faith and worship in the Church, doctrinal uncertainty, scandal and bewilderment among the People of God, and the near inevitability of violent reactions.

The faithful have a right to a true Liturgy, which means the Liturgy desired and laid down by the Church, which has in fact indicated where adaptations may be made as called for by pastoral requirements in different places or by different groups of people. Undue experimentation, changes and creativity bewilder the faithful. The use of unauthorized texts means a loss of the necessary connection between the lex orandi and the lex credendi. The Second Vatican Council's admonition in this regard must be remembered: "No person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority."

Good stuff, eh? Again, it doesn't matter.

OK, I pulled a fast one on you. The above quote is not from the new document. It's from a very old document--Inaestimabile Donum--issued by the Vatican in--wait for it---April 1980.

It's over two decades old. I wasn't quite eleven when it came out. Read the whole thing, as I'm fond of saying. See if there's any abuse there that's been stamped out. See where there's a duplication of effort in the new documents.

Orthodox Catholics tired of being the crash test dummies of the diocesan liturgy office, take note. You're always waiting for Rome to gallop to the rescue, flinging another heavily-footnoted directive at the litiots wrecking the mass with FemLit, Earth Literacy, the Exaltation of the Ennegram, or some other half-assed, whipcrack-driven, flavor of the month stupidity designed to increase "active, conscious participation"--or else.

Starting to sound like Bullwinkle trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat, you say "This time fer sure! This will put the litiots and their priest acolytes in their place."

Why do you think it's going to work now?
Good stuff from The Daily Standard.

Two pieces worth noting:

1. Wielding a gore-caked axe, Matt Labash dances on the grave of the media creature known as Bennifer.

For the last year, even casual television-watchers and newspaper-readers have been afflicted by Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, the PDA-committing beast with two backs and one very prodigious behind, that gossip wags simply shorthand as "Bennifer." Apart, they were merely two over-hyped and overexposed mediocrities. Together, they resembled a blight, or even an unnatural disaster, two insatiable termites eating their way through the cultural rot of front-porch America.

Among other crimes against humanity, Bennifer has, in the parlance of Page Six, committed oodles of canoodles, and subjected us to constant public declarations of eternal devotion. In 2002, while J. Lo was still saddled with her back-up dancer/second husband Chris Judd, Affleck, seemed almost feverish to get in her knickers, taking out a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter. Contrary to the conventional wisdom on Lopez, he extolled her "graciousness of spirit, beauty in courage, great empathy, astonishing talent, real poise and true grace." By this point, Affleck, a self-admitted alcoholic, was supposed to have won his battle with the booze. He'd obviously suffered a relapse.

* * *

Then of course, there is a competing school of thought: that this whole break-up is part publicity stunt, part elaborate ruse--a sophisticated ploy to throw off the paparazzi so Bennifer can go ahead and have their wedding in peace, then sell the exclusive photo rights to offset costs that only they could incur, such as the $40,000 it took to charter a plane to fly in Jen's wedding dress. Like a bad slasher movie, it's a horrifying thought, that the Bennifer might not really be dead.

2. Switching gears, the invaluable Larry Miller offers his thoughts about the passing of his friend, John Ritter:

ABOUT A YEAR after the play John was asked to be the star of a television show called "Eight Simple Rules . . . for Dating My Teenage Daughter," and the writers and the cast were great, but there is no question whatsoever that the reason the show was a hit was because the country loved John in it. He and the producers asked me to do a scene in the pilot, and that led to my being in the first season a few times. I had the best time whenever I I walked onto that set, Stage 6 at Disney. My scenes were always with John, one-on-one, and he was the funniest, most generous actor I've ever met. Coincidentally, I was onstage rehearsing another one last week, the last one, the one that will never air, because that was the one where, on Thursday afternoon, the 11th, the star of the show suddenly got sick and, such a short time later, in the same hospital he was born, died.

It's a tragedy when anyone dies before his time, by accident, or misadventure, or, as with John, an invisible, congenital thing that just waited quietly and went off. His wife, Amy, was with him as was my friend, Flody, and Flody said one second they were wheeling him along, and John was joking around to make Amy feel better, and she laughed, and then, quietly, in an instant, like an edit, he was gone.

My father passed on seven years ago, and it was so sudden I always said he was sitting next to God before his knee even hit the floor. I think it was that way with John, too.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Well, that was six hours of my life I'll never get back.

Thanks, Wolverines and Lions, for your entertaining pratfalls. At least I won't be distracted by a bid for the National Championship this year, and the Lions--well, the Lions are the same old, same old. I propose a new game: Watch Mariucci Visibly Age and Grow More Incoherent By The Hour. I don't want to sound dramatic, but the franchise is cursed.

Even my fantasy team is trailing going into tonight's MNF clash.

The bare-knuckle world of biblical archeology.

CT has the goods in a fascinating article about this contentious field, which includes a glimmer of hope for those plumping for the authenticity of James' bone box.

"Do you ever blog about anything other than the Gibson film?"

--you may be developing good reason to ask.

Well...it's heating back up again. What can I say?

Yesterday, Barbara Nicolosi offered a providential example corroborating that whole lengthy "house dividing" essay below. She quit Ligourian magazine after they refused to print her review:

They refused to print my review of The Passion because they are afraid of siding with a film that some people are saying is anti-Semitic. They wanted to me rewrite my review to be less of a rave and "more balanced" - whatever that is in a movie review. My sense is the anti-Semitism thing is just a blind for the real issue - if Mel was a liberal, they would have no problem with the film. The magazine is setting itself on the wrong side of this whole question...and I do not choose to be on the wrong side with them.

"Man, I'm tired of being right!"

She also has an interesting account of her experience "debating" the film on NPR, along with Michael Medved and against Prof. Fredriksen and Peter Boyer of The New Yorker. Why the "scare" quotes? Because it's hard to debate when you're gagged by the moderator....Take and read.

Which brings me to the most recent issue of OSV, containing a useful examination of the controversy. It's not yet online, but it contained some interesting nuggets, such as the fact that the actress playing Mary, the Mother of God, is, er, um Jewish and a Yiddish recording star in her native Rumania. Then again, she's not a "mainstream" Catholic scholar wielding "modern biblical scholarship," so she likely was unable to notice the problems with the script.

OSV also published some new evidence, quoting from e-mail obtained from the script's translator, that the script was obtained under dubious circumstances.

Also, Michael Medved gave an interview, calling the anti-Semitic claims "insane" and offering an interesting analysis of the anti-Semitic nature of Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. He even approached the ADL about the problems with that film in hopes of getting them to protest, but the League was uninterested. [Thanks to Patrick Sweeneyfor the tipoff about the OSV article.]

Finally, a writer at Enter Stage Right posts a worthwhile analysis of the controversy in three installments, using Kierkegaard's ruminations on Jesus' ministry and the Passion as the framework for his essay. [Link via Relapsed Catholic].

Saturday, September 20, 2003

A House Dividing: The Passion as Uncle Tom's Cabin.

A fellow Catholic blogger has titled the current clashes in the U.S. church "the American Catholic Civil War." Rabbi Eugene Korn of the ADL voiced similar thoughts, noting:

“We have ridden into the middle of ideological war between conservative Catholics and Vatican II progressive Catholics....”

Rabbi Daniel Dalin recognized much the same thing in his assessment of the literature surrounding the actions of Pope Pius XII during the Shoah:

Almost none of the recent books about Pius XII and the Holocaust is actually about Pius XII and the Holocaust. Their real topic proves to be an intra-Catholic argument about the direction of the Church today, with the Holocaust simply the biggest club available for liberal Catholics to use against traditionalists.

[Parenthetically, the most obvious difference between the rabbis on the subject is that the former entered the fray guns blazing, taking sides and hurling anathemas while the latter was considerably more circumspect.]

While intriguing, I think "civil war" is a little overblown--for now. At the moment, it looks more like the struggle between "progressive" and "conservative" camps has entered its "bleeding Kansas" stage. As in the analogous 19th Century American crisis, I think there will have to be an election before the matter comes to a head.

All of which leads me back to the conflagration over the Gibson film. In the looming conflict, The Passion is Uncle Tom's Cabin--a work whose symbolic import may well outweigh its artistic merits. Stowe's book was effectively a fiery sermon against slavery--dropped into a culture growing more and more divided over the impact of the brutal institution on the nation. At the time, the clamor over slavery was inescapable and getting louder--from Congress, to the papers to the pulpits--it was the issue and UTC was a bombshell.

As with Stowe's book, Gibson's film, too, is a sermon--in this case, about the central event of Christianity--the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. An additional factor is that the film is made by a devout Catholic who is himself controversial. It, too, is dropped into the midst of a period of increasing polarization in American Catholicism. It is being filmed after two generations of exhausting, inescapable battles in American Catholic life, where everything--from participation in politics to the liturgy to the authority of clergy to biblical studies to moral theology to religious education to what to eat on Friday--has been the subject of confusion (sometimes deliberate), debate and conflict. Calling it a maelstrom is not an exaggeration. All of the fighting boils down to one essential issue: what is the Church? The answer to that question necessarily determines its role and where it is going.

As a result, it is clear that the ferocious battle over The Passion is not particularly about the alleged failings in the depiction of first century Jews at all. Surprising as this sounds, the controversy over that issue, while the loudest, may be the least important aspect of the debate. In reality, the fight is over the direction of American Catholicism itself.

In other words, the film has become the focus of those battling for the soul of the Church in America.

In one corner stand the film's supporters, a hard-to-categorize group that runs the gamut from traditionalism (yes, some "fringe") to a loosely-defined "conservatism" that cares little for the Latin Mass or the perceived rigidity of the pre-1965 Church. It includes scholars, members of religious orders, Vatican officials and a lot of energized lay Catholics. It even includes a healthy cross-section of non-Catholics, but that's not relevant here. If there is a uniting thread among Catholic supporters of the film, it appears to be a love of the Gospels, a hunger for an authentic, faithful depiction of the fearful cost of the Redemption, and a growing anger at an elite too willing to redefine the faith.

In the other is a home-grown magisterium of progressive scholars, ordained, religious and lay, connected to the universities, institutions and bureaucracies of the American church. They speak in the assured patter of academia, advocating sweeping change under the title of "education." As the Jewish Weekly article noted, they can get personal audiences with the episcopate (however tepid). These individuals are emblematic of the strain of Catholic thought that has used the Second Vatican Council as the banner for sweeping reforms of all facets of Catholic life--and is increasingly resented for it. They want to impose "new" understanding of the Gospels (under the rubric "modern biblical scholarship" (see section VIII of the linked essay)) in the same way their like-minded brothers and sisters imposed "new" understandings of liturgy, architecture, religious education, moral theology, seminary formation, etc.--also citing the Council. It is open to serious doubt whether the critics of the film are correct in their construing of the relevant Vatican II documents, much less whether the film actually contradicts those documents. But it's more important to recognize it as part of the same school of thought, and as the prime contributor to the conflict over the film.

Hence the fire and fury over an incomplete roll of celluloid, and why Catholics (including me) are passionate (!) about the film. The same arguments have been heard before, when churches are "renovated," liturgies are mangled, nominally Catholic universities teach that pretty much anything goes--the list goes on, ad nauseum. The usual suspects behind such "reforms" have now trained their guns on a film they haven't seen, in large part because it's too faithful. As with the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a breaking point has been reached.

In a way, it's rather amusing watching a self-identified traditionalist tell clergy and religious to get bent and progressives demanding censorship and appealing to favored cardinals for what amounts to a reinstitution of the Index, at least as far as this film is concerned. Free speech for me but not thee.

But it's far less amusing when considered in the context of a widening and increasingly contentious conflict over the fate of the Catholic Church in America: a battle for which the ultimate resolution is in doubt.

[Note: part of the post's title was borrowed from the headline title for the first two volumes of Allan Nevins' groundbreaking history of the Civil War period, The War for the Union. If you'd like to send me all eight volumes, contact me in the comments box.]

Friday, September 19, 2003

Mine is the superior geekiness.

So Zach Frey asserts. And I'm going to prove him right with this post.

Did you know that the theme to Star Trek: The Original Series had lyrics?

I didn't think so. For the sordid reason why, go here.

If you didn't know that, you also don't know how truly, completely, absolutely and unequivocally godawful they are.

I'm posting them right now.

Last warning. If you have a full stomach, get a bucket: puke will be exiting at warp factor 7.

Here they are, dire gems from the pen of Gene Roddenberry:

The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand'ring in star-flight
I know
He'll find in star-clustered reaches
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.

Even the hippie Spock would have blown a gasket at that one.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Kitty Genovese redux.

On October 15, 2003, the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, the State of Florida will begin the process of starving Theresa "Terri" Schiavo to death. Over three years ago, following a suit initiated by her husband, Michael Schiavo, Judge George Greer ruled that Terri was in a "persistent vegetative state" and that her feeding tubes could be removed. You see, her loving husband (till death do us part) argued that Terri had told him that she didn't want to be kept alive if she were a "vegetable." Of course, he only started arguing this after he scored over a million bucks in a lawsuit associated with her condition, but...

Others have been making comments about this case, and I suggest you check a few links, starting with Terri's Fight, Amy Welborn, Fr. Rob Johansen, The Mighty Barrister and Mark Sullivan. FWIW, here's a few additional thoughts of my own.

1. Re: her husband, Michael Schiavo. There's a popular saying: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Here goes: Mr. Schiavo is probably biodegradable.

Then again, sacks of crap usually are. Welshing on a promise to use the lawsuit funds for rehabilitation of his wife, he currently lives with a phenomenally stupid woman by whom he's had a child and will doubtless drop both like hot rocks once they prove to be impediments to his lifestyle. Just like, well, Terri. Hope you're a light sleeper, girlfriend.

2. "Persistent Vegetative State."
I hate to resort to technical legal jargon, but nothing else will do: my ass. Watch her respond to various tests and the presence of people who actually regard her as something other than a grotesque inconvenience. Judge Greer found she was in a PVS largely because of the testimony of an "expert witness" who routinely testifies in favor of withholding medical treatment in these cases. You might think that this practice makes him some kind of prostitute, but you'd be wrong. He's an expert witness. There's a difference. It takes an electron microscope to see the difference (technical, not moral) but it's there.

Somehow, during his tour Dante missed the bulging Bolgia of Hell that holds this kind of expert witness. I know the type. It's the vocational rehab expert who claims there are lots of jobs available to the triple-amputee ditchdigger with a fourth grade education; the psychiatrist who testifies that the plaintiff who slipped on a banana peel at the large chain grocery store experiences post-traumatic stress disorder and goes catatonic upon being exposed to fresh produce. Oh, yes. It's entirely likely that the good doctor in the Schiavo case probably would have testified that he himself was in a persistent vegetative state if the money was right.

3. Michigan had a similar case eight years ago August: In re Michael Martin. It, too, was a lawsuit involving a dispute between a spouse and the victim's blood relatives as to the continued feeding of an injured man. However, the Michigan Supreme Court reached the opposite conclusion of the Florida jurists, making the obvious choice:

To end the life of a patient who still derives meaning and enjoyment from life or to condemn persons to lives from which they cry out for release is nothing short of barbaric. If we are to err, however, we must err in preserving life.

Michael Martin is still alive today. If the Florida courts persist in upholding this atrocity, they will be as complicit in her death as if the jurists had gathered together to murder her with their gavels. If the elected officials and people of Florida and elsewhere sit idly by, they will be as guilty the bystanders who watched Kitty Genovese attacked not once, not twice, but three times, but did nothing.
Shelly of And Then? could use your prayers.

Her mom is in the hospital, and after some scary moments, is on the mend.

Go there and offer a kind word and a shoulder, too.
Not to nitpick, but...

I've been home the last two days for health reasons. Blogging takes a back seat.

It's not serious, and yes, things are getting better. If you were wondering, that is.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Strange gods.

At Amy Welborn's must-read blog today (scroll down), she posted a link to a fine commentary comparing the Gospel with the Gospel of Inclusion that's led the ECUSA to the brink of shipwreck. Here's a nice quote about how inclusivity doesn't work:

I believe that the followers of the Gospel of Inclusion are genuinely motivated by a desire to share Christ's love with all people--but thanks to their theology, the people who come to the Episcopal Church thanks to their inclusiveness are being sold a sham--a "faith" that affirms them in their broken-ness and tells them that they are, thereby, whole, rather than a faith that can bring them to true wholeness. In the end, the inclusivists are short-changing the very people they hope to help.

The article provoked a couple of snotty comments deriding the "orthodox" (scare quotes in original) for their alleged obsession with pelvic issues (classic projection) at the expense of other sins, some legitimate (economic exploitation, lying, cheating, child abuse/neglect) and others more, er, opaque ("the tobacco industry"). Also, there's a tired invocation of the god of Love who never gets around to being upset by anything other than social inequities. All, of course, in the defense of the canonized Canon Robinson.

Actually, buried in the e.e. cummings imitation is a fairly good point--traditional/conservative Catholics have a strong tendency to argue on questions of sexual morality or doctrinal correctness, while comparatively neglecting the real social dimension of the Gospel. But that tendency is reversed on the part of progressives, who argue a lot about social injustice and poverty while putting away the whistle, so to speak, on moral behavior and doctrinal concerns. Catholic morality is more holistic than either camp is generally willing to acknowledge.

However, lest I be accused of an easy "pox on both houses" conclusion, I think the folks in e.e.'s corner have it more wrong in their failure to admit the profound social implications of individual moral behavior, and how such decisions lead to the social injustices they decry. Commenter S.F. in the same thread offers several fine examples. Affirming the misbehavior while decrying the results (poverty, abuse, neglect, exploitation) is a peculiar plan of action. Moreover, as I pointed out in my comment (somewhat modified here), it demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of what God's love really means:

Well, I can sure feel the "love!"

It's the love of a god who gets ticked off by the same things a campus diversity coordinator or anti-poverty activist gets ticked off by. No less, and very sadly, no more. A god trimmed to fit the times is not *the* God--the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Esther, David. It is not the God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ.

It is not the same God who inspired the writers of the books of the Bible--including Genesis, Leviticus, Matthew, John, Romans, and First Corinthians, each of which address both social and sexual conduct, in thundering, absolute terms.

It is not the same God who somehow found it within Him to forbid the exploitation of the poor, the helpless and the stranger *and* in the same breath sexual immorality.

For some reason, the last issue isn't on the other god's agenda. Strange, that. It leaves one in the amusing position of following a god who's fine with screwing the poor so long as it's not done in the figurative sense.

There is no pick and choose in Catholic Christian morality. Pull one thread and it all goes to pieces. Just like the church (or society) that embraces such a decision.
Well, Dave, I couldn't find a .jpeg of anyone projectile vomiting...

Does that help? :)

Seriously, the Lions are about two years away from being a realistic contender for a playoff spot. Mariucci will turn this bunch around, but it's going to take player turnover and a vast upgrade in crucial skill positions like running back, wide receiver and the defensive secondary. Plus, Harrington really has to develop this year.

This year? I had hoped for 7-9 as an outside shot. Not gonna happen--the road schedule is monstrous. This is a 5-11 or 6-10 team. Which is a welcome improvement, given that they've won 5 games over the last two seasons.

What Mariucci may have done this year is to loosen the grip the Pack has on the Upper Peninsula. I know several diehard Packer-backers up there whose allegiances are in some turmoil now that Detroit's hired a bona-fide Yooper. Wait and see.

And expect a much, much tougher fight at Ford Field later this year.
Dreher-haitahs, take note.

You know who you are. Or at least I do.

Rod has a fine editorial in today's Dallas Morning News about the Pope and why he continues to soldier on, despite his frail condition.

Essentially, Rod says the Pope won't "shelve" himself because we are all too willing to shove aside the old, weak and ill among us:

This pope is acutely aware of the relevance of this lesson for our time. As he once preached, "In a society like the present one, which is seeking to build its future on well-being and consumerism and measures everything in terms of efficiency and profit, illness and suffering, which cannot be denied, are either removed or emptied of their meaning in the illusion of their being overcome exclusively through the means offered by the progress of science and technology."

John Paul was referring mostly to euthanasia, abortion and genetic engineering, but his words anticipated this summer's carnage in France, in which 15,000 people, most of them elderly, died during a heat wave. Many of the dead had been forgotten by their children and relatives. That is the mentality John Paul fights. As he preached on 1996's World Day of the Sick, "A society is characterized by the attention it devotes to those suffering and by the attitude it adopts toward them."

Seen in that light, the way we view John Paul's labors in the winter of his years may say more about us than about him.

A useful reminder for those too willing to scream "Give it up, old man!" Regardless of whether the "old man" happens to be Pope, in the way of a promotion, sitting on a fat will, or is otherwise "inconvenient" or "a burden."

Monday, September 15, 2003

Sometime today, if all goes well....

This blog will top 10,000 visits since May 18, 2003. I have nearly 12,500 page views during that same time.

Do people really have that much leisure time?

In all humility, thanks: That, on average, more than 100 people a day come to this opinion kiosk is both baffling and flattering beyond words.
"...Michigan posted the first shutout in the series since its 23-0 win in 1902."

Heh, heh, heh. That was fun.

BTW, I really miss Lou Holtz as ND's head guy. Willingham is a fine coach, but he and Lloyd Carr took the same course on how to handle questions from reporters. Rule No. 1 of this course apparently is: "If it's not a coma-inducing platitude or deflection, don't speak." Rule No. 2: "Where possible, mutter in monosyllables." I guess it works. Tends to keep the conferences short.

Holtz was more entertaining: he was charismatic enough to make you wonder if he was serious when he claimed that the thought of playing Rice or Baylor was causing him to wake up sweat-soaked and shrieking with fear--and that was on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter with the Irish leading 49-0. "Boy, that Helen Keller Institute team has got some tough players, let me tell you..."

Anyway, time to worry about Oregon.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Clarifying a common misconception on gameday.

I haven't gotten a lot of questions from non-Catholic friends about my conversion. Seems a little strange, especially when you consider the winsome, irenic side of my personality that often shines in this blog. Only one of my friends has had any "why do Catholics do that?" kind of questions, and that's pretty much petered (ha!) out.

However, there is one exception to this polite silence. One question that has recurred fairly consistently. One query that is posed, approximately twice a year, starting in September:

"So, don't you have to be a Notre Dame fan now?"

Smiling, I politely say "No, I do not."

Now, certain common claims are true: after receiving Confirmation at the 1999 Easter Vigil, I received a box from the Vatican containing the Decoder Ring, a receiver for the Pope Signal, and a punch card indicating I and my future wife would receive cumulative 10% discounts from the Vatican City Gift Shoppe for every child we have. In addition, Heather got the toaster oven and 5000 bonus points toward salvation for returning a heretic to the true Faith.

All that stuff is true, but no, I don't have to root for the Frickin--er, Fightin' Irish. The latest message for the Decoder Ring hasn't indicated a policy change.

So I still get to root for the Wolverines. Go Blue!

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The Day.

[Language alert]

I didn't write anything about last year's anniversary. I didn't know what to say. I don't know that I will ever fully be able to grasp it. I only write now so that my children will have their father's thoughts on why, in a corner of his mind and soul, it's still and always Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

I may be the only person in America not to see either Tower fall "live." The Day had begun very, very early. My daughter, Madeleine, was beginning her fifth day on this earth, having been born on September 6. The evening of September 10 through the wee hours of September 11 had been an angry, angry time for her. She refused to sleep or otherwise be consoled. As new, first time parents, Heather and I began to wonder why competent hospital neonatal caregivers had entrusted a beautiful infant like Maddie to knuckledragging incompetents like ourselves. The long and short of it was that, after a trip to the 7-11 for batteries, I managed to get all of about 2 and a half hours of nonconsecutive sleep. Still, I woke to an otherwise beautiful day, even though I thought there was exactly zero chance I'd appreciate it.

I hobbled into work at 8:30am, riding the elevator up to the 8th floor. As is usually the case, arriving at my cubicle, I called up the news pages to get updated and plotted my trip to the basement cafeteria for a cup of coffee. About 20 minutes later, the Drudge Report ran an alert about a plane crashing into one of the WTC towers. With no other details, I shrugged it off, thinking it comparable to the tragedy involving the B-25 that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1947--bad weather, or engine trouble on a smaller plane. Sad, but I was not thinking epochal.

I went down to get the coffee. People were staring at the monitors. There was a lot of smoke, but no one knew what to make of it yet. The second plane had not arrived.

I grabbed my coffee and returned to work. I spoke to a local HR guy with whom I was trying to negotiate a settlement (it later worked out). I offhand mentioned the WTC crash, and he then told me that they were not little planes, they were airliners.


A second one? My stomach sank, and I quickly excused myself from the conversation, which he understood. He was contemplating leaving work himself. I then called Heather, who was mercifully asleep. I told her that two planes had hit the towers, which made it almost certainly terrorism, but nobody at the office had said anything about closing down the building (which houses several federal agencies). I might be coming home early.

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than my boss walked up to me, saying he was leaving and it was a good idea that I do the same. You have to understand that this man is virtually unflappable. The only reason I use "virtually" is that I saw his face that day. Heather still on the line, I told her plans had changed and that I was on my way home.

Others were leaving too, circulating wild rumors that someone had heard planes were heading to Chicago. At that moment, everything was plausible. I rode the elevator down in silence. I almost certainly wasn't alone, but I don't recall anyone else being in the elevator with me. As I walked out, I passed Customs agents and Federal Protective Services officers deployed in full armor with weapons at the ready, patrolling in deadly earnest. Not much use against the horrors that struck that day, but I still envied them. At least they were able to respond somehow.

I made for my car in a daze, again in silence. I drove off from the garage and listen to the all-news station. By the time I was on the Interstate, it was 10:30. The shaken CBS announcer then recapped the events by saying "The Towers are gone. ..."

Gone. He then said they'd collapsed one after the other this morning following the airplane strikes. Casualties were unknown, but could be upwards of 10,000, including several hundred firefighters who rushed into the buildings to help....

Oh, shit. Son of a bitch. 10,000 dead. I could grasp that vaguely, but the hundreds of firemen--that figure I felt in my gut. I began to twist my steering wheel in helpless fury, the tears starting. My dad is a fireman, retired in October 2001 (it had been in the works long before 9/11) after a 32-year career which saw him rise to Chief. He's run into more burning buildings than he'll ever tell Mom, me or my brother Doug. We were raised by one, and around his fireman brothers. I am proud to know them by their first names.

He's seen more charred bodies and destroyed lives, grief, greed and stupidity than I can imagine. He's had people vomit as he gave them CPR, he's been forced to work his way through the wreckage of a destroyed illegal fireworks factory (which took its proprietors with it)--and that's just two that I know of. This is just from working as a volunteer for a small rural department. But they're cut from the same cloth as their urban brothers--self-sacrificing, rough around the edges, rowdy, big-hearted guys who don't get paid enough, in respect or money, for what they have to see and do.

It was very easy to believe that hundreds of his brothers were killed that day. And they were.

I got home. Heather had seen the towers fall, and met me on our deck. I went inside, and held my daughter, blissfully, mercifully unaware of the carnage replaying on the screen. She had been born in one world, but like the rest of us now lives in another.

The rest of the day passed in a numb haze, made more surreal by the perfect summer quality of the weather. I reassured my parents that I was OK, holding Maddie as I did so (our one picture of 9/11 shows her yawning at me as I talk on the phone). The only other news event I recall clearly was the announcement by one of the newsmen that a couple of aircraft carriers and their escorts were leaving Norfolk to, as it turned out, provide air cover for Washington and New York.

But, I remember it because, at the time, I thought: "Yes--go kill them." I had to wait four weeks for that to come true, but the sentiment hasn't really wavered in the past two years. As has been ably stated, they came here to kill us. That they didn't kill my wife and newborn daughter was simply a function of location, location, location. After all, they gleefully murdered two-year-old Christine Hanson and her parents on the way to DisneyWorld. They just haven't quite figured out the jihad potential of Detroit and its landmarks yet. But they might.

Which is why it's always September 11 in part of my mind and soul, and I've had no day since where I haven't thought about it.

May God forbid that 9/11 ever be replaced by another date. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm out of bounds to worry that it could.
OK. Here's my letter to Sr. Maureen Fay at UDM.

Re: The CTA conference.

Yes, I was nice.


Dear Sr. Maureen Fay:

Through a friend, I recently learned that UDM is sponsoring a Call to Action seminar featuring Agnes Mansour, Christine Vladimiroff, Anita Caspary, and Margaret Susan Thompson.


I became a Catholic three years after my graduation from the UDM School of Law. But even while I was there, I was impressed with the decision of the School of Law to refuse admission to Jack Kevorkian for a seminar on end-of-life issues and then-recent case law. It just made sense, in light of the School's professed Catholic character.

As the late Cardinal Bernardin said, the Church's various teachings on the sanctity of all human life are a seamless garment--to pull one thread is to unravel it all.

Unfortunately, all of these featured CTA speakers have gleefully shredded that garment through their poor witness, especially Agnes Mansour, who chose to serve politics instead of her vocation to defend the most defenseless among us.

To say that I am dismayed by this development is an understatement.

If you check your records, you will be able to verify that I am a past alumni donor to the UDM School of Law. What your records will not reveal is that I received a raise and am much more able to support my alma mater. However, in light of the decision of that alma mater to host such a conference, I am now unwilling. I respectfully request that you reconsider.


Dale Price
University of Detroit Mercy
School of Law ('96)
Finally, a chance to quote Chesterton!

In response to a request by the London Times for essays on the topic "What's Wrong With the World?", Gilbert Keith sent back a famous reply:

"Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely yours,

G.K. Chesterton."

Now that I have, by virtue of quoting GKC, officially entered the rarified air of St. Blog's, I'll get to my point: an interesting pair of posts by John di Fiesole at Disputations and Dom Bettinelli at his own site.

John essentially argues that thundering on about the hapless bench of bishops and dissenters is pointless where it's not actually counterproductive, and that the essential goal of the Catholic in this time is minding one's own store:

I don't think I'm destined to play much of a role in Church polity in the U.S. I am too easily, and too thoroughly, disgusted by the ubiquitous and unthinking arrogance with which pronouncements like this are made:

"There really is no satisfactory solution to this other than the conversion of bishops (to Catholicism, of course)."

This would probably strike many as an unremarkable, and undeniable, statement. I can't but take it as symptomatic of two very serious problems facing the Church.

The first is a kind of watery hyperCatholicism by which individuals on their own authority and as a matter of routine busy themselves excommunicating others. It's most explicit among self-styled traditionalists, and I've already brought up the matter of self-styled conservatives using the term "so-called Catholic," but there is no shortage of self-styled progressives who claim the Church is in one way or another refusing the clear demands of the Holy Spirit.

The other problem is the habit of locating the source of all problems in THEM! It's the Vatican's fault, it's the bishops' fault, it's the dissenters' fault! They have to change!
* * *
When the problem is always them, though, the problem is never me. And the problem that is me is the one problem we have each been commanded to resolve. My job is not to impose a plan of action that will guarantee the survival of the Church in the United States. My job is to guarantee the survival of the Church in the United States by seeing that it survives in me. That, ultimately, is the one thing I have control over -- and, it seems to me, it's also ultimately the only way of reforming and purifying the Church. I can't reform and purify you, I can't reform and purify them, and I certainly can't make you reform and purify them.
* * *
If instead of worrying about them, I follow the command of Scripture and the counsel of saints and worry about me, something wholly unexpected will happen. I can't say what precisely will happen -- it is, after all, wholly unexpected -- because it's not by my will or intent that it will happen. It will be by God's will. And even if by worrying about them I could get them to do what I want them to do, that is still an obviously poor choice compared to them doing what God wants them to do by me worrying about me.

Dom responds by asserting this approach is incomplete, where it's not also part of the problem:

I'll grant John another point: Seeking to blame only them for the problems in the Church is a cop out, because we are all sinners. But there is a point at which you can say that much of the problem is them. I'm certainly not running around calling for women's ordination, approval of homosexuality, change in the doctrines surrounding contraception, the stripping of the sacred from the liturgy, supporting pro-abortion politicians, and on and on.

God knows I have my faults, but that doesn't strip from me the right to point out problems caused by others that have obvious solutions. To strip me of that right because I am not perfect is no different than those who say the US bishops cannot speak out on gay marriage because of the Scandal.
* * *
Sorry John, but that doesn't cut it. We are not a bunch of individuals only responsible for ourselves and no others. We are a Church, the body of Christ, responsible for one another. We are, each one of us, responsible for preaching the Gospel, not just the Gospel of sweetness and light, but also the Gospel of hard teachings and of calling our brothers and sisters to holiness and truth.

Yes, we should first focus on our own holiness, but that doesn't mean we can never call on our brothers and sisters to reform [themselves] as well.

After all, if everyone followed this advice, no one would have spoken up about perverted predators being shuffled from parish to parish, continuing their assaults on young people, and nothing would have changed. We would all be sitting self-satisfied in our pews concentrating on our own faults and our search for holiness, while no check was put on these outrages because "we have no right to point at others." Sorry, but I can't buy that.

While I'll concede John has made some telling points about the toxicity of the complaints, I think Dom has the better of the argument, and I'll amplify the latter's points.

The first problem with John's assertion is that he's applying either/or reasoning. Either one focuses on betterment through God's grace OR one is a shrill Pharisee. I don't know that any of the "complainers" have trumpeted their glory in the Temple. I'm not saying they don't exist, but I haven't seen any. Frankly, it is possible to focus on one's own penitence, and to call others to do the same. That is more truly "biblical" to boot: Paul's letters would look much different if they just examined Paul's faults. In these times, Catholics had better be prepared to do both.

The second problem with John's argument is that, as Dom points out, it ignores the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ, a collective whole--not "moonlets" in separate orbits. The actions of a few (or many) have an impact on the rest of the body. To be blunt, if a part of the Body is gangrenous, I can hardly say "Too bad, but I have to focus on my failings." To use another analogy, the faith of a brother in the Church is hardly a self-contained object isolated from the goings-on around him. He is a fish in water, and if the water starts getting polluted by the action of his schoolmates, he can hardly say "well, better work on the ol' gills" and leave it at that. To use an ecclesial example drawn from real life, should a university in a Bishop's diocese permit the rebellious Order of the Sisters of Sophia to hold a meeting on how to better confuse the Faithful on settled issues, the Bishop has to be informed, and if he fails to act, castigated. Because the Sisters are dumping jet fuel into the river and it needs to be stopped before the fish start "swimming" on the surface.

Left to its own devices, a strictly "internal" approach is little more than Catholic quietism, with all that means for the Church and the world.

Somehow I doubt GKC, that happy warrior and namer of names, would approve.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Message for greg (not Krehbiel).

Please deposit your apology in the comments box below. I've been chewing on your self-introduction to my blog ("Jerk," other calumnies, and ignoring/misrepresenting the arguments of the host (and others) in your unsuccessful effort to be the arbiter of true masculinity) for the past couple of days.

I'm much less impressed with the passage of time. Should I not hear from you in 24 hours, you will find your commenting privileges revoked.

Or maybe even sooner than that. Because, you know, I'm a mean-spirited, closeted, hyper-masculine jerk.
Back. Sorta.

Kirok successfully activated the monolith.

More to come, today or tomorrow.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Cue Shatner voice.

"Workload...crushing...family life much...more...fulfilling can't make time to...blog stuff...."

Just as it was getting good, too.

See you Wednesday-ish.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

For those of you who won't turn that frown upside down...

...Gerard Serafin points towards the exit.

Interesting... .
I am woman, hear me bore.

Ye gods. Our Sunday Visitor recently offered a fairly mild cover story calling for more "manly" priests, and featured a picture showing a pair of muscled male arms holding a pipe wrench. Naturally, one of American Catholicism's Perpetually Irritated Womyn was threatened and went into a nuclear-powered hissy:

The cover of your Aug. 10 issue ("Priestly Men, Manly Priests") depicts a "manly" priest--a very muscular man holding a monkey wrench. I am appalled.

Why, of course you are, dear! Please, continue.

To think that image connotes what is needed in the priesthood is offensive to me, and I would think, to anyone who reflects on the Christ presented in the Gospel?

You mean the cordwhip-wielding carpenter who overturned tables in righteous fury?

What our Church needs is a balance of the male and female in its institutional structures, its spirituality and its ministry.

Oh, oh! Pick me! Pick me! I know this one: Ordain women, right? What do I win?

Besides a migraine, that is...

God save us from "manly" priests who are more comfortable holding a monkey wrench than the hand of a person in need of healing.

--Jeanne Keating
by e-mail

More handholders like Rembert Weakland, perhaps?

Now that we know how Jeanne feels about her plumber and other muscled blue-collared inferiors....Translation: God save me from ordained ministers with a developed backbone who are likely to preach uncomfortable truths/stand up to me/tell me to put a sock in it. Keep ordaining the malleable Fr. Whipples who refuse to discomfit me in any way, shape or form. Note that there's no such thing as balance in JeanneWorld--you're either an extra-y chromosome type with a sloping forehead and a pipe wrench or Leonardo DiCaprio without the testosterone. There's no middle ground.

But, don't worry [Irony Impaired Alert!] your pretty little head [End Alert!] about it, Jeanne. You're likely to keep getting your way for the next forty years or so.
Exe-Gene-sis, Catholic style.

Tenuous Anglican Christopher Johnson reports on the latest cloud of theological CO emitted by Episcopal Bishop Frank Griswold. The Grizz (as he is formally known) defends the ECUSA's election of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire as "an act of God." This strikes me as especially appropriate, given that the phrase "act of God" in popular usage tends to be associated with such things as avalanches and tornadoes. Moving on, he explains through clenched teeth that what he regards as the bone-through-the-nose contingent of Anglicanism simply fails to understand that the Bible has an expiration date:

In his letter to the Primates, Bishop Griswold acknowledged that the ratification of Canon Gene Robinson, a non-celibate homosexual, as Bishop of New Hampshire would be received with displeasure in certain quarters.

“I am keenly aware that for many of you this is clearly contrary to a plain reading of Scripture, and in the contexts in which you live, it is unthinkable”, Bishop Griswold noted.

* * *

In his letter, Bishop Griswold affirmed a general belief in Scripture. “You know I firmly believe … that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and contain all things necessary to salvation.” The problem facing the Church was not one of belief in Scripture but in its interpretation.

Interpretation was a function of culture and history, explained Bishop Griswold. There were no right nor wrong interpretations of Scripture, Bishop Griswold explained to the Primates. “There is no such thing as a neutral reading of Scripture. While we all accept the authority of Scripture, we interpret various passages in different ways. It is extremely dishonouring of the faith of another to dismiss them as not taking the Bible seriously.”

Translation: "Listen up, wogs, we've gotten over the phase of regarding Scripture as binding. Come on, you really expect 21st Century Moderns like ourselves to be governed by the recorded pathologies of Bronze Age herdsmen? Heh, heh, heh. Windowdressing for tendentious political and legislative statements, yes. Inerrant guide to personal behavior, no. You'll get over it, too, once you get the Spice Channel. [Biting lip] I feel your pain. But, if you still are having trouble understanding me, allow me on behalf of the ECUSA to extend The Tall Finger of Fellowship."

Alas, exe-gene-sis isn't the sole possession of the Episcopal wacky wing. For far better motives (but employing no better reasoning) some Catholics, too, are more than willing to play the Bible Discard. Behold Sr. Mary Boys, Fr. John Pawlikowski, and Philip Cunningham, who have determined that Hebrews and Romans are best used as birdcage liner:

Much of Cardinal Dulles’ critique of these concepts in "Reflections" flows from his reading of the New Testament. It is not enough, however, to cite Scripture without recognizing that the Bible is the church’s book and that, therefore, it continuously interprets those texts. In the words of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, " . . .[I]nterpretation of Scripture involves a work of sifting and setting aside; it stands in continuity with earlier exegetical traditions, many elements of which it preserves and makes its own; but in other matters it will go its own way, seeking to make further progress" (The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 1993).

Thus, we are troubled by Cardinal Dulles’ assertion that the Letter to the Hebrews offers "the most formal statement of the status of the Sinai Covenant under Christianity." Without further analysis, he quotes Hebrews: The "first covenant is ‘obsolete’ and ‘ready to vanish away’ (Heb. 8:13)." Christ "‘abolishes the first [covenant] in order to establish the second’ (Heb. 10:9)." Cardinal Dulles implies that Catholics believe that God’s covenant with the people of Israel is obsolete.

In contrast, we argue that official Catholic teaching today has, in the 1993 PBC formulation, "gone its own way" and "set aside" the opinion of the author of Hebrews about Israel’s covenant. As "Reflections" notes, Pope John Paul II has on many occasions declared that Jews are "the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God," "the present-day people of the covenant concluded with Moses," and "partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked."

The magisterium can explicitly contradict an idea of an individual New Testament author because the Catholic tradition is one of commentary, not sola scriptura. The author of Hebrews, convinced that he was living in the final stages of human history, could argue that the Old Covenant had yielded to the New. Two millennia later, however, in a church whose pope has prayed for God’s forgiveness for the sins of Christians against Jews, such an assertion is unacceptable. The constant disparagement of post-biblical Judaism through the ages, and general ignorance of it, encouraged European Christians to marginalize and even at times demonize Jews, thus providing a fertile seedbed for the Shoah.

Similarly, Paul’s words in Romans 11 cannot be actualized today without considering his conviction that Christ would quickly return to judge the living and the dead. He considered Jews who did not recognize Christ to be branches temporarily broken off to make room for the Gentile branches (11:17-24). Paul believed these broken branches were irrevocably (11:29) destined to be regrafted because "all Israel will be saved" (11:25-26). Until that eschatological day dawned, however, Jews who did not accept Jesus’ Lordship were dead branches, detached from God’s unfolding plans.

Paul could have imagined this temporary state of affairs in his eschatological enthusiasm. But another understanding of Judaism has developed in our time.

Reread that and back away from the computer for a moment. Ponder the enormity of it, the staggering arrogance and the fact these folks are considered "go-to" guys by the USCCB. Savor the irony of using supercessionism to defeat supercessionism. Imagine the use that will be made of it in evangelical circles--in many cases, rightly so.

OK, stop beating your head against the monitor.

It's the exact same approach as The Grizz, albeit for nobler reasons than affirming someone's right to dump his spouse and get his smack on with whomever he wants. Inconvenient verses--even books, in the case of Hebrews--get chucked. It's just as unprincipled and limitless in scope.

They can't even get their own sources right. Consider the horrible prooftexting from the PBC document, which is clearly referring to the sifting of exegetical traditions, not the Bible itself. Apparently an inability to read closely is a job requirement for deep "ecumenism". I imagine the following quote from the same document had the vampire vs. crucifix effect on Boys and the Boys: "The events of salvation and their accomplishment in the person of Jesus Christ give meaning to all human history." Eek! I'll save for another day the heavy reliance on the un-magisterial theological stylings of Walter Cardinal Kasper, that veritable typhoon of giddy compromise.

But the real problem is obvious: if you can redline scripture on the basis of "cultural conditioning" because of the pain its misuse has caused, where does it stop? V. Gene, his partner and the Dignity wing have some obvious suggestions for an expansion of the principle. But it can't be stopped there, either--inconvenience is inconvenience. Hardcore libertarians could just as easily tell the Peace & Justice types to stuff the rhetoric about helping the poor, crippled and other less fortunates: "Jesus' and James' comments were conditioned by the fact 1st Century Palestine didn't have AFDC, Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security--the whole safety net. Screw that, I already pay taxes and I'm buying an RX-8 instead." The possibilities are limitless.

Who's supposed to be watching the henhouse again?

The GOP Garbage Squad.

Nine awful human beings whose views are unworthy of the slightest respect. Especially after caterwauling about spending money on Ukraine, no...