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Monday, February 28, 2011

Rob Bell, Hans Urs von Balthasar, universalism

Here's a short video about Rob Bell's forthcoming book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which touches on universalism (h/t A Thinking Reed) ....

There's also a post about the book at Christianity Today - Rob Bell's Upcoming Book on Heaven & Hell Stirs Blog, Twitter Backlash on Universalism.

Universalism isn't just a Protestant thing, of course. Guys like the past Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, and Russian Orthodox bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna have stated they don't believe anyone ends up in an everlasting hell,. Pperhaps Hans Urs von Balthasar is one of the most well known advocates for the idea that if hell does exist, it's empty (Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell). Here are a couple of related articles ... one by Regis Scanlon O.F.M. Cap. blasting Balthasar's view on hell - The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and one by Richard John Neuhaus, defending Balthasar against Scanlon - Will All Be Saved?

My own hope is that there is no hell. I don't want to go to the place where we decide there is a hell but no one goes there, and much less do I like the the idea that people are not sent to hell by God, but that they freely choose it, like Milton's Satan - talk about blaming the victim! :)

Maybe Bonhoeffer wasn't wrong

I saw mention in a comment to a post at Women in Theology of an upcoming book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer which asserts that he was not, after all, linked to attempts to kill Hitler. You can listen to a podcast lecture on the subject by Mark Thiessen Nation, professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite University, here (scroll to the bottom of the post)

I find this pretty interesting - I have a past post, Bonhoeffer was wrong, in which I argue that he disregarded the pacifism of the sermon on the mount by advocating a murder attempt and I quote an article by Raymond A. Schroth SJ - Bonhoeffer was wrong.

When I think of Bonhoeffer I think of Alfred Delp SJ, a German Jesuit also executed for his resistance to the Nazi régime. I wonder if they knew each other. Mary Frances Coady writes in With Bound Hands: A Jesuit in Nazi Germany : The Life and Selected Prison Letters of Alfred Delp ..... He also shared Tegel [prison] with Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the last twelve days of the latter's stay there; Bonhoeffer's cell was in another part of the prison where more privileges were granted, so the two most likely never met.

You can download an interesting article on Delp and Karl Rahner - 'A Symbol Perfected in Death: Rahner's Theology and Alfred Delp (1907-1945)', The Way, 43/4 (October 2004), 67-82 - by Philip Endean SJ at his website under the heading 'publications'.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

JD Crossan on Paul

Here's a video of an audio interview (from 2005?) with John Dominic Crossan on Paul (In Search of Paul: How Jesus' Apostle Opposed Rome's Empire with God's Kingdom) .....

Chicago Consultation video

I came across this video below today by accident when looking up Marilyn McCord Adams. It's from The Chicago Consultation (July 2009) and has a number of Anglican clergy talking about sexuality and religion. Those speaking, in order, are The Rev. Victor Atta-Bafoe, Dean, St. Nicholas Seminary, Ghana; The Rev. Giles Fraser, vicar, Putney; The Rev. Tobias S. Haller, BSG, Diocese of New York; The Rev. Winnie Varghese, Episcopal chaplain, Columbia University, Frederica Thompsett, The Rt. Rev. Michael Ingham, Diocese of New Westminster; The Very Rev.Sam Candler, Dean, the Cathedral of St. Philip, The Rev. Canon Marilyn McCord Adams; and The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean, Trinity Cathedral. To read more, see this 2007 post at Thinking Anglicans - The Chicago Consultation. And for those interested, you can read Tobias S. Haller's blog here - In a Godward direction

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Photos from outside today

I saw an interesting article ...

in the Guardian today - Churches should celebrate bringing God into civil partnership ceremonies by Judith Maltby - here's part of it ....


Marriage is under threat, we hear from some church leaders. Not by heterosexuals with an ever-increasing divorce rate, but by gay and lesbian people who want to express their religious faith in their civil partnership ceremonies ....

So wwhy does the liberty to introduce God into civil partnership ceremonies devalue marriage? It would appear that there just isn't enough of God to go around. One cannot, apparently, honour and bless one pattern of living a faithful and committed life, without somehow devaluing another. It is the theological equivalent of printing too much money.

Western Christianity has been here before. Prior to the Reformation, marriage was the option for the spiritual "also rans": serious Christians showed just how serious they were by committing to various forms of monasticism, or the "religious life" (the term itself is very revealing). Aspects of the ceremonies of profession to the religious life had, and have, parallels with the marriage service; for example, women religious wear a ring to show they are married to Christ. This is why Martin Luther came so to despise it – with all the zeal of an ex-monk married to an ex-nun who discovered sex and marriage in middle age. The "lifestyle" of these religious, according to Luther, undermined marriage by providing another form of commitment which "devalued" it .....

Stability, love, faithfulness, commitment: these are the things in human relating that matter and the things the Church of England should be doing its best not to disparage or demonise but to foster and celebrate – in short, to bless. There really is enough of God to go around.


Friday, February 25, 2011

How Jesus met Judas and Matthew

This week of Creighton's online retreat, week 21 is about Jesus choosing his followers. Two of the followers I'm especially interested in are Judas and Matthew, I guess because, unlike most of Jesus' other disciples, they seemed so beyond the pale of acceptability (ok, maybe only Matthew beforehand, though if Jesus had foreknowledge ...), and I think of them as examples of how Jesus seemed to accept people as they were.

I like the Jesus of Nazareth version of Jesus telling the prodigal son story at Matthew's house and also the rather creepy way he allows Judas to join his followers, but for a different take, here below are two video clips from the movie Jesus that show how Jesus (might have) met both Matthew and Judas.

If you start watching the first video at 1:48 into the clip (before that is some stuff about John the baptist), you'll see Matthew, with a couple of Roman soldiers, going about his tax collecting duties, and you'll see Judas, a zealot, lurking about sinisterly, waiting for his fellow zealots to attack.

Then you see Jesus and his followers hanging out, Jesus playing with some of the children of his entourage. They see a band of zealots riding towards the city, most likely bent on violence, and Jesus runs off after them, his followers following.

He gets to the scene in time to see the zealots killing the Roman soldiers and to meet Barabbas, who slaps Jesus around (a 'turn the other cheek' moment). When Barabbas leaves, Jesus argues with Judas about how to save Israel ...

Jesus: Is your Israel free now that these men [the Romans] are dead?

Judas: No.

Jesus: Then follow me, and I'll show you how to be free .... your fate is with me."

Then Jesus notices Matthew hiding and turns to him, first re-naming him, and then ....

Jesus: Follow me, Matthew.

Matthew: Where?

Jesus: To your home.

Next we see Jesus and his disciples at Matthew's house for dinner, a crowd looking in through the windows. The disciples are not happy :) ......

The beginning of the following video clip shows Matthew asking Jesus why he eats with him, a tax collector. Matthew points out how the disciples hate him, and adds that he hates himself as well ....

Jesus: Why?

Matthew: I steal from them, from all of them.

Jesus: Then stop. Give back everything and come with me. It's simple.

Siimple? ;)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sense and Sensibility and the missal translation

There was a post a few days ago at America magazine's blog - Some Australian Priests to Refuse Mass Translation. Here's the beginning paragraph ...

"At least a dozen" Australian priests will refuse to use the new translation of the Roman Missal, due to be implemented in November, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. "The Catholic Church is facing open defiance over its new Mass," says the Herald, "with at least a dozen Australian priests indicating they will refuse to use it when it comes into force later this year. Hundreds more are angry about the lack of consultation for the new, more literal translation of the 400-year-old Latin text, which was heavily influenced by a Vatican advisory committee headed by the Sydney Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell."

Interesting that Australian priests, in a country where George Pell once said "I believe that this misleading doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be publicly rejected", are determined to refuse to cooperate out of conscience.

Apparently, it's a very different case with priests in England, according to a recent article in The Tablet by Philip Endean SJ - Sense and sensitivities: English Missal translation .....

[I]n Britain, The Catholic Herald reported that church authorities in England and Wales “do not expect resistance to the new translation of the Roman Missal when it is introduced in September”. The acting secretary of the bishops’ liturgy commission was quoted as saying: “There are people who like it and people who don’t and some who aren’t so sure. But I think you’ll find that clergy are a fairly pragmatic group of people in the end …”

I wonder if Fr. Endean chose the title of his article based on the novel Sense and Sensibilityy by Jane Austin, in which one sister is passionately upfront about her feelings, while the other sensible sister keeps her feelings to herself and does what is expected of her, though her heart is breaking. I love that novel (and movie) but the thing about the storyline is that if all the characters involved had acted like the first sister and simply publicly stated what was on their minds from the word go, there would have been much less resultant unhappiness .... and, of course, the novel would have only been three pages long, so never mind :) But what's at stake with the missal translation is more important than the necessity of conflict and drama to a fictional story. As Fr. Endean writes in his article ... The liturgy shapes the devotional life of every practising Catholic; major decisions about it need to be taken with discernment, not because it suits bureaucracy.

The end of the Herald story about the Australian priests has a quote from the executive director of the National Liturgy Commission, Peter Williams, who basically says that despite dissent, in the end the missal will be accepted by the people. That bothers me - the calm assurance that we will accept anything, having no real agency. Perhaps we laity don't have any say, but maybe the clergy will show him to be wrong.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shakespeare in Love

- Eyes, look your last.

This week's movie rental was Shakespeare in Love, a 1998 film directed by John Madden and written by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard, and starring Joseph Fiennes (see my post on the film Luther), Gwyneth Paltrow, Rupert Everett, and Judi Dench, among others.

- Rupert Everett as Christopher Marlowe

The basic plot: Shakespeare, not yet famously famous, is having trouble with writing his latest play (the proto Romeo and Juliet) .... he fears his work is not as inspired as that of Christopher Marlowe, and apparently never having been in love, he just can't write it well. That is, until he meets Viola, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and a fan of his work. He discovers she's disguised herself as the young male actor portraying Romeo in his fledgling play and they begin a romance. Their stars are crossed, however - he's already married with children (though separated) and she must soon make an arranged marriage with the odious Lord Wessex. Their relationship lasts only through rehearsals and the first showing of the play.

- cross-dressing Viola

There were a couple of things I especially liked about the film. One was that the character of Shakespeare changes for the better through experience: when the film begins, he's a perhaps brilliant writer but a fairly flawed person who hurts Viola by concealing the fact that he's married, and who endangers the life of his writing rival, Marlowe, with his lies. But when Viola hears from others about his marriage and flees in rears, and when Marlowe is murdered, Shakespeare regrets his actions, praying on the floor of a darkened church ...

The other thing I liked was the way the relationship and the play acted upon each other: the growing love between Shakespeare and Viola transformed the play on which Shakespeare was working, and the rehearsing of the play transformed the feelings they had for each other as well. ... it was a kind of synergism, the real and the fictional romance combining to produce results otherwise unobtainable.

- many moments from the romance of Shakespeare and Viola, like their first meeting at a dance ....

- become incorporated by Shakespeare into his play: here's the dance scene as shown in Zeffirelli's version of Romeo and Juliet

The one thing I didn't like so much about the movie was the ending, though I'd guess most people would consider it to be very good, especially given the constraints of Shakespeare's real-life circumstances. The end finds Viola resigned to doing her duty as Wessex's wife in being shipped off to the new world. And the end finds Shakespeare observing the cloud's silver lining, declaring Viola shall be his eternal muse. She asks him to write her well, and he assures her that she will never age for him, nor fade, nor die.

Call me wrong, but my idea of true love doesn't have it ending in a bow to the inevitable, nor in a renunciation for some greater good. I think true love is messy and brave: it puts life before art, it dares to watch the beloved age, fade, and die, it does what it must, not what it's supposed to ... it tries to do what Romeo and Juliet tried to do, not what Shakespeare and Viola did.

Or at least so I imagine ;)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marriage in the UK

I haven't posted for a few days because I hurt my back. Hope to feel better soon. In the meantime, there's a post at America magazine's blog about marriage in the UK .... The Church will have to fight this attempt to redefine marriage by Austen Ivereigh. Here's part of it .....

[A]n announcement yesterday by the UK government that it intends to lift the ban on civil partnerships being celebrated in places of worship .....

The Catholic bishops of England and Wales said at the time (April 2004): "We believe these problems which are essentially associated with financial and property matters could be remedied by legal changes other than the introduction of formal civil partnerships which, in the case of same sex couples, is likely to be seen as a form of same-sex marriage with almost all the same rights as marriage itself." .......

Remarkably, the Government has tried to frame their proposal as an advance for religious freedom. The mainstream Churches -- Anglicans, Catholics and Evangelicals -- have made clear that they will not allow gay marriage ceremonies. But there are small, autonomous religious bodies which will: part of the push for lifting the ban comes from liberal Jewish synagogues, Quakers and Unitarians. The Government says it is acceding to these wishes, and that no religious body will be forced to allow gay weddings. "But for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward", said the Home Secretary, Theresa May, adding: "This government is committed to both advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths."

Freedom of religion? Let's examine this.

Even though marriage has a civil dimension -- tax, property, and so on -- which it is proper for the state to regulate, marriage is not, and has never been, an institution created by the state, or pertaining to the state, even when it is recognized and supported by the state. In all cultures, in all times, marriage exists as a means of providing a means of protecting and providing for children; it is a "sacred" institution, in the sense that it involves rituals, invocations and blessings. It antecedes the state. It belongs properly to the civil sphere. In Christian cultures, it is also underpinned by a theology, one that sees the union of a man and a woman for the good of children as embodying something of God's own covenant with His people .....

As you can guess, I think Austen's argument is full of error. I don't have the energy to write exactly why, but one of the commentors to the post has written pretty much what I would have in response, so ....

Mr. Ivereigh-
I agree with John. How is this an assault on religious liberty? You seem to imply that that's obviously absurd, but how is simply allowing religious bodies to provide these partnerships, without requring it, a problem? Isn't it an affront to religious liberty if Quakers wish to provide them and the state forbids it?

Secondly, the history you give of marriage is quite erroneous. It was not an institution which, from the beginning was all about the safety, stability and well-being of children. It was about property and its easy transfer. This of course included children (and wives) but was certainly not around for their benefit. Your statement reflects well the current church's attitude toward (modern) marriage, but like the church, utterly ignores the actual-rather than romanticized and sanitized-history.

And, finally, at least in the US (I'm not familiar with English marriage law) your argument that the state doesn't get to define what marriage is for civil purposes also ignores history. Here, it always has, with children never showing up in the law. If the state did not have this ability, it would still be illegal in many parts of the country for an African American and white person to marry.

Posted By Andy Buechel | Saturday, February 19, 2011 08:44:07 AM

You can read more about this subject at Thinking Anglicans here - Civil Partnerships & Marriage: more comment - which has links to stories in The Tablet and Fulcrum, as well as others.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Last night I dreamt of shoes

Which is strange, because I don't remember ever dreaming about shoes before. I was shoe-shopping with my sister, trying to decided between two kinds of rather drab shoe, but oddly I was wearing really beautiful green shoes at the time .....

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Duns Scotus and atonement

There's a post at America magazine's blog about the new missal translation, The Impending Liturgical ' Reform' Re-Visited, that mentions the replacement of the phrase, 'Jesus' blood is shed "for you and for all [men]"' with the proposed "for you and for many". But I don't want to discuss the translation change of "all" to "many" but instead want to discuss why the idea of Jesus' blood being shed in atonement is so taken for granted at all (a round-up of various atonement theories, the idea that Jesus had to die to reconcile we sinners with God, can be found here).

Before I became a Christian, one of the things that most put me off was atonement theory, and even now it still bothers me. What makes the most sense to me would be the idea that Jesus was incarnated to show us, through teaching and example, what God is really like, that he realized over time that his preaching and actions would probably get him killed, and though he didn't want to die he persevered with his teaching and actions anyway, out of integrity and love.

Before you start gathering kindling for my stake :) let me post a bit from an article I've mentioned before, Light Over Darkness: The Meaning of Christmas by Ken Overberg SJ ....

[...] What was the purpose of Jesus' life? Or simply, why Jesus?

The answer most frequently handed on in everyday religion emphasizes redemption. This view returns to the creation story and sees in Adam and Eve's sin a fundamental alienation from God, a separation so profound that God must intervene to overcome it. The Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, is considered God's action to right this original wrong.

How did this view develop? Just as we do when we face tragedy, especially innocent suffering, so the early followers of Jesus tried to make sense of his horrible death. They asked: Why? They sought insight from their Jewish practices like Temple sacrifices and from their Scriptures. Certain rites and passages (the suffering servant in Isaiah, psalms of lament, wisdom literature on the suffering righteous person) seemed to fit the terrible end of Jesus' life and so offered an answer to the why question. Understandably, these powerful images colored the entire story, including the meaning of Jesus' birth and life.

Throughout the centuries, Christian theology and piety have developed these interpretations of Jesus' execution. At times God has even been described as demanding Jesus' suffering and death as a means of atonement—to satisfy and appease an angry God.

An interpretation that highlights the Incarnation stands beside this dominant view with its emphasis on sin. The alternate view is also expressed in Scripture and tradition. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the Word made flesh has remained something of a "minority report," rarely gaining the same recognition and influence as the atonement view.

What, briefly, is the heart of this alternate interpretation? It holds that the whole purpose of creation is for the Incarnation, God's sharing of life and love in an unique and definitive way. God becoming human is not an afterthought, an event to make up for original sin and human sinfulness. Incarnation is God's first thought, the original design for all creation. The purpose of Jesus' life is the fulfillment of God's eternal longing to become human ........

One of those mentioned in the above article was Franciscan John Duns Scotus. I have to like Duns Scotus, if only because Radical Orthodoxy so dislikes him :). Here's an article on him and the Incarnation - Duns Scotus and the meaning of Love by Seamus Mulholland OFM, and here below is a bit from an article from Christianity Today about Duns Scotus, Thomas Aquinas, and atonement - Ongoing Incarnation by Philip Yancey ....

More than two centuries before the Reformation, a theological debate broke out that pitted theologian Thomas Aquinas against an upstart from Britain, John Duns Scotus. In essence, the debate circled around the question, "Would Christmas have occurred if humanity had not sinned?"

Whereas Aquinas viewed the Incarnation as God's remedy for a fallen planet, his contemporary saw much more at stake. For Duns Scotus, the Word becoming flesh as described in the prologue to John's Gospel must surely represent the Creator's primary design, not some kind of afterthought or Plan B. Aquinas pointed to passages emphasizing the Cross as God's redemptive response to a broken relationship. Duns Scotus cited passages from Ephesians and Colossians on the cosmic Christ, in whom all things have their origin, hold together, and move toward consummation.

Did Jesus visit this planet as an accommodation to human failure or as the center point of all creation? Duns Scotus and his school suggested that Incarnation was the underlying motive for Creation, not merely a correction to it. Perhaps God spun off this vast universe for the singular purpose of sharing life and love, intending all along to join its very substance. "Eternity is in love with the inventions of time," wrote the poet William Blake.

Ultimately the church decided that both approaches had biblical support and could be accepted as orthodox. Though most theologians tended to follow Aquinas, in recent years prominent Catholics such as Karl Rahner have taken a closer look at Duns Scotus .....

In trying to read more about Duns Scotus and atonement, though, i found references to acceptance atonement, and I have to admit that I don't really understand exactly where Duns Scotus is on Incarnation/atonement. Must do more reading on this.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Saw a post at Kelvin's blog - St Valentine’s Eve & the Open Silence - which mentioned choral evensong. Looking around, I found this - Evensong at Wells Cathedral :).....

Monday, February 14, 2011

The wilderness, the laity, and the Spiritual Exercises

- Christ in the Wilderness by Moretto da Brescia

Today I was thinking about this week of the online Spiritual Exercises retreat given by Creighton University - it's about Jesus' time in the desert. It reminded me of that poem by Robert Graves, In the Wilderness ....

CHRIST of His gentleness
Thirsting and hungering
Walked in the wilderness;
Soft words of grace He spoke
Unto lost desert-folk
That listened wondering.
He heard the bitterns call
From the ruined palace-wall,
Answered them brotherly.
He held communion
With the she-pelican
Of lonely piety.
Basilisk, cockatrice,
Flocked to his homilies,
With mail of dread device,
With monstrous barbed slings,
With eager dragon-eyes;
Great rats on leather wings,
And poor blind broken things,
Foul in their miseries.
And ever with Him went,
Of all His wanderings
Comrade, with ragged coat,
Gaunt ribs--poor innocent--
Bleeding foot, burning throat,
The guileless old scape-goat;
For forty nights and days
Followed in Jesus' ways,
Sure guard behing Him kept,
Tears like a lover wept.

Not so much related, I guess, but today I also listened to a video from Georgetown University - The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola: Emerging Role of the Laity - which has a number of Jesuits, including John O'Malley, Joseph Tetlow, and John Padberg, speaking about the involvement of lay people and also non-Catholics in the giving and the making of Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. John O'Malley SJ mentions in the video that Ignatius was a lay person when he had his conversion experience, was a lay person when he wrote the Spiritual Exercises, and he spent some years giving the Exercises as a lay person to other lay persons.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


- Hitchcock, Fontaine, and Olivier

This week's movie is one from the library - Rebecca. This 1940 film, adapted from the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter (one of the interesting things about the book/movie is that the main character's name is never mentioned - "Rebecca" is the name of Maxim's first and deceased wife).

I've read the novel many times. I wasn't sure I'd like the movie but I found it very good, not surprising, I guess, as it had won the 1940 Academy Awards for best picture and best black and white cinematography.

Here's the trailer ...

And here's a bit from The New York Times 1940 review of the film .....

[...] So "Rebecca"—to come to it finally—is an altogether brilliant film, haunting, suspenseful, handsome and handsomely played. Miss du Maurier's tale of the second mistress of Manderley, a simple and modest and self-effacing girl who seemed to have no chance against every one's—even her husband's—memories of the first, tragically deceased Mrs. de Winter, was one that demanded a film treatment evocative of a menacing mood, fraught with all manner of hidden meaning, gaited to the pace of an executioner approaching the fatal block. That, as you need not be told, is Hitchcock's meat and brandy. In "Rebecca" his cameras murmur "Beware!" when a black spaniel raises his head and lowers it between his paws again; a smashed china cupid takes on all the dark significance of a bloodstained dagger; a closed door taunts, mocks and terrifies; a monogrammed address book becomes as accusative as a district attorney.

Miss du Maurier's novel was an "I" book, its story told by the second, hapless Mrs. de Winter. Through Mr. Hitchcock's method, the film is first-personal too, so that its frail young heroine's diffident blunders, her fears, her tears are silly only at first, and then are silly no longer, but torture us too. Rebecca's ghost and the Bluebeard room in Manderley become very real horrors as Mr. Hitchcock and his players unfold their macabre tale, and the English countryside is demon-ridden for all the brightness of the sun through its trees and the Gothic serenity of its manor house.

But here we have been giving Mr. Hitchcock and Miss du Maurier all the credit when so much of it belongs to Robert Sherwood, Philip MacDonald, Michael Hogan and Joan Harrison who adapted the novel so skillfully, and to the players who have re-created it so beautifully. Laurence Olivier's brooding Maxim de Winter is a performance that almost needs not to be commented upon, for Mr. Olivier last year played Heathcliffe, who also was a study in dark melancholy, broken fitfully by gleams of sunny laughter. Maxim is the Heathcliffe kind of man and Mr. Olivier seems that too. The real surprise, and the greatest delight of them all, is Joan Fontaine's second Mrs. de Winter, who deserves her own paragraph, so here it is:

"Rebecca" stands or falls on the ability of the book's "I" to escape caricature. She was humiliatingly, embarrassingly, mortifyingly shy, a bit on the dowdy side, socially unaccomplished, a little dull; sweet, of course, and very much in love with—and in awe of—the lord of the manor who took her for his second lady. Miss du Maurier never really convinced me any one could behave quite as the second Mrs. de Winter behaved and still be sweet, modest, attractive and alive. But Miss Fontaine does it—and does it not simply with her eyes, her mouth, her hands and her words, but with her spine. Possibly it's unethical to criticize performance anatomically. Still we insist Miss Fontaine has the most expressive spine—and shoulders!—we've bothered to notice this season .........

Saturday, February 12, 2011


There's a post at dotCommonweal about this story in the news - Philadelphia Priests Accused by Grand Jury of Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up.

As Paul Moses writes in his dotCommonweal post, Priests’ supervisor charged with endangering abused youths, ...

A monsignor who formerly headed the Archdiocese of Philadelpia’s Office for Clergy was charged with two felonies today for not protecting children from sex-abusing priests he allegedly knew were a danger. In a stunning development, a new grand jury report assailed the current assignments of 37 priests for whom there is allegedly substantial evidence of sexual misconduct, and also said that “for the moment,” there would be no criminal charges against Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia from 1988 to 2003.

You can read the report released by the grand jury here - Investigation of Sexual Abuse by Clergy II.

The comments to the dotCommonweal post are interesting. Here are a few I cherry-picked ....

Lynn is thought to be the first chancery administrator to be indicted for the handling of abusers:

These news are a relief. Since the church is incapable of facing the cover-ups by church authorities and recognizing that those who have responsibilities must be accountable, the American judicial system is finally stepping in to help make this happen and force change. Pope Benedict wrote to the Irish bishops: “I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability before God”. Nothing better than accountability before earthly jutice to help develop that sense!

if other grand juries were held with the same level of detail and accountability, you would see these same results in Chicago, LA, St. Louis, Miami, NYC, etc. One of many interesting insights is the grand jury’s summation about the archdiocesan safety program – it is basically all smoke and mirrors – it never addresses either pedophile priests nor their cover-ups by clerical administrators. (BTW – this is the same national safety program that the USCCB uses to show that things have really changed in the church)

I just read Part I of the report. Horrifying, indeed. It’s the kind of story that makes me reconsider whether to stay Catholic. If this was my birth family, wouldn’t I break ties with them? And if I were ready to cut myself off from a family that would act in this way, then perhaps I should do the same with the Catholic church.

I direct my contributions to SNAP, VOTF and I am worn down with disgust at the lack of input the laity has. And yes, the “system” is dysfunctional, even criminal in some respects. Benedict will not speak up, no matter what. Vaticanese, Romanita, and la bella figura forbid open, transparent disclosure. The Vatican goes to enormous linguistic lengths to protect Benedict from any blame, the better to avoid any hint of liability. And, yes, Gerhard Gruber clearly took the fall for him in the Hullermann case. Even Gruber’s friends acknowledge he said as much. I survive in the church by dissociation from hierarchy, except those exceedingly rare examples of personal courage (e.g., Robinson in Australia, Dowling in South Africa). Otherwise, they are mostly impediments to my faith, to be ignored accordingly ..... My heart goes out to the brave priests who see the reality but still hang in there.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Spring :)

The plum trees are starting to blossom ...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jesus, Jeffrey John, and women

- The Touch by Ron DiCianni

My latest book from the library is The Meaning in the Miracles by Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John. I've only read a bit so far, but I thought I'd post a little from his chapter The Raising of Jairus' Daughter and the Healing of the Woman with a Haemorrhage .....


As evidence of Jesus' attitude to women, the healing of the haemorrhaging woman can hardly be overstated. In very many cultures and religions menstruation is still superstitiously understood as a cause of defilement, and as an excuse for the denigration, subjugation or exclusion of women. In the Jewish and Christian religions the pernicious understanding of menstruation as the curse of Eve has been used to justify the worst excesses and abuses of patriarchy, and worse still has contributed to lodging in the minds of countless women a belief in the badness of their own body and the moral inferiority of their sex. In some parts of the Christian Church women are still kept separate from men during worship, and denied Holy Communion during their period. The rite for the 'Churching of Women' in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer bears witness to the continuation of the taboo in our own country until relatively recent times. Nor has it disappeared. Astonishingly, it re-emerged in the debate over the ordination of women in bizarre suggestions that at a certain time of the month a woman priest might 'defile' the sanctuary or the sacrament.

It is a grim example of the Church's long ability to discount or neutralize the implications of Jesus' teachings. The healing of the haemorrhaging woman is one of many healing stories that demonstrate his will to welcome, embrace and include all the 'non-kosher' categories of people who were officially excluded by the prejudices and taboos of his own society: Samaritans, tax-collectors, lepers, persons with various deformities and sicknesses that rendered them 'unclean' -- and women. These were people who, according to Leviticus, were supposed to be literally hateful in God's sight. Instead Jesus declares them to be in God's special care. Just as the healing of the Gerasene demoniac shows Jesus cleansing the 'defilement' attached to the Gentiles and his will to include them in the community of God's children, so this healing shows Jesus throwing aside the irrational fears and inhibitions of his own culture, touching the supposedly untouchable, and welcoming her as God's beloved child. The cruel, irrational taboo about menstruation, with all its dark, destructive implications for women down the centuries, was cancelled in one warm and loving word. Alas, it has taken the Church twenty centuries to notice ....


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

208 and counting

There's a post at U.S. Catholic by M Scherer-Emunds, whose brother, a Jesuit, is one of the signatories of the statement by German-speaking theologians calling for changes in the church. Here's just a bit of the post ....

German theologians kickstart a broad "dialogue without taboos"

[...] About a year after the first revelations of widespread clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up in the German Catholic Church—and some seven months before another papal visit by Benedict XVI to his home country—the theologians are marking a “year that threw the Catholic Church in Germany into an unprecedented crisis.” But speaking out on a broad range of needed church reforms, the group wants to encourage an open “dialogue without taboos … about structures of power and communication, about the reform of church ministry and the participation of the faithful in church responsibilities, about morality and sexuality.” The alternative to this open dialogue, the theologians say, is “the silence of the graveyard, because people’s last hope was extinguished.” .....

When I e-mailed my brother congratulating his group and noting how unusual the courage and openness was with which they had addressed the many hot-button issues in today’s church, he replied: “By the way, the text doesn’t necessarily demand women’s ordination. Perhaps the authors and we signers were not that courageous after all. ‘The church also needs married priests and women in church office’ leaves open the question what office is meant.”

I’m tempted to say, it’s not for nothing that my brother works for the Jesuits! ....

You can read a translation of the letter at Pray Tell ...A “Year of Departure”: German-speaking theologians call for reform – UPDATE 2/8/11

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Bye, Supernatural Love

I'm selling back some stuff this month, including Supernatural Love: Poems 1976-1992 by Gjertrud Schnackenberg. It's the only book of poetry I've ever bought, so it's strange to say goodbye to it, but it's ok - that's why God made libraries :) Here's one of the poems from the book ....

Supernatural Love

My father at the dictionary stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand

His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word 'Carnation'. Then he bends

So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard

A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
"The obligation due to every thing
That's smaller than the universe." I bring

My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle's eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly

Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study's gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb

To read what's buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch "Beloved" X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle's point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

I cannot read. My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as "Christ's flowers", knowing I

Can give no explanation but "Because."
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does

Where following each X, I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, "A pink variety of Clove,

Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,

He turns the page to "Clove" and reads aloud:
"The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud."
Then twice, as if he hasn't understood,

He reads, "From French, for clou, meaning a nail."
He gazes, motionless,"Meaning a nail."
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,

I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth "Beloved", but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,

The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I've sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,

I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, "Daddy Daddy" -
My father's hand touches the injury

As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ's when I was four.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Some yard photos

- I planted some flower seeds

- here's one of those Heckle and Jeckle birds :)

- a morning glory

- I picked the last of the oranges from the tree today. I haven't had one myself, not really liking oranges, but a lady who lives nearby takes some and my sister takes some and then there are the squirrels - this is what an orange looks like after a squirrel is finished with it :) ....

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Inclusive Church and the Jesuits

Listening to those videos from the Inclusive Church by Giles Goddard, I noticed a couple of book mentions, one of which was Imitating Jesus: an inclusive approach to New Testament ethics by Richard A. Burridge, Dean of King's College London and Professor of Biblical Interpretation. I've sent for it from the library but while I'm waiting, I thought I'd mention one of his papers ... ‘Being Biblical? Slavery, Sexuality, and the Inclusive Community’ The 22nd Eric Symes Abbott Memorial Lecture (delivered at Westminster Abbey and Keble College Oxford, May 2007). You can see the Quick View of it here. Here's the abstract ...

The use of the Bible in ethical debate has been central for the last two millennia. Current debates about sexuality, or the position of women in church leadership, are marked by both, or all, sides of the argument using Scripture. However, this has been true of many issues in the past. This is demonstrated in the debate about slavery two hundred years ago. Careful analysis of the use of Scripture in both the justification and critique of apartheid reveals how both sides quoted Scripture in its various modes, such as rules, principles, paradigms, and overall world-view. The biographical nature of the Gospels means that we must set Jesus’ rigorous ethical teaching in the context of the narrative of his deeds, including his open and welcoming acceptance of all people. It was an inclusive community of interpretation which changed the debates about slavery and apartheid, and a similar inclusive community is needed today.

While I was looking at Imitating Jesus at Amazon, I noticed mention of a Catholic theologian who's written about ethics, spirituality, and Jesus - William C. Spohn, past Augustine Cardinal Bea SJ Distinguished Professor of Theological Ethics and Director of the Bannan Center for Jesuit Education at Santa Clara University. Many of his articles can be found online (see the link), including the interesting Jesuits & Women: A Historic Commitment. Here's just the start of it ....

When examining the impact of women on Jesuit higher education in general and Santa Clara in particular, we have to note the historic document produced in 1995 by the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. The 220 delegates from around the world passed a decree addressed to all the Jesuit ministries entitled “Jesuits and the Situation of Women in Church and Civil Society.” A decade before, the previous General Congregation had briefly mentioned “the unjust treatment and exploitation of women” as part of a number of justice concerns which Jesuits were called to address. This full-length document, however, was the first such statement since the Society was founded in 1540. What led to this breakthrough?

Individual Jesuit provinces made formal suggestions for the work of the Congregation. Frequently mentioned was the issue of how Jesuits should work with others in the various ministries of the Society, from education to direct pastoral work. Increasingly, lay men and women as well as women religious have become more directly involved in these works. This change was not only a response to dwindling Jesuit numbers, but a development stemming from the open spirit of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. An Irish theologian proposed that the Congregation could not do justice to this question without
explicitly considering the situation of women .....

More about Imitating Jesus when I get it from the libeaey.

Endangerment Finding

by Robin Beth Schaer

Admit our sun is common, a Milky Way twin
to a hundred million more. Even its end
ordinary, no stellar explosion, it will snap
hydrogen to helium then cool to a dense core.

You squint skyward, still wanting the corona
of a bright god, the unconquered sun that chose us
to spin around. But there is no need for tributes
of maize and falcon wings while we burn

the oil of light left epochs ago. You may ratify
the droughts and downpours, assign blame
for melting ice and rising seas, but I can count
more kinds of hammers than turtles;

we need instinct, not law. The dogs of Pompeii
howled for days, even snakes slithered
from Helice. In the Gallatin Range, the bears
left the forest. At night, a slice of mountain shook

down, sleepers drowned in their beds, soaked
in waves off the lake. When the ground stilled
the bears returned, covered with mud. Hush.
Listen to our internal combustion rumble.

There is more elegance in turning photon
to electron to motion. Let us trade the old sun
for the new one, sustain ourselves, wet and green,
within this delicate spindle of axis and orbit.

A bit from

An Open Letter to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the Forthcoming Missal by Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., posted at America magazine ....

The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church .... I see a good deal of disillusionment with the Catholic Church among my friends and acquaintances. Some leave the Catholic Church out of conviction, some gradually drift away, some join other denominations, some remain Catholic with difficulty. My response is to stay in this church for life and do my best to serve her. This I hope to do by stating the truth as I see it, with charity and respect. ...

Friday, February 04, 2011

Poetry and prayer

Here's an except about poetry and prayer from a talk by Steven Shakespeare .....


[...] I don't claim to write poetry. That would be far too pretentious. But I try to learn something from what poets do. Poetry dies if it is dissected, or boiled down to some trite meaning or moral. But there are ways of thinking about what poetry does which are perhaps more true to its power.

The philosopher Derrida writes of a paradox at the heart of the poem. On the one had it is something very particular. It is the product of an individual voice, which sounds from a very specific date and context. The very nature of poetry defies translation, because part of its essence is to draw our attention to the music and rhythm of language. The poem is a material process, something we feel beneath our tongue, not just a gateway to an abstract or spiritual truth. The poem is never pure.

However, there is another side to the poem, because it is also an act of communication. Although it is marked in its very being with its time and place of origin, if it is to speak to others, it must have an openness about it, it must reach out beyond itself. It works not only through the harmony of words, but through the spaces and silences between them, through the tensions and ruptures that create a new space in which to read the poem and the world differently, in ever new contexts.

Derrida compares the poem to the wound of circumcision. Circumcision happens at a particular date, a mark left on the body of a single individual. But its meaning escapes the possession of any one person, even the one to whom it happened. The mark is also a wound, an opening of the body to what is other.

I suggest that prayer shares this dynamic with poetry. I am not a fan of prayers made up by committees, or by any process that makes them, flat, abstract and disconnected from life. If prayers are a product of a collective process, then I think it is best if they come from a group that is self-aware, self-critical, committed to a vision. Otherwise, I think that prayer needs an individual voice. Why? Because it is about a relationship and a faith which can never become just another item of public knowledge. There is always something scandalous and particular at the heart of prayer: that I at this moment, in all my limitation, should address and be called by the infinite and the unconditional. Prayer is the moment when I am awoken, called - but the call only ever comes to particular flesh and blood people, with lives and loves and stories of their own. The otherness of God speaks to the otherness of each and every one of us.

The written prayer has to preserve something of that otherness. But in the process it must also reach out beyond the particular to engage with the lives and stories of others. It needs to offer a kind of space, in which others can find a lodging, in which they can hear the echo of a call addressed to them. Prayer by its very nature escapes the rules laid down by any church. Of course it is part of a tradition, and it will borrow its language and imagery. But if the prayer is also to be a little like a poem, it must express something unique, a truth that cannot be reduced to a dogma, an idea, a moral. A truth in relationship.


It's Only a Paper Moon

My four cats were very shy and timid, probably the result of being raised by shy timid me, and I tried to figure out how to make them feel safe and calm. I decided singing to them was the way, and just then I'd been watching Deep Space 9, featuring the character of Vic Fontaine .....

Vic Fontaine is a holographic entertainer appearing in a program run in one of Quark's holosuites on the space station Deep Space Nine. He is played by James Darren. Created by a holoprogrammer named Felix, Vic works as a Rat Pack style crooner in an idealized version of 1960s Las Vegas. He is charismatic and extremely perceptive. He is used as an informal counselor by crew-members of Deep Space Nine ...

So I learned the words to most of Vic's songs and sang them to the cats :) One of their favorites was It's Only a Paper Moon. Here's a clip from Deep Space Nine, an episode in which Nog spends some time with Vic in his holographic world, with Vic singing the song in the background ....

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Egypt and Israel

Two photo blogs I've been following for some time .... Cairo/Giza Daily Photo and Jerusalem Hills daily photo ... not political, just daily life stuff, with photos. Both worth a visit :)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Conscience vs authority

Sometimes the comments to blog posts can be as interesting as the post. A recent post at Pray Tell - Disagreeing and questioning…in union with the Pope and bishops - had comments of that kind. Here are a few ....

Bill deHaas gave a link to an interesting article by Brit theologian Nicholas Lash - Teaching or Commanding?

Paul Inwood brought up the concept of sensus fidelium and gave the example that at least 85% of Catholics do not accept the Church’s magisterial teaching on artificial birth control - does their dissent mean they aren't really "Catholic"?

Jared Gosnell commented that people who dissent in this way may be Catholic, but they've committed a mortal sin.

Philip Endean SJ replied to this and brought up "conscience" ...No. Even if we assume the rightness of official teaching, a person who acts out of a sincere and thought-through conviction that the prohibition (for whatever reason) is wrong-headed, or does not apply in a particular situation, is at most guilty of a mistake, not a sin, and certainly not a mortal one.

Jared Ostermann commented that the assumption by those who put authority in official Catholic teaching is that the Holy Spirit guides the church in teaching and development of doctrine.

But Adam Wood mentioned personal revelation, and asked ... Is the Holy Spirit’s guidance limited to only speaking to and through ordained men who have attained a certain rank within the Hierarchy?

This reminded me of a 2006 article in the Australian EJournal of Theology - The Primacy of Conscience by Brian Lewis. I guess there's a tension between religious experience/conscience and the authority of the church. I'd rather err on the side of personal experience, though I suppose most would say there should be a balance between the two.

How to be inclusive

I read a sermon today - Salvation for all people? Christ, the Temple and purity - for the feast of Candlemas by Canon Giles Goddard at Trinity College Dublin (where the Primates Meeting is taking place), in which the mentions the murder of Ugandan gay activist, David Kato. It's worth a read.

Giles Goddard is involved in the Inclusive Church, which I know just a little about because of Steven Shakespeare's books Prayers for an Inclusive Church and The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church. Here below are two vides, part 1 and 2, in which Giles Goddard talks about Jesus, inclusion, and the Inclusive Church ......

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land

My latest book from the library is (the audio version of) Stranger in a Strange Land (ref. Exodus 2:22:) by Robert Heinlein. I read the book once when I was a teen and I was impressed and also disturbed by it. I'm interested to see if it affects me the same way this time as it did before.

The book, which won a Hugo award for best novel, is set a bit in the future and is about Valentine Michael Smith, a child born on Mars to astronauts on a first-contact mission from Earth. All the astronauts die, leaving Smith to be raised by Martians. Twenty years later another expedition reaches Mars and brings Smith to Earth. For all intents and purposes, Smith is a Martian in a human body, suffering under a heavier gravity, a poor understanding of English, and an almost total lack of knowledge of humanity, including the fact of the existence of women. Being the only survivor of the first mission to Mars, he's inherited immense wealth and the government wants his money, so his nurse breaks him out of the hospital and spirits him to Jubal Harshaw, a wealthy and famous author/lawyer/doctor/libertarian/agnostic, who takes him under his wing.

The interesting thing about Stranger in a Strange Land is the way Smith thinks. Raised by Martians ....

Smith understands the concept of God only as "one who groks", which includes every living person, plant, and animal. This leads him to express the Martian concept of the oneness of life as the phrase "Thou art God". Many other human concepts—such as war, clothing, and jealousy—are strange to him, while the idea of an afterlife is something he takes as a given because the government on Mars is composed of "Old Ones", the spirits of Martians who have died. It is also customary for loved ones and friends to eat the bodies of the dead, in a spirit of Holy Communion.

Eventually Smith starts a new religion, the Church of All Worlds, which teaches the Martian language and psychic ability, practices polyamory, and exhibits many elements of mystery cults. It's attacked by the prevailing and powerful Fosterite religion as blasphemous, and before long Smith and his followers are wanted by the police. He ends up being killed by an angry mob, is eaten by his followers in a religious ceremony (sound familiar?), and then continues to exist in spiritual form as an advisor to his community.

As Wikipedia states ... "Stranger" was written in part as a deliberate attempt to challenge social mores. In the course of the story, Heinlein uses Smith's open-mindedness to reevaluate such institutions as religion, money, monogamy, and the fear of death. This can be challenging, but I think this is one of the best attributes of science fiction - it ivites us to look again at stuff we take for granted.

You can listen to an audio sample from the beginning of the book at here.

My own obligatory Egypt post

Lee has an Obligatory Egypt post with some good links. It's funny, I too feel a certain desire to say something about Egypt even though I don't really know what's going on there. As I mentioned in a past post ...

I, who once only knew about Egypt that Cleopatra's ancestor Ptolemy took rule of the country after Alex the Great's death, that the emperor Hadrian's love interest died falling over the side of a barge on the Nile, and that you start mummy making by removing the brain through the nostrils, now also know a little bit about contemporary Egypt ...

thanks to those Gabriel Allon novels I've mentioned, though what I mostly know from them is that Egypt was the Bush administration's favorite out-sourced place to torture people. Andrew Sullivan mentioned this is a post the other day ... Egypt's Darkside

I hope things turn out for the best in Egypt.