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.
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.”
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:
“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…
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:
My response to the Pence rule two days ago would’ve been “I dunno, seems overly strict.” After reading its critics I’m basically all for it.
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.
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
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.’”
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.
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…
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:
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.
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.”…
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 people’s descendants are unlikely to back you, Donald.
Pastor Mark Burns speaking at Trump rally in Greenville. Wikipedia says I should credit this to Debrareneelee “in the manner specified by the author or licensor.” But I was unable to find out exactly how to do that.
When I saw this Tweet from Nicholas Kristof:
This is the most politicized and distasteful prayer I can imagine. God should sue the GOP for defamation. https://t.co/K35cSa2Gxl
I figured maybe Nicholas just doesn’t grok how evangelicals express themselves or something.
Then I read it, and cringed, because Kristof’s language had been too mild:
Oh, Lord, why do you let such people claim to represent you? Shouldn’t you have a licensing process or something? (Oh, that’s right — you did, but then the Reformation came along. Smiley face, Protestants! Just joshing you a bit — kind of.)
I just don’t know where to start. Perhaps we should just pick out the most offensive thing in this speech — I cannot call it a “prayer.” Is it Donald Trump being held up as a model of righteousness? Or is it that, in this country united by the holy words of St. Donald, “our enemy” is “Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party?”
I can’t choose. Normally I’d pick the second thing, because you know that a pet peeve that is for me. But the other is so deeply, profoundly sacrilegious…
I mean; aside from the fact that one is fictional.
Anyway, someone brought the above to my attention this morning.
OK, yeah, there’s a superficial resemblance… and as my interlocutor (my son-in-law) said, “The high sparrow takes his vow of poverty seriously, displaying a humility that makes me wonder if the actor actually IS portraying Pope Francis…”
But here’s the difference: The High Sparrow is WAY more interested in directly exercising worldly power.
The High Sparrow is more like a medieval pope in that respect. And in Westeros, that’s an innovation; things are moving in that direction — in our world, they tend the other way.
When the Pope holds a head of state (or anyone else) prisoner, or forces another to atone for his or her sins by walking naked through a city, get back to me…
My old friend Bob McAlister asked me to promote this on the blog, and I thought, “Why not?”
First Baptist Church of Columbia and Brookland Baptist Church will combine choirs, orchestras and congregations on Sunday, April 10, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. for Night of Joy, an inaugural event at the new Spirit Communications Park on Bull Street. Joining these churches will be Village Church and The New Laurel Street Missionary Baptist Church. The concert will also feature song selections from combined children’s choirs from all four churches, the Brookland Baptist Men’s Choir, the Capital City Chorale, and the Praise Band from Village Church.
From the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel to the October flood, South Carolina is on the path to recovery and being stronger than ever because we have leaned on our faith and learned to lean on each other, regardless of race. We invite all members of the Columbia community to join us for this free event as we celebrate on April 10, 2016, for a Night of Joy.
“Our churches have a habit of coming together to glorify our Lord and Savior and we are looking forward to lifting our voices up to celebrate Jesus at the stadium on Bull Street,” said Dr. Wendell Estep, Pastor of First Baptist Church Columbia.
“We are delighted to bring our churches together at Spirit Communications Park to praise the Lord and have the opportunity to fill the stadium with prayer before the Fireflies get their season started,” said Dr. Charles Jackson, Sr., Pastor of Brookland Baptist Church.
Night of Joy will be the inaugural event at Spirit Communications Park, truly showcasing the stadium’s mixed-use functionality. “We wanted to build a facility like Spirit Communications Park for this very reason. Our intent is for this facility to be utilized by the Columbia community far beyond playing baseball,” said Jason Freier, owner of the MiLB Franchise the Columbia Fireflies who will be playing at Spirit Communications Park. -###-
Bob’s interests in this are: He’s a member (I think) of First Baptist, and his firm does communications for the folks developing Bull Street….
When I walked into the church last night, I was handed an Order of Worship with the above image on the front of it, and I was blown away by it.
First, it just had so much heft to it, compared to the usual clip art that appears there. It’s usually something illustrating one of the readings, and it’s generally also forgettable. At the Spanish Mass I attend most Sundays (but not last night), it tends to be an innocuous-looking line drawing featuring people who look vaguely like campesinos in some rural setting, acting out the reading. OK, but they don’t grab you.
This grabbed me. It had such immediate, powerful life to it that for an instant I thought it was a photograph (the part in Jesus’ hair is so naturalistic), then realized it was a reproduction of a painting — one that made extraordinary use of chiaroscuro. It also let me know right away that this would be the Gospel reading:
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and: With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.
So, yeah, heavy stuff.
I started at the image a good bit during Mass, noticing the detail. First, there was the youthful, brooding Jesus, somehow reminding me of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov — partly because he looked younger than usual, but then still believable for a 30-year old. He’s hungry; he’s tired, and you can see that brushing off the Tempter’s blandishments under these circumstances isn’t as easy as we might assume.
Then there’s the intensity of the Devil, who is trying to seem reasonable, but whose desperation can be seen in the tension of his fingers clutching Jesus’ shoulder in a way intended to seem amiable, avuncular, even fatherly, but which is suggestive of an animal desperate not to lose its prey. After all, for Satan, this is the Big Game, the one to pull out all the stops for. He doesn’t offer the whole world to just any victim. (It also occurred to me that this Devil was a close relative, visually, to the Emperor in “Return of the Jedi.” But I brushed that aside; I rather think the Emperor was imitating Satan rather than the other way around.)
Anyway, I later looked up the painting, and found it. It’s a recent work, painted in 2011 by Eric Armusik. And no offense meant to Mr. Armusik, but his full-color original was a disappointment after the reproduction I had seen in our order of worship. Somehow, by cropping it tightly, dumping the color and photocopying it — which made the image much darker than the original — it was made more powerful. For me, anyway.
So for this post, I grabbed a cropped-down version, got rid of the color and darkened it, recreating what I originally saw — which was an image perfect for contemplating during Lent…
President Barack Obama signs remarks for introducer Sabah Muktar backstage prior to speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque and Al-Rahmah School in Baltimore, Md., Feb. 3, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Meant to post this the other day…
I kind of went “Huh?” when I saw that Marco Rubio had been critical of President Obama’s visit to a mosque, saying POTUS is “always pitting Americans against each other.”
From Trump and Cruz I expect such non sequitur grumbling. Not from Rubio.
The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board agreed with me the next day:
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio gave PresidentObama a hard time for his speech Wednesday at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, and we wonder if the Florida Senator read it. The speech was one of Mr. Obama’s best attempts to fulfill the promise he made in 2008 to promote racial and political comity.
We’ll admit to expecting worse, since Mr. Obama has typically addressed the issue of Islam by apologizing for Western behavior (2009 in Cairo) or analogizing Islamic State to the Christian Crusades (2015 National Prayer Breakfast). But in Baltimore he sought to reassure Muslims about their place in this country by invoking the best traditions of American religious freedom and tolerance….
The story reports that “Exactly zero percent of respondents in a recent survey said they believe that God created the Earth.”
That apparently includes the 40 percent or so of younger people in the increasingly secular country who still consider themselves to be Christian.
I tried to find out how that could be, and the explanation was confusing:
Despite the trend, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is still the country’s declared state church. Solveig Anna Boasdottir, a professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Iceland, agreed that scientific progress had changed religious attitudes in the country. But she said that about 40 percent of the country’s younger generation still consider themselves Christian — but none of them believe that God created the Earth. “Theories of science are broadly accepted among both young and old. That does not necessarily affect people’s faith in God,” she said….
Yeah. Got that. I don’t see any reason why acceptance of science would diminish faith in God — I’ve always found that simplistic dichotomy (God on one side, science on the other) — to be rather absurd, with the battle over evolution being one of the more ridiculous manifestations.
But I don’t see how it would affect people’s belief that God made the world, either.
I’ve always thought evolution is exactly the way God would create people and other species — a majestically slow, dignified, enormously complex process, rather than some Cecil B. DeMille, abracadabra “poof!”
Same with the geological eons to create the world on which all these species live.
Yeah, I get it that some people are very literal-minded, and they think that if it didn’t happen in the six days set out in the Genesis allegory, then God must have had nothing to do with it.
So if this survey is right, every single person who lives in Iceland is that literal-minded.
Which surprises me…
So basically, these folks are the opposite of deists, who believed God did create the world, but then left it alone…
The story even acknowledges what seems obvious to me, which is that “some Christians believe both in the Big Bang theory and God’s role.” So… how does that lead to no one believing God created the world?
I suppose I must say something about this, since he said it here in South Carolina — yet another blot on our ledger.
Not that we control what Donald Trump says. No, the really, truly shameful thing about it for us is that some people present — most of them likely to have been South Carolinians — cheered when he said it:
At a rally in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina on Monday evening, Trump pointed to the statement he released earlier in the day.
“Should I read you the statement?” he asked.
The crowd enthusiastically agreed that he should.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,” he said, adding the word “hell” for emphasis this time.
Supporters erupted in applause….
In another version of that story, that applause is described as “a boisterous standing ovation.” Is that accurate? View and listen to the video clip above, and judge for yourself.
The response is important because it is our shame, but also because Trump, employing his usual odd logic, used it to defend himself this morning: Hey, these people loved it, so it must not have been a bad idea….
In a way, for the rest of us to have to condemn this is an insult itself. We shouldn’t have to say anything, because anyone who thinks we wouldn’t be sickened by hearing something so stupid and hateful is insulting us by such a supposition.
But since South Carolinians applauded, we need to separate ourselves from them. How about if we do it this way: Let’s deport everyone who applauded and cheered, and then refuse to let them back in. It might not make us safer, but it would certainly make this political season less objectionable. (And no, I don’t mean it.)
So yeah: It was horrible. Probably the most horrible thing he’s said yet, although he’s got quite a competition going with himself. He’s an idiot, and he’s evil. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that vast numbers of likely voters love him for his worst qualities, which points to a profound sickness in our body politic.
South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison said:
Donald Trump’s comments offend the very fabric upon which our country was founded. His racist and offensive campaign for President of the United States should embarrass the Republican Party. His comments are an embarrassment to South Carolinians, who believe in equality, fairness, and justice for all.
… which would have a lot more impact if Jaime didn’t denounce pretty much everything any Republican candidate has to say.
One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…
I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.
I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.
First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.
Now, my impressions…
I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.
The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.
For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.
The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)
The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.
That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.
And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.
But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.
I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.
(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)
So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.
I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.
As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.
All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.
Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!
I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”
That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.
And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.
So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.
Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.
The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.