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Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spring, Caost Range

.... by Kenneth Rexroth


The glow of my campfire is dark red and flameless,
The circle of white ash widens around it.
I get up and walk off in the moonlight and each time
I look back the red is deeper and the light smaller.
Scorpio rises late with Mars caught in his claw;
The moon has come before them, the light
Like a choir of children in the young laurel trees.
It is April; the shad, the hot headed fish,
Climbs the rivers; there is trillium in the damp canyons;
The foetid adder’s tongue lolls by the waterfall.
There was a farm at this campsite once, it is almost gone now.
There were sheep here after the farm, and fire
Long ago burned the redwoods out of the gulch,
The Douglas fir off the ridge; today the soil
Is stony and incoherent, the small stones lie flat
And plate the surface like scales.
Twenty years ago the spreading gully
Toppled the big oak over onto the house.
Now there is nothing left but the foundations
Hidden in poison oak, and above on the ridge,
Six lonely, ominous fenceposts;
The redwood beams of the barn make a footbridge
Over the deep waterless creek bed;
The hills are covered with wild oats
Dry and white by midsummer.
I walk in the random survivals of the orchard.
In a patch of moonlight a mole
Shakes his tunnel like an angry vein;
Orion walks waist deep in the fog coming in from the ocean;
Leo crouches under the zenith.
There are tiny hard fruits already on the plum trees.
The purity of the apple blossoms is incredible.
As the wind dies down their fragrance
Clusters around them like thick smoke.
All the day they roared with bees, in the moonlight
They are silent and immaculate.


Advent last year

I saw a couple of sermons for the First Sunday of Advent (but for year A) - one is by Hans Urs von Balthasar and can be found at Google Books here. The other is by James Alison, from The Christian Century, and I thought I'd post it .....

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A puncturing fulfilment

First Sunday of Advent, year A
December 2, 2007
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

One of the things I love about the liturgical life of the Church is the way that the Holy Spirit, quietly and gently, works on us. Through the texts and prayers set out for us each year in the lectionary the Spirit draws us ever more fully into the Presence. If we read the texts in a literalistic manner, it can sounds as though, week by week it is God who is undergoing change toward us. In fact, however, in the liturgy of the Presence it is we who are worked on through the scriptures and the prayers, we who get to be reconfigured and brought in to the life of the Changeless One.

At Advent, it begins again: the cycle by which God breaks through the clutter of our lives to announce to us that the Presence is very near, irrupting into our midst, hauling us out of our myths, our half-truths and the ways we have settled for what is “religious” rather than what is holy, alive, and real. So, lest we be tempted to think that “Advent” is merely a religious warm up for “Christmas”, let us see if we can allow ourselves to be brought near the cold-water spigot whose splashes can chasten us into reality.

Someone wants to speak to us. Someone who is not on the same level as us at all. The “oomph” behind the “isness” of everything that is wants to invite us into the fulness of a project. Can that One get through? Who are they? Will we be able to hear them? How trained are our ears? The assumption at the beginning of each liturgical year is that this is going to be difficult: that we are half asleep, our ears dulled, and the voice of One who loves us is too radiant bright to be picked up on our defensive antennae. Hence St Paul’s call for awakening, the great leitmotiv of Advent. Not a moralistic call, despite Paul’s immediate listing of examples of downward-spiralling desire. A call for us to be quickened, straightened into hearing One who is not part of the world of our entrapment by and scandal at each other, so that we who are inclined to settle for less can be summoned into the joy of more by One who loves us.

The announcement with which we begin, from Isaiah, plays to our sense of the physically portentous. It gives us a mountain which is being lifted up. It plays to our sense of religious grandeur. For the mountain is Zion, where Jerusalem is built. And it plays to any apocalyptic sense we may have, for out of this physically and religiously charged place there is to emerge a teaching, and an instruction, which will also be a judgment, a criterion for all peoples. And this criterion, this instruction, this judge, sitting with authority, will be heeded by all nations, who will then enter into the ways of peace.

Will we survive the collapse of our fantasy? How wonderful it would be to have a religion in which something as obvious as a great mountain lifted itself up. A mountain associated with the things of God, a new Sinai from which a lawgiver and a judge would hand out decrees whose wisdom everybody would recognise, and to which they would submit meekly, agreeing unanimously with the arbitrations of this judge. Or would it be so wonderful? Maybe as long as we fantasize like this, we will never be able to learn the things that make for peace. For in the reality constructed by human imagination, the reality of a thousand national identities, foundational myths, bogus perceptions of “our” innocence and “their” wickedness, who could ever be a judge whose impartiality would be recognised and whose arbitration would be accepted?

So what is the sense of the prophecy? We are used to two possibilities: on the one hand, prophecy being punctured by reality, and our settling for far, far less than our imaginations were excited into expecting; or on the other hand prophecies being fulfilled, and our being given a boost to our expectations and our sense of who we are and what we deserve.

Advent, however, gives us neither of these. Or perhaps it would be better to say that we are given both. For what we are going to get used to hearing is the still small voice of punctured fulfilment. That is to say, our receiving far more than we imagined we might get from the prophecy, but our getting it through the process of the loss of fantasy. And this is what Our Lord warns his disciples about: the coming is not going to happen according to our measure, nor is it likely to be picked up by us. Only the spirit that is trained in punctured fulfilment is likely to get it.

Jesus points it out very clearly: there is no human criterion at all that is capable of knowing how the Creator’s design to fulfil creation is going to look. Majority expectations are not safe, like those of Noah’s contemporaries. Who could tell that with Cain killing Abel in the field (one taken, the other left) judgment would begin? Or what the shape of that judgment would be? Or who could tell with the deaths of the firstborn of the Egyptian slave women working alongside their Hebrew counterparts at the grinding stone (Exodus 11,5) what sign from God was about to emerge?

And yet, as our imagination of the One who is coming undergoes its inevitable puncturing, so that we can be awakened to One whose criteria are not our criteria, the promise will be fulfilled. The One who is coming will not preside over us, but will teach us to want peace from within, and to learn the habits that make it possible. The One who loves us will come as one we despise, and crucify: The definitive puncturing of our god-fantasies, and yet the Presence of one who is powerfully determined not to let us remain wedded to our self-destruction.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hallgrímskirkja



If I seem to be posting a lot, it's because I have all this time on my hands now with Kermit gone. I miss her. My solution - post a lot while awake, and sleep as much as possible :).

Liam had a recent post at sententiae et clamores that mentioned architecture, and that reminded me of a church I'd just seen photos of .... Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, Iceland.

The church, named after poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson and designed by State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson, is Lutheran and is 244 feet high, with a neat statue of Leifr Eiriksson in front. Here are a couple of photos .....


- interior showing the pipe organ


- statue of Leifr, a gift from the US


To Helen

- Delmore Schwartz

O Sea! … ’Tis I, risen from death once more
To hear the waves’ harmonious roar
And see the galleys, sharp, in dawn’s great awe
Raised from the dark by the rising and gold oar.

My fickle hands sufficed to summon kings
Their salt beards amused my fingers, deft and pure.
I wept. They sang of triumphs now obscure:
And the first abyss flooded the hull as if with falling wings.

I hear the profound horns and trumpets of war
Matching the rhythm, swinging of the flying oars:
The galleys’ chant enchains the foam of sound;
And the gods, exalted at the heroic prow,
E’en though the spit of spray insults each smiling brow,
Beckon to me, with arms indulgent, frozen, sculptured,
and dead long long ago.


Friday, November 28, 2008

The month of ....

In a past post, Jeff declared November Klaus Kinski month at Aún Estamos Vivos, and I thought I'd do the same with another actor, but since November is almost over, squish the whole thing into one post. It was hard to choose who. I finally settled on Alec Baldwin.

Before you give up on my post :) let me say that Baldwin, while disliked by many for his personality, does have some redeeming personal characteristics - he has spent a lot of money and time supporting causes like AIDs research, breast cancer research, and animal welfare, and he has some interesting political views that are expressed in his Huffington Post blog (latest post - Hoping Hillary Says Yes).

But mostly I hope you keep reading the post because whatever you may think of Baldwin as a person, I believe him to be a good actor and below I've mentioned five movies of his .....

Beetlejuice



This odd 1988 comedy also starred Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, and Michael Keaton, and was directed by Tim Burton. The plot tells of the adjustment problems of a young married and suddenly dead couple (Baldwin and Davis) who try to haunt away the new family that moves into their beloved New England country home. You can read Ebert's 2 star review here.


Prelude to a Kiss


- a mysterious older man kisses Baldwin's new bride and steals her soul

This atypically romantic 1992 movie (rated R) was adapted from the 1988 play of the same name written by Craig Lucas (Baldwin was in the play as well), and also starred Meg Ryan. Ebert actually did like this one and gave it 3 stars - read his review. Here's what Wikipedia says of the plot ...

Despite her pessimistic outlook on life, Rita Boyle, a liberal, free-spirited aspiring graphic designer who earns a living as a bartender, falls in love with and marries Peter Hoskins, the conservative employee of a Chicago publishing house. At their wedding, the couple is approached by Julius, a lonely, elderly man who requests permission to kiss the bride. When he does, their spirits switch places, leaving Peter with a young, vibrant wife trapped within an aged, diseased, disintegrating body. Whether or not he can see beyond the physical and embrace the beautiful soul he loves and Julius will agree to return to his cancer-riddled flesh by kissing Rita again are the dilemmas that must be resolved.


Malice


- Baldwin and Pullman

This 1993 B movie (written in part by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame), which also starred another actor I like, Bill Pullman, and had roles for Peter Gallagher and Bebe Neuwirth too, had a convoluted plot about a seemingly happily married couple, a doctor with a God complex, a serial killer, and a devious conspiracy (rated R). Here's a bit of what Ebert wrote of it in his 2 star review ....

My hands are tied here. I can't go into detail without revealing vital secrets. Yet after the movie is over and you try to think through those secrets, you get into really deep molasses. Who, for example, was the doctor in Boston? If it's who we think it was, how did he maintain dual identities? If he didn't, then who ran the abortion clinic? How did the co-conspirators first meet? Why would the payoff of their conspiracy seem attractive, given the price they would have to pay in professional, emotional and physical losses? And so on. Not even to mention the little boy who lives next door. "Malice" was directed by Harold Becker, whose credits include the splendid films "The Onion Field" and "Sea of Love," and he milks this material for a great deal more than it is worth.

The Shadow



I really liked this 1994 film about the past character, The Shadow. It stars another actor I like a lot - John Lone - as well as Ian McKellen and Tim Curry. It didn't do well at the box office but how can I not love a film that begins in an opium den in Tibet in the 30s? Ebert liked it too and gave it 3 stars in his review.

The Edge


- Hopkins and Baldwin and Bart

This 1997 film also stars Anthony Hopkins, Elle Macpherson and Bart the bear :) and was written by David Mamet. I recommend this movie with trepidation because I found it so upsetting, but here's what Ebert wrote in his 3 star review of it .....

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"The Edge" is like a wilderness adventure movie written by David Mamet, which is not surprising, since it was written by Mamet. It's subtly funny in the way it toys with the cliches of the genre. Too subtle, apparently, for some; I've read a couple of reviews by critics who think director Lee Tamahori ("Once Were Warriors") misses the point of the Mamet screenplay and plays the material too straight. But if he'd underlined every laugh line and made the humor as broad as "The Naked Gun," would that have made a better picture? Not at all.

Although Mamet, a poet of hard-boiled city streets, is not usually identified with outdoors action films, "The Edge" in some ways is typical of his work: It's about con games and occult knowledge, double crosses and conversations at cross-purposes. Its key scenes involve two men stalking each other, and it adds to the irony that they are meanwhile being stalked by a bear. "Most people lost in the wild die of shame," the older character tells the younger. "They didn't do the one thing that could save their lives--thinking." The setup: Billionaire Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) flies his private plane into the Alaskan wilderness so that fashion photographer Robert Green (Alec Baldwin) can photograph Morse's wife, a famous model (Elle Macpherson). Leaving the wife behind at a lodge, the two men and a photographer's assistant fly farther into the bush, and when the plane crashes and the pilot is killed, the three survivors are left to face the wilderness.

At this point we can easily predict the death of the assistant (Harold Perrineau). He's an African American, and so falls under the BADF action movie rule ("The Brother Always Dies First"). The redeeming factor in this case is that Mamet knows that, and is satirizing the stereotype instead of merely using it. His approach throughout the movie is an amused wink at the conventions he lovingly massages.

Now Charles and Bob are left alone in the dangerous wild. Charles luckily is a very bright man, who just happens to have been reading the book Lost in the Woods, and has the kind of mind that absorbs every scrap of information that floats into it. Before the movie is over, he will fashion a compass from a paper clip, build a bear trap, make fire from ice and explain how you can use gunpowder to season meat.

Charles is also smart enough to suspect that Bob has been having an affair with his wife. "So how are you planning to kill me?" he asks. The catch is that each man needs the other to survive, and so a murder, if any, must be postponed or carefully timed.

The movie contains glorious scenery, quixotic Mamet conversations, and of course the obligatory action scenes. Even in generating tension, the movie toys with convention. As a bear pursues them, the men desperately bridge a deep chasm with a log, and hurry to cross it--not sitting down and scooting as any sensible person would, but trying to walk across while balancing themselves, like the Escaping Wallendas. Meanwhile, the bear, which often seems to have its tongue in its cheek, stands on the far edge and shakes the log with both paws.

There are a few bear-wrestling matches and a big showdown with the beast, but the movie doesn't lose its mind and go berserk with action in the last half hour, as most action films seem to. (One of the enduring disappointments for the faithful moviegoer is to see interesting characters established in the first two acts, only to be turned into action puppets in the third.) It is typical of Mamet that he could devise his plot in such a way that the climactic payoff would be not bloodshed, but the simple exchange of a wristwatch.

Having successfully negotiated almost its entire 118 minutes, ``The Edge'' shoots itself in the foot. After the emotionally fraught final moments, just as we are savoring the implications of what has just happened, the screen fades to black and we immediately get a big credit for "Bart the Bear." Now Bart is one helluva bear (I loved him in the title role of "The Bear"), but this credit in this place is a spectacularly bad idea.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

A C Swinburne

A Leave-Taking

Let us go hence, my songs; she will not hear.
Let us go hence together without fear;
Keep silence now, for singing-time is over,
And over all old things and all things dear.
She loves not you nor me as we all love her.
Yea, though we sang as angels in her ear,
She would not hear.

Let us rise up and part; she will not know.
Let us go seaward as the great winds go,
Full of blown sand and foam; what help is here?
There is no help, for all these things are so,
And all the world is bitter as a tear.
And how these things are, though ye strove to show,
She would not know.

Let us go home and hence; she will not weep.
We gave love many dreams and days to keep,
Flowers without scent, and fruits that would not grow,
Saying, 'If thou wilt, thrust in thy sickle and reap.'
All is reaped now; no grass is left to mow;
And we that sowed, though all we fell on sleep,
She would not weep.

Let us go hence and rest; she will not love.
She shall not hear us if we sing hereof,
Nor see love's ways, how sore they are and steep.
Come hence, let be, lie still; it is enough.
Love is a barren sea, bitter and deep;
And though she saw all heaven in flower above,
She would not love.

Let us give up, go down; she will not care.
Though all the stars made gold of all the air,
And the sea moving saw before it move
One moon-flower making all the foam-flowers fair;
Though all those waves went over us, and drove
Deep down the stifling lips and drowning hair,
She would not care.

Let us go hence, go hence; she will not see.
Sing all once more together; surely she,
She too, remembering days and words that were,
Will turn a little toward us, sighing; but we,
We are hence, we are gone, as though we had not been there.
Nay, and though all men seeing had pity on me,
She would not see.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Merciful extinction


- Munthe's Villa San Michele on Capri, built on the ruins of Tiberius' digs

Saw this quotation in a book I'm reading ....

"But in one respect at least I can say with a clear conscience that I have not deceived my readers - in my love for animals. I have loved them and suffered with them my whole life. I have loved them far more than I have ever loved my fellow-men. All that is best in me I have given to them, and I mean to stand by them to the last and share their fate whatever it may be. If it is true that there is to be no haven or rest for them when their sufferings here are at an end, I, for one, am not going to bargain for any haven for myself. I shall go without fear where they go, and by the side of my brothers and sisters from forests and fields, from skies and seas, lie down to merciful extinction in their mysterious underworld, safe from any further torments inflicted by God or man, safe from any haunting dream of eternity."

- Axel Munthe, from The Story of San Michele


Thanksgiving



Thanksgiving never seems normal for me - I've spent many a Thanksgiving alone or at Chinese restaurants with my sister - but when I was a kid, my Thanksgivings were more typical. We'd go to my grandparents' house, along with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, my grandmother's sister, auntiie Bert, and my grandfather's sister, aunt Ruth. The adults would play cribbage while we kids watched tv, and dinner would find the adults at the big dining room table, with we kids at the card tables. You could count on my cousin Jill doing something that would offend my creepy uncle Del, and she'd spend the rest of the night out in the car alone. And then we'd have pie.

Mincemeat pie, made by my grandmother, was my favorite, and almost made up for listening to John Bircher auntie Bert go on about the communist peril or waiting for the ever menacing uncle Del to blow a fuse. It wasn't until I grew up and became a vegetarian that I realized that mincemeat actually did have meat in it (usually suet now, though the medieval versions contained chopped meat) and I sadly had to give it up.

But today I came across a recipe for a veggie version of mincemeat pie (butter for suet) at Not Eating Out in New York and I thought I'd post it here .....

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Cranberry Orange Mince Pie

for the crust:
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons cold water

for the mincemeat:
1 cup raisins
1 cup golden raisins
1 large baking apple (like Rome or Empire), peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup cranberries
Peel from one Navel or Valencia orange, thinly sliced in strips no wider than 1/4″
1 small lemon
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves and freshly Grated ginger
1 tablespoon brandy or triple sec (such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau)

Make the crust: Combine the flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, your fingers or a food processor, cut the butter into the flour. If using the food processor, pulse several few times until the pieces of butter are no larger than a pea. The mixture should look grainy. Add water one tablespoon at a time and stop when the dough is malleable enough to form a ball. (If using food processor, slowly add water one tablespoon at a time to the mixture while pulsing it just until a ball is formed). Break into two balls. Cover them with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. (Crust can be made several hours beforehand and chilled.)

Make the mincemeat: Place lemon in a pot and fill with cold water to cover. Add the orange peel, cover, and bring to a boil. Drain the water. Fill pot with more cold water and bring to a boil again. Drain, and refill with cold water. This time, let the lemon and orange boil for about 45 minutes, or until soft. Remove peels and lemon and let cool. Slice the lemon in half. Remove the “pips” (aka seeds), and quarter the rest in its entirety. Finely chop the orange peels. Add lemon, orange peel, apple, golden raisins, raisins and butter to a food processor and pulse several times until mixture becomes a chunky paste. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the sugar, cranberries, spices and brandy. (Mincemeat can also be made several hours beforehand, covered and chilled.)

Preheat an oven to 375F. Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch pie pan. Roll out one ball of dough for the bottom crust on waxed paper. Place it centered over the pan and carefully peel off paper. Set into the pan and chill, covered, for at least 20 minutes before baking. Roll out dough for the top crust on waxed paper and if desired, decorate with cut-out designs or cut to strips to make a lattice-style crust. Pour the mincemeat into the bottom crust. Top with the top crust (if not making any cut-out designs, pierce the top crust with a fork several times). Crimp along the edges to seal the crust however desired. (Optional: Top crust can be brushed with a little egg wash, milk or cream for added color. It can also be sprinkled with some sugar.) Bake for about 50 minutes, or until top crust is lightly browned and bottom is thoroughly cooked. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Milk


- Harvey Milk

I haven't seen the movie yet (starring Sean Penn and directed by Gus Van Sant), but given the recent proposition 8 stuff, I thought I'd post some of Roger Ebert's review of it. First, though, here's a little from Wikipedia about Harvey Milk, the subject of the film, for those who don't recall this bit of California political history .....

Harvey Bernard Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) was an American politician and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk was born and raised in New York ..... moved to San Francisco in 1972 and opened a camera store ..... settled in the Castro District, a neighborhood that was experiencing a mass immigration of gay men and lesbians ..... Milk was elected city supervisor in 1977 after San Francisco reorganized its election procedures to choose representatives from neighborhoods rather than through city-wide ballots. Milk served almost eleven months as city supervisor and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance in San Francisco. On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned and wanted his job back ..... White was acquitted of the murders but found guilty of voluntary manslaughter of both victims, and he was sentenced to serve seven and two-thirds years. With the sentence reduced for time served and good behavior, he would be released in five .....

Here's some of Ebert's review. Best to read the whole thing, of course ....

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Sean Penn amazes me. Not long before seeing "Milk," I viewed his work in "Dead Man Walking" again. Few characters could be more different, few characters could seem more real. He creates a character with infinite attention to detail, and from the heart out. Here he creates a character who may seem like an odd bird to mainstream America and makes him completely identifiable. Other than the occasional employment of Harvey Milk's genitals, what makes this character different? Some people may argue there is a gay soul but I believe we all share the same souls.

In 1977, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States ..... Milk didn't enter politics as much as he was pushed in by the evidence of his own eyes. He ran for the Board of Supervisors three times before being elected in 1977. He campaigned for a gay rights ordinance. He organized. He acquired a personal bullhorn and stood on a box labeled "SOAP." He forged an alliance including liberals, unions, longshoremen, teachers, Latinos, blacks and others with common cause. He developed a flair for publicity. He became a fiery orator. Already known as the Mayor of Castro Street, he won public office. It was a bully pulpit from which to challenge rabble rousers like the gay-hating Anita Bryant .....

His most fateful relationship was with Dan White, a seemingly straight member of the Board of Supervisors, a Catholic who said homosexuality was a sin and campaigned with his wife, kids and the American flag. An awkward alliance formed between Milk and White, who was probably gay and used their areas of political agreement as a beard. "I think he's one of us," Milk confided. The only gay supervisor, Milk was the only supervisor invited to the baptism of White's new baby. White was an alcoholic who all but revealed his sexuality to Milk during a drunken tirade, became unbalanced, resigned his position and on Nov. 27, 1978, walked into City Hall and assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

"Milk" tells Harvey Milk's story as one of a transformed life, a victory for individual freedom over state persecution, and a political and social cause. There is a remarkable shot near the end, showing a candlelight march reaching as far as the eyes can see. This is actual footage. It is emotionally devastating. And it comes as the result of one man's decisions in life.

Sean Penn never tries to show Harvey Milk as a hero, and never needs to. He shows him as an ordinary man, kind, funny, flawed, shrewd, idealistic, yearning for a better world. He shows what such an ordinary man can achieve. Milk was the right person in the right place at the right time, and he rose to the occasion. So was Rosa Parks. Sometimes, at a precise moment in history, all it takes is for one person to stand up. Or sit down.

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And here's a YouTube with some excerpts from Harvey Milk's "Hope" speech .....




Photos


- here's a photo I took of Kermit about a week and a half ago



- some mushrooms in my yard


Monday, November 24, 2008

Einstein and Kermit


- Time and Again

I guess I'm back to blogging, and thanks, you guys, for all your kind wishes. I think I was waiting for something. It's not that I was waiting to feel better about Kermit being gone - that possibility makes me feel guilty and sad. I think I was waiting for her being gone to not really be true. But she's still gone.

One thing I've been doing this past week, though not much else, is reading. I listened to an audio book version of Jack Finney's novel Time and Again, in which a man is able to travel back to 1880's New York by the use of a certain state of mind and Einstein's theory of relativity.

But my sister is reading much more interesting stuff, a book about philosophers Leibniz and Spinoza - The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart, an Oxford-educated philosopher who built a successful management consulting firm and then sold it and retired to a life of "contemplation". Here's a bit from a NY Times review of the book .....

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Great Minds Don't Think Alike

[...] Part of this new life [of Matthew Stewart] turned out to be an exploration of what he portrays as a tale of 17th-century deceit: the dealings of a "crooked and ungainly" philosopher, the bewigged Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, with a beauteous contemporary with "dark, languid eyes," the Portuguese-Dutch-Jewish thinker Baruch de Spinoza, who, Stewart maintains, created the foundations of modern philosophy.

Spinoza posited "a universe ruled only by the cause and effect of natural laws, without purpose or design." The God of this universe was a noninterventionist whose essence and pervasiveness might best be described as Nature — capital N — in what Camille Paglia would call the "chthonic" sense. Given God's noninterference policy, Spinoza believed the modern state had the responsibility of looking after the common man, and the common man had the responsibility of looking after himself. In all this, Spinoza saw freedom and, Stewart writes, "anticipated later philosophical and scientific developments by two and sometimes three centuries." (When Einstein was asked if he believed in God, he said, "I believe in Spinoza's God.").

With "The Courtier and the Heretic," Stewart has achieved a near impossibility, creating a page-turner about jousting metaphysical ideas that casts the hallowed, hoary thinkers as warriors in a heated ideological battle. He reveals early on that he believes the battle was one-sided, and that both men fought for the same cause. Even so, the conflict, as he paints it, is no less compelling for ending in a draw ......

In Spinoza's time, the question that gripped hidebound thinkers leery of flouting popular opinion or alienating wealthy patrons, was this: If you believed in Spinoza's God, were you not in actuality an atheist, an offense then punishable by exile, imprisonment or death? Leibniz thought so, and many others agreed — like the bishop who denounced Spinoza as "that insane and evil man, who deserves to be covered with chains and whipped with a rod" and the Jewish community of Amsterdam, which excommunicated him. The mystery that grips Stewart is whether Leibniz himself believed in Spinoza's God, cribbed his teachings (while pretending unfamiliarity with them) and cynically invented his own philosophy in reaction to Spinoza's, to mask his secret atheism. If he did so, Stewart holds, it was from an impulse for self-protection and in the patronizing view that the masses needed to be protected from the rudderless world he and Spinoza detected all around them.

Stewart's most provocative clue, drawn from Leibniz's letters (15,000 of them survive) and thickly annotated writings, is that in 1676, when Leibniz was 30 and before he had developed his mature philosophy, he went to visit Spinoza, then languishing in exile in The Hague. In letters to his friends, Leibniz dismissed the meeting as a brief encounter of no consequence, in which he and Spinoza exchanged "anecdotes." In fact, Stewart writes, the visit took place over many days, and their banter included a "proof of the existence of God." Leibniz wrote it down in Spinoza's presence then read it out to him, and Spinoza could have refuted it, both handily and ego-crushingly, producing what Stewart portrays as an anti-Spinoza animus Leibniz jealously nursed to the end of his days ......

Stewart's chief intent is to demonstrate the debt Liebniz's thought owes to Spinoza. He explains that Spinoza believed man's soul and body were inextricably tied and progressed in tandem through the world, subject to natural laws. Leibniz, Stewart writes, was disturbed by the conclusion that followed from this belief: that the soul died with the body ...... Leibniz wished to show that the soul and body were separate in order to make it easier to prove that the soul was immortal. In the service of this obsession, Leibniz came up with the notion that everything and everyone in the world was a distinct "monad," (from the Greek word for unity) preprogrammed by God to act in a certain way. Each body monad was accompanied by a soul monad that coincidentally shared the same experiences. God was a monad too, Leibniz argued, and for those who wanted to see God pre-eminent he explained that God was the "monad of monads ....."

Spinoza's mighty Nature may have been God enough for Einstein, but it was not enough for Leibniz, and it doesn't satisfy the proponents of intelligent design or those who put service to God above service to man. Stewart recognizes the problem. Spinoza's God, he acknowledges, "will make no exception to its natural laws on your account; it will work no miracles for you; it will tender no affection, show no sign of concern about your well-being; in short, it will give you nothing that you do not already have." .........

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So, Einstein worked his way into both my reading and my sister's. Here's what Wikipedia had to say about Einstein on Spinoza ....

Albert Einstein named Spinoza as the philosopher who exerted the most influence on his world view (Weltanschauung). Spinoza equated God (infinite substance) with Nature, consistent with Einstein's belief in an impersonal deity. In 1929, Einstein was asked in a telegram by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein whether he believed in God. Einstein responded by telegram: "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."

I hope Einstein is wrong about God being a Spinoza-type God, though I wish I could use Einstein's relativity theory to go back in time to be with Kermit.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Kermit



Kermit passed away today. She went in for an operation to look at her throat to see why she couldn't swallow food, and they found a tumor. They could still have put in a feeding tube but I thought she might suffer too much and so they didn't wake her up from the anesthesia. I don't know if I made the right choice - maybe I let her down and did what was easier for myself. I miss her so much, can't ever talk to her naymore, can't ever pet he again, or see her little face again.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Roy Bourgeois, William Barry, Robert Egan, JD Crossan

Update on Kermit ..... she had an x-ray yesterday that showed something wrong with her throat as well as a huge tumor of unknown origin in her tummy area. She's going to die if we don't do something, as she can't swallow right, so if I get up the courage (and find my other credit card) I'm going to have her get an operation tomorrow to look at her throst, and if it can't be fixed, to put in a feeding tube and hope the anesthesia doesn't kill her kidneys, and that she won't hate me for having an unnatural device forever stuck in her neck. Ugh - I feel sick. But on to the blog post ......

I've been reading a post at America magazine's blog on Maryknoll priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois, MM, and his possible excommunication because of his presence at the ordination of a woman ....... Roy Bourgeois, Conscience and Canon Law, posted by James Martin SJ.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know how I feel about women's ordination (I'm for it), and I once posted something about what William A Barry SJ had to say on the subject.

There's an interesting article at Commonweal by Robert J. Egan SJ, who teaches theology and spirituality at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington ..... Why Not? Scripture, History & Women’s Ordination. In a later discussion about his article Fr. Egan writes ....

My article also ended with a question: “Has the tradition of excluding women from the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopacy really been faithful to the teaching and practice of Jesus? Or has it been part of a mostly unexamined and partially unconscious bias for subjecting women to men’s authority and power?” This was not a conclusion, but a question: “a very important question,” one that “urgently needs and deserves an open, prayerful, learned, patient, and discerning conversation among Catholics today.” In such a conversation, we might learn new things, feel them in new ways, see them from new angles, or have new thoughts about them. Such experiences might help us understand each other better and make out more clearly what God asks from us today.

And here is a (sort of) subject-related excerpt from In Search of Paul: How Jesus' Apostle Opposed Rome's Empire with God's Kingdom by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed (from a larger excerpt at Beliefnet) .....

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[...] Paul's essential challenge is how to embody communally that radical vision of a new creation in a way far beyond even our present best hopes for freedom, democracy, and human rights ......

In 1906 a small cave was discovered cut into the rock on the northern slop of Bulbul Dag, high above the ruins of ancient Ephesus, just off the mid-Aegean coast of Turkey. To the right of the entrance and beneath layers of plaster, Karl Herold, of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, uncovered two sixth-century images of St. Thecla and St. Paul.

They are both the same height and are therefore iconographically of equal importance. They both have their right hands raised in teaching gesture and are therefore iconographically of equal authority. But although the eyes and upraised hand of Paul are untouched, some later person scratched out the eyes and erased the upraised hand of Thecla. If the eyes of both images had been disfigured, it would be simply another example of iconoclastic antagonism, since that was believed to negate the spiritual power of an icon without having to destroy it completely. But here only Thecla's eyes and her authoritative hand are destroyed. Original imagery and defaced imagery represent a fundamental clash of theology. An earlier image in which Thecla and Paul were equally authoritative apostolic figures has been replaced by one in which the male is apostolic and authoritative and the femal is blinded and silenced. And even the cave's present name, St. Paul's Grotto, continues the negation of female-male equality once depicted on its walls.

We take that original assertion of equality and later counterassertion of inequality as encapsulating visually the central claim of this book for Christianity itself. The authentic and historical Paul, author of the seven New Testament letters he actually wrote (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galations, Philippians, I Thessalonians, Philemon), held that within Christian communities it made no difference whether one entered as a Christian Jew or a Christian pagan, as a Christian man or a Christian woman, as a Christian freeborn or a Christian slave. All were absolutely equal with each other. But in I Timothy, a letter attributed to Paul by later Christians though not actually written by him, women are told to be silent in church and pregnant at home (2:8-15). And a later follower of Paul inserted in I Corinthians that it is shameful for women to speak in church, but correct to ask their husbands for explanations at home (14:33-36).

Those pseudo-Pauline, post-Pauline, and anti-Pauline obliterations of female authority are the verbal and canonical equivalent of that visual and iconographic obliteration of Thecla's eyes and hand in that hillside cave. But both defacements also bear witness to what was there before the attack. Pauline equality was negated by post-Pauline inequality. Our book is about the actual and historical Paul, about the radical apostle who was there before the reaction, revision, and replacement began. He did not think in terms of political democracy or universal human rights. He only said that Christianity has never been able to follow, that within it all are equal and this is to be its witness and challenge to the world outside.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Kermit on the Prop 8 issue


- Kermit Roosevelt III, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Did I mention here before that I named Kermit my cat after Teddy Roosevelt's son Kermit? I saw something about him on an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and looked him up - he had a kind of sad life and he stuck with me. But actually I think I named Kermit after the frog and just liked Kermit Roosevelt because he reminded me of my Kermit :) Anyway, when I saw this article at The Christian Science Monitor by Kermit Roosevelt III, the great-grandson of Kermit Roosevelt, I thought I'd post it .......

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California's same-sex marriage case affects all of us

What now for California? In May, its Supreme Court announced a right to same-sex marriage. Gays and lesbians rushed to take advantage of the opportunity; by early November, 18,000 such marriages had been performed. But on Nov. 5, they stopped. By a 52-47 percent margin, California voters approved Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Immediately, gay rights supporters filed lawsuits asking to overturn the ruling. Critics are calling Proposition 8 an illegal constitutional "revision," fundamentally altering the guarantee of equality – not a more limited "amendment."

This suit raises a serious question: When should a majority have the power to take away a constitutional right granted by a court?

It's a question that forces us to think about why we have constitutional rights in the first place, and why they are enforced by judges. But it is not simply a theoretical puzzle. All of us enjoy constitutional rights, and most of us are at some point in a minority. All of us could be affected.

American constitutional practice has generally been to expand rights over time, both by amendment and by judicial decision. Amendments to the federal Constitution, for example, gave women and minorities the right to vote. Judicial decisions have expanded the constitutional guarantee of equality to protect more and more groups. Some of these decisions remain intensely controversial, but none have been overruled by a federal amendment.

Of course, amending the federal Constitution is difficult. It requires approval by "supermajorities": two-thirds in the House and the Senate and three-quarters of state legislatures. Federal rights cannot be taken away by a simple majority vote.

Because of this requirement, judicial decisions enforcing the federal Constitution's equality guarantee have followed a relatively consistent pattern. At one point in time, a particular practice – say, the racial segregation of public schools or the exclusion of women from the practice of law – is so widely accepted that it seems beyond challenge. Judges are not likely to strike the practice down, and if they did, the backlash might well be strong enough to create a constitutional amendment.

Some time later, the practice becomes controversial. It still enjoys majority support – otherwise it would likely be undone through ordinary lawmaking – but it no longer has the allegiance of a supermajority. It is at this time that judges tend to act in order to protect the freedoms of the minority, striking down the practice as unjustified discrimination. The decision may be intensely controversial. It may even be the target of majority disapproval. But because there is no longer a supermajority, the decision is safe.

As attitudes evolve, the practice comes to seem outrageous. Almost no one, nowadays, would argue for racial segregation of schools or a ban on female lawyers. At this point, the judicial decision is no longer controversial.

If a majority could overrule a judicial decision, the process would frequently be stopped by that majority vote. Judicial interventions against discrimination would just not succeed.

Regardless of where you stand on same-sex marriage, what's troubling for US citizens in the California case is the idea that an equality guarantee could not be effectively enforced against the will of a majority. The point of such a guarantee is precisely to protect minorities from discrimination at the hands of a majority.

It would be somewhat surprising, then, if California allowed judicial decisions enforcing the state equality guarantee to be overruled by a simple majority vote. In fact, as the gay-rights supporters' suit indicates, it is not clear that it does. Under the California constitution, "amendments" can be approved by a simple majority vote.

But "revisions," which make substantial changes, require approval by a supermajority – two-thirds of both houses of the legislature – before being submitted to voters. Supporters framed the same-sex marriage ban as an amendment, when really it has the makings of a revision.

It makes sense to require supermajority support to overrule a judicial decision that grants rights to a minority. It shows that the judges were so out of step with society that they were probably wrong. But a simple majority does not show that, and the constitution would not afford meaningful protection if it could be overruled at the will of the majority.

As the opposition to same-sex marriage in California has shrunk, simple majorities should not be able to reverse decisions made in the name of equality.

This is not an argument that the California court was correct. The battle for public opinion goes on. But letting the court's decision stand against the disapproval of a simple majority is not only sensible, it protects the minority rights of future generations.

Unpopular decisions are the price of constitutional rights.

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Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador



I saw a story at America magazine's blog by James Martin SJ about the possibility of the murderers of the six Jesuits killed in El Salvador in 1989 finally being held accountable. Here's the story he cites from the New York Times ....

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Jesuit Killings in El Salvador Could Reach Trial in Spain

MADRID — Nearly 20 years after the Salvadoran Army killed six Jesuit priests in one of the most notorious events of El Salvador’s civil war, a criminal complaint filed in the Spanish High Court has revived hopes that those behind the massacre could face trial.

Human rights lawyers filed a complaint on Thursday against the Salvadoran president at the time, Alfredo Cristiani Burkard, and 14 former members of the Salvadoran military, for their roles in the killings of the priests and two female employees, and in the official cover-up that followed. International outrage over the murders proved to be pivotal in sapping American support for United States military assistance to the Salvadoran Army.

“We hope this case helps to reawaken the memory and the conscience of El Salvador’s people,” said Almudena Bernabeu, a lawyer for the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, a human rights law center, which filed the case along with the Spanish Association for Human Rights.

The Spanish High Court must decide whether to press charges against the men and seek their extradition to Spain, Ms. Bernabeu said.

The crusading Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón made legal history in 1998 when he secured the arrest in Britain of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet using a Spanish legal principle that crimes against humanity can be prosecuted anywhere. General Pinochet narrowly escaped extradition to Spain by pleading ill health. Since then, Spain’s High Court has received cases connected to rights abuses in several countries, including Argentina, Chile and Guatemala.

In the early hours of Nov. 16, 1989, members of the Salvadoran Army forced their way into the Jesuit priests’ residence on the campus of the Central American University in San Salvador. They ordered five of the priests to lie face-down in the garden and shot them, and then searched the house, killing another priest, the housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter. But another housekeeper witnessed the attack.

A 1991 report by a United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission said Gen. René Emilio Ponce, then army chief, ordered the killing of one of the priests, Ignacio Ellacuría Bescoetxea. General Ponce ordered soldiers to leave no witnesses to the murder of Father Ellacuría, who had promoted peace talks between the right-wing military government and Marxist guerrillas.

The complaint filed on Thursday accuses former President Cristiani of helping cover up a crime against humanity. It accuses General Ponce and the 13 other former military officials and soldiers of crimes against humanity, murder and state-sponsored terrorism for their involvement in the slaughter.

Carlos Martín-Baró, whose brother was one of the priests killed, said the case had rekindled his hopes of justice. However, he said he was past seeking retribution for his brother’s murder and hoped any legal process would contribute to a wider fight against injustice in El Salvador.

Despite the witness account, the investigations and circumstantial evidence, efforts to make El Salvador’s military account for the killings have been largely fruitless. In a 1991 trial held in El Salvador, two military officials were convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The two were released under a 1993 amnesty.

Gisela de León, a lawyer with the Center for Justice and International Law in Costa Rica, said she was cautiously optimistic that Thursday’s court filing could result in the defendants’ facing trial in Spain.

“It will put pressure on the Salvadoran authorities and remind them that there is an international community out there and they have to respect its norms,” she said by telephone.

Even if the suspects were not extradited, the Spanish case could force a trial in El Salvador, Ms. Bernabeu said. Any prosecution would serve as some form of justice and help strengthen calls for a repeal of the country’s controversial amnesty law, she said.

“Remember, Pinochet died a criminal,” she said.

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You can read more about the assassination of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, at this Creighton University page

You can read more about the Jesuits Massacre Case here at The Center for Justice & Accountability

Here you can read the homily given by Fr. O’Hare SJ at a memorial Mass for the slain Jesuits at St. Ignatius Church in New York City on November 22, 1989

And here's a past post I did on one of the Jesuits killed, Ignacio Ellacuría


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kermit update

I called about Kermit's lab test result and they aren't good. Her kidney disease is so much worse that she isn't a candidate for surgery to fix her liver. And she has a very high white blood cell count showing a systemic infection with a hard to kill bug. The options are to give her antibiotics that won't actually cure her but might giver her more time, increasing her subQ fluids every day, pain medication, and something for anemia. But the meds may make her feel sick to her stomach and she already isn't able to eat much. I don't want to have her suffer but I don't want to kill her and I don't want to go away forever the little person I've known since she was born 18 years ago.


Water


- Dom Luiz Flávio Cappio

One of my grandfather's favorite songs was Cool Water by The Sons of the Pioneers. I thought about that when I saw a story at the Independent Catholic News, Franciscan bishop wins Pax Christi peace award. Here's a bit of the story ....

The 2008 Pax Christi International Peace Award has been awarded to Franciscan priest, Dom Luiz Flávio Cappio, the bishop of Barra in the state of Bahia, Brazil, and the members of the Brazilian community who have worked with him. Dom Luiz was commended for his non-violent action in protest against the Säo Francisco river transposition project. Brazil's third-largest river, the Rio Säo Francisco in the north-eastern state of Bahia, was relocated to build more hydropower stations and supply water for industrial farming, shrimps production and steel plants in an area inhabited by rich people. The project would effectively destroy many fishing villages and river inhabitants and cause vast environmental damage. The award also honours the actions of members of the community, who worked actively against the project. The struggle behind this Award also echoes the many struggles around the world related to land and water resources and rights.

I tried to read up on Dom Luiz Flávio Cappio, but sadly most stuff about him on the web is not in English. I did find a past post about him, though, in an article from the ecumenical water network, and from there I came upon a rather scary article at Mirada Global, a South American Jesuit site, about water and its coming scarcity, and politics .... Life, liberty, water.

I hadn't realized that only 1% of the earth's water is fresh water (97% is salt water, 2% is in the form of ice in glaciers and ice caps), that about 1 billion people are without clean drinking water. Maybe we should be less concerned about oil and more concerned about cool water.


Monday, November 10, 2008

The right, ability and responsibility to make choices



I got a notice from the library telling me one of the audio books I put a hold on hss come in. I'm excited because it's science fiction and at my library, at least, it's rare to find science fiction in audio form. The book is Off Armageddon Reef and here is a bit from the Publishers Weekly review at Amazon ....

Weber (At All Costs) launches an epic series with this gripping far-future saga, which springboards off the near-destruction of humanity in a massive war with the alien Gbaba. The survivors of the human race retreat to the planet Safehold, where they sacrifice basic human rights—and an accurate memory of the Gbaba—for the preservation of the species. The colony's founders psychologically program the colonists to prevent the re-emergence of scientific inquiry, higher mathematics or advanced technology, which the Gbaba would detect and destroy. Centuries later, cultural stagnation on this feudal but thriving planet is enforced by the all-powerful Church of God Awaiting. But one kingdom—with the aid of the war's last survivor, a cybernetic avatar that awakens to reinvent itself as a man named Merlin Athrawes—risks committing the ultimate heresy. Shifting effortlessly between battles among warp-speed starships and among oar-powered galleys, Weber brings the political maneuvering, past and future technologies, and vigorous protagonists together for a cohesive, engrossing whole.

One of the interesting things about the book is the way religion is portrayed, and the author, David Webber, has been accused of writing an anti-religious book. Here's something he said in reply to that, from an interview ....

"I'm sure some people will read this book as an attack on organized religion. After all, the primary force for the restriction and manipulation of human freedom and character, not to mention corruption, on Safehold is to be found in a world-wide religion. I think, however, that reading this book that way would be a mistake. Yes, the Church of God Awaiting is a monstrous, deliberately fabricated, enslaving lie imposed upon the people of Safehold. But the very impetus for reform coming out of places like Charis is coming out of men and women who follow the logical implications of the Church of God Awaiting's own moral teachings. Off Armageddon Reef is less about the evils of religion than it is about the use of any ideology or belief structure to manipulate, control and coerce. In the case of Safehold, it's religion; it could have been communism, fascism or any other brand of authoritarianism or totalitarianism. I said that my books are about choice.

To my mind, anything which removes or denies the right, ability and responsibility to make choices is evil, destructive and a perversion. Religion that closes off, that demonizes or dehumanizes the "other" as the first step in destroying him in the name of some intolerant, oppressive, thought-denying process can be a terrible force for evil. The cynical use of religion, of man's belief in God, as a self-serving means of manipulating others is despicable. And yet religion can be an equally powerful force for good. The people who support Merlin in Charis believe firmly and fervently in God; they simply can't accept that God is as small and mean-spirited as the Church of God Awaiting's current leadership apparently believe He is."

I guess this caught my attention after reading something that Fr. James Martin SJ had posted at America magazine's blog - a quote from a NY Times story on the Catholic vote in the recent election .....

The bishops do not intend to tell Catholics how to vote; but, by the way, a vote for Senator Obama puts your salvation at risk. Catholics are to form their consciences and make prudential judgments about complex matters of good and evil — just so long as they come to the same conclusions as the bishops.

Being a member of a religion and accepting the right, ability and responsibility to make choices shouldn't be antithetical. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises are, some say, a class in how to make good choices ..... maybe Off Armageddon Reef is the kind of book Ignatius would like :)


a/d



Have you ever wondered what a food syringe looks like? Of course you have :) This is how I've been feeding Kermit since she lost her appetite - you have to use a really squishy food like Science Diet's a/d and it's kind of messy, with food getting more in my hair and under my nails than in Kermit. Today after my sister leaves work , we'll be off to the dreaded vet appointment.


Friday, November 07, 2008

When wrong turns out to be right


- Cardinal Newman

It was mentioned to me recently (heh :) that I seem to dissent a lot in the area of Catholic teaching. Maybe I do, although offhand I can only think of a few things I disagree with, but I just wanted to say that dissent is not a bad thing necessarily, and I happened to see an interesting article in U.S.Catholic that backs me up - Catholic dissent -- When wrong turns out to be right - with examples of some famous dissenters of the past who were later vindicated ..... Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, Nun Mary Ward (who made the Spiritual Exercises :), Galileo, and the soon to be canonized Cardinal John Henry Newman. As the writer points out at the end of the article ....

It would be, of course, rash to conclude from this brief overview that dissent is always and everywhere a legitimate option. Catholics believe the teachings of the pope and the bishops are not just opinions to be lightly regarded or disregarded. Belief in the teaching authority of the church is a part of the faith, and authority is generally to be given the benefit of the doubt. An argumentative and contentious attitude is not conducive to the spirit of unity that ought to mark the People of God.

On the other hand, history demonstrates that some teachings, even some that appeared to be solidly entrenched in scripture and tradition and taught at the highest levels, were not as well-grounded as the magisterium at the time believed them to be. This is what the past reports back to us in myriad ways. No one can live in a hermetically sealed box oblivious to the experience of the Body of Christ as it has been lived; historical unconsciousness is not an option.

All are called to wrestle with the facts and their implications for difficult matters in our own time. At the very least, history should stimulate a bit of humility-making the church at every level less prone to pontificate despite natural inclinations to do so. The church moves and grows and learns through the ages-and the Spirit blows where it will.


The part of the article I found most interesting was about Cardinal Newman - I had no idea he had been such an upholder of the worth of the layity's opinion in church matters. Here's the bit of the article that deals with him snd his dissent ....

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Even John Henry Newman, often cited as the greatest Catholic figure of the 19th century, took a significant dissenting stance and suffered the consequences. Ironically, this dispute was over an occasion of dissent by hundreds of thousands of Christians that occurred 1,400 years before Newman was born.

In 1859 Newman was 59 and past his prime physically though not intellectually. As the editor of the magazine Ramparts, he got into trouble with the English hierarchy for asserting in an article that the British bishops would be well-advised to seek the counsel of lay Catholics in important matters. Such a view was regarded as rash and disruptive of good order. He was subsequently informed by his own bishop that the next issue of Ramparts, July 1859, would be his last as editor.

Newman accepted the decision somewhat badly, then set to work producing an exceptionally long study that constituted the entire July issue. It was titled "Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine," and it set off a firestorm of controversy because Newman placed himself in bold opposition to well-established teaching and interpretation.

In his study, Newman returned to a subject on which he was unquestionably the world's leading authority: the fourth-century Arian heresy (a movement that claimed that Jesus is not God, only God's greatest creation). Newman reviewed exhaustively a 60-year period that followed the Council of Nicaea in 325; the council had condemned Arianism and formulated in the famed Nicene Creed the orthodox position. However, during that post-conciliar period, Newman showed, the overwhelming number of bishops and dozens of regional church councils dismissed the Nicene formula and embraced Arianism. Even Pope Liberius signed a pro-Arian statement, though probably under pressure.

So great and so widespread was the Arian position, said Newman, that it would surely have become official Catholic doctrine, except for one thing: the Catholic laity. In Europe, Asia, and the Middle East they dissented from what their priests, their bishops, even their pope was proposing. Jesus is true God, they insisted in the face of excommunication, persecution, and (in some cases) martyrdom.

As it turned out, they won. At the First Council of Constantinople in 381, the Arian heresy was finally laid to rest, and the hierarchy agreed to abide by the faith of the people. Summarizing this remarkable period, Newman wrote, "The Nicene dogma was maintained during the greater part of the fourth century not by the unswerving firmness of the Holy See or councils of bishops but by the consensus of the fidelium [the faithful].

"On the other hand, I say that there was a temporary suspension of the functions of the ecclesia docens [teaching church]. The body of the bishops failed in their confession of the faith. They spoke variously against one another. There was nothing after Nicaea of firm, consistent testimony for 60 years. There were untrustworthy councils, unfaithful bishops . . . misguidance, delusion, hallucination . . . extending itself into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church."

From all this Newman drew some shocking conclusions that have been reverberating in the church ever since: that there is in the body of the faithful (the laity) an "instinct" for the truth, that this "sense of the faithful" must never be ignored or taken for granted by the church's official teachers, that authentic church teaching therefore comes about through a kind of "conspiracy" or cooperative enterprise on the part of both laity and hierarchy, and finally that certain lapses (or "suspensions") can occur when one side or the other of this living body temporarily ceases to function.

This was radical interpretation indeed, and there was immediate protest. Was Newman actually saying that the infallibility of the church doesn't reside exclusively in the church's head? asked the prominent English theologian John Gillow. Newman replied that he meant what he said: Because the promise of the Holy Spirit was given to the whole church, the whole church must be a party to its decisions.

This seemingly unprecedented elevation of the laity was particularly abhorrent to Msgr. Edward Talbot, a leading churchman, who asked in exasperation, "What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain. These matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters they have no right at all. . . . Dr. Newman is the most dangerous man in England."

Newman would not recant; thus charges were brought against him before the Vatican's Office of Propaganda by several English bishops, and a protracted investigation got underway. For the next six years Newman lived under a cloud, his creativity seriously impeded.

"This age of the church is peculiar," he complained. "In former times primitive or medieval, there was not the extreme centralization now in use . . . There was true private judgment in the primitive and medieval schools. . . . There are no schools now, no freedom . . . of opinion, no exercise of the intellect."

A decisive resolution never came from Rome, the affair passed, and in his last days Newman was made a cardinal for his lifetime contributions to the church.

Following his death in 1890, theologians began to further develop his concept of the church as an organism of interactive parts. That theology is still in process, but it achieved a measure of official recognition at Vatican II, which Pope Paul VI called "Newman's council." Said the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief . . . thanks to a supernatural sense of faith which characterizes the people as a whole. . . ."

And in another place the constitution declared, "Christ, the great prophet . . . continually fulfills his prophetic office . . . not only through the hierarchy who teach in his name . . . but also through the laity."

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Woo Hoo!

Obama won! So weird to have someone I've voted for actually win .... it's been 8 long years in the leadership wasteland (I had written 12 years, but I was mistaken, it just felt like 12) but it's finally over. Huzzah! :)




Vote!


- bust of Pericles at the British Museum

Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well -- we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.
- Pericles' Funeral Oration

I voted, or rather, walked my absentee ballot over to the polling place, just katty corner from where I live. It's been 8 years since I last voted, and it's good to vote. If you haven't voted, there's still time - go make Pericles proud :)


Monday, November 03, 2008

2008 election

I guess I may as well put up an internet version of the political yard sign, as tomorrow's voting day ......








The Wind That Shakes the Barley


- Catholic priest preching politics in The Wind That Shakes the Barley

I saw a post today at dotCommonweal that has a Kansas City bishop stating more of less that if one votes for Obama, they'll go to hell. This election is the first one in which I've noticed the Church being so involved in politics, but of course it always has been ..... one of my history teachers used to say, for instance, that Cardinal Richelieu was the best king France never had :)

Today, as I looked through movie speeches at American Rhetoric, I saw one given by a Catholic priest in the movie The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a 2006 film set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) and the Irish Civil War (1922–23). The movie, which won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of two County Cork brothers who join the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish independence from Great Britain. Here you can watch a video of a scene in the movie in which the village priest preaches in favor of the peace treaty with Britain (BTW, Roger Ebert gave the film 4 stars - you can read his review here).
I couldn't copy and paste the video, so here below is the text of the scene ....

Catholic Priest: I never thought I'd see the day: military courts established in Ireland by Irishmen; deportation or the death penalty for those caught with arms. In the name of God, what is going on?

I found this on the street during the week:

Under the Republic, the lands of the Aristocracy who live in luxury in London will be seized and divided up against landless workers and small farmers. All industry and agriculture will be controlled by the State for the workers' and famers' benefit.

Not content with stealing your savings, they'll be nationalizing the 12 Apostles next.

My dear brethren, we have an opportunity for the first time in generations in this country for peace and prosperity. We have that opportunity without English soldiers marching up and down our streets and outside our churches on a Sunday morning. We have that opportunity because we have signed a treaty -- a treaty of peace.

[Murmuring in the congregation]

Catholic Priest: Quiet. Let me remind those of you who have forgotten of the pastoral letter signed by Cardinal Logue and other Bishops. Anti-Treatyite irregulars have, and I quote:

...wrecked Ireland from end to end, and all those who participate in such crimes are guilty of the gravest sins and may not be absolved in confession, nor admitted to Holy Communion.

In other words: excommunication.

And this opinion of the treaty is not just the opinion of the Catholic Church. It is the opinion of other churches. And it is the opinion of every newspaper up and down and the length and breadth of this country. But most importantly, this treaty was ratified -- overwhelmingly ratified -- by the people in their democratic expression in the June election.

Damien: Can you tell me, Father, how there can be a fair election in this country when the most powerful country in the world threatens war? This is not the will of the people; it is the fear of the people.

Catholic Priest: How dare you talk to me in the house of God.

[More murmuring in the congregation]

Catholic Priest: Silence! Damien O'Donovan, you're a disgrace to the memory of your parents. Yes, get out!

Congregation Member: The Free-State Constitution was only printed the morning of the election. So nobody had time to --

Catholic Priest: Young lady, this is not the marketplace. Sit down! Shut up! Or get out my church!

Damien: And once again, the Catholic Church, with honorable exception, sides with the rich.

Catholic Priest: Get out!!

***

I don't really know what to make of all the Church/State intertwining but it does make things interesting.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Something rare

I think it's very hard for anyone to ever change their mind about things they find important. It is for me, certainly, because I usually have such an investment in what I believe that it's painful to even see another viewpoint, much less adopt it. But I saw a video tonight of the Republican mayor of San Diego, a regional bastion of conservatism, explaining that that's exactly what's happened to him on the issue of marriage equality (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan). It really touched me, so I thought I'd post it ......




Feast of All Souls


- tomorrow is All Souls Day and I was looking for a photo of a graveyard angel but then remembered the Winged Victory of Samothrace


Feminists for Life - Not!


- Susan B. Anthony

I've seen a couple of posts here and there (see Sarah Palin and the New Feminism at the Insight Scoop) about the organization, Feminists For Life, who's most visible member is Palin. I don't believe that they are composed of feminists nor that they speak for them, not because they are against abortion, but because they are involved in the conflating of contraception and abortion, and want to criminalize abortion ... including those for rape, incest, health, major fetal defects and even some abortions most doctors would say were necessary to save the woman's life. And I think the star to which they've tied their wagon, Susan B. Anthony, who was a feminist and against abortion, would more likely have been pro-choice not pro-life if she were alive today.

Here's a little from an article I saw on the subject, Desperately Seeking Susan, from the New York Times ........

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[...] it seems that stalwart Sue has an issue, one that might surprise her. That two-story house, a rich but undistinguished piece of real estate perched on a desolate stretch of highway, was sold at auction in August. It belongs now to Carol Crossed, the founder of the New York State chapter of Feminists for Life. Ms. Crossed made the acquisition on behalf of the national anti-abortion organization, which will manage and care for the house.

It is not the first time that Anthony has found herself leading the charge on this vexed issue. Since 1992 an anti-abortion political action committee has been named for her. On billboards and elsewhere, Ms. Crossed’s group promises to continue her legacy. “Susan B. Anthony was a forward-thinking woman who would feel comfortable with the positions of Feminists for Life of New York,” asserts the organization. Which does rather raise the question: When exactly did Susan B. Anthony — who fought more tenaciously for women’s rights than anyone else in our history — cast her anti-abortion vote?

There is no question that she deplored the practice of abortion, as did every one of her colleagues in the suffrage movement. Feminists for Life cites an 1869 article in her newspaper denouncing “child murder,” labeling abortion “a most monstrous crime,” and advocating its end. “No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed,” blares the article. “It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death.”

What is generally not mentioned is that the essay argues against an anti-abortion law; its author did not believe legislation would resolve the issue of unwanted pregnancy. Also not mentioned is the vaporous textual trail. According to the editors of Anthony’s papers, the article is not hers.

In her personal life Anthony was clear in her conviction that women were not preordained to motherhood, that sometimes a woman and her womb might go their separate ways. A devoted aunt, she claimed to appreciate her colleagues’ offspring, some of whom even felt warmly toward her. But she had little patience for maternity ......

Ms. Crossed has argued that abortion rights are a violation of those for which Anthony fought. To her mind, the right to vote does not bring with it the right to destroy our offspring. This may be true. And then again it may not be. “We demand that woman shall be given the means to assert herself, regardless of whether she ever uses it or not,” pretty much qualified as Anthony’s theme song.

Above all, the drillmaster of the suffrage movement had no patience when it came to dogma. She won few points for her free thinking but forged ahead all the same: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” She cast her vote always for tolerance, acting from a simple conviction: “For a people is only as great, as free, as lofty, as advanced as its women are free, noble and progressive.”

The bottom line is that we cannot possibly know what Anthony would make of today’s debate. Unwanted pregnancy was for her bundled up with a different set of issues, of which only one truly mattered: rescuing women from “the Dead Sea of disfranchisement.” In the 19th century, abortion often was life-threatening, contraception primitive, and a woman as little in control of her reproductive life as of her political one. The terms do not translate, one reason time travel is a risky proposition. No amount of parsing the founding fathers will reveal what they think of the war in Iraq, just as no modern chorus of mea culpas will explain away their slave-holding. To suggest otherwise is to wind up with history worthy of those classic commercial duos, Fred Astaire and his Dirt Devil, Paula Abdul and Groucho Marx.

For what it’s worth, Anthony has ceded her place on the dollar to another steely and resourceful woman, the face of manifest destiny, who — coincidentally? — appears always with a child strapped to her back, the original rendition of backwards-and-in-heels. Sacagawea may have been a crackerjack scout, but she left no paper trail. Who knows what she thought about white men or westward expansion? She’s up for grabs, an icon without a cause. Feminists for Life may want to hurry, before the logging industry gets there first.

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