Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Hail, to the critters valiant!

Wolverine State has its first confirmed wolverine resident since the 19th Century.
The location is nothing short of unbelievable--not in the Upper Peninsula, but the Thumb:

While a thrill for Karr and other wildlife officials, the sighting near the Thumb community of Ubly creates a mystery: How did the wolverine get there?

"It's up there with having a caribou or a polar bear turn up in the Thumb," DNR spokesman Brad Wurfel said Wednesday. "It's unprecedented."

It remains a question whether the animals have called Michigan home since the 19th century, even though the state has the unofficial Wolverine nickname and University of Michigan's athletic program uses the moniker.

Raymond Rustem, supervisor of the natural heritage unit in the DNR's Wildlife Division, said the wolverine in Huron County is far from what would be considered its nearest natural home of northern Canada. He said it could have traveled to the state, been released or escaped from captivity.

"It's a total surprise," Rustem said. "What it means, who knows? When you take a look at the wolverine, there's always been this debate about whether wolverines ever were a part of Michigan's recent past. Some evidence shows that, some says no."

Helpful Michigander Tip: Wolverines make dicey pets.

That is all.
It's here.

Some reviews and commentary, sublime and...less so. Me? No, haven't seen it yet. If you're looking for the relentlessly negative reviews, or the negative aspects of even four-star reviews, Michelle has the link for you! A little pinch of arsenic (or a bucket--Carroll? Please...) in every bite.

Still, Jewish concerns are warranted, valid, and must be considered. Here are three reviews by men of goodwill. Read them all.

Michael Medved.
Dennis Prager.
Jeff Jacoby.

"Dialogue" often gets a bad rap, and often deservedly so. Here's an example of a worthwhile meeting about the film between Catholics and Jews living in the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

The Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids bought out two theaters for joint screenings with area Catholics. Leaders of the Jewish community and the Catholic Diocese aimed to defuse divisiveness through dialogue.

Catholic Bishop Kevin Britt hailed it as perhaps the largest public gathering of Catholics and Jews the area has seen.

"It is our prayer that over time this evening will be another step in understanding between Catholics and our Jewish brothers and sisters," Britt said during a discussion following one of the showings.

He noted the Second Vatican Council denounced anti-Semitism and declared neither all ancient Jews nor Jews today should be held responsible for Jesus' death.

Britt said he saw no anti-Jewish slant in Gibson's film, calling it "very powerful."

"I don't think I'll be able to read the gospel again with the same eyes," Britt said. "To see the real physical suffering Christ endured will give it a whole new meaning."

Though extremely violent by today's standards, he added, the movie "might be reflective of what really happened."

Rabbi David Krishef disagreed, calling the violence "over the top" compared to gospel texts. But Krishef said warnings of the film's anti-Jewish content were overblown.

"I walked into the movie expecting something that would be very obviously and explicitly anti-Semitic," said Krishef, leader of Congregation Ahavas Israel. "Honestly, I didn't see it. I saw glimpses here and there."

He asked Jews to keep in mind most Christians won't see anti-Semitism, but a powerful interpretation of a sacred text. But he reminded Christians, "when we Jews see this crowd of people demanding the crucifixion of Jesus, we take it personally."

For the full smorgasbord of reviews, try Rotten Tomatoes. It's running about 51/49 positive negative, as of right now. Speaking of which, here are four balanced, but positive, reviews from a variety of sources.

James Berardinelli's Reel Views.
Terry Lawson (Detroit Free Press).
The USCCB (apparently they didn't get the scholars' memo--fundamentalism is everywhere--AAAAIIIIIEE!)
Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek. I particularly enjoy these quotes from Woodward:

More than 60 years ago, H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the creed of an easygoing American Christianity that has in our time triumphantly come to pass: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment though the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." Despite its muscular excess, Mr. Gibson's symbol-laden film is a welcome repudiation of all that.
* * *
It is easy, of course, to contrast third-millennium Christian mores with the story of Christ's Passion. Like other Americans, Christians want desperately to know that they are loved, in the words of the old Protestant hymn, "just as I am." But the love of God, as Dorothy Day liked to put it, "is a harsh and dangerous love" that requires real transformation. It is not the sort imagined by today's spiritual seekers who are "into" Asian religions.

Significantly, the Passion and death of Jesus is the chief element in the Gospel story that other religions cannot accept. In Islam, Jesus does not die on the cross because such a fate is considered unfitting for a prophet of Allah. By Hindus and Buddhists, Jesus is often regarded as a spiritual master, but the story of his suffering and death are considered unbecoming of an enlightened sage. Like the Buddha, the truly liberated transcend suffering and death. But Jesus submits to it — willingly, Christians believe — for the sins of all.

Finally, the...less than sublime.

Two winners of the H. Richard Niebuhr Award for Missing The Point Entirely:

David Van Biema, from Time, who celebrates our wondrous, sinless, superior selves:

The Passion of the Christ is a one-note threnody about the Son of God being dragged to his death. That may be just the ticket for some times and for some benighted places where understanding human torment in terms of God's love is the only religious insight of any use. But in a culture as rich, as powerful, as lucky and as open-minded as ours — one might even say, as blessed — it is, or should be, a very bad fit indeed.

Actually, Mr. Van Biema, that makes it a perfect fit for our smug, well-fed, bored, half-anethesized consciences which can only work up a yawn or titillated smirk at the myriad horrors in our midst.

The nothing-if-not-consistent Deacon Bronson Havard of the Diocese of Dallas.

Many people who saw the screenings of “The Passion” could not articulate how they felt afterwards, except to be repulsed.

And the others, Bron? Besides, last time I checked, crucifixion is repulsive. That was the fricking point.

Shock treatment about the crucifixion is not a substitute for understanding Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or his opposition to religious legalism, oppressive governments and caste systems. The movie has too few flashbacks to Jesus’ ministry to give a clear picture of what his life was about.

Maybe there's not much of the rest of it--I don't know, perhaps--could just be--theoretically, I hasten to add--because the film is called THE PASSION of the Christ, you twit! If it were called The Sermon of The Christ, or The Teaching of The Christ, or The Distinctive Table Fellowship of The Christ, or The Imagined Fuzzy Bunny Inclusiveness of The Christ As Presented By the Spokesflack of the Diocese of Dallas, you'd have a point. But, as it stands now--objection overruled.

Jesus stressed the dignity of each human being. He freed men and women of all backgrounds to know each other as brothers and sisters who are loved by their Creator.

First sentence--Yep. Second sentence--Maalox. Remember the quote from Niebuhr. Actually, Jesus freed us from sin, restoring us to a loving Father we had rejected by preferring everything else in the world to Him. There was only one way He could do that, too. Unfortunately for The Rev. Havard and the rest of the Luv Bunny Brigade, there's no avoiding the scandal of the Cross. Even if you're the pointman for a Catholic Diocese.

To embrace the cross in Christian theology is to truly know the liberating power of love.

"Everyone, open your hymn book to song number 38.

Come on, people now, smile on your brother/
Everybody get together and love one another right now..."

No, Rev. Havard: There's no way out but through. You can't get to Easter without living through Good Friday.
Posting Change for Lent.

Expect almost no posting during the day, except during the early morning hours. It's a combo mortification and lack of time thing.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Thanks for all the links and comments on the "Fathers" article below.

To call the impact an "explosion" might be an understatement--I received nearly seven hundred hits per day, Thursday and Friday. Thanks to all who linked and commented.

I am mulling an omnibus response, but it's back-burnered behind a report on the Catholic Men's conference I attended on Saturday, and a long overdue fisking on an abortion article, both of which will be forthcoming.

That Jesus movie knocked for its use of language.

No, no, the other one: The Gospel of John. In a basically positive review, James Bowman makes several good points about modern bible translations, noting they have lost their divine thunder.

For me, the movie never entirely escapes from being an illustration of what I don’t like about the [Good News] translation: its casualness and informality which, in an attempt to be "contemporary" can only succeed in making the most solemn and timeless of human stories sound dated, trivial and unreal. We know already that Galilean peasants in the first century A.D. did not talk, or think, as we do, and the attempt to portray them as doing so tends to create a sense of falseness and unreality about that which we are being asked to treat as the central event in human history.

As one who is old enough still to have the language of the Authorized or King James Version of the English Bible rattling around in my head, I believe that such older translations with their deliberate archaisms avoided this problem by preserving what linguists call the "sacral register" of the gospels, as of the liturgy. By respecting our intuitive understanding that the events they describe took place in a world very different from our own — just as they are intended to point us on our way to a world even more different — they help to preserve the mystery of faith and thus pose less of a challenge to our natural skepticism about events so remarkable.
The House Divided.

The varying Catholic responses to the Gibson film are noted here, though for my money, the Diocese of Cleveland easily takes the Namby-Pamby Award, in full retreat from an opportunity that comes but once. Fortunately, the evangelicals will be there to pick up the ball and run with it.

And likely run with more than a few soon-to-be-ex-Catholics as well. Which, under the circumstances, might not be such a bad thing.

Of course, none of the Catholic discord should be in the least bit surprising. Then again, that could just be the fundamentalist exegesis speaking.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Fathers, Sons and the Faith of Our Fathers.

The event was memorable because it shouldn't be. I was in sixth grade, and was standing outside (under as much shelter as I could find) with my buddy Jeff after school let out. I was not remotely looking forward to walking the five required blocks to get home, and I didn't have a ride. It was a blustery November day, which in Michigan can be borderline lacerating, especially when it rains.

Partway into my "hope the weather changes" routine, Jeff's aunt pulled up--his ride had arrived. Jeff bounded up to the car, and asked his aunt if she could drop me off at home, too. Sure, I was out of the way, but in my small rural hometown, distance is a very relative term--Alma lines up at around three miles wide at its "longest" point--and that estimate may be very generous. In other words, I was not that far out of the way.

Jeff came back, somewhat bemused, and gave a thumbs up. Hallelujah--spared from the elements! I made sure to thank her profusely after she dropped me off.

I really didn't notice it at the time, as I was distracted by my efforts to present a smaller target for the gusts, but Jeff took rather longer to get approval than would normally be the case. Later, he told me why: she'd reacted with some hostility to my name.

You see, I'm Dale Jr. Jeff's aunt worked for the same employer as my dad, Dale Sr. Not to put to fine a point on it, she (and many others in the same building) despised my dad--basically regarded him as Idi Amin without the culinary insights. And for that, she was willing to let one of her nephew's friends cool his heels in a frigid drizzle rather than give him a ride. Fortunately, Jeff prevailed upon the better angels of her nature and she relented.

Jeff only told me this months after the fact--after his aunt had gotten to know me, and seen maybe that her Idi figure was at least was a father who could raise a well-mannered (well, OK, for the most part) kid. And, after her initial consternation, we got along fine. During the summers, Jeff and I would semi-regularly come by to gaze in awe at the nicely-restored orange Corvette in her driveway.

She even let me sit in it.

Over the years, I learned (second- and third-hand) that her opinion was not isolated. Others at that worksite (and from his previous stint as a grocery store manager) griped about what a grim, uncompromising and unrelenting hardass Dad was on the job. Perhaps very significantly, I didn't hear the same--even as hearsay--from Dad's fellow firemen (Dad was a volunteer firefighter for 32 years, retiring as Chief).

The point of all of this is that I could never reconcile the criticisms I heard with the man I know, love and revere.

The man who poured himself out to support his wife and sons, to the point of needing a quadruple bypass. The man who worked himself out of poverty to retire at 54 at the peak of his professions. The man who made sure he was at every single football game both his sons suited up for--even--especially--when there was zero chance they'd play. The man who waits with his hand on the phone on Saturday afternoons when the Wolverines win, knowing he's going to talk with his boy about Lloyd's Boys. The man who lives for Opening Day, so he can spend the weekend with his flesh and blood. The man who never seems more delighted than when he gets swarmed under by hugs and chants of "Papa! Papa!" when his grandkids visit. The man who was always there for his eccentric eldest son and namesake, who seemed to take forever to get his life in gear. The man who was utterly stricken when he parted from his younger son, going off to war.

Yes, that was a prologue: I don't want to hear my dad's a jerk. Others don't know him. Not even a little. Tarted-up and trotted-out tales of workaday woe will gain no traction with me. At best, they see a--a--public face--and the impression is decidedly limited, distorted and unfair, at that.

All of which, I think, gives a key to unlocking Mel's Passion. It can be found in this phrase:

"Got to let it go, Diane."

Remember it from the Sawyer interview? The nerves, the coffee-gulping manic-ness--all of it--vanished in a crystalline instant. Gibson was speaking about the coverage of his father, Hutton, by the NY Times and other media outlets. In a moment, Gibson's tone became grim, flat, and gunmetal cold.

It was then that Gibson's determination about his film became clear. Yes, it's personal--only his hands appear in the film, driving in the nails. Yes, he fell at the foot of Golgotha in the blackest hour of his despair.

But I think he only knew to fall there because it was the faith he was raised with--the faith of his father. None of this is to remotely defend Hutton Gibson's many idiotic-to-hideous views. Even his son put no small distance between himself and those views in the interview, however cagey and sotto voce the effort.

Unlike us, Mel has seen the non-public face of his father. The man who somehow managed to raise eleven kids on a disability pension and a one-shot Jeopardy jackpot. The man who likely performed other kindnesses for his family and others that we will never hear about, and who handed on some semblance of the Catholic* faith to his loving and fiercely-loyal son.

When the abyssal night closed in, and he was one short step from the window to the concrete, he fell back on the faith he had learned at his father's knees--and clearly, not all of that was lunatic ranting about crematoriums and Jewish conspiracies. I mean, it's pretty clear that Mel didn't step back because he found a copy of Gather Faithfully Together or was invited to the annual Religious Education Conference, complete with its "Jazz Liturgies." As others have noted, if either of those two things had happened, he may have decided to try out pavement spelunking, instead of just contemplating it.

When all was said and done, he reverted to his cradle faith, and was healed by it. I think he regards it as an inheritance, and the film as a profoundly personal expression of it. Which is why he has been so monumentally immovable about changes to it, and hostile about the coverage of his father--the two are linked. Perhaps, by this point, inseparable.

In that, I think he's not alone. How many Catholics have held onto and express their faith in terms of heritage and inheritance? I know more than a few.

TPOTC is far more complex and personal than both supporters and critics of the film have realized.

* Footnote: I know, I know, I know--sedevacantism is not orthodox Catholicism. Please note the careful use of the qualifier "semblance." Thank you. That is all.
Blogging will re-commence shortly.

Although expect it to be scattershot, given that the funeral is Friday and 2.5 hours away, and we have some preparations to make--work-related and otherwise.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Don Miller died this morning at around 10:30 a.m. All of his immediate family made it home to see him before the end. I think he was holding on for that opportunity.

Prayers are still welcome.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Prayer Request.

I saw my brother yesterday, which would normally be a good thing. Actually, it was still a good thing, but the reason he's here is not. He received emergency leave from his mobilizing Guard unit to return, with his family, to visit his father in law, Don. I picked up the entire family at the airport and drove them up to Alma yesterday.

Don, after a long battle with cancer--a fight he was expected to lose early last year--is in his last days. Don was also my high school principal, a good man and a devout Catholic. Prayers for him, his wife and children, as well as my niece and nephew, who have to see their beloved "Bumpa" with tubes and a shadow of his former self.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Methinks I'm going to get a scolding from more "ecumenical" quarters for this, but I don't much care.

Try as I might, I don't have a big problem with what the SSPX protesters did at the Basilica of St. Adalbert in Grand Rapids yesterday. OK--I didn't try really hard, but that's neither here nor there.

Three caveats: First, I truly feel sorry for the Buddhist monks, innocent and doubtless well-meaning men who had no clue about why what they were doing was wrong and suddenly found themselves in the middle of no-man's land.

Second, I don't believe that Bishop Kevin Britt is the antichrist's caddy for permitting the Buddhists to visit in some capacity. From what I hear, he's a decent fellow who did good yeoman's work back here in the Detroit archdiocese. Remember, he just became the sole bishop for GR after a stint as co-adjutor.

Finally, I am fully aware of the problems with the Society, and I do not endorse it. I find a lot (but not all) of the culture and theology of the SSPX unreasonable, repellent or worse--especially the rampant hatred of Jews. See, e.g., Williamson, Bishop Richard. That said, I think a lot of decent Catholics go past their breaking point and end up in the Society for reasons which are far from repellent.

[Sound of Qualifier Roaring in at Mach 5]

But, consider this:

Either way, the sound [of the Rosary] was so loud and so distracting, the Tibetan monks didn't get to perform at the altar.

For the love of Mary, did the monks have to pray at the altar?




The correct answer is: "No, of course not." What about the Basilica parish hall? The diocesan conference center? It's pretty clear the monks don't need to be on someone else's sacred ground to display their faith. After all, they went to Grand Valley State University for another service this morning. GVSU has a world-beater of a Division II football team, but it is not exactly holy ground. Even to alums.

Look at it this way: we don't let RCIA members approach the altar for the Body and Blood until eight months of preparation have been completed, and the proper initiatory sacraments received. The altar of communion is otherwise closed to non-Catholics--excluding rare exceptions. We expect the faithful to bow to the altar, and genuflect before the tabernacle, all out of respect for He who re-presents Himself on our behalf. Why should anyone else get a free pass?

Then there's the...oddity...of this ceremony taking place over the relics of a martyr who died rather than compromise his faith. Someone--probably several someones--knew or should have known better.

Bluntly, with regard to the Diocese invoking Assisi--that dog won't hunt. Putting aside my own misgivings (here's a worthy defense of Assisi), even that gathering imposed limits on worship, such as the incident where Buddhists tried to pray at the Cathedral altar:

The incident of Buddhists erecting an idol on the altar in the Cathedral occurred spontaneouly and without permission. The tabernacle was not removed as some have said. In most European cathedrals, there never has been a tabernacle on the main altar. When the Franciscans found out what was happening, they immediately informed the Buddhists that this was not acceptable and the Buddhists apologized and withdrew to another location off Church grounds for their worship.

Nope. No excuses. I'm not saying Catholics and Buddhists shouldn't talk. But it's clear that the dialogue was all one way here, and someone refused to explain to the Buddhists the potential for sacriliege (what other word is there) and scandal, as the Franciscans did at Assisi. So the demonstrators did instead. Good thing someone did--especially since the "contact the priest first" attempt to address it was shrugged off.

For what it's worth, my theory is that the problem originates with the staff at the Basilica. Go to the Basilica's website, then click on "Positive Living." All the Ennegram, Confucianism, Eugene Kennedy and Harold Kushner "God is impotent" theology you can stand.

The enneagram. Good Lord: how dated is that? In addition to being occult twaddle, it's so late-'80s-Jesuit-Retreat.
Another missing blogger.

The wonderful Mary H at Ever New.

Although I suspect she gave it up and deleted her blog. SAM, any word?

My endorsements can be a real shot in the arm....

Speaking of endorsements: the Blog Roll is due for an update and several additions. Also, a serious reorganization, as there is no rhyme or reason for the structure (!) as it currently exists. Watch this space.
Should we be worrying a little?

Anyone heard from The Mighty Barrister lately? We're a week and a half shy of two months since his last post, with no hiatus advisory.

If you know something, drop a line in the comment box.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Worthwhile essay, but one glaring error.

Yesterday, an essay penned by film critic Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times was published. The essay discusses the depiction of Catholicism in recent film, and notes that we bead-squeezers tend to get the short end of the stick. He lists a litany of recent films, but I can speak personally to this one:

The terrific "Evelyn" (2002) tells the true story of Desmond Doyle, an impoverished single father in Ireland who fought to regain custody of his three children, who by law had been placed in Catholic orphanages. The priests and nuns treat young Evelyn and her sisters with utter cruelty.

I've seen Evelyn, and I agree it is a terrific film about a horrifying case. At the risk of this turning into a film review blog, here's a synopsis: Essentially, Irish law used to remove children from the custody of indigent fathers and place them in state-sponsored Catholic orphanages. The law did not do the same to mothers in similar circumstances, it must be said, and the mother in Evelyn abandoned her marriage and family to go catting off with her new English beau.

Desmond Doyle (played superbly by Pierce Brosnan) was an intermittently-employed house painter with three children, the eldest of which is the one referred to by the title. Because of his sporadic employment, the children were removed from his custody. Theoretically, he could get his children back, even with indigent status, if his wife signed a consent form, but she's never seen again.

Doyle decides to challenge the law instead, advancing, with the help of a creative legal team, the theory that the custody law "is repugnant to" (violates) the Irish Constitution. A little sappy in spots, it is well worth a couple hours of your time--Brosnan's portrayal of the flawed but absolutely devoted father is very memorable. It's also all too rare these days--usually, the father is the cad/rogue who abandons his responsibilities. But not here.

All to the good--Roeper's dead-on about the terrific-ness of the film. Where we part ways is over the depiction of the religious figures in the film. Of the four with speaking roles (three orphanage nuns and a local priest), one nun is villainous, one is neutral-to-sympathetic, and the final nun (the one with the most screen time) and the priest are unambiguously good people who love the children and support Doyle's fight. In fact, in one confrontation between the priest and Doyle, it is Doyle who comes off looking like the jerk--not to mention regretting the fact that Father was the seminary boxing champion.

[I, for one, think that's a great idea, and seminary curricula should be reformed to require classes in the sweet science--might solve some of our problems. Any takers?]

Is there some cruelty toward the children? Yes, as I said, one nun is a cruel villain--the classic mean nun that seems to haunt so many of our elder brothers and sisters. But "utter cruelty" from all the religious? Not even close. In other words, Roeper's analysis is seriously flawed for at least one film. I haven't seen any of the others referenced, so I can't speak to inaccuracies in those. Don't get me wrong--I don't argue with the thesis that depiction of Catholicism has fallen a long way from The Bells of St. Mary. But we can't plead our case when we don't get our facts right.

Thanks to Lane for the link.
Caution: USCCB-Approved, Grade A, Mainstream [sic] Scholar at Work.

Our masters, the scholars, are at it again:

Peruse these recent comments from Fr. John Pawlikowski:

The Rev. John Pawlikowski, a Catholic scholar, told the audience that Gibson's ties to neo-conservative Catholics have influenced the actor's version of biblical events.

* * *
At least one Roman Catholic diocese in America, the Archdiocese of Denver, publicly supports Gibson's film. Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput viewed the movie last year and has lent his support.

Pawlikowski said the Denver archdiocese will profit from the movie, with half of the proceeds from a diocese-sponsored showing going to a local seminary.

Cry "Neo-!" and let loose the dogs of bore. Just what is a "Neo-conservative Catholic," anyway? Is it like the "Neo-Catholic" term I've heard hardcore traditionalists use? Can't mean the same thing, can it?

In any event: Very scholarly, Rev. Pawlikowski. Invoke a cabal in people's minds and say the supporters are only motivated by money. Um, you'd think that the hazards of such an approach would be obvious--especially to a veteran of Catholic-Jewish relations. But you'd be wrong. It's only bad when other people do it.

Remind me never to listen to these guys again. Oh, wait--I'm not listening to them now.

Good, then.

The thing about the Reverend's approach is that anyone can do it. Here's a kinder, gentler example:

The audience was told that there are two factors that need to be kept in mind in assessing the actions of the Catholic scholars critical of the film. First, despite claims that they are mainstream, most are actually closely associated with a strain of neo-progressive thought that runs to the speculative, far-left margins of Catholic theology. Furthermore, he said, that fringe is clearly embarrassed by, and seeks to blur or downplay, most, if not all, distinctively Catholic doctrines. Consequently, their assessments should be weighed accordingly.

The second factor is that all of the Catholic critics have been associated with the Catholic-Jewish ecumenical dialogue, most of them for several years. The ecumenical work of the Catholic Church in America has become institutionalized, and indeed most closely resembles an academic department at a public university, with all that implies for access, participation, and even the ability to speak freely. Assignment to one of the continuing ecumenical dialogues (most of which have been in existence for decades) has become a plum, prestige assignment within the American church, he said--a true "feather in the cap." Consequently, the participants want to remain associated with the particular dialogues. This often means that the Catholic participants tend not to speak freely on hot button issues, and are deferential to the passionately-felt concerns of the dialogue partners. In other words, it is not at all certain that the Catholic scholars really share the same concerns about the film, but are instead deferring to the sensitivities of their Jewish colleagues.

Ultimately, one area where it is unlike a public university is that there is no tenure, and none of the scholars wants to be removed from the dialogue, as can happen if offense is given to the other side. This has happened in other dialogues, he noted.

Thanks to Otto for the link.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Proof That Multiculturalism Should Come with a Surgeon General's Warning.

"Has been proven to cause brain rot in bi-coastal types."

It takes much education and even more practice to sound as dumb as Andrea Lewis does in this review of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Her charge? "Racism," of course. It's the same kind of "analysis" that wonders in the voice of an angry schoolmarm why black olives are locked away in a steel can while the green ones are kept in glass jars for the whole world to see?*

She goes downhill from the title:

A 'Return' of the White Patriarchy?

You mean it went away? Gosh, and no one let me know either.

Those white devils are nothing if not clever.

The "Lord of the Rings" and "Matrix" trilogies have defined early 21st century cinema more than any other big-screen flicks.

Fair enough. For those of you keeping track at home, this is the analytical high point of the article.

But as critical acclaim has increased with each new hobbit-filled "Rings" installment, the "Matrix" films have fallen from favor.

Maybe because the latter films started to suck like a next generation Hoover, and the former didn't?

Nah, too easy. Has to be a scheme of Dr. Yacub's test-tube babies.

"Return of the King" is hailed as "glorious," "a triumph," and "masterful," while "Matrix Revolutions" is ridiculed as "dismal," "pompous" and "underwhelming."

About right, from what I can tell. Consider the following review of ROTK by noted ofay critic Elvis Mitchell of the NY Times:

"'King' is a meticulous and prodigious vision made by a director who was not hamstrung by heavy use of computer special-effects imagery. A sequence in which a number of signal fires are lighted on a stretch of mountain ranges simultaneously is a towering moment; it has the majesty that every studio's opening logo shot sprains itself striving to achieve.

Mr. Jackson does take his time, but he's not sloughing off here. Rather he is building toward a more than solid conclusion. The grandiloquence that sustained the second installment, "The Two Towers," with its pounding and operatic martial fury--a movie that actually created a state of siege and left audiences hanging--can be found here.

Yet by its end "King" glides to the gentle bonhomie that opened the "Rings" movies, with an epilogue that is tinged with regret. It's been a long time since a commercially oriented film with the scale of "King" ended with such an enduring and heartbreaking coda: "You can't go back. Some wounds don't heal." It's an epic about the price of triumph, a subversive victory itself in a large-scale pop action film."

Here's the same critic on The Matrix Reloaded, who, while sharing the same multi-culti enthusiasm, saw problems:

The directors pay their audiences the unlikely compliment of taking them seriously. Unfortunately they take themselves too seriously. What the first ''Matrix'' had going for it was surprise, a freshness that would be impossible to match. The hot-blooded tumble of energy and concepts wrestling for primacy was viscerally and intellectually arousing; everybody had something to take home.

''Reloaded'' seeks to increase the emotional stakes -- which it doesn't quite accomplish -- while leaving enough of a cliffhanger that audiences will be bedeviled enough to flock back into the tents for the last portion. Hilariously, the directors make their points about the corrupting power of images in an idealized context of movie action heroes so beautifully that designers are aping the sleek, tailored frock coats and dusters that the heroes don to combat evil in what is essentially a dream world. In the human world they live in disintegrating attire that wouldn't look out of place on Phish roadies. The dream merchants are missing the philosophical point of the picture, which takes on added significance with some of the cameos.

Where was I? Oh, yes, back to Ms. Lewis.

Like most, I was entertained and awed by the artistry and technical achievements of "The Return of the King," but by the end of the film's 3.5 hours I thought the final chapter should have been dubbed "The Return of the Patriarchy."

Jackson and Co. actually had that as a working title, but apparently the Tolkien estate started quibbling.

The "Rings" films are like promotional ads for those tired old race and gender paradigms that were all the rage back in author J.R.R. Tolkien's day.

Pot. Kettle. Bla--er, Kitchen Receptacle of Color. But let's allow Ms. Lewis to get to her point [present a more obvious target] before loosing the cannonade.

Almost all of the heroes of the series are manly men

The first horror--not inclusive of girly men, mama's boys and pantywaists! How did this monocultural monstrosity get funded, anyway?!

More importantly, the criticism is not fair: interestingly enough, Harvey Fierstein was actually Jackson's first choice to play Aragorn, but he was already committed to another project.

[Note for the satirically challenged: {Cue sound of chain being yanked}.]

who are whiter than white.

Almost albinic. Kinda like the dude in the Dan Brown book. And the twins in the Matrix. 99 and 44/100% pure--just like Ivory Soap and the stupidity quotient of the Lewis review.

They are frequently framed in halos of blinding bright light and exude a heavenly aura

As Hunter Thompson always says: "Mescaline and movie reviewing don't mix."

of all that is Eurocentric and good.

Whereas those educated in the Bay Area can tell you that being Caucasoid is cause for the accursed sufferers of melanin deficiency to shout "Unclean! Unclean!" as they lurch through the aisles of the local World Market.

Who but these courageous Anglo-Saxon souls can save Middle Earth from the dark and evil forces of the world?

Why, this looks like a job for none other than--[trumpet fanfare]--POLITICALLY CORRECT PERSON!

On the good side, even the mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is sanitized and transformed from the weed-smoking,

"Duuuude, I'm tellin' ya--'Dalf was keepin' Maui Wowee in his staff, man. That's what had the Balrog all cheesed off--'Dalf wouldn't share his stash from way back. Trust me--it goes back to the first book: The Silvermelon."

rather dingy figure we first meet in the "The Fellowship of the Ring," into Gandalf the White, who, by the time of "Return of the King," has become a powerful military leader complete with pure white hair and an Eisenhower attitude.

"Pure white hair." Imagine the shrieks of self-loathing horror as Ms. Lewis ages.

Say what you will about the convoluted storyline of the "Matrix" trilogy

How about: "after the first one, it sucked like a next generation Hoover"?

--at least those films give women and people of color some characters they can relate to.

Read: "Characters I and the other members of the Sowing Circle of the Perpetually Unappeased can relate to."

From its earliest scenes, "The Matrix" flips mainstream Hollywood's minority representation manual on its head.

Somebody missed Dances With Wolves, apparently.

A multi-culti group of hackers dressed in black leather and sporting funky hairdos are our heroes; Secret Service-type "agents" in suits and ties are the bad guys.

All the Agents were white. Wow. White bad guys. Never seen that one [Lethal Weapon 2] before.

Neo, the trilogy's central figure, is played by mixed-race actor Keanu Reeves.

For those of you who don't know, Reeves is part native Hawaiian. So you crackers don't have to keep taking the sole blame for his utter inability to act.

His savior and mentor is Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a powerful leader who also happens to be a black man.

Actually, if you were paying attention during the first film, Morpheus ultimately regards Neo as the savior, but who's keeping track?

The wisest figure in "The Matrix" is the Oracle, a warm and witty African American woman.

Gloria Foster: Fine actress, her death from cancer was a terrible loss.

The films also are infused with a strong sense of Asian style and culture, exemplified by the character Seraph (Collin Chou), the Oracle's protector, who is both a martial arts expert and Buddhist meditation practitioner.

Physically powerful female characters also rock and rule in "The Matrix," led by the high-kicking Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), an Emma Peel for the 21st century; daring pilot Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith); and military-wife-turned-fighter Zee, (played Nona Gaye, daughter of Marvin).

I'm going to pass on this one for the most part, as it is largely unobjectionable, if glaringly incomplete and superficial. Still, I imagine the "Emma Peel" reference still has much of Lewis' audience scratching their heads. That, and she completely blips over the obvious Christian symbolism found in the films (especially the first).

But you could hardly have expected anything else, now, could you?

Most of the really bad guys in "The Matrix" are Euro, including the very snobby Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) with his French accent; the dread-locked, very British albino twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment); and the Oracle's evil counterpart, the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), a rather stuffy and pompous white guy with white beard and white suit who reeks of imperialism.

Repeat after me: "Dread-locked, very British albino twins."

How does one "reek of imperialism"? I want to know because if it comes in a roll-on, I'd like to get some. Sounds pretty sweet to me.

By comparison in "The Lord of the Rings," three women play minor roles: the powerful elf Galadriel (Cate Blanchett); the selfless Arwen (Liv Tyler), who is willing to give up immortality for the man she loves; and Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece of the king who must disguise herself as a man to go into battle.

Must beat up on the old (also very British, but admittedly never dread-locked) misogynist bigot Tolkien. Even if I have to concede that his women characters were depicted as powerful, selfless and courageous.

They just lack that certain something.

Like pigment.

Beyond this threesome, the rest of the women of Middle Earth are largely an unwashed,

Like most honkies in the sticks, don'cha know?

helpless mass who, in the face of a virtually hopeless battle against overwhelming enemy forces in "The Two Towers," can do little more than look anxious and cower with their children in fear.

Kinda like the masses in Zion, eh? Except, of course, for Eowyn, who slays the heretofore invincible Witch King.

[Speaking of which: Hey! A very white phallocentrist takes it right between the eyes! Why isn't she celebrating this?]

Plenty of critics got lost in the complex post-modern philosophy of "The Matrix,"

And some manage to miss entirely the Christian references, but what's a little philosophical cluelessness between amateurish movie critics with axes to grind?

But a few noted its more important message. As The New York Times said of the second Matrix installment:

"'Reloaded' has one of the most excitingly subversive and radical points of view ever seen in a major motion picture - a postmodern purview that accords philosophical ideals from people of color equal weight."

Strange, but as noted before, I do recall Kevin Costner dedonka-ing around for about three plus hours in DWW.

Some of us also recall Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon--far superior to most of the Matrix, too, BTW. Nothing particularly revolutionary about it at all, if you've spent significant time in the past decade with your head out of your small intestine.

"The Return of the King" is a fantastic finish to a memorable film trilogy,

Where did that come from?

but on a personal level, I was much more satisfied with the conclusion of "The Matrix" series.

That makes one of us.

For once, the major female characters in an action film aren't whimpering and waiting to be rescued by some steroid-laden Schwarzenegger-type.

Strangely, I don't recall Eowyn whimpering for Aragorn or Eomer as she rammed about two feet of tempered steel into the Nazgul's cranium.

And did you check out some of the muscles on the Matrix crew? I'd avoid playing the 'roid card on that one.

For once, all of the major characters of color aren't lying in a heap of corpses as the credits start to roll.

Like in Lethal Weapon, DWW....

To my African American female eyes, the biggest difference between "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Matrix" isn't swords vs. automatic weapons, or low-tech vs. high-tech. It's the patriarchy of the past versus the Rainbow Coalition of the future.

Maybe if you didn't come into films with a laundry list of grievances and the worst case of cultural short term memory I've seen in ages, you'd see things more clearly.

But I fear that's probably too much to ask.

[Thanks to Mark for the review link.]

Monday, February 09, 2004

Miracle Review.

Three words: Go see it.

Following hard on the success of The Rookie (which you should also see), Disney is starting to turn into a fine studio for sports films. If they can keep it up, they might have something to counterbalance the string of animated failures.

Even if you normally don't like hockey, everybody who was alive at the time and above the age of reason remembers the Miracle on Ice. Miracle is a superb dramatization of the event, told mostly from the perspective of the late Herb Brooks, head coach of the U.S. team.

Kurt Russell plays Brooks, and is pitch perfect. Two scenes stand out: first, where Brooks runs the team through sprints after a tie against the perennially mediocre (or worse) Norwegian national team, and second, when he leaves the bench after the victory over the Soviets to express his jubiliation, alone.

The team is well-portrayed, although none has the opportunity to shine like Russell. Eddie Cahill is a good Jim Craig, and he has a couple of memorable scenes with his father and Brooks. Patrick O'Brien Dempsey's Mike Eruzione (they could be clones) and Michael Mantenuto's Jack O'Callaghan have moments, but that's pretty much it from the team perspective.

Yes, hockey purists, these guys can actually skate. This isn't Youngblood, where the stars look like they might fall to the ice at any second. What happens in the movie looks an awful lot like hockey to this purist. Right down to the chaos and instant momentum changes. I'm sure the editing helped, but there was some real aptitude on the part of the actors. How does the re-creation of the game work? How's this: The crowd was sucked in, cheering American goals and "awww"-ing scores by the Russians, and reveling in acrobatic saves by Craig. Al Michaels and Ken Dryden even reprised their roles as commentators for the film--a very nice touch.

It is a crowd pleaser from beginning to end, and I can't remember the last time I heard applause at the end of a film--until Miracle.

Finally, there is a brief, somber moment from recent history in the film: the Twin Towers make an appearance in a night skyline shot of Manhattan, just before a pre-Olympics game at the MSG.

Funny how it still hits me. Or maybe not so funny, after all.
Members Only.

After re-reading the Gaillardetz America piece for the umpteenth time, and Amy Welborn's last comment on it, I think I have finally figured out the problem he has with Madrid, Hahn & Co., and it is this: They haven't been initiated and learned the fraternity's secret handshake.

[That, and please join me in savoring the irony of a progressive like Prof. Gaillardetz seeking to stamp out a largely-lay generated phenomenon and replace it with largely-clerical academics. Amusing beyond words, especially if your sense of humor runs toward the bleak side. The Spirit of Vatican II™ is one strange beastie.]

In other words, they aren't among the "made men" of the American Catholic Establishment.

As those of us who have seen Goodfellas know, there is only one way to handle a guy who freelances and crosses a "made" man...

The America article is the equivalent of whacking Tommy DeVito. Remember, for all of Gaillardetz' faint praise for the New Apologists, his solution is to heave the lot of them overboard, right after roiling the water with a few barrels of chum:

But the significant flaws in their overall approach demand that the church move ahead to develop a newer form of apologetics more faithful to the spirit of the [Second Vatican] council.

[Is there a spray for "the Spirit of Vatican II"? A lozenge? A topical ointment? Some kind of pneuma-screen? Anything?]

1. You're Not Church.

America, 2/2/04, p. 29. We are church, indeed. And you vulgar yobbos aren't a part of it. Consider first the concerns, which are entirely institutional: ecumenism, approved scholarship, accommodating to the culture.

That the Establishment has marginalized the very things the laity are clamoring for is the subject of only "it is regrettable," "mistakes were made," "I-take-'full-responsibility'-but-there's-no-way-in-hell-I'll-resign"-speak. Again, it's not as though the NAs are pulling a bait and switch with those who buy their books and tapes, attend their seminars/speaking engagements, etc. These guys come in trumpets blaring, IFF transponders working, and regimental flags flying--they are what they are, and they let you know three months ahead of time.

In other words, the people want their stuff. The public got the apologetic apologetics back in catechism, and a lot of them, through the grace of God alone, have managed to find their way back because they began to hear that the pablum they were fed might not be all there was.

2. The Replacements.

The second, and more obvious proof can be found in the suggestions for replacements.

The first suggestions have been noted: Monika Hellwig, Richard McBrien (p. 30)--names that tend to make me aspirate my coffee at mach 2. (Don't worry--after a while, the nasal passages toughen and the pain is much more dulled. Good thing, too.)

Yes, great idea: having those two in charge of explicating the Catholic creed when their own begins (and seemingly ends) with the Land O'Lakes Statement. For some reason, the phrase "part of the problem" comes to mind.

"The Class of '67 had its dreams...."

But Gaillardetz offers two other possibilities on the same page, one of which I was familiar with in passing, and the other I'd never heard of.

a. Fr. Rausch: "Conservatives" Need Not Apply.

The first is Thomas Rausch, Jesuit priest, theologian, and professor at Loyola Marymount. In apologetic circles, he's most famous for picking a fight with Karl Keating, to which the latter responded with grace and aplomb in an essay entitled "No Apology from the New Apologists." It is very likely this blast against apologetics that led to Gaillardetz' endorsement. Beyond that, he edited and wrote a chapter in an interesting ecumenical book about Catholics and Evangelicals seeking common ground. However, his contribution to it reveals why Fr. Rausch has little to contribute to the forming of a new apologetics--ecumenism is the lodestar for apologetics, crushing the enterprise on the rocks. It is also another anecdotal example of the chief environmental hazard of long-term ecumenism: development of an abiding contempt for a broad swath of less-evolved co-religionists. It's rather like working on a sword boat and perpetually smelling of fish--I really think the practitioners are incapable of noticing it. In any event, Fr.'s analysis is flawed. For starters, in a remarkable case of failing to connect the dots, he notes the massive conversion of Latin American Catholics to Protestantism in the 1980s, but bewails the replacement of more ecumenically-minded "progressive" (his term) bishops with more traditional and conservative overseers. In it, he too employs political labelling, and marginalizes conservatives. He criticizes Geisler and McKenzie's Roman Catholics and Evangelicals for the cardinal sin of deeming more "conservative" Catholics to be "mainstream." From his analysis, there are no such perils for so regarding more liberal Catholics, who do not enter into his analysis. Presumably because they are the mainstream. He also natters about "inerrantism" and other theological sins which horrify the Establishment (remember Gaillardetz' complaints about Hahn's handling of Dei Verbum) which make the exercise of reading his contribution a little like periodic shots of mace to the retinas. Not that it's all bad, but the bad tends to stink up the good. Interestingly, Fr. Rausch has written one of those periodic "common ground" books that inevitably fail to bridge the intra-Catholic divide. They are usually more interesting reading to see how the writer is going to implement the "a pox on both your houses" approach. If Fr. Rausch's previous work and the reviews are any indication, then the result of the "even-handedness" is predictable: progressives get sent off with a noogie, and conservatives get sent off to the mines.

b. Fr. Himes: Now For a Little Comic Relief.

The second name I was not familiar with: Boston College theology Prof. Fr. Michael Himes. According to Gaillardetz, Fr. Himes makes a regular speaking circuit, travelling to pastoral conferences around the country. I know, I know: BC, yet another mandatum factory, recently blasted by one of its last identifiably orthodox professors, Fr. Matthew Lamb:

''The theology department at Boston College is increasingly unable, in my judgment, to provide the kind of serious formation in Catholic intellectual and theological traditions that is essential,'' Lamb said in an interview.

But, perhaps Fr. Himes is different. At least he has a sense of humor, according to Prof. Gaillardetz, honed through years of presentation to thousands at those same conferences. Through the miracle of Google, we have a sample of the sense of humor:

Father Himes sternly warned that the Faith cannot be defined by what's in a catechism, and cautioned us against those who would "stand pat."

This was personified by a cut to a grim old codger reading a copy of The Catholic Catechism written in the 1970s for the United States by Father John Hardon at the request of Pope Paul VI. Later, while Himes spoke pejoratively of "standing pat," the elderly man was shown (sans catechism) in a discussion with other, obviously spiritually upbeat people, around a table -- he appeared to be at odds with them, and finally folded his arms in a closed and unfriendly gesture of disapproval.


So much for a "passionate," "dialogic" presentation of that "life-giving" Catholic doctrine. Laugh at the late Fr. Hardon all you want (best not in my presence, though), his Catechism sold more than 1 million copies. Something tells me more people will learn and be changed by the work of that holy Jesuit (it's nice to be able to say that phrase) from Detroit than from those who mock him. If you don't own his prayer book, consider yourself deprived.

3. The Establishment In Action.

Another point about Himes is his dependence on the Establishment infrastructure--his contact with the layfolk largely comes from the pastoral conferences which Gaillardetz cites. Sponsored by a diocese or closely-related Catholic (YMMV) university, there's something of a captive audience built in--after all, you have instant advertising, publicity, large facilities, etc. And America helpfully provides an example of the kind of pastoral conference Fr. Himes (and Prof. Gaillardetz) attend: in the midst of the Gaillardetz article is an ad for a pastoral ministry conference sponsored by BC. In addition to Gaillardetz and Fr. Himes, there are the following speakers and topics:

1. Gustavo Guiterrez is doing his Weekend At Bernie's shtick with liberation theology;

2. A Dominican is offering a course entitled "Mutuality of Self and Other: Toward an Adult Spirituality." Yes, that's verbatim (First one to make sense of the theobabble let me know); and

3. There is an obligatory liturgical and sacred dance seminar, hosted by the obligatory Jesuit.

Oh, and perhaps sensing something amiss in the demographics, there is a seminar about The Young People™, entitled "Inviting Youth to a Prayerful Church." After seeing the above three topics, all I can say is "lotsa luck."

I would like to advance the following thesis: Without the friendly hosting services of the American Church, such events would draw literally tens of people. Any takers?

4. Nothing to Worry About.

Ultimately, the good news is that Gaillardetz' project will likely never leave the drawing board. The first reason is that the divorce between the Catholic academy and the broader church, especially the "grubby" apologetics enterprise, is final for the older generation. Writing specifically for Catholics just isn't on the radar for Keep Your Mandatum Off My Body! crowd. Even the oft (and strangely) cited example of Fr. McBrien refutes itself: Catholicism was written with a broader, non-Catholic audience in mind, as the non-Catholic blurbs on the back of book enthusiastically testify. It may be "haute vulgarisation" (p.30), but service to the needs of Catholics was a decidedly secondary consideration. Scholarship has become its own end, and it is hard to see how the contempt for apologetics could be overcome.

Even for those who do popular work, it's clearly less apologetic and much more establishment in character: Welcome to Catholicism--Now Perpetually In Flux!

Yep, literally tens of people...

On the other hand, the reason the NAs are successful is because it's a cultural phenomenon. Many of them have brought their model over from evangelicalism (where it is part and parcel with that culture) along with the fire and determination to make it work. For their part, the cradle Catholics among them have made it their calling, having watched friends and loved ones leave the faith, glitterchesis proving to be a poor vaccine against people who love and live Jesus and the Bible, however errant those people may be from a Catholic perspective.

In short, they want to do apologetics. In return, Gaillardetz is telling the academicians that they have to do it. In the battle between "want to" and "have to," "want to" wins every time. Breaking four decades of habit on the part of the Catholic academy is now impossible. What's in it for them? Publish or perish is a tough class, and peculiarly (parochially?) "Catholic" stuff doesn't count toward the course requirements, so to speak.

Those of you like me can expect to keep profiting from the Kreefts and Pacwas, Welborns and Madrids, Olsons and Hahns. They'll be owning the field for the next generation--there will literally be no contest.

After all, the apologists just aren't the establishment's kind of people, and the latter isn't going to dirty themselves with the former's declasse' pursuits.

Which is probably just about ideal, when you think about it.

[Update: In the comment box, Mark Sullivan offers a stout defense of Fr. Himes that is worth considering.]

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Anyone have any experience in getting books rebound?

There's three in my collection I'm looking at, two of which are in more dire shape than the other: Canon George Smith's The Teaching of the Catholic Church, Vols. 1 and 2--the bindings are shot, but the pages are still in fine shape. Both books are 6" by 8" or so. Not so by the way, these are fantastic. If you should stumble across them, grab them (also comes in a bulkier one volume edition, if I recall correctly). I'm surprised TAN hasn't reprinted them.

The other is the Holy Family Edition of the Bible (Douay-Confraternity translation) with the Jean Jacques Tissot paintings, from 1950. It's in better shape, but the binding is starting to break down at the spine and edges. The rest of it is absolutely mint, fresh from the printer, and leads me to think the reason Catholics never read the
Bible is because they are afraid of messing up the pages.

Any experiences--especially the costs involved, and satisfaction with the end result, would be greatly appreciated.
Some "fans" you are.

"You hate me! You really hate me!"

Harumph. You can pretty well forget asking me to lend all y'all any money ever, as far as I'm concerned.

It really hurts, especially since I and the voices in my head were gunning for Most Pious and Best Group Blog....
'Cause when the goin' gets tough.....the tough get goin'! Who's with me?!? Let's go! Yaaaaaaaaaah!

As Bo Schembechler might say: Listen up, Michigan men!

I'm going: anybody else interested?

I was at the first one last year, and it was superb. Riccardo can flat-out preach, which is saying something. Mass, confession, fellowship, Kresta, Weigel and a box lunch. What more can you ask for?

Fine: as a bonus, you'll have the valuable opportunity to learn that I'm way more obnoxious in real life than on the 'net. Drop me a line.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

True ecumenism in action.

"Just pray that I shall be adequate."--Rev. Clark Poling, Dutch Reformed pastor and hero aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester on February 3, 1943.

The prayer was answered--and then some--that cold February morning. A German U-Boat torpedoed the Dorchester, a troop transport on the way to Britain. Four chaplains--one Jewish, one Catholic, one Reformed and one Methodist--gave the last full measure of devotion to their country and God that cold morning, organizing the survivors, passing out life jackets, and ultimately giving up their own. Read the whole story.

Thanks to Chris Johnson for the link.
The National Catholic Reporter: "Celebrating Forty Years of Demanding 'Adult Catholicism' In the Voice of a Whiny Teenager."

Many of you have already seen the editorial, but this kind of "hold my breath till I turn blue" tantrum deserves the seltzer bottle.

Or, if you prefer a shorter, different kind of fisking, I recommend the "Helium Method." The Helium Method involves imagining the author(s) of a particular piece being forced to read it aloud in between serious hits of helium.

This approach is especially profitable for Reporter pieces.

Now, for the long version:

In a recent run of articles, NCR has celebrated the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document produced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that called for reform of the liturgy.

Let us all revel in streamers, balloons, gender neutering, spandex and the St. Louis Jesuits: hooray!

Those articles will continue in coming weeks,

Attention, attention--Now hear this: "'Celebrating community' will continue until morale improves."

Threaten me, will you?

but it is appropriate to pause here to take note of the liturgical news that, in effect, signals just how far those who oppose the work of Vatican II have come in reforming the reform.

We Are The Huck: You will now service us. Resistance is futile. You will be a-singin' Haugen.

Because, you know, we here at NCR value diversity and all.

Well, authentic diversity.

Pre-cleared diversity.

Diversity we agree with.

Diversity that doesn't call to mind our assorted neuroses about the uncool, evil, mean, unaffirming "pre-conciliar" "c"hurch that didn't celebrate us enough.

Oh, forget it: just sit down and shut up, you transcendent-grubbing, revanchist Tridentine devotionalists. The journey will make us one, and you irrelevant.

Last week, we reported that a new English translation of the Mass was nearing completion. Among the changes are phrases that restore the literal translation of the Latin so that, for instance, the now familiar response, "And also with you," will be rendered in the pre-Vatican II formulation, "And also with your spirit."

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.

10They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"

11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

And so on.

Heaven forfend we should actually give you a full list.

Then again, since most of the readers suffer from the same neuroses, perhaps that is wise. No doubt several of the subscribers had to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after flashing back to "spiritu" from the Missal of 1962.

To many a few words here and there are not worth getting upset about.

But see Revelation, Chapter 6. For our part, we're going to pitch a full-on, shrill, strident, raging hissy in a register only dogs can hear because of it.

But that misses the larger point. The implications go beyond a few words, to the very idea of church, how the church enacts reform and the degree of credibility given that authoritative gathering of the world's bishops 40 years ago.

"Don't you see what will happen, man, if someone tries to translate the Latin phrase for 'And with your spirit' as 'And with your spirit'? Oh, the personity!"

Yeah, the credibility of SC is just crippled by accurate translation of the Latin in the Missal of 1970.

Let me see: Watching Sister Impedimentia lurch around the sanctuary like a wombat in desperate need of Dramamine as she inflicts "sacred dance" or "liturgical movement" on the congregants does not harm the credibility of Vatican II reforms, but translating "for the many" as "for the many" does? OK. Yep. Got it.

Five years ago, when our now Vatican writer John L. Allen Jr. first began to uncover exactly how the revisionists were attacking the reform, he discovered that a secretly appointed committee of 11 men -- no women included -- met quietly at the Vatican to overturn decades of work on translation, work that had been done under the approving mandate of Pope Paul VI.

Behold: Witness as a new demon term is added to the progressive lexicon, right alongside "devotionalist," "traditionalist," "rubricist," "apologist," and "Opus Dei."

Though some might find it funny to see the term applied to those trying to translate the missal more faithfully, as opposed to those who introduced all the innovations in the first place.

And you have to admire the brazenness of the "mandate of Pope Paul VI" card. In fact, it is borderline hilarious, coming from people whose raison d'etre is a perpetual "adult" snit over the "mandate of Pope Paul VI" in Humanae Vitae.

And, I could be mistaken, but I think there have been popes since Paul VI, and at least one of them has been less than entirely "approving" of the translation work.

Of those 11, only one held a graduate degree in scripture studies, two were not native English-speakers, one of the advisers was a graduate student and several had a history of objecting to inclusive-language translations, including two of the American archbishops and the lone scripture scholar.

Translation: "You didn't consult experts we like--those who think the right way, like we do. Those who share the same list of unappeasable grievances. How are Fr. McBrien and Sr. Chittister ever supposed to get out of their curdled fury funks if they're never invited to the secret decoder ring meetings they are always reading about?"

Avoiding "scripture scholars" can be a most salutary idea, especially given their often-parochial approach to translation issues.

"Two were not native English speakers"? My Celestial Parent Figure--what do they think they are trying to do--harmonize the translations with others from a universal Church?

"Several had a history of objecting to inclusive[sic]-language translations"?

[Colonel Kurtz voice]: "The horror...the horror...."

A rather poor representation of scholarship and pastoral sensitivities, given the dimensions of the English-speaking segment of the church.

Nary a loopy Jesuit in the bunch. The faculties of Boston College and Georgetown are feeling all put out.

"What has also become clear," our story reported, "is that the elaborate consultative process used in developing English-language translations for nearly three decades meant little.

Tragic. Especially when you consider the train station intercom announcement-level quality of the work, too.

Powers in Rome handpicked a small group of men who in two weeks undid work that had taken dozens of years."

It took "dozens of years" mostly because the original revisionists rode off on their hobby horses ("inclusive" language, speculative theorizing, etc.) and stuck their fingers in their ears in response to criticism from the big, bad Vatican.

Let me use terms NCR editorial writers should be able to identify with: If you keep driving like a maniac, Dad's eventually going to take the car keys away. He can't afford the insurance when you keep wrapping the family Buick around bridge abutments.

The usual suspects have treated liturgical translations like a bowling ball. Speaking as one of many ten pins, I'm glad someone's taken the ball away.

Is there still reason to celebrate liturgical renewal? Of course.

Improve your morale! [Whipcrack!] Improve your morale! [Whipcrack!]

Some things, attitudes particularly, will not change significantly.

Which is why the Anglophone Expertariat can kiss the ball goodbye.

And some of the excesses of that reform, which needed to be changed, are being altered in the rollback of the reform.

"Mistakes were made. Faith was damaged. Tradition was mocked. Oh, well--we'll get it right eventually. Trust us.

On an unrelated note: Sister Impedimentia will back out for the 10:00am show--er, 'Eucharistic Celebration.' She just needs a breather."

The unfortunate thing is that the new translations, or the return to old translations, is being done in the style of the pre-Vatican II church, heavy-handed and at the whim of those in power.

It's all about the Preci--er, "power."


Which leaves open a not inconsequential question: If the prayer of the community is left to the formulation of those who hold power, without consideration for the extensive and long work of a much wider community, what's to stop another liturgical coup in the future, should the people and ideas in power change?

Stop the right wing coup! La Pasionaria, sing your sweet song of freedom! Allende 4Ever! Remember what the rednecks did to Captain America and Billy the Kid in Easy Rider!

Actually, what will stop this reform is what has worked so well for the American Church in the past--flat-out obstructionism. I have every faith that the community affirmation hour as celebrated in such places as Los Angeles, Saginaw, Lafayette, Rochester, etc. will not be even remotely disturbed by this new translation.

It's a lousy way to do the church's business -- and it doesn't withstand the scrutiny of serious, adult, educated Catholics in the early 21st century.

So, the Church's business is entirely about internal power struggles and endless liturgical reform, eh? Okey-dokey. It sure helps me discern where the priorities are at NCR, I'll say that.

Oh, and as soon as I see evidence that "serious, adult, educated Catholics" are running the show at the NCR, I'll drop a line to Rome.

I'm pretty sure they're used to the glares of sullen know-it-all middle-aged teenagers by now.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Looks like I'm going to live approximately forever.

Coffee: The New Health Food.

And the more the better:

In other words, consume enough caffeine -- whether it's from coffee or another source -- and you will likely run faster, last longer and be stronger. What's enough? As little as one cup can offer some benefit, but the real impact comes from at least two mugs, says Graham. By comparison, it'd take at least eight glasses of cola to get the same effect, which isn't exactly conducive for running a marathon.

Finally: news I can use.

I used to delude myself that I could mediate it, but that delusion is also at an end. All but the original comments which began it will be deleted.

I seriously pondered banning, given I've already issued a warning in the past, but have, for some reason, decided against it. This is the final warning.
Quick Hit Responses to Bill.

Not so much a fisking (and I don't think the first set was, either--at least not as incendiary as some) as an attempt to converse.

Quite possibly fruitless, but worth a try.

Original reply from Bill here.

I said I didn't read any of the SuperApologists before I became a Catholic (in fact, the whole SuperApologist phenomenon has developed since then). I have read them in the twelve years since.

OK, noted on that--as written, though, your statement was ambiguous, and could be interpreted to mean you hadn't read them at any time. Regardless, that leads to a follow up. I am genuinely curious about this: which of the NAs did you read, and what books? It would help me understand the rejection.

Of the names Dr. Gaillardetz lists, I do not think Mitch Pacwa and Peter Kreeft fit the mold. I've appreciated Fr. Pacwa's work on the New Age, and Peter Kreeft is no man's fundamentalist (and having hosted him, I can affirm he is quite capable of holding his own at a secular institution like University of California [or Boston College]).

At a minimum, that concession is a strong indication that Prof. Gaillardetz' analysis is deeply flawed, and he is unable to make crucial distinctions. In other words, he's guilty of the same simplistic overgeneralizations and broad-brushing he (and you) accuse the NAs of. If nothing else, he's managed to poison the well for America readers who are less familiar with these gentlemen and needs to be called on it.

"Mainstream biblical scholarship" is not an elusive term at all. Go read "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church," and you will see that the historical-critical method is said to be the necessary starting point for Biblical interpretation.

Here's the question: how do you define "fundamentalist"?

I actually own a copy of it, and I think you overstate the PBC document's position. It calls the historical-critical method "the indispensable method for the scientific study of the meaning of ancient texts" [emphasis mine]. If you're not engaged in such a study, it's not mandatory. Or is a parish bible study that passes up a discussion of Q and M in favor of a "four senses" analysis of the Gospel According to St. Matthew "fundamentalist"? Does Joe Weekly reading his RSV-CE have to drink deep from the well of Wellhausen before he can derive value from Genesis? Evidently not, or the bishops wouldn't have recently dropped the hammer on catechetical texts which exalt the method.

[Amongst the problems noted in the texts is that t]he interpretation of Sacred Scripture tends to rely almost exclusively on the historical-critical method and does not generally draw on the rich patristic and spiritual interpretation in the Church. The implication is that the Scriptures are to a large degree merely human texts. The divine role is usually stated, but often then obscured in the way in which Scripture passages are treated. In some instances miracles are explained away as ordinary phenomena, not of supernatural origin. We have even seen some of the miracles of Jesus explained as a result of lucky timing!

Then there's the rather disturbing fact, as noted by Catholic scholars like Luke Timothy Johnson who use the method, that sixty years of Catholic historical criticism haven't borne much fruit, either for theology or for transmission of faith. Finally, what about those Catholics who choose to reject current HC theories popular (for the moment) with Catholic exegetes, such as the lack of biblical support for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, Markan priority, post-70AD dating of Matthew and Luke, pseudonymous authorship of the Pastoral Epistles and the like--does this make them "fundamentalists"? In light of the bishops' actions, the answer appears to be "no"--rejecting dubious fruits of the method makes no one a "fundamentalist."

It has weaknesses that need to be supplemented, but to reject it is to risk falling into fundamentalism (which is the one approach to the Scriptures that the Vatican has nothing positive to say about).

Catholic scripture scholars have found the document's approach to "fundamentalism" to be one of its great weaknesses--people like Dr. Peter Williamson, who heads up scripture studies at the archdiocesan seminary in Detroit.

Re: "Lutheran-Reformed knife fights"--the Lutheran side will always be the one standing at the end, because the Lutheran knife rips open the fatal flaw at the heart of Reformed theology, and exposes it as merely a revival of Nestorianism. See Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ and The Lord's Supper, which are the most detailed analysis of the problem. Reformed views of the Eucharist, and denial of the title "Mother of God" to Mary, are rooted in a Christology which imagines that the human and divine natures of Christ can be spoken of apart from one another; i.e., that the (infinite) divinity is present in the Eucharist, but not the (finite) humanity ("the finite is not capable of the infinite"); that Mary gave birth to the humanity of Christ, but cannot be called "Mother of God" (because of the same principle). The Reformed theologians of the 16th century and later developed all sorts of clever arguments for their position, bolstered by a legal form of argumentation and a remarkable skill at systemitization; this was the base from which the distinctive Reformed approach to apologetics grew (and I think it fair to say that Westminister Theological Seminary, and denominations like the PCA, are prime examples of this approach).

Very interesting, although being from neither a Lutheran nor Reformed background, I'm not in much of a position to judge the relative merits of the dispute. Still, I'll have to add the title to my book list.

I admit that this take does jibe with one of the more fascinating and worthwhile critiques of the approach towards justification taken by many Reformed writers, written by S.M. Hutchens for Touchstone. He manages to reiterate the same points, I think.
And the links just keep coming...

Thanks to Amy Welborn and Patrick Madrid at Envoy Encore (yes, I subscribe, and you should too) for their kind notices--both firsts, unless I miss my guess.

Thanks also to Mark, for the St. Blog's equivalent of an InstaBlast--you know something's weird when you have 200+ hits on a Sunday...

Monday, February 02, 2004

Two new links!

Long overdue:

The Summa Mamas, and

Two Sleepy Mommies (which just turned one--happy blogiversary!).

Go--visit early and often.
I've seen America, for the most part.

A few clusters I need to hit over the next forty years or so.

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

[Thanks to Michelle for the link.]
Tough crowd.

"Groundhog Booed As He Sees His Shadow".
More thanks!

To MCJ for the link to my mild fisking of the idiotic Salon review of The Passion.

Blogrolling alert--check out the amazing story of a repentant Palestinian terrorist. A lot of grace to chew on there.
Lane Core is on the case.

He kindly links to this locale and offers his own far-from-superfluous thoughts on L'Affaire Gaillardetz.

Go. Read!
I missed the latest bit of Has-Been Aging Pop Tart Caliguloid--er--Titillation from MTV.

First of all, Greg Krehbiel is a prophet.

For my part, I was too busy trying to get my kids ready for bed. Plus, halftime shows almost invariably stink, being reheated lip-sync fests for the most part.

So, I didn't see Ms. Jackson partly disrobed by Mr. Timberlake. If you need to see the details, go on over to the Drudge Report, where you'll also learn CBS' "Shocked, Shocked!" protestations are less convincing than Captain Renault's.

Come on: What else could you expect from the thirteen year old boys at MTV? Restraint? I'm beginning to think "Beavis and Butthead" was a documentary about the network programming department.

Butthead: "Huh huh huh--then we can have her show her thingies."

Beavis: "Yeah, that would rule! It would rule!"

[Boy, I miss that show--which was and is far smarter than anything the network has done in years. Mike Judge is a comic genius.]

Still, as a parent with very young children, that wouldn't have been so bad. Nothing our breastfed kids haven't seen before.

Well, except for the pastie/tassel/whatever thing.

In fact, most of the commercial dreck (it wasn't all bad, not by a long shot) would have gone over their heads. I would have been a lot more irritated if our children were older. My main problem was the Van Helsing commercial trailer. Before we could manuever her away, our two year old daughter Madeleine saw a big chunk of it. Could you clueless jackasses be a little more violent and terrifying for the tattered remnants of the family hour, please? God willing, I won't have to peel my daughter off the ceiling at three in the morning, but since she was a little disturbed by Finding Nemo, I'm not confident.
The Best Ever?

I said yes, but I could be persuaded otherwise, given that the first, third and most of the second quarters were underwhelming. But you couldn't ask for a better finish, and I can't think of a better overall game.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Only two words for today's game.

Go Patriots!
For those of you in need of a McBrien substitute...

...and you know who you are.

I recommend Dominican Fr. Aidan Nichols' The Shape of Catholic Theology.
Keep in mind that it is not a full-blown substitute in that McBrien's work is supposed to function as a survey of the entire Catholic faith, whereas Nichols' effort is more modest, simply surveying the development of Catholic theology.

Still, the book is a very handy introduction to the history and premises underlying Catholic theology and its development, and Nichols makes every attempt to think with the Church instead of assuming he can outsmart her all the time. It is a bit of a challenge, as it was written for theological students, but it can be grasped by the average reader, too. In other words, it's ideal for those theologically advanced non-Catholics you happen to run across. To give you a feel for Nichols' approach, here's his advice for theologians in his chapter on the Magisterium:

[O]ne can maintain perfectly sturdily the independent origin of the theological vocation in the gifts scattered by the Holy Spirit through the body of Christ, while also asserting that, in the final analysis, appraisal of how a particular theologian has used those gifts vis-a-vis the faith of the Church rests with the bearers of the hierarchical magisterium. The institutional charism of the hierarchy, bestowed with a view to ensuring the continued mission of the Church as a sacramental organism of the divine covenant, necessarily takes priority over the vocational charism of the theologian, which is received for the enrichment and upbuilding of that corporate reality.

* * *

Theologians need to remember that they are essentially viri evangelici: men and women of the Church, not monstrous hybrids, half ecclesial, half mundane, occupying some limbo between the street (or, more likely, the university common room) and the sanctuary. Nor are they a profession or trade union within the Church. Nor, yet again, is it enough for them to define themselves by reference to some segment of the Church rather than by the whole Catholica--which includes the faithful departed. Church officers, for their part, need to recall the not so distant sins, or at least blunders, of their predecessors, and to practice with graciousness and courtesy the tact, sensitivity, and consideration which that memory should inspire.

TSOCT, pp. 258-59, 260.

Perfect advice for the McBriens and Maguires of the world. It also explains the more (too?) hands off approach exercised by the episcopate--at least some of the time. Other times, I'm afraid, may require different explanations.
A blogger has partially responded to another blogger's criticism.

Another blogger is mulling a response, which, if another blogger decides to proceed, will go up before the Super Bowl. Another blogger is pleased to note certain areas of agreement, but obvious problem areas remain.

Another blogger is also somewhat bemused, as the blogger has referred to another blogger by name in the past.

And it's November.

  I look forward to making some kind of effigy of 2022 and setting it on fire on December 31.  Things have steadified, to coin a term. My so...