Monday, March 30, 2009

TELEBIBLICAL: So I just watched the first three episodes of Kings off IMDB. Some thoughts. (Keep in mind that if I don't mention something specifically, I probably didn't like it! I was a real hard sell on this one.)

This post is written on the assumption that you a) have seen the episodes or b) don't care about spoilers (including, you know, stuff that isn't in the Bible).

Executive summary: Wow, a show about a contemporary/alternate-universe King David is a terrific idea. I hate what they're doing with Jonathan; the acting is uneven at best (well... no--there's no good acting under age 40); but there's really unexpected subtlety in certain moments of this show. Also, 95% of this post was written after the first episode, which means that the subsequent two pretty much added nothing and subtracted nothing. If you watch Goliath you'll know what the show is like so far.

What I liked: The contrast between the front and the capital. A thing I think a lot about is how isolated it's possible to be from our military. If I hadn't joined a group of right-wing freaks in college, I doubt I would know a single veteran my own age today. That strange disconnect, where the war is happening but it's remote from many citizens--they're not even really on the "home front," they're just at home--is hit pretty intensely in Kings.

The anointing/motor-oil scene. I honestly don't know why this worked for me, but it did; maybe because it captured the sense of surprise from both men, that this really mundane moment had suddenly taken on supreme significance?

David's piano music in the first episode sounds nicely harpish.

The scene on the steps. Harsh and real, and the only time I've actually liked Sebastian Stan's otherwise eyelinerish, CW-style acting as Jack. I first thought the dialogue was annoyingly conflicted between a today's-America worldview ("how God made you") and a more Biblical one, but actually, I think it might be seen as part of Silas's shifting between trust in God and trust in power (as he says later to Rev. Samuels, "Then God can go to Hell").

"We are all your children, Silas." This was a really alien sentiment--a line spoken from within a monarchist worldview, not a lib-dem one. You don't see that often on TV from a sympathetic character.

"Show me you're more than tank. ...That you live for more than our deaths." Taken on its face this is an incredibly maudlin speech. Taken as a speech to God--cast as a speech to enemy soldiers!--it's honestly pretty incredible, and deeply in tune with the Christian faith. Wow. (Judah Halevi: "I love my enemies, for You are one of them.")

Prosperity: David's happiness at trading the port his father died for in order to have peace. I think that's the only thing I really liked about this episode, although the pigeons were fun.

Not so much: I'm not feelin' the butterflies at all. Really, show, butterflies?

I can think of at least fifteen different ways to play the Jonathan/David relationship in a way that would really speak to me. This show has found a sixteenth one which I can't stand. The actual Bible story is much, much more poignant than this cliche. (I might feel slightly different if Stan could sell Jack Benjamin as a military leader, whose care for his troops is basic to his character. He hasn't done that for me so far.)

I'm actually having a hard time articulating what I find wrong with this setup; there's the obvious (setting aside power for love is perhaps the core element of Jonathan's story, and if you start off showing me a whiny, resentful prince, I'll have a hard time buying any future development toward the uncompromising awesomeness of Biblical Jonathan), there's the gay (I'm really over media that gives me Tormented Pretty Gays to feel sorry for, and I feel gross about how popular that image has proven [especially among straight girls], for this show and in general), there's the indifference to faith shown by both Jack and David. Mostly I just think what I said above: The actual Bible does this story a million times better.

Can the show win me over by portraying change in these characters? Yeah, maybe. If they don't have Jack be all unrequited and piny about David (because we all know gay people have no non-eroticized same-sex friendships!), and they sell me on the characters' spiritual growth... maybe. But right now I'm not seeing Jonathan and I'm definitely not seeing David. Can you honestly picture this demi-cute everyboy singing the 51st Psalm?
BLACK AND WHITE AND RED ALL OVER: Comic Art Indigene. The National Museum of the American Indian has an exhibit on Native Americans and comics, up through May 31st. It's... it's scattershot.

There are about three examples of everything the exhibit wants to talk about. Three examples of traditional art forms done with comic-book motifs and themes (the pottery where the deer hunt uses imagery possibly taken from Krazy Kat was pretty awesome); three graffiti-influenced artworks with Indian characters; three contemporary satirical cartoons. You get the picture. It's all interesting, but it's a Tantalus exhibit, withdrawing just when you're starting to want more.

I'm also not sure who the target audience is. When I visited, a teacher was herding a group of little kids through the exhibit--hurrying them past the Indian lesbians to get them to the skateboard with Speedy Gonzales painted on it. The wall captions are really intro-level and kid-friendly, but the scratchy horror comic on the wall is not.

Not a lot of sequential art here; not a lot of comics-specific storytelling techniques, as versus obviously comics-influenced pictorial techniques.

And from the one other review I've read, I got the impression that there are a lot of developments in Indian comics which just got ignored or treated with extreme shallowness, like the growing influence of manga.

All of that said--this is a quick and occasionally provocative exhibit, which I liked a lot. I hope you get that my main complaint is that I wanted more! It's definitely worth the trek down the Mall if you're in the city already. Plus, you know, it's free....

Saturday, March 28, 2009

THOSE WHO CAN'T DO, SCHOOL: My God--other than the obvious, is there anything Amy Winehouse can't do?

No, really, anything?
WHERE I WILL BE WEDNESDAY NIGHT. Saran Malene M. performs at Twins Jazz at 8 pm, 1344 U St. NW.

Saran is an amazing singer--I haven't heard her in several years, but seriously, she is mind-blowing, and I can't wait to hear what she is doing now. Back in high school her music was what I think a marketing department would call Huggy Bear soul, or "Nina Simone Presents: The Fabulous Stains!". I hope to have a less-reductive description for you all soon.

Click the Twins Jazz link above for price info, but please listen when I say there is no way you will regret this.
SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL: So while we’re kicking around gay-marriage compromises, we get this one:
That brings us to our alternative proposal: The revisionists would agree to oppose the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), thus ensuring that federal law retains the traditional definition of marriage as the union of husband and wife, and states retain the right to preserve that definition in their law. In return, traditionalists would agree to support federal civil unions offering most or all marital benefits. But, as Princeton’s Robert P. George once proposed for New Jersey civil unions, unions recognized by the federal government would be available to any two adults who commit to sharing domestic responsibilities, whether or not their relationship is sexual. Available only to people otherwise ineligible to marry each other (say, because of consanguinity), these unions would neither introduce a rival “marriage-lite” option nor treat same-sex unions as marriages. Their purpose would be to protect adult domestic partners who have pledged themselves to a mutually binding relationship of care. What (if anything) goes on in the bedroom would have nothing to do with these unions’ goals or, thus, eligibility requirements.

Which gets this response, in comments at the Independent Gay Forum (and the main blogger there picked this comment out as worthy of posting on its own):
Another half-baked idea that goes into the reject pile. It seriously debases same-sex relationships to the level of friendships and blood relations.


Which I’ve heard before in gay-marriage discussions, a lot, and which breaks my heart. So here’s a post I think you can agree with in toto even if you think gay marriage is the quintessential grape-scented marker of justice.

First, I’m not endorsing the Anderson/Girgis compromise. I see problems with it and I see good points. This post isn’t about that.

Nor am I going to repeat my cri de coeur on behalf of sacrificial friendship. We desperately need to revive our understanding of, respect for, and willingness to sacrifice within friendship. But in this post I’m going to focus on the idea of “debasing ... relationships to the level of ... blood relations.”

Because I don’t think it’s a great idea to denigrate our unchosen loves, our familial duties, in order to exalt our chosen ones. I think it’s honestly quite awful to denigrate the love between sisters, brothers, comrades in arms (no, click that link), any tie we don’t choose and which nonetheless requires intense sacrifice from us.

I get why people don’t want to think of siblings and beloveds in the same breath. We move around so much, you know? It’s really hard to know how we could be responsible for a sibling a hundred miles away, even if we wanted to be, whereas we expect a spouse to move with us. We view employment in the career of our choice as a much better reason to move than employment near our families-of-origin. And I am not trying to argue that this privileging of choice over unchosen origin is wrong in all cases.

(There’s a subtext here, of course, that LGBT people have often been rejected by their families of origin; their only family is their “chosen family.” Note here, though, that the “chosen family” includes friends as well. I thought AIDS taught us that friends too will stand by you and suffer heartbreak with you even when your own parents will not. ...But I said I wasn’t going to talk about friendship.)

What I’m trying to say is this: 1) We used to know that brotherhood and sisterhood were powerful, beautiful, unique and real relationships. That’s how adelphopoeisis happened. That’s how we came up with the idea.

And 2), maybe more importantly: Wedlock is about making chosen relationships more like unchosen ones. Of course we’ve gotten far away from this ideal, both legally and culturally. But we still have this sense that the wedding vow is a choice to forego future choices. We still try to talk as if we are choosing to become bound; we are choosing to be faithful, choosing not to leave, choosing not to stray.

If marriage is about making chosen relationships more like unchosen ones... why would we ever think that denigrating unchosen relationships, families-of-origin, would be a good way to defend marriage?

My own answer is that the “culture of commitment” is basically a culture of personal will. Think about the different connotations of “commitment” (personal choice) and “fidelity” (adherence to preexisting standards).

But seriously, this post is not about getting you to agree with me on that explanation. It’s just about ridding the world of arguments for gay marriage which require denigration of unchosen loyalties, unchosen loves, and unchosen responsibilities. Those arguments are bad for gay marriages, let alone for anyone else’s relationships.

And finally 3), most importantly of all: I want to think about how we can strengthen friendships and families (families made by vow and families made by flesh) in a mobile society. If you care about this stuff and have any ideas, comments, anything at all, please email me so we can talk. I hope to post soon with specific ideas along these lines.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they are warm; but how can one be warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

--Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
FACEBOOK MEME: BOOKIE. 1) What author do you own the most books by? Probably Shakespeare--? I have a lot of Nietzsche (possibly all Nietzsche?), Angela Carter, and Agatha Christie. If we’re counting comics, definitely Los Bros. Hernandez.

2) What book do you own the most copies of? Two each of The Secret History and Story of O.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions? Nah, I’m easy.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with? The one who came to mind first is Grantaire--he loves the girls and he loves good wine, to the tune of “Vive Henri IV”!

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)? Hmm... candidates include The Last Unicorn, one of the Bruno and Boots books, or Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones. If things I read first as a child are excluded, probably *waves tentacles in embarrassment* The Closing of the American Mind (at least three times) or The Secret History, again, some more.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old? The Borribles Go for Broke.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year? Since March ’08: Eh, I feel bad naming Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement, because really I’m not sure that book could have been written in a way I would have found awesome. So I’ll say Generation Loss instead. 100 Selected Poems of E.E. CUMMINGS was also disappointing, since he’s able to do individual lines and even occasional whole poems that really hit me.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year? Since January ’09: The Imitation of Christ (re-read) or Perfumes: The Guide. Welcome to the madness that is me.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be? Well, I’m not tagging anyone, though you should feel invited to play if you want to. You guys know which books I’m obsessed with.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature? Your mom. (I reject all Nobel things on principle.)

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie? The Genealogy of Morals.

...OK, I’ll play for real: Hirokazu Kore-eda directs The Plague; Derek Jarman (requiescat in pace) directs Against Nature--not convinced this would be a good movie, but it would definitely be memorable!; Alfred Hitchcock (ditto) directs Wuthering Heights.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie? In general I’m leery of books-turned-movies.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character. Good grief, I can’t think of any! Too busy drinking from the keg of hatred every day, I guess.

14) What is the most low-brow book you've read as an adult? Harry Potter and the Deathly Adverbs.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read? Plato’s Parmenides, maybe. (And I tried to read Capital in fifth grade.)

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen? I don’t think I’ve seen any obscure ones! Lame.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians? Russians.

18) Roth or Updike? Rooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooth. (I mean, I haven’t read Updike, ever. But still: Roth!)

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers? Sorry, haven't read either.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer? Shakespeare because duh, then Milton, one of the great “poets of women’s hair” (Harold Bloom, I think?). If there were a question about comics adaptations rather than movie adaptations, I’d definitely push for a comics Paradise Lost; the snaky, time-shifting, connotation-heavy lines are perfect for sequential art.

21) Austen or Eliot? Austen, though to be honest, she doesn’t really do it for me. I’m like the only chick in the marriage movement who finds it hard to care about Jane Austen.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading? I have never read anything at all by the following authors: Gogol, Proust, Goethe, de Tocqueville, Edith Stein. I’ve never read Portrait of a Lady, or anything even remotely longish by James; ditto Pushkin.

From Aristotle I've read exactly one chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics (on akrasia), and I've never read Plato's Republic, nor have I read The City of God.

I neither speak nor read any language but English. That’s really the biggest gap.

23) What is your favorite novel? The Brothers Karamazov; but also, The Last Unicorn.

24) Play? Lear, but not onstage; for staging, honestly I think Beckett--either Endgame or Godot--because they’re great to read but gain so much from good staging. I’m not good at plays, though, unless they’re Shakespeare.

25) Poem? Eliot’s “Preludes.” I also really love Kathy Shaidle’s “Lobotomy Magnificat.”

26) Essay? I've read far too few essays (except by Orwell and Chesterton) to legitimately call this one; the Orwell essay I always return to is his review of Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography. For Chesterton, “The Architect of Spears.”

27) Short story? This one seems to shift around on me a lot. At the moment it might be something by Octavia Butler--probably the one where no one can communicate, the title of which I consistently forget (irony!). The most recent great short story I read was Eudora Welty, “Keela, The Outcast Indian Maiden,” which made me forgive her for the overpraised “Why I Live at the P.O.” Rebecca Brown’s collection The Terrible Girls was a big influence.

28) Work of non-fiction? Does the Symposium count? Autobiography definitely doesn’t count, so Augustine’s Confessions are right out.

29) Who is your favorite writer? Shakespeare doesn't count, so Dostoevsky vs. Nietzsche.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today? No clue. I don’t read new stuff unless I’m getting paid, pretty much. (Or unless the author is Tim Powers.)

31) What is your desert island book? Arrrrggghhhh! Maybe complete Emily Dickinson?? No, that’s crazy. We’re assuming complete Shakespeare is cheating, as is the Bible. Karamazov again?? The Gay Science???? I hate this question!

32) And... what are you reading right now? Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Highly recommended despite her consistent attacks on symbolism/iconicity.

And the Gospel of John.

And, since I began this meme I've finished the Serano (still highly recommended) and started Kenzaburo Oe, Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!
When I travel out of the country for any length of time, including professional visits, I take one precaution against losing my presence of mind and emotional balance while I am a tumbleweed in an alien landscape: I make certain to take along the books I have been reading prior to my departure.
--Kenzaburo Oe, Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!, tr. John Nathan

Thursday, March 26, 2009

YESTERDAY I LEARNED that there's a flower called a Lenten Rose. It looks like this. (It "thrives in low light"!)
"Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew.' The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit."
--John 3:7-8

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FOOD SAFETY AND SMALL FARMS: John Schwenkler writes:
Over the weekend, Tim Carney and Rod Dreher both had very nice columns on the controversy over the push for the implementation of a National Animal Identification System and other food safety measures being pushed in Congress that would likely pose serious burdens for smaller farmers and other producers who are unable to take advantage of the benefits of economies of scale. ...

What Rod wants, then, is a system that puts stringent regulations in place on the larger producers while granting exemptions for smaller farmers who can’t reasonably be expected to meet them. But granting that this sort of route is clearly possible in principle, is it politically feasible? In my Doublethink piece on raw milk, the dynamic I detected in the battle over regulation in California was essentially the same one that Mark found in his work on the CPSIA controversy: in stark contrast to the naive image of anti-regulatory businessmen squared off against the would-be food nannies in government, the actual relationship between business and government was much more, well, symbiotic than that; it was the corporations that were pushing for the new regulations, and it was hard not to think that they were doing so at least partly because they were cognizant of the effects that such regulation would have on the competition. “Regulation”, as Tim Carney put it to me in a quotation from that article, “always helps the big guys by creating barriers to entry, but there’s a more important dynamic here: When you give the government power, you give the lobbyists power. It also works the other way: When only a handful of businesses dominate an industry, bureaucrats and politicians find it easier to control that industry.”

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings which are given by one Shepherd.
--Ecclesiastes 12:11

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NAGASAKI CAFÉ: I review Watchmen-the-movie here. I really could've written five times as much and not even touched on everything I have to say about this movie; so I've added a lot of geeked-out commentary over here. The NRO piece is vaguely spoilerous, but the stuff here is intensely so.

My old post about Watchmen-the-comic, which I still think is pretty hot.

So, posts at my spoilery site: My emotional arc after seeing the movie; what could I cut? (includes my pushback against the defenders of the softcore-VH1 sex scene, so if you're invested in that sub-argument, that's where I take it on); what the killer's dogs do for the story (includes my pushback against Barbara Nicolosi, whose response I respectfully disagree with); and random notes, including errata for the NRO piece.

Note that if you want to link to any posts at the spoilery site (or here, for that matter!) you need to erase the extra "tail" Blogger adds to the URLs for some reason. So that first post should be

Sorry about that! I wish I knew how to fix it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

WHY do people who say that respect has to be earned never withhold respect from themselves?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AT THE END OF THIS TUNNEL OF GUILT AND SHAME THERE MUST BE A LIGHT OF SOME KIND: Helen's most recent post on shame rounds up all of her arguments to date, and is therefore invaluable. I still stand by the argument I made in her comments box--humiliation often brings spiritual fruit to the shamed, but humiliating others is a form of cruelty which will condemn those who practice it--but I wanted to talk here about one way in which I do believe in "shame culture."

(Ah, before we move on: I also agree with the class-based critique of shame culture, and it's part of the motivation for this post. I don't think there's ever been a shame culture in which poverty wasn't considered shameful--no, read that post first--so that's obviously anti-Christian. And yet there have definitely been vocational subcultures in which underclass background and even female sex weren't treated like crimes.)

Vocational training rests on shame culture. (Helen offers evidence here.) If you discern any kind of creative vocation, you are seeking to enter into a strict community of practice. This community uses harsh methods to teach you how to fulfill your vocation (think Kitchen Confidential) and promotes storylines, narratives of saints and villains, which show you how to live your vocation (newspapermen: All the President's Men) and how not to (Shattered Glass).

This vocation-based shame culture is far less cruel than a universal shame culture, in my opinion, because it is obvious that everyone judging you has submitted to roughly the same standards, and because you are being judged on performance you explicitly chose to make public. Anthony Bourdain can tell you your broccolini is so burnt it looks like something dredged up from Bob Marley's closet because you know he got yelled at and berated by chefs for years. Plus, you chose to present your broccolini to the outside world, your customer base, and not solely your friends, so you've submitted yourself to justice (for strangers!) rather than mercy.

(This btw is part of the intrinsic humility of entrepreneurship. If America can add anything to Catholic practice perhaps she can add this understanding of business as submission.)

The above claims are only partly true. Of course, if you have societal privilege then that privilege will affect how you're judged and which standards--spoken or unspoken--you must meet. To use the chef example again, Anthony Bourdain has written pretty harshly about the difference between the huge numbers of Latinos in the kitchen vs. the tiny numbers of Latino chefs who earn high honors. It's not because brown guys can't cook or run a kitchen, you know? Nonetheless, vocation-as-subculture is a real thing, and vocations build real solidarity, within which harsh chastisement and shaming can be done without self-aggrandizement on the part of the chastiser.

The intense emotion this vocational submission evokes was brought home to me in the Top Chef finale, when the amazing, lovely, super-cute and gentle (and hometown honey!) Carla Hall broke down in tears because she had failed to present good food to the judges. She was ashamed in front of her profession. And I understood: You should be. When you do inadequate work, you should be ashamed. If you aren't, you never understood your profession to begin with.

Vocation is performance--even a hermit's vocation, which is why everyone always bothers hermits!--and so vocation necessarily partakes in shame culture, not just guilt culture.

On the other hand... two caveats. First, I wonder whether Christianity can really support a strong shame/guilt distinction at all--at least if that distinction is cast in Helen's terms, rather than e.g. Ron Belgau's.

God has already "found you out." You are always watched. The only thing I remember from Lewis's Perelandra is the moment when the narrator wishes he could go outside--away from God's eyes!--and just have a quick smoke to re-establish his privacy. This small, human reticence of the cigarette is not available to Christians. For us, guilt is shame. Wrongdoing is always a violation of relationship, even if the only One we betrayed is our Lord.

And the second caveat: How do we understand a profession with a strong vocational ethos, which has nonetheless a deeply conflicted relationship with truth or virtue?

The obvious example for me is tabloid journalism. I far prefer the "black and white and red all over" style to the missish, Brahmin assumptions of the New York Times; but Five-Star Final is a terrific portrait of the cruelties of that profession, the shame involved in shaming others.

So, some questions: If Helen embraces Edward G. Robinson's character's shame in 5SF--he's the tabloid editor who obsessively washes his hands, and by the way, he's amazing in this role--is she necessarily embracing his actions in humiliating others? Can there be different standards of gossip, avoidance of scandal, and charity for different professions? Can a shame culture be a humility culture--rather than, what seems much more likely, a "good-people" culture of Pharisaical (sp??) self-satisfaction?

Fight in my inbox!
MATCHMAKER MATCHMAKER: I got to thinking about my blogroll, and realized I would love to make connections between my readers and other bloggers. So this is an "If you like X, you might like Y" post, along the lines of my shilling for Love and Rockets. I'll try to match reader categories with blogs outside those categories. So be aware that "like" probably means, "be fruitfully challenged by," as vs. "often agree with."

If you read me for arts/comics/movie stuff, you might like the Cigarette Smoking Blog and Racialicious.

If you read me for Catholic stuff, you might like Thunderstruck.

If you read me for gay stuff, you might like CSB again if you're not reading her already; or Noli Irritare Leones; or the Disputed Mutability archives, seriously, try three posts and I will bet you'll get hooked even if you think this is the last blog you'd want to read.

If you read me for conservatism, you might like The Agitator and Hit & Run. The former is run by Radley Balko, who should be Man of the Year if you ask me--you know how Catholics use the phrase "social justice"? That's his job. (Mark Shea and Shea fans, seriously, check him out.)

The latter is the Reason magazine blog, so you might think that you know what to expect, but I'll just say that I've gone back to reading it daily because it has so much to offer for all of us who would critique the modern state--from the left, the right, or the Vatican.

If you're a libertarian for some reason, you might like Colby Cosh or Ta-Nehisi Coates.

If you're on the left, you might like Megan McArdle.
FALLING IN LOVE (IS SO HARD ON THE KNEES): Out of all the responses challenging my half of that Commonweal piece on Scripture and homosexuality, I think Teresa Wymore's might be the strongest. And not just because she says I'm "articulate, brilliant, and dangerous"!

I'm going to respond to those portions of her post where I think I have something to say. So this isn't a comprehensive response, should such a thing be possible; and if you want her full argument, you should read her full post, not this selective rebuttal/drum solo....

"self-hating": If you get that adjective from my essay, it's possible that reading this would be illuminating, esp. the question about changing one's orientation--? I don't know. It's impossible to convince someone else of your internal mental state. I will say that I'm much, much more ashamed of owning the Daredevil soundtrack than of being queer...!

Righteousness and peace shall kiss each other: Teresa writes:
Like many converts who are drawn to the Church, she seems to be seeking a perpetual engine of moral clarity, as if one’s hard moral choices shouldn’t rely on time, place, or circumstance but come in a handy indexed volume.

So there's absolutely no way she could know this, but that is a really inaccurate take on my actual conversion! I think she's using "moral clarity" here to mean, "It's obvious what you should do in particular situations"; and not only was wanting that moral guidance absent from my motivations (as best I can remember), rules were something I strongly resisted.

(Would it help if I said I was almost an English major? One of the things I find so fruitful about Catholicism is the way it meshes rules and roles [sorry for the cute phrasing]--philosophy and literature, thou-shalt-nots and "follow Me," commandments and weird saints. I genuinely don't think Catholicism provides easy or even frequent answers to the moral questions I confront in daily life, even though of course it does rule a lot of things out, like support for torture or for abortion. And to the extent that there is a "rulebook," that rulebook was basically the opposite of my motives for conversion!)

So what did I want? Morality definitely played a role, though perhaps a more abstract one. I wanted justice and knew I needed mercy. I believe very strongly in justice--in desert. Sometimes I attribute this belief to the left-Jewish tradition in which I was raised. That may be overreading, but anyway, I believed in justice and yet fled from applying that standard to myself. ("Relativism means never having to say you're sorry.") The things we do wrong, we can never take back, and never fully make amends for; we simply don't have that capacity. If there is resolution and reconciliation, it must happen outside time and beyond our own abilities to enact justice. Only God can make justice reconciliation, rather than merely punishment.

So there was that. I also sought an explanation for the meaning I found in the beauty of the created world; more on that in a bit, though.

Don't tell me what I want to hear: More Teresa:
She begins her argument with her own coming out story. And then, there is this:

Experience is itself a kind of text, and texts need interpreters. How often have we thought that we understood our experiences, only to realize later that we had only the barest understanding of our own motives and impulses?

Yes, she’s an apologist. Do you recognize the first step of any institution seeking control? Don’t trust yourself.

This I think is the key, the best criticism of my piece, even though the first sentence I quoted does give the hint of how I will respond.

It's my fault that my essay can be read that way--as if I'm making the self-contradictory statement that your core epistemological principle should be self-mistrust. (Who is doing the mistrusting? Why, myself!) I don't help this misunderstanding by occasionally using "self-mistrust" as a synonym for humility.

What I actually meant can perhaps be discerned by noting that I don't only begin the Commonweal piece with my coming-out story. I begin it with two parallel love stories: my crush on a high-school girl, and my Catholic conversion. The implicit narrative of the essay is the story of how love of Christ and His Bride the Church became more central to my life than lesbian love (real love, not just crushes!), and how, therefore, I began to interpret the latter kind of love in light of the former.

Both of these loves are things I really experienced my own self. So my argument probably should not have been cast in terms of experience vs. tradition, but in terms of which experiences lead us to reinterpret prior experiences and transform our response to subsequent experiences.

(Was I perhaps hampered in making my case clearly because a) my conversion had a lot of philosophical work on the front end--there were a lot of things I needed to work on through reason, before I could convert, and/or b) I find it very difficult to describe the experiential aspects of my conversion, what it felt like, in ways I think might resonate with others?)

Sure of You: Teresa:
Scripture is a result of personal experience, both produced and interpreted by the personal experiences of a fraction of humanity during ages of class oppression. I do believe it is divinely inspired; I’m just waiting for the divine interpretation. The Tradition that has given us our current understanding of Scripture is based in patriarchal culture, which Tushnet herself seems to acknowledge with a nod early, but now forgets.

OK, I'm boring on this stuff. I don't get why you'd trust Scripture at all, to the extent of believing it is divinely inspired, if you don't trust the Tradition which canonized, preserved, and translated it. Why not the Gnostic gospels, or any story you find meaningful? Without the Church, the Bible is simply "one bible among others."

But more to the point, again, for me it is a question of certainty. I am more sure of the church of Caravaggio, Wilde, Augustine, Anselm, Juan Sánchez Cotán, John Paul II, and Dorothy Day than I am sure that gay sex is a-okay. In my essay I did try to argue for submission to the Church, but of course if you are more certain that prohibiting gay sex is cruel and unjust than you are of the Catholic Church's teaching authority, that argument will be utterly unpersuasive to you, as it should be.

Teresa summarizes well here (although I think the word "rewards" is vague enough to foster misunderstanding--a cross is a reward, you know?--and I'd replace "replace" with "transform"):
I want to ask why she gave up sexual relationships. Did she surrender that expression through discipline or did one desire replace a stronger one in her? My question, you see, is whether she chose her own sacrifice and finds more rewards when she chooses to support tradition and live in conformity with official teaching on sexuality. And yet, she seems to be telling other lesbians who find greater rewards in personal sexual relationships that they are not listening to God.

Tushnet has chosen to make a sacrifice of her lesbian sexuality, but maybe God wants her to sacrifice her attachment to a patriarchal tradition. I would say only she knows the answer to that. She would say the Church knows better than she does.

But then she says this, to which I hardly know how to respond because it seems to come from such a different sense of what Christianity is:
What would make me more open to Tushnet’s ideas is if she simply made the point that she chooses celibacy because she finds greater rewards in it, not because she’s choosing the moral high ground.

I mean... does this translate to, "It's okay to be celibate if you feel fluffy about it, but not if you're doing it just because it's the right thing to do"? I think even those who believe not all homosexual people are called to celibacy should still reject this claim if they believe in vocation, since vocation is not something you choose. So you may have a celibate vocation even if there are no evident "rewards" for you in that life, and you believe other gay ladies can get busy with their ladyloves as much as they like. This phrasing of "reward" vs. "moral high ground" isn't how I think about either universal morality or particular vocation, so like I said, I'm kind of baffled as to how to respond; and possibly I'm therefore being too dismissive--? I dun' get it.

Me, I think the universal morality of "no gay sex" requires of me a personal vocation including but not limited to celibacy. (I think my primary vocation is writing, though that may well be completely self-aggrandizing. But in general I think it's best to conceive one's vocation as positive--I have a vocation to pregnancy center counseling, I have a vocation as the friend of those I love--rather than negative.) But I just wouldn't use the terms Teresa uses here, and I challenge them.

Saint Monica, Rene Girard/preserve me from my past: Then Teresa switches to a discussion of James Alison vs. Rene Girard, which began on this note:
But I find discomfort with any idea of sacrifice. Claiming that Christianity breaks the cycle of escalating sacrificial violence by having us make sacifices of ourselves is seeming less true to me all the time. I’ve never really seen the difference between sacrificing someone else as a scapegoat versus sacrificing ourselves.

At first I found this a bizarre statement. Murder and martyrdom are equivalent! Stealing your wallet and punching you in the face is just like turning the other cheek! Yeah, no.

Besides which, I've been on the whole love-requires-sacrifice kick for a long time.

But one of her commenters wrote:
...I guess one question is, does letting someone enact violence reinforce the mechanism of violence or contribute to its end? Thinking about the U.S. civil rights fight, and then thinking about domestic abuse and mob violence, I come up with different answers.

And this made me see the real challenge here, to which I have no adequate response. When does witness become enabling? When does Adam Smith become right, and mercy to the guilty becomes cruelty to the innocent?

I have no answers; but I would recommend that anyone interested in the questions check out David Adams Richards's novel Mercy Among the Children. Here's part of what I said about it in Crisis magazine in February '02:
Very few authors today believe in human greatness as sincerely as David Adams Richards does.

That may seem like a strange conclusion to draw from a novel set among poor rural Canadians, in which a relentlessly kind couple is ostracized, beaten, abused, poisoned by chemical dumping, and accused of everything from theft to child molestation and murder. A list of the horrors to which Elly and Sydney Henderson are subjected would read almost comically, like the stage directions from Titus Andronicus: "Enter Lavinia, with hands cut off, tongue cut out, and ravished." But in Richards's hands, despite the book's stylistic flaws, both the abuses and the gentle response are believable.

The book's creed might be: I believe that good and evil are real. I believe that complete pacifism, self-sacrifice, and sainthood are possible. I believe that we can love our enemies. I believe that any man can search for the truth, that any woman can find it. ...

But notice, too, what is left out: I believe in God. I believe that it is good to be a saint. Those are two conclusions Richards, within the world of his novel, does not reach.

As a child, Sydney Henderson almost killed another boy while fighting drunk on a snow-covered rooftop. Afterward, he made a pact with God that he would never harm another person. ...

But is it even possible to understand the nature of Sydney's pact? He is Christlike, but there are moments when his life seems as much Stoic as Christian. Sydney sometimes appears to believe not that harming others is wrong but that it will ultimately backfire. He tells Elly, "[N]o one can do an injury to you without doing an injury to themselves. ...Those who scorn you taunt only themselves." This belief doesn't square with Sydney's passivity--he won't even tell others when they are acting wrongly. Sometimes it's clear that he is silent because he fears his own power to hurt. But if Sydney truly believes that the viciousness inflicted upon him will harm its perpetrators most, why doesn't he try to stop them, for their own sakes?

(There's more to the book than that, obviously; I'm just quoting the part of my review which engages with the questions Teresa and her interlocutors raise.)

All for now....
THE FEAST OF SAINT LONGINUS: "...[T]he American military now earns a 'great deal' of trust from a larger swathe of the American public than the White House, Congress, the media, and organized religion combined."
I'm your daytime blogwatch at the Taco Tiki Hut...

Amy Welborn:
...When I think of St. Patrick, the word that comes to mind is forgiveness.

For St. Patrick had been kidnapped as a boy, and taken in slavery to Ireland, held there for years.

When it was time, years later, to share the Gospel, Patrick responded to the call - to share that Good News in Ireland, with those who had caused him great suffering and even killed members of his family.

His story reminds me of that of St. Isaac Jogues, another disciple of Jesus who returned to serve those who persecuted him.

It makes you think. What are the limits of my love?


Ta-Nehisi Coates:
...I think it takes a real flight of fancy to dismiss the culture argument. If you are rich and you've been rich for generations, you almost certainly develop cultural habits. Likewise, if you're poor and you've been poor for generations, you do the same. If you've been wealthy for generations and you were suddenly asked to function in the ghetto, you may have problems because you didn't know the rules. You weren't acculturated. Likewise, if you're poor and you're trying to climb up the economic ladder, you may also have problems. What will keep you safe in the projects, may well get you fired from a job, or kicked out of school. I think this would be true whether you are poor in West Baltimore, or poor in West Virginia.

But one reason that a lot of African-Americans get pissed off at cultural arguments is because the "culture of poverty" is often so easily transposed over the "culture of black people." I went to public school all my life. So does my son. I've had my share of contact with the culture of poverty. But the culture that encourages people to jump the broom at weddings, isn't the same as the culture that makes drug-dealing a choice occupation. The culture at, say, Spelman isn't the same as the culture of the projects here in Harlem. And the culture at Spelman isn't the same as the culture at Howard.

more (this is a blog post, not a treatise, so I'm going to pretend I don't see the parts where Coates tries to lump all cultures-of-poverty together and handwave ways in which the contemporary US black culture of poverty is a) different from previous US black cultures of poverty, b) different from non-black cultures of poverty, and therefore c) not inevitable--its good aspects need preserving and its bad aspects can be combated....)
"BETTER": Short story by me, at Doublethink. What if the aliens are just better?
Once, twice, thrice--as I crept close
Into the ark, the nest, the bride,
Into the pulse, into the life, into the wounded side

--Eliza Kearny, "Christine and Mary"

Friday, March 06, 2009


ingredients: two skinless catfish fillets, a big lemon, a big yellow onion, some butter, and sea salt; tinfoil; eventually, a potato

I turned the oven to 400, put the fillets in a baking dish, and squeezed half the lemon over them. I dotted them with butter, then covered the dish with foil and put it in the oven. While it was cooking, I sliced half the onion.

The fish cooked for... I don't know... ten minutes? fifteen?, and then I uncovered it, added the sliced onions, and returned it to the oven at 375 for another sevenish minutes.

Then out and into the dish! Scattered sea salt over it and devoured with glee. This was fantastic--buttery, lemony, catfishy. You're left with extra lemon butter, which I used to flavor a baked potato. It was so good, I questioned the wisdom of allowing fish during Lent.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

BETTE DAVIS SAYS, "GIT OFF MAH PROPERTY!" Hey guys. I'm swamped in work here, but I need to tell you all about various things involving Amy Welborn, who bestrides the Catholic blog world like a Colossus. So please go away, and read her instead.

First, she has a really powerful meditation here, on one unexpected effect of her husband's recent, unexpected death.

Second, she has moved blogquarters, and will be doing most of her posting at BeliefNet, here. She'll be posting more often; right now she's asking what you heard and saw in church on Ash Wednesday and on the first Sunday of Lent.

Amy is a lovely writer and a deeply sensible person. You'll want to check in with her often.

For my part, once I dig myself out of work--probably Sundayish?--I should have posts on: Aerosmith, Rene Girard, ye olde Commonweal piece, and CanLit; shame and vocation (and Top Chef); more gay-marriage compromises, but this post is actually about adelphopoesis; and how God is like a killer mutant cat.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

EVE'S ADVICE TO THE LOVELORN: Just a bit more on that APA thing.

Some commenters have suggested that requiring only gay people to abstain is differential treatment which constitutes discrimination. This claim prompted a series of thoughts, which I present here, ranging from most relevant to the APA to least; the ones most relevant to the APA are least interesting to me, though, and vice very versa.

"It's Lent." "Well, when you get it back, come up and see me sometime!": Does the APA prohibit marital-status discrimination? If so, it seems that unmarried heterosexuals are "similarly situated" to homosexuals at completely-Christian-conduct-code colleges; if required abstinence is discrimination, and marital-status discrimination is barred, unmarried heteros can get just as indignant as gay people.

And yet that isn't the issue. I wonder why!

(Sex is the new religion, and the gay-liberation movement is the new Caesaropapism.)

Juno and Mary: Actually, I suspect you could also bring a claim of sex discrimination against anti-fornication colleges, given that only women get pregnant, thus only women might be faced with the choice between dismissal from their jobs or clandestine abortion.

That's one of many, many reasons I don't actually support the C-C-C-C colleges.

But again: Why hasn't this issue been raised? Possibly--and I don't know the players, so I'm just raising this as a possibility--because gay and straight people have a very easy time isolating themselves from the other group's tragedies, in this culture. I wrote about that here. Although this is a stupid idea for many reasons, I still do wish that every straight evangelical could be forced to spend time at a gay-youth group, like the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League here in DC, and every gay-liberationist could be forced to hold the hand of a woman sobbing because of an unwanted pregnancy or a decades-past abortion.

There's really enough suffering to go around.

A woman taken in adultery: This whole kerfuffle got me thinking about how I would reshape C-C-C-C colleges, if I could. Because I do get that the gutter-punching, "here comes everybody," bar-brawl style of a Yale (or Georgetown, or Notre Dame) education isn't necessary for or beneficial to everyone.

I guess I'd say that you could replace conduct codes with: a) parables of transgression and forgiveness. This is how Jesus did it, you know? What if your college conduct guide told you stories of how you could be forgiven academic, sexual, even criminal transgressions? What if they gave examples of confession, penance, and communal re-embrace--not just rules?

b) a requirement that you profess certain beliefs, and/or not speak against them. I like this less, but it does get at the key claim that heresy is worse than acknowledged sin. It would also distinguish interestingly between sins which are commonplace at university yet kept quiet (drunkenness, lechery, hypocrisy); those which are commonplace and condemned (dishonesty, plagiarism); and those which are commonplace and argued for strenuously as human rights (no need to list them!). Sinners of all kinds would be welcome; heretics would be advised not to attempt to spread their heresies.

Neither of these are what I, personally, would want in a college--I basically would want Yale, and hey!, I got her--but they're better than a cocoon of complete conduct-code conformity.