Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sin Will be Big in '09

What a surprise.

But the particular shape of the debate will be interesting.  Warren Buffet is predicting that the economy will be "in shambles" throughout 2009, and states are beginning a mad scavenger hunt in search of revenue sources.  And Hey, Sailor -- they're willing to try anything.

Per the Times, "anything" may well include legalizing marijuana sales so that they can be taxed (California); building casinos (Massachusetts); changing the tax structure for brothels (Nevada, obviously, which already has a tax on marijuana).

But our favorite anecdote of these lean times concerns Washington state legislator mark Miloscia, who  

says he has supported all manner of methods to fill the state’s coffers, including increasing fees on property owners to help the homeless and taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, most of which, he said, passed “without a peep.”

So he proposed the next seemingly logical step, an 18.5% tax on sex toys and adult magazines.  To his surprise, Miloscia reports, “People came down on me like a ton of bricks,” accusing him of attacking the First Amendment and, more to the point, saying that  “saying their marriages would fall apart.”   

Miloscia gets it, now, finally, about the world we live in:  “I didn’t quite understand. Apparently porn is right up there with Mom and apple pie.”

 

When It Rains, God Is Dead

Err, it pours.  We meant that when it rains, it pours.

Just last night, courtesy of Charles Taylor, we were musing on the relationship between faith and reason, and the meaning of life in a secularized society.  Specifically, we were musing upon the role of the Reformation in secularizing the West.  And this morning -- behold -- the Times runs an article on secularism in the Lutheran nations of Scandinavia.

Obviously, their editors checked the Egg before presstime, to see what ideas were hot this week.

The article, by Peter Steinfels, describes the work of sociologist Phil Zuckerman, who spent months talking to Danes and Swedes about religion.  "It wasn't easy," Steinfels observes, because "Denmark and Sweden are among the least religious nations in the world."  This is disconcerting, for those of us who care about such things, because they are also among the most Lutheran nations in the world.  And, strangely enough, Zuckerman's research shows that both statements are true.

The stories about just how irreligious the interview subjects are make for funny reading, at least if you don't care about the condition of their immortal souls.  They didn't want to talk about religion, or God, and when they did talk, it turned out they had nothing to say on the subjects -- Zuckerman's descriptors include "benign indifference" and "utter obliviousness."  Asked "basic "questions about God, Jesus, death and so on -- a phrase which seems to us self-contradictory, but never mind -- "thoughtful, well-educated Swedes and Danes" found the questions entirely novel: “I really have never thought about that,” one of [Zuckerman's] interviewees answered, adding, “It’s been fun to get these kinds of questions that I never, never think about.”

Zuckerman seems most interested in the fact that, despite the dire warnings of Christianists, Scandinavia's secular society has not descended into amoral anarchy.  Apparently, he seems to say, it is possible to possess humanistic values even without locating for them a transcendent source.  He believes that he has found an answer to the question, "What happens to the Christian West when it is no longer Christian."

But the situation is more complex than this.  What Zuckerman actually found was this:

[t]he many nonbelievers he interviewed ... were anything but antireligious .... They typically balked at the label “atheist.” An overwhelming majority had in fact been baptized, and many had been confirmed or married in church.

Ah.  So the society isn't entirely secular -- people believe in God, and turn to the church for critical rites of passage.  It may be "social religion," but it is still religion.  And in fact, we're not even sure that's all it is:

Though they denied most of the traditional teachings of Christianity, they called themselves Christians, and most were content to remain in the Danish National Church or the Church of Sweden, the traditional national branches of Lutheranism.

Or, as an older fellow named Jens puts it:

“We are Lutherans in our souls — I’m an atheist, but still have the Lutheran perceptions of many: to help your neighbor. Yeah. It’s an old, good, moral thought.”

That fellow defines Lutheranism in a peculiar manner, but one which would probably ring true for many of his compatriots.  A professor of ours once derided Calvinist accusations of "Lutheran social quietism," by pointing out that all the major social democracies were in Lutheran countries.  He was right, at least by Jens's understanding.  Luther, needless to say, would tremble in terror at the thought of his name being linked to a life of good works devoid of faith.

But that doesn't mean that Lutheranism, or Christianity, is a dead letter.  For the privilege of the church membership Zuckerman's subjects apparently continue, if we understand correctly, theys are required to pay an extra tax.  The national churches are official state churches -- although Sweden may have disestablished lately; somebody please fact-check us on this.  As we at the Egg have observed before, the presence of a state church supported by public money indicates a "Christian nation," in a way that, say, church attendance does not necessarily do.  In other words, from our perspective, Denmark is a Christian nation and the US is a secular one.

Now, there's still the matter of what people believe.  We'd very much like to know which "traditional teachings of Christianity" Zuckerman's subjects denied.  Because in American church pews, it is not remotely uncommon to find worshipers who blithely affirm the transmigration of souls, for example, or who deny the Real Presence.  In other words, many Christians quietly hold beliefs at odds with received dogma, and  -- while it is certainly a challenge for pastors -- it doesn't mean that they aren't Christians.  They're just wrong.

To put it another way, the Scandinavians do derive their values from a transcendent source.  But, through the generations, that source has been obscured.

So in fact, Scandinavia doesn't look quite so much like a test-case for pure secularism (which, at least until the Christianists win their Constitutional amendment, would be the US and maybe France).  Scandinavia looks more like what happens when the Church in a Christian society becomes complacent, and fails to teach doctrine firmly.  Society doesn't collapse.  People don't cease to be Christians, according to the loose definition they have been permitted to accept.  They just become Christian heretics who don't go to church very often -- an expression that would describe 10-20% of the membership roll at any congregation we have ever served.

We're not saying this is good, mind you.  Just that it's not really secular.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Protestantism: Gift and Task

(A little in-joke for our ELCA readers, there.)

Funny thing about the Reformation.  Sometimes it gets blamed for driving reason out of Christianity, other times for brining reason in.

Some years ago, in a get-to-know-you meeting with some other adjunct faculty at a small college, a young Papist professor talked about her doctoral work at the Gregorianum on -- well, we don't really remember, because it was so far over our heads.  Let's say it was the roots of nominalism in the Scotist hacceity.  Maybe it was.  Anyway, somebody else commented on how philosophy and theology had once been so deeply entwined, and she harrumphed, looked at the lone Lutheran in the room, and said, "Yes -- until 1517."

Well, golly.  It is not unfair to argue that the Reformers placed reason well below Scripture on their hierarchy of authorities.  Indeed, when John Donne talks about "reason" in his sermons, as he frequently does, he means Scriptural authority for a philosophical statement.  It is a legitimate criticism of Protestant theology, including some of the good stuff, that it uses Scripture to interpret the world, rather than the reverse.  Worst-case scenario:  creationism.

But then you have another Papist, Charles Taylor, trying to understand the roots of secularism.  How did society, at least in the West, become so tragically separated from a transcendent source of value?  Who is to blame?  Surprise!  Protestants.

As the case is summed up in a Dissent review of Taylor's A Secular Age, linked up top, there is in every traditional society a "tension ... between the life of religious ascetics and the inevitably less perfect lives of ordinary people," but the history of Latin Christendom is distinguished by  (and this may be counterintuitive for some readers, because they forget that the Reformation is a typical swing of the Latin pendulum, not a radical break from its course) “the deep and growing dissatisfaction with it.”  The reviewer explains:

The movement that culminated in the Protestant Reformation began in the Middle Ages. There were repeated efforts by the church, first to reform its own practices and later to restrain as idolatrous the veneration of saints’ relics, magic, miracle-mongering, and dancing around the maypole. The Reformation radicalized this move by abolishing this tension and inaugurating the “priesthood of all believers.” Ordinary life — work, play, sex — began to take on sacred meaning. The Christian virtues were no longer those of ascetic monks; an ethos of personal responsibility and self-discipline became available to everyone.

But, according to this narrative, an attempt to sacralize the mundane world backfired, and created a "this worldly-ethos" which "made it possible to cut loose from religiosity altogether." And "Thus a reforming movement in Christianity was in time transformed into militant secularism."

Well, there's evidence for this as well.  The reviewer points to the rise of experimental science in Protestant societies, which is tricky:  Galileo and the great navigators were of the Romish persuasion.  But at the end of the day, those societies in which the Reformation theologies first took hold are today among some of the most secular in the world (using the customary, and wrong-headed, understanding of the term; see above).  Best-case scenario:  Consider Bonhoeffer, trying to "speak of God without religion."

Still, we wish philosophers would get it straight.  Did the Reformation mark the end of reason or the beginning?  The suspense is killing us.

"Nazis," Said Indiana Jones. "I Hate These Guys."

Christopher Hitchens is wrong about God.  He was wrong about Bush and Iraq.  But he is right about Nazis.  He always has been, in a deep, visceral way.

This got him into trouble on a recent trip to Beirut.  He defaced a political poster featuring a swastika, and was assaulted by a gang of brownshirts.  

Turns out much of Beirut is controlled by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.  They swear they aren't real Nazis -- after all, they're not National Socialists, they're Social Nationalists.  And they also swear that their logo isn't really a spinning swastika, it's a cyclone.

To which dispassionate observers respond:  If it goose-steps like a duck ....

The SSNP, as described by the Atlantic,

... is a party whose leaders, men approaching their seventies, send pregnant teenagers on suicide missions in booby-trapped cars. And it is a party whose members, mostly Christians from churchgoing families, dream of resuming the war of the ancient Canaanites against Joshua and the Children of Israel. They greet their leaders with a Hitlerian salute; sing their Arabic anthem, 'Greetings to You, Syria,' to the strains of 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles'; and throng to the symbol of the red hurricane, a swastika in circular motion.

Michael Totten describes the SSNP, in his excellent piece linked above, by saying, "They aren't just a street gang, they're a street gang with a state.”

To which Hitchens, having been beaten up pretty badly, has the cheek to reply, “Yes.  And also a Greek Orthodox repressed homosexual wankers organization, I think.”

The story, as told by Totten, is exciting and sobering.  It's also a reminder of just how bad the bad guys are -- and, incidentally, why John Williamson's Holocaust denial is not a just a harmless quirk.

That's More Like It

Rome is starting to show a little spine with regard to "Bishop" Richard Williamson and his Holocaust denial.

Under pressure from his own Society, Williamson recently gave a very modest apology.  On his blog, to which we cannot in consicence direct the eyes of the faithful, Williamson posted a letter to papal mouthpiece Dario Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos:  

Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.

He then compares himself to Jonah, and quotes the Bible to the effect that if they throw him overboard, the sea will calm down.  It's worth a try.  It is also further proof, if St. Luke 4:10-11 were not enough, that anybody can spout Scripture. 

The Canberra Times, in a strikingly not-objective article, calls this "unctuous," which it is.  What it is not, unfortunately, is a meaningful apology.  This amounts to saying "I'm sorry if you didn't like what I said."  An apology is an effort to accept the consequences of one's actions; Williamson instead is trying to blame others.  He overtly blames the press, and one suspects that he privately blames "the Jews" and a Church which dares to care about its relations with them.

Williamson apparently regrets causing trouble for the Pope and the SSPX.  What he does not regret, so far as we can tell, is trivializing the murder of millions of human beings in the Nazi gas chambers, by pretending -- despite overwhelming evidence including the testimony of survivors -- that those murders never took place.  He does not regret glibly insulting Jews, Germans and historians the world over.  He does not regret publicly siding with the genocidal evil of Hitler's Germany.

Here's the good news:  the Vatican isn't having any of this.  Last month, it insisted that Williamson "in an absolutely unequivocal and public way" from his remarks.  Today, spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said Williamson "doesn't seem to have respected [those] conditions."  It's not the definitive slapdown that the guy deserves, but it is a signal that they -- and specifically, Benedict -- are not going to let him play games forever.  He can toe the company line, or he can get used to life outside the company.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Philip Jose Farmer, RIP

Neeks and gerds the world over are mourning today.  The king is dead.

Among the first books Father Anonymous read -- after 20,000 Leagues and Sherlock Holmes, but well before, say, second grade -- was Tarzan of the Apes.  For better or, more likely, worse, it changed his life.  The other boys' action heroes who followed -- Tom Swift, Don Sturdy, Doc Savage -- were always measured against the adventures of John Clayton, Lord Greystoke.  And they always came up wanting.

Nonetheless, he kept reading them, all of them.  And eventually, in a head filled with pulpy pap, the characters started to cross lines of authorship and publisher.  What if, say, Tom and Don actually knew each other?  Or if -- well, why not? -- Tarzan and Sherlock were cousins?  After all, they were both Englishmen of the Victorian and Edwardian era.  Surely England wasn't big enough for those guys to miss each other.

After graduating from boyhood to early adolescence, the little guy was delighted to discover that there was a writer -- an actual adult writer -- who asked the same questions, and tried to answer them.  His name was Philip Jose Farmer, and he was the Wizard of Peoria.

Farmer was the author of more stories and books than we can count.  Certainly his most famous, and probably his best, are the Riverworld novels, beginning with To Your Scattered Bodies Go.  We borrowed it one night from the shelves of our beloved godfather, and were instantly hooked.  The heroes, all brought back from the dead and able to interact freely, include Sir Richard Francis Burton, Mark Twain, and Cyrano de Bergerac; the villains include Robin Hood's wicked King John, and a lot of Nazis.

In the 80s, DJs started to make "sampling" an art form of its own.  Today, this sort of mix-and-match pop-art is called a mashup.  In those days, there was no real name for it.  Because nobody else was doing it, least of all with the half-forgotten treasures of a boy's imangination.

But Farmer did it, over and over, in spades.  In another book, the main character was Robert Blake.  Not the Baretta guy, mind you -- the younger brother of the poet William Blake, surrounded by the Orcs and Urizens of Blake's own strange mythology.  Another, Venus on the Half-Shell, purported to be the masterpiece of Kilgore Trout, himself the antihero of Kurt Vonnegut's mid-career masterpieces.  You can see the infinite, if derivative, variety of this guy's mind.

For all of this, Farmer devoted we-can't-guess how much of his creative life to repeated re-examinations of two characters in particular:  Tarzan and Doc Savage.  An Ace Double, Lord of the Trees paired with The Mad Goblin, put them (or their pastiche dopplegangers) close enough to touch.  In Lord Tyger, a boy is deliberately raised (by a mad scientist or an evil conglomerate, we forget which) so that his life will copy Tarzan's:  orphaned, raised by animals. It doesn't go well.  Somewhere near the middle of the book, he declares "My mother was an ape and my father is God," and then proceeds to commit mass murder.

But the true masterworks of this dual obsession are his biographies, Tarzan Alive! and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.  The first is a skillful parody of the tweedy academic biography, the second of the master's thesis.  For non-obsessive readers, they serve as useful reading guides to the respective series.  But for readers who were once little boys filled with the aforementioned pulpy pap, they are much more than that.

They are, especially when taken together, a pulp fiction mashup avant la lettre, subliterary pastiches which turn the reader's childhood fantasies into a postmodern bricolage.  Farmer's conceit is that a meteor impact in England created a traceable genetic mutation -- oh, who cares?  His real conceit is that every adventure hero of from the late 19th century to the mid-20th is part of a single family.  Tarzan and Doc, obviously; but their cousins include Nero Wolfe, Lew Archer, Captain Blood and Professor Challenger.   Oh, and the guy from Raintree County.  It's silly, it's insane, it's nerdy beyond the dreams of nerdiness.  And yet it has a peculiar charm, as it unearths the [male, now middle-aged] reader's boyhood, and feeds it back through an almost-adult sensibility.

It is sometimes claimed, and with good reason that Harlan Ellison is the American Borges, and that had he been born south of the Equator, he would be recognized as a major postmodernist, instead of a genre hack.  This may be true.  But Farmer -- who would probably have taken pride in being called a genre hack -- is a talent of the same sort, and yet whose particular art depended entirely upon having been an American boy in the 1930s and 40s.

Ah, well.  Philip Jose Farmer died today, aged   Here's the io9 memorial. Here's the author's own website.  

Flagrant Violation

The nice thing about Chaucer is that he has no copyright restrictions.  T.S. Eliot does, and his estate guards them zealously.  One is always careful about cutting and pasting his poems.

Still, this is Ash Wednesday, and there aren't that many great poems on the subject.  His is one, and we looked it over again this morning.  We enjoyed, as always, the rattling Christological section:

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.


But we were caught off guard by this forgotten Burma-Shave howler:

No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice


Calvinist Burma-shave, no less.

And although Marian prayers (or quasi-Marian prayers, in this case) aren't really the Egg's stock in trade, this conclusion always moves us:

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Well.  There you have it.  Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood.  And let our cries come unto God today.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Anything to Confess?

Today is Shrove Tuesday.  Later this evening, in the undercroft, Father Anonymous and the people of God will eat pancakes and sausage and other things both sweet and fatty, perhaps even to slight excess.  

In other places -- somewhere near the young lady to the right -- many people will drink far too much, and from that proceed to greater excesses, some of which (for all we know) will grieve the Holy Spirit.

Far be it from us at the Egg to criticize these traditional observances.  On the contrary, when they accompany the primary observance, i.e., of Lent, they are (reasonably) wholesome.  If one will be fasting for forty days, it may be best to rid the house of meat and fats.  

It is somewhat more difficult to justify the excesses of drinking, breast-flashing and what-all else that accompany a Latin Carnival.  Forgive us our middle-aged Anglo-Saxon clerical prudery, but those are things from which it might be best to abstain altogether, regardless of the season.   Still, there's something to be said for getting it out of the collective system, so that we can all turn toward more virtuous pursuits.

But really, people, the idea behind Shrove Tuesday is to be shriven -- that is, to confess and hear the words of absolution.  After all, we won't hear them again until Maundy Thursday.  

So intent upon this is your overearnest correspondent that he began his workday this morning with a simple Facebook status update:  Ready to shrive!  Sadly, the waves of penitents have not materialized, and much of the day has been spent assembling newsletters, coin folders and other folderol.  Sic transit poenitentia mundi.

Still, seeing the update, our beloved godfather was moved to suggest that we "first (re)read the Parson's Tale."  The parenthetical (re) had us huffing in umbrage.  Honestly?  Do we seem like the sort of blog which hasn't read the Parson's Tale?  Still, we are nothing if not dutiful and obedient, so we took time between the newsletters and the coin folders to revisit the "tale," which as most readers will already know isn't a narrative at all, but rather a treatise on penitence.  Some scholars think it may show Lollard influnece, which -- if true -- speaks well of the Lollards.  While by no means the most entertaining part of the Canterbury cycle -- by which we mean "easily the least entertaining" -- it is not uninteresting theologically.

Here's a bit we consider especially appropriate for the day, with our own comments:

Therof seith Seint Augustyn that ...
The speces of penitence been three. That
Oon of hem is solempne, another is commune,
And the thridde is privee.

(1)(a) Thilke penance that
Is solempne is in two maneres: as to be put out
Of hooly chirche in-Lente, for slaughtre of children
and swich maner thyng.[The bad side of the Middle Ages:  you had to hear swich maner of confession.  Brrr.]

(1)(b)  Another is,
Whan a man hath synned openly, of which
Synne the fame is openly spoken in the contree,
and thanne hooly chirche by juggement
Destreyneth hym for to do open penaunce.[The good side of the Middle Ages, inherited from the patristic era:  public sin was dealt with using public rituals, so that people knew the Church was serious, not only about discipline but about virtue.  Contrast the tendency of bishops -- including the Papists, but not only they -- to hide clerical misconduct from public scrutiny.]

(2) Commune penaunce is that preestes enjoynen
Men communly in certeyn caas, as for to goon
Peraventure naked in pilgrimages, or barefoot.[The REALLY good side of the Middle Ages:  people would do *anything* to hear that they were saved.  Fr. A. would have been tempted to ask that people talk like Donald Duck for a week, just to see how far they'd take it.]

(3)  Prevee penaunce is thilke that men
Doon alday for privee synnes, of whiche we
Shryve us prively and receyve privee penaunce.
 
Now shaltow understande what is bihovely
And necessarie to verray perfit penitence. And
This stant on three thynges: (a) contricioun of
Herte, (b) confessioun of mouth, and (c) satisfaction.[Luther argued that there were only two parts: our contrition and God's absolution.  But in retrospect, we wonder if he wasn't trying to take all the fun out of it.  And we mean that semi-seriously; we have often felt that the typical Lutheran service of confession and absolution is emotionally unsatisfying, because while penitents are encouraged to live better lives in general, they aren't specifically directed to make right whatever they have done wrong.  Luther is surely correct theologically, but Lutheran liturgies seem naive psychologically on this point.  Any takers?]

[F]or which seith Seint Crisostomz: 
Penitence destreyneth a man to accepte benygnely
every peyne that hym is enjoyned,
With contricioun of herte, and shrift of mouth,
With satisfaccioun; and in werkynge of alle
Manere humylitee.


As we think of penance this season, it may be useful to remember these distinctions -- solemn, common and privy. Or perhaps we should simply thank God that we are so rarely invited to hear confessions involving the slaughter of children.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

NY Times Hears Confessions

For many US Christians, today is the Vigil of the Transfiguration, since we have agreed to transfer that feast from its traditional summer date.  But for traditionalists, this time of year is "pre-Lent," the warmup for the season of penitence and self-mortification.  By their calendar, tomorrow isn't Transfiguration, it's Quinquagesima.

Oddly, the Times seems to be gearing up for Lent as well.  Or so it would seem, from the curious juxtaposition of two articles today:

1.  An Army sergeant, accused and brought to trial for the murder of two officers, was acquitted and discharged.  The Times has discovered that, before the trial, the sergeant had offered a plea bargain -- his confession and an account of the details, in exchange for life imprisonment.  Prosecutors agreed, but the judge threw the deal out and the case went to trial.  Reading between the lines, this appears to have been a miscalculation -- although almost nobody would speak to reporters, the judge doesn't seem like a softie, and it seems that he wanted a chance to impose the death penalty.  Instead, it is possible that a guilty man may have walked free, and that his confession will go unheard, his debt to society unpaid.

Nothing particularly pre-Lenten in all this, except insofar as a plea bargain can be interpreted either as a kind of preliminary confession or, more accurately, as an indication of the disposition to confess.

But read the story in the print edition.  It begins on the front page, and is continued back in Siberia, where they typically put religion news.  And on the same continuation page, we find:

2.  The story of St. John the Evangelist, Stamford CT, and its pastor, Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni.  When he arrived twelve years ago,

[o]ne particular sight seized him. The confessional at the rear of the pews had been nailed shut. The confessional in the front, nearer the altar, was filled with air-conditioning equipment. And these conditions, Monsignor DiGiovanni realized, reflected theology as much as finance.

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, the Catholic Church began offering confession in “reconciliation rooms,” rather than the traditional booths. .

Since then, the Monsignor has done wonders to promote the sacrament of reconciliation, not only by preaching and teaching on its importance, but also by the simple -- albeit countercultural -- device of unlocking the confessional booth.  It seems that many people don't like to sit across the table from their confessor, looking into his eyes.  They like the impersonality, even the illusion of anonymity, that the booth provides.

The change has been remarkable. The Times points out that

[t]he norm for American Catholics [since even before Vatican II has been] to make confession once a year, generally in the penitential period of Lent leading up to Easter ...

and an obligatory leftie, Notre Dame's Fr. Richard O'Brien, is trotted out to remind us, accurately enough, that,

“Confession as we once knew it is pretty much a dead letter in Catholicism today," and that “the practice at the Stamford parish is an anomaly, not a sign of anything else” and at best “part of a small minority” of churches.

True enough.  That's what makes this news.  And yet, in that anomalous parish these days,

... upwards of 450 people engage in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as confession is formally known, during 15 time slots spread over all seven days of the week. Confessions are heard in English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.

Numerous members are quoted, along with their pastor, speaking eloquently about the spiritual value of frequent confession and absolution. 

The diocese is attempting to build upon Msgr. DiGiovanni's model, as well it should. One wonders whether other Christians, including those of us among whom the Tridentine confessional booth was never really adopted, ought to consider doing likewise.

While we doubt seriously that the placement of these articles is a case of the Times trying to promote confession, or even open a discussion of its role in our lives and society (where, after all, is A-Rod?), we do hope that readers will be inspired. Confession is good for the soul, and as Lent approaches, we ought all to making ours. And those with the cure of souls can encourage this good thing not only by preaching and teaching but by publicly and ceremonially unlocking the doors so that those whose hearts are heavy have a place to unburden.

Google is Part of the Conspiracy

... to keep the location of Atlantis a secret forever.

Per Auntie Beeb, above, close observers of Google Earth have identified an underwater street grid some 600 miles off the coast of Africa.  Obviously, there's only one thing this could be.

But boring old Google insists it's a data glitch, the result of boats crisscrossing the area as they take sea-floor sonar readings.

Why does this matter to Egg readers?  Well, er, we're sure there's a reason.  First, it's political:  obviously, the Trilateral Commission is keeping this a secret.  And they're probably using black helicopters to do it.  And second, it's religious.  Oh, sure it is.  Stick with us.  Plato was the guy who first described Atlantis, and upon whom all the subsequent fairy tales -- oops, we meant investigations -- depend.  And Plato, especially as reinterpreted by the likes of Plotinus, was an enormous influence on Patristic theologians (especially Augustine) and later on Medieval Christianity (especially through Pseudo-Dionysius).  So, although skeptics may argue that a youth-buggering pagan philosopher dead centuries before Christ has no particular necessary connection to the Church and its faith, traditional Christianity begs to differ.  A vindication of Plato is at least as likely to vindicate the Christian faith as, say, an ossuary marked "Jesus" would have been to undermine it.  Ahem.

But Google, obviously answering to Richard Dawson and Christopher Hitchens (who probably give the Trilateral Commission its marching orders, from their secret headquarters in an extinct volcano), is hiding the truth about Atlantis.  Maybe Spong is in on it too.  Next thing you know, they'll announce that all the gridlines on Google Mars aren't really canals.  Don't let them fool you!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy Days for Michael Steele?

We at the Egg feel wince when middle-aged white people try to sound like the younger, hipper and more ethnic.  Remember Mitt Romney and "Who let the dogs out?"  It's not the pandering that bothers us, it's the tone deafness.

Anyway, you don't have to white to make a fool of yourself this way.  Consider RNC chairman Michael Steele, who is black and who sounds -- for an RNC chair, anyway -- like a decent guy.  He's Roman Catholic, and did a few years in seminary.  Goes to church regularly.  He was on the fencing team at Hopkins, which in his day (and ours) had a decent program.  His business background is big law firms, Wall Street and consulting -- so he may be ethically challenged, but at least he can pick up the tab after lunch.

But in a recent interview with the Washington Times (founded and owned by the self-proclaimed Second Coming of Christ, Sun Myung Moon), this fifty-something corporate lawyer tried to sound like something he clearly isn't.  Over and over.  

Much of the interview was dedicated to Steele's feisty insistence that he doesn't need a deputy chair, and that those who say otherwise can "stuff it." It's a faux-tough-guy remark, like Bush's "bring it on," and like that remark it makes the speaker look weak and unstatesmanlike.  

But Steele, leading a party in disarray, isn't trying to look statesmanlike.  He's trying to look interesting, to anybody at all.  Per the Times, Steele is planning a "public relations offensive" to attract younger voters, especially blacks and Hispanics, by applying the party's principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”

Points for recognizing that hip-hop is suburban music. But of course, PR is not the same as policy, and we worry when politicians seem overly invested in it. Here's how Steel characterizes his publicity campaign:

“It will be avant garde, technically,” he said. “It will come to table with things that will surprise everyone - off the hook.”

We wonder, there, whether he knows what "avant-garde" and "off the hook" actually mean. Not to mention "technically." So, apparently, did the interviewer, who asked:

Does that mean cutting-edge?

“I don't do 'cutting-edge,' “ [Steele] said. “That's what Democrats are doing. We're going beyond cutting-edge.”


Really? What, we wonder, lies beyond cutting-edge? The object to be cut perhaps, by those Democrats who are actually doing the cutting? Bottom line: Steele is probably not an idiot. But, based on these remarks, we suspect that he may be neither a deep nor a clear thinker, nor a man who should strive to sound more youthful than he is.

He sounds like Howard Cunningham, awkwardly trying to reach out to Fonzie. As readers of a certain age may recall, Howard did reach out to the Fonze, and effectively -- they even went into business together, in Season 4.  Months before the famous shark was jumped, teen rebel and aging hardware salesman shared a patent for an hydraulic trash-compactor. But Mr. C. didn't make this happen by wearing a leather jacket and snapping his fingers, affectations that would have looked ridiculous (and which, by the way, would have made for a pretty good episode). He did it by coming up with a blueprint, soliciting the kid's revisions, and then paying attention to ideas better than his own.

If Steele is serious about recruiting young black and Hispanic voters to the GOP, he should can the PR, start listening to people instead of marketing to them, and help his party come up with policies that actually stand to improve the lives of those voters and their families.  To judge from the results of the last election, not to mention the last eight years, Republicans are a long way from doing that.

One Funny Turn of Phrase

... in a discussion that doesn't provoke many chuckles.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has released its long-time-coming proposed social statement on human sexuality, along with recommendations for action by the Churchwide Assembly.  Cutting to the chase, one of the recommendations is that the ELCA change its rules to officially permit people living in same-sex relationships to serve as pastors.

We haven't read the documents, and aren't sure we will post much on the subject once we do.  There will be a lot of shrieking between now and Churchwide, and shrieking tires us out these days.

Most readers have a pretty fair idea of where the Egg stands on these questions, although few are likely to understand our reasoning.  Someday, when we come out of the closet, as it were, and write a longish paper o the subject, we expect to shock a great many people.  Here's why:  We feel that most of the theological writing we have seen on sex and marriage is strangely ahistorical, and therefore deeply suspect.  Protestants -- and, astonishingly, even many Roman Catholics -- seem to take for granted what can be described crudely as a "sex-positive" position.  The only differences are between those who believe that this positivity extends to gay people and those who do not.  

From the perspective of patristics (and, we believe, the New Testament), this is barely a meaningful difference.  The questions which -- ahem! -- aroused the Fathers were more basic:  Shall Christians marry or copulate at all, and if so why?  The argument most familiar to modern people, that God created human beings male and female and established marriage as a reflection of that creation, was maintained by Jovinian.  It was attacked and demolished twice, by two of the most estimable Fathers, Jerome and Augustine.  Jerome argued that marriage was in fact evil, if of a minor and even necessary kind; Augustine (with Ambrose) that it was good, but again of a lesser kind.  These views established the theological orthodoxy of the following millennium.  Jovinian is classed as a heretic, although in fairness we don't believe he was ever anathematized before Trent.

Anyhoo, you can see where we're going with this, which is to argue that rooting Christian marriage in the doctrine of Creation, although a seemingly logical move, is one that historic Christianity has long rejected.  Christian marriages (as distinct from pagan, civil or common-law unions, for for that matter from hooking up on a Friday night) have been held to serve other purposes. What purposes?  Come on, people, we said we'd deal with it all another time.

Here's the point to this post:  coverage of the ELCA's new statement by the Grand Forks (SD)  Herald, linked above, includes this bit of trivia: 

The greater Red River Valley region is the most ELCA-prone in the country: about 27 percent of the population belongs to the ELCA.

Hmm.  ELCA-prone?  The phrase taunts us.  It sounds so much like "accident-prone," as though the valley in question were a sort of ecclesiastical Gerald Ford.  Or perhaps it is a little swipe at areas of the country in which Lutherans make up a smaller portion of the populace.  Is New York, for example, "ELCA-supine"?  It does feel that way sometimes.

Or maybe, deep in the phrase, is a grammatically garbled reference to one of the lesser-known liturgical offices, a medieval service of preaching outside the Mass which was called "Prone."  Has it caught on in South Dakota, and should the rest of us listen up?

Anyway, that's all we meant to say in this post, the part about ELCA-proneness.  Please disregard all the scary stuff above it, about how Jesus may not agree with you -- whoever you are -- on the definition of marriage.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"You May Want This"

Those were his last words, as reported by the AP.  It's a very sad story:

A man shot and killed himself in front of a cross inside televangelist Robert H. Schuller's Crystal Cathedral on Wednesday as a nearby volunteer told a group of visitors about the church's suicide-prevention program, police and church officials said.

His name was Steve Smick, he was 48 years old, and moments earlier he had handed to a volunteer a folder containing his driver's license and the location of his truck in the parking lot. This is curiously considerate behavior for a man who is planning to do something terrible (and wicked) in your church soon afterward.  It's a strange but touching detail.

Nothing glib here, because although the story is odd, it isn't funny.  We feel very sad for Mr. Smick. We don't know his story, and suppose we never will, but we wish that he had spoken to somebody -- the Crystal Cathedral program at (714) 639-4673, the national suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433, a psychotherapist or an old friend -- who could have helped him find some other way to banish the demons.  

We wish that, instead of handing his folder to the guide, he had simply told her what was on her mind.  We may have some concerns about Robert Schuller and his ministry, but we'll bet there was somebody nearby who would have done whatever it took to keep Mr. Smick alive.

Defining "Liberal"

Two days after we wrote that there wasn't mch reason to try, somebody tried anyway.  People just don't listen.

Per this Slate review, Alan Wolfe has written a book on the subject, arguing that "the key to liberalism is a set of [seven] dispositions, or habits of mind":

Four of these dispositions will be quite familiar: "a sympathy for equality," "an inclination to deliberate," "a commitment to tolerance," and "an appreciation of openness." We're used to the portrayal: liberals as talky, tolerant, open-minded, egalitarians. It's not surprising, then, that these types are at home in the garrulous world of the academy—or that bossy preachers, convinced they have the one true story, do not care for them much. But Wolfe's sketch of the liberal adds three unfamiliar elements to the picture: "a disposition to grow," "a preference for realism," and "a taste for governance."

Well. Fine. But where's the room for "liberal" economic theory? All of which goes back to our point the other day.  And anyway, who're you calling bossy?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cheney "Outraged" By US Justice System

You will grasp the irony, we imagine.

Per the News, the former Veep wanted President Bush to pardon convicted felon Scooter Libby, rather than just commuting his sentence.  Long after Bush had made up his mind (he was, was you will recall, "the Decider"), Cheney kept pushing -- right up to Inauguration Day.

'Sfunny, when you think about it.  Not pardoning convicted felon Scooter Libby may be the only thing Bush ever did, or in this case failed to do, which didn't outrage us.  Remember what Libby did:  in the midst of the Administration's efforts to punish Joseph Wilson, he casually let slip to a reporter that Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA officer.   Then he lied about it, so the actual convictions were for obstruction of justice, perjury (two counts) and making false statements to investigators.

That's a serious crime, in our book.  Remember that they impeached Clinton for lying about his mistress.  And yes, Clinton's HUD secretary, Henry Cisneros, was convicted of (and pardoned for) making false statements to investigators as well, also about a mistress -- but it was one count, no jail time, modest fine.  More to the point, national security wasn't involved in either of these cases.

The News article reveals the distance that developed between Bush and Cheney in the waning years of the Administration, which is interesting enough.  But what truly fascinates us, the same way motorists are fascinated by a car crash, is Cheney's ego.   Per an unnamed "Cheney ally,"

"Cheney places great store in loyalty and thinks Scooter got a raw deal."

So he's angry because he considers Bush disloyal to him.  It's as if he forgets which one was the President.  And how does he deal with his anger?  During his first week out of office, he sits down with The Weekly Standard and bitches about Bush.

Cheney obviously knows as much about loyalty as he does about justice.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hooray for Conservatism!

A couple of years ago, Father A. was at one of those boring clergy luncheons, at which one tries to sit with the bright funny people, but sometimes doesn't succeed.  On this occasion, he found himself in a vague political discussion with a colleague who was complaining about "conservatives" and the trouble they were causing.

"On the contrary," the chubby little Father responded.  "This country could benefit from some conservative leadership right now.  After all, it is George W. Bush's lack of conservatism, particularly in fiscal matters, which has brought us to this sad pass."

The colleague sputtered for a few seconds:  "But George -- but Bush -- but conservative."  At last, regaining a little composure, she asked who -- if not W. -- really was a conservative.

"Bill Clinton," answered Lutheranism's point man for all things irritating.  "After all, he slashed welfare benefits, avoided foreign entanglements, turned the deficit into a surplus, and fanned the flames of American business into a roaring steam-engine of prosperity."  (Perhaps Father A. didn't use that last wretched analogy.  He hopes he didn't.)  "Yes indeed," he said, hoisting his Diet Coke as though it were something worth toasting with.  "Here's to a true conservative, William Jefferson Clinton."

The other pastor smiled, the way one does when humoring one's demented uncle.  (If, of course, one has a demented uncle, which we certainly do not, no matter what anybody says.)

We mention this anecdote first as an excuse to tease our uncle and second to bring back a subject that the Egg has addressed often:  the curious difficulty of defining America's favorite political labels, "liberal" and "conservative."  The words have been used in so many different ways, over two centuries or so, that their continued use is a semantic embarrassment.  America's economic "conservatives," for example, are what the rest of the world calls "neo-liberals."  And if it is for some reason "liberal" to call for legalizing the medical use of marijuana, then what was the late William F. Buckley?

In response, of course, you have probably noticed "conservatives" of the mainline Republican variety trying to distance themselves from people they call "libertarians" or simply "Ron Paul."  But it seems to us that, where Ron Paul (or Pat Buchanan) are able to articulate a clear and consistent philosophical vision, the GOP in its struggle to become and remain an effective coalition has surrendered a coherent form of conservatism.  The security hawks and the deficit hawks, for example, are irreconcilable.  Both may claim the "C" word, but they self-evidently mean different things by it. 

(Meanwhile, and since Reagan, the word "liberal" has been so effectively used as an accusation and even a slur that very few Democrats willingly apply it to themselves, at least in public.  While they may be called to articulate a vision of "Progressivism" in the near future, they can probably coast on "liberal.")  

We won't pretend to solve the problem ourselves, in the limited space our editor permits for blog posts.  But we have been amused, over the past two years, by watching Andrew Sullivan lose friends and alienate people among the soi-disant "conservatives."  He has insisted, loudly and long, that his positions -- opposition to the Bush Administration, to Gitmo, to "Christianism," as well as his support for gay rights (including marriage), for the Obama candidacy, and, yes, medical marijuana -- are authentically conservative.

Early in our ministry, we lost many friends and alienated many people in much the same way, adjusted somewhat for ecclesiastical issues.  So perhaps it is redundant to say that we agree with Sullivan's assessment of "conservatism," even if our befuddled colleague might not.  Sullivan's conservatism is of the Burkean variety, by which he means that  "the core political virtue[s] [are] practical reason and common sense, not ideology, theology or absolutism."  (We might add to this a healthy, although not romantic, respect for the example of the past and the experience of one's elders.)

This being the case, Sullivan goes on, in a recent post, linked above, to adduce some recent poll data suggesting that while members of most religious communities are committed not merely to their theological a prioris, but also or even primarily to the application of evidence and reason, adherents of three particular traditions are not:  Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Evangelicals.  (Never mind, for a moment, that "Evangelical" here is, like "liberal" or "conservative," a tricky word to use correctly.  Sigh.  It's our burden, and we'll carry it forever.)

All of this allows Sullivan to say something which, while quite true, will also be counterintuitive for many Americans:

The Republican party is not, at this point in time, a conservative party, as Burke would understand it. It's a fundamentalist religious party.

He's right, if you accept his restriction of "conservatism" to the single Burkean sense.  And from this it follows that Fox News is a fundamentalist religious broadcaster, which ought to save them plenty on taxes.  

The Rich Are Still Different ...

Even when they aren't quite as rich.

A couple of articles from the Sunday Times make the point:

1.  Recession be damned, it seems that Saks has just opened a shop dedicated to Kiton suits for men.  Handmade in Greece, these run $7,000 off the rack, up to $21,025 custom.  (And why the extra $25, you ask?  We ourselves would round up or down, but then we don't lay out twenty grand on a suit).  

Well, okay, but we all know that there are still a few bankers with jobs, and hedge-fund managers whose funds actually hedged successfully.  So it isn't so surprising that there's a market for way-upscale menswear.  What surprises us more is this:

2.  What the "losers" (relatively speaking) in the changing economy do to, um, economize.  They cut back on the private planes.  They talk to their caterers about chicken pot pie instead of filet mignon.  Fair enough; we would cut back on those as well, in their place.  We confess a bit of surprise that they don't dry clean as often, though.  Really?  It's like ten bucks per garment.  We're not talking private-plane expenses here.

But here are the economies that really grabbed our attention:

Spending on flowers is also being trimmed. Take, for example, a recent high-end but private wedding with several dozen guests that Dorothy Wacco of Beautiful Flowers said she recently did. “The bride wanted to spend over $50,000 for décor and flowers but they cut that budget back to $30,000,” Ms. Wacco recalled.

Um, wow.   That's $30k for the flowers.  For the record, Fr. A.'s congregation, housed in an especially beautiful landmark building, charges about a grand for non-member weddings, and a bit more than half that for the undercroft, if you want a reception there.  Fr. A. does a fair amount of work, sometimes, preparing a couple for matrimony -- marriage prep classes, coordinating with the organist, making sure there's a bulletin, leading the rehearsal, and of course leading the prayers and preaching the sermon.  No couple, to date, has ever considered this worth more than a gift of $500 or so.  If that.  Usually less.  Sometimes nothing. Not complaining, here.  Happy to do it for the sheer joy of doing it.  Just wondering if we didn't follow in the wrong grandpa's footsteps.

Still, fancy flowers weren't what really revealed the difference between the equestrians and the plebs.  That would have been this:

“My shop is not one where they charge $400 for haircut,” said Concetta Capritto, who owns Tina Hair Salon on First Avenue and 53rd Street. “We do give a cup of coffee to the clients. For $400 I would give a little caviar,” she said. “I ask them how they found me and they tell me: ‘Well, I live in the neighborhood.’ ”

Ms. Capritto added, “I don’t know if they got tired or they could not afford it, but they are coming to me and they are coming back and they are happy.”

She said most of her customers are women, but there are also some young men who used to work on Wall Street. “They paid $100 for a haircut and now they pay $25, and they are happy,” Ms. Capritto said.

God bless Ms. Capritto, and her newly-humbled clientele.  In their world, her services are indeed a steal.  But for the young former Wall Streeters, we have a tip:  You're guys, for crying out loud.  Nobody cares what your hair looks like.  Nick on the corner here in Astoria can cut your hair for $12 dollars.  You'll look okay.   And if you still haven't found a job, consider the Atlas Barber College, near Astor Place.  No guarantees about the cut, but the price is right and you leave with a great story.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?


Can you feel the electricity in the air?  That's not because Father Anonymous is has an obsession with the movie Frankenstein and is running his Tesla coils day and night down in the rectory basement.  Well, not only that.

No, the electricity comes from the March 6 release of The Watchmen, a movie which neeks and gerds have both longed for and dreaded, lo this quarter-century.

For those who don't know, The Watchmen was a comic-book miniseries, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, which ran during the mid-1980s, and which to all intents and purposes completed the task of superhero comics.  It tells the story of the "mystery men," from the beginning to what now seems like the only feasible end.
 
It is not that, post-Watchmen, there are no more stories to tell about the lycra-loving musclemen, so much as that the stories left to tell seem either minor or derivative.  Or naive.  The best of them -- Kurt Busiek's Astro City, for example -- seem like prequels.  The worst -- DC's endless Crises -- seem like tepid efforts to revisit the (dubious) past glories of a genre that has no future.

Meanwhile, The Watchmen, even though it is set in an alternate-reality 1985, in which Nixon is president and the Soviets are a force to be reckoned with, still astonishes.  Fr. A. reread it last night, and found new details, new ironies, that he had somehow missed the first dozen times.  Even if the Cold War backdrop seems dated, the story is kept fresh by its main engine, the tension between human wickedness and our never-failing longing to become good, or at least do good things.

What does The Watchmen offer to Egg readers?  There is no religion in it, per se.  (To the extent that Alan Moore has a religion, it appears to center on the worship of stories for their own sake, and perhaps to use hallucinogens as its sacrament.  His Promethea series would be the Summa of this faith.)  Nor, despite scenes with Nixon, are there really any political ideas.  

But there is some sex, and it is -- by the standards of superhero comics, at least -- thoughtfully portrayed.  The characters are complex enough that, when they go to bed with each other, the complexity comes with them.  One doubts whether the movie can possibly capture this.  Movies seem to specialize ever more completely in physical contact between soulless automatons.  (And not for nothing, but when a mass-market comic book portrays sex with more emotional depth than a live-action film, our culture is in its death throes.)

But sex is not what draws us to the story, nor what we hope for in the movie.  Instead, there is that tension we described above, between human nature as it is and as it desires to be.  That's a good story, and a story that will ring true to readers both secular and religious.

(By the way, i09 has a review of pre-comic-book "superman" stories, from the age of the pulps, which is worth a gander. These are the yarns from which the superhero genre evolved, and quickly -- think of Siegel & Schuster cribbing from Philip Wylie. The site editors make a few shrewd connections to The Watchmen,).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

We Stand ... Ummm ...

... not so much corrected as overwhelmed.  And flattered, in a stalker-y kind of way.

Please, if you have an hour or two free, skip down to our spoiler-free meditation upon the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica.  Then read the comment by James Redford.  Clocking in at almost 2900 words -- about twelve pages of typescript -- it is easily the longest blog-comment we have ever received, and if memory serves, the longest we have ever read.  

Well, that last bit is a fib, since we haven't actually read it, so much as skimmed.  It's Saturday, after all, and we have a sermon to write.  His point seems to be that (a) Tipler doesn't prove the miracles happened, but that they could have happened; and further that (b) despite the lack of consensus, Tipler's math has some merit; and yet further that (c) theology, insofar as it is influenced by science, need not restrict itself to scientific ideas which happen to have majority support; and finally (one hopes) that (d)  many scientists are so committed to a god-free worldview that they unscientifically refuse to follow when the equations lead them toward God.

All fair enough, we suppose, although we'd fight him a little on (c), and wonder whether (d) really applies to astrophysicists, whose work deals with some pretty counterintuitive stuff.  But all this begs the bigger question:

Uh, James, dude.  You do know we're talking about a TV show with robots in outer space, right?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wisdom of the Ages

"When you lose your job, it's a recession.  When I lose my job, it's a depression."

We heard that today from one of the faithful, who himself lived through the Great Depression.  We laughed until we cried.

The 53-Gallon Cup of Coffee

Apparently, a latte in a go-cup requires 53 gallons of water -- to grow the beans, make the cup, everything.  In a world running short of potable water, that's really not sustainable.

Such, at least, is the claim of the World Wildlife Fund video here, and of the post at  Green Planet linked above.  We wouldn't presume to evaluate the science behind it.

The obvious suggestion, which both the WF and GP make, is to skip the disposable cup, napkin and cuff -- ask the barista to fill the mug you brought from home.  

We have another suggestion, however, which seems even more obvious, at least to us:  Don't try to drink your coffee while you walk or (ye gods!) drive. It's absurdly unsafe, for one thing, and one more concession to the spirit-killing age of speed and portability for anther.

If you're having coffee away from the collection of mugs you keep at home or at work, don't plan on takeout.   Sit down, or stand at the bar like an Italian, and take a couple of minutes to savor the rush of caffeine.  Then put down your ceramic cup and walk away, your head buzzing.  And if you're running late but still desperate fro an eye-opener, then you can really copy the Italians, and pound a double espresso.  Six seconds and off you go, a happier person in a greener world.

Ann Coulter is a Little Girl

Oh, the deliciousness of irony.

At least since the 1960 election, the GOP has insisted that its candidates, when they lose, do so because of voter fraud.  Republican efforts to suppress turnout by any means, legal or otherwise, have led to some of their most memorable recent public embarrassments -- the Justice Department scandal, and resulting weaselly prevarication of Alberto Gonzales; or the entire political career of Katherine Harris.

So, yes, we at the Egg are enjoying the taste of somebody else's comeuppance, as reflected by headlines such as this one:

ANN COULTER ACCUSED OF VOTER FRAUD.

She really is under investigation, by the Connecticut Elections Enforcement Division.  And she really may have committed fraud, but if so, it appears to have been on a disappointingly minor scale.  

Seems she lives in Manhattan but claims residence at her parents' place in Connecticut.  We can't really get excited about this, although the GOP certainly does.  One of its 2008 talking points was that college students should be barred from voting in the towns where they spend nine months of the year, and required to vote in the town where their parents live.  By that measure, of course, Coulter is being perfectly consistent with the policy of her party.  

However, we have to point out that Ms Coulter is no longer a college student.  Maybe it's time for her to grow up. 

Will the Last Papist Turn Off the Lights on His Way Out?

Just teasing, obviously.  But Lutherans periodically beat their breasts about the odd disaffected Piepkornian who jumps the Tiber, as if one or two pompous ex-Missourians more or less marked the end of a movement.  So it is pleasant to be reminded, by the Petersburg (Alaska) Pilot, that the Tiber has two banks.

Father Mike Schwarte served as the parish priest at St. Catherine's, Juneau, for ten years, until he laicized in order to be married.  That was 2005.  Then he became a cop in Petersburg.  And then one day, he was standing on line at the Post Office, when he felt 

the gentle hand grasping his arm ... in a firm commanding way and the voice of Joy Janssen saying, ‘Father Mike, the Lutheran Church needs a pastor ...  I think you would be a great pastor, you ought to think about it.’ And the seed was planted in his heart to return to preaching.

This, dear readers, is why we avoid Post Office lines.

The article itself, by the way, is a comic example of small-town journalism.  It gives us a great deal of arguable data about church history, e.g.: 

Today, 20% of Catholic priests are married. ... Six of the seven changes Martin Luther tried to make in the Catholic Church have been changed; the last remaining is that of Catholic priests being allowed to marry.

Huh? A the same time, it neglects to tell the no-doubt-interesting story of how the Lutherans went about receiving Schwarte.  Was he required to attend seminary?  Re-ordained?  The article fails even to mention whether the Petersburg parish is ELCA or LCMS (it is the former).

But small-towniness has its charms.  Even though Schwarte is an ex-jock who tried out with the Orioles, urban sophisticates would have red-penciled the Pilot's lede:

“We’re all on the same team,” [Schwarte] stated. “I’m just changing uniforms. It’s God’s stadium. I’m just moving from left to right field or center field, if you will. In the Psalms it’s all about God’s vineyards… all I am doing is cultivating another vineyard.”

Yeah, yeah.  We can hear the New Yorker staff howling "block that metaphor."  But it sets up this genuinely sweet observation:

While Pastor Schwarte has changed uniforms [it was] was not about the dollars but about the love of the game.

Well.  We didn't think it was about the dollars, did we?  At any rate, we welcome him to the bush [pilot's] league.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More Plagiarism!

Umm, we mean respectful and properly-referenced quoting of other blogs.

Courtesy of the scandalously-shod blogger posted below, we have discovered Keene's Kwikies, which at first glance seems cranky enough to make us sit up straight.  Consider these goodies:

... a couple of weeks back one of the Sunday readings included St. Paul’s exhortation to ’shun fornication’, or ‘SHUN FORNICATION!’ as I belted it out climbing into the pulpit for the sermon creating a stirring silence among the geezers. Then, ‘Well, that’s at least one sin we don’t have to worry about, eh? Nobody in this room has the energy for it anymore.’ 

We'll just put that sermon idea into storage for later use. And then there's this, reporting from a "tri-synodical theological conference," which -- whatever it is exactly -- has to  be better than the Ministerium we described a few days back:

... the doofus of the decade award goes to the emcee of the whole affair whom let’s just call Pastor Areyououtofyourfuckingmind? Pete. 

Okay.  Right there, we started to swoon.  We know that guy, we're sure of it!  But he continues:

Most pastors enjoy being in front of the crowds, else, of course, they wouldn’t be doing what they do. It’s fun to be up front and have everybody looking at you, depending on you, under your control (at least, talking-wise). It’s fun enough to do it in the parish, but to do it in front of three hundred other clergy—to have them looking up to you—is a clerical wet dream. 

[That said, Pete's job, to serve as emcee, is] pretty basic and easy. Unless, of course, you think you’re real important to the whole thing, which is apparently what happened to Pete, whose rushing around in a collar and bouncing pectoral cross were a dead giveaway right from the get-go that he was big time into the performance, ’cause a clerical collar, well, okay, but a pectoral cross is an affectation unless you’re a bishop in a formal setting, a top hat at church camp, as it were.

A point worth noting, there, and one rarely made.  Father A. owns two pectoral crosses, of incalculable sentimental value.  He wears one or the other now and then, discreetly under a chasuble, as a reminder that when presiding in one's own parish, one is a sort of bishop.  But he gets a bit testy about the people who wear them with street clothes, especially at synodical events where one's own bishop is present.  We can't all be the blessed bishop, now, can we?

New Blog Features Scandalously Dressed Cleric! Hooray!

Great title:  Skating in the Garden in High Heels under my Alb. She really is a skater, and she really does wear "wickedly fashionable but painful high heels" under her robe during Mass. But then, don't we all?

She goes on to say something that bears plagiarizing:

Why do I do that when it’s so uncomfortable? .... I think those high heels are my rebellion against the uniformity of the church that often can only accept women as pastors by de-sexing us. 

I noticed that when I was pregnant. It seemed to unsettle everyone. I think there’s a mid west niceness that accepts women clergy by just pretending that there’s nothing different about us. Until our growing bellies scream “That’s right! I have a uterus!”

Anyway, Pastor Joelle's new blog is worth a look. Just a few posts so far, but we're eager for more.

Newsflash: Cardinals Are Old Men

We can't speak to the truth of this, but according to a commenter on WDTPRS, the College of Cardinals is years away from a sweeping change: 

Presently there are 115 Cardinal Electors i.e. only 5 vacancies. Between now and the end of 2009 only 3 Electors will reach the age of 80 [when they cease to be electors]. Therefore there is unlikely to be a Consistory until Spring 2010.

But then look what happens. The vacancies for the succeeding years will be:

2010 #11
2011 #9
2012 #13
2013 #10
2014 #9

... a total of 52 plus 8 from 2008 and 2009 makes 60. Half the College of Electors will change within 5 years!


Logically, if Pope Benedict wants to preserve his own legacy, he needs to appoint cardinal-electors who share his outlook. On the other hand, JPII enlarged the College far beyond its traditional size. One wonders whether it is possible for this supersized body to have a conclave that is truly prayerful, thoughtful and reasoned.  Some might argue that the church might not be better served by a smaller and more, um, collegial group of electors.

Y'Know What We Don't Care About?

Steroids, and who uses 'em.

Sure, it's cheating, and grown-ups should be embarrassed about cheating, especially grown-ups who already play games for a living. Not to mention very unhealthy.

But it's just a game -- baseball, bike racing, bocce.  They're fun, they're cool, they're whatever.  But in the end, they're entertainment.  So A-Rod or Lance or whoever using steroids matters about as much to us as Stallone or Arnold.  Or actresses shooting botulism into their faces.  Which, not for nothing, is gross.  But you don't hold congressional hearings about it.