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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Way to Evangelize, Bonehead

St. Fortunata, in East New York (Brooklyn, for the uninitiated), is a Roman parish with a significant Nigerian membership -- mostly Igbo. But according to the Times, a number of the Nigerians will be leaving for another parish. Leaving in a huff. And why?

Apparently, their priest preached too long one Sunday. Not too long for them, mind you -- they like and expect sermons that are much longer than most American Catholics are accustomed to. No real surprise there; lots of people do. Baptists, for example, and especially (but not exclusively) the black ones. The great Renaissance homilists often went ninety minutes or more, as (apparently) did some of the Church Fathers. Anyway, this guy is reported by the Times (click link above for details) to have run a half hour.

Oooh. Half an hour! Call out the guard dogs.

Which is apparently what the pastor of the parish, Vincent Miceli, did when he stood up after the sermon and and said, "Thank you, Father. In the future, please limit your preaching to twenty to twenty-five minutes."

As we used to say at summer camp: Oh, snap! The crowd went wild. The African majority was offended, and registered its offense; while the non-African minority reghistered its support for Miceli by clapping. Instant schism, which will become official at the end of the month when the Nigerians begin to worship elsewhere.

We have to give Miceli credit. This was a display of virtuoso indelicacy. He wasn't just rude to a brother priest -- he was rude in public. In front of laypeople. Better yet, he was rude to a brother priest in front of laypeople who had liked the guy's sermon -- and probably been refreshed by the familiar African-ness of it. But that's not the best part. The best part is that he took it upon himself to be rude in public in the middle of Mass.

In the Times article, Miceli seems unrepentant -- he blames the Nigerians for not working harder to assimilate. There is no doubt some truth to that; but it has been our observation at the Egg that immigrants are much more willing to respect your customs when you don't publicly insult theirs.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"The Bombing Begins in Five Minutes"

When Reagan said that, he was making a joke. A callous, thoughtless joke about the incineration of millions of Soviet civilians with nuclear weapons.

But scary as that was, I am far more frightened today. Because today, ladies and gentlemen, Dick Cheney is the President of the United States.

(Okay, tomorrow. I'm writing late on Friday night, so let's just pretend it's Saturday).

The more-or-less elected President is going to be knocked unconscious and have a camera stuck up his butt. This is an image I would normally cherish, except for the fact that, under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, it makes Dick Cheney the acting president.

First, stop to think about the irony. Cheney has the official reins of power because of a late addition to a document which he has used his apparently vast unofficial power to undermine.

Now, think about the damage this crazy man could do in one day of ultimate power. "Callous" and "thoughtless" don't even begin to describe Cheney's evil. Hell, I'm not even sure "incineration of millions" hits a sufficiently frightening note. A man who considers himself above the law, above the Constitution, answerable neither to the President nor the Congress (nor, so far as there is any evidence, to God), now commands the armed forces. The man who lied and cheated to start an unneccessary war that would line his own pockets, and who may well have committed treason (in the Plame case) to make sure that war started on time; a man who has called the continued practice of torture by American troops "a no-brainer" -- this man now holds the nuclear codes.

I'm terrified.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Republicans Report Reid "Rude"

According to Drudge, Arlen Specter complains that Harry Reid is "rude," and other Senate Republicans complain that relations in the upper chamber have reached "a new low."

Are they lower, one wonders, than the time the Vice-President told one of his Legislative Branch ciolleagues to "f*ck off" on the Senate floor? Or during the Clinton impeachment?

"A Rumi of One's Own"

That's the title of a provocative essay by Rachel Aviv, at the Poetry Foundation website.

She takes issue with the popular Coleman Barks translation -- or, really, paraphrase -- of the medieval Sufi poet. Barks is a good poet, but he doesn't read Persian, which means he was working from older English versions (and in at least one instance, copying their mistakes). More seriously, he seems to remove "God" from some poems and replace it with "love."

This is, to put it mildly, a discourtesy toward the author. Nor does it do the reader any favors. God may very well BE love -- such is the contention of St. John -- but that does not mean that a sophisticated writer can be presumed to use the words interchageably. It's a bit like going through the Narnia books and putting in "love" each time Lewis wrote "Aslan" -- there is logic to it, but you make a hash of the story.

The responses on the page are thoughtful, and worth reading. Here's my own:

I'm a little sad, but not surprised.

Sad, because I am so fond of Barks' version of Rumi -- as I will continue to be, despite knowing that he didn't translate from the originals, and that he took significant liberties with the author's religious commitments.

But not surprised, because this sort of thing happens so often. Robert Bly's paraphrases of Kabir are useful for comparison -- like Barks, they are good English poetry. But they aren't especially good Kabir. (As opposed to the Linda Hess/Shukdev Singh renderings).

Among Christian writers, a little of this has gone on with Hildegard of Bingen, but less egregiously so. I suppose it is harder to bowdlerize the religiosity of one's own parent culture -- or at least to get away with it.