Friday, June 30, 2006

Muslims in America

The lead article in NCR explores the Muslim experience in America.


Lead NCR Editorial on Liturgy "wars"

From what I have heard, I don't particularly like some of the changes approved for the new liturgy. At the same time, these debates have never really been my passion.


The Three Faces of Dick Cheney

Jesuit Fr. Raymond A. Schroth reviews the British playwright David Hare's "Stuff Happens" and the PBS "Frontline" documentary trilogy "Rumsfeld's War" (2004), "The Torture Question" (2005) and "The Dark Side" (June 20).


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Amnesty's Abortion Vote May Cost it Support

Teresa Malcom writes in NCR that after 20 years as a member of Amensty International, she will withdraw her support if the organization votes in August of 2007 to work for abortion rights instead of remaining neutral.

This article prompted me, as a member and financial supporter, to write the leadership of AI via email earlier this week expressing the same concern.

I received a reply that emphasized the democratic nature of AI and that no decision has yet been made, nor will any be made without broad consultation. Yet, the reply went on to list three reasons why AI should support abortion rights.

As Malcom points out, there are already groups that support the legalization of abortion. Pro-choice members of AI are free to support those other groups.

Many AI members, like Malcom, are ambivalent about abortion, and prefer a neutral stance.

Many AI members, like myself, hold to a consistent ethic of life opposed to the death penalty and other human rights violations for the same reasons we oppose abortion.

As Malcom states, a pro-choice stance by AI will also probably cause the organization to be seen as too left of center to carry out its core mission.

I do not hesistate to say that all of my support for the organization, from letter writing to financial support will cease the moment the organization moves from neutrality on abortion to active support for its legalization.

All pro-life members of AI and those who are ambivalent like Malcom should write the leadership of AI as soon as possible to express our grave concern that this is a bad move for Amenesty International.


Supreme Court Rebukes Bush

In a five to three decision with Judge Roberts recusing himself, the Supreme Court has ruled that detainees at Guantanamo Bay cannot be tried before military commissions or tribunals, and must be tried in the federal courts.

This is a victory for human and civil rights.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Not Posting

I haven't posted in nine days. I don't really have anything much to post today. I haven't been looking in my comboxes either.

I mentioned in my last disorganized post that I am working on a data base project requiring me to use skills for which I have little formal training.

That has my mind tied up when I am not trying to give my full attention to my wife and daughter.

I can't think of much theological significance to what is on my mind these days - as though God is revealing himself to me in some way in the perfect data base.

Of course, if I succeed, some jobs might be be saved, and some jobs will be easier and more productive for others.

There is meaning in work, and I don't mean to put it down. But it's not like I see a direct connection between what is taxing my mind lately and the stuff I usually write.

And what I am doing is very taxing for me.

I did manage to read an interesting article in Commonweal that I recommend HERE.

It's on our Western arrogance in the clash of civilizations that contributes to the symptom of terrorism.

The article is worth a read, but I have little energy to comment or debate it. I hope to wrap things up soon with this project.

In the meantime, stay warm and well fed.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Maybe My Most Rambling and Disorganized Thoughts Ever????

I haven't been online for a few days. Mostly, I've been just too busy.

Tonight, it is late on the east coast - or early in the morning, depending on your perspective.

I just celebrated my five year wedding anniversary on Friday.

Sunday was my second Father's Day, but also the one year anniversary of my daughter's baptism on the liturgical calendar. She was actually baptized on May 29, 2005, but it was on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

At work, I'm trying to solve some problems requiring some deep logical analysis. I am being forced to use skills in which I have little formal training, such as data base design, programming logic, and statistical analysis.

Stuff like this doesn't come naturally to an intuitive thinking person who feels called to married priesthood, with interests in things like community building, individual spiritual development, and applied theological reflection.

I was reading an article over the weekend in a copy of Psychology Today

The article is entitled Class Dismissed, by Hara Estroff Marano, pp. 95-101, May/June 2006, vol. 39, no. 3.

Let me say up front that I am not a regular reader of this magazine, and I am frankly appalled at how much garbage is printed in this magazine as though it is some sort of science.

With that caveat made, this was an article on a school where students are encouraged to basically play all day and the idea intrigued me.

In this school, students vote on school policy and enforcement of the policy. The vote of a first grader is equal to a high school senior. The only graduation requirement is an essay on what has been learned that prepares one for adult life.

I suppose many readers will scoff at this notion of education. The article makes a couple of points that I believe are "spot on" even if I have no empirical data available to back up my point of view.

The first point is that students who are taught to sit still and raise their hand if they have something to say may not really be learning what is formally being "taught".

Indeed, taken to an extreme, the lecture method of instruction can actually lead to a resistance to learning. I recall picking up somewhere that most of us only retain ten percent of what we were formally taught in school.

One student, called Jessica, says that "numerous friends 'shared my indifference, but they were content with their apathy. I was tortured by it.'"

That experience of apathy to what was being presented from the front of the classroom, not only in high school, but through much of college, resonates with me.

The second point made is that learning occurs in a social context: there is a sort of peer pressure to learn certain things:

Researchers in a variety of disciplines believe that human interaction is critical for learning and the best learning comes about as a result of social participation. Relationships provide both the deep motivation and the context for acquiring information; people are driven by the desire to understand the perspective of others. (p. 98)
A few weeks back, I wrote that I was reading Elaine Pagels The Gnostic Gospels, and I was fascinated with the possibility that Christianity could have taken a radically different shape if historical circumstances had been slightly different.

I'm sort of all over the place here tonight.

Bear with me - the mind of the intuitive leaping about trying to throw you the line to climb up and see what I see without building all the steps for you.

The conflict between the orthodox version of Christianity and the Gnostics, at its core, was over the nature of revelation itself.

To oversimplify, for the orthodox, revelation occurred definitively to the Apostles - specifically, Peter, the Rock. Anything that Peter did not hand on is suspect.

For the Gnostic, Christ is risen and "appears" to the believer in the present moment. Nothing is suspect if it comes from one who has encountered the risen Christ as a personal experience.

The truth of the matter, "Truth" with a capitol "T" - the objective reality from a God's eye point of view - is probably somewhere in the middle of these oversimplified extremes.

Christ does reveal himself to each and every believer, and we are invited into a personal relationship with the risen one that becomes more certain to the believer than any other perceived reality.

Yet, if one claims a different Christ than Peter - a Christ in direct contradiction to Peter and Paul and the Apostles - that image of a christ is an idol - a false god - a demonic deception.

To say that anything Peter did not hand on is suspect oversimplifies the orthodox position, because it is orthodox to say that the community of faith will deepen its understanding of what was handed on over time: doctrine develops and is applied to the here and now through an accurate faith informed reading of the signs of the times.

To say that nothing is suspect if it comes from one who has encountered the risen Christ as a personal experience oversimplifies the gnostic position because people will use Christ's name in vain, or be deceived by demons or false ideologies or sin or simple mistakes. There are objective tests for subjective experience.

Where am I going?

I think that in the years 1970 to 1976, it was probably fair to say that the Church as a whole was probably headed a bit too far in the gnostic direction.

I also think it is fair to say that in the years 2000 to 2006, we are headed, as a whole, too much in the orthodox direction - to the point of losing sight of the basic message that Christ is alive and offering himself to each one of us.

What does this have to do with an article in Psychology Today or my work, or my five year wedding anniversary or anything I posted recently?

I'm going to go off track again, and hopefully bring it back around.

When I was a Franciscan Friar before I discerned marriage was my calling, I was attracted to the notion of praying the entire liturgy of the hours: praying the psalms and biblical canticles seven times a day, plus daily mass, and an hour or more of contemplative mediation.

But what is the point of praying the Psalms seven times per day?

There is something beautiful in the idea that the sacred scripture draw people thousands of years after being written to their recitation in community several times per day all over the world.

The very gesture of such a communal effort to say (or better yet, sing) these precise words over and over and over conveys a profound reverence for these words which we claim to be divinely inspired.

Yet, as I tried to pray these words, I could not help but think on occasion, "I could do better".

Indeed, the Church sort of recognizes we can do better, by editing the Psalter.

We do not pray that the curses of Psalm 109 will befall our enemies in the liturgy of the hours.

We do not pray verse 6 of Psalm 110 each Sunday evening: "He will do judgment on the nations, heaping up corpses; he will crush heads over the wide earth."

Nevertheless, even after the Church's editing of the Psalms and Canticles to form the Liturgy of the Hours, we are left with many hymns that seem to be written by a paranoid or depressive person in delusion.

Don't get me wrong: Many of the Psalms and canticles and readings of the Liturgy of the Hours are beautiful, and I believe that Jesus prayed the Psalms - as did the Apostles and early Christians.

And from this experience of reciting ancient prayers, one can feel inspired to write Psalms of one's own: Psalms that may surpass the Biblical Psalms in beauty.

Is the goal of praying the Liturgy of the Hours merely to preserve what has been written and said through the millennium?

Or, do we pray the Psalms as a schooling to learning how to write our own Psalms - the Psalm written on our own hearts - which may be unique to each individual?

And even when we recite (or sing) the Psalms of ancient times, do we translate what we pray into action?

I judge nobody's heart, but how many bishops in their fancy chanceries, priests in fiddle back vestments seeking chancery positions, monks living on palacial compounds, or even nuns in large convents pay much attention to Psalm 49 on Tuesday Evening Prayer (Vespers) Week II:
In riches, humanity lacks wisdom, and is like the beasts who are destroyed,...,This is the lot of those who trust in themselves, who have other at their beck and call. Like sheep they are driven to the grave, where death shall be their shepherd and the just shall become their rulers. With the morning, their outward show vanishes and the graves becomes their home,..., Though one flatter one's self while alive: "People will praise me for all my success," yet, you will go to join your ancestors, who will never see light anymore,....In riches, humanity lacks wisdom, and is like the beasts who are destroyed.
Does a vow of celibacy, even lived chastely, cancel out any call to solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, the outcast, the public sinner, and the oppressed?

Does praying seven times per day cancel out our debt owed to the poor from whom we stole our wealth if the universal destination of goods were intact?

What do we make of this morning's prayer from the Epistle of James:
What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them, "Good-bye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed," but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that?
Ok.Ok. Maybe I'm off a week. I don't know. I always get confused praying the hinge hours by myself around the weeks after Pentecost until we are firmly in the Sundays of ordinary time.

Nevertheless, James wrote this, and it is part of week III morning prayer (Lauds), which would normally precede the Twelfth Sunday in ordinary Time.

Back to my 'round about point: In some cases, we could write better Psalms than we have. In other cases, the Psalms we have challenge us - and challenge us in a good way - to be what we know in our hearts is our best self.

My more conservative readers sometimes think I don't accept that the Gospel challenges us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'll go out on a limb and say explicitly that if your entire nuclear family makes a household income of more than $90,000 per year in American dollars, your soul is in jeopardy - especially if you live in the United States of America.

I'm not stating an absolute here, but based on my reading of scripture in the current social situation, that's my reading.

There is a line of demarcation somewhere where Psalms like number 49 or the beatitudes and the woes of Luke's Gospels are directed at you more than other people, and I'd say it's in that ballpark (which places you around the top five percent of the nation, and the top one percent of the entire world).

Maybe the line has moved up to $100,000 or $135,000 by now, but it's not the millionaires alone who are addressed when one looks at the global economy.

Maybe all Americans are in danger - except the homeless and destitute.

Now, maybe Bill Gates is in the process of becoming a saint for all I know. I certainly admire much of what he has been doing with his wealth in very recent years.

Lazarus was rich, and the Lord raised him from the dead, and he is considered a saint. Joseph of Arimethea was another rich saint found right in the New Testament. He's the one who provided Jesus his own tomb for burial.

Rich people can be saved.

But it is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

Even if the "eye of the needle" was a name of a well known narrow gate in first century Palestine as some folks theorize, camels don't pass through narrow gates with ease.

Love of money is the root of all evil.

We Americans wage war in nations with oil fields - not nations with liberal laws on sexual expression.

If someone wants to shift the subject from war to abortion, money is the root of abortion. Democrats need funding, and rely on the abortion industry to provide it.

Women often chose abortion for financial reasons, because it is too difficult to trust that our Father in heaven who clothes the lily of the fields and has his eye on the sparrow will also care for us and our children.

More marriages are wrecked by people becoming wage slaves worshipping the almighty dollar than by laws permitting gay civil unions.

Drug and sex trafficking are driven by money, as is extortion, burglary, armed robbery, bribery, theft, inside trading, graft, gambling, much lying, and so many other social ills.

In the New testament, even those who are outwardly very strictly religious and adhere to the moral law better than most and accept their wealth as a response to faith filled prayer and a just reward of honest labor to be used responsibly can go astray.

They can become arrogantly self righteous, following merely the letter of the law, without its spirit.

These wealthy righteous folks can become set in their ways, jugmental, legalistic and hypocritical to the point where they might even miss the invitation of God and crucify an innocent man who poses a threat to their world-view and the established order.

I'm still not being clear. I know it.

I'm trying to get where I was headed, even if I'm taking the most round-a-bout path to get there.

My wife and I were talking on our fifth wedding anniversary about two broken marriages. Both couples were married in the Church.

In both cases, both partners were Catholic. Both couples married within about a year or two of us. Both couples are divorced.

I am upset by this.

I am upset partly because I want being Catholic to mean something. I may favor gay marriage, but I don't favor heterosexual divorce. Marriage means something, by God!

It's partly a matter of identity.

I want being Catholic to mean something. It means we value family and marriage. We don't take those vows lightly.

I don't mean to say that divorced Catholics who enter a second marriage with a different partner without annulling their first marriage should be denied communion.

We went round and round that topic a week ago. I take denial of communion more seriously than anything I am addressing here. It symbolically means a person *is* going to hell, whether that is the intended meaning or not.

I do not believe our divorced friends are going to hell.

Yet, I don't hesitate to be judgmental and say that they did not take their marriage vows serious enough. Marriage is serious business.

While I am not saying divorce sends one straight to hell, it doesn't ever help one get to heaven under any circumstance.

But this isn't about heaven or hell so much as about "identity".

Just as there is something cool about the idea that people pray the Psalms seven times per day even when they could write better Psalms themselves, there is something cool about couples staying together through thick and thin even if there might have been a better match.

By the way, adultery appears to be an underlying issue - or at least the last straw - for both break-ups.

In saying that there's something "cool" in staying together through thick and thin even if there might have been a better match, I want to highlight something else - something deeper than Catholic "identity" that is threatened by our Catholic friends divorcing.

I see my marriage as an adventure.

Surviving the "thick" is like scaling Mount Everest, sky diving, deep sea diving, flying in a shuttle craft, going on safari, training for the Olympics, winning a world class chess tournament, getting a huge pay-off from a risky financial venture, etc.... all rolled up in one.

It takes what is perceived as superhuman strength in some ways to do it. That's why I ultimately don't want to deny communion to people who fail - marriage can be tough.

But with the grace of God, it is possible, and it is exciting to do it for five years, and hopefully, ten, twenty, thirty, and forty (like my parents), and even sixty (like one set of my grandparents).

By the grace of God.....

When Catholic couples fail, I recognize that they failed at something very difficult on the human level. God is merciful towards our human weakness.

But when Catholic couples fail, it strikes at my own faith in the grace provided by the Church. That is what sees me through sometimes - and my wife.

Not all the time. We know the benefits of modern psychology, communication and other helps. But there is something unexplainable we both feel we need to survive the "thick" - and that something is "grace".

And ultimately, we are both very happy married - much more so than we were as single people - despite the "thick".

We both believe grace is available outside of the Roman Catholic Church, and we both know that not all Roman Catholics are perfect - that ultimately, none of us are perfect.

Yet, every divorce by every Catholic in the entire world has an effect on our marriage: every divorce is a threat to our belief in ourselves and our own capacity for grace.

...not an overwhelming threat,...but a threat nonetheless.

The threat even causes a vibration in my rock solid belief that something wonderful occurred when my daughter was baptized a year ago.

We are the body of Christ we just celebrated last Sunday, and the body in which my daughter was grafted a year ago. What we do in the flesh effects the members.

What's this got to do with an article in Psychology Today?

Well, there is a side of me that reads an article on a school like the one profiled in the article and hears a resonate tone.

Traditional schooling squashes our creativity and desire to learn through self-discovery rather than dictation from a perceived dictator.

It's similar to feeling forced to pray the Psalms when one feels one could write a Psalm of one's own from the heart.

It's similar to the Gnostic insight that we encounter the risen Christ and don't need a bishop to tell us what Christ says.

And that's similar to feeling that marriage is a ball and chain rather than an adventure.

Some people seem to be in marriages that are killing their spirit. That's not my experience, but it is their experience.

In college, programming and statistics and designing data bases would have been the most boring subject on earth to me.

In the context of helping to save other people's jobs while developing new skills for myself, it all takes on a new meaning.

Yet, a side of me hungers to find a job in the non-profit world, maybe even with the Church, in more direct service to people, especially the poor....

Some days, I fantasize about running a Christian vegan yoga retreat center saying the Liturgy of the Hours close enough to a city to slip in for some soup kitchen work every day, and some dancing on the weekends.

I somehow feel both a "free spirit" and a "traditionalist" of sorts at the same time.

Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, as it may have been with the moderate and not oversimplified gnostics and the moderate and not oversimplified orthodox.

We are one body. We shouldn't cut one another off of the body, but instead should seek the truth between us that cannot be oversimplified.

There is legitimate challenge in the Gospel as handed down in the tradition.

There is also legitimate life giving freedom experienced in the encounter with the resurrected One.

The folks who were my age today in 1970 to 1976 were probably asking "What is the Spirit saying today?" at the expense of asking if the same Spirit speaking today is the Spirit given to Peter.

Yet, I wonder if today, in 2000 to 2006, we aren't asking "What did the Spirit say to Peter?" at the expense of asking what the Spirit is saying today.

Are we Catholics killing people's spirits today? Are we stifling the Holy Spirit?

One more thought in closing this post out.

In the midst of all I have written, there is one other thing on my mind of late. An in-law I met only during a three week visit to Africa is suffering with a potentially deadly disease.

He's a devout Catholic and devoted family man. Keep him in your prayers.

A couple of months ago, a high school classmate died at the age of 40 with cancer, leaving her Catholic husband and children alone.

When we speak of picking up our cross as demanded by the Gospel, I am utterly convinced that more often than some act of self-denial or imposing of discipline on others, we are speaking of these types of pains - the inevitable suffering that comes upon each one of us unexpectedly.

There is challenge in the Gospel, but the greatest challenges of life do not come from the moral demands of the Gospel, per se.

Whether divorced or in stable marriage, whether traditionally schooled or schooled in untraditional ways, whether gnostic or orthodox in theology, whether working as a social worker or a computer geek, we pick up our cross when we face unexpected and uncontrolled suffering and death in our lives, and it is in these moments that faith - whatever it really is - really shines.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Says We Can Live With Gay Civil Unions!

I'm late posting tonight. I've been so busy I missed this story last Friday. Better late than never.

Gay marriage seems to be the key issue the Republicans want to debate for 2006, so far.

While affirming that marriage is between a man and a woman, and is the ideal, Washington D.C.'s Archbishop, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, says that gay civil unions are acceptable:

If you can't meet that ideal [heterosexual marriage], if there are people who for one reason or another just cannot do that or feel they cannot do that, then in order to protect their right to take care of each other, in order to take care of their right to have visitation in a hospital or something like that, I think that you could allow, not the ideal, but you could allow for that for a civil union,...
I agree that with the Cardinal that this seems to be the minimum demand of justice, and something we should all feel able to live with.

The Vatican has issued some low level authoritive but not solemnly defined teaching that would seem to contradict the Cardinal, and his good standing in the Church should serve as sufficient evidence that there is some wiggle room here.

Recall that it was Theodore Cardinal McCarrick who, though staunchly pro-life, was the first to go public stating that turning the eucharist into a political weapon by denying communion to pro-choice politicians was a horrific idea.

He was later joined by Archbishop Willliam Levada, who is now a Cardinal and Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and claimed that we cannot be certain of formal cooperation with evil by pro-choice politicians without further dialogue.

Eventually, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, admitted that people can vote for pro-choice politicians they otherwise would not support if they had a proportionate reason (such as an unjust war?).

Cardinal Levada also supported granting certain legal benefits to gays who cohabitate, though there was no indication he specifically supported legal gay unions.

As a matter of basic civil rights and equal protection under the law, and the basic demands of the golden rule, it seems immoral to deny the rights of some sort of civil union to gay couples.

And just as the vow of celibacy is not a sacrament, but is blessed by the Church, could we not offer some sort of communal prayer and support for those who, for one reason or another, just cannot enter into or embrace the ideal of sacramental heterosexual marriage?

We can do many other things to protect and promote heterosexual marriage than ban gay unions.

We could restructure the tax code to give relief to the poor and working married couples, rather than the rich.

We could insure the 46 million uninsured workers.

We could promote a just and living wage that allows a single worker to support a family.

We could promote other economic justice initiatives that have proven to reduce abortion and divorce rates.

The churches could do a better job in marriage preparation and marriage counseling.

For those who like restrictive legislation, we could even explore reform of no fault divorce laws, and ways to make divorce harder to obtain in such situations. This would strengthen marriage more than a ban on gay unions.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

In Search of a New Deal

The link above is to E. J. Dionne's column today in The Washington Post on the economic remifactions of offshoring to the American economy, regardless of whether liberals or conservatives are running the government.

I've been thinking a lot about this, as I'm sure many people are.

On the one hand, if a villager in India has an opportunity to make a decent living and contribute to economic growth and the common good in his or her developing nation, I think it's great.

Yet, that opportunity comes at a cost to the Indian, and I hope the cost is not too great.

I stopped in an Indian restaraunt not too long ago.

I noticed an article in an English Indian newspaper that outlined the downside of some new jobs in India - such as working night shifts that disrupt traditional family.

No matter how you cut it, even if half an American wage buys as much in India as it does it does in the United States, the Indian worker is not being paid what the American worker is paid.

As India or China or any host of other nations develop, their workers will demand more money too, just like Americans.

Long range, I expect a leveling out.

Yet, that's very long range.

In the more immediate future, will Americans find themselves slipping economically, while the worst aspects American culture are shipped abroad along with the dollar?

We have 46 million uninsured American workers already. Poverty has been growing at a steady clip for the last few years.

We're told that jobs are very slowly picking back up, but that doesn't mean much to the unemployed.

Our deficit continues to climb.

Gas is more expensive than ever, housing costs are inflated, and it looks like it may get a lot worse before it gets any better.

Looking at the issue morally, I'm glad to see a global economy forming. Anything that unites the global community and helps to alleviate the dire poverty of some developing nations is a good thing.

Yet, America and many industrialized nations have larger gaps between rich and poor than any developing nation, and the poor among us are often poorer than anyone in a developing nation.

The most devastating effect of the gap between rich and poor in America and other developed nation is that it kills our senses.

We become numb to the suffering of others.

In the extreme, people are numbers on a balance sheet - an FTE or head count that can be reduced to cut costs - or even nameless enemies that we can bomb from a distance for control of oil revenues.

Is that what we want to export abroad?

On the one had, looking at this morally, Americans as a group are too materialistic, hedonistic, narcissistic, gluttunous, selfish, and greedy. We are an arrogant people, and a few economic lumps might knock a little sense back into us.

On the other hand, dire poverty is evil, and I wish that nobody.

If America sinks, people's lives are at stake: like the uninsured, the undereducated, the homeless, the mentally ill, the first to become unemployed for too long, and minority groups already receiving the short end of the stick.

There is an anger boiling inside me at the beneficiaries of Bush's tax cuts.

It is not that I know whether tax cuts actually hurt or help the situation in some world of pragmatic realism.

It is that no matter what happens, they will not feel any of what is happening here or in India, whether positive or negative.

Their wealth will continue to grow, and they will continue to support any law, policy, procedure, deal or whatever that allows their wealth to continue to grow.

It seems so many of the wealthy will never have enough to give back.

Oh. There are exceptions.

I applaud the seemingly sudden turn in the priorities of Bill Gates, and I don't mean to say that every single rich person is going to hell (though the Bible very clearly implies exactly that in no uncertain terms).

What bugs me is that they are willing to pay someone half what I make to do my work knowing that I could not survive on that in this country, and that the other person lives in a country and environment the rich person would never chose as his or her own home.

What is a just and living wage?

John Paul said it is minimally a wage that supports a family - where one parent could stay home and the other could support them without becoming a workaholic.

But maybe there is a simpler definition rooted in the golden rule: Do not pay a man or woman a wage to live or work in a condition you would not do yourself for the same wage.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Is Christianity too Effeminate?

I'm a little late posting today, and have been busy. I'm still on the run.

This Washington Post article explores the question from the viewpoint of an Evangelical Protestant perspective, highlighting the point of view of David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church.

Murrow is a Presbyterian elder with a background in marketing.

My background is in marketing and advertising, and one day I was sitting in church, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that the target audience of almost everything about church culture was a 50- to 55-year-old woman,...

Every Muslim man knows that he is locked in a great battle between good and evil, and although that was a prevalent teaching in Christianity until about 100 years ago, today it's primarily about having a relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally,....

And if that's the punch line of the Gospel, then you're going to have a lot more women than men taking you up on your offer because women are interested in a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally. Men, generally, are not.

..., Come Sunday morning, "we're going to sing love songs to Jesus and there's going to be fresh flowers on the altar and quilted banners on the walls," Murrow said.

Men aren't the only ones alienated by such an environment. According to Murrow, young people aren't that keen on it either.
I struggle with what to do about this situation.

Murrow's solution is to retrieve a "muscular Christianity" and "masculine" imagery used in prior centuries.

He wants us to place an emphasis on the ways the Bible speaks a message that is "challenge-oriented and appreciate[s] risk, adventure, variety, pleasure and reward."

On the one hand, I am convinced that there is a grain of truth to what Murrow is saying, and I hear similar points made every time I bring up women's ordination.

There is a feeling among many men that the chief reason to avoid women's ordination is that women already run the Church, and we don't need to make it "official".

The Bible and/or tradition do speak to courage and risk taking to advance the Gospel.

The Irish monks of the sixth century were called "iron men" by Irish laity.

Throughout the ages, the prayer routine and acts of asceticism of monks were seen as displays of superhuman and supernatural strength.

The missionaries of the sixteenth centuries who went to the Americas, Africa or Asia were swashbucklers who related stories of adventure.

The prophets of the Old Testament were fiery critics of kings, and the martyrs through the centuries risked life and limb for the sake of the Gospel.

Throughout the Bible or Christian history are commands to action, from feeding the poor to being willing to take up arms to defend the innocent or wage a crusade.
Yet, it is this past point that causes me concern.

A few years back, the feminists emphasized how male spirituality may have been rooted in the experience of a young boy learning to leave his mother to become like his father.

Both male and female children, despite any inherent biological differences, tend to cling to their mothers, especially while nursing, but even beyond this.

Eventually, a girl will become a woman, so she will stay close to mom and learn to imitate her.

A boy, on the other hand, must separate from mom. To stay too close to mom will earn the label of a "mamma's boy". He will be seen as a "sissy". A boy must learn to be something other than mom.

This psychically violent experience may contribute to men viewing the world in a dualistic fashion of good and evil, natural and supernatural, matter and spirit, and so forth.

The feminine is seen as natural, weak, material and even evil in comparison to the supernatural, strong, spiritual, and good.

Symbols are derived that are subconsciously associated with the erect penis to reinforce to men what it is to be manly.

He is to be hard bodied and tough minded, following linear logic, advancing up the hierarchy - whether a hierarchy of doctrinal truth, or a social hierarchy such as the military, the institutional church, or the corporation.

Women prior to the age of feminism were perceived as soft bodied and soft minded, employing circular logic, and relating in ways that are non-hierarchical.

The problem with male spirituality is that we can too easily divide the world into good guys and bad guys, leading to rash judgmentalism and unnecessary or immoral war.

This is particularly tragic and difficult to break down when it is wrapped in religious language and metaphor that is subconsciously sexual.

Masculine spirituality seems to inherently involve dividing the world - the saved and unsaved - the orthodox and the heretic - the righteous and the unrighteous - the strong and the weak - winners and losers, etc....

Yet, Christianity has a preference for the weak, and does teach that men and women are equal in dignity. Men have to deal with the fact that separation from our mothers cannot lead us to denigrating women or a woman's way of being and knowing in the world.

I'd write more on this, but I have to run.


Friday, June 09, 2006

San Franciscophobia

Ed Deluzain posted a great piece by Garrison Keillor that I could not resist posting myself.


Sister Joan Chittister's Column

While thousands die in Iraq in an immoral, illegal and ineffective war, the dominant political leadership states that the most important issue facing the nation today is to stop gay marriage.



Pope Benedict Tackles Roots of Anti-Semiticism

In the immediate reporting on Pope Benedict's visit to Auschwitz, John Allen left the impression that Pope Benedict disappointed those expecting an apology (which John Paul already offered).

It seems Pope Benedict may have gone further than John Paul, even if he did not apologize.

He seems to be stating that if the and the Jewish people were ever destroyed, Christianity dies with it - that the mere presence of the Jews and the Jewish religion witnesses to or validates Christian existence.


Vatican Appeals U.S. Court Ruling

A U.S. federal judge ruled that the Vatican may be subject to a lawsuit despite the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.

The case involves a priest with a history of sex abuse allegations who was moved from Ireland to Chicago to Portland.

The Vatican's lawyer has filed an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

More on Denying Communion

I've been thinking all day about this, trying to come up with some succinct, or at least clear way to explain what strikes me as more or less intuitively obvious.

There is an old maxim in Catholic theology that the sacraments cause grace by signifying what is received.

It would seem to me that the converse is also true. The denial of a sacrament causes a denial of the grace signified.

It seems to me that there are different reasons people argue for denying sacraments to others.

Some see it as a bishop or priest's obligation to protect Jesus from being profaned. In response, I would say Jesus allowed himself to be stripped and hung on a cross, and there is nothing we can do since that is more profane.

Some believe that receiving the sacrament in the state of sin is a possible cause of harm to the sinner. Jesus gave the eucharist to Judas.

Some see it as important to establishing a collective identity to have boundaries where we can say who is in, and who is out. Yet, Jesus never excluded anyone. People walked away or rejected him, but he excluded nobody. As we tell our children, he loves everyone - even mean people.

Some believe that a punishment will disuade a person or persons from sin. Pope John Paul stated God sends nobody to hell. We send ourselves to hell. The Apostles creed says that he descended into hell, and I like to think that Jesus even follows us into the flames trying to prevent us from embracing eternal torment.

It's these last two points where I start to make a turn in my own thinking.

God does not punish us, and we should not punish one another.

Jesus had opponents, but not because he deliberately exlcuded them. Rather, he invited them to come, and they walked away.

God does not send us to hell, but we might chose to walk away. We may even make an irrevocable choice, or form an eternal habit of choosing against God again and again.

But God never rejects us.

Excommunication or the denial of communion means something.

Literally, "excommunication" means "out of communion" or cut off from the body - the body of Christ.

We are saved by Christ alone, even if Christ saves those who do not know him explicitly by name.

We are saved by grace alone - through the initiative of Christ as a free gift.

It follows that to be cut off from his body is to be in the state of hell already, even if the pain will be more intense in the next life.

Yet, we send ourselves to hell, with Christ following after to try to save us from our choices - inviting and even challenging us as we walk away, then following after us to the point of death - where we deliberately kill him.

This means one has completely and willfully and knowingly and freely and permantly severed the relationship by her or his own conscious choices.

Excommunication is not a punishment.

It is a declaration of an objective or ontic reality - a stament of what *is* or appears to be so in the discernment of the Church.

Just as the sacraments cause grace by signifying what is received, the denial of the sacraments deny grace by what is signified in the denial.

To excommunicate someone does not primarily serve an extrinsic purpose.

It has an intrinsic meaning - intrinsic to itself.

What is bound on earth is bound in heaven, and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.

It is a statement of fact - a sort of dogma about an individual, though I would not quite so far as to say it is infallible.

It is not a punishment, nor a method of persuasion, nor a public declaration of identity, nor protection of the faithful from scandal, nor protection for the sinner from worse harm, nor even protection of Jesus from being profaned.

It is a declaration of what has already seemed to have occurred - a person has severed him or her self entirely from the very source of grace who is Christ.

We may pray that the prophetic and sacramental gesture of making the break in relationship to Christ incarnate leads to repentance and conversion back to Christ.

Yet, the act of excommunication is a discernment that the person has so turned his or her back on Christ that there is no relationship with Christ in tact at that moment.

In 1 Cor 5:5, Saint Paul speaks of excommunication as deliverance of a person to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.

This is a serious action, and something nobody should desire to do.

We should never gloat over seeing an excommunication or denial of communion invoked, or try to hasten such declarations along.

In 2 Cor 2:5-11, Paul acknowledges that the action causes grief akin to morning the death of a loved one, and thanks God that the individual in question repented.

Though he does express the hope that such a deliverance of an individual to Satan will lead to repentance, as it did for this individual, there is no mistaking that a claim is being made that the person is already outside of the pale of mercy at the current moment.

The individual Paul speaks of had exceeded the pagans in his rejection of Christ, according to Paul.

Denying communion is less than full blown excommunication, but it signifies a similar sort of thing: that the person has already seemed to have severed a relationship with Christ.

I think canon law (912 and 915) support this reading of what the idea of excommunication and denial of communion signifies, and reserve these actions to bishops, who have binding and loosing authorty.

We all sin. The Bible says we sin seven times per day. Some saints went to confession daily. Some of us sin in the church parking lot. Some of us sin habitually in one specific area of our lives.

Sin requires knowledge and free consent. We all sin daily, but we also do evil that is either done in ignorance or coerced on top of our real sins. We know we must avoid judging one another in sin, and focus on acts instead of persons.

We are all also ignorant in other areas of our lives. We make mistakes - some moral mistakes, some intellectual mistakes, some theological, some emotional mistakes, and some mistakes in our basic attitudes.

We get confused easily - even the bishops.

Sin and ignorance alone do not entirely sever our relationship with Christ in the sense of a specific act.

We are talking about something deeper - probably what some theologians call a fundamental option.

Is it ever really possible to judge the fundamental option of another soul?

Maybe there are times when things get so out of hand and people are being led astray that a limitted few with special authority from Christ can declare the discernment of the whole Church that a person is among the walking dead - entirely cut off from all grace - or at least seemingly so.

Excommunication and denial of communion involve a discernment through actions and words that a person may have already made a fundamental option against Christ, and has already seemed to have chosen hell.

Personally, I do not see how anyone could know this about a person without a private conversation with the person, even if the authority proclaiming the judgment is a bishop. (cf. GS 28, Lk 6:37-38; Mt 7:1-2; Rom 2:1-11, and Rom 14:10-12)

Further, if we are at all like Christ, we would chase the sinner into hell itself to draw him or her out of hell.

The question becomes this:

When we so often speak of denying certain people communion, do we really believe in the depths of our hearts, and with all moral certitude that the intellect can muster, in prudence tempered with mercy and charity that the person in question has already severed a relationship with Christ so entirely?

Perhaps real life examples help to frame the issue, and the problem, where I wonder if this idea is used too frequently.

Do we really believe that each and every one of all the divorced Catholics we personally know who have since married a different partner without annulling the first marriage or ending the second has ruptured their relationship with Christ this entirely?

Do we really believe that the SSPX in schism and its founder under excommunication is full of people with no relationship to Christ whatsoever?

Do we really believe that the more than forty percent of all American Catholics who voted for John Kerry in 2004 have severed their relationship with Christ? Have all Bush voters?

Do we really believe that every single woman, even if thirteen or fourteen at the time, who has had an abortion, even if under pressure, has severed her relationship with Christ?

Do we really feel that for 400 years, Protestants embracing ideas anathemized at Trent had no relationship at all with Christ? What about the Orthodox?

Do we really believe that wearing a rainbow sash at Mass entirely severs our relationship with Christ?

I could go on and on. But the point I am raising is that if excommunication or denying communion are to have the "teeth" that even conservatives wish, it means something.

It means the person has entirely and completely turned from Christ and effectively committed spiritual suicide even before the declaration was made.

Thus, the declaration cannot be made of anyone at all who you think even might still be in some sort of relationship with Christ.

If there is some hope at all in your heart for the salvation of the other if they died that moment, you cannot declare the person excommunicated or deny him or her communion at that moment.

If there is some sort of belief that even if they might have some purgatory time, they would not necessarily go to hell if they died in the instant you are declaring the person excommunicated, you must not excommunicate.

Am I saying a bishop can never excommunicate or deny communion?

Not exactly. I am merely saying that if it is to mean what it signifies, there is a heavy burden on the one declaring the denial or excommunication to be as morally certain as possible that what is being declared is really true.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

What to Wear?

There has been a good deal of discussion below about the appropriateness of wearing a rainbow sash to Mass and whether such people should be denied communion.

I got to thinking about other things people wear to Mass that bug me far more than a rainbow sash ever would.

On rare occasion, I attend a daily Mass at a church I don't regularly attend when I am in that area. The Mass is at noon.

Every time I have been there, a police officer shows up fully uniformed and fully armed.

Now, I'm not saying we should deny this guy communion, but I cannot express how uneasy I feel when I see a gun in the house of the Lord.

It is a distraction to my prayer, and it makes me feel queasy, and sometimes even angry.

I have often thought that if I were the pastor, I would ask the police officer to try to find a way to refrain from bringing a gun to Mass.

I give the guy every benefit of the doubt I can muster.

I tell myself that it might be imprudent, and perhaps even illegal, for him to leave his gun in his car, even if locked in the trunk.

He may be on a lunch break where he has no time to run home or to the station locker and change.

Maybe other parishioners feel a sort of safety in his presence.

What about my readers?

How would you feel about the presence of a gun at Mass?

Would it be appropriate for me to at least tell the officer how uncomfortable I feel, even if he has no alternative to wearing a gun to Mass?


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Church's Teaching on Homosexuality

The official teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church has extensively addressed the issue of homosexuality in the past thirty one years.

To sum it up, the Church teaches that there do exists human persons who, through no apparent fault of their own, experience a seemingly innate, deep seated, or more or less permanent and unchosen condition of predominant to exclusive same sex attractions.

This condition, which could be rightly called an orientation, is not a sin in itself. Those who experience the condition are called to chastity, and all unjust discrimination against them is to be denounced as sinful.

There have been a number of clarifications on what these principles mean.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that we cannot exercise prudent discretion in hiring. An employer can consider the homosexual condition as grounds not to hire a person in certain jobs, especially those involving contact with children.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that we must bestow any sort of legal recognition or benefits on their homosexual partnerships under civil law, even when those partnerships exist among non-Catholics. To do so would be to promote the homosexual condition and a general immorality that will undermine the common good.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that we allow a homosexual person to adopt or raise an otherwise parentless child, since to do so would be an act of violence against the child.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that we cannot continue to suggest that homosexual persons may have a greater disposition to engage in sexual acts with minors, even if we have no evidence for such a claim. It still may be true even without current substantial evidence.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that such persons may be admitted to priesthood. They should not be admitted to priesthood because they lack the affective maturity or capacity for such maturity to properly relate with both genders.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that we cannot refer to the condition as a moral disorder very similar to a predisposition to alcoholism or violence, because the person does have disordered inclinations to sinful acts, and all homosexual acts are gravely and intrinsically evil.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that we call heterosexual marriages valid when one of the partners in such a marriage has the homosexual condition and withheld this information from the other. Such marriages are invalid and can be easily annulled under canon law once discovered.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that one cannot have grave moral reservations about promoting the use of condoms by those homosexual persons suffering with HIV/AIDs, since abstinence from sexual expression is the sole morally acceptable choice for such persons.

Homosexual persons are called to either heterosexual marriage or chaste celibacy, but not as a deacon, priest or bishop. It is a sin of dishonesty for a homosexual person to enter seminary and deliberately or knowingly fail to inform his spiritual advisers of his condition. It is a sin for a seminarian discovering homosexual inclinations in seminary to deliberately fail to reveal them.

If choosing to enter into heterosexual marriage, the homosexual person must be open to procreation, and the opposite gendered partner must be informed of the condition prior to the wedding.

The opposite gendered partner is advised to consider carefully the potential harm to children of marrying a homosexual person.

The homosexual person entering into heterosexual marriage is warned that pedophilia is a sin, and that it could be harmful to reveal his or her condition to his or her children.

Homosexual persons are called to live these life-style choices silently bearing their cross, or sharing their disordered condition with only a few others who may help them embrace chastity, or whom they can help to achieve the goal of chastity. There is no reason to publicly identify one's self as a homosexual person.

Homosexual persons are not to consider the condition to be central to identity, and they are not to politically advocate on behalf of those who share the condition in any way. Acts of violence directed at homosexual persons can sometimes be an understandable response to unjust political action of this sort.

Unjust discrimination against homosexual persons involves physically abusing or threatening the life of a homosexual person who is not politically advocating for homosexual persons. This is a sin.

Unjust discrimination against homosexual persons may involve certain housing or employment decisions where no clear harm to children or others is present.

Unjust discrimination does not mean that we cannot deny communion to those persons with the homosexual condition who publicly identify as such, since such an identification by a disorder is a political act in defiance of all that has been said above.

Any homosexual person who commits a homosexual act with full knowledge of the evil, freedom and deliberation is in the state of mortal sin, and should make use of sacramental confession as soon after as possible if Catholic.

Any homosexual person who advocates politically on behalf of those who share the homosexual condition should also refrain from communion until his or her sins have been confessed, where the chief sin is causing scandal and promoting immorality.

Any person experiencing homosexual inclinations is to avoid presuming that he or she has the homosexual condition, since it well known that transitory states of homosexuality can exist. The first option to be considered by one experiencing homosexual inclinations is a permanent cure.

If, over time, a person discovers that homosexual inclinations of a predominant to exclusive nature seem incurable, such a person is to reject as demeaning any suggestion that chastity as described above is impossible.

Masturbation is always to be considered an intrinsically and gravely disordered act.

Homosexual persons may pursue equal rights with others where the issue at stake is a common human right that would apply to all people and not a right specific to marriage, or resembling the rights of marriage, or a right belonging to an oppressed group due to real and unjust social inequity.

All Roman Catholic politicians are morally obligated to work for legislation that supports each and every one of these propositions, and to avoid compromise except where absolutely necessary in an incremental approach at social reform. Failure to comply may be grounds for denial of communion in order to avoid public scandal.

Deacons, preists, bishops and other ministers may attempt to reach out to homosexual persons with an emphasis on the mercy and love of Christ so long as all that is presented here is made clear with no sacrifice of truth or compromise.

It is not my intention in this post to provide "proof texts" that the Vatican teaching on homosexuality can be understood in the manner I just presented it.

If you are like me, some or all of the propositions above will strike you as patently absurd.

Some readers have made it clear that they agree with most or all of these propositions, and I accept that Church teaching supports their position - though none of this teaching meets the criteria of "infallibility".

If the Church actually has presented teachings that support the propositions many of you might consider absurd, then you understand why "liberals" or "progressives" take issue with the current teaching.

Below is a list of official documents dealing with the subject. Judge for yourself if I have accurately presented the most probable intended meaning of this body of teaching.

Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics: CDF document issued December 29, 1975

Homosexualatis Persona: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons: CDF, October 1, 1986

Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons: CDF, July 22, 1992

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Paragraphs 2357 to 2359 promulgated in October 1992, citing Gen 191-29; Rom 124-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10 as scriptural support

Considerations Regarding proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons: June 3, 2003

Concerning the Criteria of Vocational Discernment Regarding Person with Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to Seminaries and Holy Orders: Congregation for Catholic Education, November, 4,2005


Two Good Sojourners Articles

Soujourners most recent cover story regards the Catholic vote.

Maurice Timothy Reidy in Who Owns the Catholic Vote? explores the history of American Catholic political allegiance and voting patterns.

This article aims at objective analysis.

In A Thorn in Both Their Sides, E. J. Dionne Jr. offers an excellent critique of the current state of affairs regarding faith and politics for Catholic voters.

I agree one hundred percent with Dionne, and share precisely the same concerns he does.

I say this as one who came at the same conclusions in recent years from the opposite end of the political spectrum from him originally.

As frequent readers know, I am a pro-life registered Republican who once took part in such actions as Operation Rescue.

The turn of events Dionne describes in the way certain bishops and conservative Catholic intellectuals using religion to advance an extremely biased agenda that does not reflect the fullness of Catholic tradition has pushed me leftwards.

Where Dionne describes more a feeling of abandonment, having always been a progressive, himself, I would describe the situation as more a hijacking.

I feel that my Church and my party have been stolen by neoconservative ideologues who abuse the very principles that once made me a proud conservative.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Rainbow Sash Controversy

In Minneapolis, several people wearing rainbow sashes to Mass were denied communion.

A communicant who was not wearing the sash broke the host he received from the priest into pieces and began distributing to those who were wearing the sash.

Good for him!


Friday, June 02, 2006

John Allen's Word From Rome

Was the Pope insensitive at his recent trip to Auschwitz?


Joan Chittister's "From Where I Stand"

Sister Joan reminds us to grieve for those dying in Iraq. I confess that I am beginning to feel numb to the grave evil of this war. Maybe I need to grieve the loss of feeling.