Wednesday, May 14

Jesuits hoping to reclaim a school...

Al Hicks was a young Jesuit priest from Needham in 1960 when he boarded a steamer in Hoboken for a three-week passage to the Middle East, and toward a dream that would transform his life.

His destination was Baghdad College, a Jesuit-run high school that had become a 20th-century oasis of elite education and Christianity in Iraq. For Hicks, a mathematician, this ''school at the end of the world'' would teach him and other Jesuits the meaning of their mission as ''men for others'' -- offering a warm hand and rigorous education to both Catholics and Muslims who would later become the backbone of Iraq's middle class as doctors, engineers, and intellectuals.

But real-world politics soon intruded on this lush Eden in desertlike Baghdad. Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party expelled the 33 priests in 1969 and seized the school in retaliation for what it saw as America's pro-Israel policy in the aftermath of the Six-Day War. The loss was heartbreaking for the ''Fatheria,'' as locals called the Jesuits; many wished to join their five brothers someday in a tiny graveyard near the school's playing fields.

Now the fall of Hussein has given fresh hope to New England's branch of the Society of Jesus, which dominated the school's faculty and now is seeking to reclaim a piece of the school or else revive a new ministry here.

''The question of Baghdad College -- who it belongs to -- will come up now that the war is over,'' Hicks said in an interview in Amman, Jordan, where he is working at a Jesuit mission after stepping down as principal of Boston's Nativity Preparatory School. ''We created the school. And we still love it.''

God in the movies...

Alas, American filmgoers tend to prefer damp, vaguely reassuring ideas of God. As traditional religious faith deliquesces into sentimental mysticism, self-help spiritualism and "Star Wars" bliss-seeking, our movie Gods have entered a twilight. Instead of worshiping DeMille's Hairy Thunderer, we gum the Cosmic Muffin. Who are the boffo Gods of post-DeMille culture? George Burns in "Oh, God!" (1977), who pulls a few chintzy miracles, kvetches about pollution and craves TV publicity. (In this, he resembles the deity in the abandoned Python script "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory.") And Jessica Lange in "All That Jazz" (1979), playing a bedroom-eyed God who flatters and indulges the revolting hero — as have all the other mistreated women in his life.

Audrey Hepburn (who was spurned by DeMille for "The Ten Commandments" because she was too skinny to look good in biblical fashion) is closer to an ideal God in "Always," because as she guides Richard Dreyfuss's bratty deceased pilot away from his selfish earthly self, there's some chastening lightning in her eyes as well as muffin love. Audiences rejected this complexity, however, and embraced the all-muffin afterlife evoked in hits like "Ghost" and its many uncanny offspring. "American religion is firmly committed to the notion of a gracious rather than a punitive God," Andrew Greeley wrote. "God in the movies is someone who supports and sustains American optimism."

You know, kids today miss out on a lot. They don't have what we children of the 70's had - required viewing of Oh, God! as part of religious ed.

For which they should be very, very thankful.


While I'm dithering about television programs..

real-life violence, deep tragedy continues to wind its way around the world, as it always does..

44 seminarians kidnapped in Uganda

Fighting continues to rage in the Congo

Two suicide bombings in a week in Chechnya

Terror in Riyadh

Another Texas woman murders her children

Immigrants found dead in a truck in Texas

A commission on religious freedom wonders, once again, why the State Department consistently omits Saudi Arabia from its list of "countries of particular concern" on that score.

Here's what I'm for

I'm for strictly controlled access to pop culture. I'm for movie theaters, movie rental businesses and music stores enforcing ratings codes. I'm for the V-Chip and for parental controls on access to cable or satellite channels. I'm for parents using those controls. I'm for parents not taking their kids to R-rated movies. I'm for parents regulating and being totally aware of what their kids are doing on the internet - and what they're downloading - and for parents to not allow their kids to have unrestricted access to the internet. I'm for either an industry or government imposed family hour on broadcast television and for free broadcast channels to have to abide by broadcast standards. I'm for vigorous discussion of whose producing pop culture and what their motivations are. I'm for pointed critiques of the worldviews in cultural products. I'm for encouraging art and culture that strives for Truth and Beauty. I'm for parents to take control of what their kids have access to.

What I'm not for is some truly impossible demand that all engaged in producing art or other cultural products cleave to my own worldview.

I've written one 1100-word article and one 750-word column today, and now I must go to dance class. No, not me. Katie.


Cardinal Arinze on the upcoming document on the liturgy

"We expect the document to be published before Christmas,” Arinze told "Inside the Vatican" in an exclusive interview. “We want to respond to the spiritual hunger and sorrow so many of the faithful have expressed to us because of liturgical celebrations that seemed irreverent and unworthy of true adoration of God. You might sum up our document with words that echo the final words of the Mass: ‘The do-it-yourself Mass is ended. Go in peace.’”


A few more culture thoughts..

First, Barbara Nicolosi has some more thoughts on her blog, plus a better Flannery O'Connor quote.

Secondly, while I understand the concern of some about pop culture "normalizing" certain activities or habits, I really and quite honestly don't understand what the alternative would look like. Take homosexuality, if you must, since that seems to be the issue du jour in regard to 6FU.

Some viewers or commentors (whether they've seen the show or not) say that the presentation of a 3-dimensional gay character who doesn't live by the RC teachings on sexuality (which are maybe not an issue because the character isn't RC....) and is, worse, okay with it and is trying to make his way through life in that context is, in effect, "normalizing" this "lifestyle" and...

...What? That's where I lose you. And what? What then? Shouldn't be allowed? Shouldn't happen? I don't understand what you want. Because, you see, I could see your point if the portrayal of David's life was unrealistic or glamorized or sanitized in some way. It's not. It's as mixed and ambiguous as every other character's on the show.

And, as another commentor pointed out, this is a program about specific characters. The specific character of David has specific experiences, and acts out of that. And, like it or not, it's not an uncommon experience. Some may like to think that the only homosexual is a deeply tormented suffering homosexual, but...sorry. There are, walking in this land, homosexuals like David who are not particularly interested in living according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and are okay with that. Am I saying that is the ideal? No I'm not. But remember, we're talking about art here, art that has a fundamental responsibility to represent reality. And the reality is that people like David exist, so why not tell stories about them?

The problem, as I mentioned yesterday, may not be what is shown and the stories that are told, but the stories that aren't. There are many people with homosexual inclinations or same-sex attraction who are not happy with those feelings or who have understood their same-sex attraction to be a part of them, but also something that stands in the way of the fullness of a relationship with Christ. Writer David Morrison is one of these folks and has helped countless like-minded people through his writings and speaking.

But of course, his kind of story doesn't get told. We can say the same about any number of types of people: members of minorities who don't fit the PC mode, Christians who are sane and not fanatical, pro-lifers who are compassionate, wholistic and sane.....

Sure, there are silly, unrealistic portrayals of homosexuality in the media, portrayals that gloss over uncomfortable truths. And there are many other kinds of stories that need to be told in order to present a full sense of reality and human experience. But the portrayal of David Fisher in 6FU is not one of them. David, as I've said, is a flawed, struggling human being, who may not meet the ideals of some of us or be going in the direction you think he should be There are human beings like that. Many of them. How can one object to portraying a character that's fairly realistic in that sense in a work of art? I don't understand, especially when you consider what the alternative might be.

But then, the commentors indicate, they have a problem with the very fact that David is presented as just as normally flawed and struggling as the rest of the characters. They want the portrayal of David's life in the show to be somehow different from that of the straight characters, for his problems to be worse or clearly and exclusively rooted in his homosexuality or something. They want it clear that homosexuality is a different kind of sin from, say...theirs.

News Flash:

It's not.

It may make us feel self-satisfied and secure to declare that other people's sins or failures to meet the ideals of the Gospel are worse or more worthy of condemnation than ours...but...they're not.

Further...those of you who disagree, please do so, but what I'm particularly interested in is your alternative vision. How are you going to enforce your rules for what an artist or creator can or can't create or the stories that can or can't be told? What are the guidelines going to be? What's your form letter to the artist or creator who wants to tell as story that violates your principles going to say? It's one thing - and a very, very easy thing, by the way - to say what we think shouldn't be on the screen..but given the complexity of life and the endless diversity of the creative spirit and experience, I would be very interest to see a positive vision and plan that embodies these objections into some sort of practical, realistic vision of the cultural landscape you propose....


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