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Showing posts from 2016

Cutting Out the Poisonous Tree

It is something that I have thought for a long time, but it has become absolutely, unquestionably clear.  This insight is essential to understanding almost everything that is going on in modern Christianity, and I think it will be the defining issue for Christianity for the next generation, at least.  You cannot understand where we are or where we are going if you don't grasp this.  It is so important that it deserves to be written separately, and it should be written on the top of every paper and every essay discussing any of these topics:

The issue of homosexuality (or whatever terminology you want to use) in Christianity is not ultimately about homosexuality; it is about gender.

For the entirety of its history, with some limited exceptions, Christianity has been predicated on an, often unspoken but nevertheless pervasive, view that men and women are fundamentally different, and that this difference plays out invariably to the benefit of men at the expense of women.  In the last …

Advent Reflections--How and When God Saves

The big idea that my rector has been pushing this Advent season is the idea that Advent is about three different concepts at the same time--the waiting for Jesus in Bethlehem in the 1st Century, the waiting for Jesus to come to us now, in our own individual lives and circumstances, and the waiting for Jesus to come at the end of time.  We tend to focus entirely on the first part, and neglect the second and third.  The problem with focusing on the first part is that it makes Advent, and by extension Christmas, something that exists only in the past--an event that happened and did whatever it will do, now is over, leaving us only to remember it.

But Advent doesn't just speak to the past, but also the present and the future.  When we look back to see the children of Israel at the eve of the coming of Jesus, we are also seeing ourselves in our situation reflected in their faces.  First century Jews cried out to God for salvation--salvation from their own individual and collective erro…

Good Christian Sex, Chapter 7--Memories Losing Their Meaning

I am not exactly breaking new ground here, but the Beatles have some pretty great songs.  I mean, Bob Dylan just won a Nobel Prize for Literature, and Dylan has some good songs, but (controversial opinion alert) Dylan can't hold Lennon and McCartney's bags as a songwriter.  As music critic Chuck Klosterman said "everyone thinks the Beatles are the greatest band of all time because they have all the best songs, and both of those things are true."

Anyway, consider this tune:

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know …

A Matter of Honesty, Part X--A Final, Personal Note

There are times when something happens to you that hits you like a ton of bricks, where you immediately know that something big and significant has occurred that changes the way that you look at things and changes where you stand.  And then there are things that happen that don't seem especially consequential at the time, but that stick with you.  They are like a splinter in your mind and in your soul--at first it doesn't seem like that big a deal, but it just sticks around and becomes more and more prominent by virtue of its presence in your body and your life.  Let me tell you a story of one of the later incidents in my life.

A year ago at this time, I spent a week in Philadelphia visiting my sister, brother-in-law, and the rest of my family.  In part, I was going to spend Thanksgiving with them, but in part it was for my nephew's baptism.  My sister and my brother-in-law are not practicing Catholics, but they had their son baptized at my brother-in-law's family'…

Good Christian Sex, Chapters 5 and 6--The Stakes of Loving and Being Loved

After a long break--partially because of work commitments, partially because of the world turning upside down a bit, we are back with Good Christian Sex.  If you want to see the previous posts in the series, here is my introduction to the seriesthe introductory chapterChapters 1 and 2, and Chapters 3 and 4 (as well as this somewhat on topic post).  I promise it won't be so long for the rest of the book.

Chapters 5 and 6--about nakedness and intimacy, respectively--are in many ways a continuation of what McCleneghan addresses in the the previous two chapters.  An overarching theme to the book thus far it is that all intimate relationships of whatever type are multi-faceted.  There are a number of things that go into a good, happy, fulfilling, just relationship, and none of them can be assumed or come as the result of signing a piece of paper or being a part of a church service.

A discussion of nakedness, as McCleneghan points out, is really a discussion of vulnerability.  When…

Advent Reflections--The Politics of Heartbreak

Yesterday was the the First Sunday of Advent, the season of waiting and watching for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.  As was so well said by in the sermon I heard this weekend, there are really three different sorts of "coming of Jesus at Christmas" that Advent looks forward to--the one in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, the one that we believe will come at the end of time, and the one that comes to each one of us in an individual way, in that "sound of sheer silence" as the title of this blog says.  Those three ways are different, of course, but they are also the same in important ways, I think.  The more you carefully look at one of them, the more they resemble the other two.

In that light, I was thinking over the course of this weekend about the how the people in the 1st Century were waiting and watching, and how that might relate to our waiting and watching.  What might we learn from them?  How are their struggles like our struggles, their fears like our fears?  T…

Wars and Rumors of Wars

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."
Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will…

Hallelujah

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Leonard Cohen died yesterday.  He wrote many wonderful songs, but certainly his most famous is "Hallelujah," and rightfully so.

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

I have no problem with science, and I absolutely refuse to accept the Luddite notion that there is something inherently wicked about our technological civilization, especially in light of the human suffering from disease and starvation that we have been able to mitigate with that technology.  But I also simply cannot accept the idea that the phenomenon of human experience is capable of being reduced to purely materialistic concepts that can be explained scientifically.  So much of what we do and what we experience is deeply irrational and purposeless according to those pure scientific standards, and yet we do them …

Conservatism's Version of the "Big Lie"

The idea of the "Big Lie" is usually associated with Adolf Hitler and is usually discussed in connection with Nazi propaganda.  It turns out the term was coined by Hitler in Mein Kampf, but it was used to refer to his claim that the Jews (of course) blamed Germany's defeat in World War I on poor military leadership, as opposed to laying the blame where it should go, which is on themselves (in Hitler's mind--this is of course nonsense).  In any event, the notion here is to make a simple statement that is repeated often, and eventually people will begin to believe the statement to be true.  Or, said in a pithy way "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it."

In the case of Nazi version of the Big Lie, the statement they chose was, well, a complete lie--the idea that conspiratorial Jews were behind everything.  Tragically, their version of the Big Lie worked, leading to the horrible consequences we all know.  But the…

One Day More

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After tomorrow, it will be over.  We will have to deal with the aftermath, and that aftermath could be catastrophic, but the immediate phase will be over.  It has been, and I say this without hyperbole, a horror show from beginning to end.  I will tell you that I sit here, with one day more to go, profoundly depressed about the state of the country that I was born in and love still.

There is a significant chance (if, I think, substantially less than 50%) that Donald Trump will become the President of the United States.  If that were to come to pass, I believe that the United States will never be the same.  Here, I am with Andrew Sullivan in his apocalyptic piece from last week--I believe a President Trump means the institution of fascism in the United States, much along the lines of the model provided by Trump's buddy Vladimir Putin of Russia.  If Trump were to win tomorrow, I believe the 2020 election will be much more like the 2012 Russian Presidential election than, say, the …

A Matter of Honesty, Part IX--Stop with this "Clericalization" Nonsense

Imagine a society that is multiracial, but where one racial group (let's say, just to be provocative, Caucasians) were not eligible to hold public office.  Can't be the President or Prime Minister, can't be in the legislature, can't be a member of a local school board or community board.  No positions of public authority, and the rule is enforced by law.

No doubt, there would be a segment of folks who would be upset about this state of affairs and would be pushing back.  They would point out that the origin of this rule (let's say) was a view that Caucasians were intrinsically inferior to people of other races.  "This rule is a product of rank bigotry and must be changed," they would say.

"No, you have it all wrong," responds the President of our fictional republic.  "Sure, maybe back in the day we thought that Caucasians were a lesser form of human than those of other races, but we absolutely reject that now.  We love you, and we value you…

A Matter of Honesty, Part VIII--Real Talk on Ecumenism

Let's take a moment and think about world Christianity, 2016.  You can slice all the Christian bodies that exist in various ways, but one easy way to do that has to do with the Eucharist.  On one side, you have all of the bodies that subscribe to some version of the "memorial" model of the Eucharist--it is a symbolic reenactment of the Last Supper, and nothing more.  Into this bucket one would place all of the churches influenced by Calvin and his theology, all of the evangelical Christian bodies, the Mormons--lots of different folks.  On the other side, you would put what are generally called the "high churches"--those that would argue that the Eucharist is not only a symbol, but also reflects some sort of "Real Presence" of Jesus in the Eucharist in a unique way.  Here, we can think about three sub-buckets within that group--the Orthodox Churches (both "Chalcedonian"--i.e. the Greeks, Russians, etc.--and "non Chalcedonian" or &qu…

In the Long Run, We Are All Dead

Last night, Fr. James Martin, S.J., well known as Stephen Colbert's "chaplain," among other jobs, gave a talk to New Ways Ministry, a group dedicated to advocating for Catholic LGBT people.  The full text of the talk is available here, and it is well worth reading.  I have some thoughts on what he said and how be approaches the problem, but first a couple of disclaimers.  Number one, Martin is without question one of the "good guys" among the prominent Catholics in the media, and he has taken a great deal of abuse for standing up for LGBT people in the Catholic Church.  So, while there are things in what he said that I am not sure I agree with or can stand behind, I don't want to seem like I am shooting the messenger or dumping on him.  He does good, important work, and this speech is part of that work.

Second, I write conscious of the fact that I approach this topic indirectly.  Martin's audience, primarily, is LGBT Catholics, and I am not an LGBT Cath…

The Great Shame of 2016

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On September 17, 1862, outside of the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, the United States Army faced off against the army of the Confederate States of America in what has become known to history as the Battle of Antietam.  In the summer and early fall of 1862, the U.S. Army had suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the break-away Southern states, and was on the verge of losing the war.  Now, the armies of the South had invaded Union territory, and were threatening to march on Washington, D.C.

On that day, confusion and poor leadership left the center of the Union line vulnerable.  To stave off disaster, and acting on his own initiative, Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher led his Irish Brigade (including the soon-to-be-legendary 69th New York Infantry Regiment, "The Fighting 69th") in a desperate charge against the Confederate center, at a place that has now become known as "The Sunken Road," or "Bloody Lane."  The charge failed to brea…

A Matter of Honesty, Part VII--John Podesta as Truth-Teller

"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

--Winston Churchill, speech to the House of Commons, 1947.

We hear, endlessly, that "the Church is not a democracy."  It is said by conservative folks with great glee and enthusiasm, and by more progressive folks with a kind of resigned sigh.  And, as a purely factual matter, it is 100% true.  Roman Catholicism is not a democracy in any meaningful way.  But I don't think people have really thought through what that means, and what the consequences of that reality truly are.

Some small glimpse of that awareness has broken through in the form of the brouhaha over some emails exchanged four years ago between Hillary Clinton's campaign head John Podesta and various aides and subordinates.  The topic of these emails (or, at least, one of those topics), is Catholicism.…

Good Christian Sex--Interlude

I'm working on some posts reviewing the rest of the chapters of the book, and I will be getting those out in the next week or so, but I wanted to pause for a second and go on a bit of a tangent.  This last week and half or so has been a bit of a perfect storm--I've been reading and thinking about Rev. McCleneghan's book, I have been talking to friends of mine about the book and about their own situations, and of course I have . . . experienced? endured? . . . the latest from Donald Trump and his campaign and the reaction thereof, alongside the rest of the U.S. population.

At the intersection of all of this has been a bit of a Eureka moment for me.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I've always known I existed in a bit of the in-between space between the broader, secular culture and the more conservative Christian (in my case Catholic) culture. And, while there is no question that I have been moving in many ways away from that more traditionalist thinking, I still saw…

Good Christian Sex, Chapters 3 and 4--Getting Away from the Golden Ticket

Chapters 3 and 4 of Good Christian Sex are, at a 10,000 foot level, a critique of the traditional Christian superstructure and presuppositions regarding marriage and sex.  McCleneghan expresses that superstructure accurately, if snarkily, as follows:

The Church Universal, as I hope is becoming clear, can be so entirely goofy on the topics of sex, love, and relationships.  Sex is a critical part of identity (but only if you are straight, and fit traditional gender roles, and are married).  Singleness is great and easy to bear and a virtue, and celibacy is expected; but, whoa, man, does God want you to get married and enjoy the marital bed (which is both a joy and an obligation!) and start cranking out those Christian babies who will complete your life and give you purpose.  God will bless you with all of these things (unless He chooses not to, in which case you are to submit to His will, too bad, so sad).

Let's talk first about the marriage piece, which hovers around all of the disc…