Friday, December 23, 2011

Some sages of our own decadence have made a serious attack on the family. They have impugned it, as I think wrongly; and its defenders have defended it, and defended it wrongly. The common defence of the family is that, amid the stress and fickleness of life, it is peaceful, pleasant, and at one. But there is another defence of the family which is possible, and to me evident; this defence is that the family is not peaceful and not pleasant and not at one....

The modern writers who have suggested, in a more or less open manner, that the family is a bad institution, have generally confined themselves to suggesting, with much sharpness, bitterness, or pathos, that perhaps the family is not always very congenial. Of course the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial. It is wholesome precisely because it contains so many divergencies and varieties. It is, as the sentimentalists say, like a little kingdom, and, like most other little kingdoms, is generally in a state of something resembling anarchy. It is exactly because our brother George is not interested in our religious difficulties, but is interested in the Trocadero Restaurant, that the family has some of the bracing qualities of the commonwealth. It is precisely because our uncle Henry does not approve of the theatrical ambitions of our sister Sarah that the family is like humanity. The men and women who, for good reasons and bad, revolt against the family, are, for good reasons and bad, simply revolting against mankind. Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like mankind. Papa is excitable, like mankind. Our youngest brother is mischievous, like mankind. Grandpapa is stupid, like the world; he is old, like the world.

--GK Chesterton, Heretics. Also via RB. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Then live, my strength, anchor of weary ships,
Safe shore and land at last, thou, for my wreck,
My honour, thou, and my abiding rest,
My city safe for a bewildered heart.
That though the plains and mountains and the sea
Between us are, that which no earth can hold
Still follows thee, and love’s own singing follows,
Longing that all things may be well with thee.
Christ who first gave thee for a friend to me,
Christ keep thee well, where’er thou art, for me.
Earth’s self shall go and the swift wheel of heaven
Perish and pass, before our love shall cease.
Do but remember me, as I do thee,
And God, who brought us on this earth together,
Bring us together to his house of heaven.

--Hrabanus Maurus (a Benedictine monk and archbishop), addressed to Abbot Grimold of St. Gall. From Mediaeval Latin Lyrics (pdf), tr. Helen Waddell, and via RB.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

THEY'VE GOT THE FINEST HOME MOVIES THAT YOU HAVE EVER SEEN: Did you know that Less Than Zero is a Christmas movie? It's festive and totally appropriate!

No, it's actually a 1987 adaptation of a Bret Ellis novel; Robert Downey Jr. plays a downward-spiraling coke addict, which was, let's say, a triumph of method acting. It's set in LA, it opens with this song, it's glossy and Swatch-colored from start to finish, its dialogue is on-the-nose ("Did you girls know that you have television sets between your legs?"), and all the players deliver their lines in a kind of actressy drunken rant. I get why people might watch this for camp value. But I loved it pretty unreservedly and found it genuinely painful to watch. Downey is terrific, and Jamie Gertz and Andrew McCarthy (I know!) worked really well because they always sounded fake--they sounded like people who weren't sure how to say the things they had to say. The movie hits very hard on something David Carr also writes really powerfully about in The Night of the Gun: When you've broken a sufficient number of promises, to yourself or to others, there's no way to speak words that can be trusted, and the attempt to do so only makes you more painfully aware of your own untrustworthiness.

The ending is OTT in a way I didn't care for (eta: it's really AfterSchool Special-ish), but whatever, I'm not trying to defend this movie to you. I'm trying to say that I got a lot from what it was doing.
A cunning and obstinate buffoon, Fyodor Pavlovich, while he had a very firm character "in certain things in life," as he himself put it, showed, to his own surprise, even a rather weakish character in certain other "things in life." And he knew which ones, he knew and was afraid of many things. In certain things in life one had to be on one's guard, and that was difficult without a faithful man. And Grigory was a most faithful man. It even so happened that many times in the course of his career, Fyodor Pavlovich might have been beaten, and beaten badly, but Grigory always came to his rescue, though he admonished him each time afterwards. But Fyodor Pavlovich would not have been afraid of beatings alone: there were higher occasions, even rather subtle and complicated ones, when Fyodor Pavlovich himself would have been unable, perhaps, to explain this remarkable need for a close and faithful man that he would sometimes, all of a sudden, momentarily and inconceivably, begin to feel in himself. These occasions were almost morbid: most depraved, and, in his sensuality, almost as cruel as a wicked insect, Fyodor Pavlovich at times suddenly felt in himself, in his drunken moments, a spiritual fear, a moral shock, that almost, so to speak, resounded physically in his soul. "On those occasions it's as if my soul were fluttering in my throat," he sometimes used to say. And at such moments he was glad that nearby, close at hand, maybe not in the same room but in the cottage, there was such a man, firm, devoted, not at all like himself, not depraved, who, though he saw all this depravity going on and knew all the secrets, still put up with it all out of devotion, did not protest, and--above all--did not reproach him or threaten him with anything either in this age or in the age to come; and who would defend him if need be--from whom? From someone unknown, but terrible and dangerous. The thing precisely was that there should be another man, ancient and amicable, who could be summoned in a morbid moment, so that he could look him in the face and perhaps exchange a few words, even quite irrelevant words, and if it's all right and he does not get angry, then somehow it eases the heart, but if he gets angry, well, then it's a little sadder.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"You see, stupid as I am, I still keep thinking about it, I keep thinking, every once in a while, of course, not all the time. Surely it's impossible, I think, that the devils will forget to drag me down to their place with their hooks when I die. And then I think: hooks? Where do they get them? What are they made of? Iron? Where do they forge them? Have they got some kind of factory down there? You know, in the monastery the monks probably believe there's a ceiling in hell, for instance. Now me, I'm ready to believe in hell, only there shouldn't be any ceiling; that would be, as it were, more refined, more enlightened, more Lutheran, in other words. Does it really make any difference--with a ceiling or without a ceiling? But that's what the damned question is all about! Because if there's no ceiling, then there are no hooks. And if there are no hooks, the whole thing falls apart, which, again, is unlikely, because then who will drag me down with hooks, because if they don't drag me down, what then, and where is there any justice in the world? Il faudrait les inventer, those hooks, just for me, for me alone. Because you have no idea, Alyosha, what a stinker I am...!"

"No, there are no hooks there," Alyosha said quietly and seriously, studying his father.

"Yes, yes. Only shadows of hooks. I know, I know."

--The Brothers Karamazov (tr Richard Pevear and Larissa Volonkhosky)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"THE PROPER BASIS FOR MARRIAGE IS A MUTUAL MISUNDERSTANDING": Notes I didn't use for my review of Premarital Sex in America. Sorry about the length! I thought this book did a good job of advancing the ball in terms of our understanding of American ideas about marriage and sex. It's worth your time. Everything that follows is something I thought as a result of this book, not necessarily something the book said itself, unless it's in quotation marks.

Oh, and: I snagged the epigraph for my review from the Cigarette Smoking Blog.

p1: "premarital" no longer typically implies sex between two people who eventually do marry one another--pre-marital sex. (Although Maggie Gallagher points out that according to the CDC, "32 percent of currently married women under the age of 45 say they have had only one sex partner in their life. ... If the data are accurate, they suggest there are at least as many adult women under the age of 45 who have never had sex with anyone but their husband as there are gay people in the general population.")

p34: Especially after high school, oral sex isn't an alternative to intercourse; it's a warmup. Thinking of it as a birth control strategy, a means of maintaining "technical virginity," etc, requires a lot of naivete about human nature.

p60: 1/5 of sexually-active young men have had sex on the first day of knowing someone! And only 13% of s.a.y.m. have waited more than a year for sex.

pp 60-1: men w/fewer economic resources tend to have more partners, not fewer

p61: guys who've had more partners tend to be quicker to perceive women as less attractive after sex

(With all of these correlations and statistics, the point is not to say, "There are no exceptions, and people never change!" If you don't think this stuff applies to you, maybe it doesn't!--although I do generally think we're less exceptional than we'd like. And the stats might help you see places where you or someone you love does fit the average models, and therefore where you do need to put more conscious effort into changing or into addressing their issues. Knowing what kind of emotional baggage many people bring away from the experiences you've had can help you jettison that baggage--in part by suggesting that you're not uniquely messed-up if these are issues you have. Anyway, this is one of the many, many things I wanted to say in the AFF piece to mitigate its advice-column or preachy quality, but I ran out of room....)

p64: Birth control has made women slightly more like men (i.e. able to have relatively less-consequential, less-costly sex) rather than making men more like women (i.e. desiring high-cost, high-commitment sex)

p88: A girl says oral sex is "vulgar" but women should be nice and "giving" in relationships and do it anyway. This gets at one aspect of what you might call the Dan Savage worldview which I hadn't considered: If social norms shift such that the default is more like the "Good, Giving, and Game" model where you do the sex act you'd (strongly, in the case of anal sex, as Regnerus and Uecker find) prefer not to do, women have to give in a lot more often than men. (Assuming that this shift in social norms doesn't radically shift which sex acts men vs women object to and how strongly.) The "GGG" model can be just another way of playing on women's altruism--and our preference for justifying our actions as altruism even when there are a lot of other motives in play.

[ETA: I should make clear that I think this gender imbalance is an unintended consequence of the "GGG" idea. I mean, I don't think Dan Savage came up with this phrase in order to prey on women's insecurities! But I do think it plays into some of those insecurities.]

p104: "Hooking up" is more common at elite universities than lower-tier ones. Elite-U students are too focused on their educations and future careers to make time for an intense relationship, basically, but they still want sex.

p107: imbalanced campus sex ratios (i.e. more women per man--an increasingly common situation) lowers women's control of sexual relationships

p110: The authors imply that there isn't a script for regretting casual sex--they write as if seeking out sex is scripted but regretting it is more authentic or less socially-condoned, and I'm not convinced that's true.

p126: if college sex ratios remain the same "for long," 26 of 100 women will have to marry down educationally

p137: there's a minority of women for whom "no strings attached" sex is the ideal (though, p157, not an especially workable one). What I take from this is that there's a need to convey, culturally, that this preference is less beautiful, that beauty requires vulnerability. (One danger is that in making that point we might unintentionally sound like we're invoking Love in the Western World-style anti-marriage romantic tropes.)

p141: Very weak link between sexual behavior and depression in men (unlike the correlations for women between, e.g., more sex partners and a higher incidence of depression)--did they look for links to aggression or self-destructive behaviors? In other words, when we look for "depression" are we ignoring how the same emotional distress might manifest in people with more testosterone? They mention that men often express hurt differently, pp162-3, but don't really explore the idea.

p152: "The Sex Itself Is Not the Problem"--it's number of partners. Currently being in a sexual relationship typically makes women feel better. "Indeed, the sex is operating as it tends to--bonding persons, deepening relationships, and fostering greater interpersonal intimacy."

p161: "One study of casual sex in college notes that the most likely pairing is between self-confident men and distressed, depressed women."

They also explore the direction of the causal arrow here (i.e. which came first, higher incidence of depression or higher number of partners?)

p177: Catholics marry "early" (before age 24) second-last after black Protestants! And that's even though Hispanic men are more likely to marry early. "Catholics, Jews, and the religiously-unaffiliated." I know there are a lot of reasons for those numbers, but I am pretty sure it's not a good sign for the spiritual and vocational formation of Our Young People.

p182: I would like to distance myself from the authors' sunshiney reading of our economic crisis. That is all.

p183: Young adults believe that identity-formation should happen before marriage, as vs. marriage being one of the biggest sources and shapers of identity; p185: If you change within marriage that's viewed as a threat to the marriage, so marriage requires you to stop changing and to have already done your identity-formation. This seems to me to be a result, in part, of divorce "scripts" like, "He's not the man I married." We don't hear nearly enough about how to reshape or renew a marriage when a spouse changes.

p186: wishful thinking and misinformation about peak fertility

p188-9: parental resistance to young marriage--this is a major factor

p190: learning to be "good in bed" as a "transferable skill set," rather than learning to please the specific person you love and marry

p194: idealization of marriage means no relationship can live up to it

p220: the effects of childhood/youth mobility on later marriage outcomes: maybe "they get used to breakups." p221: Early geographic mobility is correlated with both liberalism and a higher number of sex partners--and the sex-partners correlation remains even after various common-sense things are controlled for like race, age, socioeconomic status, and parents' marital status.

p231: In discussing demography, the authors use this phrase: "the unintended byproducts of often rational and optimal decisions by regular people to have fewer children and a life richer in economic success and personal experiences." I have bolded the part that is bizarre and telling.

p232: The fruits of the Second Demographic Transition are money and freedom

p234: "Blues grow... by conversion... higher education and social class mobility. Reds tend to grow by reproduction."

p234: "Reds" are guiltier, more conflicted (earlier we've seen how much they're torn between a script in which marriage and family life is the primary goal and a script in which career and economic stability is the primary goal--and those scripts really do conflict for them). They're torn between two worldviews, marginalized--they don't stand within their own POV the way "blues" seem to. (Obviously this is wildly generalizing, but as a wild generalization I think it works. There's a reason I wish I'd titled my review of Red Families vs. Blue Families, a book written from an intensely "blue" perspective, "Written by the Victors.")

And on that depressing note, I guess I'll end. I like the authors' decision not to do the obligatory last chapter where they offer their ten-point plan for cultural renewal. You'll note that I couldn't resist it myself. They're humbler than me.
“Have you seen the listening snake?”
bramble clutches for his bride,
Lately she was by his side,
Woodbine, with her gummy hands.

In the ground the mottled snake
Listens for the dawn of day;
Listens, listening death away,
Till the day burst winter’s bands.

--from John Gray, "The Vines--To Andre Chevrillon," whole thing here

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"BREAKING 'THE RULES'": In which I review a couple books:
Why don’t Americans know how to get and stay married? Whatever we think the word means we still value marriage very highly: The National Marriage Project and the Gallup poll organization have found that between 80 and 90 percent of American teens want to get married someday. And yet we delay, we divorce, and we churn through relationships so quickly that in 2004 only 61 percent of American children were living with both of their biological parents. Why can’t we get and keep what we say we want?

Maybe we lack role models. As we wander around aimlessly, the pejorative term “extended adolescence” has become the euphemism “emerging adulthood.” Kate Bolick’s much discussed Atlantic article, “All the Single Ladies,” seems to offer this explanation for its author’s eventual surrender to singleness.

And yet two recent books argue that a big part of our problem is that we do have role models, conventions, cultural mores, and rules to follow. It’s just that the rules don’t work. Paul Hollander’s Extravagant Expectations: New Ways to Find Romantic Love in America and Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker’s Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, And Think About Marrying take very different approaches to the question of how Americans mate and marry. Extravagant Expectations is a work of pop-philosophy that muses about how modernity and the Romantic movement have influenced personals ads and internet dating. Premarital Sex is a research-based look at the sexual practices and beliefs of young Americans from a broad range of class, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Yet both end up arguing that Americans today are working from fairly well-defined “scripts” about love, dating, marriage--and selfhood. Perhaps, they conclude, our marriage problems ultimately spring from a flawed understanding of what it means to become an adult.


I'm not really satisfied with this piece, and I ended up leaving out a lot of important stuff from the Regnerus/Uecker book, so later I'll post some of my notes from that book.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

--Antonio Machado; whole thing is here

Thursday, December 08, 2011

SINCE IT'S THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION (for two more hours), here's Peggy Fleming, "Ave Maria." (And Nicole Bobek's lovely program from the same event.)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

DO THE RIGHT THING: I don't care much about Tolkein, but I liked how this post (via Wesley Hill) delineates two different kinds of morality tale: the one about the difficulty of knowing which choice is right, and the one about the difficulty of doing the good even when you know it.

Tangentially: I've just watched two recent adaptations of Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. I really don't approve of how much they mistrust their audience (they're very tarted-up with chase scenes and self-referential inside jokes and that sort of thing, and the language is mostly simplified) so I don't think I recommend them, even though I did like a lot of things I think most people wouldn't, such as Minnie Driver. I always like her. Anyway, the story of An Ideal Husband is strong enough that it's still very moving. Earnest is harder to get right--so much of its humor depends on the contrast between the ridiculous triviality of its characters' scruples and objections, and the genuine emotional weight of those scruples' consequences. You have to make it both dizzy and poignant.

Both of them are morality plays, of course; in Husband the wrongdoing is really serious, while in Earnest it's the exact opposite of that. There's a sort of meta-moral to be drawn from the fact that the forgiveness which makes the comedic ending possible is the same in both plays.
NEW YORK TIMES STORY BINGO 2011. Not always quite on-target (the aura-cleansing one) and it's not like Fashion Week clothes are supposed to be off-the-rack wearable, but enough of this works that I will allow it. Via IP, but I'm adding this lady to the blogroll because she is funny and interesting and so are her commenters.
AN OPIUM-ADDICTED SAINT. And one who was actually forbidden to receive Communion for decades due to his addiction.
AND THE RED DEATH HELD DOMINION OVER ALL! Christopher Coe's I Look Divine is a slender, self-consciously perfect little poison gem of a book. It's a novel about two brothers in the 1960s through the 1980s: the narrator is obsessed with his brother Nicholas, and Nicholas is enraptured by himself. The book begins as the narrator is preparing to clean out Nicholas's apartment after his untimely death, and so a lot of the glassy humor has a dark tinge.

This may be the actual gayest book I've ever read, which is really saying something. It deploys the imagery of homosexuality as narcissism. And yet in its final paragraphs this claustrophobic, folie-a-deux novel opens up into a kind of Dance of Death in which we see that Nicholas's ideal of personal victory through style and sexual conquest is not an exclusively gay pursuit. Across time and culture, humans assert and exalt themselves in the teeth of death.

This book is a perfect combination of brittle witticisms and haunted memorial. Like I said, the gayest thing I've ever read.
KITCHEN ADVENTURES: BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. Mostly my leftover adventures this post-Thanksgiving have been far from adventurous: turkey sandwich, toasted turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and apple and munster, soup with leftover whatnot, macaroni and cheese with leftover whatnot. All tasty, none innovative. But! I had most of a can of cranberry sauce left over, and I pretty much never eat it except with turkey, so I had to get creative. And so yesterday and today I have had what might actually be the best breakfast food I have ever eaten anywhere, even England.

The recipe is stupidly simple. You need chickpea flour (yes, this is another socca recipe!), cayenne, salt, cinnamon, dried rosemary, butter, water, and cranberry sauce.

To make the batter, mix all the dry ingredients together and add water. Just guess how much if you've made socca before; if not, here's a recipe with quantities. While you're mixing...

Brown the butter very slightly in a pan. To do this, melt it... let it get foamy... then there will be a point where you can see that it is just starting to shimmer from golden into tan.

That's when you pour the batter in. Let the pancake cook until it starts to bubble on top and slides very easily along the buttered pan when pushed by a spatula. Flip it and brown the other side.

Plate with the sauce, say grace, and devour! Best accompanied by a glass of whole milk.

This is immensely tasty: sweet but not too sweet, spicy enough to play really well with the cranberry sauce, and filling. I've tried making savory socca with an egg and some milk replacing the water in the batter, and that was great; it would probably make this dish even better, assuming improvement is possible. I seriously loved this and am already wishing it were breakfast time again.
By definition, the language of liberalism fails to engage on common terms with the communion of saints and the lordship of Christ.
--Christopher C. Roberts, Creation and Covenant: The Significance of Sexual Difference in the Moral Theology of Marriage

One thing I found heartening at Oriented to Love was how many of us--from quite varying religious, philosophical, and political perspectives--made strong critiques of the liberal rights-framework as applied to homosexuality, without backing away from our commitment to seeking justice for LGBT people. A bit more on that, probably, in the write-up I'm doing for PRISM magazine.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

JUST TO REMIND YOU, BEFORE ADVENT: Daniel Mitsui's November series on Christian artwork of death continues. Click here for the front page, but don't miss this requiem chasuble, these souls in purgatory, this death's-head rosary, and this ossuary (one of several he's posted).
I would say that those men are beasts rather than human beings who declare that a man ought to live in such a way as to be to no one a source of consolation, to no one a source even of grief or burden; to take no delight in the good fortune of another, or impart to others no bitterness because of their own misfortune, caring to cherish no one and to be cherished by no one.
--Aelred (the character) in St. Aelred, Spiritual Friendship. I have been thinking about the spiritual harm done when I am too proud to be a burden on others.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

There might be another way. Maybe I could pay to get this done, pay someone to pack up and empty this place out. There must be companies you can call, the way you do when you move, companies that come with cartons, with padded wrap, and do it for you.

There must be a way to get it done, without doing it yourself.

--I Look Divine

Friday, November 18, 2011

"FOR AS LONG AS SPINOZA IS A JEW, HE SPEAKS AS A JEW, EVEN IF WHAT HE SAYS IS FAR FROM JEWISH." Fantastic blog post from The Groom's Family (Soviet Russia->Israeli Jewish->Orthodox Christian convert, you should be reading her already!) about David Ives's play about the trial of Baruch Spinoza. I wrote about it here. Ah, the interplay between control and powerlessness (in the face of the state, and in the face of the community) is so well-described in this post, and her closing thought is so ferocious. Fantastic stuff.
He used to pretend that pencils were long cigarette holders and would glide around rooms flicking ashes into flowerpots, saying things like, "Daddy, don't be droll."
--Christopher Coe, I Look Divine

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

UP THY CHIMNEYS, ENGLAND, ENGLAND: The Cigarette Smoking Blog on Sir Roger Casement.
A FOUR-LETTER WORD: [edited to correct spelling!] I just got back from "Oriented to Love," a pretty intense retreat dedicated to exploring issues in gay Christian life. It was organized by Kristyn Komarnicki of PRISM magazine, and it found what I thought was an unexpectedly necessary balance of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual work. So here's a series of one-liners, the punchlines I took away from our time together. Misreadings are mine, as always. In chronological order. Your thoughts always more than welcome! Filling may be hot.

* Sexual wholeness is more a property of communities or churches than it is of individuals.

* This is third-hand, so bear with me, but one reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that when the story is finished and Jesus asks, "Who was his neighbor?" and the Pharisee says, "The one who showed him mercy"... the Pharisee is placed in the role of the wounded man. The one who thought of himself in the powerful role, the role of the man extending his hand in charity, instead sees himself as the wounded man in need of mercy. And Jesus not only acknowledges his wounds and dirtiness and pledges to cleanse, heal, and forgive him, but also gives him the task of going and doing likewise--now from a position of gratitude and humility, rather than a never-sullied position of privilege and power.

* We were asked to think of three concrete ways God has shown us mercy. I had a few in mind, but after hearing from several of the other participants I realized that I had only identified places where I have been lucky. Privilege, basic health, good work, and financial security are things I'm immensely grateful for, but God's mercy is a fiercer thing.

* We were supposed to read slips of paper and react in some way to the words or sentences on the slips. One woman read out, "I don't believe people are born gay because the Bible says homosexuality is a sin." And she got this blunt matter-of-fact look on her face and said, basically, that this was clearly illogical because she was born with the inclinations to envy, to covet, and to many other sins.

There are at least two readings of this response, and I think it speaks so much to the good will of the retreats' participants (and organizer!) that I don't think any of us took the uncharitable one. But it wouldn't be hard, in a less open, vulnerable, and trusting group, to assume that she was cordoning herself off into the logical sphere where actual gay people's actual experiences are kind of irrelevant, in the same way that you don't ask about love or emotions when you're trying to solve a math problem.

Instead, it was obvious that her head and her heart were pulling in tandem. And what I at least was able to take away from her explanation was that we very often support what might even be accurate conclusions with premises and forms of argument which undermine our own spiritual practice. In attempting to explain an opposition to gay sex, which I share, we might unwittingly deny our own reverse heliotropism, our own longing for sin, in a way which can warp our self-understanding and ability to discern our own vocations.

* One guy noted, with terrific insight, that our culture defines maturity by the possession and exercise of power. This gets at what I was trying to say to the Yale Political Union; it's pretty obviously un-Christian.

* One of those words on the slips was "lifestyle." And this made me think about why "style" is a compliment, "way of life" is a neutral term, "vocation" is a Christian term... and yet "lifestyle" is a shallow consumer-culture term, a product demographic. So then I imagined someone confiding in a friend, "Man, that guy really lives out his vocation with such panache! He really has a lifestyle."

* As at the Fordham conference, I think this conversation was hobbled by a crisis of authority. All of us need a source of authority outside the self, both so that we can communicate with one another and so that we can become bigger than our preexisting selves. But when we radically disagree not only on the specific identity of that authority but on how She might be found, of course philosophical dialogue will necessarily falter.

Your thoughts? Comments, wild fancies, howls of fury?
The most reliable callings are born from reflecting on a situation that is more or less imposed on us. A vocation is nearly always a way of accepting a situation that was first of all considered a limitation.
--Roger Mehl, Love and Society

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is not about keeping a Christian version of kosher. Fasting is about hunger and humility (which is increased as we allow ourselves to become weak). Fasting is about allowing our heart to break.
--from here; via... somebody on Facebook

Saturday, November 12, 2011

COUNTERCULTURE, AND THE COUNTERTOPS: Last night I saw Martha Marcy May Marlene, and I have exactly two points to make about this movie.

1. She is a canvas. The lead actress is all giant eyes and vulnerability, and she lets you read her, she lets you turn her into a giant projection screen for anything you really wanted to see played out with long lashes. Her entire character is "I am who you need me to be!" and she doesn't let go of it for more than five seconds at a stretch.

2. Not everyone can live/like millionaires. Wow, I thought the bourgeois perfection in which Martha was trapped was presented with such terrifying balance. We could easily see exactly where her sister was coming from, even as we also saw the vertiginous superiority/inferiority Martha/Marcy May felt. Your house is too big = You are better than me at doing what I have always been told I should do. Your husband doesn't yell until he has to = You think giving in just because a man yells is really shameful.

Their relationship is sketchy and yet realistic, believable. You don't blame the older sister for not "saving" Martha. You don't blame Martha for wanting to get away from the nice people.
THIS IS BEAUTIFUL. Soulful, well-choreographed, heart-wrenching. I could watch this every day.
...As throughout the review, Gray is being a little unfair to Pinker here. (The book isn’t quite so blithe about mass incarceration as Gray makes it sound.) But his example gets at an important point about what you might call the hiddenness of contemporary violence, and the extent to which modern people can afford to recoil at various forms of cruelty not because they’ve completely gone away, but because they take place offstage, behind society’s scenes, in forms that most people don’t experience directly and therefore don’t need to reconcile themselves to.

So we regard public executions as an anachronistic barbarity, to say nothing of flogging, the stocks, and other pre-modern forms of punishment. But we’re kept safe from crime by a penal system that locks lawbreakers away in a self-enclosed world pervaded by hidden cruelties and unacknowledged forms of torture. We have a growing distaste for cruelty to animals, manifest in polls, pop culture, foxhunting bans, you name it. But the vegetarian minority notwithstanding, our daily meals come from factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses where animals are treated in ways that would make our gorges rise if we ever actually confronted them. And more provocatively, of course, there’s the case of infanticide: Common in premodern societies, abhorred in our more civilized age … unless, of course, you count the million-plus abortions in America every year, perhaps the most common and the most concealed form of violence that our society accepts.

EVERY YEAR, Daniel Mitsui dedicates the month of November to memento moris (mementos mori?) and other Christian artistry of death. Every year, I forget to tell you guys until it's been a couple weeks! But definitely check out his typically stark and sublime collection of death masks, dances of death, Outside Over There-style tombs, and even an alphabet of death.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

NEVER FORGET WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO LIVE IN ROOMS LIKE THESE: GetReligion excerpts the discussion of faith from an NPR interview with David Carr, former Washington City Paper editor-in-chief and the author of one of the very best books I've read this year, The Night of the Gun. I'll write more about his book when I do my year-end roundup, but for now I'll just say that I found his comments on NPR characteristically relatable and down-to-earth and humbled.
If a composition has no strangeness, there is no virtue in its stability. Stability without strangeness is the work of a commonplace hand; strangeness without stability, of an immature hand.
--Gong Xian

(from the wall caption to a really haunting ink painting in this terrific exhibit--there's a hut in the foreground, all soft brushstrokes for the thatch roof and the surrounding trees and wooden bridge, but in the distance there are dark mountains--and behind the tall dark mountains, an even taller one, pale, elusive.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

OR, R: WE MAKE AN IDOL OF OUR FEAR AND CALL IT CHOICE. Just a reminder that I'm speaking at the Yale Political Union at 7.30 pm this Tuesday, in Davies Auditorium, keynoting a debate on "R: Your Twenties are not for Experimentation." That wasn't my phrasing, but it will allow me to talk about vocation and how our identities are reshaped by love. Facebook event page is here.
CREEPY SKATING FOR HALLOWEEN. Must be seen to be believed.
I had long been haunted by the Russian conception of the humilated Christ, the lame Christ limping through Russia, begging his bread; the Christ who, all through the ages, might return to the earth and come even to sinners to win their compassion by his need. Now, in the flash of a second, I knew that this dream is a fact; not a dream, not the fantasy of a devout people, not the prerogative of the Russians, but Christ in man...

Although [the vision] did not prevent me from sinning again, it showed me what sin is, especially those sins done in the name of "love," so often held to be "harmless"--for to sin with one whom you loved was to blaspheme Christ in that person; it was to spit on Him, perhaps to crucify Him. I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his sin, which is in reality his utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in him. And this reverence must be paid to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are his tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. For the same reason, no one of us who has fallen into mortal sin himself must ever lose hope....

I knew too that since Christ is One in all men, as He is One in countless Hosts, everyone is included in Him; there can be no outcasts, no excommunicates, excepting those who excommunicate themselves--and they too may be saved, Christ rising from death in them.

Christ is everywhere; in Him every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life.

--Caryll Houselander; via

Friday, October 28, 2011

CUSTODIAN OF SOULS: Without meaning to make any specific claims about the law of the "ministerial exception" to certain employment-discrimination statutes, I did want to note something which has struck me. Stanley Fish (via dotCommonweal) puts it in his parenthetical:
If the ministerial exemption is to have any bite, there must be a way of distinguishing employees central to a religious association’s core activities from employees who play only a supporting role (the example always given is janitors).


Why would we assume that the janitor could not hold a ministerial position? It seems to me that there are some class assumptions here--or at least assumptions which separate manual labor from religious life, with the latter conceived as a completely intellectual, disincarnate affair. Ministering is about talking, not about mopping. Why?

A church, or parachurch institution, might decide that it wants to ensure that all its employees are Christian (or adhere to some standard of behavior which might put the institution crosswise to antidiscrimination laws) because it wants to ensure that its space is safe, welcoming, and dedicated to service in Christ. "Everyone you encounter here is part of our mission," they might say. "Everyone here is ready to listen, to talk, and to be with you, and if you don't feel comfortable bringing your questions or thoughts or needs to some div-school ministerial type, just talk to whomever you find."

They might also specifically notice that janitors come into contact with desperate people and humiliated people--the pregnant girl crying in the stall, the homeless man trying to wash his clothes in the sink, the addict passed out or vomiting, the soccer mom who was having an awful day before she menstruated through her skirt. Maybe they would be especially concerned about the spiritual formation of janitors, who can choose whether to respond to these situations with tact, comfort, succor, or "not my job, pal" indifference--or worse.

(They might also want to recruit janitors from low-income people who have gone through some of their programs, but that is kind of a side note I think.)

Again, I'm not particularly interested in how this basically spiritual perspective-shift would or should affect the interpretation of the law. And I think many, maybe most, Christian organizations are well-served by having positions which are open to those who don't already share their beliefs. But I do think the "(LOL but obviously not the janitors)" approach hides some assumptions which should be challenged.

Halloween is also the feast day of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, a 16th-century hall porter in the Jesuit monastery on Majorca. My saint-a-day book says, "He was an invaluable spiritual adviser to many of the faithful." He's the patron of porters. There are no small parts, as the man said.
The Persecution & Assassination of Charlie Brown as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of St. Paul Under the Direction of Lucy van Pelt
--Jesse Walker pitches a play; via VJ Morton

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

STRONGER AT THE BROKEN PLACES: I've been thinking a bit about the use of language of "brokenness" in discussions of Christianity and homosexuality, and why I rebel against both that language and other people's reaction against it. I'll try to just briefly make some tentative points; tomorrow I'll have an even more tentative post soliciting alternative ways of discussing or describing the Church's prohibition on gay sex (rather than the alternative vocations open to gay people, where I feel much more certain of what I want to say--I am much more confident in what I want to say about the "yes" than what I'd say about the "no," but the picture is incomplete without both, I think).

The good thing about the language of brokenness should be obvious: It's humbling.

There's a contemporary American tendency to insist that we're good people, or that through bourgeois productivity and respectability we purchase indulgences and can therefore create our own Christian doctrine. (I can't remember where I read the tart aphorism, "Europeans don't believe in God, so they do whatever they want. Americans do whatever they want and call that Christianity.") At the very least we demand to be recognized as just as good as you. To say that we're broken is considered morbid or even offensive; to say that we might actually be unusually or distinctively broken is considered repulsive.

I am basically in favor of almost anything which prompts an admission of weakness, vulnerability, or similarly un-American expressions of spiritual poverty. To the extent that actual existing gay Christians use language of brokenness to express our need for unconditional surrender to God, I find it beautiful and spiritually-fruitful; I didn't share some readers' negative reaction to this language in Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting, for example. (And I thought he either avoided or explicitly countered most of the negative aspects of brokenness language which I'll discuss in a moment.)

That said, here are some reasons I don't use that language myself.

First, I still do suspect that straight Christians often use "We're all broken!"/"The ground is level at the foot of the Cross"-type language, when discussing homosexuality, as a kind of rhetorical toll to be paid before you can get to the thing you're actually interested in talking about, which is Other People's Problems. If there's a danger of pharisaism for gay Christians who insist they're not broken, not like those messed-up addicts or crazy people (We Are Respectable Homos!), there's also a danger of pharisaism for straight Christians who want to use the language of brokenness when discussing situations they've never been in.

Second, and relatedly, using language of brokenness in the context of an already-stigmatized group has the obvious potential to provoke shame rather than humility, despair rather than surrender to God. I don't know that I need to go into detail here really, do I? Gay pride is wrong, but it's the wrong response to gay shame.

Thirdly, what do you do with a broken thing? I mean, you either throw it out or fix it, right? The imagery does not conduce to viewing homosexuality as a potential source of insight for the Christian. It's not a metaphor which suggests vocation. It's a metaphor in which one's orientation is a problem to be solved or at best endured. Even imagery of woundedness is more complex, insofar as wounds, in Christian thought, are not solely healed but sometimes glorified.

And finally, the language has been handled so much in this context that it's a cliche, a coin with its face worn off. When you say "brokenness" and "gay" in the same sentence I think a lot of people can only hear the five thousand previous times someone has used the metaphor, no matter what you personally intend to say with it.

But there's enough good in it that I wonder if it can be rescued, revived. After all, there are ways of describing a broken place as a place of insight--that's where the light gets in.

So I'm posting this more as a provocation than anything else: Talk to me more about brokenness. It isn't a metaphor which comes naturally to me and it's easier for me to see the limitations than the insights or beauty it can provide. But I think there's some poetry to be found here if we're willing to look for it: Are you broken like a wave, coming home on sharp rocks? Are you broken like a voice deepening into manhood? Are you broken like the Eucharist?

Sweet Smell of Success: This is still one of my very favorite movies. Ferocious and scathing and sad. Tony Curtis is unbelievably charismatic in his sordid, humiliated role; Burt Lancaster is terrifying. Glorious stuff. This time around, I especially noticed how often little sister Susie slipped in some candy-coated cruelty--she may lisp a bit, but she's clearly related to her brother, acidic and even calculating.

Friday Foster: Pam Grier thwarts a race-war plot. That's really all you need to know. There are fashion shows, there is music, there are afros, there is liquor, there are car chases, it is very glamorous and there's lots of shooting! Parts of this are set in DC but it doesn't have any real local color, unfortunately.

The Tomb of Ligeia: Look, this movie has some schlock elements and you've just got to roll with that if you want to have fun here. The screeching demon cat never really works at all, and there's some awesomely bad dialogue ("Let's go for a walk." "A walk?" "Or a stroll! What does it matter?"), and a tiny hint of evil-sapphistry teasing (which is a bonus, really). But you also get really gorgeous sets, one and a half compelling performances (Vincent Price is terrific, and the romantic lead is serviceable when she's playing his contemporary love interest but much better when she's playing the dead/undead Ligeia), and an ultimately painful story about the undertow of grief and the triumph of past over present.
AND SO I CAME TO CARTHAGE...: I will be keynoting a Yale Political Union debate next Tuesday, November 1, time and place TBA. The resolution is, "Your Twenties are not for Experimentation." Come and stick pins in!
Several days have now passed since Alabama's anti-immigration law, the harshest and most abusive in the nation, came into full effect. HB 56, a de facto criminalisation of migration, replaces any sensible immigration policy with the favorite solution these days: let's put them behind bars– and we might as well make a profit out of it.

The negative consequences of such shameful legislation have been felt immediately. Within hours, it had claimed its first victims – from the detention of a man who later turned out to be residing legally, to the massive fleeing of migrant workers and school children, to even cutting off water services to families or individuals who can't prove their legal status. It is the most draconian and oppressive set of provisions that this country, which claims to be the bastion of liberties and rights, has seen since the era of segregation.

Because anyone lacking the proper immigration papers is considered to be committing a crime, also entering into a "business transaction" with the individual in question would prompt criminal charges. ...

The difference between Alabama and adjoining states is that it is willing to go further down this track. Recently, John McMillan, agriculture commissioner, proposed that the farm work left behind by immigrant workers be supplied with inmate labor. Decatur, a private detention center about 50 miles to the north-west of Alabama, which had been unable to find jobs for inmates, has now witnessed record numbers of requests for labor (for an estimated 150 detainees a day).

more (via WAWIV)
A proposed rule to the Freedom of Information Act would allow federal agencies to tell people requesting certain law-enforcement or national security documents that records don't exist—even when they do.

Under current FOIA practice, the government may withhold information and issue what's known as a Glomar denial that says it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.

The new proposal—part of a lengthy rule revision by the Department of Justice—would direct government agencies to "respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."

In a remarkable account of a meeting he had with Charles Dickens in 1862, Dostoyevsky recalled that the British novelist told him: “All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. ‘Only two people?’ I asked.”
--here (via... IP? Wesley? not sure)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

THERE'S A SERIES ON PRAYING THE ROSARY THROUGH ART at Crisis. The Joyful Mysteries are here; I especially liked the choices for the Sorrowful Mysteries.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.
COMING DISTRACTIONS: In this order, more Famous Authors' Texts from Last Night; two posts on what's good and bad about using the language of "brokenness" w/r/t homosexuality, and my tentative guidelines or preferences for future discussions of the theology of ditto; and a Halloween series featuring short stories, illustrations/paintings, music, and comics which I think will appeal to horror fans. I'm sorry I've been so incommunicada lately, but at least it means I have a lot of words stored up in my hump.... Oh and maybe a post on the other vocations crisis, for those of you who had a strong positive or negative reaction to this article. If you have thoughts about these topics already, please feel free to email me!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. .... A theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous. Blindness and deafness toward the beautiful are not incidental: they necessarily are reflected in his theology.
--Joseph Ratzinger, via Wesley Hill

Thursday, October 06, 2011

IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN: A genuinely illuminating interview with Maurice Sendak. I was wary at first, thinking he might come across as self-impressed, but that really didn't happen (in my opinion):
...At 83, Sendak is still enraged by almost everything that crosses his landscape. In the first 10 minutes of our meeting, he gets through:

Ebooks: "I hate them. It's like making believe there's another kind of sex. There isn't another kind of sex. There isn't another kind of book! A book is a book is a book." ...

The term "children's illustrator" annoys him, since it seems to belittle his talent. "I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can't do that. I'm in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person." He and Eugene never considered bringing up children themselves, he says. He's sure he would have messed it up. His brother felt the same way: after their childhood, they were too dysfunctional. "They led desperate lives," he says of his parents. "They should have been crazy. And we – making fun of them. I remember when my brother was dying, he looked at me and his eyes were all teary. And he said, 'Why were we so unkind to Mama?' And I said, 'Don't do that. We were kids, we didn't understand. We didn't know she was crazy.'"

There was a partial reconciliation with his parents, a moment of understanding. They never made much of his work except once, when he was asked to illustrate a set of stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1978. They were proud of that, he says. For the illustrations, Sendak went back to the family album. "There were the photographs my father had of his younger brothers, all handsome and interesting-looking, and the women with long hair and flowers. And I went through the album and picked some of my mother's relatives and some of my father's and drew them very acutely. And they cried. And I cried. So there was that. And there still is that."

more (also via A&LDaily)
Pinker’s attempt to ground the hope of peace in science is profoundly instructive, for it testifies to our enduring need for faith. We don’t need science to tell us that humans are violent animals. History and contemporary experience provide more than sufficient evidence. For liberal humanists, the role of science is, in effect, to explain away this evidence.

more (via A&LDaily)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

KEEPING IN MIND THAT I SPEAK ABOUT AS MUCH RUSSIAN AS A BOX OF ROCKS, and a box of Amerikanski rocks at that, can anyone recommend songs in Russian on YouTube? I'm trying to listen to things which are easy to understand and remember. Thanks....
A FORTUNATE FALL... SALAD: KITCHEN ADVENTURES. Now, with puns even worse than usual!

Anyway, dinner tonight has been delicious. I chopped some kind of farmer's market crisp red apple--not too sweet or lush. Added thinly-sliced onion, fresh oregano, chopped black pepper Bellavitano cheese, and roughly-torn toasted baguette. Topped with a vinaigrette of ex-vir olive oil, a splash of sesame-ginger bottled dressing, and some spicy brown mustard.

This was awesome. Best when I got a little of everything on the fork. The oregano had a stronger flavor than I'd anticipated, so keep that in mind.

Tomorrow's projects include spicy carrot soup and roasted-carrot macaroni and cheese. We'll see what happens.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I just listened to the panel you were on at Fordham, and I wanted to note something regarding one of the questions you were asked -- namely, the one concerning "celibacy as a sanction."

The traditional teaching of the Catholic Church is actually that celibacy is the highest way of life. See Session 24, Canon X of the Council of Trent. (That link goes to, in case the link doesn't work.)

This has been lost in modern times with the dominance first of the notion of the nuclear family, and then of sexual politics, and the Church's responses to both of these things. However... there it is.

Also, semi-tangentially, I found this article when I was looking up a website to cite the above canon (that's Food for thought.

and anonyreader #2:
If you want to get rid of priestly awe, trying having a kid brother who is a priest. My brother [Redacted] was ordained a couple of years ago, and he is still just as goofy as he was as a kid, and a little too firmly Republican for my taste. But he's still a good priest. This also probably pertains to folks who form close friendships with priests. It's inevitable that one sees one's friends as complete humans, otherwise you are not really their friend.

I think a lot of people avoid friendship with priests because of some of the issues you were talking about. They distance themselves from them out of a reverential awe. While I think it's a good idea to maintain a certain distance from your confessor, or perhaps even your pastor, it would be beneficial for most lay people if they had a decently close friendship with a priest. (If priests only have priest friends, they become an insulated echo chamber, just like any other credential based group.)

I had a small problem with this line from your post. "These are reasons that a layperson-to-priest attitude of empathy at best, wry distance at worst, will serve both parties much better than a surfeit of awe." This may be true, as I said, when dealing with your own confessor, but with priests generally? Doesn't this instrumentalize priests, rather than treat them as full and complete human beings? If the awe of the laity makes it too easy for priests to cover up sins, I think it's a good idea for there to be people who are ready and willing to tell a priest he's wrong.

I value my friends the most who will tell me when I'm being a jerk. I certainly don't hesitate to tell [Redacted] when I think he's wrong, and I decline to call him Father or show him any more respect than I ever have, and I think that will ultimately be to his benefit.

Just some thoughts.

Thank you!
"I worry that on Judgment Day my punishment will be that God will read aloud all the poems I could have written had my life been good."
--character of WH Auden, in The Habit of Art, now playing at the Studio Theater

[I don't actually recommend this play, I don't think--it's too baggy, there's too much on-the-nose dialogue, and while I get that the sordidness is a major part of the point, it isn't great enough to make me want to spend more time with its sordidness. Still, the acting is really good and there are some very fun lines and moments.]

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

REALLY FANTASTIC INTERVIEW WITH ROCCO PALMO. Via WAWIV. I initially skipped this but went back to it on his recommendation and it was completely worth it.
VIDEO OF MY PANEL AT THE FORDHAM "MORE THAN A MONOLOGUE: SEXUAL DIVERSITY AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH" CONFERENCE. I'm sorry for how scatty I am here. This turned out to be the unofficial test-run of a newer and better version of my standard Gay Catholic Whatnot talk, and I kept adding and subtracting things almost right up to the moment I got up to speak, which did not serve the overall organization or coherence well. That said, I did say some things which I think were worthwhile, and the next iteration of this talk was much sharper.
AN ATTACK OF MORNING GLORIES! My review of the Met's Japanese summer and fall art exhibit. You should all go see it! The review is currently subscribers-only, unfortunately.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Don't picture your relationship as two people pulling a wagon. It's like two legs carrying a person.

yeah, you know you should click
“[Maureen Tucker] and I were friends but I always got the feeling that Moe disapproved of everything that the rest of us were doing on some basic level. Moe was raised a catholic and she was pretty strict at the time. She always wore pants. She brought one dress with her on every tour and I remember waking up on a Sunday morning after doing a show the night before and being really bleary eyed and seeing a pair of legs go out the door and realizing that was Moe! She was going to church and I'd never seen her in a dress before. She was very consistent about that. She wouldn't swear a lot, I would say never but I seem to remember occasionally. She was very proper in a lot of ways. She didn't expect anybody else to live up to her standards but she would occasionally not allow certain behavior. You weren't supposed to get into any explicit talk about sex with Moe around. She could drink, though.”
-- from an interview w/ Doug Yule circa 1994, describing life on the road circa 1969; via JWB

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CONCENTRATED ESSENCE OF '80S. Via VM. This just makes me happy.
You had very sensitive and responsible young people suddenly attuned to certain cosmic questions that beckon us all, and expressing these concerns through acoustic guitars and lilting harmonies and pale melodies. I hate these people.
--Sterling Morrison, here, via JWB

Monday, September 19, 2011

ONE LAST THING--FROM MY NOTES FROM FORDHAM: You have to make loyalty and obedience beautiful before you can evoke sorrow for disobedience.
LOCATION FOR MY PRINCETON TALK! 302 Frist Campus Center. Directions. Time is 4:30 pm tomorrow, Tuesday, September 20, 2011, Princeton, NJ, USA, the Earth, the Milky Way, the Universe. Hope to see many of you there! (I don't remember the official title of the talk, but you can assume it's basically "Gay Catholic Whatnot: O tell me the truth about love.")
PRIESTS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS: I'll link you all to the video of my panel at that Fordham U. "Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church" conference [ETA: when it is posted]. I'd intended to do a full set of notes on the conference but really I think I only have one thing to say, which is that I noticed a recurring theme of putting (what I consider to be) overly-intense pressure on what is said by priests.

You guys already know that I am basically anti-clerical in attitude. And I completely realize that my stance can be self-centered and adolescent. Viewing priests merely as sacrament-dispensing machines, as I tend to do, leaves the layperson shallow and the priest without either the support he needs to exercise his ministry or the pressure he needs to spur him to perform well. Priesthood is a leadership role, and leaders need both support and challenge in order to wield authority effectively and well.

That said, here are some reasons not to picture a priest when you picture the Catholic Church. These are reasons that a layperson-to-priest attitude of empathy at best, wry distance at worst, will serve both parties much better than a surfeit of awe.

1. Priests will inevitably say very stupid or inappropriate or hurtful things. They will sometimes say these things while specifically claiming to speak for the Church. They are wrong. Don't give priests the power to define the Church or Her teaching in your mind.

2. Priests know they mess up, and they feel a lot of stress and sorrow over their own mistakes and flaws. Fr. John P. Duffell, a gritty New York guy of the old school whom I very much liked on a personal level (despite one thing he said which I thought was seriously, deeply wrong), made this point explicitly at the conference.

3. It's easy to resent priests if you view them as wielding power, rather than making themselves radically available (even disposable) to their people.

4. The laity's awe makes it easy for priests to cover up for their own or others' sins. I don't really think I need to give evidence of this claim. When the coverup ends, then, the awe (which should never have been extended in quite the way it was, in the first place) then curdles into furious mistrust of authority. This isn't in any way to let priests who abuse people's trust off the hook, just to suggest that the attitudes of the laity can make a bad situation worse.

5. At the conference many people conflated the hierarchy of the church--the priests and archbishops and cardinals and popes, all those men in odd hats--with the teaching of the Church. This allowed them to force a wedge between the Body of Christ and those aspects of the Catholic faith with which they disagreed, such as sexual morality. It also meant that the validity of the teaching stood or fell based on the personal holiness of the hierarchy. Without this conflation one would have to admit that the teaching of the Catholic Church--including Her hardest lessons--stands closer to the lives of the saints than to the lives of the popes.

A conversation in the taxi on the way back from the conference underscored some of these issues in my mind. One of the other panelists and I were talking about how institutions gain loyalty and love through creating personae. The other lady asked, "So who is the person who represents the Church, then? The Pope, I guess."

I really don't think it's the Pope, and I said so. I fumbled around with some unhelpful attempts at alternative images before I figured out what I wanted to say. I said that I picture the Bride of Christ, the bride from the Song of Songs; or sometimes Mary. Those are my icons of the Catholic Church.
You are not to imagine that my friendship is light enough to be blown away by the first cross blast, or that my regard or kindness hangs by so slender a hair, as to be broken off by the unfelt weight of a petty offence. I love you, and hope to love you long. You have hitherto done nothing to diminish my goodwill, and though you had done much more than you have supposed imputed to you my goodwill would not have been diminished.

I write thus largely on this suspicion which you have suffered to enter your mind, because in youth we are apt to be too rigorous in our expectations, and to suppose that the duties of life are to be performed with unfailing exactness and regularity, but in our progress through life we are forced to abate much of our demands, and to take friends such as we can find them, not as we would make them.

--letter of Samuel Johnson; more

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

IN WHICH I PERSIST THROUGH TIME AND SPACE, despite everything! Some of you appear to think that an announcement of a speech or presentation might include trivialities like "location" and "time." We call these people THE WEAK.

...No, actually, sorry--I was being a fluffbrain. My Fordham U presentation will be at noon this Friday at the Lincoln Center campus, in the Pope Auditorium, and my Princeton talk will be at 4.30 next Tuesday afternoon at a place TBA (but probably in New Jersey, is my guess). Both will be about Gay Catholic Whatnot; the Fordham thing will definitely focus on possibilities for faithful gay vocations, and I'm still not 100% sure about the Pton one. I'd be especially interested in hearing from undergrads or recent grads about what they really wish someone had said on their campus! I'll post a location for the Princeton talk as soon as I can.

Monday, September 12, 2011

TELL ME WHAT TO SAY: I'm speaking this Friday at the Fordham U. conference, "Learning to Listen: Voices of Sexual Diversity in the Catholic Church," and then again at Princeton University on Tuesday, 9/20, on some gay Catholic thing TBA. What do you guys think I should talk about? Where do you think I've made good points, and where do you really want to push me and make me clarify my thinking?

Also, of course, I would love to meet any readers who are around in NYC or New Jersey. Come say hello! And if you're not in either of those areas, but want me to talk at your school or church or yard sale or hobbit village, keep in mind that I do sometimes talk for (not much) money. Like Weevil Navarro, I am both audio and visual.
And funeral trains got much shorter
and people chose to which they went
and into the earth the flowers
went and no one remembered their names

only that they died that summer
when rains came late and the streets emptied
and flags flying on car roof tops
waved like women welcoming the army
into a small, abandoned city.

--"Summer Rain," Atar Hadari (entire poem here)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Dev comes to the doorway, one knuckle making a screwing motion in his eye socket, saying, Are y'all crying again? Then, Why does everybody from Texas cry and smoke?
--Mary Karr, Lit

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

THE FORGOTTEN LOVE: Chuck Colson on Bert and Ernie:
...And blogger Alyssa Rosenberg summed up the biggest objection. “I think it’s actively unhelpful,” she wrote, “to gay and straight men alike to perpetuate the idea that all same-sex roommates, be they puppet or human, must necessarily be a gay couple . . . Such assumptions narrow the aperture of what we understand as heterosexual masculinity in a really strange way.”

Strange indeed. It teaches the ridiculous and deeply destructive idea that same-sex friendships are necessarily sexual. And that’s the last thing we want to teach our children, because it will spell the end of friendship, particularly friendships between young men.

Yet that is precisely the message that’s communicated over and over. It’s the reason gay apologists want to eroticize Bert and Ernie, David and Jonathan, Jesus and the apostle John, and Achilles and Patroclus from Homer’s Iliad.

Some in our culture are apparently incapable of understanding close friendship without sex. And that flies right in the face of a Christian understanding of friendship.

more (and Mark Shea's second paragraph is also really poignant--I stole the title of this post from him)
RECONCILIATION: Photos of confessionals. Via IP, I think.
A question for language-learners: what have been your most depressing moments along the path to fluency?

more (via IP)
"I DECIDED TO PHOTOGRAPH the reactions of my friends and family when I told them my good news - I'm going to be a dad!" Via Ratty.
"If anybody wishes to understand me", he continued, "they must listen to my music; if anybody wishes to know my ‘philosophy’ then they can read any of the Church Fathers; if anybody wishes to know about my life, then there are things that I wish to keep closed... unlike our friend John [Tavener]!"
--Arvo Pärt, quoted here; via WAWIV