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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Happened at Vatican II



There's a post at US News's religion and politics blog - As White House Readies Abortion Plan, Packaging Emerges as Major Issue - about religious groups (including the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops) objecting to the support of contraception. This made me think of my latest book from the library, What Happened at Vatican II by Georgetown U Jesuit John O'Malley.

The first thing I did was turn to the index and look up "birth control" :) Here's a little from the book .....

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Casti Connubbi was a long and wide-ranging encyclical [of Pius XI] that dealt with a number of issues connected with marriage .... What caused the encyclical to become one of the most cited even today is the relatively short but pointed and absolute condemnation of birth control. (p. 82)

Article 21 of chapter 4 was titled "The Dignity of Marriage and the Family". It was an explosive subject. The text did three things that roused the ire of council fathers like Ruffini, Ottaviani, and Browne. First, it avoided using the textbook terms "primary" and "secondary" ends of marriage, in which the primary end was the procreation of children and the secondary end was a remedy for concupiscence and the mutual help of the spouses. The document instead spoke at length about the holiness and the goodness of the love that bound the spouses; only then did it mention children as the fulfillment of that love. Second, it made the consciences of the spouses the deciding factor for the number of children they should have. Finally, it did not explicitly reaffirm a condemnation of birth control ....

Beneath the surface of the whole discussion of article 21 seethed the question of birth control, made more urgent by "the pill". The previous year John Rock, a Catholic physician who participated in the creation of an oral contraceptive, had published his widely reviewed book The Time Has Come, in which he advocated a change in approach by the churches, especially the Catholic Church ....

In discreet and indiscreet ways the bishops kept bringing it up, usually with at least an insinuation that the time had come for a change in the teaching. Thus spoke, for instance, Leger [Emile Leger, Archbishop of Montreal], Alfrink [Bernardus Johannes Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht], Joseph Reuss [bishop, Mainz, Germany] (speaking for 145 fathers "from various countries and parts of the world"), and Rudolf Staverman of Sukarnapura, Indonesia, who expressly argued that marriage had evolved like every historical reality and therefore the church could not just repeat old formulas - the way this schema spoke of marriage was, on the contrary, "healthy and liberating".

Saigh [Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh] was as usual boldly outspoken and direct. He began "I call your attention today ... to birth control." It is a pressing problem that the council must confront. For the faithful it is a sad and agonizing issue, for there is a cleavage between the official teaching of the church and the contrary practice in most families. Moreover, the population explosion in certain parts of the world is condemning hundreds of millions of human beings to misery without hope. The council must find a solution. It must ask whether God really wants this depressing and unnatural impasse: "Let me speak frankly: do not the official positions of the church in this matter require revision in the light of modern research - theological, medical, psychological, sociological?"

It was Suenens' [Leo Jozef Suenens, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel] speech, however, that caused a sensation .... First he more than intimated that a change might be in order. We have learned a few things, he said, since Aristotle and Augustine. He invoked development of doctrine and called attention to the population explosion. He injected a dramatic note into his presentation with the statement, "I plead with you, brothers. We must avoid another 'Galileo case'. One is enough for the church." Second, at the very end he called on Paul VI to make public the names of the members of the Papal Commission [Pontifical Commission on Birth Control]. That way, he said, the members will receive the most copious information on the subject, and the whole people of God will be represented ... When he finished, applause broke out ..... (pp. 236-38)

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There was something both funny and touching in another account of the Commissions's debate on this subject, that I saw in an article online (Detour: the Commission on Birth Control). Here's a bit of it .....

Bishop [Carlo] Colombo, alarmed by what seemed Gracias's defection from the conservative camp, interrupted the cardinal. If the Church backtracks on contraception, he warned his colleagues, they "would endanger the very indefectability of the Church, the teacher of truth in these things" which pertain to pertain to salvation. Wouldn't this mean the gates of hell had in some way prevailed against the Church?"

[Spanish Jesuit Father Marcelino] Zalba could not agree more. "What then," he asked, "with the millions we have sent to hell if these norms were not valid?"

Patty Crowley [a married Catholic from Chicago] could not restrain herself. "Father Zalba," she interjected, "do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?"

A momentary stunned silence followed, then some chuckles at this intrusion of common sense in these austere deliberations. Patty seized the moment and spoke further.

"On behalf of women in general, I plead that the male Church carefully consider the plight of at least one half of its members, who are the real bearers of these burdens. Couples are generous. Christian couples want to have children. It is the very fruit of their love for each other. What is needed is to rid ourselves of this negative outlook on psychological and spiritual values. Couples can be trusted. They will accept the progress of change, and they will have increased confidence in the Church as she helps them grow in love and demonstrates her trust and confidence in them."


As we know, however, the Pope insisted on a rejection of contraception, despite the findings of the council and the commission. It's just weird that all these years later, a subject that was so hotly contested back then, not just by lay people but also by bishops of the church, is still causing problems with us moving forward.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Stonewall riots

I've been reading in the news today (40 Years Later, Still Second-Class Americans - NYT) about the Stonewall riots. Here's some of what Wikipedia has on the riots .....

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The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are frequently cited as the first instance in American history when people in the homosexual community fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted sexual minorities, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

American gays and lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s faced a legal system more anti-homosexual than those of some Warsaw Pact countries. Early homophile groups in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favored non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the 1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social movements were active, including the African American Civil Rights Movement, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and antiwar demonstrations. These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.

Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. The Stonewall Inn, at the time, was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known to be popular with the most marginalized people in the gay community: transvestites, effeminate young men, hustlers, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn, and attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.

After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles and New York commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities. Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark the Stonewall riots ....

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- here's a photo from the post The Many Sides of Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade (as I get more interested in the middle east, I've been reading Reuters' AxisMundi Jerusalem blog)


Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Little girl, get up!"


- Damsel, I say unto thee, arise by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max


Friday, June 26, 2009

Prayer Is a Conversation

In a past post about prayer styles, I mentioned I liked Ignatian prayer. A good description of it is "conversation". Here's a bit from one of the articles by David L. Fleming SJ at Loyola Press' Ignatian spirituality site .....

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Prayer Is a Conversation

[...] From the beginning of his spiritual journey, Ignatius had a good idea of what he wanted to do. He wanted to evangelize, to bring the good news of the Incarnation to others. He wanted to lead others into a relationship with Christ Jesus. How to accomplish this was less clear. It took years for him to develop the attitudes, insights, and techniques that we know as Ignatian spirituality .....

Ignatius describes his ministry by the simple Spanish word conversar. Conversar means “to converse,” “to talk with.” Its simplest meaning in English is sincere talk with another person, the kind of comfortable, satisfying conversation whereby we truly get to know someone else ....

In fact, the Exercises themselves are the product of years of conversation. Ignatius developed them from his experience as a spiritual director of men and women seeking a deeper relationship with God. He would suggest ways to pray, scripture passages to meditate on, scenes to imagine, ideas to ponder. Then he and his friends would talk about what happened in prayer. Together they would discern how God seemed to be leading. Ignatius’s book, perhaps the most influential book ever written about developing our relationship with God, is essentially a collection of these exercises, sharpened and honed in conversation.

The Spiritual Exercises are structured around the developing relationship between the retreatant and Jesus Christ. They urge us to see ourselves as God sees us—as his sons and daughters, members of his family. Jesus used the affectionate word abba to refer to his Father when he prayed. The closest English equivalent is “Papa.” We can address God in the same intimate, friendly way because we are his children.

Prayer is a natural outcome of this close relationship. It is not something mysterious or esoteric or something that we learn how to do in school. Prayer is conversation. If we can talk, we can pray. Of course we can learn to pray better, just as we can learn to be better conversationalists. That, in fact, was Ignatius’s intention in putting together his Spiritual Exercises. But the essential activity of prayer springs naturally from our humanity. It is a matter of conversing with a very good friend ......

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Prayer, Spiritual Direction, Retreats, and Good Decisions

The other day I came across a new site from Loyola Press about Ignatian spirituality, thanks to a post by Fr. James Martin SJ at America magazine's blog. The site, IgnatianSpirituality.com, has a wealth of info about the spirituality practiced and taught by the Jesuits, from the Spiritual Exercises and the discernment of spirits to a blog of the "best Ignatian songs" complete with YouTubes :) Here is one of the latest songs they have posted, The Palm of Your Hand ....



And here's part of their opening blurb ....

Ignatian spirituality is a way to pray, an approach to making decisions, a point of view about God, and a practical guide to everyday life. St. Ignatius Loyola was a layperson when he composed the Spiritual Exercises. His optimistic and practical spirituality is particularly suited to the needs and desires of 21st-century seekers. Ignatian spirituality sees God as actively involved in the world and intimately involved with us in every moment and place. Explore IgnatianSpirituality.com to learn what this spiritual approach can mean for your life.

Ignatian spirituality is rooted in the conviction that God is active, personal, and­­—above all—present to us. We don’t have to withdraw from the world into a quiet place in order to find God. God’s footprints can be found everywhere—in our work and our relationships, in our family and friends, in our sorrows and joys, in the sublime beauty of nature and in the mundane details of our daily lives. It’s often said that Ignatian spirituality trains us to “find God in all things.” ........



Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hollyhocks



I love hollyhocks - I think they remind me subliminally of Alice in Wonderland kind of stuff. Above is a photo of one of the hollyhocks I have in a pot outside. Mine seem very fragile and don't last long - don't know if that's because I don't feed them or don't use pesticides or if it's because they are from heirloom seeds. The photo below is a close up of the interior of another of the hollyhocks - it looks like a green star .



ALICE

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July --
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear --
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream --
Lingering in the golden dream --
Life, what is it but a dream?

THE END

Lewis Carroll


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral



I'm still reading (listening to) the book, The Historian, and I'm to the part where the characters, in their search for info about Dracula, have traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria. I've never been there, but in looking it up, I saw a church that caught my attention - Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Ever since I saw Sergei Eisenstein's famous film about the saint (and I posted about him once here), I've been interested in Alexander Nevsky, so I thought I'd post a little about the cathedral. Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of it ....

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Bulgarian: Храм-паметник „Свети Александър Невски“, Hram-pametnik „Sveti Aleksandar Nevski“) is a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Built in Neo-Byzantine style, it serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, as well as one of Sofia's symbols and primary tourist attractions. The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia occupies an area of 3170 m² and can take 5,000 people inside..

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a cross-domed basilica featuring an emphasized central dome. The cathedral's gold-plated dome is 45 m high, with the bell tower reaching 50.52 m. The temple has 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons, the heaviest weighing 12 tons and the lightest 10 kg. The interior is decorated with Italian marble in various colours, Brazilian onyx, alabaster, and other luxurious materials. The central dome has the Lord's Prayer inscribed around it with thin gold letters .... To the left of the altar is a case displaying relics of Alexander Nevsky, given by the Russian Orthodox Church. Although the accompanying Bulgarian-language plaque refers simply to "relics" (мощи), the item on display appears to be a piece of a rib.




Here's a YouTube below of the beginning of the battle scene in Eisenstein's movie, showing the fight on a frozen lake between the Catholic Teutonic Knights (the guys in white with crosses on their tunics) and the Eastern Orthodox people of Novgorod led by Prince Alexander (music by Prokofiev) ......




Monday, June 22, 2009

The Big Questions

The latest big question asked by the Templeton Foundation is Does evolution explain human nature?. Their page has the responses of 12 scholars to the question. Looking at the big question archive (the four previous questions), I saw a couple of questions I was more interested in ....

... one was Does the Universe Have a Purpose?. The responses to that question are made by some interesting people, including Jane Goodall and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Here's the response of John Haught, Catholic theologian and Senior Fellow, Science & Religion, at the Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University ..........

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Yes.

The fact that we can ask such a question at all suggests an affirmative answer. The impassioned search for meaning, perhaps our species' most distinctive trait, is not a longing that lifts us out of the universe, or that takes place outside of nature. We are, after all, as much a part of nature as roaches and rivers. So too is our thirst for meaning.

If we accept evolution, as indeed we must, our longing for meaning is nature–in the same sense that birdsong and the howling of wolves are nature.

But if our minds are nothing more than the accidental outcome of a mindless evolutionary process, why should we trust them at all? A Darwinian account of the mind's critical capacities–explanatory though such a narrative might be–is not enough to justify the confidence we spontaneously place in our cognitional powers.

Darwin himself would agree. He agonized over whether the theory of natural selection, taken by itself, might not undermine the actual trust we have in our mind's capacity to understand and know reality. "With me the horrid doubt always arises," he admitted to a friend, "whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

Darwin had no good answer to this question, but that does not mean it is unanswerable. We can embrace evolutionary science without losing confidence in our minds. For it is not by looking back at what our minds evolved from, I suggest, but only by looking forward at what our minds are now anticipating that we can validate our cognitional confidence and vindicate our trust in cosmic purpose.

But just what are our minds anticipating? What are they reaching for? If, along with me, you are asking this question, you are already closing in on the answer. Your mind is engaged at his very moment in nothing less than the search for truth. And simply by reaching toward truth both you and your mind's natural root system–the universe–are ennobled. As they are being taken captive by the most undeniable of values, truth itself, they are already participating in its empowering though always elusive presence. It is because this transcendent value has already taken hold of you, and in you the whole universe, that you can have faith in your critical intelligence and also trust that the universe has a purpose.

Purpose, after all, means quite simply the bringing about of something undeniably and permanently good. Is that what is going on in the cosmos?

As long as you are drawn toward truth, so also is the natural world that gave birth to your mind. The two, after all, are inseparable. As long as the search for truth persists, not only can you trust your mind, you can also trust the universe that has germinated such an exquisite means of opening itself to what is timelessly worth treasuring.

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... and the other question was Does science make belief in God obsolete? Some interesting guys answered this one too, including Robert Sapolsky and Christoph Schönborn, OP. Here below is the response given by Fellow of the British Academy, ordained priest in the Church of England, and a Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, Keith Ward .....

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No.

Far from making belief in God obsolete, some interpretations of modern science provide positive reinforcement for belief in God.

The methodology of the natural sciences requires the formulation of fruitful questions about the nature of the world that can be answered by careful and repeatable observations. The use of controlled experiments aids the construction of illuminating schemes of classification or of causal hypotheses that explain why things are as they are. The development of mathematical techniques for describing and predicting observable regularities is usually an important part of a scientific approach to the world.

There are many different sorts of natural science, from the patient observations of botany and ethology to the more theory-laden hypotheses of quantum cosmology. What is their relation to belief in God? The answer depends on how one defines God. I shall adopt the rather minimal view that God is a non-physical being of consciousness and intelligence or wisdom, who creates the universe for the sake of distinctive values that the universe generates.

If there is such a God, it follows that a non-physical conscious intelligence is possible - so a materialist view that all existent things must be physical, or must have location in space-time and must be subject to the causal laws of such a space-time, must be false. It follows that the nature of the universe must be compatible with being the product of intelligent creation, and must contain states that are of distinctive value and that could not otherwise exist. And it follows that there is a form of non-physical causality - the whole physical universe only exists because it is the effect of such causality. So some facts about the universe (minimally, the fact that the universe exists as it does) must be such that they cannot be completely explained by physical causal laws alone.

All these claims are subject to dispute. Such disputes are as old as recorded human thought. But has the spectacular advance of the natural sciences added anything significant to them? Some writers have supposed that science rules out any non-physical beings or forms of causality. Auguste Comte propagated the nineteenth century idea of a progress of humanity through three states of thought - religious, metaphysical, and positive or scientific. The final stage supersedes the others. Thus science renders belief in God obsolete.

But quantum physicists have decisively rejected Comte's philosophical proposal that human sense-observations provide the ultimate truth about objective reality. They more nearly vindicate Kant's alternative proposal that our senses only reveal reality as it appears to us. Reality in itself is quite different, and is accessible only through mathematical descriptions that are increasingly removed from observation or pictorial imagination (how do you picture a probability-wave in Hilbert space?).

It is almost commonplace in physics to speak of many space-times, or of this space-time as a 10- or 11-dimensional reality that dissolves into topological foam below the Planck length. This is a long way from the sensationalism of Hume and Comte, and from the older materialism that insists on locating every possible being within this space-time. Some modern physicists routinely speak of realities beyond space-time (e.g., quantum fluctuations in a vacuum from which this space-time originates). And some physicists, such as Henry Stapp, Eugene Wigner, and John von Neumann, speak of consciousness as an ultimate and irreducible element of reality, the basis of the physical as we know it, not its unanticipated by-product.

It is simply untrue that modern physics rules out the possibility of non-physical entities. And it is untrue that science has established a set of inflexible laws so tightly constraining and universally dominating that they exclude the possibility of other forms, including perhaps non-physical forms, of causal influence that we may not be able to measure or predict. It is more accurate to say that fundamental laws of nature are seen by many physicists as approximations to an open, holistic and flexible reality, as we encounter it in relatively isolated and controlled conditions.

An important fact about God is that if God is a non-physical entity causally influencing the cosmos in non-physical ways, God's mode of causal influence is most unlikely to be law-governed, measurable, predictable, or publicly observable. To the extent that the sciences describe regular, measurable, predictable, controllable, and repeatable behavior, acts of God will be outside the scientific remit. But that does not mean they cannot occur.

Even opponents of intelligent creation (not "intelligent design," which in America has come to designate a view that specific scientific evidences of design can be found) often concede that the amazingly fine-tuned laws and constants of nature that lead to the existence of intelligent life look as if they are designed to do so. The appearance, they say, is deceptive. But it could be true, as Steven Weinberg has suggested, that intelligent life-forms like us could only exist in a cosmos with the fundamental constants this cosmos has, that intelligent life is somehow prefigured in the basic laws of the universe, and that the universe "knew we were coming," as Freeman Dyson has put it. If so, then the hypothesis of intelligent creation is a good one because it makes the existence of intelligent life vastly more probable than the hypothesis that such life is a product of blind processes that may easily have been otherwise.

But this is not a scientific hypothesis. It posits no observationally confirmable entities, and produces no specific predictions. It is a philosophical hypothesis about the most adequate overall interpretation of a very wide set of data, including scientific data, but also including non-scientific data from history, personal experience, and morality. And that is the fundamental point. It is not science that renders belief in God obsolete. It is a strictly materialist interpretation of the world that renders belief in God obsolete, and which science is taken by some people to support. But science is more ambiguous than that, and modern scientific belief in the intelligibility and mathematical beauty of nature, and in the ultimately "veiled" nature of objective reality, can reasonably be taken as suggestive of an underlying cosmic intelligence. To that extent, science may make a certain sort of belief in God highly plausible.

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Bad girls in church



I saw a post at the Episcopal Cafe - Bad girls in church - that mentions a poat at Religion Dispatches, The Best and the Brightest of the Catholic Bad Girls by Frances Kissling. One of the things the RD article mentions is the co-opting by religious conservatives of the term "feminism" ( the feminists for life and the new feminism). The article also mentions some past Catholic feminists, but for some reason does not count my favorite, Teresa of Avila, among them (the photo above is of Paz Vega as Teresa in a controversial Spanish movie about the saint).

Here's the start of the article. I don't agree with all that's in it, but some of it rings true ....

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How does power respond to those who want a place at the table? As Gandhi once explained, power has five strategies. First, it simply ignores those knocking at the door; when that fails, power pretends the seekers are only a few very unimportant and disgruntled people, not worthy of attention. If they manage to survive being ignored and marginalized, power attacks them either physically or verbally. Those who survive then find their goals and even identity co-opted. Finally change happens.

While I’ve never felt powerless, I have found reflecting on this analysis helpful in understanding the reaction of Catholic popes, bishops, and those who are part of the Catholic boys club to uppity Catholic women—I knew we’d finally gotten to them in 1998 when Sydney Callahan reported in Commonweal on a Vatican meeting on women where John Paul ll announced that he was the “feminist Pope.”

The declaration was a sign of the extent to which it had become unacceptable to dismiss, marginalize, satirize, or simply roll your eyes and trash feminism—and Catholic feminists. It was time for the church, at least in its clerical identity, to shape an acceptable form of Catholic feminism and to anoint some “good” Catholic women. Of course, the Vatican was the last place to recognize this need; political astute and worldly clerics (and laymen fellow travelers) had already recognized that in the cosmopolitan environments they wanted to move, the church’s misogyny as well as the nearly all-male institutions they were associated with were an embarrassment.

Some level of gender sensitivity and integration was necessary. But not too much, the church seemed to say, and not with women who make us uncomfortable: nice women, polite women, not pushy broads. It’d be especially helpful if they respected the priesthood. A modern, educated, and sophisticated version of the rectory housekeeper seemed to be what was needed.

Oh, and most importantly the church wanted women who didn't think they understood theology well enough to criticize it and get in trouble with the Vatican. After all, one cannot go around claiming that it is good theology that women are moral agents, capable of making good decisions about their nature, sexuality, and reproductive choices. Women like Catherine of Siena, Joan of Arc, and Juana de la Cruz need not apply. The good women wouldn’t be very interested in sex, other women, or power. They’d care about poverty, world hunger, development, and education. When it came to women’s lives, only women you could put the adjective “poor” in front of would deserve attention, and they wouldn’t make an issue of ordaining women to the priesthood. If they weren’t nuns, their personal lives would be a sign of goodness (if they were married and had kids) or hidden (if they were single). For the single ones their public persona was one of perpetual virginity, free to serve others and the church. No hint of sexuality about them. Good-looking Mother Teresas ........

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

In the yard


- a tea rose bud


- trumpet vine


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Speaking of museums


- the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum

I saw this in the news today ....

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Greece Renews Call for Parthenon Marbles Return as Museum Opens

Ancient gods and centaurs flickered to life, horses, owls and deer danced across the Athenian skyline, and statues of ancient girls blinked and tossed their hair as Greece opened its New Acropolis Museum, pressing its case that artworks from the 5th century B.C. Acropolis should all be housed together.

“If Pericles’ Acropolis was a hymn to beauty, harmony and liberty, the Acropolis Museum today is the Ark which brings together all of the ideas that the Parthenon has stood for ever, since antiquity,” Greece’s Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis said in a speech. The museum can help bring “the reunification of the Parthenon marbles. Because the Parthenon marbles speak in their entirety. This is the way to show the integrity of everything they stand for.”

Amid tight security and with a backdrop of animated scenes from the collection in the 130 million-euro ($181 million) museum, Greece is renewing its campaign to retrieve the Elgin Marbles, the sculptures taken from the Parthenon’s frieze to Britain 207 hundred years ago and housed in the British Museum. The ceremony was broadcast live on Greek TV and online.

Completed three decades after the first call for a design, and after court cases and archaeological finds delayed construction, the museum is Greece’s answer to the British Museum’s argument that there’s nowhere to house the Marbles .... Successive U.K. governments have said the marbles won’t be returned. British Museum director Neil MacGregor, in a 2007 interview, said objects could in theory be loaned for up to six months, though this would be impossible while the Greek government refused to acknowledge the Museum as the legal owner. Samaras said this month that would be unacceptable to any Greek government ....

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Here's a little bit about the Elgin Marbles from Wikipedia ....

The Elgin Marbles, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that originally belonged to the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799–1803, had obtained a controversial permission from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Acropolis. From 1801 to 1812 Elgin's agents removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum. The Marbles were transported by sea to Britain. In Britain, Elgin was criticised for his actions, labelled by some as vandalism, and some contemporaries described him as a looter. However, following a public debate in Parliament and subsequent exoneration of Elgin's actions, the marbles were purchased by the British Government in 1816 and placed on display in the British Museum, where they stand now on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery. The legality of the removal has been questioned and the debate continues as to whether the Marbles should remain in the British Museum or be returned to Athens ....

I think the marbles should be given back to Greece. Most of the big European and US museums have ancient art and art from third world countries that's been unethically if not outright illegally lifted, usually after a military conquest, but sometimes in a more Indiana Jones manner. It wasn't until 1954 after the huge amount of Nazi art looting that the Hague Convention defined significant antiquities as "cultural property" and the "national patrimony" of states where they were found.

The British Museum is not the only museum with Greek art asked for back ..... Vatican City: Greek Bishop Asks Pope to Return Piece of Parthenon - In his first official visit to the Vatican, Archbishop Christodoulos, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, asked Pope Benedict XVI to return a piece of the Parthenon held in the Vatican Museums, Greek officials said. According to spokesmen for Christodoulos, Benedict was a bit perplexed by the request, perhaps not knowing that the vast collection included a fragment of the ancient building. He said he would consider the request, they said .... Wonder if anything came of that request.

If you're interested in the subject, The University of Wisconsin has a good article on the subject - The Looting of Art/The Art of Looting


Friday, June 19, 2009

Do you not care that we are perishing?


- Christ Asleep During the Tempest by Delacroix

This coming Sunday the gospel reading is Mk 4:35-41 in which Jesus sleeps on the boat while the terrified disciples try to keep it afloat in a storm. I really like this story as I'm always asking God that same question - do you not care that we are perishing? I guess I'm not the only one attracted to the reading - romantic artist Eugène Delacroix is said to have painted the scene some 14 times. The Metropolitan Museum of Art website states .....

When one of the versions of Christ Asleep during the Tempest was shown in the 1864 Delacroix memorial exhibition, a critic described it as "one of the subjects that Delacroix has caressed most . . . . Everything seduces him in this episode, the whipped-up water, the sky black with storms, the sails torn by the wind, the terror of the sailors, and, above all that, the sweet sleep of the Saviour in the midst of the revolt of nature." Delacroix painted fourteen variations of this New Testament lesson in faith: when awakened by his terrified disciples, Christ scolded them for their lack of trust in Providence. In the earlier works, the seascape is more prominent; in the later ones, as here, Christ's bark occupies a more significant place. After Vincent van Gogh saw this version in Paris in 1886, he wrote, "The 'Christ in the Boat'—I am speaking here of the sketch in blue and green with touches of violet, red and a little citron-yellow for the nimbus, the halo—speaks a symbolic language through color alone."

When I was reading about Delacroix, I was struck by the mention of him being the friend and spiritual heir to Théodore Géricault, for Géricault painted a work that has always intrigued me, and I wonder if it influenced Delacroix's paintings of Christ and the tempest ..... The Raft of the Medusa

Here's another of Delacroix's paintings, Christ on the Sea of Galilee ...




Thursday, June 18, 2009

I forgot to tell you that Father Ignatius was ordained a priest



David Gibson has a post at Pontifications - Pope to clergy: "After God, the priest is everything!" - about B16's letter on the Year of the Priest. This made me think of Ignatius of Loyola, who wrote the Spiritual Exercises long before he ever became a priest. I've been reading John O'Malley's book, The First Jesuits, and I thought I'd post what he wrote under the heading of "Holy Orders" .......

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Because the Society strictly forbade its members from accepting bishoprics, Jesuits obviously could not administer the sacrament of Orders. That prohibition helps account for the little mention of the sacrament in the sources. Most Jesuits were, however, either already ordained priests or destined for ordination. What is surprising about this fundamental reality is how seldom it is singled out for comment. Ordination to the priesthood, for instance, is in effect not mentioned in the Constitutions. Certainly, the early Jesuits spoke so little about priesthood because they took it for granted. They inherited the medieval idea that the sacrament of Orders conferred the power to confect the Eucharist and provided the basis for the jurisdiction that allowed priests to hear confessions. Given the centrality of these two sacraments in the ministry of the early Jesuits, they obviously needed to be ordained to carry out that ministry as they understood it.

As should be clear by now, however, much of the ministry in the Society was in fact done by persons who were not ordained. More fundamentally, was the warrant for all the ministries derived in their opinion not from ordination but from acceptance of the call to be a member of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits discussed that call frequently and at length, but rarely, if at all, did they speak of a "call to priesthood".

They could find some substantiation for these attitudes in the Summa of Aquinas and the writings of other members of the mendicant orders. Moreover they found them at least indirectly confirmed by the various papal documents that allowed all members of the order to preach and engage in all the constueta ministeria, except hearing confessions and distributing Communion.

When Nadal in his exhortations reviewed with his fellow Jesuits the outline of Ignatius's life, he therefore had practically nothing to say about his ordination, reflecting Ignatius's Autobiography in this relative silence. On one occasion Nadal began an exhortation with a telling apology for his narrative about what happened in Venice in 1537: "I must mention, by the way, that yesterday I forgot to tell you that Father Ignatius was ordained a priest." ...... Some young Jesuits thought ordination brought with it the danger of honor and special privilege and, hence, said they did not want to be ordained unless their superiors expressly ordered them ....

It cannot be said that the Jesuits, like the Somaschi, another religious order formed at about the same time, were a lay institution that became "clericalized". All of the original ten companions were already priests in 1540, and, when Polanco some years later inquired of Ignatius whether all the professed should be priests, he was told emphatically that they should. The Jesuits never tried to pass themselves off as anything else, not did they entertain the possibility that most Jesuits would not eventually be ordained. They were by definition an order of "clerks regular". Nonetheless, the psychological reality that primarily grounded their lives and their ministry was membership in the Society, not being in orders.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Movie list

Updated my movie list. They're not all critically worthy - just ones I liked enough to maybe watch more than once :) Here we go, in (sort of) alphabetical order ......

The 10th Kingdom - fantasy, 2000

A Hard Day's Night - musical, 1964, The Beatles

Adaptation - drama, 2002, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

Alien - science fiction, 1979, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt

Aliens - science fiction, 1986, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen

All the President's Men - historical, 1974, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman

Anaconda - horror, 1997, Jennifer Lopez, Eric Stoltz, Ice Cube, Jon Voight

Angel Eyes - drama, 2001, Jennifer Lopez, James Caviezel, Jeremy Sisto



Argo - historical thriller, 2012, Ben Affleck

Attila - historical, 2001, Gerard Butler

Avatar - science fiction, 2009, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Giovanni Ribisi

Beetlejuice - comedy, 1988, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis

The Bishop's Wife - romantic comedy, 1947, Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven

Black Hawk Down - historical, 2001, Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore

Blade Runner - science fiction, 1982, Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos

Blast form the Past - comedy, 1999, Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken

Brainstorm - science fiction, 1983, Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood

Breach - historical, 2007, Chris Cooper

Broken Arrow - thriller, 1996, John Travolta, Christian Slater

Brother Sun, Sister Moon - religious, 1972, Graham Faulkner, Alec Guinness

Contact - science fiction, 1997, Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, Tom Skerritt



Copenhagen - historical, 2002, Daniel Craig

The Day After Tomorrow - science fiction, 2004, Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal

The Dead Zone - horror, 1983, Christopher Walken, Tom Skerritt, Martin Sheen

Die Hard - thriller, 1988, Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Gudunov

Enemy at the Gates - war movie, 2001, Joseph Fiennes, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain - drama, 1995, Hugh Grant

Ever After - fantasy, 1998, Drew Barrymore, Dougray Scott



Extreme Measures - thriller, 1986, Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman

Fallen - religious horror, 1998, Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland

Forbidden Planet - science fiction, 1956

The Fountain - science fiction, 2006, Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz

Frequency - science fiction, 2000, Dennis Quaid, James Caviezel

Galaxy Quest - science fiction comedy, 1999, Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub

Gattaca - science fiction, 1997, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law

George Harrison: Living in the Material World - documentary by Martin Scorsese, 2011

The Gospel of John - religious, 2003, Henry Ian Cusick

Groundhog Day - fantasy comedy, 1983, Bill Murray

Hamlet - historical, 1990, Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Helena Bonham Carter

Haywire - action thriller, 2011, Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender

Heat - thriller, 1995, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer



Hidalgo - historical adventure, 2004, Viggo Mortensen

The Hidden - science fiction, 1987, Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Nouri, Claudia Christian

Highlander - fantasy, 1986, Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery

In Time - science fiction, 2011, Justin Timberlake

Inception - science fiction, 2008. Russell Crow, Leonardo DiCaprio

Independence Day - science fiction, 1996, Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Brent Spiner

Inkheart - fantasy, 2008, Brendan Fraser

The Insider - drama, 1999, Russell Crowe, Al Pacino

Insomnia - thriller, 2002, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank

Invasion of the Body Snatchers - science fiction, 1978, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy

The Island - science fiction, 2005, Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean



Jack's Back - thriller, 1988, James Spader

The Jackal - thriller, 1997, Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, Sidney Poitier

Jaws - horror, 1975, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw

Jesus - religious, 1999, Jeremy Sisto, Debra Messing,, Jacqueline Bisset,, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Gary Oldman

Jurassic Park III - science fiction, , 2001, Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni

King Arthur - historical, 2004, Clive Owen, Keira Knightleym Mads Mikkelsen, Stellan Skarsgård

Ladyhawke - fantasy, 1985, Rutger Hauer

Legend - fantasy, 1985, Tom Cruise

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear - 2004, Noah Wyle, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin



Little Women - drama, 1994, Winona Ryder, Gabriel Byrne, Christian Bale, Eric Stoltz, Susan Sarandon

The Lord of the Rings trilogy - fantasy, 2001, 2002, 2003, you know who :)

The Lost World - fantasy, 2001, Bob Hoskins, James Fox, Peter Falk

The Lovely Bones - thriller, 2009, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz

Luther - religious, 2003, Joseph Fiennes

Mad Max - science fiction, 1979, Mel Gibson

The Man in the Iron Mask - historical, 1998, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Gérard Depardieu, Leonardo DiCaprio

The Matrix - science fiction, 1999, Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving

Men in Black - science fiction comedy, 1997, Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc - religious, 1999, Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich



The Mission - religious, 1986, Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson

The Mummy - fantasy, 1999, Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz

Munich - historical, 2005, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

National Treasure - thriller, 2004, Nicolas Cage

Navy Seals - thriller, 1990, Charlie Sheen, Michael Biehn

The New World - historical, 2005, Colin Farrell, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale

The Next Three Days - thriller, 2010, Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks

Night of the Demon - horror, 1957

Notorious - thriller, 1946, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman

Nuremberg - historical, 2000, Alec Baldwin, Brian Cox, Christopher Plummer, Jill Hennessy

Oceans - nature documentary, 2010

Open Range - western, 2003, Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening

The Order - religious horror, 2003, Heath Ledger



The Pentagon Papers - historical, 2003, James Spader

Playing God - thriller, 1997, David Duchovny, Angelina Jolie

Proof of Life - thriller, 2000, Russell Crowe, David Caruso

The Prophecy - religious horror, 1995, Christopher Walken, Eric Stoltz, Viggo Mortensen, Elias Koteas

Raiders of the Lost Ark - adventure, 1981, Harrison Ford

Rashomon - historical, 1950, Toshiro Mifune

Rear Window - thriller, 1954, James Stewart, Grace Kelly

Rebecca - thriller, 1940, Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

Red Planet - science fiction, 2000, Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss

Return to Me - romantic comedy, 2000, David Duchovny, Minnie Driver

Revelations - religious horror, Bill Pullman, Natascha McElhone

Robin Hood - historical, 2010, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett

The Rock - thriller, 1996, Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn

Romeo and Juliet - historical, 1968, Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey, Michael York

Seabiscuit - historical, 2003, Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, William H. Macy



The Seige - thriller, 1998, Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, Tony Shalhoub

Sense and Sensibility - historical, 1995, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman

Serpico - historical, 1973, Al Pacino

Shadowlands - biographical about CS Lewis, 1993, Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger

Silverado - western, 1985, Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Dennehy

The Sixth Sense - fantasy, 1999, Haley Joel Osment, Bruce Willis

Speed - thriller, 1994, Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper

Spiderman - science fiction, 2002, Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe

Star Trek - science fiction, 2009, Leonard Nimoy, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, and Zoe Saldaña

Stargate - science fiction, 1994, Kurt Russell, James Spader



The Terminator - science fiction, 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn

Timeline - science fiction, 2003, Gerard Butler, Paul Walker

Vertigo - thriller, 1958, James Stewart, Kim Novak

While You Were Sleeping - romantic comedy, 1995, Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman

The Year of Living Dangerously - thriller, 1982, Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt

Zodiac - thriller, 2007, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.


'We Are Not Commanded To Be a Docent in the Art Museum ....

... We Are Commanded To Love the Poor.'

A while ago I posted something about a Facebook petition asking the Vatican to sell its treasures to feed the poor. Everyone was against me on that one :) but when I saw the title of this article below from Christianity Today, I had to post it, though it isn't about the Vatican or its treasures. It's an interview with Richard Stearns about his book, The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? ......

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'We Are Not Commanded To Be a Docent in the Art Museum. We Are Commanded To Love the Poor.'

So what is the hole in the gospel?

We look at the gospel as almost a transaction between God and us. We say our prayer and our sins are forgiven. We get the fire insurance policy and we put it in our drawer.

Meanwhile, we are retreating behind the walls of our churches. Our church bulletins read like the table of contents for Psychology Today: support groups for pornography addictions and eating disorders, Taekwondo aerobics, and on and on. Our churches are increasingly meeting all of our needs but decreasingly going out to change the world.

The gospel was meant to be a social revolution. It began with a transaction between man and God. It began with this exchange we call atonement. But it wasn't meant to end there. It was meant to send us out as the vanguards of the social revolution, the salt and light that Jesus talked about that would transform the world. And my conclusion, after all of my experiences in 23 years in the corporate world, 10 years at World Vision, and visiting 50 countries, is that we've fallen short.

Do you think that's particularly an American problem?

I don't think it's uniquely American. I think what is unique about the American church is the incredible wealth and resources that we possess and control.

While we're going into our huge megacathedrals in the United States, African churches are suffering greatly. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are meeting under trees. They are dying of HIV and AIDS. Their children are dying because of unsanitary water, lack of health care, and lack of nutrition. This disparity in the body of Christ alone is appalling. I am sure it breaks the heart of God that Christians aren't even taking care of Christians as we could, let alone taking care of non-Christians.

It's not that churches are doing nothing. Obviously we all know churches that are doing wonderful things. Most of our churches have missions programs and programs focused on things like Darfur.

The United States is still the greatest missions-sending country in the world.

Most of it is evangelism. It's not poverty reduction. It's not justice. Many missionaries get involved in those other things in the course of their work, but we are doing little internationally. We are not a poor nation. But we don't tithe, so money is always scarce for this work.

What is the most compelling statistic that haunts you?

About 26,000 children under the age of 5 die every day of causes related to their poverty.

That is the equivalent of 100 planes filled with children crashing every day. If one jet liner crashes in America, it makes world headlines. There is an immediate flurry of activity: Why did it happen? What does the "black box" say? Is there a safety issue with the airplane? Was it a pilot error? And we start to learn about the lives of the people that died.

But where are the headlines? Where are the hearings, the acts of Congress, the things that would happen if a hundred jet liners were crashing every day?

If you looked at the death certificates of those children you would probably read words like starvation, respiratory infection, malaria, maybe HIV/AIDS. But you could easily cross that out and write apathy as the cause of death. The deaths were largely preventable, but those who could have prevented the deaths chose not to. I know that's harsh but I've seen and I know that it is possible to change the equation. It's the sin of our generation. The sin of my parents' generation in the United States was racism. The sin of our generation will be apathy.

Some of our readers would say there are a lot of fervent Christians who are involved in issues like abortion, sex trafficking, and religious freedom. Are you arguing that poverty should be a higher priority for them?

As Christians we have to have a list of priorities. Sometimes I think we get our priorities turned upside down. If Jesus were living today and tithing, what would his check register say? I am pretty sure [his money] wouldn't be going to the symphony. I am pretty sure it wouldn't be going to his alma mater as a first priority. I think it would be going to the least of these.

I think abortion is on that list. I think it breaks his heart. But how can you care about abortion and not care about the 26,000 children that die every day of preventable causes? It dwarfs the abortion problem in America. Five times as many children die around the world of preventable causes than die in abortions.

We are told we have the mind of Christ. It is hard to know the mind of Christ. But it would certainly be compassion for the sick and the lame and the broken and the poor, and I think you could argue that Jesus put them above all else in his concern.

John Green runs a ministry in Chicago for male prostitutes. And he offers them a variety of social services to help them move out of that lifestyle—job counseling, psychological counseling. Still he says that the greatest injustice he could practice would be to fail to tell them about Jesus. What do you think about that?

I agree. You could argue the mainline churches have been all about works whereas the evangelical churches have been all about faith and belief. Another way to frame the faith-and-works debate is truth and love. Truth is about what we believe is the right thing and love is about what we are doing about it. If you have love without truth, it's misguided love. If you have truth without love, what good is truth? I once had a pastor that said it's not what you believe that counts. It's what you believe enough to do.

I say within World Vision, if we offer bread but don't offer the Bread of Life, if we offer water but don't offer Living Water, then we are no better than the ones that we might criticize who offer only words.

Are you at liberty to do that when you are on the field for World Vision?

It varies a great deal by context. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is overtly Christian, and we have Bible schools and Bible-based AIDS curriculum. But in Mauritania or Banda Aceh or parts of China, we have to be very guarded about expressing our faith. In Mauritania the penalty for proselytism is death. So we plant seeds, we try to love people. As you probably know, in a place like Mauritania we hire Muslims. Our leadership is Christian but we have mostly Muslim staff. We try to witness to the staff through our lives and deeds and words. When I look at places like that, where Christian missionaries can't go or can't go freely, I think we are preparing the ground for a future day by showing them (hopefully) the face of Christ in human form so that they have a different understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

How do you deal with people who say, "You're right. Poverty is a huge problem. It is very discouraging. But it's just way too big for me to make any difference."

Poverty is big. It's ugly, it is difficult to address. But it is not hopeless because God doesn't ask you to save the whole world. He just asks you to do that which you can do, to put your piece of the puzzle in the jigsaw puzzle.

Imagine that your child is one that is going to die of starvation this month. Then imagine an American family saying, "Oh, it is hopeless. Poverty is too big. Hunger is too big. We are going back to our bridge club." If that's your child that their intervention could have saved, it means everything to you.

There's that Stalin quote: "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." And he understood that so well as he exterminated millions. But we have to see the one death as a tragedy. And we have to say, I can prevent maybe one tragedy, maybe two, maybe five. If I can prevent five tragedies, my life will have been worth living.

Here is the irony: The people that give us a dollar a day to sponsor a child, it's one of the last things they will cut because there is a little girl or a little boy at the other end of that dollar. And they'll cut out a lot of things before they'll cut the legs out from underneath that child they sponsor. Ironically, many of the millionaires who give us gifts of $100,000 a year can't give this year because their $20 million fortune is only worth $10 million. The irony of the widow's mite is that the people that can't really afford it keep giving and the people who could afford it feel like they can't.

You say in one chapter that the church has always been on the wrong side of the great social issues. On the other hand, you say we're in the middle of the greatest humanitarian crisis of all time and you wrote a book obviously thinking you could help to change that. What gives you hope that the church can get it right this time?

The church has done a great deal of good in the world and continues to do a great deal of good in the world. If all Christian ministries were removed from the world, all the salt from the meat, our world would be a far worse place than it is. If you look at the hospitals and the homeless shelters, the drug rehabilitation programs, the divorce recovery programs, the feeding programs around the world and ask who's doing that, it's mostly Christians. Our share of doing good is probably pretty high. I hate to be controversial, but I think we're doing more good than the other world religions in terms of our social conscience and our social action. To say it a little crassly, we may be the smart kid in the dumb class.

But are we doing that which we are capable of? Are we living up to our ability to change the world as Jesus kind of envisioned? We are getting a C in a course that we ought to be getting an A in.

You have to believe in the inherent goodness of the church, that when confronted with the right facts in the right way, it has great capacity for good. When I speak on issues like HIV or poverty, I never have anybody come up afterwards and say, "This is all bogus. You guys got it all wrong." I always have people coming up and saying, "We need to do more. What can we do?" Have faith that when confronted with the truth, true followers of Christ, will usually do the right thing. Or at least be motivated to do the right thing. Sometimes it is a lack of knowledge and awareness of the truth.

If I volunteer to help coach my kids' soccer team, or if I volunteered to be a docent at the art museum, it sounds like you wouldn't be happy about that. But such activities are helping the community in other ways—they're just not helping the poor as such.

It gets back to priority. There are certain things that really are not optional. We are not commanded to be a docent in the art museum. We are commanded to love the poor. To bind up the brokenhearted, to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Those are pretty strong commands in the Bible. So you almost have to do those first.

It could be maybe you are a great writer and so you write about these things. It could be that you're a talented musician; we have these artist associates that go around for World Vision and use their music as a way to attract people to a ministry to the poor.

It's a balance thing. You can say, "Well, Rich what are you doing about abortion?" Well, I'm not doing much, frankly. I've given to crisis pregnancy centers over the years, but my thing is what World Vision is all about. I do think that God calls us to different things. Someone else might be called more to evangelism. But there are some things that all Christians have some responsibility to do. Evangelism would be one. Caring for the poor would be another. We are all called to love God, we are all called to love our neighbor, and we are all called to the Great Commission. We are not all called to be a docent, but that's a worthwhile thing to do. But not if it excludes the other things.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Keith Ward on Kant



There was a past discussion at dotCommonweal about philosophy and religion which made me think of Kant. I first learned about him in college but I never understood what he wrote .... I can remember one class where all we discussed was the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, and still I was lost. I came away with only one idea from his work - that the appearance of the world (like space and time) and the world in its reality are not the same.

That dotCommonweal post reminded me of a video lecture by former Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Keith Ward, and I looked it up. It was really interesting and for the first time Kant seemed semi-intelligible to me. Here is the video ....


A Catholic ratline


- Bishop Alois Hudal

I'm reading a couple of books from the library that are interesting. One is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. As wikipedia states, the plot blends the history and folklore of Vlad Ţepeş and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula, and it's a lot of fun so far. For those who'd like a more sympathetic pov of Vlad the impaler, check out the movie Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula.

The subject of other book I'm reading is actually more disturbing than the vampirism of The Historian. It's another in that series by Daniel Silva about the Israeli agent/art restorer Gabriel Allon - A Death in Venice. One thing mentioned in this novel about the tracking down of a former Nazi war criminal, is the ratline, or escape routes for Nazis fleeing Europe after WWII .... one of them was run by a Catholic Bishop, Alois Hudal. The whole wikipedia article about him is chilling, but here's just a bit ....

Alois Hudal (also known as Luigi Hudal; 31 May 1885 in Graz, Austro-Hungarian Empire – 13 May 1963 in Rome, Italy) was a Rome-based bishop of Austrian descent. He was for thirty years head of the small Austrian-German congregation of Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome and until 1937, an influential representative of the Austrian Church. In his 1937 book The Foundations of National Socialism Hudal praised Adolf Hitler and some of his policies and indirectly attacked the policies of the Vatican. After World War II, an unrepentant Hudal became infamous for the "ratline" he helped to establish, allowing prominent Nazi German and other European former Axis officers and political leaders, among them ...... war criminals such as Franz Stangl, commanding officer of Treblinka ... Other highly prominent Nazi war criminals allegedly helped by the Hudal network were SS captain Edward Roschmann, known as the "Butcher of Riga", doctor Josef Mengele, better known as the "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz ... Gustav Wagner, commanding officer of Sobibor, Alois Brunner, organizer of deportations from France and Slovakia to German concentration camps, and above all Adolf Eichmann, the man who had been put in charge of implementing the murder of European Jewry. In 1994 Erich Priebke, a former SS captain, told Italian journalist Emanuela Audisio, La Repubblica, that Bishop Hudal helped him reach Buenos Aires, which was later admitted by Vatican historian Robert Graham SJ .....

In writing this post I also came across an interesting article in a 2003 issue of Commonweal magazine - Canonizing Pius XII: why did the pope help Nazis escape? by Michael Phayer - which is pretty damning of the role Pius XII played in supporting the escape of Nazis.

I'm a dunce about modern history and I really know little of it - I can tell you about the meal that supposedly killed Henry I (a surfeit of lampreys) or about the nick-name of Harold II's girlfriend (swan-neck), but all this stuff about the Holocaust and WWII and the Catholic Church just amazes and horrifies me.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

SpokenVerse

I saw an interesting post at Roger Ebert's movie review site - YouTube and the Cinnamon Peeler - about a poetry channel at YouTube called SpokenVerse. Here's a little of what he wrote ....

One of the richest resources on YouTube is an extraordinary channel named SpokenVerse. It offers 466 readings of great poems in English, from Shakespeare to today. Their reader is a pleasure to listen to. He makes no effort to "perform," but simply and clearly respects the poetry, with understated emotion when necessary.

Recently one of his poems was taken down by YouTube, apparently because of one female breast more than a century old. SpokenVerse's passionate followers were outraged, venting on a Google group devoted to the site, but YouTube did not respond or explain itself.

The anonymous reader signs himself "Tom O'Bedlam," a name taken from a 17th century poem about a lunatic. I believe I recognize his unmistakable voice, but that is for you to decide. In a posting he explained that he received a message from YouTube on April 8 informing him: "The following video(s) from your account have been disabled for violating the YouTube Community Guidelines: The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje."

Ondaatje is the Booker Prize-winning author of The English Patient. His poem is one of the most erotic I have ever heard, flowing from love and memory, but that's not why it was taken down. Tom O'Bedlam's offense was apparently to include, in addition to the written text of the poem a brief shot of a woman with her left breast exposed.

Tom wrote me today:

"The poet Michael Ondaatje who wrote The Cinnamon Peeler was born in Sri Lanka. I was looking for an atmospheric illustration for the poem, which does have erotic undertones and is about native peoples and nudity, when I came upon this page about the Rodian people of Sri Lanka: http://www.lankalibrary.com/cul/rodi.htm

"The picture I used is the last link at the bottom of the page. I was struck by the girl’s beauty and I thought it would add to the mood of the poem. I saw the picture as very old and charming and not pornographic. Some Cynic defined the difference between Art and Pornography -- “If you can see things clearly and they are the right colour then it’s pornography." ......


Ebert goes on to say the poem was eventually put back up at YouTube. Ebert doesn't say who the mysterious reader of the poems is, but to me he sounds like Anthony Hopkins (but my sister thinks he's Terrence Stamp). Take a listen to one of the poems below (Faith Healing by Philip Larken) from the SpokenVerse pile and see what you think ......




Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Anne Frank


- statue of Anne Frank by Mari Andriessen, outside the Westerkerk in Amsterdam

This Friday it will be the birthday of Anne Frank. I wonder if that had anything to do with the creepy shoot-out at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC. Here's a bit about it from The Caucus blog at The New York Times ....

Shooting at the Holocaust Museum ....

By Kate Phillips

Gunfire was exchanged between security guards and a gunman at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, setting off an evacuation of the museum and street closures all around the area.

At least two people — the gunman and a security guard — were taken to George Washington University Hospital. The Times’s David Stout has much of the detail as of now. Emergency officials indicated another person may have been slightly injured by breaking glass.

Visitors to the museum who have been interviewed on television described the scene as chaotic, with people yelling to dive to the floor as at least five gunshots were exchanged. Officials are asserting that the gunman appeared to be operating alone.

In addition, the suspect, James Von Brunn, 88, has a Web site that is anti-Semitic, called the Holy Western Empire.

F.Y.I., the Holocaust Museum is heavily guarded and tourists go through metal detectors. It seems that he may not have gotten as far as the metal detectors.

Oddly enough, various dignitaries, including Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., were expected to attend a play tonight by Janet Langhart Cohen at the museum. “Anne and Emmett” is an imaginary conversation after death between Anne Frank and Emmett Till, a merging of the minds between the Holocaust and the racist lynchings in the South. The Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy wrote about the play earlier this month.


You can visit the page for Anne Frank the Writer / An Unfinished Story, an exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


- the (reconstructed) bookcase that covered the entrance to the Achterhuis (hiding place) at Anne Frank House, the museum in the Netherlands