Lowell Folk Festival

So tomorrow, the Feast of St. Martha, is your humble blogger's birthday, and to celebrate we're going up to the Lowell Folk Festival. Should be a blast...one of my favorite Quebecois bands, Le Vent du Nord, will be playing, along with a lot of other good acts. And it's all free, so you should head up there too. You can take the commuter rail (which hopefully will be working better now), or drive, and it all takes place at Lowell National Historical Park. Folk music, labor history, 90-degree heat...what more could one want on one's birthday?


Charbel, Pray for Us

Ironically or providentially, depending on your Weltanschauung, today is the feast of St. Charbel Makhluf (sometimes spelled Sharbel), one of the great saints of the Maronite Church of Lebanon, one of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome. Charbel was a priest and monk who died in 1898 (Plenty more info here and here.)
We can join our prayers with his for peace in Lebanon, peace for Israel, and peace throughout the Middle East.

Haha, just kidding...but not really...

From Tom Toles, Washington Post, syndicated by UPI.



St. Bernard's and a German Shepherd...

Thanks to Whispers for the photo.


Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

So I have to give a quick shout-out for a new initiative that started today in order to give voice to the fullness of Catholic moral teaching in the public spectrum. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good will be spending the next year trying to bring the values of their "Called to the Common Good" statement (below) into our public discourse. Plus, they've got a snazzy website with some clear starting points for bringing Christian values out of the classrooms and into the, um, streets?

Called to the Common Good

As faithful Catholics, we believe in the values Jesus taught and embodied: love of God and neighbor, justice, and concern for the poor. These tenets of our faith inspire us to remain committed to the common good in all aspects of our lives. Grounded in scripture and in tradition, we understand that our civic choices as Catholics must reflect the fullness of our faith and our commitment to the common good.

As faithful Catholics, we are troubled by a divisive national debate in which partisan agendas distract us from the Gospel message and urgent threats to the common good – threats that include increasing economic burdens on the American family, a war that seems to have no end, children who live in poverty within our own borders, lack of effective policies to build a culture of life, and the increasing threat of global climate change.

As faithful Catholics, we work for a society that respects the lives, dignity, and equality of all persons. We believe in government of integrity, in which public officials put the good of our nation ahead of private gain. We look forward to a day in which working families do not live in poverty and when parents in the middle class can provide health care for their children. We seek a culture that resists rampant greed and materialism in our corporate, political, and family spheres. We call for a nation that puts our cherished principles ahead of profiteering and political pandering.

As faithful Catholics living in this crucial time in our nation’s history, we understand that Americans of all faiths must unite to restore our democracy to its deepest values. As faithful Catholics we are called to promote justice and defend human dignity. As faithful Catholics, we are Called to the Common Good.


The Boschaton

Yes, bad pun. But given the fact that tunnels are falling, detours are changing, Mass. Ave. at Albany Street is flooded, the Red Sox are playing at Fenway, there's classical music on the Esplanade and -- no joke -- the Village People are playing City Hall Plaza at 7 pm, it does seem a bit like the end of days here...

Get all your traffic, detour, and poor policy decision information over at Mac Daniel's Starts and Stops blog.

"I mean, like he's a sissy boy..."

So a local talk radio station in Boston, WRKO, suspended one of their hosts after using a "homosexual slur" on air; the host, John DePetro, "The Independent Man", was going after the head of the Turnpike Authority, Matt Amorello, who is being held responsible by many for the Big Dig collapse last week. (Bizarrely, the reason seems to have been the fact that Amorello attended the woman's funeral with his wife and his spokesperson...)

Here's the Globe's report on what he said:

DePetro said his WRKO colleague Howie Carr calls Amorello ``fat Matt" and then suggested it should be ``[slur] Matt." According to a rough transcript of the remarks provided to the Globe, DePetro went on to say: ``I just mean the way when you're sophomore, juvenile in grammar school, and somebody would say you're like a sissy boy [slur] . . . I just want to be very clear about that. I don't mean gay [slur]; I mean like sissy boy. He's a sissy boy."

Now, what's fascinating and disturbing here is that, almost immediately, DePetro seemed to remember that you can't talk about gay people that way (either sincerely, or out of a desire not to get fired). So he tried to back away into making the word refer only to "sissy boys." Nice try. But while I'm sure there will be a good amount of ink spilled and blogs filled over this attack on the gay community, yadda yadda yadda, I wonder if his backpedal is even more interesting in that it shows just how successful the mainstream gay male rights movement has been in disassociating homosexuality from gender. The cult of the "straight-acting" gay man has continued to grow in recent years, and now we see its fruit: a relatively ignorant talk-show host instinctively knows that he can't get away with slurring gay men (after all, the muscle queens at his gym might beat him up), so he tries to get out of a tight spot by linking the slur not with homosexuality, but with the "sissy boys" whom he used to make fun of in high school. Implicitly, he's bought into a whole script of gender hierarchy which ends not just in kicking it to non-masculine men, but to women as well; after all, you can only make fun of girly man if you somehow think being girly is a bad thing. Now, 20 years ago, associating a guy with homosexuality would be all you would need, but that doesn't work anymore. But the danger is that, having put homosexuality off-limits for use as a public insult, we gay men, especially those of us who are white, over-educated, and in positions of power, might be content that we're no longer at the bottom of the totem pole, and so not lift our fingers from our mojitos in order to respond to gender inequalities, not to mention the slights against our sissier brothers.

I write all this as a pretty middle-of-the-road sort of guy; my friends would laugh at me if I tried to describe myself as "straight-acting", but I'm also not comfortable in heels. Probably "boring, GAP-wearer" would be the best description of my personal style. But I'm wearing my Nancy Boy t-shirt today in solidarity with all my sissy brothers.


China, Bishops, and Concordats

So I'm going to go out on a limb and claim that you'll read it here first: I'd put money down that within the next 10-20 years, China and the Vatican will have ended their current political jostling ("le Ping-Pong", as Henri Tincq of Le Monde put it) in a quite remarkable way: some sort of formal concordat giving Catholicism an official, if not the only official, status in China.

The Vatican has been all about China lately: the controversial elevation to the purple of Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong, continuing difficulties about the appointment of bishops, a secret Vatican delegation that was in town last week, having undisclosed conversations with undisclosed participants. So, with not other qualifications than knowledge of the same history Ratzinger knows, what are they talking about?

I'd bet that Vatican officials are giving Chinese officials a quick seminar on 11th- and 12th-century European history. Remember vaguely something about an investiture controversy from your medieval history courses? (Assuming you went to a civilized place which offered such things...) The conflict between the German emperors and the pope as to who got to name bishops and "invest" them with their secular and ecclesiastical authority has numerous parallels with today's China situation. The issues raised continued to be a source of tension through the rise of modern nation-states, who often negotiated "concordats", formal agreements, with the pope regarding such fun issues as who got to name bishops, who got to approve bishops, who did what during their ordination ceremonies, etc. It would make much sense for China and the Vatican to normalize the situation of Chinese Catholics by producing a concordat in which both parties can save face and maintain some sense of control over the Catholic Church in China. Ratzinger knows his medieval history pretty darn well.

What advantage would this have for China? Why bother, when the Patriotic Association and other Chinese Christian organizations seem to be going along quite well, thank you? The major impetus might be that the window for China's having a single Christian negotiation partner is closing rather quickly. The massive proliferation of Christian groups throughout China, from official-ish mainline denominations to storefront prosperity-Gospel churches, and everything in between, is a centralized bureaucrat's worst nightmare. The Vatican and China are uniquely poised to understand each other: watching these two very old bureaucracies dance is like standing on the sidelines during a Japanese monster film. Hence the small flare-ups, the ping-pong back and forth -- and, IMO, the inevitable regularization of relations. A Chinese Constantinian arrangement, in which anyone in China can be Christian -- as long as you're Catholic -- seems the easiest way for China to begin regulating its growing Christian population without having to spend lots of its own energy in creating a national church from scratch. With other Christian churches, you have a cacophony of voices and authorities with which you would need to dialogue; the prospect of having a single nuncio on the end of the phone must be very attractive.

This raises, of course, some important ethical issues: Will the Vatican think that abandoning the Catholics of Taiwan is worth the chance of massive evangelization in mainland China? Is the very idea of the Vatican linking itself with an oppressive regime worth the moral cost? Would it be a repeat of the Vatican's concordat with Hitler in 1933?

This is where I have real questions, of ethics and of facts. My biggest caveat with this speculation is that I'm coming into this knowing a bit about medieval church-state interactions, but very, very little about contemporary China and the church there. So those of you who know more, is this scenario plausible? Why or why not? What other possibilities that I haven't thought of might be out there?


I will not turn into that dachshund owner...really...

From The Pure Breed Revolution!

God's clumsy children urged toward lessons of possibility

From last weeks' Writer's Alamanac with Garrison Keillor, which I heard on Thursday leaving Boston, and again on Thursday night getting into western Maryland, is this great poem by Michael Cleary. (Total homily material for y'all, hint, hint).

Poem: "Square Dancing with Sister Robert Claire" by Michael Cleary from Halfway Decent Sinners. © Custom Words.

Square Dancing with Sister Robert Claire

First week of junior high, Kel wised off to her
same as he'd done to the one all year before.
I can still see it. Her so short, the uppercut put
all her weight under the whack of her pudgy fist
against the V of his chin. Kel arching a back-dive, landing
legs up, desks dominoing halfway up the row.
Sweet Jesus, she was tough, but bless her the first one
who liked boys best and didn't carry a grudge.

But she sure as hell wasn't one of the almost pretty nuns
you could almost imagine out there in the world.
Picture pie-faced Lou from Abbott and Costello,
lumpy-looking in any duds but now add a thick black
floor-length habit with dozens of folds, hidden pockets.
Around her waist rosary beads big as marbles
dangling to where knees would be.
Hair, ears, and neck under a stiff white wimple,
she waddled the aisles like a wooly toad.

One week she dragged us into the gym
and the alien world of square dancing—and girls.
Shedding blazers, ties, and shoes, we were cornered.
In sweat socks and knee socks, we shuffled like prisoners,
allemande left and dosido stranger than dominus vobiscum.
Robert Claire stood on a chair trying to clap rhythm
into our dumb feet, sometimes leaping down, landing
light as a blackbird. She'd skip and twirl among us
arm over arm until her habit billowed like a gown,
face aglow, God's clumsy children urged toward lessons
of possibility and romance she brought from a life before.
Reluctantly, we learned to move together, touch, let go.

Wiener Takes All

While looking around at weinerdogiana on the web, we found a "dogumentary" coming out this fall entitled "Wiener Takes All."

From the website:

"Wiener Takes All" follows America's fastest competitive wiener dogs - from the scandal of the 2003 Wiener Nats, through to the culmination of the 2005 season. We start with Noodles' controversial 2003 loss, and the infamous Noodles-Pretzel rivalry. Pretzel's tragic sudden death in December 2004 throws the wiener dog racing world into turmoil, casting a pall over Noodles' triumphant win at the 2004 Wiener Nationals. Through 2005 many significant hurdles face Noodles as he plans to retake his title. Hurdles such as Blitzen - the late Pretzel's little brother; Heidi, the 2004 second place dog is nipping at his heels, as are perennial bridesmaid Baby Luv, Tucsons' underdog Vinnie Barbarino, and Phoenix's Hailey.
The best part of the whole thing is the James Bond-esque theme song, Wiener Takes All.

BTW, in terms of not posting, I just returned from a longish trip, my friend Sarah's mother died last week rather suddenly, and a group of us roadtripped out there for the wake and funeral (where I was teased mercilessly for my blogging...ah, the cross one bears).