Monday, October 31, 2011

Notes toward a new Catholic Dictionary.

Clericalist, (ˈkler-i-kə-ˌlist), noun.

A Catholic who, when confronted with Christ's threefold office of Priest, Prophet and King asks "What about comptroller?"

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Accidental Captivity Diaries of "T. Henry Price," Switched At Birth.

Dear Diary:

It is now Day 26 since I was mistakenly torn from the grasp of my undoubtedly-old-money family and placed in the care of...well, how should I describe them?

Let me hasten to say that it would be entirely ungenerous of me to claim that I have not been well-cared for. Indeed, my material needs have been met with great alacrity. The red-haired wet-nurse, a charming and lovely woman whom I have to say is growing on me, is quick to feed me and dispose of my alimentary leavings, ensuring that my nether regions will not be chapped. I rather enjoy the swaddling and have plenty of time to rest. Bathing seems to be great fun, and the water is pleasant to the touch. The clothing, though too often second-hand, alas, is sturdy and comfortable. The wet-nurse also seems to have primary care for me, which is good, given her mostly cheery demeanor and overall competence. I will miss her when I am returned to my Grosse Pointe (Farms, quite likely) abode to reside with my natural kith and kin. I have resolved to send her a card on my birthday in gratitude for her assistance.

The surroundings are passable, a brick bungalow with a second floor addition that makes it near-enough a colonial. Only a one and a half car garage, but that's not my problem. Surprisingly enough, given the behavior I observe, they seem to be bookish. Plenty on the built-in bookshelf, including the Bard and Homer, along with rumors of an impressive library in the basement. Drat my inability to ambulate!

I say "surprisingly enough" because, as regards the rest of the staff....sigh. I am certain their intentions are good.

The hairy-faced fellow to whom the wet-nurse is inexplicably espoused is a rather loud and eccentric chap. He seems competent enough in the ways of child care, in a sort of rough-hewn peasant fashion. And the rest of the staff, wet-nurse included, seem genuinely happy when he returns from the quarry (?) where he likely works. He, too, is capable when it comes to keeping my nether regions unchafed, and proves to be a startlingly-effective heat source conducive to productive napping. He could be a bit more capable of dressing me, but at least he chooses appropriate clothing. However, his eccentricities have become a bit cloying. What is with his penchant for bizarre nicknames? The name they gave me is solid enough, passable even in the Pointes, especially when I abbreviate the first initial. I can't get attached to it, of course, but it is a commendable moniker. I understand diminutives like "Tom" or "Tommy." But what on earth is a "Tombert"? And what's with "Tomás"? They don't look Mexican. Odd--and increasingly annoying. By the way, Mr. Hirsute Jokester, "Chubba-bubba" is right out.

Alas, while they are likely not Mexicans (though the wet-nurse has one of those tall candles with the Savior on it), I can confirm that they are Papists. That would explain the large staff. Worse yet, they appear to be Irish--all except the Bearded One, oddly enough. Despite his annoying mannerisms, he seems to be of good Kentish yeoman stock, if his stories are correct (I'll ignore the Welsh component). This is something of a relief, given that when I first saw him I thought I might have been accidentally deposited with the followers of Mahomet. No, adherents to Popedom instead. With at least a leavening of the Sceptered Isle in their veins.

And, if I must go to the Roman Mass, I suppose I shan't complain about the surroundings of the church itself--the decor is commendably high church, with a baldacchino and some tastefully done stained glass.

As to the rest of the staff, they are a mixed bag: the older three--a girl, a boy, and a girl respectively are all rather decent. Loud and boisterous, but genuinely charmed by my presence. And no attempts to play dress-up by the ladies, which is a relief.

The younger two staffers need much more work, unfortunately. The boy is just bearable, what with his ill-timed need to lean over to give me a kiss or hug whilst I am sleeping in the papasan. But even he is a prince next to his younger sister. She is called "Elizabeth," but I refer to her as "the Poker." She has no sense of appropriate personal space--"close talker" doesn't begin to describe her oafish intrusions. And her constant poking of my eyes, nose, mouth with her jabbing index fingers, intoning the facial feature in question as she does so, is utterly intolerable. The rest of the staff seems to be aware of her proclivities, so they intervene before permanent damage is done. And, I suppose I can grudgingly admit that she wants to be nice, but is simply awful at displaying it, most of the time.

Stiff-upper lip, keep calm and carry on--these are my creeds. The mix-up is no doubt being investigated as I write this, and I am certain the authorities will return the burly peasant boy to this band when I am redeposited into the arms of my family in the Farms. I suppose it could be worse.

Respectfully yours,

"T. Henry."

The difference between observing our lives and living them.

Hilary puts it beautifully in this essay. Read it all.

I have the same problem, taking pictures of my kids' activities instead of merely watching them. Sure, they're great keepsakes. But was I fully there? A good question.

This is probably why we are so irritated with tourists who take pictures of everything in sight. We instinctively know there is something wrong with it. I stopped taking pictures several times in Florence because I realised I was trying harder to save Florence for later than I was trying to actually be there at the time.

It is only in the here and now that life can actually be lived. When you are thinking about doing an act of charity or committing a sin, you aren't actually doing it. The act itself is the meritorious or culpable thing, not the contemplation of it. Humans in the West have been retreating from The Real for a long time. The reason Twitting is so popular is that it offers us a new way of doing what we have been doing for decades, pulling back and becoming observers rather than participants.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gutless wonders, petty tyrants and chancery dwellers.

But I repeat myself. Yes, I know there are good folks laboring in the bureaucratic halls of the Church--this isn't directed at you. As for the rest of you...

The rector of the Cincinnati seminary managed to successfully retaliate against Rich Leonardi, long-time Catholic blogger extraordinaire and pointed, but usually civil, critic of the manifold problems of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Rich was booted off the Son Rise Morning Show in retaliation for his criticism.

Here's the message he sent me in response to a query on Facebook:

To net it out, the seminary rector reached out to the head of the Son Rise Morning Show to have me thrown off the program. I called him out on it, and a pissing contest ensued. I shut down my site and intend to withdraw from public Catholic life.

In the meantime, Ken Overberg will continue to deny the Atonement from the pulpit, and Paul Knitter will air his doubts about the salvific significance of Christ and the historicity of the Resurrection, both undisturbed in the sanctuary of Xavier University. Because doing something about *them* would take a set of clockweights, the willingness to endure media hostility and the turning of a deaf ear to the squalling of local progressives.

Squashing a layman who criticizes the local leadership? You can do that in a snap and still have plenty of time to enjoy a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with lunch. To applause from "the right people," to boot.

What few non-Catholics understand is that we remain Catholic in spite of--sometimes literally in spite of--those to whom God, in his inscrutable Providence, has temporarily given custody of part of His Church.

I hope you reconsider, Rich. The Seditious Catechist is needed now more than ever.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Once I had a railroad, made it run...

From the "Things that keep me up at night" File--this would be number 1.

Yet it is some of those very conditions-the slashing of consumer debt (or deleveraging), reticence to spend and general risk aversion-that helps drive Rosenberg's depression case.

"It will take time and shared burden by lenders, households and future generations of taxpayers before we hit bottom in this credit contraction," he wrote. "Time is certainly going to be a big part of the solution, and history tells us that the deleveraging cycles last years."

Indeed, ominous signs abound.

Strategists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch earlier this week published a note with the sub-heading of, "The chart that keeps us up at night." The particular chart in question tracks the bond yield differences, or spreads, in the European financial credit default swaps market .

The instruments are insurance against debt defaults and the spreads, BofAML says, have gone 0.70 percentage points or so beyond their levels at the 2008 financial crisis apex. The same spread for US financials is only about 0.40 percentage points away from late 2008, while high yield spreads are right at the point they were the day before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

Scary stuff, even for a firm saying that the chance of a recession remains below 50 percent.

"The experience of 2008 has taught us that once the level of distress in the financial system reaches a certain level, it can become an uncontrollable force, with the potential to push market participants into deleveraging as counterparty exposures are being cut," the firm said.

"We may not be at that point yet, but we believe we might not be too far away from it, and with the markets behaving the way they have over the past few weeks, we could get there quickly."

I strongly doubt Europe is going to get its act together--the way it has handled its debt contagion is reminiscent of the way Russian prisons have handled tuberculosis.

I'm finishing up this solid treatment of the Depression era, and have Amity Shlaes' work in the hopper next. The subject seems to be disturbingly topical, sad to say.

"May you live in interesting times."

Thomas Henry, born on October 2, 2011.

At 7:31am.

A little more than four hours after Heather woke me with the news that her water had broken. Which changed me from slumbering to AIEEE! in less than a second. Thank God for the groundedness of my wife.

And a big round of applause for my other children, who despite been awakened at 3:20am and not fed until around 7am behaved beautifully in the family lounge of the hospital.

There's still the good and the bad which is affecting my ability to blog at present, but this 9 lbs., 6 oz., 20 and 1/4 inch brick is one of the very best.

Mom and Tom are home and both doing well. I'm blessed beyond words. Sorry for not getting the word out by phone, but "hectic" doesn't begin to describe my life at this point.

Speaking of which, anybody who can give me a line on an 8+ passenger used vehicle would have me in their debt... :)

Anonymous commenters are the herpes of the internet.

By which I mean they turn what should be a pleasurable exercise into a scabby one filled with discomfort, recrimination and regret.

From the spammer file come these sub-literate gems from my spam catcher (which is a default function not set by me):

Who is this wanker? Are all americans this imbecile?
By Anonymous on OK. Things are somewhat better. on 10/1/11

I guess you probably won't be publishing my comment. bummer.
By Anonymous on Just another day of Resurrection denial. on 6/10/11

You people exist? I stumbled upon this by accident. Yikes! You really spend all your time ranting about the truth inherent in Catholic Orthodoxy? lmao. Oh the irony in wasting this life at a keyboard utterly consumed about something only other hardcore acolytes give two craps about. hahaha.
By Anonymous on Just another day of Resurrection denial. on 6/10/11

My favorites are Nos. 2 and 3, by the same Voltaire. Yeah, a real loss to reasoned discussion that would be.

Though No. 1 has a certain idiot panache, given how grammatically challenged wanker-flinger is.

As long as I get the like, I'll periodically publish these for the purposes of hearty mockery.

If you have a good reason for anonymity, that's fine. But most don't--they're just mental masturbators capable only of...well, just look at the above. If you're going the anonymity route, you're on a choke chain here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

OK. Things are somewhat better.

Better, if not exactly good. It does not appear that I will be wearing a barrel nor carrying a sign that says "Will Offer Sardonic Commentary For Food."

My credit rating will probably be pining for the fjords, but it wasn't exactly voom before that.

As to when I might be offering sardonic commentary on a more regular basis, well...that's one of those hard to say things. Not as hard to say, perhaps, as "Oh, my God! Somebody help me! There's a man in my office with a *flamethrower*!" But still hard to say.

Heather is at thirty two weeks with our sixth, after all, and it is essential that I keep her happy in her increasing discomfort.

Thank you for your prayers and good thoughts--they are much appreciated, and I know they helped.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

All is not well.

The muse has left me temporarily, at least.

More to the point, I've been undergoing some difficulties of late. Fortunately, none directly involve the family, who are all hale and hearty, and my marriage to the wonderful Heather is rock-solid.

But, unanticipated financial difficulties, brought on by what seems to have been truly bad advice provided to us, appear poised to bite me on the ass. The stress is unpleasant, and unremitting.

Your prayers, good thoughts and the like are welcome.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The chickens...have come ROOST!

--Said in the voice of the President's former pastor.

You know what's sadly funny, painfully ironic, and richly deserved: Spirit of Vatican II progressives objecting to nasty comments about their age.

No, no--it's not nice to make the comments or see them made. I myself hope to grow old. But in this case it's rough justice. These are, after all, the folks who said out with the old, goodbye to all that, sing a new church--and took hammers to the sanctuaries and torches to the rules to do it. And they're still raging at the older men in the Vatican.

But the tables have turned, as they usually do. Now that they've reached their retirement years, they're shocked at how nasty the kids are these days.

They learned it at your feet, folks. They watched your crusade against the past, your determined iconoclasm and overheated rhetoric. This was a new day, and called for new ideas, freeing yourself from the shackles of antiquated theology and dead tradition.

And yet you're shocked when you're on the receiving end?

Fitting. Unpleasant and over the line, but fitting.

Thank you, SEALs.

For ridding the world of that murderous, evil sack of shit. Thanks also to the Army Special Ops helicopter troops who got them there and back, along with the hard work of the CIA.

Our country doesn't deserve such men and women, but we keep getting them anyway.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Just another day of Resurrection denial.

Yeah, the Reporter again, this time by Carol Meyer:

Artist Ron DiCianni spent two years painting the largest mural ever of the resurrection, some 12 feet high and 30 feet wide, soon to be housed at the Museum of Biblical Arts in Dallas.

Sounds cool. Looks good, from a small version. Probably have to see it in person to get the full effect.

In a video about this work, he says, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single act in history that separates Christianity from every other religion, every other philosophy, and every belief system. God gave me this incredible idea of having Christ emerge from the tomb which I've never seen done before. I wanted to stop a moment in time, when Jesus grabbed the sides of the tomb and walked out.”

Yep--that's the bold, central claim of Christianity--the Easter faith in the Risen Lord.

Naturally, Ms. Meyer will have none of this crass, fleshy misinterpretation.

As much as I admire DiCianni’s artistic skills and honor his perspective, I don’t agree with it. Like many, he takes a very literal approach to the resurrection, focusing on the biblical accounts as historically accurate. Even top-notch biblical scholars cannot fully unravel the mystery of what happened after Jesus’ death based on the resurrection narratives — what might have been fact, myth, or projection by the early Christian community. After all, no one caught it on camera.

Ever notice how the cultured despisers and intellectual wreckers come pouring out of the woodwork around Holy Week?

Even those who insist on calling themselves Catholic have to get in on the fun.

Not to be crass, but WTH? Historical accuracy in the Resurrection accounts interferes with the Triduum these days? What are you celebrating this week, then?

Why, the "he's alive in our hearts!" pseudogospel, apparently.

It’s freeing that we don’t have to spend our precious energy trying to figure it out. Faith is a lot more than an intellectual belief in a doctrine, which does little to give us the inspiration we so sorely seek.

Who's this "us," kemosabe? Frankly, I'm not inspired to pattern my life on the example of a grotesquely misunderstood failure who spent hours suffocating to death after being scourged to within an inch of his life. Hell, if I have to pick Roman execution victims, I'm going with Spartacus--at least he got to whomp on his tormenters for a while. Die with your boots on, and all that.

What we want is to have “our hearts burning within us,” experiencing the same thrill as the Emmaus disciples who knew that Jesus still walked beside them, not in an occasional physical way, but a constant spiritual one.

Which has to be the right way to read the Emmaus Road account:

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized their sorrow had caused them to hallucinate the whole thing. And once they realized this, he "vanished" from their sight, having not really been there in the first place, but somehow still alive in their hearts, kind of like when you remember a loved one who's reached room temperature unexpectedly. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, or could it have been bad mutton? What about when Mr. Sublimated Agony of Loss projected himself onto certain passages we fixated on from the Scriptures? That's kinda like him being right here, when you think about it!" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "OK, he's still deader than Herod, but can't we agree that he's really alive in our hearts anyway, because we really miss him? Especially Simon, who may or may not be feeling guilty, depending upon how you regard the historicity of the denial/cockcrow scenes." Then they told what had happened on the road, and how they felt really bad about him still being dead, but fixated back on that last possibly Passover-like meal, which Jesus really went through all that hard work of preparing--well, maybe, depending on how you feel about the historical accuracy of the whole thing, which may or may not be some kind of projection in and of itself--even breaking of the bread and all that, before dying his pointless death."

Sign me up!

The question we might profitably ponder this Easter is: What profound reality is God trying to communicate through the resurrection and how can that have significance and power for us today?

Apart from taking it literally, you poor poor soul whose ahistorical, delusional perspective I nevertheless assure you I honor. Deeply.

God knows our world is a mess, so surely a reality this central to Christianity has something vital to say, some great grace to impart. It's not just something that happened once and for all in the past.

As I look around me, I see a lot of fear and hopelessness, which is quite understandable if we just look at the material side of things, which is what Jesus’ disciples did after his death.

Which was understandable, given that he was irrevocably dead and had died for nothing. Major buzzkill.

Things appeared totally dismal to them. But God awakened in them an intense realization that Jesus’ courageous death resulted in new life for him, them, and the world.

And that realization was....?

To help them and us to “get it,” the resurrection is portrayed in the Bible as an event bigger than life. There’s power, glory, dazzling angels, the earth quaking, stones miraculously moved —a n explosive, brilliant event, big enough to convince us that God’s saving love permeates the universe and is always with us even in the face of loss and change.

Ta-daaaaaah! The good news is that God's saving love permeates the universe! And how do we know it? Because the Gospel writers made up, whole cloth, some inspiring, earthshaking bullshit story about Jesus rising from the dead and added some Michael Bay-esque special effects to the tale! Think of it as Jesus' last parable, even if he was in no condition to tell it.

I mean, don't misunderstand--he's still deader than a doornail, probably even eaten by wild dogs in a trashheap somewhere, but still--can you feel it? God's saving love permeates the universe and is always with us!

This Easter, God is once again calling us to trust that death is a precondition for rebirth, disintegration undergirds reintegration, and dying seeds sprout new life, not only in our personal lives, but on a cosmic level.

I have no idea what this means. I am certain, however, it does not mean anything about life after death as understood by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants prior to the madness of the 20th Century.

One of the reasons I stay hopeful in the face of so much bad news is that I know something of evolutionary history, and how God and the universe have always fashioned something wonderful and unexpected out of the demise of the old. With this inspiration and the witness of Jesus who went willingly to his death, maybe we too can embrace the death of much of what we hold dear, confident that something better will replace it.

Poor Darwin--press-ganged into shilling for something outside of the scientific purview again. Usually, it's an atheist doing it or possibly some cad defending his caddishness by citing to evolutionary biology. This time, it's a panentheist playing Wayland Flowers to Darwin's Madam.

Our problem is that we’ve only put stock in the physical aspect of things, and failed to see the numinous, divine light that infuses it, and goes beyond it.

Thank you, Yoda. No, seriously--that's a paraphrase of dialogue from The Empire Strikes Back.

We’re stuck, scared and quivering, in a confining tomb, when God has rolled back the stone of unconsciousness and invited us to emerge into the light. We are more than matter. We are cosmological, spiritual beings yearning to experience God and the infinity of which we are a part.

Perhaps panentheism is not quite right--the disdain for the physical is starting to redline the gnostic meter.

Quantum Theology author Diarmuid O’Murchu expresses it this way, “The concept of resurrection helps us to contextualize our affinity to mystery, to make real and tangible the awe and apprehension that is deep within our being. It embodies our yearning for infinity, stretching back over billions of years and serving to connect us with the infinite eons that still lie ahead.”

Dole Office Clerk: Occupation?

Comicus: Stand-up philosopher.

Dole Office Clerk: What?

Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a
viable and meaningful comprehension.

Dole Office Clerk: Oh--a bullshit artist!

Comicus: *Grumble*...

Dole Office Clerk: Did you bullshit last week?

Comicus: No.

Dole Office Clerk: Did you *try* to bullshit last week?

Comicus: Yes!

This is something of how I felt when I read Embraced by the Light many years ago. As the author described her near-death experience with its glimpse of unbounded existence and awareness, my heart thrilled as it went on the journey with her in imagination. I knew in my soul that I was part and parcel of this divine matrix which filled the universe.

Back to panentheism. I'll only add that it is interesting to contrast the complete credulity here with the skepticism toward the Resurrection accounts.

It helped me to see that there is no duality, no opposition between earthly existence and the spiritual realm.

Except, of course, that earthly existence comes to an irrevocable end in this philosophy. Not to mention the spiritual is pitted against any kind of physical resurrection. At that point, the duality becomes the Berlin Wall.

The resurrection does not imply that we should merely endure life in this world because all that matters is life after death, an error that has resulted in many sad consequences throughout history.

And no trashing of the orthodox understanding of the Resurrection would be complete without the Ceremonial Ignition of the Straw-Man.


God is one and our world is one in all its dimensions. The resurrection proclaims that the Cosmic Christ is with us fully, permeating every atom of matter, working redemption in all things, even in the groaning of creation. There is a seamless continuity and unity between matter and spirit, death and life, this world and the next.

Except, of course, once you shed this cloak of crude matter--Tik Tok--you ain't coming back.

So let us not be disbelieving, but believing, living out of the powerful, loving, creative force of Jesus’ enduring presence, allowing Him to transform us into heroic disciples, so desperately needed in today’s world, then our minds and hearts are free to soar with new insights to transform our lives.

Woot--he's with us in spirit. Careful you don't get yourself killed.

Jesus’ enemies thought they could be rid of him by killing him, but they were wrong. They didn’t count on the fact that, bound no longer by physical limitations, his spirit would be unlimited in its influence. The resurrection proclaims to those who destroy, “You can kill the body, but you can’t kill the soul. There’s another whole spiritual realm to be reckoned with over which you have no power.”

Yeah, you crucified him as the false messiah and king, and, OK, fine--he's still dead. The stone's still over the tomb, you aren't accountable for your crime and you've triumphed utterly--but you can't stop us, 'cause we've got spirit--neener, neener, neener!"

On the surface, evil often seems to win out, but it never does ultimately. There is more than meets the eye. Good always has its reward and prevails. The lesson might be to be bold in doing what is right and standing up for justice and God’s values no matter the cost because you will be vindicated in the end. The story doesn’t end with death. Death is just a transition into another realm, not the end of you.

Here's the funny part--I agree with her here. But...only because the Resurrection really, physically happened. If Ms. Meyer's version were the truth, the Jesus movement would have been as dead as he was by 40 AD, with as many followers today as those still following the false messiahs chronicled by Josephus. Who no doubt also really, really didn't want their messiahs to be executed by the Romans, either, yet still didn't hallucinate a faith into being.

I see the tomb and stone in front of it as symbolic. Often we live in a cramped, limited space of our own making. It’s very time and earth-bound, and ego-based with minimal consciousness. But once we let God roll the stone away, we emerge glorious as Jesus did, our eyes opened to the infinite possibilities in front of us.

In death, we let go of our bodies, and are released into a potential relationship with the whole of universal life. Easter is symbolic of victory after suffering for what is right. Evil doesn’t prevail. You can kill the body, but not the soul.

Yes, that's Easter faith all right. Welcome to the universe, nice and glowy in your Jedi suits--unless God decides he wants Hayden Christensen redigitized over you, in which case, gnashing of the teeth. This is the faith delivered unto the saints? Sadly, it isn't. And the last four words are particularly wrongheaded as we prepare to greet the Risen Lord on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Something offensively stupid from the National Catholic Reporter.

Which is like saying: "Today's Seattle forecast: Rain."

Yeah, I know, I know--glutton for punishment.

But I make occasional forays over into the stygian waters of NCR just to remind them that they aren't the mainstream, clear-thinking Catholic voice they think they are.

It's the blog equivalent of the Doolittle Raid--not much damage, but, hey--remember us?

Plus, the comboxes are near occasions of hilarity, my recent favorite being an economic whiz-kid who suggested we just print up $4.6 trillion to pay off our bond liabilities. Boom--problem solved!

Great idea, Custer! Nope, can't see the downside to that one!

Yes, there are the usual pelvic fixations, mistaking the secular zeitgeist for the Holy Spirit, shrieking at the episcopate (a universal Catholic exercise, to be fair--and one often warranted) and so forth. However, once in a while you stumble across something obnoxious delivered more subtly.

One of the regulars there is named Jamie Manson, whose byline whacks you about the head and shoulders with an Ivy League M.Div., just so you know. A couple days back, she excoriated Archbishop Sheehan for clearing his throat about irregular living arrangements amongst his flock.

Not a surprise, and to be honest her heartfelt advocacy on behalf of her mother's situation was touching. Frankly, any diocese that charges for the annulment process should be slapped up aside the head (Detroit doesn't, FYI). It's hard not to feel for someone in her mother's position, and mercy should be extended to those in her situation. You don't have to be a progressive to find something deeply amiss with the annulment system.

Then, Ms. Manson, M.Div., Yale, ruins the mood by offering her take on orthodox discipleship and the approach to the sacraments:

The sacraments are meant to work in people’s lives to deepen our communion with God and others, to heal wounds, and to offer meaning and consolation. They are not a prize awarded only to those who follow doctrine and church law to the letter. Few cohabitating Catholics will endure processes like annulment or change their living arrangements in order to be welcomed back into church and its sacraments.

Yeah, the last sentence is the usual ranting "you can't change me!" shinola, but look before it. Examine that middle sentence. Ponder it.

Basically, people who follow the tenets of the Church are apple polishing suck-ups getting their stickers from the mean teacher. And both teacher and student know it.

I suppose it's slightly better to be regarded as an Eddie Haskell rather than the usual tired "Pharisee," (the next generation of Anselms in the combox aren't so reticent) but it's still remarkable.

[By the way, you can turn the tables on the typical Rep opinionist/comboxer by calling him or her a Sadducee. Think about it: the Sadducees were glib, cosmopolitan compromisers obsessed with institutional issues, and happy to toss aside inconvenient revelation. Zing!]

What really rankles are the casual assumptions embedded in that offhand sentence.

You know, the NCReppers are big on pointing to the "lived experiences" of those who dissent, usually very, very loudly, from this or that teaching. Those who struggle yet still follow them? Don't look for a Reporter byline, chief.

You know what else? It's not all beer and skittles for those of us who don't expect our bishops to be a mitered version of Stuart Smalley's mirror.

It's not our prize for being good, Ms. MDiv. It's the grace that carries us through grim financial and emotional turmoil, the cold incomprehension of beloved family members, and the growing and open scorn of strangers (and co-religionists), all for doing our damnedest to take the demands of the Faith seriously.

Sorry if we come across as a tad standoffish toward those who demand that such be disregarded as some kind of arcane, pointless exercise in star-collecting.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Elizabeth is home.

She's on breathing treatments (nebulizer) and antibiotics, but she's her old self, behavior-wise.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fungibility and nonnegotiables.

Let's say I'm a billionaire pacifist. Upon my death, my will leaves a $10 billion trust fund which will donate to the Department of Defense in recognition of the American military's humanitarian relief efforts in places like Haiti, Pakistan, Indonesia, et al.

I put in a codicil mandating that none of the trust fund money is to go to weapons or munitions.

Have I betrayed my pacifist principles?

Apropos of this.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kneel Before Zod.

Brant Pitre's new book about the Jewish roots of the Eucharist has received the sniffy treatment in the National Catholic Reporter, in the form of a largely dismissive review, quelle suprise. The Rev. Richard T. Lawrence has determined that while it nicely points out that Jewish stuff, Pitre is a sinner who must wear the scarlet "U" for "Unscholarly."

Well, allow me to retort, starting off with a couple of seemingly unrelated quotes.

"[T]ruth to tell, the contributions of critical biblical scholarship either to real history or to authentic theology have not up to now been particularly impressive and have certainly not had the character of transmitting faith to succeeding generations."

--Luke Timothy Johnson.

"I'd rather push a Chevy than drive a Ford."

--Popular bumpersticker on Chevy trucks.

Alas, I had some hope early on that this might be a fair-minded review, but that was dashed at word five, when Rev. Lawrence cued the "boo, hiss" sign for Reporter readers by identifying Pitre as one of those "conservatives."

Frankly, the criticisms Pitre's work begin with the exceptionally petty, starting with Rev. Lawrence's profound disquiet with the accurate quoting of Dei Verbum, followed by the pointless nit-picking about "Jesus of Nazareth" and plummeting downhill from there.

Frankly, if the Catholic biblical academy is as monochrome, dogmatic and lockstep as the Rev. Lawrence claims, then this review can be safely written off as a defensive clerical back-raising, equivalent to my cat hissing at the strange felines who dare walk across *his* lawn. Certainly, the sniffing about the alleged distinction between proper scholarly methods of systematic theologians and those of biblical scholars has more than a whiff of feline cattiness about it. Leaving aside the more important point that it is a meaningless bit of inside baseball as far as the wider Church is concerned.

But the real gripe is that Pitre dares to partially reject the results and methods of his elders. If the functional motto of the biblical guild is "freedom of scholarship for me but not thee," (and the defensiveness of the review suggests that it may be) then the sooner we get more lay scholars like Pitre to infuse the clerical guild with new blood, the better. For both parties. It's difficult to know what to make of a group of scholars that expects newbies to genuflect before findings which are always supposed to be open to revision. In other words, let's jettison the uncritical attitude toward historical criticism, please. For the Rev. Lawrence to insist that biblical scholarship which doesn't uncritically parrot every hypothesis beloved of a certain section of the academy is deficient is...odd. Especially if scholarship is supposed to be open to revision. Otherwise, he has the same mindset as the Chevy driver with the bumpersticker quoted above. Which is fine, but is a matter of de gustibus, not doctrine.

Besides, all right-thinking folk know Fords are way better.

Finally, I've often wondered how a hack novelist like Dan Brown, one whose research skills wouldn't pass muster at Wikipedia, could come up with gob-smacking howlers like "Jesus was a human being who was declared God at the Council of Nicaea."

Then I read paragraphs like this:

"To cite but one example, after taking as literal quotations Jesus’ words as reported in John 6, 8 and 10 and related texts, Pitre concludes that one cannot understand Jesus’ claims about the Eucharist “without first grasping his claims about his divine identity.” He even quotes C.S. Lewis’ statement that such words are those of a madman, a demon or the Lord himself. Surely all orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is, as the councils confessed, the Incarnate Word of God.

But to state without qualification that Jesus, during his lifetime on Earth, thought and spoke of himself in that way is far from the consensus of modern scripture scholars and theologians. I would think that a book intended for a popular audience would take some note of that fact."

So, according to the "assured results of biblical scholarship," Brown's got a point? Well, no, he doesn't. N.T. Wright, the Anglican biblicist par excellence, has written convincingly of how Jesus could have expressed himself in divine terms in a thoroughly Jewish milieu.

Oh, and wait a minute--who's mixing up scripture scholarship with theology again? Tsk, tsk.

But still, it's grimly funny that the nuttiness of Dan Brown finds fertile soil in the wasteland of endemic doubt that constitutes too much of modern biblical study. That this no-man's land was created by in part by Catholics who, with unimpeachable sincerity, declare themselves orthodox Christians just adds to the wan hilarity.

I for one have done my part to encourage Pitre to write more by purchasing the book for my wife.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The last days of Nick Charles.

If you aren't into sports, or weren't in the 1990s, you probably don't remember Nick Charles. Along with Fred Hickman, Charles was the anchor of CNN's Sports Tonight broadcast at 11pm. It was must-watch. Knowledgable, witty and with a great chemistry between the anchors, it beat the snot out of ESPN's 11pm broadcast in both quality and ratings. Alas, CNN jettisoned sports coverage in 2001 and Charles moved on to boxing, which I've never followed.

It was a shock to learn Charles is dying of bladder cancer. But he's going out with strength, dignity and Christian hope. And an honest account of his failings.

Read it all. He has a list of people he'd like to meet after death. For my part, I hope to meet Charles on the other side.

Vast improvement.

Lizzie is doing much better today. She is still going to be hospitalized until Friday, but that looks more and more like the discharge date, too. Her oxygen mix has been decreased from 40% to 25% over the course of today, and she's getting more active and vocal. And ticked, from what I can hear over the phone.

Thanks for your prayers and good wishes--they mean more than you know.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Prayers would be welcome.

Elizabeth, our 17 month old, was admitted to the hospital yesterday with respiratory distress. With the assistance of Tamiflu, Louis, Maddie and I weathered a case of the influenza, and we thought that Lizzie had the same. Three days of medicine didn't make a dent, which now makes sense since last night's x-rays determined that it was pneumonia.

Today, the doctor leading her treatment team told Heather that Lizzie is not getting out before Friday at the earliest. She is "the sickest child in the peds ward" of a large hospital. In attempt to reassure that did the opposite, he said that it is a short trip to the ICU for her should it be necessary.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Start the impeachment proceedings.

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has suggested we need to jail Americans who manage the childishly simple task of offending violent Muslim theocrats.

Fortunately, we have Mark Steyn to take out the garbage:

A mob of deranged ululating blood-lusting head-hackers slaughter Norwegian female aid-workers and Nepalese guards — and we’re the ones with the problem?

I agree with the Instaprof: Lindsey Graham is unfit for office. The good news is there’s no need for the excitable lads of Mazar e-Sharif to chop his head off because he’s already walking around with nothing up there. And, as for his halfwitted analogy with World War II, he’s too ignorant to realize it but he’s singing the dhimmi remake of an ancient Noel Coward satire.

The reason we’re losing this thing is because of a lack of cultural confidence, of which the fetal cringe of this worthless husk out-parodies anything Coward could have concocted.

If Graham wants further input, I am happy to refer him to my unofficial spokesman, Haywood Jablomi.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Happy (?) Confederation Day, Newfoundland.

Today in 1949, the Dominion of Newfoundland ended its separate existence and became a part of Canada. It's not been a happy marriage for the Newfoundlanders, and it was a very close vote in July 1948. Some bitter residents have called it "rigged," referring to the decisive (second) referendum day as "Black Thursday." 

The suspicion of Canada was deeply held for decades prior to the accession, as this song indicates--"Come near at your peril, Canadian Wolf!" In fact, the referenda were driven in large measure by the reaction to the large influx of American servicemen who built bases in the Dominion during the Second World War. 

The influx resulted in thousands of marriages (and prosperity), along with a flowering movement for economic union with the United States. Alas, it was not to be, with Britain and Canada steering the country toward Our Neighbor To The North. The Canadian Wolf won and the province of Newfoundland was born on March 31, 1949. If nothing else, Red Wing fans can rejoice in the province's favorite hockey son, Dan Cleary, the first Newfoundlander to have his name on Lord Stanley's Cup.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My words sometimes taste like rawhide.

Senator Durbin's Muslim civil rights hearings began this week. As a deliberate partisan rejoinder to Rep. Peter King's almost equally pointless Islamic radicalization hearings of a few weeks back, I decided to avoid following them. However, I learned there was going to be some Catholic input in them, in the person of the emeritus Cardinal Archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick.

He's not one of my favorites, being a man who seems to think his function as shepherd is to sound vaguely pastoral, responding with soporific vagueries in the face of controversy. As I said at another board, I was expecting "the episcopal Derek Smalls" to deliver his usual "unmemorable soothing pap."

Oops. Big oops. It was actually very, very good stuff. [The link to the full presentation is at the bottom.]

This is a particularly clear-eyed section:

At the same time, we recognize that not every charge of wrong-doing against people or groups within a religious community amounts to religious discrimination, bias or bigotry. Religious beliefs are no excuse for threatening others with or carrying out acts of violence. At this particular moment in our nation’s history, we face a real threat to our national security from terrorism that has its origins in a particular form of extremist ideology that holds itself out as authentic Islam. These pervasive threats endanger all people both in this country and abroad. We cannot pretend that these threats do not exist. Our government has a duty to understand the threat and confront it effectively in order to keep our citizens safe and to promote and defend the common good of all.

He pointedly raised the mistreatment of Christians in Muslim-majority lands, noting recent atrocities, and stated that not all criticism of Muslim behavior could be fairly described as bigotry. At the same time, he delivered a sotto voce message to Catholics, indicating that we risk sawing off our own branch with indiscriminate criticism of Muslims, reminding us of our own historical experience in America. Given the growing contempt for the Catholic voice in the public square on multiple issues, it's worth heeding.

My apologies, Archbishop--this was genuinely good and useful stuff. And much starchier than expected. Bravo!

It's not financial Doomageddon.

But it's a bit of a personal eye-opener. The price of milk increased $0.13 per gallon over the past week. We buy our milk at Costco, and in bulk to save us multiple stops during the week. Two Saturdays ago, skim and whole milk cost $1.95 a gallon. Last night, it was $2.08.

No, it's not much and our demand is pretty inelastic. But Costco tries to hold off until the last minute on passing increases to the customer, so it's something of a trailing indicator.

Moreover, little increases across the board on staple items start to pinch income, slowly but surely, even if it's not officially considered "inflation" by the government.

That might explain why the Fed has experienced some static of late.

And it might explain why you get less bang for the buck in food purchases even when the price hasn't increased.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prayers would be welcome.

I haven't been feeling well (moments of vertigo) over the past four days, and I'm trying to bear up under a financial burden I'm wrestling with. They may very well be related, actually.


The most delusionally funny thing you will read all year.

That would be Michael Sean Winters' encomium to the wise leadership of President Obama on Libya.

It is a jaw-dropping exercise in virtuoso spin from start to finish, including "a"s and "the"s. For my money, this is the heart of the defense brief:

Barack Obama is a careful man, with a careful mind. He really is, in terms of personality, the opposite of George W. Bush who was all for acting from his gut. Obama’s gut is kept firmly in check by his intellect. I don’t know about anyone else, but while such careful, deliberative qualities may not guarantee successful outcomes or even correct decisions, I sleep better at night knowing we have a President who considers the downside of a decision before he makes it and who, unlike any President I can think of, has a profound appreciation for the limits of force.

My. God. I am not taking the name of the Lord in vain--far from it. I am invoking divine assistance against whatever it is that possessed him to write that.

This is what happens when you fetishize politics, investing it with quasi-religious significance, right down to demons and saviors. Put simply, this is your brain on the twin drugs of Bush hatred and Obamalotry--it's the crispy, shriveled smoking something with the "Distinctly Catholic" byline in the Reporter.

The Iraq War was many things, starting with inept and the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, beset with horrific tactical and political decisions that took years to remedy and are still likely to bear poisonous fruit for decades. But it did not lack for careful, lengthy debate, spanning months, both in the halls of Congress and before the court of international opinion. As it turned out, all of that was for naught and we are bogged down in the Fertile Cresent trying to instill democratic values amongst a people more interested in ethnic cleansing of inconvenient minorities, but there you go. If nothing else, it illustrates the dangers of committing yourself to war even when you make some effort to think it through.

As opposed to, say, our brand spanking new war in Libya, which went from demonstrations to bombing in four weeks.

The sum total of such deliberative efforts was this: the President obtained a UN resolution which doesn't authorize what he's doing and finally got around to explain himself eleven days after the bombs started falling. If this is careful deliberation, I'd hate to see him when he does something ill-considered and hasty.

Oh, and the speech was a pack of the usual butt-covering BS. But don't take my word for it, check out the analysis by the Associated Press.

A good soldier, Winters tries to excuse the delayed explanation with this:

Many critics, including myself, felt the President should have given this speech before military assets were deployed. I still do, although we now know why he didn’t: There were unresolved issues that had not yet been decided. For example, on Sunday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the United States had not yet decided whether or not to aid the rebels. Last night, President Obama pledged such aid.

That would be the same Robert Gates who admitted there is no vital interest at stake in Libya, correct? And it was all about determining whether we'd be aiding the rebels? Really? Er, maybe not, given the Al Qaeda element in the rebellion. More of that careful, Niebuhrian discipleship in action, no doubt.

Winters--and Juan Cole, who is really, really sure this is different from Bush because...because shut up, that's why--would do himself no end of good if he simply acknowledged that he trusted Obama more than Bush. Full stop. It would be a partisan exercise, but a forthright one.

In addition to being honest, you don't have to engage in humiliatingly stupid and silly exercises in special pleading. And you wouldn't have to finish the exercise with a howler like this:

He was wrong to wait so long to share them with the rest of us, but the rest of us can take comfort, great comfort, that we have in the White House a man who will not be rushed into war.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Holy smokes--it's been more than three months.


Er, I can explain. A lot of things happened/are happening, and some of them are even good.

In the meantime, apologies--and yes, book reviews are inbound this week. It's a nice distraction.

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...