So much for the benefit of the doubt...

So, I had planned on blogging just a tiny bit tonight before leaving for the Bay Area for Christmas, and had expected a nice piece about Advent waiting. That might still ensue, if I am not too jet-lagged and have internet access tomorrow.

But today's Boston Globe has me just a little bit, well, waiting for the kingdom again, as it were. When I wrote some time ago about the removal of Fr. Walter Cuenin from his parish in Newton due to financial impropriety, I was upset at the use of a technicality by the diocese in what seemed to be an act of reprisal due to his positions on a number of controversial church issues. At the same time, I was really, really trying to give the archdiocese the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were just trying to keep everyone on the same page? Maybe it was simply that the diocese was trying to crack down on any financial impropriety...

But in today's paper, one finds this lovely story about Fr. Hugh O'Regan, who over the past six years has been funneling money from one parish that he serves at to another. He will face no disciplinary action. His parishioners at Holy Trinity never knew about the money transfers -- or their parish's overall financial health -- because he never convened a finance council for the parish. (Incidentally, this is the one parish institution involving lay people required by canon law to exist in a parish...there's no absolute requirement for a parish to even have a parish council, but according to canon 537, there is to be a finance council...). While it might be nice to think that this is "an honest bookkeeping mistake," as the archdiocesan spokesperson described it, I'm honestly flabbergasted at the double standard here. Apparently financial irregularities only get you removed from a pastorate if your pastoral council knows about them, approves them, and regularly reports them to the parish. If you keep your parishioners in the dark (or happen to host the archdiocese's Latin Mass?), little things like playing with the numbers aren't really a problem. I can only hope that more people start pointing out the ridiculousness of this rather than just letting it slide.


Childish, Yes...But Funny

So, this is normally the sort of thing that I send off to thirty unsuspecting friends and acquaintances ...in other words, I find this hilarious, but others tend not to. But that's why I have a blog now, so people can choose whether or not they want to walk into the cluttered anteroom of my psyche. From www.t-shirthumor.com.


Cavalcade of Bad Nativities

Since we're almost halfway into Advent, you should check out the Cavalcade of Bad Nativities at www.GoingJesus.com. My personal favorite: these fun (and wise!) owls. Knuck, knuck, knuck.

This year, she's added Angels We Have Heard Are High, a celebration of freaky-deaky angels. As she writes, "sometimes the angels just can't resist taking a chicken out for a spin..." As you might imagine, half the fun is in her witty running commentary, here and in "the Passion of the Tchotchke" and "the Stations of the Kitsch." Hopefully she won't end up in Episcopalian hell, surrounded by Thomas Kinkade landscapes forever....


My favorite collect ever...

There, now how many bloggers can you find out there who not only have a favorite collect, but are willing to admit it in public?

My favorite collect ever is for today, Thursday of the First Week of Advent:

we need your help.
Free us from sin and bring us to life.
Support us by your power.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, etc...

What I most like about this one is the simplicity of it, and I remember it mainly because my shorter morning and evening prayer only used the prayers from the first week of Advent for all four weeks. If Advent is a time for getting back in touch with the need to wait for the kingdom, and to call out, even lament, the fact that the heavens need to be rent once more, then this captures it pretty well. In a time when war is raging, where my own church seems intent on making me run away from it, when life is difficult for friends and colleagues, when the cold is setting in and the leaves are beginning to rot away, this prayer is, for me at least, a great way of bringing that longing, that sense of shriveling in a world that seems not to have been changed by Christ, directly into my prayer. And, like all good liturgical prayers, my personal sin and my personal need for help are not considered in isolation, but as part of the "we" who need God's help, the "we" who struggle with sin, the "we" who have tasted the beginnings of new life but haven't sat down at the banquet table yet.


Modern-day pilgrimage?

Tipped off by an article in today's Boston Globe, I thought I would share with you the story of Winter, a young-ish man fulfilling his strange, crazy, corporate fetishistic dream. As you can see by visiting his website, starbuckseverywhere.net, Winter is attempting to drink a full cup of coffee in every Starbucks on the planet. With the single-minded devotion of a pilgrim attempting to see as many elevations of the host as possible, combined with modern tech, Winter is recording all of his visits, although, understandably, he doesn't seem to have time to comment on all of them. There's a documentary beginning to appear at film festivals, Starbucking, recording Winter's travels.

So is this a form of popular religiosity? Devotion to a corporate Other in whose gaze one always finds oneself? The film's director comments, ''as I've looked at all this footage of Starbucks, I often wonder where the hell I am. They're all the same. It's like a universal living room. There's a living room in cities across the world, and they're all the same." Can Starbucks, like airports, function as a Victor-Turner-esque liminal space conveniently located in your own neighborhood due to their omnipresence and lack of distinction? (What someone who wasn't afraid of getting cut off from his own local Starbucks might call "banality"? Note that I am not that someone...) If God is dead and the nation-state is too frail to hold our loyalties, might not corporate fascism, with all of the associated popular epiphenomena like Mr. Winter, be already gaining ground? I say this as someone who just went 50 miles out of his way while traveling home for Thanksgiving to hit the new IKEA (having a swedish meatball in every IKEA...now that hasn't been tried yet...), so I know a bit about internalizing branding. Mr. Winter might be the canary in the mine, warning of how closely attached to our corporations, the all-wise, the merciful, we've become. I need to go back and re-read my Postman.


Fun blog titles

You just have to love the title: "This Week in Gay Church Schisms"

I just got back from T-Giving with the folks, more on the Vatican document on homosexuals (sorry, those with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies") in the priesthood to follow.


American Academy of Religion

Your favorite BaptizedPagan will be heading down to Philadelphia next week for the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, a.k.a. the Carnival. If you're going to be in Philly, let me know and perhaps we can chat about life, the universe, and everything while battling concupiscence at the book exhibit...

ADDENDUM 11/10/5
There's a great list on Sushiesque on "Some Papers to Be Presented at the AAR Whose Titles End With Question Marks. Thanks to Sanksritboy, and my bf, a regular reader thereof, for the link.

IKEA and St. John Lateran

Today is the feast of the dedication of St. John Lateran in Rome, the cathedral church of the diocese of Rome. It's also opening day for the first IKEA in Massachusetts, in Stoughton, just south of Boston. Coincidence?

I have mixed feelings about IKEA; at one level, I love (and I mean _love_) the design; they treat their workers very well; and, for the graduate student wanting cheap furniture without it looking like grandma's house, it's a sweet deal. My own home and my office are full of IKEA stuff. But it does, or could, lead to overconsumption; this is not furniture designed to be placed in a monastery in order to last forever, but designed to hold a place until your taste or your budget changes. (Also...fun Marxist critique of the way in which the illusion of equality at the purchasing end ignores the inequalities at the production end available here.)

But mostly I'm just happy not to have to schlep to New Haven anymore in order to buy søfas, väses, and cute little låmps. We had thought about driving down there today for opening day, but decided it might be a little too crazy. As of 12 noon, there's a one-mile backup on the highway, which I can imagine will only get worse. Avoid route 24 this weekend!


Catholic Higher Education

According to a recent "Inside Higher Education" article, questions about the Catholic identity are back in play again, or are likely to be back in play again, soon.

Now, as an aspiring theologian, I'm rather suspicious of attempts to regulate Catholic identity by the use of canon law; I've commented before on how in the American context the use of law in insttitutions sets up the conditions for a conflictual relationship. At the same time, though, I think one has to be careful of one's knee-jerk reaction that any suggestion from the Vatican that Catholic colleges and universities maintain their Catholic identity is a veiled grab for power...e.g., the kind of reaction that might be suggested by the headline "'Evangelical Pruning' Ahead?". Yes, these are institutional human relationships and it would be naïve to suggest that power is not deeply involved in these discussions; but as Newman suggested in The Idea of a University, "though it had ever so many theological Chairs, that would not suffice to make it a Catholic University." To take the demand of the Vatican seriously means sustaining continued reflection on what it does mean to be a Catholic university, even, perhaps, at the risk of challenging some secular ideas of what a university should be.

Now, and here's where the rub comes in: one can easily find through a quick google search a number of Catholic traditionalist sites suggesting that this sort of conversation has not happened. But it's my impression that the experience of arguing about the implications of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, as well as the particularly problematic situation of the sexual abuse scandal in the American church, have contributed to a lively discussion about the Catholic identity of colleges and universities. Projects like the Church in the 21st Century at Boston College demonstrate a great deal of concern among Catholic educators that the best that their research has to offer, both in the theological sciences and in many other fields, be brought together to make the doctores vital contributors to the wider life of the Catholic church. One fears that, in attempting to evaluate Catholic universities, outside observers might not have enough respect for the particular inculturation of Catholic life in the U.S., and judge that, because a particular kind of Catholic identity (Tridentine piety, strong vocational numbers, strong connections with a local ordinary) is not present at American Catholic universities, that any Catholic identity is missing. It's that fear that might motivate headlines like that above; one can hope and pray (and, I think with some cautious optimism, expect) that a Ratzinger papacy is too intelligent to fall into that trap.

(In a previous incarnation, your correspondent wrote a senior thesis for his B.A. on the implications of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the life of the church. He noted, with some amusement, that the first discussions of Catholic identity began while he was a wee grammar school student at the Cranston-Johnston Catholic Regional School in the early 1980s. One notes with continued amusement, and respect for the different temporality of affairs ecclesial, that over six years have passed since that thesis was written, and the matter remains at hand...)


I Don't Have a Problem....Really

I could quit checking my email whenever I want to...

Hope in Baltimore

An auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, Mitchell Rozanski, celebrated Mass at a parish in Severn, Maryland, on behalf of the Archdiocese, in ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics and their families.

From an attendee: "It gives me hope," said Ed Smith, 53, of Glen Burnie. "It says to me that we can be who and what we are intended to be and that people will accept it. That our religion will accept it and let us be Christians. It tells me that someone has been reading the Bible and learning that Jesus loves everybody."


56% Catholic...a Round-Up on the Court

''The Catholic community is not going out dancing in the streets of Boston tonight because of this nomination,'' said James Davidson, a Purdue University sociologist who researches religion and Supreme Court justices. ''But it still represents a significant development in American religious history.'' This from an AP article on Judge Alito.

Plus a fun pun from Prof. Barbara Perry: "This would add a whole new meaning to the Catholic rite of confirmation," said Barbara A. Perry, a Supreme Court expert at Sweet Briar College in Virginia." In today's Times.

And, to round it off, some extended discussions of, among other things, Alito, anti-Catholicism, and a supposed revival of the Knights Templar as "an elite group of soldiers" by the Vatican, on the Volokh Conspiracy.


Happy Halloween!!!

Lego BaptizedPagan

Thought that you might find this amusing... BaptizedPagan as a lego-person. Thanks to CafeteriaCatholic for this link to ReasonablyClever.


Continuing Conflict in Boston

There's an discussion over at Sacramentum Minimum (formerly Exiled Catholic) on the recent events in Newton over Fr. Walter Cuenin's removal; just in yesterday, from the Boston Globe, is a report on two church musicians from St. Gabriel parish in Brighton, Mass., and their responses to a weekend sermon calling on Catholics to sign the Massachusetts petition against gay marriage. The organist walked out, and the cantor briefly spoke from her microphone against the petition. The latter was immediately fired, and the organist resigned in solidarity. One wishes that we had some good social scientific data to determine how that congregation, or lots of other congregations like it, are taking the recent R.C. push against same-sex marriage in the state. Are they more likely to be running out to help support the initiative, or are they likely to be more like the elderly woman described in the article as thanking Colleen Bryant, the cantor, for saying something? All I have is anecdotal evidence, which only goes so far...

Here in Massachusetts, the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry has been collecting signatures for a Roman Catholic Statement Supporting Marriage Equality to provide an alternate voice to the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. Past readers of this blog will know that I'm constitutionally (nice pun, eh!) wary about institutionalizing or absolutizing divisions within the Christian community in general and within my Catholic church in particular; the danger of polarization, of mutual demonization, and of forgetting our communion with people with whom we sometimes disagree looms large, but I think that this petition's tone and its rootedness in Catholic social teaching goes far in attempting to avoid that problem.


James Alison's Website

So, it's not his official website, but's it close; the website "James Alison. Theology." has many of James' texts, some from talks and lectures, and some from his past publications.
Also, if you want to see a lecture that James gave in person at Boston College two years ago, there's an audio file and a video file available at B.C.'s "Front Row" server.

He's still probably my favorite theologian, and has done more to help me grow spiritually as a Christian and a gay man than almost any other writer. Check out what he has to say.

Back in the Saddle

Thanks for some of your kind messages...
No, I'm not missing, I've just been wicked busy...I know not an excuse...perhaps more importantly, I've actually been out of the habit of writing on here, which can easily become a problem.

I don't know if other people experience their blogs extrovertedly or introvertedly, that is, whether they see their blogging as primarily a public event and imagine their audience while writing, or as a private event, in which they are writing mainly for themselves, and others just happen to be looking over the shoulder of their psyches.

In my experience, blogging is a very extroverted event. I can't help but imagine others' reactions, attempt to be just a little more erudite or witty in their virtual presence -- basically, when I'm writing on here, I'm "on". Previously, this was not a problem, since I spent large portions of my day alone at my desk, and so even virtual contact was better than no contact. Now, however, I live with 400 19-21-year-olds, and spend much of my day in their company. Even my time with my bf has changed; no longer can we have nice, relaxing meals sitting next to eachother reading the New Yorker and the Atlantic, with the occasional harumph crossing the table; instead, we have students to the right of us, students to the left of us (students in front of us, volley and thunder...). I'm definitely enjoying it, and I think I'm doing a pretty good job of being a mentor and role model (none of my students has become an axe-murderer or a Republican donor...yet), but it has been far more emotionally draining than I thought it would be. The greatest surprise of this change has been remembering how much of a constitutional introvert I am. More to follow...I'll try to keep including the rest of y'all at the table...


Laws, Roman and American

John Allen had an op-ed early this week in the New York Times outlining how an Italian understanding of law as an ideal rather than a strict rule might influence interpretations of the ban on ordaining gay men that supposedly is coming down the pike.

For your benefit, here's a short letter that I wrote in response, but which the Grey Lady in her wisdom didn't see fit to print:

John Allen is an astute decoder of the often murky ways of the Vatican; if he ever opts for a change of career, he would be uniquely positioned for a posting to Pyongyang. From my limited knowledge of Vatican practice and canon law, he is absolutely correct to note the distinction between Italian and Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards law.

One might note, however, an additional wrinkle: while the distinction between a legal ideal and a more humane reality on the ground makes perfect sense in an Italian context, those same laws are not going to be interpreted and applied in the United States by Italians, but by Americans with a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon understanding of jurisprudence. The closest recent parallel to the current discussion of ordaining gay men might be the conflict in the last ten years over the encyclical _Ex Corde Ecclesiae_. That document suggested that Roman Catholic theologians ought to receive a mandate to teach from their local bishop. By making this suggestion a legal requirement, the Vatican thought it was expressing its respect for the position of theologians in the church; American theologians and bishops, however, immediately interpreted it as a legal requirement which quickly established the two as parties in opposition, a situation with continuing repercussions up to now.

Similarly, in this case, Italian law will be enforced by American prelates, with a different sense of this law's significance. While time in Rome may have given many of our leading clergy a greater taste in Italian cuisine and wine, it is unlikely in most cases to have thoroughly changed their basic intellectual horizon. They will enforce the law as Americans, not Italians, and the space left for exceptions to the rule will be narrower in the United States than in non-Anglo-Saxon cultures. Bracketing the troubling question of whether such a situation is "ideal" to begin with, this move to limit the ordination of gay men is complicated by problems of enculturation -- problems which are likely to lead not to an Italianate application of charity but to a systemic exclusion of qualified men from the priesthood.

Priests are finally responding...and getting hurt for it

For those of you outside of the Boston area, there's been a lot of brouhaha lately, and an attempt to enlist the support of Catholic priests in a petition drive to put a new anti-same-sex marriage amendment on the ballot appears to be backfiring.

First, Fr. Walter Cuenin, a beloved pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton was abruptly removed from his pastorate last weekend for financial reasons. Now, he was not embezzling cash or something, but received a stipend and a use of the car from the parish. All of this was on the up-and-up, with the financial council approving it. It had never even been addressed in past diocesan audits...until last weekend, when Fr. Cuenin refused to distribute the petition at the Sunday masses and wrote in his bulletin letter against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now one of the most respected pastors in the diocese, a diocese with a shortage of priests and a history of, shall we say, less than respectable priests in some parishes in recent years, is out of a position.

Meanwhile, the AP also reports today that Fr. George Lange of St. Luke the Evangelist in Westborough was replaced last weekend at all Masses by Bishop McManus for writing in his parish bulletin last weekend (not uploaded to their website) that "The priests of this parish do not feel that they can support this amendment. They do not see any value to it and they see it as an attack upon certain people in our parish, namely those who are gay." Fr. Lange was reprimanded by McManus from the pulpit.

I 've been rather sad in recent weeks about everything that is happening in my church, a community that I love and for which I'm afraid. I've been blogging less partly due to other commitments, and partly out of sheer inertia in the face of the enormity of these weeks. As a gay man, I'm particularly afraid for my gay brothers who are priests and seminarians. But these two items, disturbing as they are, give me a great deal of hope. These are priests who are acting in persona Christi, to use the technical language, in a very real way, and are paying a price for it. Bonhoeffer talks about "costly grace", and we laity need to stand up and thank our clergy when they challenge us and challenge their colleagues, their peers, and especially their bosses. Perhaps that indelible character thing might be working after all. Please keep Frs. Cuenin and Lange, their parishioners, and our still bruised church here in Boston in your prayers.


Pope approves barring gay seminarians

Catholic World News is reporting that Benedict has approved a proposed instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education that homosexual men, even if celibate, should not be admitted to seminaries.

Now what do we do? It doesn't help that the CWN report seems to almost gloat, or at least suggest that this entirely makes sense. For example,

The pending release of the Instruction, in the face of certain criticism from liberal forces in America and Western Europe, demonstrates the determination of the Vatican to improve the quality of priestly ministry, and to protect the Church from some of the scandals that have recently shaken the Catholic community-- and no doubt deterred many men from entering priestly training.

Yes, all those gay men were ruining the quality. Sorry, that's snippier than I usually intend to be, but I'm kind of not so happy right now.

Updated 9:26 pm
Newsday also has a story reporting on the CWN story. It seems that Catholic World News might not be an entirely objective source (!), which is significant in that while everyone knew that the pope was looking at the document, the Vatican hasn't made a formal pronouncement yet. CWN's website describes it as staffed by lay catholic journalists and states that it "seeks to provide loyal Catholics and other interested readers with all the daily news that affects their Church and their faith." One with more suspicious motives (not me, of course), might wonder if the good folks of CWN were trying to push somebody's hand; if it's been reported that the pope has banned something, it would take a lot more publicity and explanation as to why the pope was now "in favor of" ordaining homosexuals if the initial reports were wrong...

Recruits Sought for Porn Squad

It's difficult for something to be funny and sad at the same time. But this administration seems to be pretty good at it. (To be fair, it's partially the result of a congressional mandate...)
More substantive posts in the next day or so, I have a few in the editing stage, but have been, to use my native patois, wickit busy.


His Noodly Appendage...

For some comic relief, check out the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

More substantive posts to follow, my students are moving in.


Barbara Bush is a Mean Old Biddie

There, now that I've gotten your attention. I'm hoping this is a problem of context, taken from the American Public Media radio show, Marketplace:

In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of
evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost
everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to

Then she added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of
scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is
so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you
know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she
chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Yeah, so well.


Louisiana Province of Jesuits

Is accepting donations directly at their website for victims of Katrina.


Marian Litany for the US

Nathan over at Exiled Catholic has created a litany invoking Mary as she is titled patroness for all 50 states (and the District of Columbia!). I'm a little nervous that this could be used in a nationalist way, but still think it's pretty neat. Where did you find the list of titles, Nathan?

New Orleans, Christianity and the Future

Over lunch today, my political scientist partner remarked that the experience of New Orleans provided a pedagogically helpful starting point for discussing the Hobbesian view of human life and nature, as nasty, brutish, and all that. Some of the sufferings of the poor and marginalized of New Orleans seem to bear that out.

Psalm 72, one of the Psalms from last evening's daily office, includes one of my favorite passages from the psalms: "May people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field." As I've explained to some people before, I always find that supposedly breathtaking natural vistas fill me wonder and a sense of their beauty, but cityscapes are truly breathtaking to me; seeing Boston's skyline after turning the bend on I-93 excited me every time as a child, and still makes me feel like I'm floating today. Cities are not mentioned too much in the Psalms, except in reference to Jerusalem or to the City of God, and most imagery tends to be natural or pastoral in tone. But the grandeur of cities pokes its way through at many places, like here in last evening's Psalm.

It was therefore with a great sense of mourning last evening that I prayed those words while watching scenes of New Orleans falling apart. And more. While not wanting to be alarmist, I think that it might be realistic to expect that New Orleans is not the last major American city we're going to find in pieces in our lifetimes. Whether due to more storms, to terrorist attacks, or to the simple crumbling of a civic landscape running on fumes in a number of senses (if you want to see New Orleans in slow motion, look what we've let happen to Detroit), our cities remain fragile places, fragile islands where hundreds of thousands of people are able to live together peacefully not necessarily through their own merits or efforts, but through our dumb luck of living in the prosperity of the early twenty-first century. We are not in the habit of shoring up our cities; we are not in the habit of patching up the levees of our own greed and self-interest with the decisions and sacrifices needed to maintain a common good, a "commonwealth", in these times. We are not in the habits of learning to care for each other and, more, to put others ahead of ourselves, when the lights fail, when the trains don't run, when food becomes more scarce. While I very much hope that I'm wrong, I've also read enough Bernard Lonergan and enough history to know how easily a lack of attentive, rational, responsible living can begin and hasten a merciless cycle of decline.

There is hope in this, however, a hope that we can begin learning in the concrete details of our own personal experiences of suffering. Christians have, by and large, always lived in unimaginable times. They do today as well. It's only my experience and, to make some assumptions, by and large the experience of anyone reading this blog, that makes Christianity seem to fit so easily into the bourgeois security of middle class, educated America. I fear that the coming decades will give many more of us the opportunity to practice Christianity, or to abandon it, in the difficulties of collective disorder, of a stumbling economy, of a more profound insecurity. September 11th no longer seems like such an isolated incident anymore. Will we sacrifice our values of non-violence and love of neighbor when that neighbor's survival will threaten our comfort? Will we have the ability to practice "costly discipleship" in the years to come? Will we be able to call ourselves Christians in any meaningful sense, and will we suffer for it?

Augustine wrote The City of God as Roman civilization was becoming increasingly irrational around him in Western Europe, and as refugees from the sack of Rome were landing on his shores in North Africa. Even as I re-read my words, they seem too rooted in fear and in the heat in the air at the end of the summer. But watching New Orleans stumble and fall is sending me back to Augustine; if I'm wrong, I'll know my Augustine much better; if I'm sadly prescient for a change, I'll start gaining some wisdom regarding how to follow Christ in times of famine.


John Paul Two, We, Er, Condemn You...

From a traditionalist website, "100 Direct Contradictions to the Catholic Faith by John Paul II." Wowsers. And who says that JPII was too traditionalist?

Haven't been blogging...warning...rambling ahead...

So I'm sorry, I guess...but I have had other things to do for the last few weeks.

My partner and I moved at the end of July into our new digs at John Winthrop House, an undergraduate residential community at Harvard University. Due to the joys of institutional logistics, we weren't able to move into our final apartment until around the 18th of the month, and were living in a temporary apartment next door. It's amazing how much one's attitude towards life and ability to work gets affected simply by the fact of living out of boxes and suitcases -- a realization that has been increasingly disturbing as I've been following the headlines out of New Orleans. I'm only now just getting ready to get back into work full swing, and feeling grounded enough in my own space to start sending missives out into the blogosphere again. I can only begin to imagine how emotionally deadened the residents of New Orleans, both those trapped in the increasingly desperate city and those staying with friends or family miles away for what they thought would only be a day or two, must be to realize that their homes, their ground, has literally washed away from under them.

I received email today that the Jesuit colleges and universities in the country may start taking on students from flooded out Loyola New Orleans as visiting students. They've still been unable to get in touch with Fr. Kevin Wildes, the president of Loyola. There are lots of ways to contribute money to help the victims of the disaster to start re-building their lives; I've always used Catholic Charities USA (the domestic sister program of Catholic Relief Services, which provides U.S. Catholic funding for international crises, like Darfur and Niger), because by using the Catholic institutions already in place, they're usually able to get a large amount of aid out there quickly with a very high percentage of the donation going directly to relief.

In our new space at Harvard, we'll have responsibilities for about 30 students in our immediate area, as well as for students in our concentrations, and LGBT students and issues in the house. Since there are only about 10 religioius studies students in each class at Harvard, I'm going to be trying to expand the idea of what a "religious studies tutor" is all about; though there are fewer religion concentrators, there are lots of religious undergraduates who have a good deal of support within their own religious communities, but might not necessarily feel that appreciated or understood by "godless Harvard" as a whole, or in the various institutions of the university in particular. That might be an impression that needs correcting, and I have no doubt that there are numbers of tutors, staff and faculty who are much more sensitive to issues of religious practice than the phrase "godless Harvard" might imply; on the other hand, being sensitive to religious practictioners is something different than having real, live practicings someone's living on your hall or being in a position of authority in academia. From my short experience, that is a bit rarer, and I'm hoping that by being a point person for "all things religious" around the House, I might help in opening some points of common discussion.

In other news, the Paulist Center Catholic community, my home church, is starting to gear up again for the fall. I had a small hand in finally getting webpages up for our Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and Reception of Baptized Christians into Full Communion programs. So, if you know someone in the Boston area who's thinking about becoming a Christian, completing an initiation begun in childhood baptism, or becoming a Roman Catholic Christian, now you know where to send them!


Beautiful Post

By David over at Reader, I Married Him on faithfulness and the funeral of his friend. It's a great witness to the fact that we can still love each other well, even when, or perhaps precisely because, we don't quite understand each other. Recognizing the mystery of another person as a mystery, rather than a puzzle, is a constant challenge.


Brother Roger of Taizé

Brother Roger, the founder of the religious community at Taizé, France, was stabbed to death last evening, apparently by a mentally disturbed pilgrim. Pray for his community, and for the ecumenical community, as we lose such a holy man.


Totally Cheap Rhode Island Post

So, this is totally a cop-out, but I'm cleaning out old email files and re-found this collection of "You know you're from Rhode Island when..." statements. I've described Rhode Island as a veritable "Galapagos Island" of strange culinary and cultural patterns, and this list gives you a decent sense of just how odd we native Rhode Islanders can be. A lot of these lists tend to be rather vague and more "New England" oriented, but this one is real deal, and a good insight into our weirdness. My personal favorites are "You feel compelled to hear at least one weather report a day" and "You serve bread with every meal" -- both habits that drive my partner crazy, that I never realized were somehow less than normal until he informed me that in California, as well as other parts of the world, you don't get half a loaf of bread with, say, Chinese take-out...

You say "please" if you want something repeated.
You consider a car journey of longer than one hour a day trip.
You can curse in Italian.
You know the basic rules of DuckPin bowling.
You own garden tools from Job Lot.
You have tried to drive the measured mile in less then 45 seconds.
You know what the expression "side by each" means.
You have talked about graphic surgery at the dinner table.
You have used the expression "Not For Nuthin" or "bubbla".
You serve bread with every meal.
You know what "3 all the way" means.
You load up on milk and bread before a snowstorm.
You feel compelled to hear at least one weather report a day.
You understand the humor of the Ocean State Follies.
You have pulled out of a sidestreet and used your car to block oncoming traffic so you could make a left-hand turn.
You consider your holiday season incomplete without a trip to Lasalette Shrine.
You have a bottle of coffee syrup in the fridge right now.
You've phoned into a talk show on WPRO or WHJJ.
You have given a bottle of Sakonnet wine as a gift.
You've gotten sick from eating too many clam cakes.
You own at least one coffee table book with a picture of a lighthouse on it.
You've boasted about the money you saved at the Christmas Tree Shop.
Your first live concert was at The Civic Center, Rocky Point or RI AUDITORIUM!!!!
You own a hat with a red "P" on it.
You have a secret desire to muss up Doug White's hair.
You were born at Lying-In Hospital.
You still call the Rhode Island Mall the Midland Mall.
You have close relatives who work for the state.
You've gone to "Legs and Eggs".
You have used a demolished landmark when giving directions.
You secretly watch "Providence" even though you tell your friends you don't.
You have slammed on your breaks to discourage a tailgater.
You know what a burger "The Newport Creamery Way" is.
You have dated a girl named Brenda or a guy named Vinnie.
You have used the breakdown lane on 95 to pass someone.
You've personally met Vinnie Paz.
Your idea of a dream house is a raised ranch.
You have relatives who have been to Edgehill Newport, Codac, or Butler.
You have driven more than 5 miles out of your way to save less than two bucks.
You been on a RIPTA bus less than 2 times in the past 6 years.
You can sing the Rocky Point theme song.
You know what a "governor-preferred" plate is.
You've asked your mechanic for an inspection sticker even though your car failed to pass.
You have a degree from RIC, CCRI or URI.
You think vodka and Del's is a great combination.
You've been to Twin Oaks for your birthday.
You've borrowed dealer plates from a friend.
You know how to pronounce Pawtucket, Cowesett, Usqepaug, and Narragansett.
You've been to Scarborough Beach but not Block Island.
You've been on a Bay Queen cruise.
You can recognize a Cranston accent.
You think high hair, gold chains, and gum go together.
You think there's a "v" in the name Cheryl.
You drop the "w" in Greenwich, Kingstown, and Warwick.
You use the expression "down-city" for downtown.
You've eaten at Haven Brothers.
You celebrate St. Joseph's Day and know what a "zeppolla" is.
You have at least one gallon of Newport Creamery coffee ice cream in your freezer.
You know what "ProJo" stands for.
You still call CCRI "reject".
You know who Jack Comly, Sara Wye and Sherm Strickhauser are.
You think that "party/potty" "God/guard" "law/lore" and "hot/heart" are examples of homonyms.
Your city house and your beach house are less than an hour away from each other.
You know the original name for Airport Road.
You always start giving directions by saying, "Well, you get on 95?"
You know where "NiRoPe" comes from.
You know what "John from Alpert's" sounds like.
You can recite the license plates of all your family members and friends.
You know where " the Hill" is located.
You refer to the movies as the Show.
You know what Allie's makes.
You know what a "package store" is.
You think lots of gold jewelery looks great on the beach.
Your favorite expressions are, "Are you serious?", "Wicked", and "You know what I'm saying?"
You know you need "quahogs" to make "stuffies".
You know there's a West End but not a West Providence.
You think banana, vanilla, and idea all end in "r".



Heya, I just bought a domain name over at GoDaddy, so now you can set your bookmarks or direct your friend(s) to BaptizedPagan.org. Isn't that fun?
Also, I promise some more substantial posts coming soon, just been a busy (and hot!) few days here in Cambridge.



Juliet and Juliet!

Today's Globe reports that the swan pair gracing Boston's Public Garden, named Romeo and Juliet, would perhaps more accurately go by Juliet and Juliet. "Marty Rouse, campaign director of MassEquality, said in a telephone interview: 'We should still cherish and love our swans, no matter whom they choose to swim with.' "


Two Items from the Boston Globe

Today's Boston Globe has two interesting articles, both about matters Catholic:

First, in the Globe's Ideas section (the equivalent of the NY Times "Week in Review"), Drake Bennett of the Globe has an article entitled "Faithful interpretations: is there a Catholic way to interpret the Constitution?" Bennett is primarily reporting on the work, apparently quite longstanding, of a law professor named Sanford V. Levinson of the University of Texas at Austin. Levinson has used a broad-based distinction between Catholic and Protestant approaches to scripture and interpretation as a model for understanding judicial theory. What Levinson is not doing, to be very clear, is saying that practicing Catholics and practicing Protestants interpret the U.S. Constitution differently; in fact, as the article points out, the two most "Protestant constitutionalists" on the current court, Thomas and Scalia, are both practicing Catholics (and the inconsistency there might be interesting to investigate...). If you're interested in those questions, Catholics and the Court is a little bit of a hot topic these days, as noted a little while ago and in today's New York Times. Levinson suggests that some justices regard the Constitution (the "scripture" in this analysis) as an originally perfect document; they are therefore suspicious of later developments, changing interpretations, etc. These would be his "constitutional protestants." Others see the ongoing process of development and change, all under the direction of the judiciary magisterium, as an inevitable, even a positive, process. These would be his Catholics.

Now, it's important to note that the Catholic/Protestant dichotomy, even in analyzing religious life, sometimes still makes a lot of sense, and sometimes makes significantly less sense, so we should have the salt shaker at hand and not turn what Levinson seems to characterize as a useful heuristic device into an all-encompassing judicial theory. But, as a cradle Catholic in a long-standing relationship with a cradle Protestant, I've found that the differences between these two branches of Christianity (what would an "Orthodox constitutionalist" look like?) do sometimes, though not always, help to explain quirks, miscommunications, and to occasionally provide good answers to the "why do you do it that way?" questions. Perhaps it could do the same for understanding the justices.

Second, the Globe magazine has a cover story on Shane Paul O'Doherty, a former IRA bomber who is now a pacifist studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood. This was one of those articles that I almost skipped past, but found worth the time to read. According to the reporter, his solitary confinement -- punishment for his numerous letter bombings, including the attempted bombing of the Catholic bishop who was the chaplain to the British Army -- became a monastic experience that turned his life towards God. What I found most touching, as well as indicative of the current crop of seminarians, in Ireland as elsewhere, was the following excerpt:

His classmates had told me an illuminating story. In one class, they engaged in role-playing. The instructors hung three signs around their necks and asked the seminarians to stand behind the person who most needed the support of a priest. Most stood in back of the person labeled as religious. A few stood in back of the person labeled a prostitute. Only O'Doherty stood behind the person labeled a homosexual.

Asked about it, O'Doherty shrugs.

"Hey, I was in prison. I was married. I have a gay brother. Who am I to judge anyone?"

Now, while some might dismiss this as crazy modern liberal relativism, remember that this is a tolerance not born of philosophical nihilism or consumerist indifference, but a tolerance born the old-fashioned way: through an experience of one's own sinfulness and an attempt to model God's love for oneself in one's love for others, however stumblingly or hesitantly. I'm hoping to read more about Fr. O'Doherty some day.


The New Catholics

This past Sunday's Boston Globe magazine has an article about "the new Catholic", a rolling interview with a number of young Catholics from the Boston area, some of whom are going to World Youth Day this month. One thing that I found most interesting was the fact that while many of them agree with positions that we might label "liberal" or "conservative", they really are a scattershot of ideas. While this is obviously a less than scientific empirical sample, it provides a good example of how a dichotomous model approach to analyzing these sorts of things doesn't always work so well. (Perhaps especially when it comes to divisions within churches? I'm not ready to stand by that, but my social scientist friends, help me out...)

One things that was quite heartening for me is that the 18-year-old who took more conservative stances on the ordination of women and on abortion had this to say about homosexuality:

I know people who are gay, and I'm fine with it. I'm for gay rights and things of that nature. This is one area where I don't agree with the church 100 percent.

Whether this will continue to be the case only in North American Roman Catholicism is an open question.

Conversely, in today's Word from Rome by John Allen of NCR (regular readers know that he's my most trustworthy source for matters Romish), Allen reports on a panel at which he spoke at Graymoor, the motherhouse of the Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, who have been leaders in ecumenical work for more than one hundred years. Dale Irwin, the dean of the New York Theological Seminary, had this to say on attitudes towards homosexuality in Africa, which have become such a focus of conflict in the Anglican communion:

Based on his contacts with Christians in the developing world, Irwin said the liberal/conservative distinction isn't the lone, or perhaps even the main, factor in shaping African attitudes. Instead, he said, African Christians recall the long, and still not completely resolved, battles they fought to abolish their custom of polygamy because Western Christians insisted that only monogamous heterosexual marriage is moral. Now, he said, they resent Western attempts to shift the goalposts by saying that homosexuality is really okay. It comes across as another Western colonial imposition.

That's a really interesting problem that we who are frustrated, or frightened, by the advances of Christianity in the global south and some of the "conservative" positions taken by African and Asian Christians on sexual matters need to reflect on for a while. How do we present what we have found to be a true vision of God's will in non-traditional understandings of sexuality, without imposing, or appearing to impose, our views on other cultures once more? There's more to think about here, in terms of the relationships between inculturation and ethics, so watch for a later post where I'll try to develop my views more.


The Coming of the Kingdom, Heaven, and All That

I'm the kind of person who likes order, but has a difficult time creating it for myself (ergo the lack of a completed dissertation on my desk...). In my prayer life, this means trying with mixed success to keep my prayer regular, and I've found that one way that helps is by turning to the Liturgy of the Hours, and praying morning and evening prayer. (Plus, my radical soul takes pleasure in re-claiming this "prayer of the church" for all of us, not only for the ordained required by canon law to pray in this way.)

The texts have their ups and downs; I find myself often mumbling through or adding to prayers for "our brothers", or doing some almost-but-not-quite-Lutheran theological reflection on all Christians' participation in the priesthood of Christ. Praying the psalms is an ancient Christian practice, and the rhythm of a day that begins with the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) and ends with the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) helps to put me on the lookout for God's work in the world during the day; almost the equivalent of church bells or a zen chime, but in words.

You also find some really good stuff sometimes in the intercessions or collects, which are the same collects used at mass those days; this past Tuesday (we're in Week II, if you want to check yourself or look into praying the Liturgy of the Hours with the help of the Liturgy of the Hours Apostolate...download it to your PDA!), the closing collect read as follows:

Lord Jesus Christ,
true light of the world,
you guide all mankind to salvation.
Give us the courage, strength and grace
to build a world of justice and peace,
ready for the coming of that kingdom,
where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Now, at a quick read (and most of us, clergy or laity, at mass or at home in our rooms, far too easily give these things a quick read), this is just the same old stuff...strength and grace, justice and peace, yadda yadda yadda, one God, for ever and ever, etc. But I was lucky to actually stop short and pay attention the other morning at how well this prayer expresses the Christian idea of the relationship between our work for justice and the coming of God's reign.

Some of the most easily misunderstood and/or confusable concepts among most Christians are "heaven", "kingdom of God", "building the kingdom", etc. More than anyone else, N.T. Wright's work, especially the most recent installment of his "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series, The Resurrection of the Son of God, has helped me to reach a little more clarity on what the biblical authors and early Christians meant by resurrection, and meant by the "coming of the kingdom." By itself, it's a great antidote to the popular Pelagianism/Arminianism (pick your heresy!) by which we all are very concerned about "getting to heaven". In Wright's views, and those of others who have looked critically at eschatology, one important aspect of Christian belief in the resurrection is the idea that the reign of God is this-worldly, not other-worldly. Now stop and read that again. The reign of God isn't on a fluffy cloud somewhere, but is meant to be here; we're meant to return to a situation in which the world is God's carefully planned garden, and we walk with God in the evenings...

Now, your next question might be, "wait a minute, that sounds a lot like modern western liberal utopias, that are trying to take God out of the picture and make Christianity only about building a just world. If that's the case, we've already tried that, and it didn't go so well, either for liberal Protestantism or for secular utopianism." That's where the theology hinted at in this prayer pops in with another warning. It really is supposed to be a reign that God brings into play, not us. Pace Dan Schutte's hymn "City of God", we don't build it, God does, and the language of the book of revelation about the descent of the New Jerusalem from heaven might be a good reminder that if we start building our own cities of God, they're liable to get crushed. But this can't be a recipe for quietism either, for taking an ethical time-out and waiting for God to come in. As Tuesday's collect says, we're "to build a world of justice and peace, ready for the coming of that kingdom..." (emphasis added) To go back to the imagery of the New Jerusalem descending to the earth, our job isn't to build the reign of God, but it is to clear a space, a landing pad, as it were, so that the reign of God doesn't crush anyone underneath, and so that creation, especially we who help steward creation, is ready for it.

Why do we work for justice and peace? If we think that it's because we're suddenly going to rise above our own failings and those of all around us and finally make a world of justice and peace for ourselves, the Christian tradition says that we're going to be sadly disappointed. For a microcosm of this experience, talk to a burned-out social worker or pastoral minister. But if we think that our job is to help get people ready for that kingdom, to tell people what's coming and how they can join the workcrew clearing away some of the underbrush, then we might begin to have the strength to keep getting up everyday and working towards that world. As the prayer says, that requires courage, strength, grace...but it's a hell of a lot easier than requiring us to be God.


Just Moved

So I'm a little more frazzled than usual, because we just moved on Friday, and are still living amid the boxes. My partner and I will be Resident Tutors in John Winthrop House at Harvard this coming fall, living in an undergraduate residence hall and advising/counseling students on our fields of study, LGBT issues, and various other things...including how to consume far too much caffeine on a daily basis.

While officially it's a "position" (this is Harvard, after all), I find myself more often slipping into the language of "ministry". Now, that doesn't mean that I'm going to be running around trying to make everyone Christians, but it does mean that, for me at least, I would have a difficult time separating out my response to the needs and concerns of students from my religious commitments to trying, however imperfectly, to make my life and my relationships be places where God might be more active in the world. We'll be particularly responsible for students who fall under the categories of gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered, as well as, by dint of my field of study, being a point of contact for religious students in the house from a number of traditions. So...as in most of my life...it's going to make for an interesting mix of guests on my doorstep!

The Ethics of Bottled Water

In today's New York Times.

Not to jump on Standage's bandwagon, but this is something that I've wondered about. I remember as a child in the 80s, with my well-worn copy of 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth in hand, watching as environmental activists challenged McDonald's on its styrofoam packinging, for instance, or other corporations on the amount of non-biodegradable plastics they were distributing. But as time went on -- and particularly as I found myself in university dining settings -- the amount of plastic cutlery, plates, etc., seemed to grow, rather than shrink. Standage seems rather concerned about the luxury of northern use of water, but it doesn't seem all that likely that northerners discontinuing their drinking of bottled water is going to stimulate the purification of tap water in the south for which he calls. But the environmental consequences of those hundreds of bottles most of us go through each year, to which he makes a glancing reference, have the potential to do a lot more damage to the next generation.


At least one reason I stay Catholic

The Globe has an article today on Matthew McGarry, a Massachusetts native working in Darfur for Catholic Relief Services. Reading about people like him and knowing lots of people like him often makes me want to quit the academic path and head off somewhere to get my hands more dirty. Does anyone know of academics who have taken sabbaticals to do relief work or a service year somewhere?

At least one thing I can do is encourage you to make contributing to the work of organizations like this a part of your budgeting, rather than an afterthought. CRS has a "sustainers" program, where you can have a small amount ( $5, $7, or $10...or more, if you wish) taken out of your bank account monthly. It's a good way to circumvent one's tendency to procrastinate. More information is available on their website.


Follow up on Schoernborn

I briefly discussed Cardinal Schoernborn's remarks in the NY Times last week, and focused upon his dismissal of John Paul's 1996 letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Today's Word from Rome by John Allen of the NCR suggests that that letter might have had even more significance, in an interview with Fr. George Coyne, S.J. (they're always S.J.'s, aren't they? Maybe Maria Doria Russell was on to something), who is the director of the Vatican observatory. There's also an interview with Niccola Cobbibo, the president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. They might help suggest to my worried scientist friends (including my chemist and copyeditor brother) that the Catholic position on evolution isn't quite as clear, or as foolish, as Schoernborn might have suggested. The concern is to guard against what Cobbibo infelicitously refers to as "evolutionism" (too close for comfort to the original, for most anglophones at least), that is, an understanding of the theory of evolution which moves beyond a description of the workings of the phenomenon to an assertion of those workings as a justification for atheism.


For Boston, for Boston!!!

"We, the depraved citizens of Boston, would like to thank Sen. Santorum for recognizing our city as the modern-day Gomorrah that it is, and pointing out all the ways that Boston has led to the moral decline of the nation."

See Michael Blanding's open letter to Rick Santorum, on behalf of our fair city...

Catholics on the Court

David Brooks writes in today's Times about his love for judicial nominee John Roberts.

In an aside, though, he makes a fascinating and, IMHO, very perceptive observation about the way in which some recent judicial nominee conflicts, especially a few of our more recent Supreme Court conflicts, were in some ways proxy fights for substantive intra-Catholic conflicts. He writes

Confirmation battles have come to seem of late like occasions for bitterly divided Catholics to turn political battles into holy war Armageddons. Most of the main Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are Catholics who are liberal or
moderate (Kennedy, Biden, Durbin, Leahy), and many of the most controversial judges or nominees are Catholics who are conservative (Scalia, Thomas, Pryor). When they face off, you get this brutal and elemental conflict over the role morality should play in public life.
Roberts is indeed a Catholic (if he's confirmed, there will be four on the court, three Protestants and two Jews), but he's not the sort to spark the sort of debate that leads to bitter Catholic vs. Catholic meshugas.

As someone unfortunate enough to often end up in the middle of said meshugas, this is a pretty plausible hypothesis. It also fits with the interesting fact that, in a large institution, when denied a forum to debate their issues within the structures of the church (or whatever institution happens to be involved), people will find somewhere else to hash out their disagreements. For Catholics, witness the Catholic v. Catholic blogosphere, as well as arcane arguments over the celebration of the liturgy in your local parish. As a member of the Paulist Center Catholic community in Boston, I also saw a lot of this sort of conflict at the ground level during the arguments over John Kerry's Catholicism during the last election. Now, I don't think that the lack of a working structural synodical system among American Catholics is likely to undermine the Republic anytime soon, but it is a fascinating phenomenon that while one hundred years ago, Catholics were regarding with suspicion in part because of their tendency to act as a unified bloc (possibly at the direction of a "foreign power"); today, we still have the same tendency towards unity, but are finding ourselves increasingly united in two distinct groups, with all of the suspicion and occasional bitterness to be expected among estranged relatives...

This isn't simply a political problem -- this is a theological problem. The Christian church's divisions stemming from Chalcedon, from 1054, and from the Reformation, already hinder our sacramental mission of showing the world the unity in love to which Christ calls us. The ecumenical movement has done much to begin healing those wounds, but we are failing in our Christian mission to the extent that our divisions hinder our mission "to be one, that the world might believe." We who are members of the Catholic church should be very nervous if our role in public life increasingly brings division to our nation and communities. I don't have any easy solutions; disregarding the questions of faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel in a relativizing way would be as irresponsible as not trying to heal the divisions at all. But when our internal divisions become so bitter that the first thing non-catholics see in the Catholic church is a bringer of "brutal and elemental conflict", we should be concerned about how faithful our witness to the love of God in Christ is.


Fiddling with my website...

So today, instead of writing my dissertation, I fiddled around, learned some more html tricks, and re-designed my Boston College website. I'm very proud that I taught myself how to use frames, file hierarchies, etc....

I'd rather not have the whole world connecting BaptizedPagan with my real life identity, but if you know me from somewhere else and want to check it out, you can look me up by my last name here.


Gabe is Back!!!

Red Sox nation...or at least about half of it, give or take, rejoices....

Former player and über-hottie Gabe Kapler is, according to the AP, returning to Boston after a one-year stint with the Yomiuri Giants that didn't go so well.

If you want to learn more about Gabe, or just see some more pictures of his arms, check out the Gabe Kapler Tribute Site.

Also, in addition to those arms, he's a good guy, and was very supportive in helping his wife Lisa recover from domestic violence. Since then, Gabe and Lisa have used Gabe's celebrity to help raise money and awareness of domestic violence, particularly with Jane Doe, the Massachusetts Coalition against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

Welcome back to Boston Gabe!


Harry Potter, Undertaker

"Then again, I really don't go out a lot."

No, apparently you don't, Mr. Potter. Cute story.


The Definition of Santorum

Sen. Kennedy is going to bat for Massachusetts.

Perhaps Sen. Santorum should be studying that catechism a little more closely.

And it begins...

So there's currently a minor tempest-in-an-espresso-cup over remarks made by Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna on evolution in last week's New York Times. The discussion continues all over the place; basically Schoenborn seems to be throwing his weight, and attempting to suggest the Catholic Church has already thrown its weight, behind an "intelligent design" theory of creation.

Other Catholic theologians and scientists are better equipped to challenge the questions of evolution at issue; suffice it to say that, from a non-specialist perspective, Schoenborn's comments seem to be quite the opposite of the most common trend in recent teaching. One might want to consult Rahner and others on the controversies surrounding monogenism earlier in the past century.

Ecclesiologically, what is fascinating (and what the title of this post refers to) is that this may be the first marginalization of John Paul II that I've seen so far in print. Friends asked me how much influence John Paul, particularly through his copious theological and spiritual reflections, would have after his death. After all, particularly in curial and in some theological circles, no speech, essay, or paper was complete without a heavy seasoning of references to John Paul's encyclicals and audiences. But if one looks back at the late 1970s, one finds exactly the same pattern of references to the writings of Paul VI, which continued, unabated, for a few years after his death. But, as times moved on, references to Paul declined and to JPII increased. As the old saying goes, no one is more dead than a dead pope. So, cautiously, one might expect to see the same pattern with regard to John Paul II; his encyclicals will continue to be studied, no doubt, and there are many stronger institutions and think tanks to directly keep his memory and thought alive. But, as these things happen, history will begin sorting out where his writings make a real contribution and where a reference to Augustine, Aquinas, or, perhaps, Benedict XVI, might be clearer or politically preferable.

But Schoenborn goes one step further in beginning this process of sifting out John Paul's legacy. He writes, in regard to a letter outlining the Catholic position on evolution, "While his rather vague and unimportant 1996 letter about evolution is always and everywhere cited..."; he then contrasts this statement with remarks from a 1985 general audience. Hermeneutical issues aside about what John Paul "really" thought of evolution, it would have been unimaginable, even a few months ago, to describe any word that fell from the mouth of John Paul as "vague" or "unimportant", especially in public or in print. Again, no one is more dead than a dead pope. But rather than being a cause for yet more chuckling about those crazy Catholics, we who are Catholic might see this as a good chance to remember the relative unimportance of the papacy in the grand scheme of things. While secular culture and globalization, as well as elements in the church itself, might push us towards a cult of personality around our pope as a "worldwide bishop", the process of more critically evaluating John Paul's legacy might be a helpful warning to avoid our temptation to "papolatry" with regard to any of his successors.


Catholics and Same-Sex Marriage

David O'Brien, professor of Roman Catholic studies at Holy Cross, had this op-ed on Sunday regarding Catholics and same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Two great points: 1) when we're talking about same-sex marriage, the real issue is same-sex sex...it's often the first thing people think of it, and its the real crux of the issue. 2) O'Brien writes about what many of us know has already been happening for some time: while official teaching is staying in one place, on the ground, more and more people are talking with and listening to the experiences of same-sex couples. A particularly well-phrased paragraph:

So, too, in most Catholic conversations, among people and pastors when bishops aren't listening, you hear about persons, sons or daughters, neighbors or friends. Often the story will be about how a particular gay person, like so many straight people, moved beyond immature behavior and found a partner, with whom he or she seemed to have a deep, committed, faithful relationship, and how that person now seems to flourish.


From One CEO to Another

In today's Boston Globe, the former CEO of John Hancock, David D'Alessandro, in an essay "Sell art, and keep parishes open," suggests that the Vatican sell off some of its minor art collections in order to financially support places like Boston which are reeling from the costs of abuse settlements. Writing from Italy, the whole thing has a Luther-esque feel of disillusionment with the grandeur of Rome.

In the essay, D'Alessandro uses the language of "parent" companies to describe the relationship of Rome to Roman Catholic dioceses, which brings up an interesting ecclesiological issue. Any ecclesiologist worth her salt will talk about how the church is not supposed to be conceived of as a central office with "branches" in the various parts of the world; Joseph Komonchak of Catholic University has done more to contest this viewpoint than almost anyone. With a few exceptions, even those most insistent on the 1870 definition of papal "universal jurisdiction" at the First Vatican Council (rightly understood by our Orthodox and Protestant brothers and sisters to be far more dangerous, and far more incongruous with the wider Christian tradition, than the definitions of infallibility) regard universal jurisdiction as a guarantee of last resort, rather than an ideal for ecclesial governance.

And yet, as D'Alessandro's article makes clear, current Catholic praxis looks much more like that of Starbucks or WalMart. All rhetorical nods to the centrality of the local church aside, current Roman Catholic praxis, from the appointment of bishops to the setting of "the rules", as D'Alessandro phrases it, make it easier to see the papacy as an office more analogous to a CEO than to a primate -- even defining what primacy means for most Catholics. Even so-called renewal groups in the Catholic church like the local Voice of the Faithful maintain a very ultramontanist ecclesiology: I was amazed that at the first VOTF conference one of the major actions envisioned was a mass petition...to the pope. Here was the conflict of a movement towards renewal with deeply ingrained issues of identity that didn't challenge the ecclesiological presuppositions that had contributed to the crisis as much as the actual decisions of Cardinal Law and his assistants.

Now, as a Roman Catholic, I'm not dissenting from the 1870 definitions outright, because I do think that the petrine ministry involves exactly the sort of "last appeal" which the definitions envision; see Jean Tillard's The Bishop of Rome for a reading of Pastor Aeternus that many other Christians might be comfortable with, without denying the centrality of papal primacy to either the Catholic faith or current Roman Catholic ideas of identity. But it should give us pause that the identification of the pope as "CEO of the Catholic Church" comes to the pen of D'Alessandro and to the minds and experience of most Catholics so easily.

Additionally, D'Alessandro's ideas are intriguing; his tone of anger is quite honest, as is his obvious love for the church, particularly his local church of Boston, struggling under the weight of the last five years. His solution stays well within an understanding of church as Walmart, though, but that might be the wise thing to do. Is it acceptable that the Roman Catholic church maintains a praxis of centralization except in those situations where the center might be held institutionally (read: financially) responsible? Why is the language of subsidiarity, of the integrity of the local church, not invoked when bishops are appointed for a local church, but is dusted off and re-used when those same bishops make a wreck of it? Two ecclesiologies are operative here, and are being used ideologically, that is, different systems of understanding the relations between Rome and the local church are invoked depending upon which system is more convenient for the problem at hand. I might want to see more responsibility taken at the local level for the local church, both in good and bad, but D'Alessandro's proposal at least has the merit of calling the Vatican to a responsibility for the mistakes of its "franchises" consistent with its praxis. You can't have as much of a role in managing the life of the local churches as Rome currently has and then beg off responsibility for those churches in trouble by appealing to a different ecclesiology.

(And who ever said ecclesiology, or theology for that matter, was abstract or boring?!)


Threefold Withdrawal

1) California withdrawal. Just left a week of beautiful weather in the Bay Area and, while I hate to admit this and am going to catch no end of @#$% from my California-born-and-bred-BF for this, I was rather disappointed to get off the plane and wander into the cold remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy working their way across New England. As much as I'm a partisan of Boston and booster of the charms of New England, somehow we even manage to take something entitled "tropical" and turn it into cold, damp wetness.
2) Sleep withdrawal. Flew in on a red-eye. It was JetBlue, so it could have been a lot worse...I highly recommend them, but cross-country travel is just never fun. Got some sleep, but still not enough, and am now desperately trying to stay up until later tonight to try to reset on east coast time. I have that fun metallic feeling behind my eyes by which my body is saying "what the hell are you doing to me???"
3) Internet withdrawal. Not only did the lovely neighbors on whose wireless I was piggybacking move out, but my phone line is also dead right now. So no internet. I'm actually doing the free day of "T-Mobile" and have sold my soul and identity to yet another large corporation...just to get my fix...so here I am, in a Starbucks, T-Mobiling, trying to satisfy at least one of my cravings...


Celebrate Independence: Supersize It!

Far too few Americans remember that the Founding Fathers, authors of modern liberty, greatly enjoyed their food and drink -- from drafting the Declaration of Independence over pints to serving French fries in the White House. Now it seems that food liberty -- just one of the many important areas of personal choice fought for by the original American patriots -- is constantly under attack. Don't let the tyrants rule your food choices.

From the Center for Consumer Freedom, a "coalition of restaurants, food companies and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices." Read Krugman's op-ed today to learn more about obesity.

Benedict the Gentle (?)

Today's Times has an article on how our new pope's style is winning over suspicions...but again, as I suggested earlier, I'm not that surprised that people are surprised. The "Grand Inquisitor" image was much more of a caricature, the requisite "bad cop" to JPII's "good cop." That's not to say that Benedict doesn't have firm theological opinions, or that he isn't comfortable invoking a very strong sense of papal authority to enforce those opinions. Behind his more gentle, less secularly charismatic persona is a very strong, very determined leader. But what struck me most in the Times piece was the description of him as "down to earth". For the current chapter of my dissertation (thanks to the Holy Spirit and the College of Cardinals, it's much easier to get Ratzinger in translation now!), I'm doing a pretty close read of Ratzinger's writings, including a recent collection, Pilgrim Fellowship as Faith: The Church as Communion. Now, some of these essays are talks, while others are pretty high-level theological reflections, but what has struck me more than the content is the tone of practicality; the language is still explicitly pious Christian language, but we are worlds away from some of the theological flights of fancy that you found in John Paul. Ratzinger avoids too much speculation and, at least in my reading, seems to want clarity of thought and of teaching not for its own sake, but in order to help Christians be better Christians. I don't think he's quite hit the mark in some of his conclusions or even premises, particularly in his ecclesiology, but one does have the sense that he's not doing academic theology for the sake of himself, but for the sake of getting it right. This tendency to step back from the spotlight, to make the shared faith more central than his person, might be the greatest gift he brings to the papacy to complement (contrast?) the intense personality of JPII.


Beatification of JPII

The official beatification website is now up and running...email in those miracles!

Congrats Fr. Shanley!

Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P., is being installed today as the 12th President of Providence College. There's an article in today's Projo (but you might have to register to read it...crazy Rhode Islanders!). You can also read the press release from P.C. back in February, when Fr. Shanley was first appointed.

I'm privileged to say that Fr. Shanley was an advisor and teacher of mine back at Catholic University, and that I learned as much from him about Aristotle, philosophy, and passion for academic inquiry as from any other teacher I've had. The honors program at C.U.A. has a philosophy track with a two-year Aristotelian studium, and due to some administrative shuffling in my time there, I had Fr. Shanley twice.

He'll be a great president of P.C. for two complementary reasons. First, to be frank, he can be a hard-ass. The weightlifting and martial arts give you a sense of his personality...some of my friends, whom I won't name, referred to him as the überpriest after we read Nietzsche together in his class. He's a very intense guy with a lot of active energy, and he doesn't put up with half-hearted work in or out of the classroom. I almost always did my best work for him, because I knew that he expected it. Second, and perhaps because he is so confident of his abilities and positions, he's very good at engaging in dialogue with difference. A quick look at this blog will show that Fr. Shanley and I are unlikely to agree on every point, but he not only treated those differences of opinion with respect, he was very good at questioning me and my friends in a respectful way. While he walks into a room with strong positions, they aren't prejudices, and so he's genuinely interested to ask questions, even if he has reached a provisional answer to that question. It's as if all those years of Aristotle and Dominican life in search of truth had sunk in or something...

Note: I'm in California now, enjoying less humidity than New England, getting work done, etc...peripatetic life is not the life for me, I've discovered...


The Real Traditionalist Catholics

Check out the Society of St. Pius I, which laments the fall from grace of the Roman church from its traditional liturgy and scriptures. See what happens when you start playing the "I'm more authentic than you" game?


Doofus Dads

In today's Times, for Fathers' Day, John Tierney writes in response to his six-year-old son's question, "Why are dads on TV so dumb?"

It's a good question. It extends not only to sitcoms, on which Tierney focuses, but also to commercials; what I've referred to as the "gender fun" trope -- clueless male, oh-so-smart female correcting him, laughs based upon a rather essentialized theory of gender combined with an assumption of "oh, gender differences are just so gosh darn amusing" -- gets really old quickly, especially if you're in a relationship a) with someone of the same gender or b) where you're spending a lot of time attempting to not fall into classical gender hierarchies.

But aside from being annoying, it's interesting to ask where these tropes come from, and what effect they might have upon those watching, especially since, à la Neil Postman, entertainment media might be thought of us the propaganda of our times, reinforcing not the identity a state wants you to have, but that business interests reliant upon your continued consumption want you to have. Tierney suggests that Homer's ubiquity (the Simpson, not the poet, bracketing his odes to donuts) might be caused either by the gender-breakdown of the sitcom viewing audience, or by the changed roles of women which prevent Lucy- and Edith-like stereotypical housewives from seeming realistic on TV. These might explain some of it, but one might probe a little more critically.

Humor, as lgbt people, African-Americans, Soviet citizens and Jews know, is the most powerful resource a minority has against the powerful. But while one more joke about the Politburo might help your comrade get through the day, it doesn't change the fact that the Politburo still controls his or her life in ways that seem permanently decided. If we can make fun of the (almost always white) suburban straight dad, in sitcoms and commercials, in some ways it's because he is still in charge in our world. While we sit back and chuckle at Homer, his real-life counterpart is still more likely to be the C.E.O. of a corporation, the leader of a church, the elected official or the head of a household than Marge, Lenny and Karl (for various reasons!), or Lisa. There's a long tradition of resistance to this -- Desperate Housewives and the Marriage of Figaro both show how the marginalized are amazingly good at resisting the structures that attempt to keep them in check. But that doesn't necessarily change the fact that the structures still exist, and if humor passes the line from resisting those structures to ideologically covering them, i.e., if we stop being amused by these tropes and begin to see contemporary society as anti-straight white man, then we'll be supporting oppressive structures that are already firmly in place. So...remember while laughing at Homer ("Mmmm. Floor pie.") that in real life, he's your boss.

Happy Father's Day, BaptizedPagan said, sounding more like a Marxist than usual...


Bishop Steib of Memphis

reflects upon his diocese's new ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics and their families, and on the church as home. Good stuff, and a brave move. This is what happens when bishops base their decisions on what they believe in conscience is right or wrong, rather than on their promotion prospects. Bishop Steib, God bless him, just placed himself out of the running for being transferred to a "better" or "more powerful" diocese; on the bright side, he'll have an easier time following the canons of the ancient church which compared transferral from the see in which one was ordained to a newer, younger, more attractive church to adultery...


Been Travellin'

Back in Boston for a few days now, but have been away more weekends than home for the past few days. Events have included a fabulous trip to Nantucket for a weekend of food and conversation competing with each other for top honors (thanks again, Len and Forrest!); Rhode Island for my mother's birthday; Boston Pride which, while in town, felt as though it was in a different place; an ecumenical institute sponosored by the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, and the Franciscan Sisters and Brothers of the Atonement at Graymoor, New York, where the Institute was held -- more on the Institute in a post to soon follow; and a stop in Manhattan to see friends before taking the train up the Hudson. In a week and a half I head to Washington, D.C., for a wedding, and then to California with the BF. Remarkably, I am getting some good work done on my dissertation in all this, though that has been at the expense of generous blogging; I'm sure my committee would approve of my priorities, though.


Science, Theology, and Truth

Saturday's Boston Globe had an article profiling the Rev. Amy McCreath, the Episcopal chaplain at MIT who also is the coordinator of the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT. I've had the privilege of talking with Amy a few times, and know her more from the bf. She's a very good pastor in my experience, and also, IMHO, has a great combination of gentleness and intellectual assertiveness that must help her work with students in the "galactic headquarters of scientism," as she describes MIT. In other words, from my little experience of her and from what I know of her from others, she exemplifies the Christian tradition at its best: although the events around the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth in the first century, as Christianity describes them, may not be normal, there's at least a concern that the Christian witness to those events be true. Even the fact that the earliest Christians used the language of "witnessing" (the Greek leads to the term "martyr") and "testifying", all derived from the language of the courtroom, points to the fact that a root concern of what Christians thought they were doing in telling the story of Jesus was describing something true, not something mythical; Jesus was, in their opinion, not a sort of mythical "everyman" pointing to the nature of human destiny, but a distinct, historical person about whom his disciples were telling a true story in their descriptions of his life and this strange experience called resurrection. (Incidentally, this concern to tell the Jesus story as true has been suggested as an explanation for why Pontius Pilate ends up being mentioned in the early creeds -- it locates Jesus of Nazareth historically in a certain time and place.)

So what does any of this have to do with Amy, MIT, or science? Well, it has to do with the idea of trying to tell the truth. At its best, and (to psychologize the church), in its less neurotic or insecure moments, the Christian community has been a community committed to truth, whether or not that truth is convenient. Admittedly, we haven't always done a very good job of it. And its particularly around the modern physical sciences, in large and in small ways, that we've been freaked out enough to forget that base commitment to truth.

One can immediately point to high-profile events like the Galileo affair or contemporary "creationists" who base their knowledge of the history of the world not on what humans can know as true through science (in a limited way, to be sure, but not having complete understanding doesn't mean that one's partial understandings are absolutely false...the red herring of "evolution is only a theory"...). But this works itself out in smaller, more ordinary ways. For example, in many circles outside of MIT, if one admits never having read Shakespeare or heard Mozart, one is instantly dismissed as less than intellectually fulfilled. But by contrast, an admission that one just doesn't bother trying to understand math or physics, or doesn't really remember anymore what DNA does beyond providing a common crossword puzzle answer, one more often meets smiles of sympathy rather than dismissal. For all of Larry Summers's other issues, his suggestion last year that Harvard's core curriculum be revised to include basic scientific literacy as a required set of knowledge comparable to knowledge of literature or history makes a lot of sense.

I see this even in my own family; my older brother and his wife both have doctorates in polymer chemistry (and both walked two weeks ago, congrats!). It's often culturally expected that one should know a little bit of theology or philosophy, from however long ago, to begin talking to a theology doctoral student, but the opposite has often been true for my brother. I usually have no idea where to begin asking him about his work, and I'm more and more convinced that this is due less to the obvious complexity of his research than to my basic ignorance. Unlike my brother with his very solid general humanities background, I lack the basic scientific background to even meet him halfway in his attempt to simplify his work to an accessible level.

So lately, as in so many other areas of knowledge, I've been playing catch-up lately, and not only out of an attempt to impress my brother. Rather, as someone doing theology, I'm increasingly convinced that if I'm going to expect other people to be able to meet me halfway when I discuss my field, then part of being an intellectual, or even a slightly aware human being, might mean turning off the Seinfeld re-run and learning (re-learning?) some terms and concepts that are central to modern science. Right now I'm plowing through some of the works of Richard Feynman; any other suggestions would be most welcome. And, from the perspective of theology, while we can't all be theologians and we can't all be experimental scientists, those of us who think that Christianity has something true to say seem to have a responsibility to listen humbly to what other members of the search party have found out about reality.