Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Preach the gospel always.
If necessary, use an eggplant.

Watch the Channel 9 video. Just do it.
On what we now call Palm Sunday, the Savior of the world rode into Jerusalem on an ass.

Not a majestic stallion. An ass. And not just any old ass, a colt.

An adolescent ass.

This God of ours, the one who washed His disciples' feet, the one who first revealed Himself to a Samaritan woman with a checkered past -- and present -- has no need to prove anything. He is secure enough to humble Himself -- thus the Cross.

Consider . . . the second person of the Holy Trinity allowed Himself to be executed like a common criminal to save His people. To become the ultimate spotless Lamb of God, sacrificed in the eternal Passover.

SO, YEAH, it makes perfect sense to me that a cook at Gino's Italian restaurant in Baton Rouge, La., would cut into an eggplant only to find that the seeds spelled "GOD."

An amazing coincidence? Of course. But ours is a God of amazing coincidences, which we call "miracles."

Ours is a society that worships things, celebrities and power, all of which are fleeting. We tell ourselves that we are as gods, and that we are in control of all things.

Then a line cook in a God-haunted Southern state capital cuts into yet another eggplant destined for the sauté pan. . . .

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: "

"Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The red dawn of a new day? Oy veh.

We Americans think "the social gospel" is just fine.

Just so long as it stays where it belongs -- between 30 and 33 A.D. The Bible talks about things from long ago in the Holy Land, allowing us plenty of time and distance to reframe both message and Messenger a bit more to our liking.

We can deal with that. Things were simpler then -- it was before Obamacare.

But if you really want to see the fit hit the shan, start preaching and teaching -- and, Dow Jones forbid, living -- "the social gospel" today . . . which is to say living "the gospel" today, because Christianity isn't an à la carte deal, it's a combination plate. That combination plate gave "orthodox" Judaism gas in 33 A.D., it gave the Romans gas for 280 years, give or take, and it gives everybody gas today.

Particularly, Pope Francis' renewed emphasis on "the social gospel" -- you know, "blessed are the poor" and "the meek shall inherit the land" -- has a whole lot of "orthodox" Catholics in a toot. The latest blow-up comes in the wake of a couple of American speeches given by one of Francis' trusted advisers, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras.

There was, for one, writer and editor John Zmirak on Rod Dreher's American Conservative blog:
Cardinal Maradiaga’s vision of the future of the Catholic Church is really a yellowed snapshot of the past—of the recent past of the Anglican church, which has buried the clear and consistent doctrines of Christianity, in favor of social activism on behalf of foolish and counterproductive policies. The result was predictable; it became spiritually irrelevant, a decorative tassel hanging from the left wing of public opinion, while its most fervent believers split off to found new churches that actually taught the Gospel, or decamped for Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy. If the Catholic Church follows its lead, to the point where it throws infallibility into question, the same thing will happen. Expect a torrent of converts to the Orthodox Church—made up of the most active, fervent, believing, Catholics.

As a North American who is grateful for the relative religious and economic freedom that produced a successful country, I reject the Marxian bromides being offered by men whose countries have never known such freedom. Amidst all Maradiaga’s rhetoric about Gospel solidarity with the poor, I smell more than whiff of brimstone, of a national and regional envy that has no clue how to lift up the impoverished, but would happily settle for tearing down the prosperous.
WHAT WAS the pope just saying about the dangers of ideology? And what exactly prompted such a furious reaction?

Stuff like this: 
The Church is not the hierarchy, but the people of God. “The People of God” is, for the Council, the all-encompassing reality of the Church that goes back to the basic and the common stuff of our ecclesial condition; namely, our condition as believers. And that is a condition shared by us all. The hierarchy has no purpose in itself and for itself, but only in reference and subordination to the community. The function of the hierarchy is redefined in reference to Jesus as Suffering Servant, not as “Pantocrator” (lord and emperor of this world); only from the perspective of someone crucified by the powers of this world it is possible to found, and to explain, the authority of the Church. The hierarchy is a ministry (diakonia = service) that requires lowering ourselves to the condition of servants. To take that place (the place of weakness and poverty) is her own, her very own responsibility.
ME, I was thinking "About damned time!" 

I also was thinking "This model either would have made the Scandals a lot less likely, or it would have enabled lay Catholics to deal with them a lot more effectively -- through less clericalism and more ass kicking." But that's just me. I'm a Bad Catholic who can digest clericalism and humorless scolds on the religious right no better than I can soulless Marty Haugen ditties during Mass or cheap-gracers on the liturgical left.

If I were just smarter and holier, I would have been able to discern the Red Menace lurking beneath the surface of passages like this from the cardinal's Dallas address:
There is no possible reform of the Church without a return to Jesus. The Church only has a future and can only consider herself great by humbly trying to follow Jesus. To discern what constitutes abuse or infidelity within the Church we have no other measure but the Gospel. Many of the traditions established in the Church could lead her to a veritable self-imprisonment. The truth will set us free, humility will give us wings and will open new horizons for us.
If the Church seeks to follow Jesus, all she has to do is to continue telling the world what happened to Jesus, proclaiming His teachings and His life. Jesus was not a sovereign of this world, He was not rich, but instead He lived as a poor villager, He proclaimed his program – the Kingdom of God—and the great of this world (Roman Empire and Synagogue together) persecuted and eliminated Him. His sentence to die on the cross, outside the city, is the clearest evidence yet that He did not want to ingratiate himself with the powers of this world. Shattered by their power, He is the Suffering Servant, an image of innumerable other servants, defeated by the ones who rule and call themselves “lords;” but it was He, poor, silenced, and humiliated, who was designated by his Father as His Beloved Child and whom God Himself resurrected on the third day.
THE MAN even referenced that noted pinko, Blessed John Paul II:
In contemporary pontifical magisterium, we have two significant benchmarks: John Paul II’s 1990 Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, and the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, from the same pontiff, in 2001. “In Redemptoris Missio, the Pope teaches us that the Church is a mission. It is not that she has a mission, like she has other traits; she is herself a mission. Everything in the Church should be weighted and measured in regard to the mission of converting the world.” 
And in Novo Millennio Ineunte, Blessed John Paul II challenges the Church at the end of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, to leave behind the shallow waters of maintaining the institution and travel to the deep waters of evangelization. That is what Jesus tells his disciples in Chapter 12 of Luke, adding: “Duc in altum, put out into the deep.” [Luke 5: 4] This means that the Church will convert the world not by argument, but by example. There is no doubt that doctrinal argument is important, but people will be attracted by the humanity of Christians, those who live by the faith, who live in a human way, who irradiate the joy of living, the consistency in their behavior.
FOR WHAT it's worth, my wife and I are converts to the Catholic faith. No one argued us into the church; a number of people loved us into it.

Meantime, the Rev. Dwight Longenecker worries that the gospel will get lost in a sea of "social work." Because, obviously, all you need isn't love. Or something like that.
I am not so much worried about what Cardinal Maradiaga said, but what he left unsaid.
And there the Church, in humble company, helps making life intelligible and dignified, making it a community of equals, without castes or classes; without rich or poor; without impositions or anathemas. Her foremost goal is to care for the penultimate (hunger, housing, clothing, shoes, health, education…) to be then able to care for the ultimate, those problems that rob us of sleep after work (our finiteness, our solitude before death, the meaning of life, pain, and evil…). The answer the Church gives to the “penultimate” will entitle her to speak about the “ultimate.” For that reason, the Church must show herself as a Samaritan on earth – so she can some day partake of the eternal goods.
Really? The Church’s foremost goal is to provide housing, shoes, health and education? Surely the church’s foremost goal is the salvation of souls. To be sure we must be engaged in feeding the poor, but in his talk on the New Evangelization the Cardinal does not mention the salvation of souls or the spiritual work of the church or the sacraments at all. Is he simply a social worker dressed in red, and does the red indicate more of his political opinion than his status as a cardinal?

REALLY? What part of "the answer the Church gives to the 'penultimate' will entitle her to speak about the 'ultimate'" is unclear?

Again, I am a convert. I was "penultimated" into the Catholic Church. After all, God meets you where you are, not where He thinks you need to be. Where you need to be is a process -- one lasting a lifetime.

By the way, I only can assume that the good father's cheap shot about Maradiaga being a "social worker dressed in red" or maybe just a Red, period, was for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. I've seen stranger things done -- in all sincerity -- for the sake of kingdom come.

Ideology takes the invitation that is the Christian gospel and makes it into a hammer. Ideology takes suffering souls and turns them into nails -- into the proverbial Them.

Ideology say: Us, we so holy.

I'M NOT sure how much the cardinal's American trip told us about what direction the Catholic Church is headed. I fear the collective cerebral hemorrhage we're seeing so early in Francis' pontificate tells us a lot about the Catholic right.

"Cafeteria Catholicism," alas, is a bipartisan thing. And the cafeteria is getting crowded.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Obey your betters, not that God guy

In the smugly provincial universe of America's intelligentsia, the only thing we have to fear is acting on that which you believe.

And Adam Gopnik . . . he's a-skeered!  Blogging on The New Yorker website  last week about GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the writer freaked out a little -- OK, a lot -- over Ryan saying that a person's faith influences every aspect of life, both private and public.

That, apparently, is unacceptable. That, apparently, makes the committed believer a crazy-ass mullah . . . or ayatollah . . . or something else Really Bad.

Not to mention un-American.

Emoted Gopnik on the magazine's News Desk blog    
But beyond the [Expletive deleted. -- R21] something genuinely disturbing and scary got said last night by Paul Ryan that is, I think, easily missed and still worth brooding over. It came in response to a solemn and, it seemed to some of us, inappropriately phrased question about the influence of the Catholic Church on both men’s positions on abortion. Inappropriately phrased because legislation is made for everyone, not specially for those of “faith.” (And one would have thought that, at this moment in its history, the Catholic Church would not have much standing when it comes to defining the relationship between sexual behavior and doctrinal morality. However few in number the sinners might be, the failure to deal with them openly casts doubt on the integrity of the institution.)

Paul Ryan did not say, as John Kennedy had said before him, that faith was faith and public service, public service, each to be honored and kept separate from the other. No, he said instead “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.” That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well. Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan put it, that “the usual necessary distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.” And he went on to make it quietly plain that his principles are uncompromising on this, even if his boss’s policy may not seem so:
All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
Our system, unlike the Iranians’, is not meant to be so total: it depends on making many distinctions between private life, where we follow our conscience into our chapel, and our public life, where we seek to merge many different kinds of conscience in a common space. Our faith should not inform us in everything we do, or there would be no end to the religious warfare that our tolerant founders feared.
THE FIRST thing that comes to mind is that Gopnik ignores history -- that the United States thus far has avoided ayatollahocracy, despite the presence of millions of Americans for whom religion informs every aspect of life. Mental-health professionals would call this a raging case of projection -- and I'd submit that what Gopnik indeed is doing here is projecting his class' absolute intolerance for devout religious belief.

Oh, sure, religion is kind of quaint and perhaps can be grudgingly tolerated so long as it remains some sort of vague therapeutic creed that soothes the savage breast of the booboisie but isn't taken so seriously that it might affect someone's politics or endanger the societal acquiescence to the secular Holy Trinity of the Baby Boom -- sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. In political terms, this works out to something closer to free sex, free birth control and abortion on demand.

In the world of Adam Gopnik and the rest of our "betters," the only religion that's fit to hold is one that's no damned good at all -- a feckless creed in service of a powerless deity.

To quote a more politically correct scripture:

Verily, a decree went out from on high above midtown Manhattan, proclaiming that thou shalt have no god before us, for we are a jealous and culturally refined god, and thou shalt not taketh our holy orgasm in vain. If I say a fetus is a non-human bean, medammit, it is what I say, you mullah, you.
Yea, thou art white trash, and resistance doth prove futile. Tempt not thy god to go all Sodom and Gomorrah on thy ass. Not that anything going on in those fine cities was wrong in any respect and deserving of the nuclear option, of course.
THE NON-PATRIARCHAL Inclusive Equivalent of the Lord hath spoken.

Behold! All are equal. Some are more equal than others.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Grace crashes high-school reunion

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

We live in a world that doesn't easily grasp the concept of divine grace.

Likewise, we live in a world that doesn't believe it is fallen -- as in, "No, I'm not OK, and you're not OK, either." We think we're nice people, and that's all that counts.

I'm here to tell you that I'm a pretty big rat bastard and that you may be, too. Or that, at some point, you likely were.

A bunch of teen-age rat bastards circa 1987 just received grace, which led to insight, which led to repentance, which led to more grace . . . which may lead to healing for a woman who was horribly bullied in her California high school and for those who bullied her all those years ago.

God often shows up when and where you least expect Him. That's the reality of this MSNBC story . . . and that's the deeper reality that American mainstream journalism is constitutionally incapable of reporting.

A woman says a Facebook poem she posted about bullying has brought pleas for forgiveness from former classmates who tormented her at a California high school 25 years ago.

Now, some of those classmates want to make amends and have asked Lynda Frederick, 42, of Rochester, N.Y., to attend her 25th high school reunion in Escondido, Calif., on July 27, compliments of the Orange Glen High School Class of 1987.

“I am nervous,” Frederick told on Friday. “I am looking forward to seeing them, even knowing that what has happened has happened. I have forgiven those who have hurt me in the past.”

Frederick said she received phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from former classmates after she posted a poem on the Orange Glen High School Class of 1987 Facebook page.

In her poem, she wrote:
that little girl who came to school with the clothes she wore the day before
instead of asking why.. you picked on her
the little girl who had to walk to school while others rode the bus
instead of asking why.. you picked on her
the little girl who had bruises and was dirty
instead of asking why.. you picked on her
the little girl who was always crying
instead of asking why.. you picked on her
“They’re all apologizing now for how I was treated,” Frederick said. “I had one man call me up and we talked for an hour on the phone. He cried and cried. I kept saying, ‘You can’t fix yesterday, so let’s fix today.’”
GRACE. It's what's for sinners.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Death comes for the archbishop

Sooner or later, death comes for us all. We all must meet our Maker.

Probably, no one knew this better than New Orleans' retired Archbishop Phillip Hannan, who died early Thursday at 98. In World War II, he was a paratrooper chaplain on the front lines in bloody Europe, administering last rites of the Catholic Church to American GIs and German soldiers alike amid the chaos of the battlefield.

Think about that one for a moment. If you dare.

In 1963, as an auxiliary bishop in Washington, he delivered the eulogy for his slain friend John F. Kennedy. In 1968, as archbishop of New Orleans, he did the same for Bobby Kennedy.

Hannan came to New Orleans in the devastating wake of Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and, at 92, rode out the fury of Katrina in 2005. The archbishop knew death better than most.

THIS, as recounted in The Times-Picayune, is how the old archbishop, his body finally spent, began his journey home a few days ago:

On Saturday, with the end apparently near, the few people around the archbishop's bed included his brother, Jerry Hannan, 89, who had flown in from Bethesda, Md.; the archbishop’s nephew, Tom; his oldest and closest New Orleans friend, Alden “Doc” Laborde, the oil-field entrepreneur; Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle; restaurateur Klara Cvitanovich, who for years sent Hannan a daily take-out lunch from Drago’s; and a few others.

“It was an emotional time for all of us there,” Aymond said Thursday. “It was clear he knew some of what was going on.

“I gave no homily,” Aymond said. “I simply pointed at him and said he IS the living homily.

“He taught us in many ways how to live, but I think he taught us how to grow old gracefully.

“For a man who was independent, he became totally dependent on others, and never, ever complained about it.”

'Sounds good to me.'

Aymond said Hannan had already been anointed several times with the Sacrament of the Sick. This final Mass, the last of uncounted thousands in Hannan’s life, would be his last reception of the Eucharist.

In the early part of the ritual, Aymond and the others jointly confessed their sins in prayer, and as part of the rite, Aymond said he granted Hannan absolution from his sins in the name of Jesus.

Though weak and perhaps not entirely alert, Aymond said Hannan whispered a response.

They are what so far are his last recorded words:

He said: “Sounds good to me.”

“He was reassured, and knew God was forgiving him,” Aymond said.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A revolution on hold

Martin Luther King Jr. was looking to lead a revolution in 1968, a "poor people's campaign."

He never got the chance. To paraphrase
Facebook, "Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and millions of other Americans like this."

The trouble is, what the great civil-rights leader said on March 31, 1968, at New York's Riverside Church probably is even more relevant now than it was then. Change the name of a place here and there, change the name of
la guerre du jour . . . and there you go.

Back in 1968, despite the war in Indochina, despite the spate of political assassination that was to begin with King's martyrdom, we still kind of believed in hope. We still
kind of trusted in "progress."

NOW, AFTER a decade of grinding war and a few years of a Great Recession, mass unemployment, foreclosures by the millions and empty state and municipal coffers . . . now, not so much.

In today's America, we find much of the middle class being systematically turned into potential candidates for a Martin Luther King-style poor-people's campaign.

Here, as we wrap up another commemoration of his birth, 82 years ago now, are some excerpts from an important address -- one which happened to be King's last Sunday sermon. It happens to be the declaration of a nonviolent revolution . . .
a revolution interrupted.

Viva la revolución.
There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution: that is, a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution in weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare; then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place. And there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, "Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away."

Now whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges and new opportunities. And I would like to deal with the challenges that we face today as a result of this triple revolution that is taking place in the world today.

First, we are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood.

Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a large extent through modern man’s scientific ingenuity. Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood.

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: "No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." And he goes on toward the end to say, "Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution.

Secondly, we are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. I must say this morning that racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame.

It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle—the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly—to get rid of the disease of racism.

Something positive must be done. Everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt; individuals must share the guilt; even the church must share the guilt.

We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing "In Christ there is no East or West," we stand in the most segregated hour of America.


Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.

I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Whitman County, the poorest county in the United States. I tell you, I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. I saw their mothers and fathers trying to carry on a little Head Start program, but they had no money. The federal government hadn’t funded them, but they were trying to carry on. They raised a little money here and there; trying to get a little food to feed the children; trying to teach them a little something.

And I saw mothers and fathers who said to me not only were they unemployed, they didn’t get any kind of income—no old-age pension, no welfare check, no anything. I said, "How do you live?" And they say, "Well, we go around, go around to the neighbors and ask them for a little something. When the berry season comes, we pick berries. When the rabbit season comes, we hunt and catch a few rabbits. And that’s about it."

And I was in Newark and Harlem just this week. And I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them in conditions—no, not with wall-to-wall carpet, but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. I stood in an apartment and this welfare mother said to me, "The landlord will not repair this place. I’ve been here two years and he hasn’t made a single repair." She pointed out the walls with all the ceiling falling through. She showed me the holes where the rats came in. She said night after night we have to stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children. I said, "How much do you pay for this apartment?" She said, "a hundred and twenty-five dollars." I looked, and I thought, and said to myself, "It isn’t worth sixty dollars." Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.

Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, "Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives."

There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came to him, and he advised him to sell all, but in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery and not setting forth a universal diagnosis. And if you will look at that parable with all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between heaven and hell, and on the other end of that long-distance call between heaven and hell was Abraham in heaven talking to Dives in hell.

Now Abraham was a very rich man. If you go back to the Old Testament, you see that he was the richest man of his day, so it was not a rich man in hell talking with a poor man in heaven; it was a little millionaire in hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich; Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.

And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world—and nothing’s wrong with that—this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.


One day a newsman came to me and said, "Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to stop, now, opposing the war and move more in line with the administration’s policy? As I understand it, it has hurt the budget of your organization, and people who once respected you have lost respect for you. Don’t you feel that you’ve really got to change your position?" I looked at him and I had to say, "Sir, I’m sorry you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I’ve not taken a sort of Gallup Poll of the majority opinion." Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.

On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

God's 'right'-hand brand

Click screenshot to read full-size

If you're running a Catholic website -- and not only that, a Catholic apostolate, an organization meant to cooperate with God in the saving of souls -- what the
hell does this have to do with anything?

I think that's a question not only Living His Life Abundantly, the apostolate run by Johnnette Benkovic that's behind the screenshot, but for a whole Catholic subculture centered on
EWTN, the Eternal World Television Network. What the hell does a murderous madman's politics have to do with saving souls?

What does it have to do with the Catholic faith?

What does it even have to properly do with the culture wars, which are the bread-and-butter of "Catholic radio" and
EWTN? And what would possess a "staff journalist," much less a Catholic one, to quote a story from World Net Daily (home for birthers, extreme ideologues, "tea-party patriots" and all manner of life forms on public discourse's outer limits) like it was . . . ahem . . . gospel truth?


WHAT DOES this have to do with the fundamental reality of what happened in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday?

WELL, SINCE the Democrats have put "enemy" politicians in the crosshairs, too, the Catholic Church -- or at least some holier-than-thou elements of it -- have no insights to share about the coarsening of American political discourse? The tendency toward dehumanizing one's ideological opposites? I mean, apart from "Nanny nanny boo boo!"

Does Right make right . . . or, at least, stooping to the left's level make Not Wrong?

Have the Living His Life Abundantly people -- the whole Catholic radio and
EWTN crowd, for that matter -- decided the one unforgivable sin isn't against the Holy Spirit but, actually, is "being a Democrat"? That one's highest calling in the Christian life is throwing culture-war brickbats at "Them"?

That the only people worthy of salvation (and if they think anyone is worthy of salvation, they need to hang up their scapulars . . . and their 501(c)3 tax exemption) are those who vote the right way?

Or the Right way?

I WORRY that someone, somewhere must be spreading a really bad interpretation of Matthew 25:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'
Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'
Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'
He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'
And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
UHHHHHHH . . . I'm just a stupid blog guy, here, but I really, really don't think Jesus was talking about conservative politics when he placed the sheep on His right. In fact, a lot of this passage mitigates against what passes for the political right in America these days.

It's a self-evident fact, at least for those with eyes to see, that the Almighty is not a Republican. Or a Democrat, either. He may be a Fabian socialist, but don't quote me on that.

You watch, that last sentence is going to come back to haunt me -- perhaps via an article by "staff journalist" Susan Brinkmann, OCDS.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Of Christmas gumbo and 'offering it up'

EDITOR'S NOTE: We're waiting for the second round of ice to hit, the blizzard to come for Christmas Eve . . . and I'm pretty sure I have a sinus infection. So during this interlude before getting snowed in -- and then a spate of Christmas digging out from under it all -- I thought I'd rerun a "greatest Christmas hit" from Revolution 21's Blog for the People.

This originally ran early Christmas morning 2007, it's still true, and I find I have nothing more to add to it. So I'm just rerunning this reflection on Christmas gumbo and offering it up. Merry Christmas, y'all.

It's the wee hours of Christmas morning. The Christmas Eve chicken -and-andouille gumbo is in the fridge, the Christmas Eve guests are long gone and Midnight Mass is long over.

Christmas music plays on a Canadian station on our old Zenith, and I've just polished off a bottle of Cabernet. So I'm sitting at the computer, pretty much alone with my thoughts. And my memories.

THIS CHRISTMAS has been strange, to say the least. From the Omaha mall massacre to the passing of a young friend, it's been impossible to shake the specter of death looming over this season of joy. For so many here this holiday season, it has been a time of profound loss.

And in the dark and quiet of this Christmas morn, we take time to mourn, to recall those who live now only in our hearts and memories. . . .
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Will be near to us once more
EVERY CHRISTMAS EVE I make a huge pot of gumbo and we throw open the doors to whomever wants to share in the largesse. It's my attempt to keep alive a tradition from my mother's side of the family in Louisiana, when my grandma -- and later my Aunt Sybil -- would cook up mass quantities of chicken gumbo and put out trays of sandwiches, relish, fruit cake and bourbon balls.

It seems like Aunt Sybil used to cram something like 100 relatives into her and Uncle Jimmy's tiny house in north Baton Rouge. I come from a family of loud, argumentative people -- it's a Gallic thing -- and opening the door to that caffeine, nicotine and highball-fueled yuletide maelstrom was more than a little like
having front-row seats at a Who concert.

Without earplugs.

WHEN AUNT SYBIL and Uncle Jimmy moved out to the east side of town after my grandmother died, they gained some square footage. I'd like to think, though, that what the holiday gatherings lost in regards to that sardine je ne sais quoi, they made up for in "only in Louisiana" weirdness.

Like in 1983, when my brand-new Yankee bride learned first-hand that William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor weren't making that s*** up.

Everything started out normal enough, ah reckon -- taking into account, however, that this was south Louisiana. You know, 87 quintillion relatives (the identities of some of whom, I had only the fuzziest of notions about) all talking at the same time. Loudly.

Of course, Mama assumed my bride had received full knowledge of all these people along with the marriage license. My bride, for her part, may well have been wondering whether she could get an annulment and a refund on the marriage license.

And then Aunt Joyce -- second wife of Mama's baby brother, Delry, whose first wife was mentioned only after spitting on the ground (or so it seemed) -- had a "spell."

IF WE HADN'T FIGURED this out by the trancelike appearance, the eyes rolled back into her head,
and full knowledge of her bad heart, we would have been tipped off by everybody running around the house yelling "Joyce is havin' a SPEYUL!"

There could have been a fire, resulting in great carnage -- or something like that -- if Cousin Clayton hadn't been there to grab Joyce's burning cigarette.

Ever hear the song "Merry Christmas From the Family"? Robert Earl Keen ain't
making that s*** up, either.

Anyway, 20 people crowding around her announcing that Joyce was havin' a spell brought my aunt around after a fashion . . . and the show went on. At least until Aunt Sybil died some years back.

The sane one in my family, Aunt Sybil was the ringmaster of family togetherness, probably because she believed in "Baby, you got to offer it up." Everybody else . . . well . . . didn't.

TWENTY-FOUR YEARS after Aunt Joyce had a spell and Mrs. Favog got a masters in Southern Gothic, almost all of my aunts and uncles are gone. And I make my Christmas Eve gumbo up here in the frozen Nawth for friends who like exotic fare and funny stories about Growing Up Louisiana.

Then we go to Midnight Mass, being that Mrs. Favog and I are Catholic now, in no small measure because of Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jimmy, wild gumbo Christmases and "Baby, you got to offer it up."

After we were confirmed in 1990, the wife and I got a package from Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jimmy -- a Bible, his and her Rosary beads, and a crucifix. The biggest gift, though, was one they never knew they were giving.

Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, well have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Brother, can you spare some bling?

Paul Krugman, the Princeton economics professor and New York Times columnist, says it's beginning to
look a lot like the Great Depression out there. I am not going to argue economics with a Nobel laureate.

ELSEWHERE in the Times, Michael Lewis and David Einhorn explain that the sad financial straits we're in isn't a matter of bad breaks or a few bad Wall Street bankers, but instead is a matter of national insanity.

Einhorn and Lewis:

Incredibly, intelligent people the world over remain willing to lend us money and even listen to our advice; they appear not to have realized the full extent of our madness. We have at least a brief chance to cure ourselves. But first we need to ask: of what?

To that end consider the strange story of Harry Markopolos. Mr. Markopolos is the former investment officer with Rampart Investment Management in Boston who, for nine years, tried to explain to the Securities and Exchange Commission that Bernard L. Madoff couldn’t be anything other than a fraud. Mr. Madoff’s investment performance, given his stated strategy, was not merely improbable but mathematically impossible. And so, Mr. Markopolos reasoned, Bernard Madoff must be doing something other than what he said he was doing.

In his devastatingly persuasive 17-page letter to the S.E.C., Mr. Markopolos saw two possible scenarios. In the “Unlikely” scenario: Mr. Madoff, who acted as a broker as well as an investor, was “front-running” his brokerage customers. A customer might submit an order to Madoff Securities to buy shares in I.B.M. at a certain price, for example, and Madoff Securities instantly would buy I.B.M. shares for its own portfolio ahead of the customer order. If I.B.M.’s shares rose, Mr. Madoff kept them; if they fell he fobbed them off onto the poor customer.

In the “Highly Likely” scenario, wrote Mr. Markopolos, “Madoff Securities is the world’s largest Ponzi Scheme.” Which, as we now know, it was.

Harry Markopolos sent his report to the S.E.C. on Nov. 7, 2005 — more than three years before Mr. Madoff was finally exposed — but he had been trying to explain the fraud to them since 1999. He had no direct financial interest in exposing Mr. Madoff — he wasn’t an unhappy investor or a disgruntled employee. There was no way to short shares in Madoff Securities, and so Mr. Markopolos could not have made money directly from Mr. Madoff’s failure. To judge from his letter, Harry Markopolos anticipated mainly downsides for himself: he declined to put his name on it for fear of what might happen to him and his family if anyone found out he had written it. And yet the S.E.C.’s cursory investigation of Mr. Madoff pronounced him free of fraud.

What’s interesting about the Madoff scandal, in retrospect, is how little interest anyone inside the financial system had in exposing it. It wasn’t just Harry Markopolos who smelled a rat. As Mr. Markopolos explained in his letter, Goldman Sachs was refusing to do business with Mr. Madoff; many others doubted Mr. Madoff’s profits or assumed he was front-running his customers and steered clear of him. Between the lines, Mr. Markopolos hinted that even some of Mr. Madoff’s investors may have suspected that they were the beneficiaries of a scam. After all, it wasn’t all that hard to see that the profits were too good to be true. Some of Mr. Madoff’s investors may have reasoned that the worst that could happen to them, if the authorities put a stop to the front-running, was that a good thing would come to an end.

The Madoff scandal echoes a deeper absence inside our financial system, which has been undermined not merely by bad behavior but by the lack of checks and balances to discourage it. “Greed” doesn’t cut it as a satisfying explanation for the current financial crisis. Greed was necessary but insufficient; in any case, we are as likely to eliminate greed from our national character as we are lust and envy. The fixable problem isn’t the greed of the few but the misaligned interests of the many.


Our financial catastrophe, like Bernard Madoff’s pyramid scheme, required all sorts of important, plugged-in people to sacrifice our collective long-term interests for short-term gain. The pressure to do this in today’s financial markets is immense. Obviously the greater the market pressure to excel in the short term, the greater the need for pressure from outside the market to consider the longer term. But that’s the problem: there is no longer any serious pressure from outside the market. The tyranny of the short term has extended itself with frightening ease into the entities that were meant to, one way or another, discipline Wall Street, and force it to consider its enlightened self-interest.
THUS DO AMERICANS great and small, and thus have they done ever since Gordon Gekko told us "Greed is good," and the Reagan Administration governed as if it were so. Today is the enemy of tomorrow, and our wants have become the mortal enemy of our needs.

We Americans live as if we can separate faith and life -- or lack of faith and life, for that matter. It doesn't work out. God won't stay in a box, only to be taken out for an hour on Sundays -- if then. There are consequences when we try to do that, both individually and collectively.

Likewise, Satan won't stay in a box either, content to come out only when we want to have a little naughty fun. You don't have to give the devil his due; he'll just take it.

Among other things.

WHAT HAS BEEN playing out on Wall Street, in Detroit . . . and on Main Street, too, resembles nothing so much as it does a cleaned-up version of ghetto nihilism. You know, the kind of life your kids like to hear glorified by the likes of Lil' Wayne, T-Pain and 50-Cent.

Er, Fiddycent.

If you have no hope of long-term reward for right behavior, no faith in a better day to come, see no prospect of something -- Someone -- greater than yourself caring for even the humblest of creatures and someday setting what is wrong aright, why not go for the bling, the blow and the booty? Or, in polite "society", the immediate return writ large, the second home in the Hamptons and "friends with benefits."

Or a high-priced "escort." Whatever.

ONE PATHOLOGY widespread among the "underclass" is an inability -- often so ingrained as to be a cultural trait -- to act in its own long-term interest through self-restraint and delayed gratification. Today, nothing so defines the culture of Wall Street, and of Main Street, so much as this same pathology.

How else do we explain McMansions, investment banks with 30 times more debt than assets, three cars in the garage and subprime mortgages?

Today's headlines tell us of a financial crisis. The systemic and cultural dysfunction behind the financial crisis, however, speaks to a longtime -- and ongoing -- spiritual depression. Our society struggles with a deficit of faith, while deflationary pressures deplete its reservoirs of hope.

WE'VE EATEN. We've drunk. We thought we were merry. Was it all because the only prospect we saw for tomorrow was "die"?

Friday, July 18, 2008

3 Chords & the Truth: Down a country road

This week on 3 Chords & the Truth, we're going to be thumbing our way down that folk highway, and then take a side trip down a country road.

Either way you go, you'll find some of the greatest music America -- and the world -- ever has produced.

FOR ME, country music wasn't an instant-gratification kind of thing. Growing up in the Deep South in the 1960s and '70s, it was, to a large extent, the background music of my young life, but it wasn't my background music of choice. That would have been The Who, the Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Billy Preston, the Meters, Irma Thomas and Al Green.

And even the Carpenters . . . and (ahem) the Partridge Family.

Country music was the background music of my life in the sense that I couldn't avoid it. It was the music the Old Man listened to on the radio -- and you moved the AM dial away from WYNK, WSLG or WLBI at substantial risk to life and limb.

Same deal with the Porter Wagoner Show on television every Saturday afternoon.

I yearned for "that g**damn hippie music," as the Old Man referred to my generation's soundtrack. But I also ended up knowing the likes of Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, George Jones and "pretty Miss Norma Jean." One of my favorites -- albeit something of an ambivalent favorite -- was "Country" Charley Pride.

And if you don't know that it's C-H-A-R-L-E-Y instead of C-H-A-R-L-I-E, you're a damn pretender, son.

BACK THEN, however, there were two sides to life: yours . . . and your parents'. The existential question of one's young existence -- Which side are you on? -- required exactly no thought.


It's a funny thing. Though the question was simple, all kinds of stuff got mixed up in it that really had no business there. The Beatles vs. Porter Wagoner is not a fundamental question of good and evil.

"It's a big world out there," we young'uns constantly told ourselves. Our actions and our prejudices, however, betrayed our lack of believe in our own party line.

In fact, while "Which side are you on?" was -- and is -- the central question in any of our lives, we stupidly applied it to all the wrong areas. And not at all to the Right Area.

Then again, neither did our parents, by and large.

It is possible, and even quite healthy, to like both the Sex Pistols and Ernest Tubb. It's likewise possible to associate with, and even like, both Democrats and Republicans. Squares and hippies both have their virtues . . . and their vices.

The world is big. It's our hearts and minds that tend to be small.

Too small, as a matter of fact, to apprehend exactly how cosmically huge a question is "Which side are you on?"

THAT, IN A NUTSHELL, is what the Big Show happens to be about this week. 3 Chords & the Truth: It's the show where we ask the big questions and where, this week, we're playing all four kinds of music.

Rock . . . and roll. Not to mention country . . . and western.

Be there. Aloha.