Sunday, September 30
Friday, September 28
In preparation for a couple of book projects, I'm reading up on prayer and parables. I just wrote a review article of Richard McBrien's (and his graduate assistant's, we can trust) latest, Lives of the Saints , which I will post here after it's published. I also read a new biography of Hildegard of Bingen by Fiona Maddocks which was quite good, but I didn't have room to include it in that review article. On the pleasure side of things, this weekend I'll be reading Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. Still waiting for my copy of The Corrections, though.
Thursday, September 27
Wednesday, September 26
Tuesday, September 25
Monday, September 24
I need to get my work head together - several mid-sized projects need my attention, and I think there are articles I need to write, but I'm not sure. I would also like to get some substantive words down about our present situation, particularly about the Church's response to it. Working on it.
Saturday, September 22
Friday, September 21
Thursday, September 20
Wednesday, September 19
I mean, I am slowly working out my attitude towards this matter, and it is not exactly a pacifist one, but this title for our next war appalls me. Naturally, confidence is in order, but this drips of hubris. I don't know if it's intended to be a jab at the radical Islamic claims to divine approbration for mass slaughter - I suppose it is. But it still strikes me as irony waiting to happen, and that makes me nervous.
Tuesday, September 18
But then the next song began - the Washington Post March by Sousa. And after that was over, American the Beautiful. And I got so angry, I started shaking.
I couldn't exactly figure out why, though. It's not lack of patriotism. Our flag is flying in front of our house. As much as I despair about certain elements of our national life (abortion and the cultural dreck), this incident has nonetheless crystallized my appreciation for and devotion to the gift of Western Civilization and culture, and the particular form that has taken in our own country. We sang America the Beautiful at Mass on Sunday, and yes, as the voices swelled around me and my children stood close, I could barely choke the words out and had to blink back tears.
But when I heard military marches being played over the loudspeaker at the grocery store, something in me rebelled. Or balked. Or just got sick.
Must everything become an extension of commerce? Must every aspect of life become packaged, as the news networks do, with a logo, a title (America under attack...America's New War....America's Tragedy) and theme music?
We celebrate and vow to fight for freedom. However, aspects of commercial culture have always threatened freedom, as money-making entitities overwhelm us with images and sounds to convince us, not of truth, but of the depths of our desires for certain things. Anything and everything is stripped down and repackaged to us, to appeal to our deepest fears and needs, and to put us in the mood to buy or to stay with a certain cable news network instead of another.
Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe the Vice-President in Charge of Muzak at Meijer's thought a loop of patriotic music fit the season, just as in a few weeks, he'll start the Christmas tape. But that's just the trouble, isn't it? This is a horrible, dangerous time. Our lives are at risk, and the world has changed. Five thousand lay buried in Manhattan. And Meijer's thinks Sousa in the diaper aisle fits the mood. What mood is that? Devastation? Fear? Grief?
Monday, September 17
I did, however, hear the words of our pastor's homily, which, as with most of our church's leadership this week, were less than inspiring or even truly in touch with the crux of this situation.
The call is for "forgiveness," and such a call is consistently opposed to the supposed thirst for revenge that's out there. As I've said before, of course there are the simplistically bloodthirsty, but for the most part, Americans' call for action is about prevention of such acts in the future and containment of the threat of radical Islam as much as possible.
There is a complexity to the current situation that dumbed-down, simplistic post-Vatican II theology as it comes to us at the parish or even the diocesan level just isn't able to meet. We must always be wary of that complexity, always wary of the Church being called to give its blessing to political causes or, just as importantly, situations that can quickly become mucky and murky with sin, even as they begin with all good intentions. War, let it be said, is an evil. We have been witnessing a resurgence of admiration for the "greatest generation" that fought in World War II, and that is all well and good, but I invite you to actually read - rather than watch on made-for-television dramas - about those brutal battles in which young men were shipped by the thousands to European and Pacific fronts, not so much as combatants but as bodies to be put up, be shot at, and replaced by more bodies. Read about the Battle of the Somme in World War I.
No, war is to be avoided if we can, and so we desperately pray for peace.
The complexity comes, though, in the terms of peace, and what the ultimate goal of the present situation is. What is it? If you even start thinking about it, your mind will get overwhelmed, and quickly: the demands of Islamic fundamentalism, the presence of the US in the Middle East (particularly Saudi Arabia, which is bin Laden's peeve), the support of the US for Israel, the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel....these are all strands of the present and coming conflict. And what those, even in our Church, just don't understand is that the "other side" is uninterested in "forgiveness" or conciliation. They want to destroy Western Civilization. They fantasize about the establishment of a global caliphate, and that means the oppression of other faiths - look at what is happening to Christians in places like the Sudan and Afghanistan if you want that picture painted for you. They want Israel destroyed, make no mistake about it. They don't want peace with Israel - they want Israel destroyed. To not exist.
Do you see how inadequate our popular theological language has become in relation to these issues? But perhaps that's what happens right before our perceptions are expanded and revolutionized.
It seems to me that at the moment, we should be praying for peace. But beyond that, we should be praying for protection, and for God's wisdom to guide those who are (finally) hunting down the network that would destroy us. I am sort of amazed at the distance we're still maintaining about this - read the bit in Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish entitled "Civil Defense" to see what I mean in terms of practical matters, but the same could apply to our spiritual take on this so far...at least for those of us out of New York, who are grieving and pained, but are still thinking that we're safe.
Friday, September 14
I ventured there today on my hunt for birthday gifts for Katie (Monday, the 17th, she'll be ten.)
Of course I headed straight for the two tastefully labeled "sale" racks, contemplated buying a dress marked down to twenty-nine bucks, realized I'd seen something very similar sans designer label at Meijers, then settled on a denim shirt that could double as a light jacket, and a pullover sweater I know she'll like - I got out for well under thirty dollars.
Anyway, the point of this is not to bore you with boring details of my shopping trip but to tell you about the woman being waited on by the other clerk. She was tall, with stiff blonde hair framing her face, well-turned out (of course), a couple of years older than I (at least she looked to be in her mid-forties), with a husband and a little girl who seemed to be around three.
She was buying. And buying and buying. She was also talking to the saleslady about her little girl. "She is such a little girl" the clerk commented, meaning, as all people do when they say that - she's appearance-conscious.
"Oh yes," the mother agreed, "And I'm trying to make her that way on purpose. I want her to love frills and lace. She loves make-up and all that stuff. I'm so relieved. I'm really trying to program her to love it all."
Yes, I kept my mouth shut. It was close, though. I thought, however, that maybe I should offer a warning that you can't "program" kids (and why would you want to???), that they will be who they are, and that's the way it should be. It would have been a prophecy for her to remember, fifteen years from now, when her crop-haired, clean-faced daughter symbolically burns all the frills of her girlhood before packing her overalls and leaves for Provincetown or a commune somewhere..
Oh yes. Three hundred and eighteen dollars. $318.00. That's what she spent on her three-year old's wardrobe this morning.
As many have noted, there is no rational answer to the question of "Why does God permit suffering?", only the answer of Jesus hanging on a cross, as today's first reading from Philippians tells us:
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Spare us, Jerry: Jerry Falwell's take on the situation: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen,"
So is Jerry saying that if the United States were Christendom re-created (that wouldn't do because then it would be Catholic, but you get the point), radical Islam fundamentalist extremists determined to re-instate the Caliphate on a global scale would be happier with our existence? Somehow that doesn't make much sense.
Thursday, September 13
Members of Congress on the television, all mouthing the same script. Of course, there's really nothing else to say except what's in the script, but since we all know what it says, why bother?
Emotions. Every man/woman in the street interview I've seen focuses on emotions. "How do you feel?" Perhaps the reporter doesn't want to be considered rude for not asking about a witness' or family member's feelings, but perhaps they should start considering the reverse: We know, intellectually, how these people feel. We feel some - just the small part that outsiders could feel - of this ourselves. Grief, anger, rage, helplessness, despair. It's all there, and we know it. To ask these people to constantly speak of their feelings seems to me an insult. It's an invasion of privacy, and it's a request for them to do the impossible: to put these profound senses and emotions into words. It can't be done.
The only decent survivor interview I've seen was on C-Span last night on a broadcast of a Canadian news program. The fellow being interviewed worked in the WTC, but his accent was Canadien (I didn't hear the very beginning, so I'm not sure of his identity). Since it wasn't American television, the interviewer wasn't intrusive, and the interview wasn't rushed or condensed into pre-programmed shorthand. The man had been part of a group on the 81st floor of the first building hit. His group, as it evacuated, amazingly enough, wanted to go up. He was arguing against going up, saying that was crazy, but was torn. He was distracted from the group by a banging on the wall on another floor. He went and found a man trapped behind some wreckage. He helped him get out, and by the time they got back to the stairs, the group had gone - up, we can presume. The two men proceeded down the stairs and escaped. The man being interviewed said that "Stan", the man he rescued, thanked him profusely for saving his life, but, as he observed, choking up, Stan saved his life as well, by forcing him to separate from the group that was determined to go upstairs.
While we're talking about feelings, let me say that it's distressing to see how ignorant Americans have become. Too often, when America's response to this attack is being discussed in the popular news media or on radio talk shows, we're warned not to "let our feelings get out of hand" or we're told that Americans are looking for someone to blame for this so they can "vent their anger" and so on. The desire for response is not about feelings or revenge - it shouldn't be at least, and I'm sure that in most people's minds, once anger subsides, they will admit this. No, a response is necessary to prevent this or anything like it from happening again. That seems rather basic, in my mind, and it's nothing to apologize for.
Kathy Shaidle of Relapsed Catholic posted a link to Catholicity's answer to the question of "Why Do They Hate Us So Much?" in which Bud McFarlane, Jr. said that it's all about our exportation of cultural "filth". Uh - okay. Certainly that cultural question has been a part of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism since the 1970's, but hey, Bud, what about Israel? It's fascinating to me that McFarlane chooses to completely ignore America's support for Israel as a motivation for the hatred some Arabs and Arab groups feel for the US. Why would he omit this?
On my rounds this morning, I listened to Dr. Joy Browne for a bit. A woman called up and said she was very disturbed that US television networks were showing footage of Palestinian celebrations of the attack. Not disturbed by the celebrations, but by the choice to broadcast them. "We are being manipulated into placing blame!" she whined, and Dr. Joy agreed, saying that airing the footage "smacked of jingoism." Say what?
Wednesday, September 12
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade;
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night
- W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939
Tuesday, September 11
Monday, September 10
I finished writing Prove It:Jesus last week, and really, really hope to get Prove It: Prayer done in the next month or so. In preparation, I'm reading several books on, of course, prayer. I'm also waiting for a review copy of The Big Fall Novel, The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen.
A new distraction....
Welcome to the latest detour on my quest to conquer, rather than be conquered by the Internet. It's called a Web Log, or, in geek shorthand, a Blog. In my mind, it's really just a visually more sophisticated and much easier to maintain venue for the personal webpage. I am going to be using it as a replacement for most of what I have been putting in the "Personal News" and "What I'm Reading" sections of the webpage. There are some forms of Blogs which can incorporate reader comments, but from what I can see, they involved a degree of programming knowledge that I don't have and don't have any interest in spending time on developing. So we'll just keep it simple.
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