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.