Category Archives: Faith

Amazingly, they’re actually getting the boys out of the cave

Ekapol and players

Ekapol Chanthawong and some of his players.

I really spoke too soon the other day when I celebrated the discovery of those boys missing in the cave in Thailand. I was far too sanguine.

Turned out their situation was still horrifically perilous. So perilous, in fact, that this just would not work as fiction. In “Lassie,” Timmy was always falling down an old mineshaft or something (this was such a common plot device in the late ’50s that as a little kid I had the impression the whole country was honeycombed with abandoned mines, all of them covered only with rotting boards that wouldn’t even hold a small boy’s weight). But all Lassie had to do was get within hearing of the shaft, hear Timmy yell, “Go for help, girl!” and the day was saved.

A fictional plot like this would be dismissed by the most credulous viewer as too contrived: It takes six hours, much of it underwater, even for an elite diver to get to the precarious shelf where the boys are, cut off by rising rainwater. It’s so difficult that a veteran diver, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died Friday just trying to place spare air tanks along the route. The boys can’t swim. Even if they could, they’re not trained SCUBA divers. Some of the passages through which they have to pass are so tight that air tanks would have to be removed for even the kids to get through them. It’s so hard to get them out that consideration was given to leaving them there for months until the rainy season is over, resupplying them for the duration. But no — the monsoons continue to fall, meaning the water in the cave will rise.

What else could possibly go wrong?

And yet, amazingly, things went wonderfully right today: They got four of the boys out! Which is just astounding as well as wonderful. But it will be hours, perhaps a day, before more get out. Imagining the terror, the physical exertion, the determination and courage it took those four weakened boys to get out makes me shudder.

But they got out!

A lot of attention has focused on the one adult with them, 25-year-old assistant soccer coach Ekapol Chanthawong, a former Buddhist monk. Some have been critical, saying he should never have gotten the boys into such a situation. But the story plays differently within Thailand itself:

But for many in Thailand, Ekapol, who left his life in the monkhood three years ago and joined the Wild Boars as an assistant coach soon after, is an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys as they go through this ordeal. A widely shared cartoon drawing of Ekapol shows him sitting cross-legged, as a monk does in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

According to rescue officials, he is among the weakest in the group, in part because he gave the boys his share of the limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys how to meditate and how to conserve as much energy as possible until they were found.

“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave, in an interview with a Thai television network. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”…

During my brief stay in Thailand three years ago, I was often impressed by the straightforward piety that runs through the hearts of the people there. Just one of many illustrations: We spent two nights in the farmhouse of my daughters’ adoptive “grandparents” in the rural village in which she served her two years in the Peace Corps. In the corner of the room in which we slept on floor pallets there was a small Buddhist shrine.

On the morning we were leaving, before she would let us go, the “grandmother” kneeled before the shrine and let us know we were to kneel beside her. Of course we did, as she prayed for our safety during the rest of our journey. We were deeply touched.

And as it happened, we had a wonderful time, and our trip was remarkably free of untoward incidents.

Call that good luck if you like, but I think all good-faith efforts to reach out sincerely to the Divine have value, however you define the Divine and whatever your dogma. In any case, the presence of that spiritual young man seems to be helping to keep those boys going under the most trying of circumstances.

I don’t have a shrine in my house, but I’ll be going to Mass later today. And on this Sunday, I hope and pray the other nine boys get out as safely as the first four. And that Ekapol does, too…

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don't think I'll do that again...

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don’t think I’ll do that again…

Memphis knows how to throw a party (or something) for St. Pat

catechismNo doubt some will cite this as evidence that my Ménière’s has reached the point at which I need a hearing aid.

But in my defense, my wife was out in the hallway when she said this, and I was in the bathroom with the exhaust fan running — although the door, I admit, was open.

Anyway, she had come upstairs to tell me that her youngest brother was on his way to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Memphis (my wife’s family, the Phelans, are real Irish Catholics, not pretenders like me), and that he had told her something alarming about that parade.

She said the people on the floats throw catechisms to the crowd.

At least, I thought that’s what she said. I considered it a bit odd — most such parades aren’t that, shall we say, holy — but nevertheless arguably appropriate, since St. Patrick converted the heathen Irish to Christianity.

Then my wife said something odder. She said she thought that sounded “dangerous.” I reflected that maybe so, if they were hardbacks. But they could throw paperbacks, and maybe there are some abridged, pocket-sized versions…

Then she said other things that made me wonder. I asked her to repeat the first thing she’d said.cabbage

This time, I thought she said they were throwing “catechists,” and that did sound dangerous. If you go throwing people, religious education teachers, off of floats, someone could get hurt.

But something about this version sounded even more suspicious, so I finally asked her directly whether she had indeed said they were throwing catechisms or catechists.

She roared with laughter at this point (which frankly I don’t think is the kindest way to deal with my affliction). She had been saying, “cabbages.” They were throwing cabbages from the floats.

Yeah, OK. That could be dangerous.

You can stop laughing now…

Look out! What's that they're throwing? The St. Patrick's Day parade on Beale Street.

Look out! What’s that they’re throwing? The St. Patrick’s Day parade on Beale Street.

Bryan’s not a Catholic, but he grasps the concept

Bud, this second one is not my fault. Bryan posted it today and asked me to give a “ruling” on it. Take comfort from the fact that it is only tangentially about abortion.

Dang. I chose the coding for including the parent Tweet, but as so often happens, it didn’t show up. Here’s what Bryan was reacting to:

Here’s what I said back, warning him that my “ruling” could not be considered to have been given ex cathedra:

See, this is why we had the Reformation. Some people (a whole lot of people) didn’t want to adhere to what the church was teaching, so they became Lutherans and Calvinists and such. It’s why Bryan, for instance, is a Presbyterian. They didn’t go around calling themselves “Catholics Against Papal Authority” or whatever. They became something else.

And back in the day, that was a major commitment. You took your life into your hands making such decisions. For instance, my ancestor Thomas Wyatt the Younger, a Protestant, was beheaded for opposing the Catholic Bloody Mary. (He made a big PR mistake: The plot against her was known as “Wyatt’s rebellion.”) Similarly, many people who stayed Catholic lost their lives under Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth.

Hans Holbein painted Thomas Wyatt's head, years before he lost it.

Hans Holbein painted Thomas Wyatt’s head, years before he lost it.

Today, we can take these stands freely, without putting our lives on the line. So when you stop believing in the teachings of the Catholic church — or the Anglican or the Presbyterian or what have you — you can just glide into calling yourself something else. A lot of the American story is about people doing just that. Families that had been Catholic and then become Anglican in the old country went on to become Congregationalists, then Unitarians, then Transcendentalists, then in some cases back to be Catholic.

It’s sort of our American birthright. You don’t believe in what Church A believes in anymore? You can join Church B, and no one will chop your head off for it….

Oh, the words I’ve wasted!

Hannah presents her young son Samuel to the priest Eli. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Hannah presents her young son Samuel to the priest Eli. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Today’s first reading on the Catholic liturgical calendar is from 1 Samuel, chapter 3. It gets me every time I read this part at the end:

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba
came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD.

Imagine that. If I were offered a super power, I might choose that one — that no word of mine would be without effect. Good effect, worthwhile effect. Effect that is pleasing to God.

But as it happens, I’ve wasted thousands upon thousands. And although one gets to utter many, many words in a lifetime on this Earth, the supply is not infinite.

I hang my head at the thought of all those wasted ones…

Worshiping in the ‘church’ of Fox News?

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Molly Worthen can’t even spell her own name, but she writes a pretty fair think piece.

I read this one in the NYT last month, and kept forgetting to share it with you. Today, with Roy Moore possibly being elected to the U.S. Senate, seems a good day to rectify that.

The piece gets a little dry toward the end, but I want to share with you this good part at the beginning:

Over the course of the week, as Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, faced more allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with young women and teenagers, many evangelicals leapt to his defense.

Molly Worthen

Molly Worthen

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

It’s no secret that humans — religious and secular alike — often act on “less than logical” impulses. Social scientists have documented our tendency to reject reliable evidence if it challenges our beliefs. Hours of tearful victims’ testimony will not deter evangelicals who see Roy Moore as the latest Christian martyr persecuted by the liberal establishment. “Their loyalties are much more strongly formed by conservative media than their churches,” Ms. Schiess said. “That’s the challenge for church leaders today, I think — rediscovering rather ancient ideas about how to form our ultimate loyalty to God and his kingdom.” …

I’ve never been much of one for badmouthing Fox News, mainly because I haven’t seen it or other cable TV news programs enough to be confident in making firm judgments.

But there is definitely something out there motivating “evangelicals” to vote for people who seem to have little to nothing to do with Christianity, and I can’t see it being church.

Something is taking the place of the gospel in these people’s thought processes. Or perhaps I should say in their guts, grabbing and holding them on a “less than logical level.”

And there’s something about that ritual of constantly watching TV, night after night, year after year, and getting hit with the same messages hundreds and thousands of times.

I’m reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which people hear the same statements over and over in the night until they accept the truth of such statements without thinking. Indeed, they become incapable of considering the possibility that such statements might be untrue:

repetitions

(Never mind that “Idiots!” bit. Bernard had something of an inferiority complex, not being respected as much as an Alpha normally would be.)

These repetitions may be even more powerful in terms of engendering aversion, even revulsion. How else does one explain Republicans who knew better voting for Trump or a write-in, because they absolutely could not bring themselves to vote for the only person in a position to stop him?

Or how do you explain good people in Alabama who see the problem with Roy Moore, but — like Sen. Shelby — simply cannot bring themselves to vote for the Democrat (again, the only person who might stop Moore from disgracing Alabama, the Republican Party and the U.S. Senate)?

Anyway, I thought it was an intriguing line of thought: What good is an hour in church once a week compared to hours of indoctrination in another sort of faith, every night for years?

A better use for $450 million

800px-Leonardo_da_Vinci_(attributed),_c.1490–1519,_Salvator_Mundi,_oil_on_walnut,_45.4_×_65.6_cm_(framed)

I just thought I’d share here what I had to say last night when I got the news….

I mean, seriously: You know how I got the above image for this post? I right-clicked on it and saved it. It’s in the public domain. Look at it all you want, for free.

I mean, that’s OK, right — you attorneys out there? Or does the new owner own the rights to the public domain photo on Wikipedia, too?

‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien…’

Dr. Heyer during her lecture.

Dr. Heyer during her lecture.

This past Sunday, I did the first reading at the Spanish Mass, the first time I’d done so in awhile.

It was from Exodus Chapter 22. Here’s how it began:

Esto dice el Señor a su pueblo: “No hagas sufrir ni oprimas al extranjero, porque ustedes fueron extranjeros en Egipto. No explotes a las viudas ni a los huérfanos, porque si los explotas y ellos claman a mí, ciertamente oiré yo su clamor; mi ira se encenderá, te mataré a espada, tus mujeres quedarán viudas y tus hijos, huérfanos….

For you gringos, it goes like this:

Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans….

Because I had just read that Sunday (after a lot of practice that morning, which I have to do with Spanish these days), I was struck to hear the same message again last night, when I attended this year’s Cardinal Bernardin lecture at USC.

Our speaker was Kristin Heyer from Boston College, and the rather involved title of her lecture was “Immigration Ethics in a New Era: Embracing Cardinal Bernardin’s challenge to be both ‘prophetic and public’ amid the contemporary political climate with respect to migration.”(Headline writing isn’t a core strength of academics, I find.)

I won’t go into the whole thing, except to say that the message was not, shall we say, Trumpian.

But I was struck at the serendipity of her slide citing numerous biblical injunctions to be good to the alien. The first one she cited was from the chapter after the one I had read from in Exodus, and it’s a stripped-down, to-the-point version of what I had read:

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt…

That was Exodus 23:9. Think maybe somebody’s trying to tell me something this week?

IMG_2933

Kyle Michel ponders All Souls’ Day

"All Souls Day" by Jakob Schikaneder, 1888

“All Souls Day” by Jakob Schikaneder, 1888

Earlier this week, the lady who schedules us lectors and eucharistic ministers sent out an email looking for volunteers for the Masses on All Saints Day. I wrote to her to say I could serve at the one at noon, but couldn’t do the evening Mass because of the debate.

But I had to ask her a dumb question, just to be sure: You’re talking about Wednesday, right?

As a convert, I still get confused by some stuff cradle Catholics take for granted, and the distinction between All Saints’ Day (yesterday) and All Souls’ Day (today) is one of those things.

But because we have so much to learn, we examine these things more closely. And an unexamined life, etc.

So I sort of enjoyed this email from Kyle Michel, who like me grew up Southern Baptist before marrying into a Catholic family:

All Souls Day has always been kinda intriguing to me. The idea of praying for all souls gone before you makes you wonder where the heck they’ve all gone. Maybe my Jewish friends are right – you’re here, you make your mark, you’re gone. Or, maybe there’s some kind of next stage – put whatever label you want on it. It would be hard to say that every person who has ever seen a ghost or had some paranormal experience was just imagining it. But everybody who ever died can’t be hanging around or the whole world would look like that Michael Jackson Thriller video. ​
I grew up Southern Baptist and we never had All Souls Day. According to the Baptists, there’s just no need – God’s already sorted them out, no need for further input. The Catholics have more of a Jesse Jackson approach – Keep Hope Alive! That Catholic approach seems a little better suited to a procrastinator like me – give it your best shot while you’re still breathing, but if you fall a little short, you’ve still got a chance.
Though, for Catholics, All Souls Day is still a little uncomfortable because you’re supposed to pray for all those in purgatory, which means you gotta make a call on who you think didn’t quite make it in – awkward!  At the funeral, everyone makes it in, right? Now, I gotta admit I think Uncle Freddie never made the cut!
Lucky for us, this year All Souls Day falls on First Thursday, so you can come down to Main Street and spend the evening thinking about all your dearly departed while walking among your not-yet-departed who probably still need a little prayer themselves.
If you’re out, stop by. We’ll be here at 1520 with our usual fare and selling the records of some of the souls we’re praying for – including a few of those “under-the-counter” ones that belonged to Uncle Freddie.

Kyle sends out these emails every First Thursday, inviting folks to drop by his law office on Main Street. He has the most awesome record collection I’ve ever seen outside of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and he puts out some of his treasures out to sell from tables on the sidewalk.

You should check it out tonight. I can’t, because I’m doing another Catholic thing: I’m going to the annual Bernardin Lecture. Kristin Heyer of Boston College will speak on “Immigration Ethics in a New Era.”

Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

So who's this Joseph when he's at home?

‘So who’s this Joseph when he’s at home?’

Remember the other day when I quoted, twice (once in a comment, later in a post) the opening of an article from Foreign Affairs? It started out explaining the postwar collective security consensus (which, sadly, has to be explained to people these days), and ended with this transition:

Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

… which I thought was an awesome line, because that’s exactly where we are, isn’t it? We have a king who knows not anything. Not history, not policy, not diplomacy, not the basics of governing, not the Constitution, not the rule of law. One who is surprised to learn of Frederick Douglass. A man who, for all I know, may not even know enough about Scripture to get the Joseph reference.

Anyway…

Yesterday, I happened to attend Mass at a local Episcopal Church — one that I visit from time to time. I always enjoy the services there for several reasons. One is that I can hear what’s going on. Whether the homily is in Spanish or English, the acoustics make it hard for me to follow the homily at my church, St. Peter’s. (It was hard before I lost hearing in one ear to Ménière’s; it’s next to impossible now.)

I also really like that they use the old liturgy — or what I think of as the old liturgy, which was really post-Vatican II liturgy, but I became Catholic long after Vatican II. Anyway, the Episcopalians are still using the one I like, in which we say “and also with you,” instead of “and with your spirit,” and in which the Creed starts with “We believe” instead of “I believe.”

So that’s nice. But that’s not why I’m writing about this. I’m writing about this because the first reading at this service was the one that starts like this:

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites….

Yeah, that line again.

Which was quite a coincidence, I thought.

But I didn’t realize how much of a coincidence it was until this morning.

I was thinking about it, and decided to go back and read it, so I went to the U.S. Conference Conference of Catholic Bishops site to check out yesterday’s first reading.

But it was a different reading. It was this one, from Isaiah.

Huh. So, if I had not just happened to attend a church other than my own, I would not have heard that reading, and would not have been struck by the coincidence.

How about that?

It appears that God wants me to pay more attention to that line.

So I’m pondering it this morning…

Or… did He want me to have occasion to go back and read the Catholic reading, which I otherwise would have missed? It, too, seems freighted with timely meaning:

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace:
“I will thrust you from your office
and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant
Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe,
and gird him with your sash,
and give over to him your authority.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder;
when he opens, no one shall shut
when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot,
to be a place of honor for his family.”

So… did Shebna not know Joseph, either?

Apparently, I should read further, and reflect…

Oxymoronic group blasts Pelosi for being tolerant

I noted in passing this morning that Nancy Pelosi was being very sensible and open-minded when she split with her party’s new chair on whether Democrats would be allowed to think for themselves on abortion. An excerpt from the story I read, demonstrating the very human, respectful approach she took:

Pelosi“I grew up Nancy D’Alesandro, in Baltimore, Maryland; in Little Italy; in a very devout Catholic family; fiercely patriotic; proud of our town and heritage, and staunchly Democratic,” she added, referring to the fact that she is the daughter and sister of former mayors of that city. “Most of those people — my family, extended family — are not pro-choice. You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic Party?”…

Of course, there are always enforcers of political dogma ready to jump down a reasonable person’s throat. The most ironic such rebuke I’ve seen comes from the oxymoronic Catholics for Choice, which can always be relied upon to put a surreal twist on the news:

As Catholics, we are dismayed by Minority Leader Pelosi’s out of touch and self-serving statements that throw women and their right to make their own moral decisions under the bus.

Let’s be clear—unity in diversity of thought is an important value in America and what any political party should seek to nurture. However, a party that claims the mantle on social justice and civil liberties cannot turn its back on women’s moral autonomy and the right to make conscience-based decisions. Women’s rights are human rights and they cannot be traded away based on short-sighted political calculations. Minority Leader Pelosi’s claim that ‘abortion is a fading issue’ is also downright irresponsible when women’s access to abortion services is under attack across America by restrictive legislative proposals and efforts to limit providers, especially for the poorest women….

How do you take a statement like that seriously when it starts, “As Catholics…?” But of course, the purpose of this organization is to convince you to accept that proposition.

I ask you: Did any part of that statement feel “Catholic” to you? In style and voice, did it sound like something, say, Pope Francis would say? No. In tone and word choice, it read as though it had been written by an indignant college sophomore interning at NARAL.

A digression: I may need to borrow someone’s Dictionary of Current Ideology. Set abortion aside. How does an individual person have something called “moral autonomy?” Is not the essence of morality that we are responsible to one another for what we do? (Where do they get this cant?)

Nice try, Nancy, attempting to make your party a little more tolerant and open. This world is full of people who simply will not stand for that sort of thing…

How does this make Mike Pence a ‘misogynist?’

Look at this face. No, LOOK!... See, you've already looked away...

Look at this face. No, LOOK!… See, you’ve already looked away…

A simple conversation
With a new man now and again
Makes a touchy situation
When a good thing’s comin’ to an end…

Janis Joplin

I admit I don’t pay a lot of attention to Mike Pence, so maybe I’ve missed something indicative of his supposed hostility toward women.

He’s not terribly interesting. I think Trump deliberately chose him for that reason. I think his rationale went, Solid, unremarkable conservative (which I’m not). Won’t distract attention from Yours Truly. Central Casting would immediately peg Pence as the guy to stand in the background and applaud during bill signings. Look at his face. No, look at it — see, you’ve lost interest and looked away already, so never mind.

Anyway, it seems that Pence is in trouble with some for having said, years ago, that he makes it a personal rule not to have a meal or drinks with a woman without his wife being present. It started with this modest aside in a Washington Post story about Mrs. Pence:

In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either….

A lot of people have freaked out over this, to a sufficiently absurd degree that it can cause people who don’t hold with Pence’s rule to be converted to it, just in reaction to the madness:

The thing that really set me off on this was a column in The Guardian that called Pence a “misogynist” because he’s a guy who takes the “lead us not into temptation” part of the Our Father (or Lord’s Prayer, since I think he’s switched from Catholic to evangelical) really, really, really seriously.

When you Google that word, the first definition you get is “a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.” Yeah, that’s the definition I’d use. And I don’t see how this practice, or perhaps former practice, of the veep qualifies him for that epithet. But to a certain sort of ideologue, if you don’t agree with certain propositions (such as, women are exactly the same as men and no one should ever evince in any way an atavistic belief in la différence), then you’re a hater.

Yeah, I get all the reasons why people object to Pence’s view. No need to explain it; I read the piece in The Atlantic, written by a young person named Olga, who looks (yes, I had to go see what a person named “Olga” looked like, so sue me) just like lots of other very young persons who are often to be found online ‘splaining such things to the likes of me, as though I hadn’t heard that stuff before they were born. (I had pictured someone different.)

But back to the Guardian piece. It includes an argument that the writer, because of her ideological inclinations, considers to be a real slam-dunk:

As the Black List founder Franklin Leonard noted, if Keith Ellison – who is Muslim – “refused to dine one on one with women and used his religion to justify it, the political right would lose their minds”.

Which seems rather doubtful to me, as do most such “if x were substituted for y, then z would go ballistic” arguments, which are usually based in an excessive faith that one knows one’s adversaries’ minds better than they do.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people on the right who would indeed have a fit when someone on the left says it looks like we’re going to have a nice day. And vice versa: “Nice for whom: dead white male oppressors?!?!”

Of course, I can only speak for myself. I’m not of the “political right,” but I suspect this Franklin Leonard would beg to differ. Anyway, while I don’t hold with the Muslim notion of restricting interaction between the sexes, I respect the intention, and the willingness to submit to the will of Allah in avoiding compromising situations.

Similarly, like Ross Douthat, I consider Pence’s rule to be a bit much, but I respect his decision not to let himself enjoy even the limited intimacy of a shared meal with any woman but his wife. (And if that’s too much of a temptation for him, I especially applaud his decision to keep alcohol out of the equation.)

It’s like the way I feel about, again, Muslims — and for that matter Baptists — who strictly avoid alcohol. I respect the motivation and admire the discipline, even though I’m, you know… Catholic, and therefore not inclined to follow such precepts myself.

And I’m not going to call them names for taking a different approach.

Hawaii judge on why travel order is a Muslim Ban

Here’s a nice excerpt from the “sometime scathing” (according to The Guardian) order by federal district judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu striking down Donald Trump’s second attempt to bar travel from certain Muslim countries.

Basically, he’s calling “bull” on the alleged motives for the ban:

The Government appropriately cautions that, in determining purpose, courts should not look into the ‘veiled psyche’ and ‘secret motives’ of government decision-makers and may not undertake a ‘judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts’.

Judge Derrick Kahala Watson

Judge Derrick Kahala Watson

The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry.

For instance, there is nothing ‘veiled’ about this press release: ‘Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.’

Nor is there anything ‘secret’ about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:

Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”

Twitter would have tightened up St. Paul’s writing

Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_Project

Is it blasphemous to criticize St. Paul’s writing? Probably not. It might seem a bit disrespectful to some, though, and I’m sensitive to that.

I hope those folks, and more importantly God, will forgive me if I confess something: His writing has long bugged me.

Sure, there are some nice, even beautifully poetic, passages — such as that one that is read so often at weddings. And I’ll even admit that there are brushstrokes of majesty in the verses I’m about to criticize specifically.

But I still find him on the whole rather tedious, and over-wordy. Especially some of those greetings in his epistles, which read to me sort of like “I, Paul, who will now insert multiple clauses setting out complex theological concepts adding up to an incredible number of words and making you despair of ever reaching the end of the sentence, in some cases describing myself and my own holiness, which you should emulate, but at other times describing a detailed scheme of thought for this new religion that I’m the first to write about, bring you greetings.”

I know there are a lot of important theological concepts in these passages, but when you try to cram all that into your lede, you’re going to lose your reader. I realize that as a journalist, I’m prejudiced on this score, but I don’t know another way to be. Forgive me, but sometimes I feel like maybe Paul was overthinking it, that perhaps Jesus’ teachings were more simple and direct than Paul made them out to be. I’ve always been partial to the way an atheist, Douglas Adams, described Christ’s message. To him, Jesus talked about “how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.”

Anyway, all this came back to me this past Sunday as I sat through this reading, Romans 5:12-19:

Brothers and sisters:
Through one man sin entered the world,
and through sin, death,
and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned—
for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world,
though sin is not accounted when there is no law.
But death reigned from Adam to Moses,
even over those who did not sin
after the pattern of the trespass of Adam,
who is the type of the one who was to come.
But the gift is not like the transgression.
For if by the transgression of the one, the many died,
how much more did the grace of God
and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.
And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned.
For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation;
but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.
For if, by the transgression of the one,
death came to reign through that one,
how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace
and of the gift of justification
come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.

And as I followed along, reading the text as I listened, I thought, I could say this in a Tweet. And I was right. Here it is:

Through the fault of one man, Adam, sin came into the world for all. And through the goodness of one man, Jesus, abundant life came to all.

And I have one character to spare. I’m not bragging. Any reasonably competent modern editor could do it.

Sure, many modern editors have been guilty of slashing, indiscriminate violence against the language in their zeal for brevity. And I’m leaving out some important theological concepts, such as “Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.” But I’ve communicated the main concepts, right?

No, I’m not saying we’d be better off if the Bible were just a series of Tweets. I’m too much the traditionalist for that. And I love most of the Bible. But I find Paul wearing, and I’m just saying that had he had a fairly active Twitter feed, it might have tightened up his prose some. He wouldn’t have written his epistles in 140-character bites (one hopes), but at least the practice would have gotten him into the habit of getting to the point.

Of course, the fact that he didn’t is no fault of his.

I love this picture from the Canadian border

From The Washington Post: Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police help a family from Somalia on Feb. 17, 2017 along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Quebec. (The Canadian Press/AP)

From The Washington Post: Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police help a family from Somalia on Feb. 17, 2017 along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Quebec. (The Canadian Press/AP)

I hope The Canadian Press (or the AP, which transmitted it) doesn’t mind my showing this photo, but my post would make little sense without it. It goes with this story this morning in The Washington Post:

OTTAWA — As desperate asylum seekers continue to flee the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown by crossing into Canada, concern is growing here over whether the country will be able to cope if the number of migrants keeps growing.

Stories of migrants hauling children and suitcases across frozen fields and snow-covered ditches into Canada have become headline news. The asylum seekers, who are fleeing President Trump’s travel and refugee bans as well as stepped-up arrests of undocumented immigrants, have received warm welcomes. But opposition politicians are criticizing the government of Justin Trudeau for being too harsh or too lax in its approach….

I just love that expression on the Mountie’s face as he lifts that child up from the snow. You go, Dudley Do-Right!

It’s particularly meaningful to me because our church sponsored a Somali Bantu family — a widowed mother and several children — in Columbia a few years back, and my wife played a leadership role in that, sometimes spending practically as much time with them, helping them negotiate American life, as she did at home. Or so it seemed to me, but I’m not complaining. She found the mother a job and helped her get settled in it, tutored one of the kids (using our old copies of The Wall Street Journal to help with his English skills), and all sorts of stuff like that. (My own involvement hardly extended beyond storing donated furniture in our garage before they arrived.)

Eventually, our Bantu family moved to Buffalo, where a lot of others like them had ended up. Also right on the Canadian border, you’ll note — although the picture taken above was far from there.

Of course, as I say, I love the picture. Despite the fact that it saddens me greatly that any of these folks would feel so unwelcome in this country that they would set out on such hazardous (and to them especially, horrendously cold) terrain in search of solace and safety…

Where did Melchizedek come from?

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Meeting_of_Abraham_and_Melchizedek_-_WGA20435

“The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek,” by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

The first of yesterday’s Catholic scripture readings (which I have emailed to me daily, and actually remembered to read at breakfast yesterday) is this one:

Reading 1 Heb 7:1-3, 15-17

Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High,
met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings
and blessed him.

And Abraham apportioned to him a tenth of everything.
His name first means righteous king,
and he was also “king of Salem,” that is, king of peace.
Without father, mother, or ancestry,
without beginning of days or end of life,
thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up
after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so,
not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent
but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.
For it is testified:

You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Which reminds me. I’ve always wondered: Where did Melchizedek come from? To refresh your memory, here’s where he made his initial appearance:

GN 14:18-20

In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine,
and being a priest of God Most High,
he blessed Abram with these words:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
the creator of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your foes into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

OK, so… Abram, soon to be Abraham, pretty much invented monotheism, right? Or rather, to be more theologically correct, discovered it. Everybody else was worshiping idols, and then the one true God reached out to him, and all of Judaism and Christianity and Islam grew out of that original covenant.

I mean, he’s still trying to get this whole Most High God concept straight in his head, and bang! A priest of that same God shows up on his doorstep?

Not only that, but this priest already has the whole routine down. Rituals were already established. Like an Army padre on the battlefield, he had brought the bread and wine with him. And most amazingly, he got Abraham to tithe! That’s a trick a lot of modern priests wish they could master, and here this guy gets the world’s first believer to go along with the program right off the bat!

After all that, it’s a wonder Father Melchizedek didn’t, before moving on, start regular bingo nights to raise money for a new roof for the parish school.

OK, I need to stop before I get blasphemous. But I’m sincere about this: How does the guy who started a religion meet up with a priest — whose existence suggests the prior development of rituals and procedures and perhaps an administrative hierarchy — of that same religion?

He was indeed “without father, mother, or ancestry.” Like Minerva, he came springing forth fully formed from the brow of this new faith.

Unbelievers among you will say, “Stop trying to find logic in a made-up story.” But here’s the thing: If you’re going to make it up, why gratuitously introduce an element that makes everybody say, “What?!?!” If you’re going to write a fairy tale, have it make sense so as to facilitate belief. Fiction writers introduce characters for a reason. What was the function of Melchizedek, other than to make us scratch our heads?

And yes, I know that the church has — starting with the epistle quoted above — developed the idea of Melchizedek as a prototype of the Christ, as the eternal priest-king. But that’s retroactive. What’s the original explanation? What’s Melchizedek’s back-story?

No, the story of Melchizedek is so weird and inexplicable that it smacks of reality, however much might have been lost over the centuries before it was written down. It lacks the orderliness of fiction. Reality is bizarre and too often inexplicable. Doubt me? OK, who would write a work of fiction that had Donald Trump being elected president of the United States, and expect anybody to read it? Case closed, ya heathens.

I will now pass around the collection plate…

Apparently, Franklin Graham thinks God hates America

As if this were not a bad enough time for America, the son of an evangelist I’ve always respected seems to believe the Almighty is out to get us:

Franklin Graham: It wasn’t Russians who intervened in election, ‘it was God’

Evangelist Franklin Graham doesn’t believe it was the Russians who intervened in this year’s controversial presidential election.

It was God, he declared Saturday in Mobile, Ala., during President-elect Donald Trump’s final public rally before the Electoral College vote Monday.

“Since the election there’s been a lot of discussion as to how Donald Trump won the election,” AL.com reported Graham as saying. “I believe it was God. God showed up. He answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people across this land that have been praying for this country.”…

Really? REALLY?

I don’t care what your politics might be: What sort of prayer could Donald Trump be the answer to? He wasn’t even what most Republicans wanted (he received about 13.3 million votes in the primaries, while more than 16 million cast votes for someone else), much less an answer to their prayers. Settling for a deeply flawed candidate isn’t exactly an occasion for hallelujahs.

Let’s unpack this a bit. A large number of evangelicals were prepared to vote for whoever opposed Hillary Clinton because like me, they oppose abortion. And I can almost, but not quite, understand their holding their noses and choosing Trump as the one person in position to stop a woman they regarded for whatever reasons as the Devil herself. (Just as I was willing to vote for her as the only person in position to stop Trump.)

But note that I said “almost, but not quite.” That’s because the only possible justification would be that they were single-issue voters, which I find it hard to imagine being. And even if I were, on the life-and-death issue of abortion, I would find it very difficult to see Donald Trump as an ally, since his commitment to the pro-life position is so transparently a stance of convenience. He obviously has practically no understanding of the issue, and could drop the position as conveniently as he dropped his previous one — something we’ve seen him do time and time again. If you don’t like a position taken by this guy, wait a few minutes.

So what is there that a man of God, or one who sees himself as a man of God, would see as worth celebrating here?

It just floors me.

But let’s look at what unites us. I can join him in this prayer at least:

Come hear the 2016 Bernardin Lecture next week

There was an interesting op-ed piece in The Washington Post this morning by Christopher Jolly Hale, director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, one of those “liberal Catholic” groups mentioned in the Podesta emails.

It’s headlined, “Progressives aren’t a threat to American Catholicism. Donald Trump is.”

It’s interesting for the thoughtful way he explains the tension involved in relations with liberal Democrats:

My group lives in the almost impossible position of trying to exhort fellow Catholics to respond to the social teaching of the church, which guides us to lift up the poor and oppressed, while working within a generally secular progressive movement that isn’t friendly to our views on the sanctity of life. For nearly a decade, the abortion rights community has railed against CACG’s consistent support for the dignity of the unborn child. In 2009, Catholics for Choice released a scathing 30-page report on how we were working to build an antiabortion movement within progressive politics. Then, in 2013, conservative Catholic activist Bill Donohue called us a “bogus Catholic entity” because we said Rush Limbaugh was wrong to rip Pope Francis as a practitioner of “pure Marxism.” Our group was once derided as “radical right wingers” and a “lapdog for liberals” by two different national commentators in a single month; and this past summer, I was accused of being a “feminist” on Fox News one week and a “mansplainer” in the Huffington Post the next week.

If we’re nothing but surrogates for the Democratic Party and shills for Clinton bent on collapsing the church from within, we probably should be fired, because we’re doing a pretty bad job.

In July, we fought tooth and nail to stop the Democratic Party​ from ditching the Hyde Amendment. When they refused to, we said it was growing evidence that Democrats were slowly defying their progressive ideals to become a “party of exclusion.” Catholics are right to strongly protest Clinton and the Democratic Party’s hard-line position on abortion. As we’ve said time and again, we think there’s nothing progressive about abortion. But if conservatives are going to be quick to deride Clinton’s campaign as “anti-Catholic,” they should take an honest look at Trump before doing so….

Anyway, all this stuff about liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics makes me think of Columbia native Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who devoted much of his career to trying to get all Catholics (and people of other faiths) to get along better.

Cardinal Bernardin

Cardinal Bernardin

Which in turn reminds me that next week is the annual Bernardin Lecture at USC. It’s at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, in the auditorium on the first floor of Capstone — the same place where we hosted E.J. Dionne a few years back. Here’s a flier about the event.

The main speaker is Father Dennis H. Holtschneider, president of DePaul University. He will speak on the late cardinal’s Consistent Ethic of Life, Bernardin’s best-known contribution to theology and ethics.

Before that, at 3 p.m., there will be a panel discussion in the Gressette Room of Harper College on the Horseshoe led by my friend and fellow Bernardin Committee member Steven Millies, a poli sci associate prof at USC Aiken. Dr. Millies is the author of the recently published Joseph Bernardin: Seeking Common Ground. The topic of the discussion is Bernardin’s formative years in South Carolina. Steven will be joined on the panel by Libby Bernardin, widow of the Cardinal’s first cousin, John, and one of the family still living in South Carolina (and a fellow member of the committee); Sister Nancy Hendershott, Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine;  Anita Orf, Bernardin’s last living first cousin who grew up in the same house with him; and Fr. Sandy McDonald, longtime committee member for the annual Bernardin Lectures.

I hope you can make it.

OK, WHAT was the point of this reading yesterday?

Following up on Friday’s Faith and Family post…

I frequently have ideas for blog posts during Mass on Sunday, and then I promptly go home and take a nap or something and then get busy with other stuff on Monday and forget about it.

Which I shouldn’t do because, you know, He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.

Jeremiah makes a deal.

Jeremiah makes a deal.

Anyway, yesterday I wasn’t at my own church — it was an Episcopal Church — but the readings are the same as ours, so I assumed the same question would have occurred to me. Unfortunately, the homilist chose the Gospel reading as his text — which was fine, except that the Gospel was a pretty straightforward cautionary tale, the one about the beggar Lazarus and the rich man who die and go to separate places, and didn’t need much explication to my mind.

What I had hoped somebody would explain to me was the first reading, the Old Testament one, which went like this:

No, wait! It wasn’t the same reading! We Catholics had an entirely different one, I find — and one that makes perfect sense to me in the context of the day’s theme (the Gospel readings were the same, and apparently the 2nd Reading, too, although I confess Paul’s letters tend to go in one ear and out the other — too much throat-clearing). You can find it here; it’s from Amos Chapter 6.

Here’s the Episcopal one, the one that confused me:

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of theLord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

That’s from Jeremiah; the Amos reading is offered as an alternative.

Anyway, can someone explain to me why we were reading that Jeremiah passage? Why is it in the lectionary at all? What’s the moral of the story? Where’s the editorial point, to put it in my vernacular? God tells Jeremiah to do a real estate deal, and he does, and then goes into more detail about it than I’d want even if I were a real estate attorney?

Huh?

Here’s my wild guess as to what the point is: I think it’s sort of, even when you’re in a time of great social upheaval (Nebuchadrezzar bearing down on Jerusalem), you should carry on with life and its dealings. If that’s true, then it’s related to one of my favorite OT passages, also from Jeremiah, on carrying on normal life even while in exile:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. Increase there; do not decrease. 7Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare your own depends.b

(And yeah, I love that one in part because the last bit is way communitarian.) But if that is the point, it’s made really awkwardly and obscurely. Other thoughts?

Trump’s huge, but not ‘massive,’ problem with Catholics

Catholics were the first to feel nativist hostility: Bill 'the Butcher' and his Know-Nothing pals in 'Gangs of New York'

Catholics were the first to feel nativist nastiness: Bill ‘the Butcher’ and his Know-Nothing pals in ‘Gangs of New York’

First, a bit of pedantry.

My first boss in the newspaper business after college, Reid Ashe, was an MIT-trained engineer, which affected his approach to newspaper editing. A pet peeve for him was the improper use of the word “massive.” Something could be big, and imposing, and extensive, and impressive, but if it did not have actual mass, it was not massive.

I’m sure he would have hated this hed in The Washington Post this morning: “Donald Trump has a massive Catholic problem.” Well, no, he doesn’t, Reid would say. It may be “yuge,” but it is lacking entirely in mass.

So. Moving on…

After that bad start, it’s a pretty interesting story. Obviously, I’m far from the only Catholic who can’t imagine how anyone can morally justify backing Trump. As far as I knew before reading this, it was just me and the Pope. And some friends and family members, of course. But if I’d thought about it, I’d have assumed there were a lot of us.

Which there are. An excerpt:

Yes, the man who once feuded with the pope (how soon we forget that actually happened) is cratering among Catholics.

Back in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the Catholic vote by just 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent. And the GOP has actually won the Catholic vote as recently as 2004 and in 5 of the last 11 presidential elections.

But Trump trails among Catholics by a huge margin. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released this week shows him down 23 points, 55-32.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month painted an even worse picture for Trump’s Catholic support. He was down by 27 points, 61-34.

If you compare the difference between Romney’s margin among Catholics in 2012 and Trump’s margin among Catholics this year, the 25-point difference is tied for the biggest shift of any demographic group in the Post-ABC poll….

This is significant because Catholics make up a quarter of the electorate.

A number of reasons are offered for this, including the Donald’s tiff with the Pope. But the most convincing is the most obvious: Catholics — particularly Irish and Italians — were the very first targets of the nasty nativism that forms the core of Trump’s appeal. And they (I use “they” instead of “we” because I’m a convert, so this narrative forms no part of my personal heritage) haven’t forgotten.

These lads are unlikely to back you, Donald.

These people’s descendants are unlikely to back you, Donald.