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Monday, May 31, 2010

3:10 to Yuma

Thanks to a loan from my sister, I've finally watched this movie. It's already been seen by most and reviewed by everyone from Roger Ebert to Ben Witherington, but I thought I'd still write a few words about it.

First, the basics from Wikipedia ....

3:10 to Yuma is the 2007 remake of the 1957 film of the same name, making it the second adaptation of Elmore Leonard's short story. It is directed by James Mangold .... and stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Filming took place in various locations in New Mexico.

And here's the plot ....

*** Spoilers below ***

Dan Evans (Christian Bale), married with two sons and seriously injured (wooden leg) by friendly-fire in a retreat during the Civil War, has moved his family out west for the sake of his TB infected younger son, but his small ranch is going under due to bad luck, a heartless neighbor, and the coming railroad. By accident he gets involved in the capture of Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), the notorious leader of a gang of train and stagecoach robbers, and decides that volunteering (and getting paid) for the posse conducting Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma Territorial Prison is the only way to salvage his ranch and his self-respect

- Dan Evans, speaking to his wife. She says no one will think less of him if he doesn't risk his life joining the posse. He answers that no one could think less of him, including his family and himself. He explains - I've been standing on one leg for three damn years, waiting for God to do me a favor. And He ain't listening.

- Ben Wade, holed up under guard in the bridal suite of a hotel near the train station with Dan. Here he speaks the lines that apparently explain so much :) - I was eight years old. My daddy just got hisself killed over a shot of whiskey, and my mama said, "We're going back East to start over." So she gave me a Bible, sat me down in the train station, told me to read it. She was gonna get our tickets. Well, I did what she said. I read that Bible from cover to cover. It took me three days. She never came back.

What I found most interesting about the movie was the portrayal of the two guys, Dan (Bale) and Ben (Crowe). I felt like I recognized Dan's character - he was a good person semi-destroyed by events beyond his control who just could not get a break nor would give himself a break. When his back was finally against the wall, he made the decision that nothing would stand in the way of fixing things, not even losing his life. The person I found disturbing, though, was Crowe's morally ambiguous character, Ben Wade. He was portrayed as "complex" .... intelligent, artistic, educated, with a sense of humor and the ability to look within. I could buy the character thus far, but the writers added another element - they had him be intermittently compassionate. That's where I think they cheated, because I don't understand how someone can be both a remorseless killer and empathetic (but my sister disagrees with me :)

At any rate, I did like the movie and would recommend it. Here's a trailer ...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Flow river flow

I saw today that actor Dennis Hopper has died. The article by Roger Ebert mentioned one of his earliest movies, Easy Rider, and thought I'd post this song from the end of that movie, written by Roger McGuinn and Bob Dylan ........

- Hopper (L) Fonda and Nicholson in Easy Rider

What is theology?

This was the title of a short article in the guardian. Here it is ...

What does theology have to do with reality? Serious question; if you take the Dawkins view – that theology is the study of a non-existent being – all theological talk is about nothing. It isn't even nonsense. Then there is a more generous atheist view, which says that theology is whatever theologians do, so part of it is philosophy, and part, perhaps, is history, or textual criticism. Christians, of course will have a third take, or a fourth. Most, in practice, suppose that atheists are half right: theology is airy-fairy stuff that interests theologians, but normal people just get on with worshipping. Theologians themselves, however, have clear views on what they are doing and how it relates to reality. So how can we best understand this discipline?

A number of people have answered in subsequent guardian articles, including Tina Beattie, a Catholic theologian at Roehampton University who often writes for The Tablet. She wrote that The task of theology is like Penelope weaving her shroud – what we weave during the day we must unravel by night. :) Here's just a bit more of what she wrote ......

[...] John Ruskin described the study of theology as a "dangerous science" for women ..... To do theology well is to empower people to resist religion's co-option by the powers of fanaticism and violence, and that is why the theological education of women is particularly important. John Ruskin was right – it is dangerous for women to study theology, not for women themselves but for a male theological elite which continues to exercise power in the name of a God it seeks to control. Good theology challenges claims to knowledge of God which refuse to engage with the demands of justice and reason, providing reason is understood not in the narrow terms of scientific rationalism but more broadly as the ability to give a coherent account of what one believes and why ....

Here are the other responses at the guardian (thanks to Thinking Anglicans) ....

Tuesday: Terry Sanderson Theology – truly a naked emperor. In the words of Robert A Heinlein, ‘Theology … is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn’t there.’

Thursday: Nick Spencer Theology illuminates reality. Theology would be worth studying even if God did not exist for then it would tell us about our deepest selves.

Friday: Michael McGhee A critical eye on theology. Whatever else they do, the scriptures, like any other literature, reveal the unconscious ambivalences of their writers.

Terry Sanderson’s article above has prompted this from Andrew Brown: Making sense of Rowan Williams. Theology isn’t trying to produce scientific knowledge. We can all agree on that. But what other sorts of knowledge are there?

- Penelope by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

Saturday, May 29, 2010

God in three persons

- Holy Holy Holy - Sufjan Steven

Friday, May 28, 2010

A church of the little people

Guess which Catholic theologian said this .....

"From today's crisis, a church will emerge tomorrow that will have lost a great deal .... She will be small and, to a large extent, will have to start from the beginning. She will no longer be able to fill many of the buildings created in her period of great splendor. Because of the smaller number of her followers, she will lose many of her privileges in society. Contrary to what has happened until now, she will present herself much more as a community of volunteers ... As a small community, she will demand much more from the initiative of each of her members and she will certainly also acknowledge new forms of ministry and will raise up to the priesthood proven Christians who have other jobs ... It will make her poor and a church of the little people ... All this will require time. The process will be slow and painful."

Weirdly (to me, anyway :) it was spoken by Joseph Ratzinger during the upheavals of the late 60s. I saw this today in an interesting TIME article, The Trial of Benedict XVI, about the present sex abuse problem. As the article opines ... his vision from 40 years ago may now unfold in ways he could never have imagined. .... I hope changes do come about, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Tree Fell in the Forest

This week's movie rental was Nuremberg ...

... a 2000 Canadian/United States television docudrama, based on the book Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial by Joseph E. Persico, that tells the story of the Nuremberg Trials.

The movie (three hours long) starred Alec Baldwin as Robert H. Jackson, a Justice of the Supreme Court who was chosen by President Truman in 1945 to be the chief United States prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal, the Nuremberg trial of Nazi war criminals. Christopher Plummer played Sir David Maxwell Fyfe,1st Earl of Kilmuir, one of the British prosecutors at the trial, and Brian Cox played Nazi Hermann Göring, Hitler's designated successor and commander of the Luftwaffe.

- Baldwin as Robert H. Jackson

I found the movie really interesting. It began with how the idea for the Nuremberg war crimes trials (there were a number of them, though the movie dealt with the "Trial of the Major War Criminals") came about, what hopes and fears drove the inception. Was the idea of such trials just a revenge thing, the triumph of might, or was it, as Jackson says in the film, a way to fashion a future where aggressive war would be dealt with as a crime? The trials were set up to be fair, the defendants all plead not guilty, had German defense lawyers, and their guilt was not predetermined - they could have conceivably gone free (three did). Jackson thought of the trials as "the tribute power pays to reason".

- Plummer as Sir David Maxwell Fyfe

There were 21 Germans tried in the film, the biggest part being given to Brian Cox as Hermann Göring, and an effort was made, I guess, to "humanize" him. One of the characters in the film (played by Matt Craven) was Gustave Gilbert, a real-life American (and Jewish) Army psychologist asked to consult on the mental health of the prisoners awaiting trial and he spent a lot of time conversing with Göring. As Wikipedia states ...

Gilbert was appointed the Prison Psychologist of the German prisoners. During the process of the trials Gilbert became the confidant of Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Frank, Oswald Pohl, Otto Ohlendorf, Rudolf Höss, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, among others. At first he did not tell them he was Jewish; after he told them, most of the prisoners did not mind talking to him .... In 1947 he published part of his diary, consisting of observations taken during interviews, interrogations, “eavesdropping” and conversations with German prisoners, under the title Nuremberg Diary. (This diary was reprinted in full in 1961 just before the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem.)

One of the most disturbing parts of the movie was when a film made by allied soldiers of their liberating of concentration camps was shown at the trial ......

Below is the beginning of the Opening address for the United States by Justice Jackson (some of which was read by Baldwin's character in the movie). I post it with a kind of sadness. I think what he wrote is great, I admire his idealism, but it's not lost on me that it seems this is no longer the US stance (if it really ever was). As an article from which I took the title of my post states ....

A milestone passed quietly by on Sunday, October 1, 2006 - the 60th anniversary of the judgments rendered by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg against the key Nazi figures that led the world into the chaos of World War II. There was little fanfare publicly, yet it was an important milestone nonetheless. Much of the importance of that event centers on the American Chief Prosecutor, Justice Robert H. Jackson, and the legacy he left mankind - the lesson that the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of the gun .....

Today, the world is essentially again at war. Civilians are the target of choice for those who would do violence to advance their cause or intimidate their opposition. The United States is once again in the lead. However, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed by the US Congress just one day short of the 60th anniversary of the judgments delivered in Nuremberg, and signed into law by President Bush on October 17, shows us that the United States has chosen a different path from the one it took after World War II. Then it was the high road of moral leadership, now it is the low road heading towards the dismal swamp of the loss of moral authority internationally. The United States has become what it had fought so hard against in World War II: an outlaw or, as one international politician stated recently, “the world’s thug”, abandoning long cherished values for the sake of expediency. Whether that is true or not does not matter, the fact that it resonated somewhat is indeed troublesome. The Military Commissions Act itself contains questionable provisions that violate our constitutional arrangements of separation of powers and, arguably, violations of the laws and customs of armed conflict. The stepping away of these legal principles and the loss of our moral high ground is the ultimate challenge to the legacy of Nuremberg so carefully laid down by the principled leadership of Justice Jackson ...

But I digress - here's the beginning of Jackson's opening address at the Nuremberg trial ......


May it please your honors

The privilege of opening the first, trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power ever has paid to Reason.

This tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of seventeen more, to utilize International Law to meet the greatest menace of our times – aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of this magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honors.

In the prisoners' dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these miserable men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals, their fate is of little consequence to the world.

What makes this inquest significant is that those prisoners represent sinister influence that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. They are living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalisms and militarism, of intrigue and war-making which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names. Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.

What these men stand for we will patiently and temperately disclose. We will give you undeniable proofs of incredible events. The catalogue of crimes will omit nothing that could be conceived by a pathological pride, cruelty, and lust for power. These men created in Germany, under the Fuehrerprincip, a National Socialist despotism equalled only by the dynasties of the ancient East. They took from the German people all those dignities and freedoms that we hold natural and inalienable rights in every human being. The people were compensated by inflaming and gratifying hatreds toward those who were marked as "scape-goats." Against their opponents, including Jews, Catholics, and free labor the Nazis directed such a campaign of arrogance, brutality, and annihilation as the world has not witnessed since the pre-Christian ages. They excited the German ambition to be a "master race" which of course implies serfdom for others. They led their people on a mad gamble for domination. They diverted social energies and resources to the creation of what they thought to be an invincible war machine. They overran their neighbors. To sustain the "master race" in its war making, they enslaved millions of human beings and brought them into Germany, where these hapless creatures now wander as "displaced persons". At length bestiality and bad faith reached such excess that they aroused the sleeping strength of imperiled civilization. Its united efforts have ground the German war machine to fragments. But the struggle has left Europe a liberated yet prostrate land where a demoralized society struggles to survive. These are the fruits of the sinister forces that sit with these defendants in the prisoners' dock.

In justice to the nations and the men associated in this prosecution, I must remind you of certain difficulties which may leave their mark on this case. Never before in legal history has an effort been made to bring within the scope of a single litigation the developments of a decade, covering a whole Continent, and involving a score of nations, countless individuals, and innumerable events. Despite the magnitude of the task, the world has demanded immediate action. This demand has had to be met, though perhaps at the cost of finished craftsmanship. In my country, established courts, following familiar procedures, applying well thumbed precedents, and dealing with the legal consequences of local and limited events seldom commence a trial within a year of the event in litigation. Yet less than eight months ago today the courtroom in which you sit was an enemy fortress in the hands of German SS troops. Less than eight months ago nearly all our witnesses and documents were in enemy hands. The law had not been codified, no procedure had been established, no Tribunal was in existence, no usable courthouse stood here, none of the hundreds of tons of official German documents had been examined, no prosecuting staff had been assembled, nearly all the present defendants were at large, and the four prosecuting powers had not yet joined in common cause to try them. I should be the last to deny that the case may well suffer from incomplete researches and quite likely will not be the example of professional work which any of the prosecuting nations would normally wish to sponsor. It is, however, a completely adequate case to the judgment we shall ask you to render, and its full development we shall be obliged to leave to historians.

Before I discuss particulars of evidence, some general considerations which may affect the credit of this trial in the eyes of the world should be candidly faced. There is a dramatic disparity between the circumstances of the accusers and of the accused that might discredit our work if we should falter, in even minor matters, in being fair and temperate.

Unfortunately, the nature of these crimes is such that both prosecution and judgment must be by victor nations over vanquished foes. The worldwide scope of the aggressions carried out by these men has left but few real neutrals. Either the victors must judge the vanquished or we must leave the defeated to judge themselves. After the First World War, we learned the futility of the latter course. The former high station of these defendants, the notoriety of their acts, and the adaptability of their conduct to provoke retaliation make it hard to distinguish between the demand for a just and measured retribution, and the unthinking cry for vengeance which arises from the anguish of war. It is our task, so far as humanly possible, to draw the line between the two. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity's aspirations to do justice.

At the very outset, let us dispose of the contention that to put these men to trial is to do them an injustice entitling them to some special consideration. These defendants may be hard pressed but they are not ill used. Let us see what alternative they would have to being tried.

More than a majority of these prisoners surrendered to or were tracked down by forces of the United States. Could they expect us to make American custody a shelter for our enemies against the just wrath of our Allies? Did we spend American lives to capture them only to save them from punishment? Under the principles of the Moscow Declaration, those suspected war criminals who are not to be tried internationally must be turned over to individual governments for trial at the scene of their outrages. Many less responsible and less culpable American-held prisoners have been and will be turned over to other United Nations for local trial. If these defendants should succeed, for any reason, in escaping the condemnation of this Tribunal, or if they obstruct or abort this trial, those who are American-held prisoners will be delivered up to our continental Allies. For these defendants, however, we have set up an International Tribunal and have undertaken the burden of participating in a complicated effort to give them fair and dispassionate hearings. That is the best known protection to any man with a defense worthy of being heard.

If these men are the first war leaders of a defeated nation to be prosecuted in the name of the law, they are also the first to be given a chance to plead for their lives in the name of the law. Realistically, the Charter of this Tribunal, which gives them a hearing, is also the source of their only hope. It may be that these men of troubled conscience, whose only wish is that the world forget them, do not regard a trial as a favor. But they do have a fair opportunity to defend themselves – a favor which these men, when in power, rarely extended to their fellow countrymen. Despite the fact that public opinion already condemns their acts, we agree that here they must be given a presumption of innocence, and we accept the burden of proving criminal acts and the responsibility of these defendants for their commission.

When I say that we do not ask for convictions unless we prove crime, I do not mean mere technical or incidental transgression of international conventions. We charge guilt on planned and intended conduct that involves moral as well as legal wrong. And we do not mean conduct that is a natural and human, even if illegal, cutting of corners, such as many of us might well have committed had we been in the defendants' positions. It is not because they yielded to the normal frailties of human beings that we accuse them. It is their abnormal and inhuman conduct which brings them to this bar. We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count of the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants reenact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.

We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance between the most extreme of the Nazi revolutionists, the most unrestrained of the German reactionaries, and the most aggressive of the German militarists. If the German populace had willingly accepted the Nazi program, no Stormtroopers would have been needed in the early days of the Party and there would have been no need for concentration camps or the Gestapo, both of which institutions were inaugurated as soon as the Nazis gained control of the German state. Only after these lawless innovations proved successful at home were they taken abroad.

The German people should know by now that the people of the United States hold them in no fear, and in no hate. It is true that the Germans have taught us the horrors of modern warfare, but the ruin that lies from the Rhine to the Danube shows that we, like our Allies, have not been dull pupils. If we are not awed by German fortitude and proficiency in war, and if we are not persuaded of their political maturity, we do respect their skill in the arts of peace, their technical competence, and the sober, industrious and self-disciplined character of the masses of the German people. In 1933, we saw the German people recovering prestige in the commercial, industrial and artistic world after the set-back of the last war. We beheld their progress neither with envy nor malice. The Nazi regime interrupted this advance. The recoil of the Nazi aggression has left Germany in ruins. The Nazi readiness to pledge the German word without hesitation and to break it without shame has fastened upon German diplomacy a reputation for duplicity that will handicap it for years. Nazi arrogance has made the boast of the "master race" a taunt that will be thrown at Germans the world over for generations. The Nazi nightmare has given the German name a new and sinister significance throughout the world which will retard Germany a century. The German, no less than the non-German world, has accounts to settle with these defendants.

The fact of the war and the course of the war, which is the central theme of our case, is history. From September lst, 1939, when the German armies crossed the Polish frontiers, until September, 1942, when they met epic resistance at Stalingrad, German arms seemed invincible. Denmark and Norway, The Netherlands and France, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Balkans and Africa, Poland and the Baltic States, and parts of Russia, all had been overrun and conquered by swift, powerful, well-aimed blows. That attack upon the peace of the world is the crime against international society which brings into international cognizance crimes in its aid and preparation which otherwise might be only internal concerns. It was aggressive war, which the nations of the world had renounced. It was war in violation of treaties, by which the peace of the world was sought to be safe- guarded.

This war did not just happen – it was planned and prepared for over a long period of time and with no small skill and cunning. The world has perhaps never seen such a concentration and stimulation of the energies of any people as that which enabled Germany twenty years after it was defeated, disarmed, and dismembered to come so near carrying out its plan to dominate Europe. Whatever else we may say of those who were the authors of this war, they did achieve a stupendous work in organization, and our first task is to examine the means by which these defendants and their fellow conspirators prepared and incited Germany to go to war.

In general, our case will disclose these defendants all uniting at some time with the Nazi Party in a plan which they well knew could be accomplished only by an outbreak of war in Europe. Their seizure of the German state, their subjugation of the German people, their terrorism and extermination of dissident elements, their planning and waging of war, their calculated and planned ruthlessness in the conduct of warfare, their deliberate and planned criminality toward conquered peoples, all these are ends for which they acted in concert; and all these are phases of the conspiracy, a conspiracy which reached one goal only to set out for another and more ambitious one. We shall also trace for you the intricate web of organizations which these men formed and utilized to accomplish these ends. We will show how the entire structure of offices and officials was dedicated to the criminal purposes and committed to use of the criminal methods planned by these defendants and their co-conspirators, many of whom war and suicide have put beyond reach.

It is my purpose to open the case, particularly under Count One of the Indictment, and to deal with the common plan or conspiracy to achieve ends possible only by resort to crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. My emphasis will not be on individual barbarities and perversions which may have occurred independently of any central plan. One of the dangers ever present is that this trial may be protracted by details of particular wrongs and that we will become lost in a "wilderness of single instances." Nor will I now dwell on the activity of individual defendants except as it may contribute to exposition of the common plan.

The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority back of all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and wracked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.


There's a new world somewhere they call The Promised Land

I went with my sister today to buy shampoo at Whole Foods, and as I listened to this song on the store's muzak .....

... I was bushwhacked by this cinnamon roll :) ....

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

David Foster Wallace and Dean R. Koontz

I think I mentioned once the article for Gourmet magazine by David Foster Wallace on the Maine Lobster Festival in which he questions the ethics behind the killing of the lobsters - Consider the Lobster. Well today I saw a post at The Thinking Reed about a National Journal article which goes into interesting detail on the politics of food industry advocates vs animals welfare advocates. Lee made this comment about the article ...

What’s striking to me is the contrast between the modesty of the goals of organizations like the Humane Society and the rhetoric of their opponents. Somehow, giving farm animals enough space to stand up and turn around will lead to a wholesale devaluation of human life! You might think that human beings would try to justify our much-vaunted moral superiority by treating compassionately the animals over which we exercise virtually unlimited power. Surely it’s just a coincidence that there’s so much money at stake in preserving the current system.

As I read the article I saw what he meant, and I was surprised to see this quote by horror writer and Catholic Dean R. Koontz, someone I once liked to read (the book of his I liked the best was about an intelligent dog) .......

Dean Koontz, the best-selling novelist whose supernatural thrillers are informed by his Catholic faith, writes that if the "antihuman" animal-rights activists "ever succeeded in their goals, if they established through culture or law that human beings have no intrinsic dignity greater than that of any animal, the world would not be a better place for either humankind or animals. Instead, it would be a utilitarian nightmare in which the strong would destroy the weak." As far as Koontz is concerned, "Not being God, we cannot grant rights to animals any more than we can grant ourselves the right to take our neighbors' property or their lives."

What a bunch of flapdoodle :(

Here instead for your consideration are the last few paragraphs from Wallace's article on the lobster ....


Consider the Lobster

[...] In any event, at the Festival, standing by the bubbling tanks outside the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, watching the fresh-caught lobsters pile over one another, wave their hobbled claws impotently, huddle in the rear corners, or scrabble frantically back from the glass as you approach, it is difficult not to sense that they’re unhappy, or frightened, even if it’s some rudimentary version of these feelings …and, again, why does rudimentariness even enter into it? Why is a primitive, inarticulate form of suffering less urgent or uncomfortable for the person who’s helping to inflict it by paying for the food it results in? I’m not trying to give you a PETA-like screed here—at least I don’t think so. I’m trying, rather, to work out and articulate some of the troubling questions that arise amid all the laughter and saltation and community pride of the Maine Lobster Festival. The truth is that if you, the Festival attendee, permit yourself to think that lobsters can suffer and would rather not, the MLF can begin to take on aspects of something like a Roman circus or medieval torture-fest.

Does that comparison seem a bit much? If so, exactly why? Or what about this one: Is it not possible that future generations will regard our own present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way we now view Nero’s entertainments or Aztec sacrifices? My own immediate reaction is that such a comparison is hysterical, extreme—and yet the reason it seems extreme to me appears to be that I believe animals are less morally important than human beings; and when it comes to defending such a belief, even to myself, I have to acknowledge that (a) I have an obvious selfish interest in this belief, since I like to eat certain kinds of animals and want to be able to keep doing it, and (b) I have not succeeded in working out any sort of personal ethical system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient.

Given this article’s venue and my own lack of culinary sophistication, I’m curious about whether the reader can identify with any of these reactions and acknowledgments and discomforts. I am also concerned not to come off as shrill or preachy when what I really am is confused. Given the (possible) moral status and (very possible) physical suffering of the animals involved, what ethical convictions do gourmets evolve that allow them not just to eat but to savor and enjoy flesh-based viands (since of course refined enjoyment, rather than just ingestion, is the whole point of gastronomy)? And for those gourmets who’ll have no truck with convictions or rationales and who regard stuff like the previous paragraph as just so much pointless navel-gazing, what makes it feel okay, inside, to dismiss the whole issue out of hand? That is, is their refusal to think about any of this the product of actual thought, or is it just that they don’t want to think about it? Do they ever think about their reluctance to think about it? After all, isn’t being extra aware and attentive and thoughtful about one’s food and its overall context part of what distinguishes a real gourmet? Or is all the gourmet’s extra attention and sensibility just supposed to be aesthetic, gustatory?


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three poems

Love Song - Adélia Prado

First came cancer of the liver, then came the man
leaping from bed to floor and crawling around
on all fours, shouting: "Leave me alone, all of you,
just leave me be," such was his pain without remission.
Then came death and, in that zero hour, the shirt missing
a button.

I'll sew it on, I promise,
but wait, let me cry first.
"Ah," said Martha and Mary, "If You had been here,
our brother would not have died." "Wait," said Jesus,
"let me cry first."
So it's okay to cry? I can cry too?
If they asked me now about life's joy,
I would have only the memory of a tiny flower.
Or maybe more, I'm very sad today:
What I say, I unsay. But God's Word
is the truth. That's why this song has the name it has.

Mennonites - Julia Spicher Kasdorf

We keep our quilts in closets and do not dance.
We hoe thistles along fence rows for fear
we may not be perfect as our Heavenly Father.
We clean up his disasters. No one has to
call; we just show up in the wake of tornadoes
with hammers, after floods with buckets.
Like Jesus, the servant, we wash each other's feet
twice a year and eat the Lord's Supper,
afraid of sins hidden so deep in our organs
they could damn us unawares,
swallowing this bread, his body, this juice.
Growing up, we love the engravings in Martyrs Mirror:
men drowned like cats in burlap sacks,
the Catholic inquisitors,
the woman who handed a pear to her son,
her tongue screwed to the roof of her mouth
to keep her from singing hymns while she burned.
We love Catherine the Great and the rich tracts
she gave us in the Ukraine, bright green winter wheat,
the Cossacks who torched it, and Stalin,
who starved our cousins while wheat rotted
in granaries. We must love our enemies.
We must forgive as our sins are forgiven,
our great-uncle tells us, showing the chain
and ball in a cage whittled from one block of wood
while he was in prison for refusing to shoulder
a gun. He shows the clipping from 1916:
Mennonites are German milksops, too yellow to fight.
We love those Nazi soldiers who, like Moses,
led the last cattle cars rocking out of the Ukraine,
crammed with our parents--children then--
learning the names of Kansas, Saskatchewan, Paraguay.
This is why we cannot leave the beliefs
or what else would we be? why we eat
'til we're drunk on shoofly and moon pies and borscht.
We do not drink; we sing. Unaccompanied on Sundays,
those hymns in four parts, our voices lift with such force
that we lift, as chaff lifts toward God.

The Book of Hours - B. H. Fairchild

Like the blue angels of the nativity, the museum patrons
hover around the art historian, who has arrived frazzled
and limp after waking late in her boyfriend’s apartment.
And here, she notes, the Procession of St. Gregory,
where atop Hadrian’s mausoleum the angel of death
returns his bloody sword to its scabbard
, and staring
down at the marble floor, liquid in the slanted
silver light of mid-morning, she ponders briefly
the polished faces of her audience: seraphim gazing
heavenward at the golden throne, or, as she raises
her tired eyes to meet their eyes, the evolving souls
of purgatory, bored as the inhabitants of some
fashionable European spa sunbathing on boulders.
And here, notice the lovely treatment of St. John
on Patmos, robed in blue and gold
, and she tells the story
of gall-nuts, goats’ skins dried and stretched into vellum—
the word vellum delicious in its saying, caressed
in her mouth like a fat breakfast plum—lapis lazuli
crushed into pools of ultramarine blue, and gold foil
hammered thin enough to float upon the least breath,
the scribes hastily scraping gold flakes into ceramic cups,
curling their toes against the cold like her lover stepping
out of bed in that odd, delicate way of his, wisps of gold
drifting like miniature angels onto the scriptorium’s
stone floor, and dogs’ teeth to polish the gold leaf
as transcendent in its beauty, she says, as the medieval
mind conceived the soul to be.

The patrons are beginning
to wander now as she points to the crucifixion scene,
done to perfection by the Limbourg brothers, the skull and bones
of Adam lying scattered beneath the Roman soldier’s horse
and the old custodian wipes palm prints from the glass, the monks
breathe upon their fingertips and pray against the hard winter,
and the art historian recalls the narrow shafts of light tapping
the breakfast table, the long curve of his back in half-shadow,
the bed’s rumpled sheets lifted by an ocean breeze
as if they were the weightless gold leaf of the spirit.

The Bishops write to Congress

Fr. James Martin SJ has a post at America magazine's blog showing the letter sent by the US bishops to members of Congress about the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) and same-sex marriage (The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a proposed bill in the United States Congress that would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for civilian nonreligious employers with over 15 employees. - Wikipedia).

Here's a just the start of the letter .....

Dear Member of Congress:

We write to you regarding the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), H.R. 3017, and Senate (S. 1584). Our purpose is to outline the serious concerns we have with these bills in their current form and why we cannot maintain the position of neutrality we held in 2007.

For the sake of clarity, permit us first to state two basic tenets of Catholic Church teaching on this issue. First, persons with a homosexual inclination “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and second “[u]nder no circumstances can [homosexual acts] be approved.” Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”), nos. 2357-58.

Catholic teaching states that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected, by other persons and by law. We recognize that no one should be an object of scorn, hatred, or violence for any reason, including sexual inclination. The Church affords special concern and pastoral attention to those who experience a homosexual inclination and stands committed to avoid “[e]very sign of unjust discrimination in their regard.” CCC, no. 2358.

The Catholic Church makes an important distinction between actions and inclination. While the Church is ardently opposed to all unjust discrimination on the grounds of sexual inclination, whether homosexual or heterosexual, it does teach that all sexual acts outside of a marriage between one man and one woman are morally wrong. The Catholic Church’s teaching cannot, therefore, be equated with “unjust discrimination,” because it is based on fundamental truths about the human person and personal conduct. Homosexual conduct is categorically closed to the transmission of life, and does not reflect or respect the personal complementarity of man and woman. In contrast to sexual conduct within marriage between one man and one woman—which does serve both the good of each married person and the good of society— heterosexual and homosexual conduct outside of marriage has no claim to special protection by the state ....

Just as every other group in our society, the Catholic Church enjoys the same rights to hold to its beliefs, organize itself around them, and argue for them in the public square. This is guaranteed by our Constitution. This includes the right to teach what it holds to be the truth concerning homosexual conduct—and to act as an employer consistent with that truth—without the threat of government sanction.

First the letter states two points of church teaching - that we should not be mean to those with homosexual "inclinations" (do heterosexuals have heterosexual inclinations?) and that homosexual acts are unacceptable .... this is all about the (odd in my view) Catholic idea that people are somehow divorced from their actions, which when used in this situation is a kind of passive-aggressive way to dislike and work against a certain group in society without actually taking responsibility for the disliking and for the discriminatory consequences of the acting against. So basically the first couple of paragraphs are a disclaimer.

The third paragraph makes some interesting assertions ....

- The Catholic Church ... does teach that all sexual acts outside of a marriage between one man and one woman are morally wrong.
If this is so, why all the emphasis only on homosexual sex acts and not the outside-of-marriage heterosexual ones?

- The Catholic Church’s teaching cannot, therefore, be equated with “unjust discrimination,” because it is based on fundamental truths about the human person and personal conduct.
I wish I could use this strategy in all my discussions .... the defining-my-beliefs-as-the-Truth argument. Why does the church not realize that if you want to affect the laws of the land, a land where most citizens aren't Catholic, you have to come up with a more convincing argument than "because the Church says so".

- Homosexual conduct is categorically closed to the transmission of life, ...
So, we'd better start banning marriage between those who are sterile or beyond the age of fertility?

- heterosexual and homosexual conduct outside of marriage has no claim to special protection by the state.
The state could have valid reasons for protecting same-sex marriage.

And then ... Just as every other group in our society, the Catholic Church enjoys the same rights to hold to its beliefs, organize itself around them, and argue for them in the public square. This is guaranteed by our Constitution.
Is every other group in our society tax-exempt?

- This includes the right to teach what it holds to be the truth concerning homosexual conduct—and to act as an employer consistent with that truth—without the threat of government sanction.
Yes, the right to teach, but no, not the right to discriminate in employment against citizens.

I'll just quote two more lines (see Fr, Martin's post for the whole letter and the part from which these two quotes come) ...

The USCCB continues to oppose “unjust discrimination” against people with a homosexual inclination
The church feels there's such a thing as "just" discrimination and that it is uniquely qualified to identify it and morally justified in practicing it?

Moreover, because the passage of such a bill could be used to punish as discrimination what the Catholic Church teaches, the USCCB has always sought as comprehensive a religious exemption as is achievable, in order to protect the religious freedom of the Church, and of all others who hold similar views. One partial solution to this problem is to apply Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination, which is already incorporated in the current version of the bill.
Here the church holds up the specter of discrimination against religion. It doesn't want to be held responsible for discriminating, and in fact, if Congress could only see clearly, they'd see it's actually the church who is the victim here.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Zombie feminists

I haven't been paying much attention to politics lately but every now and then I see something about Sarah Palin and cringe, especially when she's pretending to be a feminist - yuck! I thought I'd post this 2008 election article by which describes what's wrong with Palin's (and often the Catholic Church's, I think) version of "feminism" ........


Zombie feminists of the RNC
Thursday, Sep 11, 2008 07:00 ET
By Rebecca Traister

How did Sarah Palin become a symbol of women's empowerment? And how did I, a die-hard feminist, end up terrified at the idea of a woman in the White House?

I have been dreaming about Sarah Palin. (Apparently, I'm not alone.) I wish I could say that I'd been conjuring witty, politically sophisticated nightmares in which she leads troops into Vancouver or kindergartners in the recitation of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But, alas, mine have been nonsensical, kiddie-style doozies in which she kidnaps my cats, or enjoys a meal with my girlfriends while I bang on the restaurant window. There's also a chilling one, in which a scary witch stands on a wind-swept hill and leers at me.

What troubles me most -- aside from the fact that there is suddenly a Republican candidate potent enough to so ensnare my psyche -- is my sense that these are dreams in which it matters very much that Palin is a woman.

I have been writing about feminism for more than five years; I have been covering the gender politics of the 2008 presidential election for more than two. And I am absolutely gobsmacked by the intensity of my feelings about Sarah Palin. I am stunned not only by the way in which her candidacy has changed the rules in the gender debate, or how it is twisting and garbling the fight for women's progress. But I'm also startled by how Palin herself is testing my own beliefs about how I react to women in power.

My feelings about Palin have everything to do with her gender -- a factor that I have always believed, as a matter of course, should neither amplify nor diminish impressions of a person's goodness or badness, smartness or dumbness, gravitas or inconsequence. Why are my rules changing?

I am still perfectly capable of picking out the sexism being leveled against the Alaska governor by the press, her detractors and her own party. Every time someone doubts Palin's ability to lead and mother simultaneously, or considers her physical appeal as a professional attribute, or calls her a "maverette," I bristle.

But that's the easy stuff. The clear-cut stuff. I'm far more torn about the more subtle, complicated ways in which Palin's gender has me tied in knots.

Perhaps it's because the ground has shifted so quickly under my feet, leaving me with only a slippery grasp of what the basic vocabulary of my beat -- feminism, women's rights -- even means anymore. Some days, it feels like I'm watching the civics filmstrip about how much progress women made on the presidential stage in 2008 burst into flames, acutely aware that in the back of the room, a substitute teacher is threading a new reel into the projector. It has the same message and some of the same signifiers -- Glass ceilings broken! Girl Power! -- but its meaning has been distorted. Suddenly it's Rudy Giuliani and Rick Santorum schooling us about pervasive sexism; Hillary Clinton's 18 million cracks have weakened not only the White House's glass ceiling, but the wall protecting Roe v. Wade; the potential first female vice president in America's 200-year history describes her early career as "your average hockey mom" who "never really set out to be involved in public affairs"; and teen pregnancy is no longer an illustrative example for sex educators and contraception distributors but for those who seek to eliminate sex education and contraception.

In this strange new pro-woman tableau, feminism -- a word that is being used all over the country with regard to Palin's potential power -- means voting for someone who would limit reproductive control, access to healthcare and funding for places like Covenant House Alaska, an organization that helps unwed teen mothers. It means cheering someone who allowed women to be charged for their rape kits while she was mayor of Wasilla, who supports the teaching of creationism alongside evolution, who has inquired locally about the possibility of using her position to ban children's books from the public library, who does not support the teaching of sex education.

In this "Handmaid's Tale"-inflected universe, in which femininity is worshipped but females will be denied rights, CNBC pundit Donny Deutsch tells us that we're witnessing "a new creation ... of the feminist ideal," the feminism being so ideal because instead of being voiced by hairy old bats with unattractive ideas about intellect and economy and politics and power, it's now embodied by a woman who, according to Deutsch, does what Hillary Clinton did not: "put a skirt on." "I want her watching my kids," says Deutsch. "I want her laying next to me in bed."

Welcome to 2008, the year a tough, wonky woman won a primary (lots of them, actually), an inspiring black man secured his party's nomination for the presidency, and a television talking head felt free to opine that a woman is qualified for executive office because he wants to bed her and have her watch his kids! Stop the election; I want to get off.

What Palin so seductively represents, not only to Donny Deutsch but to the general populace, is a form of feminine power that is utterly digestible to those who have no intellectual or political use for actual women. It's like some dystopian future ... feminism without any feminists.

Palin's femininity is one that is recognizable to most women: She's the kind of broad who speaks on behalf of other broads but appears not to like them very much. The kind of woman who, as Jessica Grose at Jezebel has eloquently noted, achieves her power by doing everything modern women believed they did not have to do: presenting herself as maternal and sexual, sucking up to men, evincing an absolute lack of native ambition, instead emphasizing her luck as the recipient of strong male support and approval. It works because these stances do not upset antiquated gender norms. So when the moment comes, when tolerance for and interest in female power have been forcibly expanded by Clinton, a woman more willing to throw elbows and defy gender expectations but who falls short of the goal, Palin is there, tapped as a supposedly perfect substitute by powerful men who appreciate her charms.

But while the Republicans would have us believe that Palin can simply stand in for Hillary Clinton, there is nothing interchangeable about these politicians. We began this history-making election with one kind of woman and have ended up being asked to accept her polar opposite. Clinton's brand of femininity is the kind that remains slightly unpalatable in America. It is based on competence, political confidence and an assumption of authority that upends comfortable roles for men and women. It's a kind of power that has nothing to do with the flirtatious or the girly, nothing to do with the traditionally feminine. It is authority that is threatening because it so closely and calmly resembles the kind of power that the rest of the guys on a presidential stage never question their right to wield.

The pro-woman rhetoric surrounding Sarah Palin's nomination is a grotesque bastardization of everything feminism has stood for, and in my mind, more than any of the intergenerational pro- or anti-Hillary crap that people wrung their hands over during the primaries, Palin's candidacy and the faux-feminism in which it has been wrapped are the first development that I fear will actually imperil feminism. Because if adopted as a narrative by this nation and its women, it could not only subvert but erase the meaning of what real progress for women means, what real gender bias consists of, what real discrimination looks like.

Perhaps that's why my reaction to Palin is so bone-deep, and why she is shaking some of my convictions about how to approach gender. When, last Sunday, I picked up the New York Post, with its front-page headline "Ladykiller: Hillary to Check Hockey Mom" next to photos of Palin in porno librarian mode and Clinton with her teeth bared, I didn't roll my eyes in disgust at the imagined cage match. Instead, I envisioned it. And I enjoyed it. I was overcome by the desire to see Clinton take on Palin, not only checking her but fouling her, smushing her, absolutely crushing her. Get her, Hillary! Don't let her channel all the energy generated by you and your Democratic supporters into anti-woman, pro-God government! You are the only one who can stop her.

It's true that the last time I had this kind of visceral yearning for a politician to save the day was on the evening of Sept. 11, when the only person whose face I wanted to see on my television was Bill Clinton's. Perhaps when the Clintons took office in my 18th year, they became imprinted on my brain as my presidential parent-figures, my ur-protectors. But it's hard not to notice that if that's the case, it's Bill I want to nurture and soothe me, and Hillary I want to show up, guns blazing Ripley-style, to surprise the mother alien just as she is about to feast on independent voters, protectively shouting, "Get away from them, you bitch!"

There I go again with the hyper-feminized anxieties. I think it's mostly that I want Hillary Clinton -- the imperfect history maker whose major selling points for "First Woman..." status, in retrospect, included the fact that she was not a Republican, not pro-life, did not believe in teaching creationism alongside evolution, had never inquired about the feasibility of banning books, understood the American economy, supported universal healthcare and did not kill wolves from planes -- to make Sarah Palin go away and stop threatening to make history I don't want to see made.

It is infuriating that Clinton, her supporters and, yes, also those Obama supporters who voiced their displeasure at the sexist treatment Clinton sometimes received, and also female voters, and also females full stop, are being implicated in feminism's bastardization.

But if we inadvertently paved the way for this, then the Democratic Party mixed the concrete, painted lanes on the road, put up streetlights and called it an interstate. The role of the left in this travesty is almost too painful to contemplate just yet.

For while it may chafe to hear Rudy Giuliani and John McCain hold forth on the injustice of gender bias, what really burns is that we never heard a peep or squawk or gurgle of this nature from anyone in the Democratic Party during the entire 100 years Hillary Clinton was running for president, while she was being talked about as a pantsuited, wrinkly old crone and a harpy ex-wife and a sexless fat-thighed monster and an emasculating nag out for Tucker Carlson's balls. Only after she was good and gone did Howard Dean come out of his cave to squeak about the amount of sexist media bias Clinton faced. That may not be pretty to recall, especially in light of the Grand Old Party's Grand Old Celebration of Estrogen. But it's true. And it's also true that if there hadn't been so much stone-cold silence, so much shoulder-shrugging "What, me sexist?" inertia from the left, if there had been a little more respect (there was plenty of attention, of the derisive and annoyed sort) paid to the unsubtle clues being transmitted by 18 million voters that maybe they were interested in this whole woman-in-the-White-House thing, then the right would not have had the fuel to power this particular weapon.

Which leads us to my greatest nightmare: that because my own party has not cared enough, or was too scared, to lay its rightful claim to the language of women's rights, that Sarah Palin will reach historic heights of power, under the most egregious of auspices, by plying feminine wiles, and conforming to every outdated notion of what it means to be a woman. That she will hit her marks by clambering over the backs, the bodies, the rights of the women on whose behalf she claims to be working, and that she will do it all under the banner of feminism. How can anybody sleep?




Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Holy Spirit and Yves Congar

It's Pentecost and I have so many questions about the holy spirit ... is it indwelling in people or is it something that affects us from without like Ignatius' good spirit ..... if it's indwelling, was it always so, and if so, why the need for Pentecost .... if the holy spirit was not always indwelling, when was it bestowed - at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) or around Easter (John 20:21-22 ... Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; bas the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.")

- Christ's appearance behind locked doors by Duccio di Buoninsegna

In looking around, I saw that Wikipedia has a page on Pneumatology ....

Pneumatology is the study of spiritual beings and phenomena, especially the interactions between humans and God. Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is Greek for "breath", which metaphorically describes a non-material being or influence .... In Christian theology pneumatology refers to the study of the Holy Spirit.

One interesting bit from that page was this one ...

Reformation and Counter-reformation: Here the relationship between the Spirit and the Scriptures is re-examined. Martin Luther and John Calvin hold that the Spirit has a certain "interpretive authority" to "illuminate" scripture, while Counter-reformation theologians respond that the Spirit has authorized the Church to serve as authoritative interpreter of Scripture.

So, does this mean the Protestants saw the holy spirit as indwelling, maybe informing the conscience, while the Catholic church wanted to see the holy spirit instead only residing in the leaders of the church? Drat - the Protestants get to have all the good stuff :)

This idea, that the holy spirit had more import as the guarantee of the authenticity of the tradition and the authority of the acts of the magisterium than as an indwelling source of graced info, was changed in part through the work of Vatican II era theologian Yves Congar, a contemporary pneumatologist.

- Joseph Ratzinger (L) and Yves Congar (R), both periti at Vatican II

Yves Marie Joseph Congar (April 8, 1904, Sedan, Ardennes - June 22, 1995) was a French Dominican cardinal and theologian. Born in Sedan, in northeast France, in 1904, Congar's home was occupied by the Germans for much of World War I ... In 1925 he joined the Dominican Order at Amiens. Following his theological studies at the seminary at Le Saulchoir in Etiolles, near Paris with its strong emphasis on historical theology, Congar was ordained a priest in 1930. During World War II he was drafted into the French army as a chaplain, and was held from 1940 to 1945 as a prisoner of war by the Germans in Colditz.

After the war, he continued to teach and to write, eventually becoming one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century on the topic of the Roman Catholic Church and ecumenism .... Congar was once removed from teaching or publishing for a time by the Holy See, during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. However, his reputation was rehabilitated, as he was made a cardinal, in 1994, by Pope John Paul II .... He published on wide ranging topics, including Mary, the Eucharist, lay ministry and the Holy Spirit, as well as his diaries from his experiences during the Second Vatican Council.

Here's an article about Congar and the holy spirit - The Contribution Of Yves Congar's Theology Of The Holy Spirit, Theological Studies, Sept, 2001 by Elizabeth Teresa Groppe. It's long but worth a read.

And here's a short excerpt from an article about the article above :) ......

Yves Congar's Theology of the Holy Spirit, Theological Studies, June, 2005 by Eileen C. Burke-Sullivan ....

[...] Groppe's basic thesis asserts that Congar distinctively contributed to Roman Catholic theology of the Holy Spirit by retrieving the intimate bond between the work of the indwelling Spirit within the human person and the activity of the Spirit within the Church. The magnitude of this contribution is more fully appreciated both when it is seen in contrast to other pneumatological writing by Western theologians of the mid-20th century, and the more one understands the development of Congar's own writing before and after the Second Vatican Council .....

In her opening chapter G. demonstrates that the great influences on Congar's thinking included a strong historical Thomism, a deep appreciation for Johann Adam Mohler's work, and years of study of both the Protestant thought of Luther and Barth and Orthodox theology mediated by the Russian school in Paris between the wars. These various influences helped Congar shape responses to ecclesial questions that were surfacing in various Christian denominations, including and especially the ecumenical currents in play since the World Missionary Conference of 1917.

In this dynamic context, Congar's true starting point is always trinitarian, and G. illuminates both the depth and the development of this dimension of his work in her chapter 2. Out of Congar's trinitarian consciousness G. carefully outlines his position on the indwelling of the Spirit, and the mystery of deification as well as the moral implications of such sanctifying activity. But his Pneumatology does not stop with contemplating personal indwelling; rather his work focuses on the distribution of necessary gifts, both charismatic and hierarchical, that provide for building up the Church in the context of indwelling. This inseparability between the gifts of baptism and the dynamic power of the Spirit unifying and fructifying the Church lead one to say: where there is the manifestation of the indwelling Spirit, there the Church dwells. To believe in the Holy Spirit, third Person of the trinitarian God, is to believe in the gifts and powers of the Church: unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity ...

Three Jesuits on Thérèse of Lisieux

I was looking through Fr. James Martin's book My Life with the Saints today, which mentions Thérèse of Lisieux. I don't care for her and don't understand why so many like her (even Hans Urs von Balthasar), but I decided to look her up and give her another chance. OK, having done that, still not liking her, but I did come across an interesting homily by Jesuit Philip Endean (see my post on consolation without cause) that mentions her. Here it is ....


Homily For The 27th Sunday, Year B - October 4th 2009
- Fr. Philip Endean SJ

Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

'A man must leave his father and mother and join himself to his wife.’ The relationship between today’s scripture and the lived experience of this congregation is … well, interesting. I am not going to duck the challenge of addressing that issue, but I am going to start somewhere else.

‘Let the little children come to me’ ‘Anyone who does not welcome the Kingdom of God as a little child will not enter it at all.’ In passing, it’s worth noting that the image of Jesus putting his arms round children is as jarring with contemporary sensibilities as anything Jesus says about divorce; even with a CRB check you can’t do that sort of thing any more. And however necessary the precautions, they indicate a tragedy—life is the poorer for them.

But to the point: this image of the child, the non-person, receiving the Kingdom of God as a gift. It’s an image associated with St Thérèse of Lisieux, whose feast the Church celebrated this week, and whose relics are currently on a triumphant tour through the land. I happened to be talking this week with someone from the Portsmouth diocese where she had made her first stop. He did not strike me as one of nature’s devotees to the Little Flower, but he had clearly been impressed. ‘It shows you what the Church is really about: not discipline, not teaching, not organization, but people in need finding something very simple in their religion, something that gives them hope, something that helps them struggle on.’ Quite simply, they find love. He might have been echoing Thérèse’s own phrase: ‘love at the heart of the Church’.

Thérèse, for me as an academic interested in spirituality, is a quite fascinating figure. I don’t think we can just ignore the critical, even cynical, comments that have been made about her cult. But one cannot deny its power. Her autobiographical manuscripts—suitably or unsuitably sanitised by her bossy big sister—appeared in the first decade of the last century. If you go to her sanctuary at Lisieux, what is just obvious from the votive stones is how this story of a psychologically damaged child facing an early painful death, and undergoing powerful experiences of abandonment and loss of faith—this story somehow helped French soldiers who had to struggle with the horror of World War I; more generally, she seems to have touched into the experiences of poor Catholics in the workforce of an industrial society of Northern Europe that could often be brutal and insecure. Thérèse’s centenary in 1997 came a month after the death of Princess Diana; and maybe the Diana phenomenon helps us understand Thérèse. Both are vulnerable young women, making lots of mistakes, dying young and tragically—both tap into realities normally hidden within our collective psyche, and provoke it into expression. This expression takes forms that are sometimes disconcerting, sometimes conflicting—the symbols of Thérèse and Diana are used by different people promoting different sets of agenda. In both cults, flowers figure large; there are elements of kitsch, vulgarity, tastelessness. But something important is happening when Thérèse and Diana are evoked. Realities often buried and overlooked, and which because they are unacknowledged are often doing us damage—these come to the surface, in however distorted a form. And we are better off because we have been allowed, however temporarily, however incompletely, to access them.

I can never make up my mind whether Thérèse is a genuine theologian or the fabrication of a successful piety industry, but I am prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt—after all, she has been proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. The problem with her writing is that its doctrinal ideas have been so successful and influential within twentieth-century Christianity that we no longer recognise that they were once new and surprising. In the middle of the century, our mainstream church understanding of grace changed, so that what Thérèse was on about no longer seems a big deal. My current research on Gerard Manley Hopkins has led me to think about what Catholic spiritual life was like in the nineteenth century. The dangers of caricature are considerable; but you cannot avoid the impression that at very deep levels the religious enterprise was set up so that you could only fail at it; and the religious apparatus available to the average Catholic was largely concerned with the negotiation of guilt. In this world, Thérèse saw something new. You can leave all the concerns with rules aside. You can just let God be with you in your weakness and failure, and love you; you can just let that love supply for all your needs. She advocates the so-called Little Way. There are paths to heaven that involve steep climbs; but then there’s this new route which just gets you there in a flash—like these strange new machines called elevators that they have in New York and about which we’ve read newspaper articles even here in dozy Lisieux. The way of love: love at the heart of the Church; love available to all, no matter what the failures they are having to live with, no matter what the burdens they are carrying.

Which brings me, at last, to Jesus’s teaching on marriage and divorce, and the incongruity of such heterosexist talk with the experience of a congregation such as this. And the move I am going to make is an obvious one. Jesus states some rules, but then something else happens: the children come, the bossy disciples want to shoo them away, but Jesus overrules them, takes the children, the non-persons, into his arms and blesses them. The rules of the Church are there, ultimately, because we care about the value of each human being. They are necessary; they have their place. But, for all their divine warrant, they are human creations as well, articulated in corrupt and fallible human language. They cannot fit everyone. You have to read them for what they are trying to do, not for what they actually do to people already hurt—for the good that they are seeking to promote, however imperfectly, rather than the problems they create. At the heart of the Church is not the strict rule, the exceptionless moral norm, but love: love that we only receive in our weakness, in our unpersonhood, as a gift.

Now, it’s important that we not get too complacent here. Catholicism—perhaps unlike Protestantism—has spiritual safety-valves built into its symbolic structures, and this is part of its genius. The figure of Mary meets some of our need for a female element in our imaging of God and salvation; and the figure of Thérèse in early twentieth-century Catholic spirituality relieved the rigorism of a more official, more theological Catholicism all too reflective of the harsh economic conditions under which poor believers struggled. And safety valves are a mixed blessing. They’re like painkillers; they remove the immediate indicator of dysfunction, and perhaps they are a necessary precondition for any serious healing to be attempted. But the danger is that we just stop there, and leave the underlying problem unaddressed.

Marian piety is no substitute for serious work on the structural sexisms of our Church and society; and a pilgrimage to Thérèse’s bones is far short of the Kingdom of God for which we long, for the ultimate transformation of the oppression that Thérèse shared with so many. There is a danger that religion becomes just a painkiller. There are powerful criticisms of Christianity and Catholicism to this effect, and they are not to be written off. But suspicion need not, must not be our only attitude. We can, we should, also be prepared to think positively. The Thérèses and the Dianas of our symbolic world can serve as an inspiration really to change things, or rather to let them be changed. The heart of the Church lies not in its rules or its theologies or its structures, but in openness to love and to being loved, the openness of the child: openness to a love that raises the lowly, taking them up the elevator in a trice. It’s that subversive power that is at the heart of the Church: the power of the leader who, Hebrews said, became through suffering like his sisters and brothers in every respect, dying a death of ritual impurity, under a curse—and who from that condition invites to come to him outside the camp in order that from there we might share his resurrection.

Much remains to be done and suffered. The Kingdom of God is not yet here. But as we hear the gospel rules that we cannot even begin to keep, we are also given the gospel symbol of the poor child, the unperson, embraced by Jesus. Even now this symbol puts the rules in their proper place, and assures us that in the end the fullness of love, the kingdom of God, will truly become a reality. And perhaps we can use our spiritual imaginations when we hear Thérèse. ‘After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses’, she is supposed to have said. Her images may be tacky and girlish, but she was saying something important about a hope will not deceive. For God has called us, and God is faithful.


You can read what Hans Urs von Balthasar had to say of Thérèse here

And see what Fr. Martin wrote of her at Google books here

Friday, May 21, 2010


It's hard to think of what to write today, so instead, here are some links ....

* An audio interview with David Bentley Hart on his book, Atheist Delusions.

* Fr. James Martin writes that the pope's recent comment about abortion and same-sex marriage is bizarre.

* The New York Times has begun a philosophy blog.

* Forgive Not: A Catholic’s struggle with the sins of his church by Garry Wills at The New Republic

* An audio interview, Asteroids, Stars, and the Love of God, with Jesuit astronomers Fr. George Coyne and Br. Guy Consolmagno.

* And ....

... here's a tiny tree mouse from the Foja Mountains. See more photos of new species found in New Guinea at National Geographic :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More bunnies

The bunnies down the street from my sister had babies so we went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of carrots (organic, of course :) to throw over the fence to them ... bunny feeding frenzy! Here are some photos ....

- one of the babies

- an adult

- a duck lives with the bunnies

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What Did Jesus Do?

An interesting article on Jesus at The New Yorker. Here's just a bit of it ....


What Did Jesus Do?
Reading and unreading the Gospels.
by Adam Gopnik
May 24, 2010

[...] Mark invents the idea that Jesus’ secret was not that he was the “Davidic” messiah, the Arthur-like returning king, but that he was someone even bigger: the Son of God, whose return would signify the end of time and the birth of the Kingdom of God. The literary critic Frank Kermode, in “The Genesis of Secrecy” (1979), a pioneering attempt to read Mark seriously as poetic literature, made a similar point, though his is less historical than interpretative. Kermode considers Mark to be, as the French would say, a text that reads itself: the secret it contains is that its central figure is keeping a secret that we can never really get. It is an intentionally open-ended story, prematurely closed, a mystery without a single solution.

Even if we make allowances for Mark’s cryptic tracery, the human traits of his Jesus are evident: intelligence, short temper, and an ironic, duelling wit. What seems new about Jesus is not his piety or divine detachment but the humanity of his irritability and impatience. He’s no Buddha. He gets annoyed at the stupidity of his followers, their inability to grasp an obvious point. “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” he asks the hapless disciples. The fine English actor Alec McCowen used to do a one-man show in which he recited Mark, complete, and his Jesus came alive instantly as a familiar human type—the Gandhi-Malcolm-Martin kind of charismatic leader of an oppressed people, with a character that clicks into focus as you begin to dramatize it. He’s verbally spry and even a little shifty. He likes defiant, enigmatic paradoxes and pregnant parables that never quite close, perhaps by design. A story about a vineyard whose ungrateful husbandmen keep killing the servants sent to them is an anti-establishment, even an anti-clerical story, but it isn’t so obvious as to get him in trouble. The suspicious priests keep trying to catch him out in a declaration of anti-Roman sentiment: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not, they ask—that is, do you recognize Roman authority or don’t you? He has a penny brought out, sees the picture of the emperor on it, and, shrugging, says to give to the state everything that rightly belongs to the state. The brilliance of that famous crack is that Jesus turns the question back on the questioner, in mock-innocence. Why, you give the king the king’s things and God God’s. Of course, this leaves open the real question: what is Caesar’s and what is God’s? It’s a tautology designed to evade self-incrimination.

Jesus’ morality has a brash, sidewise indifference to conventional ideas of goodness. His pet style blends the epigrammatic with the enigmatic. When he makes that complaint about the prophet having no honor in his own home town, or says exasperatedly that there is no point in lighting a candle unless you intend to put it in a candlestick, his voice carries a disdain for the props of piety that still feels startling. And so with the tale of the boy who wastes his inheritance but gets a feast from his father, while his dutiful brother doesn’t; or the one about the weeping whore who is worthier than her good, prim onlookers; or about the passionate Mary who is better than her hardworking sister Martha. There is a wild gaiety about Jesus’ moral teachings that still leaps off the page. He is informal in a new way, too, that remains unusual among prophets. MacCulloch points out that he continually addresses God as “Abba,” Father, or even Dad, and that the expression translated in the King James Version as a solemn “Verily I say unto you” is actually a quirky Aramaic throat-clearer, like Dr. Johnson’s “Depend upon it, Sir.”

Some of the sayings do have, in their contempt for material prosperity, the ring of Greek Cynic philosophy, but there is also something neither quite Greek nor quite Jewish about Jesus’ morality that makes it fresh and strange even now .....


You're not the boss of me

Some news for bishops ..... the pope isn't your boss! Or at least so the Vatican seems to be asserting -- Ineffability defense? Vatican argues bishops not employees, courts shouldn't examine apostolic relationship: Updated ....

[...] The Vatican is expected to assert that bishops aren't its employees because they aren't paid by Rome, don't act on Rome's behalf and aren't controlled day-to-day by the pope — factors courts use to determine whether employers are liable for the actions of their employees, Lena [the Vatican's lawyer] told the AP. He said he would suggest to the court that it should avoid using the religious nature of the relationship between bishops and the pope as a basis for civil liability because it entangles the court in an analysis of religious doctrine that dates back to the apostles .....

McMurry [plaintiff's attorney] has alleged that the Vatican had clear and direct control over bishops ..... If a bishop wants to spend more than $5 million he must ask permission from Rome, and if he wants to take a three-month sabbatical, he needs the Holy See's OK, said McMurry's main expert witness, the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked at the Vatican's U.S. nunziature. "For the defense to claim that what's necessary is to show day-to-day monitoring is unrealistic," Doyle said. "That is not a viable argument to show the Vatican has direct control over the bishops." .....

Way to take responsibility - not.

Monday, May 17, 2010

From undetached rabbit parts to Magritte and Escher

- Reptiles, Escher

I came upon mention of a book today - Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. Here's a little about it from Wikipedia ...

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (commonly GEB) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Hofstadter, described by the author as "a metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll".

On its surface, GEB examines logician Kurt Gödel, artist M. C. Escher and composer Johann Sebastian Bach, discussing common themes in their work and lives. At a deeper level, the book is a detailed and subtle exposition of concepts fundamental to mathematics, symmetry, and intelligence.

Through illustration and analysis, the book discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning despite being made of "meaningless" elements. It also discusses what it means to communicate, how knowledge can be represented and stored, the methods and limitations of symbolic representation, and even the fundamental notion of "meaning" itself.

In response to confusion over the book's theme, Hofstadter has emphasized that GEB is not about mathematics, art, and music but rather about how cognition and thinking emerge from well-hidden neurological mechanisms. In the book, he presents an analogy about how the individual neurons of the brain coordinate to create a unified sense of a coherent mind by comparing it to the social organization displayed in a colony of ants ...

The book sounds really interesting but I get the sinking feeling I wouldn't be able to understand much of it. I saw mention of it at a page about self-referential quines. I didn't know what quines were, but remembered reading about Willard Van Orman Quine in philosophy classes, so took a look. When I say I remember Quine, actually all I really remember about him is his reference to undetached rabbit parts - stuff like that seems to stick with me :) ....

When words refer to abstract ideas, there can be a problem, because the meaning of words can be determined by an individual's mindset and experiences. Therefore, even when speaking the same language, two individuals can be speaking about the same thing but have a different idea of it in their minds and therefore not be able to fully communicate about it. Indeterminacy is something that can be seen even more apparently with differing languages. Quine uses the example of the foreign word "gavagai," which is uttered when a native speaker points at a rabbit. A linguist trying to understand the language has to decide whether the native speaker's utterance means "rabbit," "undetached rabbit parts," or "rabbit stages" (Quine 32).
- quine: terms in translation

See, just looking that up made my head hurt! But maybe there's hope for me yet in understanding some of the book - I do know of and like the work of M. C. Escher (and René Magritte, also mentioned in the book). Must see if the library has it in audio.

- The Son of Man, Magritte