Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Habemas Papam! Alleluia!

It was a very special moment for me today. I had just finished a meeting and realized it was time for El Rushbo, so as I got the car underway to head home, I flicked on the station and was privileged to hear that the white smoke was streaming from the Sistine Chapel.

This was just the announcement that an announcement could now be made, and I spent the next thiry minutes or so not exactly squirming but not exactly smoking a cigarette either. It could have been a moderate or even a liberal. I grant that the College were now very much cast in the JP II mold but in the current state of things, hardly anything can be taken for granted.

So it was with near slack-jawed amazement that I heard that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was now Benedict XVI. I really wasn't prepared to have my fondest prayer for the Roman communion be answered. To be assured of continuity in doctrine, to know that a great and humble, yet firm man was now entrusted with the See of Peter, to begin to suspect that latitudinarians the world over might well have to come clean or find some other institution to abuse...well, it was pretty overwhelming there for a while.

And as the day wore on and I reflected on it more, I just got happier. It's one thing to differ in emphasis, perhaps for instance, to feel a bit self-conscious in full pontifical regalia to celebrate the Eucharist. So I can at least appreciate that some might want to conduct their ministries more plainly. I'd say that was not un-okay, as it were.

However, it's quite another thing to openly call for action to undermine and attack the Pope before he's even enthroned, which Call to Action immediately did and which National Catholic Reporter has laid the innuendo to support (all the while officially debunking the rumors and stray factiods they so punctiliously provide in such trenchant detail). Clearly, there will be animosity going forward.

But then I reflected again:

If Cardinal Ratzinger, in contemplating how his pontificate will be subjectively visualized, wanted to give certain impressions, the choice of Papal name seems odd.

If he really were the triumphalist at least CTA fears, then he would much more reasonably have chosen to be remembered as 'Innocent' or 'Gregory' (the latter as in Hildebrand).

If he really were looking to isolate revisionist arms of the Church, then 'Urban' and 'Martin' were better choices.

If he really were thinking of himself as some kind of Crusader Pope, then it's automatic, he should name himself 'Leo'.

He didn't. He chose 'Benedict', a name associated with eirenic and reconciliation Popes down the ages. The latest prior Benedict ruled during WW I and was mainly a missionary and conciliatory Pope. While I'm not looking for Benedict XVI to bend over backwards to accomodate the strident leftists and pseudos and lapsi, I do agree with him that humility is exactly the right note to sound if you're also going to be quite clear, precise and insistent about your office, your responsibility and the Body of Christ for which you now have the care.

So, Benedict is quite a sensible and very humble choice. It is also a bit witty, but then that likely makes it bite liberal sensibilities all the harder.

Conservatives aren't supposed to be smart enough to exercise wit.

In Christ,
Deacon Paul+

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Midnight Muse II

I have two ways of speaking out.

The first one is right off the cuff, just about exactly what comes to mind on first hearing or maybe even in mid-hearing. That's not a very good way to go unless the topic is either trivial or pleasant in many of its respects. In this mode, I'm often flippant, even irreverent. It's almost as if the words burst out before I can really get a grip on them. But there's a side of me that wants not to have confrontation. When I was younger that desire was only if I was not one of the confrontees. If I was partisan in the case, then I would be quite ready to amplify the angst. But as I age, that impulse is thinning out. I'm not so eager for any kind of battle, verbal or weaponized. So if the comment comes out on the hop, it's not anywhere so cutting as once it was.

The other is much, much slower and always has been. And that's the mood I'm in tonight.

I'm reflecting, after several days' meditation on the subject, about death, particularly Terri and John Paul's deaths. The verbal world, blogospheric and MSMic, has literally crawled over these two ends. The occasion has been taken for considerable partisan shot-taking. I saw Cynthia Tucker complain that the right used Terri S. for political means. Of course, many rightists had already immunized that. For myself, the issue is traumatic but the question isn't mine to determine. If Terri could survive and respond, however minimally to our eyes, then she is living and the issue revolves around how much are we going to love her through her pain and confinement. It is not about the quality of her life or the dignity or any other adjective imposed by someone who can easily have an axe to grind on their own behalf. The blind selfishness is, well, stunning, overall. And so is the awareness that these same people who so casually watched her suffer 13 days of starvation and dehydration will turn to some pet topic of their own and expect us all to weep with their compassion. Likely it will also involve killing someone equally defenseless and thought to have the prospect of a poor life (in the opinion of the observer). That's too Goddish to me. I can't go there.

And on the other hand, there is the suffering the Holy Father evidently underwent in his final days on earth. His system went into collapse and he remained alive and heavily impaired for several days. No one intervened with medical technology, perhaps not even painkillers. And this has drawn awed comments from many. I have to blink in admiration at it myself and I'll tell you why.

My own approach to death has not been a steady, unchanging attitude or path. It was a fairly emotional Lent for me, these last seven weeks (see, even in spiritual matters, I'm weeks behind). It was not always so. For a good long while I had basically abstracted the events of Holy Week into a ritualized and stereotyped play. The facts of the matter were cold and could be dealt with blandly. The cost was that I took an equally cold approach to any other emotional event. It was the birth of my first child that started me actually feeling things. It wasn't long before I was seeking the Church again because the reality of pain was starting to become something I could appreciate. And that made Lent an experience that each year just gets more and more painful. It's not like the pain is something unendurable (after all, I'm imagining following His path, not actually walking it), but the question of how to endure such agony gets more and more real every year.

And so I shudder to consider how I would have borne up under what Terri was subjected to and what John Paul so humbly embraced. It was with the greatest hesitation that I ever watched "The Passion of the Christ", and the graphic evidence of man's inhumanity was a large part of the hesitation. By the time Mel had completed his work, I was pretty clear on the details of the Passion and knew that if someone went in and just showed what that execution had involved, it was going to tread the line of endurance. But it would be not just a question of watching torture simulated on actors. It would be that extra appreciation of the knowledge of what the Christ bore in His Person of our sins and how He endured that torture.

And I don't know how I would bear up, if martyrdom were ever required of me. So I have meditated on that, at length. I have not come to any conclusion, as the paragraphs above must suggest, but the question of whether I believe something about the value of life enough to allow it to be taken rather than to recant it is getting less and less inconclusive. My position on life and the Catholic faith is hardening, is what I'm trying to say. I was perhaps 'nuanced' when I was younger and the whole discussion was at best hypothetical. I had a vague notion of being alive, but no sense of not-alive-ness. I did have a few scrapes, where death just missed me, but nothing more drawn out than a sharp, short shock. That's only enough to scare someone, not get them thinking or test any reserve or resolve. And at 51, you'd think something of that ilk would have to have happened. But this is the good old USA and you basically had to throw yourself into peril to find any (I suppose this is what makes Monty Python's comedy funny: they test that thought over and over again, coming up minor suits and bids short of game. Sad, that). And I'm not one to go looking to get the hurt put on myself.

Still, pain is part of life and not every ache is an evil thing. I would pray that God gives me the strength and resources to face whatever suffering I might have yet to endure but the way to prepare for that is to learn what is important. It is not important that I be happy. It is not important that I be either rich or famous. The Truth is important, and seeking and finding Truth is the principal occupation. It is in learning and living Truth that the confidence to face pain and suffering resides.

Just thinking aloud again...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Midnight Muse

Okay, so it's really 1.30 am. I find I can't sleep on Wednesday night for some reason and this time I decided to just get some things typed out and perhaps off my mind...

...Terri Shaivo. There's a tragedy with no modification possible. We are watching the slow and painful martyrdom of a woman whose only crime was to marry this despicable man. She is helpless, not vegetative, but they're killing her anyway. I thought they were reminding us that Soylent Green is made from people. Perhaps they think we're made of soya and green cheese, so it doesn't actually matter anymore.

...the family just finished watching DVDs of the sixth season of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. Now, I hear you on this. What's a good Catholic family doing watching a feminist, lesbian-supporting, witchcrafty show like that? Well, it's kind of tough to say, really. When you put it in black and white, the show just reeks. It's targeted at teenaged girls with serious self-esteem problems (not to mention boys with sexual self-image issues) so every moral issue is framed in high-school or community-college level terms, it's written by people who are reliving their own younger angsts and acted by other people who've either just finished living that angst or are living it out onscreen for us as it happens, and it's produced by an industry dedicated to the proposition that whatever has sex, death and violence in it will definitely sell moisturizer and hair care products. It's marketed to death as a glam acting-out of female superstar/hero mythology and as some kind of positive role-model.

...sigh...it's perversely entertaining, that's what it is for us. A guilty pleasure, if you will. There are certainly elements that make us cringe (and no, I don't mean Nick Brenden's acting) but there are also elements that make us nod in agreement. Sometimes the show really does attach to real issues. And it does so in an environment that could be authentically mythological. Of course, a society that thinks myths are equal to fairy tales does not quite understand the mythic status of 'Buffy'. It's not quite so easy to spot as was true for 'Hercules' or 'Xena'. There, the setting was explicitly ancient Hellas and stated baldly to be in mythic times with characters having names drawn from what just about everybody knows are Greek myth.

'Buffy' is set now with characters having very normal names. The oddity is the presence of physical demons, mostly vampires to begin with, but spreading out into all kinds of odd beings. Most have, strange to say, hominid characteristics, saving the odd ridge of horns down the back or that tail with whip ends or those endlessly long fingernails, but still they're all distressingly material. By the end of the show in fact, the demons are just very odd humans and vampires have almost completely disappeared. The show basically mutated. Joss Whedon openly says it: he's just playing out his fascination with how strong a person his mother was (and by silence one is tempted to infer what a weakling his father was, assuming he even knew or knows him). We nod and say, Okie-doke, Joss. His sidegirls assure us of his genius and pass the artichokes, please.

Hopefully, nuff said about that.

...Code Pink gives me a pain. It was work going down to Fayetteville to call attention to exactly how treasonous and manipulative they're being and I'm not at all sure we did more than look a bit silly in our safety corner up there on the hill above their shindig. But it's required anymore, I guess. There is apparently an endless fund to support these know-nothings, so I guess we've got to shlep wherever they crudesce and point out the obvious for the delectation of TV blow-drys.

...I think steroids are dangerous to use. They might be effective in stimulating strength performance. I am not quite sure that that's unethical. Are steroids a kind of nutrition? Or simply a chemical engine for artificially building muscle mass? I'm no expert. The only point on the mess for baseball players is that it is a definite sin to lie about whether one is using them or not. And if they're lying, then that implies that they themselves believe it to be unfair, hence unethical. Otherwise, they'd say, Yeah, we're using them. Like my muscles? They're not saying that, but then it's so socially disapproved of. I'm thinking that it's sports hierarchs, sort of baseball lit crits, who are doing the vocal and public disapproval and one wonders if this is analogous to homophobia. Then again, using steroids could well be just as immoral as behaving homosexually. They're both choices, they're both unnatural and they both shorten life span. Triple losers, I think.

...I've been wandering about Roman sites lately. I'm finding interesting spirituality but a generally lax theology. It's like we have a flattening society that is slowly letting the dramatic air out of any social or, more importantly for this discussion, liturgical practice. Maybe we're just self-hating in doing this, I wonder. Personally, I find that uplifting and dignified liturgy along with sturdy and unapologetic theology makes me stand taller and obey more closely. I think it would do that more often than not, but there's so many voices urging some kind of caution here. It's as if being clearly and vividly Catholic is some kind of excess. And the worst is that the disapproval is of the 'it's not really cool, man' type. I've cared about being cool in my life, but it never got me to actually BE cool, just to worry more deeply about whether I had a chance to find my cool. And I never found it until I stopped thinking about it. Then, a while later, I thought about it and realized that, so long as I gave it no thought at all, I would always be cool. And that goes for being a five-alarm Catholic as well.

In Christ,
Deacon Paul+ signing off

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Hitting the Same Old Notes

Good morning and God's blessings be with you today and always.

I found this in the Raleigh News & Observer:

Homilies with grit
A new book features sermons, some provocative, given at Duke Chapel

Staff Photo by Harry Lynch

Duke Chapel's soaring sanctuary makes a dramatic setting for sermons. A new compilation of messages delivered in the chapel shows that well-known preachers have used the pulpit to talk about controversial issues of the day.

By MATT EHLERS, Staff Writer

It's a beautiful building, no question, but Duke Chapel is more than an architectural wonder, more than a tourist attraction.
It's a functioning place of worship, a church that during its seven decades of existence has welcomed students and neighbors to hear some of America's most famous and talented preachers, including the Rev. Billy Graham.


Sounds promising, though rather playing to an old favorite on the uptake. As usual in reading current 'journalism', however, one has to flag the words steering the reader's thought process: 'tourist attraction', 'welcomed students and neighbors'. Of course, the above paragraph is not actually the lead-in to a tour of the building, but rather setting what the author imagines is an appropriate context for the review of a book of sermons that had been delivered from the pulpit of the Chapel. I am of course always interested in the architectural quality of the church building. This is not a really driving concern, however. I am more interested in the congregation. It is therefore somewhat pleasing to learn a bit about the people who attend services in DC (apparently, those who just wander in, mostly). However, what is resolutely excluded is exactly what doctrinal obedience is practiced at DC, if any. And the review isn't a lot of help here.

We learn that the congregation is 'diverse' and that might well be the most important adjective which can be applied:

Preaching at Duke Chapel is different from preaching to a traditional congregation. On Sunday, the pews could be occupied by any combination of tourists, undergraduate students and the core congregants who call the chapel their church home. That presents a special set of challenges.

"I think anytime you speak to a highly diverse audience, you have to try to gauge what the right word is for the right time," Lischer said.

That is the key scare word in the article. DIVERSITY rears its head, like St. George's dragon (maybe more like Farmer Ham's when history gets the boot in on all this current brouhaha). And it turns out that the editor, William Willimon, now a bishop in the United Methodist Church (a notably liberal mainline Protestant denomination), did not have diversity as one of his stated key goals in assembling the homilies, it just happened to occur in one of the sermons he collected. His rules were : that the sermons be interesting; that they be delivered by preachers who were noteworthy during their time; and that their words still resonate today. So, Ehlers has biased the contents (I remain shocked that there is secular bias in this secularized and naked public square. Shocked, I tell you)

Ignoring Ehlers for a moment, let's first deal with Bp Willimon: his rules sound like very useful guidelines, if we were reviewing the lectures of professors in a liberal arts college on the subjects of, say, Shakespearean influence on 19th century dramatic technique. The distressing part is how value-free they are: it would be noteworthy to preach legal abortion from a devout Christian pulpit, but it would not be edifying or doctrinally faithful. The Reverend Coughlin was noteworthy in his time. So was Jimmy Falwell. Anybody want to also consider them responsible preachers of orthodox Christian doctrine or, failing that, to be at least meaningful expounders of falsehood in ways that remain instructive? Hmmm, I thought not. Me, either. And finally, the words may well resonate, but then Hitler's promise of a Thousand-Year Reich also resonates (we can defend against what we do not forget). So does Stalin's sneer about the number of Pius's divisions (Old Joe's estimate turned out to be inadequate. Oops). Still, we can be a little charitable: Willimon may have mentioned faithfulness and Christian orthodoxy and the 'journalist' here may have eliminated the reference. One would think that if Bp Willimon had emphasized it, Ehlers would have been constrained to include it. It was my impression that the role of Bishop was to shepherd the faithful and if there is controversy to study, that he would give guidance and lead the faithful to the dependable sources. This can mean publishing the actual contents of heresy and iconoclasm, simply to be fair to those raising the heterodox opinions and to honestly grapple with them. And Willimon may have done so, in his editorial commentary (if there is any). The article in hand is too short to have included such details. Perhaps the News & Observer, being just a newspaper of general interest, has no room for such discussion, even in a heavily Christian, heavily conservative state like North Carolina.

But back to that 'diversity' quote. It was taken from the only sermon to be quoted from the book, by Professor Richard Lischer, of Duke Divinity. It just gets tiresome to have this continually flung into one's face. It seems like an alchemical attempt at a universal philosophic/religious solvent, the kind of thing that the speakers imagine will answer the liberal's most pressing question, "Why can't we all just get along?" (you must remember to say this with a whine, for full effect, as Glenn Frey did last night in the Eagles' concert) It's become a kind of mantra (tip to Alia Darrow for that word), the chant invoked against demons beyond the pleader's understanding. In the present case, the demon involved is one of the left's conjuration, a truly Screwtapean twister who has subtly turned the minds to fear and loathe that which is actually the defense against fear and the rejecter of loathsomeness. It's that kind of irony that makes it difficult to even address this kind of article. You read and shake your head: "Noted. Next?"

But that's defeatist. You can't turn your head from nihilism and cultural illiteracy. Ehlers might not know a religious hawk from a philosophic handsaw, but he has the secular humanist style book down to an art. He gets away with this puff piece, gets a nice picture in the paper and a paycheck and the faithful are once again put off and patronized. We're supposed to be awed by the sweeping physical grandeur of the Chapel. We're intended to be reassured that it's courageous socially . And finally we're to know that Duke Chapel has long been progressive (though we're not about to use that word in this context, suffice to say [a]t Duke Chapel, it seems they've been choosing the right ones for generations.

We do not now have the precise definition of 'right'. We are, as usual, left to guess, and as we always supply our own definition, the author gets away without actually stating what his definition might be.

Okay, on one level, it's all a tease anyway, just intended to get us to visit Duke Chapel on the one hand and to buy the book on the other. Ehlers is not in fact a competent book reviewer (he's not really that good a journalist, from the evidence on hand here), so perhaps I'm being too harsh and making too much of something rather less substantial than Dan Brown's fevered imagination. But you draw the line and you keep the line drawn. This kind of laziness and syncretism simply must be pointed out and rebuked, every last time it pops up.

So you're rebuked, Matt Ehlers. Go back to a real school this time and get some real knowledge.

In Christ+

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Morning Muse

It's the middle of Lent and while I think I'm keeping to the discipline, I also am pretty sure that I'm not losing the weight one would expect if one actually WERE fasting. I don't really have a clue as to why my weight is hanging up 30 pounds heavier than I was on the other coast, but it's a trial just brushing my teeth. After all, I can close my eyes for a while but sooner or later I've got to look up and..sheesh. There he is, Mr. Big (as in balloon boy). In an odd way it's a worse thing to endure than not eating would be. You could say I'm fasting from being contented with myself. Frays the nerves.

There's a sad consistency in some things these days. My local US House-nick was in town recently to argue against privatization (in whatever degree) of social security and then to argue for consolidation of health care. Talk about working hard to be resolutely on the wrong side of issues. Still, it's consistent: in each case, the anointed play their Curial card and we all knuckle our forelocks and shuffle back to the fields.

Sho nuff, massa, I sez.

I was mentioning that Anglicans don't really have a Curia or even a Magisterium. Okay, I didn't actually go so far as to say that last, but it was what I would have finished with. The point is that Anglicans try to take a principled intellectual position about something that is either true because God revealed it or is absolutely nonsense and of no importance to anyone. We try to split the difference, you see, and end up having eleventy-seven flavors, each just marginally different enough to prevent us actually cohering.

Sad, that.

But then, Romans have that awful music and that flat liturgical language. Protestants don't even have liturgy (their music is, well, variable is perhaps the kindest word). There's precious little charity in this world right now and we in the Church aren't doing very much to enhance it. Too scared, I think. The secular forces mean business, though they also appear to think they can simply order us to stop believing. I think some have, as some usually will, but I also think push is going to come to shove, one of these days. God'll see to that.


Monday, March 07, 2005

That First Step...

...is, yes, the hardest one to take. After nearly 51 years, I suppose it might well be time to begin saving up thoughts in some kind of connected order. I have done so more or less randomly, both on paper and about the Web. Mostly I responded to comments I saw and either agreed with (very short answers) or disagreed with (longer to unendurably long answers). The responses didn't really occur methodically, even when part of a thread of comments. I think it might be time to change this. One might even call this just another experiment, perhaps just my way of whiling away my advancing age. It isn't very permanent, though I think I could archive it off, if safe-keeping seemed to arise as something worth doing. That would depend on what ended up being written, yes?

Still, a moment's introduction would not be amiss:

I take the persona of Beleg Cuthalion, a character drawn from the imagination of Professor JRR Tolkien. This Beleg was one of the immortal Elves the Professor conjured up, the MarchWarden of the Kingdom of Doriath. I played this persona out in an online fantasy 'world'. He suited me well then and he still does, for the purpose here anyway. He patrolled the borders of his kingdom, conveying news of the world outside the bounds to those inside and, sometimes news of the kingdom inside to those shut out by the mazes his Queen set about the realm. His job would seem superfluous, given the extraordinary protection already in place, but that would be to limit him to a purely military function. That was not his way, though fight he would when occasion required. His way was to learn and to act as if a sentient membrane, passing knowledge back and forth. I think I'll try to do the same here.

The maze cast about Beleg's imaginary kingdom had an interesting additional property: it would easily admit those akin to the inhabitants, but would confuse, addle and eventually even ensnare those who were alien. This is another property of the place I mean to exploit: the Kingdom I speak of is equally open and free, to those of good will and equally confusing and even perverse to those who bring malice or ill will with them. Perhaps bits of information might help clear the confusion and penetrate the maze.

Behind the persona, I am 51 years old, thrice a father, once a grandfather (so far), living in central North Carolina in a pine forest. My wife and I have moved here from California, emigrants from what seems now a foreign country to a place that seems more familiar than our short acquaintance should define. It is a rather quiet place, all in all. It is 50 miles from any real city, so does not much partake of the problems of such places (again, this is like Beleg's imaginary land, which is only partly odd), though one can see such problems flit by. That might be a good subject for a chat one of these days. Unlike Beleg, I am not 6 ft 6 in, nor dark-haired, nor ageless (just aging). It is in physical appearance that the least important characteristics emerge anyhow. Beleg and I are emotionally and intellectually similar.

And what's most important? Proclaiming God. Do I care about politics? Yes: politicians can destroy or pervert religion more quickly than just about anyone else, including George Soros. How about sports? Well, yes, but it's supposed to be about excellence in artificial effort, not about emotional crisis. If I want emotional crisis, I take a look at culture. Those people are paid to cry. Sometimes they take it too seriously. This blog intends to try to lower the seriousness level of such nexes. Through it all, the point is God's will and His workings in this world. It's not often clear and much of the time can easily be mistaken for any kind of lower influence, but the least of His creatures is still a marvel of His providence and love.

And we'll spend our time with that.

In Christ. +

Horses Hit by Barn Doors, England

Same-sex issuing dividing church

Rory Leishman of the London Free Press reports:

Following last week's closed-door meeting of Anglican primates in Northern Ireland, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, told the Anglican Journal he had feared the gathering would expel the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church of the United States from the worldwide Anglican Communion.

As it is, the primates stopped just short of declaring an outright
schism by requesting that the Canadian and United States churches "voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference (in 2008)." The council is a representative body of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion that provides advice on church policy.

Beleg says:

The problem here is democracy. Most people tend to connote only good things with that word. They seem to use it as a universal political solvent. If the goal is something 'democratic', then by golly it's gonna be good.

Well, no. It is one thing to have an authority and it is quite another to have a panel of experts 'advising' people. That's one sure way to make sure nobody toes any particular line, even if they originally wanted to. The Anglican Communion has prided itself on its intellectual probity. It has had a lot of probity, down the ages, just not very much lately, and the issue of having two very large, very wayward Provinces just determined to spit in everybody else's face and then make then start spitting too would not come up were there an actual authority. For myself, a Colonial who has only walked about in Gatwick Airport without ever actually touching ground, I'd 'advise' that the AC turn from democracy, make the doctrinal decision and lay down the law. I'd even suggest a particular lane to choose, but whichever one, pick one and say 'That's Anglicanism.' It works for Rome and more or less works for the Orthodox. We ought to try it.