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Monday, January 31, 2011

If Jesus can change, so can the church

- Woman, great is your faith. Your daughter is healed. - Jesus

There's an interesting post ar In All Things by Tom Beaudoin, professor of theology at Fordham University = Twenty-somethings and Catholicism: Reflections on the Fordham Conference (UPDATED). The post is about the "Lost?" conference at Fordham University, a conference aimed at understanding better the relationship between the Catholic Church and 20-somethings.

Recently the pope's mentioned wanting to re-evangelize Europe, and also wanting to open a Court of the Gentiles for turning atheists. I doubt these efforts will work because the reasons why people are leaving the church, the reasons why many won't consider joining in the first place, will not be addressed, much less dealt with, by the church. Professor Beaudoin seems to agree with me in his post. He writes ...

[...] The most frequent recommendation for the Catholic Church was to pay greater attention to young adults. At this conference, one could hear that the institutional church "needs to listen," that church leaders and pastoral workers "need to meet people where they are," and that what is essential is that 20-somethings "be really heard." I myself have used these phrases since I started writing about the so-called "Generation X" nearly fifteen years ago.

But after so many years of rather intensively following the conversation about Catholicism and young adults, these exhortations are, I am convinced, of quite limited value .... Why do I register this note of deep skepticism? Because deep listening is predicated on a willingness to be changed by the encounter, to have one's conceptions, even basic conceptions, revised by the other (as well as a trust that the other brings this same fundamental openness). This openness, as much literature on interreligious dialogue shows, is not a weakness or a bracketing of real difference, but rather the limit-test for whether the truth of, in, and through the other can be acknowledged, and thus whether real hearing can happen. Pastoral workers and church leaders cannot advocate "meeting people where they are" if it is only to try to convince people about what "we" think we already know about God, sex, faith, justice, or whatever Catholic material we deem of urgency. "Meeting people where they are" thus always borders on patronizing: people can't "get" to where "we" are, so "we" must "go out" and meet "them." ......

How could a move to real listening be more broadly credible? The Catholic Church has to have the courage to say, and to prioritize in its doctrinal, catechetical, pastoral, and theological life, that it is not done knowing God, nor is it done knowing sexuality or salvation, among many other matters, in the light of God. Perhaps the most appropriate next official document would regard what the Catholic Church is able to admit that it does not understand ...

Maybe part of the reason the institutional church doesn't want to consider change is the belief that changing one's mind = having been mistaken. But I think the refusal to consider change doesn't exemplify perfection, it exemplifies death. Even Jesus was willing to change his mind. In the film Jesus, after Jesus helps the Canaanite woman, the disciples are upset with him for helping her and say, "Our God is for the Gentiles!????" Jesus says to them, "I saw a girl dying. Would you rather I let her die? This woman has taught me that my message is for the Gentiles as well. If I can learn, so can you."

And so can the church.

You can read articles about Matthew 15:10-28 at The Text This Week

The Way I Am

I was going to write something about Egypt and torture, having seen a post on that at Andrew Sullivan's blog, but instead I was sidetracked by this video he had also posted - nice song by Ingrid Michaelson, nice puppy .... :)

If you were falling, then I would catch you.
You need a light, I'd find a match.

Cuz I love the way you say good morning.
And you take me the way I am.

If you are chilly, here take my sweater.
Your head is aching, I'll make it better.

Cuz I love the way you call me baby.
And you take me the way I am.

I'd buy you Rogaine when you start losing all your hair.
Sew on patches to all you tear.

Cuz I love you more than I could ever promise.
And you take me the way I am.
You take me the way I am.
You take me the way I am.

Blogging at U.S. Catholic - me :)

As a supplement of the January 2011 special issue on women, U.S. Catholic has been asking guest bloggers “How do you keep the faith as a woman in the church?” and posting their responses at Faithful women. They were kind enough to let me be one of the guest bloggers. The series of posts concludes with Joyce Rupp's acceptance speech upon receiving the 2004 U.S. Catholic Award - Pregnant with possibility: Joyce Rupp on keeping the faith. If you have time, check it out.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

John Brown and the trolley thought experiment

This week as I've watched reruns of Stargate Atlantis and of The 4400 I've noticed a couple of ethical dilemnas cropping up in the storylines .... though the examples are different, I think they're about the same basic question - what are you willing to do, what is ethical to do, to achieve your ends?

The example in the Stargate Atlantis episode, The Game, was light-hearted. It began with the main characters, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, Doctor Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex, eating and talking in the mess hall. Rodney brought up what I think is British philosopher Philippa Foot's ethical thought experiment, the trolley problem .... A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you can flip a switch which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch? ..... What's kind of funny about the Stargate episode is that when Rodney begins to explain the thought experiment, the others ask the unwanted questions any rational person would ask but which never come up in philosophy class, and the dilemna itself is never addressed ...

- Rodney and John

Rodney: Let me ask you a question. Say there’s a runaway train. It’s hurtling out of control towards ten people standing in the middle of the tracks. The only way to save those people is to flip a switch -- send the train down another set of tracks. The only problem is there is a baby in the middle of those tracks.
Teyla: Why would anyone leave a baby in harm’s way like that?
Rodney: I don’t know. That’s not the point. Look, it’s an ethical dilemma. Look, Katie Brown brought it up over dinner the other night. The question is: is it appropriate to divert the train and kill the one baby to save the ten people?
Ronon: Wouldn’t the people just see the train coming and move?
Rodney: No. No, they wouldn’t see it.
Ronon: Why not?
Rodney: Well ... (he sighs) ... Look, I don't know -- say they’re blind.
Teyla: All of them?
Rodney: Yes, all of them.
Ronon: Then why don’t you just call out and tell them to move out of the way?
Rodney: Well, because they can’t hear you.
John: What, they’re deaf too?
(Rodney throws him a look)
John: How fast is the train going?
Rodney: Look, the speed doesn’t matter!
John: Well, sure it does. If it’s going slow enough, you could outrun it and shove everyone to the side.
Ronon: Or better yet, go get the baby.
Rodney: For God’s sake! I was just trying to ...

:) (BTW, I have a past post on the trolley thought experiment, Philippa Foot, Thomas Aquinas, and Rick Warren - Can the ends justify the means?).

The second example is more serious. In an episode of The 4400, Terrible Swift Sword, the question of the ends justifying the means comes up and abolitionist John Brown gets mentioned ("terrible swift sword" is a phrase used in the song The Battle Hymn of the Republic, the melody of which was taken from the song John Brown's Body). Background ... 4400 people, disappeared over a number of years, have been brought back from where they'd been taken, the future, with unusual powers in an effort by those of the future to change their past/present (and our present/future) for the better. But the present-day government doubts the motives of these "returnees" and the government squares off against the 4400 group in what may soon become a war. Jordan Collier is the leader of the 4400 and though murdered, he 's resurrected by those in the future so he can continue to lead their cause. He courts the help of terrorists to reach his ends, which are undeniably good - stopping a future holocaust - but his friend Shawn thinks this is going to far, justifuing the means with the end .....

- Jordan and Shawn

Jordan: Shawn, I need you to believe in me.
Shawn: You know what I think, Jordan? I think that this whole messiah thing has gone to your head.
Jordan: I'm no messiah - more like John Brown.
Shawn: John Brown? Isn't he the guy who tried to free all the slaves?
Jordan: He surrounded himself with people who believed as he did, who were willing to do anything for their cause. That kind of devotion can change the world.
Shawn: They killed John Brown, Jordan.
Jordan: They killed me too.

John Brown ... was a revolutionary abolitionist from the United States, who advocated and practiced armed insurrection as a means to abolish slavery for good. He led the Pottawatomie Massacre in 1856 in Bleeding Kansas and made his name in the unsuccessful raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859. He was tried and executed for treason against the state of Virginia, murder, and conspiracy later that year. Brown has been called "the most controversial of all 19th-century Americans." .... and he's often mentioned by pro-life people who see their cause akin to that of his (John Brown’s body turns 150 years old, David Gibson, dotCommonweal). I may be in the minority, but I think John Brown was wrong, not in his cause, of course, but in how he went about it - murder (just as I think Bonhoeffer was wrong).

Of the two tv series episode examples above, I think the first one, that of Stargate Atlantis, is the most realistic. Ethical problems are often presented with only two polar-opposite alternatives, but maybe that's a false dichotomy? Maybe there's a way to save both the day and one's ethics too?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Schillebeeckx on Thomas Aquinas

Today's the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas. I tend to be critical of him but I've called a truce for today :) Here's just the very end of an article on him by Edward Schillebeeckx ......


Thomas Aquinas: Servant of the Word

[...] When we look for the key to the life of this man of study, we find it in his own words. At the time of his last reception of the eucharist, just before his death, he called out: "Jesus, for the love of whom I have studied, have stayed awake nights, have preached and taught."Jesus ... pro cuius amore!"' No ivory-tower scholarliness, no ambition or intellectual curiosity explains his life of study, but the generous love for a living person, the Lord Jesus Christ. On his way as peritus to the Council of Lyon where he was to be made a cardinal along with his colleague Bonaventure, Thomas asked God that he might rather die than reach Rome as a cardinal. Bonaventure arrived in Rome and became a cardinal. Thomas died on the way. If being a cardinal meant the end of his priestly doctorate, it was better for him to die, for his task was accomplished. For us, however, his unfinished Summa is a constant reminder that the task of the priestly doctorate is always an unfinished life work, that every generation must begin again and press forward.

"Jesus, pro cuius amore" -- because he loved. Love is the form of the priestly or ministerial doctorate That is why Thomas is a saint, and an unusual one It is for that reason that we gratefully celebrate his life as a glowing example for all theologians.


Photos from the yard

Just the usual suspects today. I keep hoping to get a photo of the yellow-billed magpies which hang out here - this is the only place in the whole world where they exit - but they're camera shy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


- Data

There's a post by Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost at St. Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow, that struck me tonight. At the top of the post was a photo of Kelvin's cat Tilly who had just passed away. She looked almost exactly like my cat Data, who died a few years ago in January and of whom I dreamed last night.


Here's part of what Kelvin wrote ....

I’ve known many people ask whether their animals have souls or go to heaven, even people who are uncertain of their own attitude to their own mortality and what lies beyond. For those who have loved and bonded with an animal its hard to imagine that heaven could be heaven without them. Several of those who knew Tilly have volunteered the opinion this week that she’s likely to be sitting impatiently by the gate of heaven waiting. If she is, St Peter should mind his ankles.

The last couple of weeks have been a horrible start to the new year. However, my deep sadness at losing Tilly has to be matched by a sense of thankfulness for the life she lived and the companionship that we shared. She was never happier than playing with wool and I choose to remember her wearing a strand as an Easter bonnet as pictured above.

Actually, the truth is, she was only really engaged in playing with wool if I was at the other end of it.

For that, and for countless other reasons, she is very much missed and the tears have been many.

Miss you, Data.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Passage

The book I'm reading now from the library is The Passage by Justin Cronin. It's a tale of a near future in which a runaway virus presents vampire-like symptomology in victims, causing the breakdown of society. All hope rests on a little girl (and a nun, and an FBI agent, and ... :).

Here's part of a review from The New York Times ...


A Journal of the Plague Century: Civilization Goes Viral. Stuff Ensues.

[...] Mr. Cronin gets “The Passage” off to a vigorous start. We meet Amy Harper Bellafonte, who is modestly billed in the book’s first sentence as someone who will become “the Girl from Nowhere — the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years.” We read the e-mail messages of Jonas Abbott Lear, a Harvard professor who, if these messages are any indication, probably won’t last as long as Amy. (“How ironic that I should finally have the chance to solve the greatest mystery of all — the mystery of death itself.”) We also hear Lear’s complaint that it’s hard to apply for a research grant if the word “vampire” is anywhere in the proposal.

In “The Passage” scientists aren’t the only ones who treat “vampire” as a word to be shunned. Mr. Cronin avoids it too, preferring to use other terms when undead, bloodsucking creatures start entering his story. The trouble begins after Special Agent Brad Wolgast is sent to Texas to recruit a death row inmate for some kind of special government program. “The Passage” is elaborate and digressive enough to pause for a full explanation of how this man landed on death row.

Then things begin to go very wrong. The government program backfires. The condemned man, along with 11 others, begins feeling “a great, devouring hunger” that makes him hanker “to eat the very world.” And the virals, as these virus-infected human guinea pigs are called, get loose to wreak havoc on a colossal scale. Wolgast, who has become Amy’s protector and father figure, is caught up in the mayhem. He apparently succumbs to it, with the words “Amy, Amy, Amy” italicized in his mind.

The italics are as contagious as the virus. And Mr. Cronin begins sounding more and more like Stephen King, whose work “The Passage” often resembles, when he writes a 10-page italicized faux document describing one little girl’s account of the chaotic evacuation of Philadelphia.

This already-exhaustive book is studded with diary entries, academic papers and other ostensible evidence that its fictitious stories of destruction are true. Every now and then, as when the Gulf of Mexico is described as an oil slick, these accounts are even scarier than intended.

Abruptly the book jumps ahead 92 years. The Age of Italics is apparently over. Now it is the Time of Portentous Upper-Case Names. The past is remembered only as the Time Before. At the First Colony in the San Jacinto Mountains a paramilitary regime enforces a strict set of rules called the One Law. Since the world of “The Passage” is as zealously detailed as that of a video game (and as apt to move in linear fashion from one realm to another), Mr. Cronin even provides a brief constitution for the little group of still-human survivors .....

These latter sections of the “The Passage” have the air of an old-time western, though with different sound effects. (“That was when he heard the sound, coming from beneath the overpass. A soft, wet ripping, like sheets of damp paper being torn in half, or the skin being pried off an orange fat with juice.”)

And as its moments of calm are interspersed with battle scenes, the book becomes more familiar. Its most elaborate feats of exposition are out of the way, but there remain some important unanswered questions about Amy: Where did she go? And when is she coming back? There are two books and 900 years to go until her thousand-year destiny is played out.


The Last Temptation of Christ's Paul

- The Conversion of St Paul by Parmigianino

Today is the Feast of Conversion of St. Paul. I have to admit, when I think of Paul I feel a sort of skepticism about his conversion. I'm not sure why this is so ... I had a kind of conversion experience myself and I do want to believe that God can deal directly with people .... but still, I doubt. Maybe it was that reading in a philosophy class of William James' Varieties of Religious Experience in which he attributed Paul's conversion experience to a physical malady, or maybe it was the watching of that scene between Paul and Jesus in the film The Last Temptation of Christ. In the movie, Jesus was tempted on the cross to ask God to save him instead of letting him die, and he experienced what it would have been like if he had indeed done so ..... Jesus lived, married, had children, and one day came upon Paul giving a snake-oil-salesman pitch in a public square about his conversion experience, a conversion experience that must have been a cheat as Jesus had never died or been resurrected. It's disturbing ....

Must read more about Paul.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The renewed practice of the Spiritual Exercises

A while ago I posted about a video from Georgetown University which featured four Jesuits, William Barry, John O'Malley, Joseph Tetlow, and John Padberg talking about Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises: the Principle and Foundation, the first week through fourth, and the contemplation for attaining love. There were three videos in all, but I'd only watched that first one.

Today I watched the second video, which is about the renewal and resourcement of the Spiritual Exercises since Vatican II: a change from preached retreats given to groups of religious to directed retreats for individuals and to lay people, more of an emphasis on the 19th annotation (the Exercises in everyday life), the teaching of lay people in how to give the Exercises, and the growth of spirituality journals like The Way and 'Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits'. The video features Joseph Tetlow SJ, John Padberg SJ, and others. I found it really interesting :) You can watch it at Georgetown's site or at iTunes.

Those who are interested can read an article about the journal The Way ... The Ignatian Spirituality of The Way ... which can be found at Jesuit Philip Endean's website under the heading of 'publications'.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How to attract a mate

My sister sent me this BBC video below of David Attenborough observing a Bowerbird in New Guinea fixing up his bower to attract a female - it's amazing :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dress code for Russian women?

I saw a post at Reuter's today - Orthodox Church asks Russian women to dress modestly Here's a bit of the post ...

Russian feminists expressed outrage Wednesday after the country's Orthodox Church proposed women dress more modestly and refrain from walking down the street "painted like a clown." Endorsed by Russia's leaders as the country's main faith, the Orthodox Church has grown increasingly powerful since communism fell and its dominance has drawn criticism from rights groups who say it undermines Russia's secular constitution.

"We should create an all-Russian dress code," top Church official Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said in a letter published by Interfax news agency Tuesday. "Either scantily clad or painted like a clown, a woman who counts on meeting men on the street, in the metro or a bar not only risks running into a drunken idiot but will meet men with no self-respect," he said. Chaplin, who also heads the Church's department for relations with society, said last month that women in mini-skirts were to blame if raped as they "provoke men." ....

Well, as you might guess, I'm on the side of the feminists.

I'm not sure I know enough about the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government to write a post on this subject - my knowledge of things Russian is sort of spotty - I remember St. Basil's Cathedral from art history class, I've watched Nicholas and Alexandra and Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, read Dostoyevsky's The Grand Inquisitor, read a couple of Gabriel Allon novels which took place in Russia so I know about the Moscow Rules, my college boyfriend named his two pet rats after Russian saints Boris and Gleb, I like dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Alexander Godunov, the porms of Anna Akhmatova, the art of Kandinsky, and I recall that Russia was one of the few places the Society of Jesus was welcome when it was suppressed by Clement XIV.

Still, having said that, I do remember reading here and there some misgivings about the combo of the modern Russian government and the modern Russian Church. Here's some of a a 2007 TIME article, Putin's Reunited Russian Church ...

The Russian Orthodox Church was torn in two by revolution and regicide, by the enmity between communism and capitalism, nearly a century of fulmination and hatred. That all formally ended on Thursday in Moscow. Thousands of the Russian Orthodox faithful — including several hundred who flew in from New York — lined up under heavy rain to get into the Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. There, they witnessed the restoration of the "Canonical Communion and Reunification" of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) .... While the sumptuous ritual was clearly an emotional and pious event, the reunification has political resonance as well because the Russian Orthodox Church is increasingly a symbol and projection of Russian nationalism.

Indeed, rather than first give thanks to God in his speech, the head of the ROC, Patriarch Alexy, paid homage to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Patriarch emphasized that the reunification could happen only because the ROCOR saw in Putin "a genuine Russian Orthodox human being." Putin responded in his speech that the reunification was a major event for the entire nation.

Nationalism, based on the Orthodox faith, has been emerging as the Putin regime's major ideological resource. Thursday's rite sealed the four-year long effort by Putin, beginning in September 2003, to have the Moscow Patriarchate take over its rival American-based cousin and launch a new globalized Church as his state's main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument. In February press conference, Putin equated Russia's "traditional confessions" to its nuclear shield, both, he said, being "components that strengthen Russian statehood and create necessary preconditions for internal and external security of the country." Professor Sergei Filatov, a top authority on Russian religious affairs notes that "traditional confessions" is the state's shorthand for the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Church's assertiveness and presence is growing — with little separation from the State. The Moscow City Court and the Prosecutor General's Office maintain Orthodox chapels on their premises. Only the Orthodox clergy are entitled to give ecclesiastic guidance to the military. Some provinces have included Russian Orthodox Culture classes in school curricula with students doing church chores. When Orthodox fundamentalists vandalized an art exhibition at the Moscow Andrei Sakharov Center as "an insult to the main religion of our country," the Moscow Court found the Center managers guilty of insulting the faith, and fined them $3,500 each. The ROC had an opera, based on a famous fairy tale by the poet Alexander Pushkin, censored to the point of cutting out the priest, who is the tale's main protagonist. "Of course, we have a separation of State and Church," Putin said during a visit to a Russian Orthodox monastery in January 2004. "But in the people's soul they're together." The resurgence of a Church in open disdain of the secular Constitution is only likely to exacerbate divisions in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Russia. ....

And more recently, and with Kirill I chosen Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus' and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009 (an ex-KGB agent - can this be true?), things don't seem to be getting any better .... Art under arrest: A blasphemy trial shows the limit of Russia’s cultural freedom

I know this close relationship between church and state warms the cockles of the hearts of religious conservatives but I find it creepy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments

- Winslet and Rickman

This week's movie wasn't a rental but one I own ... Sense and Sensibility ... a 1995 British film adapted from the novel by Jane Austen and starring Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant (and Hugh Laurie). The screenplay was written by Emma Thompson, the film was directed by Ang Lee, and it was set in ... a number of locations in Devon, including Saltram House, the village church in Berry Pomeroy, Compton Castle, and the cobbled streets of Barbican in Plymouth. Settings in London included Somerset House on The Strand and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Additional scenes were filmed at Trafalgar House and Wilton House in Wiltshire, Mompesson House in Salisbury, and Montacute House in South Somerset.

- Grant and Thompson

I decided to watch the movie again because I've just checked the (audio version of the) novel out of the library and really like it so far - the movie is a very close adaptation. The story tells of the three Dashwood sisters (and their mother) who lose their home and most of their income when their father dies and leaves everything to their half-brother, causing them to move to a "cottage" (three stories!) in Devonshire. The story revolves around the different ways the two elder sisters approach life and relationships - Elinor (Thompson) is "sensible", Marianne (Winslet) more passionate (her favorite poem is Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, from which I took the title of this post). I love this movie - it has one of the best happy endings of all time :) Here's the trailer .....

More on the Vatican letter to Irish bishops on abuse

You can read more about the letter in David Gibson's post at dotCommonweal. The comments to the post are well worth reading too. Here's some of what David wrote ...

My sense was that the Vatican’s efforts today to tamp down the controversy by saying that the letter has been “deeply misunderstood” (Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena) or that “It refers to a situation that we’ve now moved beyond” (Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi) are insufficient at best.

Then again, Lombardi’s insistence that the existence of the letter was common knowledge in Ireland, while hardly an excuse, is true — but that doesn’t seem to exculpate the Vatican. Rather, the letter only seems to affirm that real cause of the scandal is what is already widely viewed as an endemic culture of secrecy in much of the hierarchy. It wasn’t necessarily some kind of carefully orchestrated, Dan Brown-style conspiracy that needs a “smoking gun.” The scandal is what it is, and always has been.

A plain reading of the letter, especially in the context of what was happening then, seems only to argue more explicitly for the culture-of-secrecy explanation. The Vatican ambassador to Ireland wrote that the bishops new policy was unacceptable to the Congregation for Clergy in Rome, which was then headed by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who was quite open about his insistence that bishops not report their priests to civil authorities.

Jeff Lena says that “the letter nowhere instructed Irish bishops to disregard civil law reporting requirements.” But there were no civil law reporting requirements at the time — the bishops were actually ahead of civil society — and Lena’s statement seems hard to square with the letter’s statement that mandatory reporting “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.”

The 1997 Vatican letter seems to have two significant complicating factors now for the Vatican. One is that it casts a further shadow over John Paul’s administration even as Rome prepares for his beatification in May.

Also, the letter seems to directly contradict Benedict’s own letter to Irish Catholics last year when the new revelations were roiling Ireland, and Rome.

In that letter to Irish Catholics the pope expressed his sorrow at the abuse but also blamed the abuse on “fast-paced social change” and a lack of religious devotion by ordinary Irish Catholics, who until recent years have been the most devout Catholics in the world.

Benedict’s letter also chided the bishops for the “often inadequate response” of Ireland’s hierarchy to the abuse and pointed to “a tendency in [Irish] society to favor the clergy and other authority figures.”

But in this case it seems the Vatican was guilty of an inadequate response and was standing in the way of the local bishops who were trying to deal with the crisis ....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Another nail

Vatican Warned Bishops Not to Report Child Abuse

A newly disclosed document reveals that Vatican officials instructed the bishops of Ireland in 1997 that they must not adopt a policy of reporting priests suspected of child abuse to the police or civil authorities. The document appears to contradict Vatican claims that the hierarchy in Rome never determined the actions of local bishops in abuse cases, and that the church did not impede criminal investigations of accused child abusers ....

In 1997, an advisory committee of Irish bishops had drawn up a new policy that included “mandatory reporting” of suspected abusers to civil authorities. The letter, signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio — or chief representative — in Ireland warned the Irish bishops against implementing the reporting policy. t said that for both “moral and canonical” reasons, the bishops must handle all accusations through internal church channels. Bishops who disobeyed, the letter said, may face repercussions when their abuse cases were heard in Rome. “The results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities,” the letter said .... Even now ... the Vatican has refrained from imposing rules for the church worldwide that would mandate reporting clergy accused of abuse to civil authorities ...

I'm beginning to loathe the guys who run the Vatican.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Galileo and Hell: do the math

This video and story from The Boston Globe via Open Culture ....

Mark Peterson, a physics professor at Mount Holyoke College, will publish a new book where he makes a rather curious argument: Back in 1588, a young Galileo presented two lectures before the Florentine Academy. And there he laid the groundwork for his theoretical physics when he called into question the accepted measurements of Dante’s hell (as depicted in the Inferno, the great epic poem from 1314) ...

Read more about it at The Boston Globe here.

- Inferno, from the Divine Comedy by Dante (Folio 1v) by Bartolomeo di Fruosino, 1430-35, Tempera, gold, and silver on parchment, 365 x 265 mm, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

Coffee and an extinction-level event

I had a cup of Sumatra Lintong Blue Batak today :) and thought I'd look it up as I don't know much about coffee. I found that it's grown in the area of Lake Tabo in Sumatra, Indonesia ....

Lake Toba (Indonesian: Danau Toba) is a lake and supervolcano, 100 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, and 505 metres (1,666 ft) at its deepest point. Located in the middle of the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra .... It is the largest lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. Lake Toba is the site of a supervolcanic eruption that occurred 69,000-77,000 years ago, a massive climate-changing event. The eruption is believed to have had a VEI intensity of 8. It is believed to be the largest explosive eruption anywhere on Earth in the last 25 million years. According to the Toba catastrophe theory to which some anthropologists and archeologists subscribe, it had global consequences, killing most humans then alive and creating a population bottleneck in Central Eastern Africa and India that affected the genetic inheritance of all humans today.[5] This theory however, has been largely debated as there is no evidence for any other animal decline or extinction, even in environmentally sensitive species. However, it has been accepted that the eruption of Toba led to a volcanic winter with a worldwide decline in temperatures between 3-5 degrees C, and up to 15 degrees C in higher latitudes ...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

At Thomas Merton’s Grave

by Spencer Reece

We can never be with loss too long.
Behind the warped door that sticks,
the wood thrush calls to the monks,
pausing upon the stone crucifix,
singing: “I am marvelous alone!”
Thrash, thrash goes the hayfield:
rows of marrow and bone undone.
The horizon’s flashing fastens tight,
sealing the blue hills with vermilion.
Moss dyes a squirrel’s skull green.
The cemetery expands its borders—
little milky crosses grow like teeth.
How kind time is, altering space
so nothing stays wrong; and light,
more new light, always arrives.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A photo taken today

The gray squirrel steals a peanut ....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I haven't written about any movies lately because I've been instead going through the past science fiction tv series The 4400 ....

In the pilot episode, what was originally thought to be a comet deposits a group of exactly 4400 people at Highland Beach, in the Cascade Range foothills near Mount Rainier, Washington. Each of the 4400 had disappeared at various times starting from 1946 in a beam of white light. None of the 4400 have aged from the time of their disappearance. Confused and disoriented, they remember nothing between the time of their disappearance and their return.

- the youngest returnee is an eight year old girl scooped in the 40s, Maia

The show has an interesting concept - I don't think I'll be revealing any big secret to say that by the end of the first season, it becomes known that the people supposedly "scooped" by little gray men were actually taken by human from Earth's future instead, where they were changed in a number of ways and then brought back to the present so that they could avert by their actions a coming catastrophe.

- Agent Tom Baldwin with his nephew Shawn (Patrick Flueger), a returnee, and his son Kyle (Chad Faust)

The show so far (I'm into season 3) is about how the world handles these reterness with their special abilities, and about how the returnees manage (or don't manage) to make worthwhile lives for themselves after having been gone and while being "different". Two of the main characters are Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch, who now plays Catholic priest Fr. Jack on the series V) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), agents of The National Threat Assessment Command (NTAC), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of the returnees. Peter Coyote plays Dennis Ryland, their boss. The returnees are eventually let out of quarantine and one of them, Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell), builds a complex where 4400s can live independently of society. The story follows a a worsening of the relationship between the government and the returnees until, at the point I've reached, there's almost a war between "normal" people and the 4400s. I think it's pretty good overall.

- Jordan Collier with other returnees Lily (Laura Allen) and Richard (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) and their mysterious baby

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Holy Kiss that's supposed to last eternity

Yesterday was Joan Baez's 70th birthday. I've always liked her, saw her once when she played at my college. Here are a few of her songs I especially like, lyrics below the videos .....

- Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word ....

- The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down ....

- Forever Young ....

Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word (written by Bob Dylan)
Seems like only yesterday
I left my mind behind
Down in the Gypsy Café
With a friend of a friend of mine
She sat with a baby heavy on her knee
Yet spoke of life most free from slavery
With eyes that showed no trace of misery
A phrase in connection first with she I heard
That love is just a four-letter word

Outside a rambling store-front window
Cats meowed 'til the break of day
Me, I kept my mouth shut,
To you I had no words to say
My experience was limited and underfed
You were talking while I hid
To the one who was the father of your kid
You probably didn't think I did, but I heard
You say that love is just a four-letter word

I said goodbye unnoticed
Pushed towards things in my own games
Drifting in and out of lifetimes
Unmentionable by name
After searching for my double, looking for
Complete evaporation to the core
Though I tried and failed at finding any door
I must have thought that there was nothing more absurd
Than that love is just a four-letter word

Though I never knew just what you meant
When you were speaking to your man
I could only think in terms of me
And now I understand
After waking enough times to think I see
The Holy Kiss that's supposed to last eternity
Blow up in smoke, its destiny
Falls on strangers, travels free
Yes, I know now, traps are only set by me
And I do not really need to be assured
That love is just a four-letter word

Strange it is to be beside you, many years the tables turned
You'd probably not believe me if told you all I've learned
And it is very very weird, indeed
To hear words like "forever" plead
so ships run through my mind I cannot cheat
it's like looking in a teacher's face complete
I can say nothing to you but repeat what I heard
That love is just a four-letter word.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (written by Robbie Robertson)
Virgil Cane is my name and I drove on the Danville train
Till Stonewall's calvary came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of '65, we were hungry, just barely alive
I took the train to Richmond, it fell
It was a time I remember oh, so well...

The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing, they went
Na... na na na na na... na na, na na, na na... Na na na...

Back with my wife in Tennessee and one day she said to me,
"Virgil, quick, come see, there goes the Robert E. Lee"
Now I don't mind 'em chopping wood
And I don't care if the money's no good
Just take what you need and leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best...

The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing, they went
Na... na na na na na... na na, na na, na na... Na na na...

Like my father before me... I'm a working man
And like my brother before me, I took a Rebel stand
Well he was just eighteen, proud and brave
But a yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the blood, below my feet
You can't raise a Cane back up, when it's in defeat...

The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing, they went
Na... na na na na na... na na, na na, na na... Na na na...

Forever Young (written by Bob Dylan)
May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Bill Zeller

I guess most people have read of this by now but I thought I'd mention it too ...

Bill Zeller, Princeton Grad Student And 'Brilliant' Programmer, Dies In Apparent Suicide

Bill Zeller, a Princeton Ph.D candidate and renowned internet programmer, died Wednesday from injuries sustained in a suicide attempt. He was 27. Zeller stunned the programming community with a 4,000-word suicide note detailing a childhood of physical and sexual abuse, which he had never before disclosed to anyone. "I've never been able to stop thinking about what happened to me and this hampered my social interactions," Zeller wrote. "... I wondered what it would be like to take to other people without what happened constantly on my mind, and I wondered if other people had similar experiences that they were better able to mask." ....

You can read his note at the linked story above. I've just read the note myself and I recognize some of what he's feeling in my own life. This can't help but remind me of the thirteen people who are said to have committed suicide due to clergy sex abuse in Belgium (link). I think perhaps many people don't realize how ruinous sexual abuse can be to the whole of a person's life ... maybe someone should send Bill Zeller's note to the Curia.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Jesus begins the journey

Here are two video clips from the movie Jesus that show how Jesus (might have) started on his journey to baptism.

The first begins in Jesus' home, where he, Joseph, and Mary are discussing how much they and their community are suffering under the Romans and the tax collectors. Joseph says "When will there be an end to the suffering of our people?" and Jesus, disturbed, says, "Are you asking me?" Joseph just stares at him. Jesus continues, "Are you telling me I can end the suffering?" No one says a thing, and Jesus leaves the room, upset. Mary and Joseph discuss Jesus' mission or lack thereof, Mary comforts Jesus Then Joseph, still so upset, suffers (perhaps) a heart attack and perishes. Joseph is laid to rest, Jesus asks God to bring him back, to no avail. Afterwards Jesus tries to carry on as a carpenter but it's no good. His mom encourages him to follow his calling instead ....

Jesus reluctantly leaves home, stopping on the way to the River Jordan and his cousin John to explain to Mary of Bethany that he can't marry her because he has a religious calling ... "I'm not who you think I am ... my life is not my own." Jesus then reconnects with John, who he hasn't seen since they were kids, and asks if he can be baptized ......

So much of how I see Jesus myself has to do with this movie, which I first watched while making a retreat years ago. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing :) but the film does really touch me. You can watch the whole movie in parts on YouTube here.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Lewis Hyde poem

My latest book from the library is This Error is the Sign of Love, a book of poetry by Lewis Hyde, the author of The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. You can read a lot of his work, including lectures, blogposts, excerpts from some of his books, and some of his poems at his website. Here's the last poem in the book I checked out ....

This Error is the Sign of Love

“Man has to seek God in error and
forgetfulness and foolishness.”

-- Meister Eckhart

This error is the sign of love,
the crack in the ice where the otters breathe,
the tear that saves a man from power,
the puff of smoke blown down the chimney one morning, and the widower sighs and gives up his loneliness,
the lines transposed in the will so the widow must scatter coins from the cliff instead of ashes and she marries again, for love,
the speechlessness of lovers that forces them to leave it alone while it sends up its first pale shoot like an onion sprouting in the pantry,
this error is the sign of love.

The leak in the nest, the hole in the coffin,
the crack in the picture plate a young girl fills with her secret life to survive the grade school,
the retarded twins who wanter house to house, eating, ‘til the neighbors have become neighbors.
The teacher’s failings in which the students ripen,
Luther’s fit in the choir, Darwin’s dyspepsia, boy children stuttering in the gunshop, boredom, shyness, bodily discomforts like long rows of white stones at the edge of the highway,
blown head gaskets, darkened choir lofts, stolen kisses,
this error is the sign of love.

The nickel in the butter churn, the farthing in the cake,
the first reggae rhythms like seasonal cracks in a government building,
the rain-damaged instrument that taught us the melodies of black emotion and red and yellow emotion,
the bubble of erotic energy escaped from a marriage and a week later the wife dreams of a tiger,
the bee that flies into the guitar and hangs transfixed in the sound of sound ‘til all his wetness leaves him and he rides that high wind to the Galapagos,
this error is the sign of love.

The fault in the sea floor where the fish linger and mate,
the birthmark that sets the girl apart and years later she alone of the sisters finds her calling,
Whitman’s idiot brother whom he fed luke the rest of us,
those few seconds Bréton fell asleep and dreamed of a pit of sand with the water starting to flow,
the earth’s wobbling axis uncoiling seasons--seed that need six months of drought, flowers shaped for the tongues of moths, summertime
and death’s polarized light caught beneath the surface of Florentine oils,
this error is the sign of love.

The beggar buried in the cathedral,
the wisdom-hole in the façade of the library,
the corners of the garden that are not farvested,
the hail storm in a South Dakota town that started the Farmers’ Cooperative in 1933,
the Sargasso Sea that gives false hope to sailors and they sail one and find a new world,
the picnic basket that slips overboard and leads to the invention of the lobster trap,
the one slack line in a poem where the listener relaxes and suddenly the poem is in your heart like a fruit wasp in an apple,
this error is the sign of love!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The other X Files

I see that there's to be a new tv series brought to us via the Catholic church and the Discovery channel ... The Exorcist Files.

Discovery, Catholic Church behind exorcism series

( -- Discovery Channel is teaming with the Vatican for an unprecedented new series hunting the deadliest catch of all: Demons.

"The Exorcist Files" will recreate stories of real-life hauntings and demonic possession, based on cases investigated by the Catholic Church. The project includes access into the Vatican's case files, as well as interviews with the organization's top exorcists -- religious experts who are rarely seen on television. "The Vatican is an extraordinarily hard place to get access to, but we explained we're not going to try to tell people what to think," says Discovery president and GM Clark Bunting.

Bunting says the investigators believe a demon can inhabit an inanimate object (like a home) or a person. The network executive says he was initially skeptical when first meeting the team but was won over after more than three hours of talks. "The work these folks do, and their conviction in their beliefs, make for fascinating stories," Bunting says ...

Holy mackerel! :(

This reminded me of a past X-Files episode, The Calusari, in which a little Romanian-American boy was believed to be possessed. What was interesting about the episode was the reference to the Căluşari, who were called upon by the mother of the boy to act as exorcists. Here's some of what Wikipedia says of them .....

The Căluşari (Romanian pronunciation: [kəluˈʃarʲ]) were the members of a Romanian fraternal secret society who practiced a ritual acrobatic dance known as the căluş .... Due to their connection with the fairies, the Calusari were believed to be able to cure the victims of fairies and for around two weeks - from three weeks after Easter till Whitsunday - would travel to all the local communities where they would dance, accompanied by a few fiddlers, in order to do so ...

I can appreciate demonic possession as fiction, especially when it's interestingly done as in The X-Files, but to see the church involved in a reality exorcism tv series just makes me feel somewhere between sad and disturbed.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The mysterious bird kill and Rachel Carson

The sedge is wither'd from the lake, And no birds sing. - from La Belle Dame sans Merci by Keats

That line from the Keats poem was the the inspiration for the title of the book Silent Spring. I was reminded of the book, which I read in college, by the recent news about the mysterious deaths of birds. The Guardian (Apocalypse now? Mystery bird deaths hit Louisiana) says that ...

Today it emerged that about 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings had been found dead in Louisiana .... the Louisiana bird die-off came just a few days after up to 5,000 blackbirds fell to earth in neighbouring Arkansas in the small town of Beebe .... Officials were still collecting bodies in Louisiana but have already examined those from the incident in Arkansas. They concluded that the birds had suffered internal trauma.

- Photograph: Liz Condo/AP

And Greenspace at the LA Times says (Dead birds falling from sky still mystify experts) ...

The U.S. Geological Service's website lists about 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife from June through Dec. 12. Five list deaths of at least 1,000 birds and another 12 show at least 500 dead birds. The largest was near Houston, Minn., where about 4,000 water birds died between Sept. 6 and Nov. 26 from infestations of various parasites.

- Photograph: Stephen B. Thornton /Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Here's a little about Silent Spring from Wikipedia ...

Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson .... The book is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement .... The New Yorker started serializing Silent Spring in June 1962 .... Silent Spring facilitated the ban of the pesticide DDT in 1972 in the United States.

The book documented detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds. Carson said that DDT had been found to cause thinner egg shells and result in reproductive problems and death. She also accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically.

Silent Spring has been featured in many lists of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century. In the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Nonfiction it was at #5, and it was at #78 in the conservative National Review. Most recently, Silent Spring was named one of the 25 greatest science books of all time by the editors of Discover Magazine .....

In response to the publication of Silent Spring and the uproar that ensued, U.S. President John F. Kennedy directed his Science Advisory Committee to investigate Carson's claims. Their investigation vindicated Carson's work, and led to an immediate strengthening of the regulation of chemical pesticides.

I don't know what's causing the bird kill but I suspect it has to do with us, whether directly or indirectly :(

Go Now

Song playing at the grocery store tonight :) ...

Monday, January 03, 2011

In the Woods

- Dublin Castle, where the detectives in the book I'm reading have their offices

My latest book from the library is In the Woods by Tana French, which won the Mystery Writers of America 2008 Edgar Award for best first novel. I wanted to read it because of the good reviews but my library didn't have it in audio, so I got it through LINK+, another library outside our system, and now I have just six days in which to listen to 20 (I think) i hr long CDs :) So far, I like it very much ... it takes place in Ireland, where a child's murder ends up being investigated by a detective who himself was the lone survivor of a similar crime. The writing is good and it's really interesting to learn about life in Ireland through the lens of the story's characters. Here's part of a review from The New York Times .....


Repeat Offenses

Published: May 20, 2007

Tana French promises two whodunits for the price of one in her harrowing first novel, IN THE WOODS (Viking, $24.95), by linking the contemporary homicide of a 12-year-old girl from a small town near Dublin with the misadventures of three children who vanished while playing in the same wooded area 20 years earlier. While French resolves only one of these twinned mysteries, the intricate design of her storytelling is something of its own reward — although that might not appease readers who, having been lured into these thickets, find themselves hanging from a limb.

In the view of Rob Ryan, a Dublin detective assigned to investigate the rape and murder of Katy Devlin (whose body is found on the site of an archaeological dig, draped across a Bronze Age sacrificial altar), “this case was too full of skewed, slippery parallels.” If anyone has a right to that opinion, it’s Ryan, who, unknown to all but his homicide-cop partner, Cassie Maddox, was one of the three playmates who disappeared from the town of Knocknaree in the summer of 1984 — and the only one who returned. Since Ryan never recovered his memory of the ordeal, he’s less the omniscient narrator of the story than its flawed subject, a man tormented by a secret he can’t recall ......



First sunny day here for a long time. Ever since Christmas I've been feeling a strange kind of apathy about everything and it's making it hard to come up with blog posts. Here are a few things I saw in my travels today, though .....

There's a post at America magazine's blog about the Anglican bishops becoming Catholic - The discreet beginnings of the Ordinariate. And there's also a post at the Episcopal Cafe about Roman Catholic-turned-Episcopal priest Alberto Cutié and his new book - Cutié's new book is critical of Catholic Church

There's a post by Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge at the Huffington Post - Why Gays and Lesbians Should Never Argue Scripture. And there's also a series of articles at On Faith by Bishop Gene Robinson on homosexuality and scripture - the fourth in the series is What did Jesus say about homosexuality?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

From Cornwall to Amsterdam

A book I've been reading is The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva, the latest novel in the series about Israeli art restorer and agent, Gabriel Allon.

I'm just a little way into the book (audio version), but it begins when Gabriel, retired as an agent and living with his wife in Cornwall, is asked by an art dealer friend to find a stolen portrait (fictional) that Rembrandt did of Hendrickje Stoffels. Gabriel decides first to find out where the painting had been before coming into his friend's hands and visits Amsterdam, where he learns that it had been taken from a Jewish family during the German occupation of the Netherlands, when a majority of the Netherland's Jews were deported to concentration camps.

There are two things I especially like about Daniel Silva's novels: one is that I get to virtually visit interesting places around Europe and the Middle East; the other is that the novels often have much to do with art, given that Gabriel Allon is an art restorer who's good enough to have done some work for the Vatican museum :)