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.