Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Ninth of July

It's July already, and soon will be August.  Time does not wait for my wishes and desires. Like this one: I wish I could sit down and get out more blogs. 

The fact is I write as many as I really want to write; to do otherwise would be simply to flood the world with drivel--and we have enough of that.  Just tune into the many offerings of  cable TV!

Where was I?  Celebrating this weekend past with the families of my spouse's siblings as they celebrated the marriage of their son/nephew/cousin to a wonderful woman from Costa Rica.

I am not versed enough in anthropology or ethnology to comment on the marriage of those two cultures, and what it holds for the future.  But I would like to say a few words on what I observed in that celebration and in the discussions the next day, which my wife and I spent visiting some of my siblings.

This is not the world I grew up in!  It is the world we, all of us, are now fashioning. 

I mean this primarily in terms of the religion into which we were born, practiced, and now leave for our descendants.

I come from a family of ten children, my wife from a family of eight.  In my family, of those of us who married (8), seven married in the Roman Catholic church.  In my wife's, about half--I don't remember.  Some were "mixed marriages," some were conversions.

In the very next generation, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of "praticising" Roman Catholics--and that number does not include our two very own children.

But here's what I find important: we don't just treat each other civilly, we love each other!  We don't just get along, we love each other.  We are not perfect, but we care for each other.

And so, for me, it's still the same old world. I remember growing up in a family, not of Roman Catholics as our main identity, but as brother, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. It's still the same world in that regard.  And I can live with that.

What I have spent a lifetime learning, but what the younger generation has apparently picked up more quickly, is that when religion gets in the way of that, it can simply be left behind.

How about you?

Friday, June 28, 2013

At Death's Door...

No, not that door.

Here in Door County, Wisconsin--sometimes referred to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, what with its quaint villages along the waters of Lake Michigan. and kept that way by the most hard-hearted zoning in the Midwest--we know that the name of the county (Door) comes from the name the Native Americans gave to the passage between the peninsula and Washington Island, which lies about five miles off its tip: they called it Death's Door, so named for the many who perished fighting the current and the wind that buffets sea-goers.

The passage to and from Washington Island is made dozens of times each day, by hundreds of people, with not a hint that they are traversing death's door.  Such is the world in which we now live.

And such is the world in which we now die!  Except for those who die in accidents, and those who die by the hand of another, death is not the sudden translocation from one sphere of existence into another.  Most of us, when the time comes, are ready to open that door ourselves--as our last and final decision in life.

That is how I have been privileged to witness it happening in family and friends: both my parents and my spouse's parents made their peace with its inevitability, and when the time came simply passed over.  And, more recently, I have witnessed the death of a brother-in-law and a first cousin, both in the prime of their late working/early retirement years, taken early by cancer.  But both, loving and gracious and bitterness-free as they used their final months helping the rest of us deal with our grief-to-come.

I'm here until sometime this Fall, and then it's back to...?  I'll let you know as soon as I do.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sort of home......

We have taken a respite from traveling, landing at the lake house in Texas for a couple of weeks.

Bakersfield is past, gone, exorcised--and now doesn't look so bad after all!  It's 95 degrees here in the Dallas area, and almost the same percentage relative humidity.  Ah, for the dry air and pollution of Bakersfield.

It was a wonderful trip, by the way, our newly acquired and converted Nissan van, pulling our small, 16 foot Airstream.  We spent a couple of days in Arizona on the way.  Stopping for a full day at the Grand Canyon.

What can I say?  John Muir, I think it was, quoted in the visitor's center, saying that the Grand Canyon contains a thousand Niagara Falls and a thousand Yosemites. The point being, that it's impossible to exagerate how grand it is.

It was, for me, a spiritual experience.  And for me a spiritual experience is one in which my insignificance is front and center.  Through me the Grand Canyon gets to experience itself.  Isn't that great?  It's the least I can do, I feel.

What now?   Another few days in the Dallas area, then off to Wisconsin for the rest of the summer.

Watch me settle in, with more regularly scheduled blogs on tap.

Happy summer!

Friday, May 24, 2013

"On the road again..."

Well,  we're not really on the road yet; but it's coming.  Right now it's packing and loading--which is the upfront price for the bliss of being on the road.

I said I would try to keep at it this time.  Here's just a short thought on Pope Francis' much noted homily on redemption.  It was about redemption, really; not about atheists.  He used the latter to make the point about the former: that in order to be saved one must "do good."  Anybody who does good will be saved.

How simple is that!

It reminds me of the "test" Jesus talked about in Matthew's judgment scene.  There is only one question in the final exam of life: Did one do good?

This is not going to please the "Benedict" crowd, I'm sure.  But that is the kind of concern that pulls us away from the thinking about Francis' message.

I'm starting to like the guy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

San Miguel Mission

Stopping by one day, another Mission to check off the list (not of all there are, but of all we happen to pass by)--and suddenly the list is of minor concern.

San Miguel is a poor mission in a poor town.  But for that very reason it seems more real than so many others, which are truly tourist destinations.

It strikes me, out of the blue, a thought that epitomizes what an epiphany is like, a sudden revelation, a view into the nature of things--and a view that connects all sorts of things that were just there, floating around in my brain.

Here's the setting: I am wondering aloud, in the presence of Mim, that here we have a mission named not after a concrete person, a saint--San Luis Obispo, San Buenaventura, Santa Maria, Santa Ynes, and so forth--but after an angel, St. Michael, archangel.  And suddenly the angel takes on the reality, the adobe building of the mission.  It is there, as present to me as Mim is present to me.

The riff following that epiphany carries me through reflection on the nature of angels, their 'creation' to give name to the presence of God's message to us; and it ends in the elevation of that name to its place in the hierarchy of traditional philosophical thought: as an idea, an idea that is more real than the shadow of that idea we see in the work-a-day world.

I have since gone on, in recalling that day every now and then, to appreciate for really the first time the wisdom of Plato concerning the ideal forms--or, the true ideas. For these 'ideals' are more real to Plato than the material of the world.  It is thus the idea that helps us to see the true nature of reality, not reality that gives us the idea.  Or something like that.

I have also, since that first insight, gone on the appreciate the nature of God as the great idea.  For thinking of and talking about God as a person just creates too many problems, for me I might add.

But the idea of God, the idea that there is something beyond and within what we see and do in our everyday life, that there we meet the deepest part of our being and the loftiest dimension of our world--this is beginning to make more and more sense to me.

I'll leave it there for now; for that is where I am at present.

In the meantime, we are packing up to leave Bakersfield, heading off to who knows where--I don't--except someplace in the Midwest for the summer.  But this time I hope to share my journey at least one day a week.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Missions of California

Living and traveling in California has provided the opportunity for many encounters with the "other" religious colonization of America--where empire was the first and the open, acknowledged purpose; and religion and conversion the added feature.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the chain of missions that dot the California landscape, from San Diego to San Francisco.

We have not made it our agenda to visit all the missions; but we do stop and visit when we are in the vicinity. They--the missions--are still functioning parishes, and have all been restored to what now is accepted as their original state.  Who would know?  That is another whole issue.

What interests me is their place in the community, and their place in the economy of that community.

First, and foremost, they have given the community its name: San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Miguel, and so forth.  Sometimes it stuck, and sometimes the community simply moved on, reformed itself around another focal point and/or personage and became known with another name.  Perhaps the most famous of all the missions, San Juan Capistrano, best illustrates this; the city of San Juan Capistrano is lost among all the "Beach" cities of that area, including Capistrano Beach.  Another example is Mission Santa Ines, which lies a few miles from the town of Santa Ynes.  But my favorite is Mission San Bonaventura, which lies in the heart of the city of Ventura, as it is now known, but which officially is the city of the mission's name.

It is this strange tension surrounding the "naming rights" that leads me to my second point: the era of Spanish empire may have long passed by, with hardly any concrete effects remaining; but the attached religious colonization, through the establishment of the missions, lives on and thrives.  It may not do so in its original form, but it is there nonetheless.

When I went to school in Washington, D.C., and traveled on the east coast, I visited the "shrines" of the colonial era--those havens of the persecuted who fled from Europe and established colonies where they could practice their religion.  But it was not the churches I visited, it was rather the buildings and places of the truly "new thing" that these colonists built: a land where any religion, or none, could be safe from persecution.  So we have Washington, New York, Philadelphia, to name a few--religious in the American way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A virtue for our times

Let me tie up some loose ends from the previous post, where I was talking about the dynamics of being a potluck catholic.  There I described the two facets of that dynamic: that one brought something to the table, and that one took something from it.

What about everything left on the table, however?  This seems to perplex people no end.  And such a profound "no end," moreover, that I suggest a new virtue needs to be discussed for this condition.

 The virtue is tolerance.  That's it. If I am satisfied with that I have taken from the table, if I am satisfied, that is, with what I believe, if I truly feel that what I believe is what I need to believe, if it is right for me, then why cannot I let others believe what they want to believe?  Why would I feel that I somehow need to make sure they believe what I believe in the same way I believe it?  Could it be due to the fact that I am insecure in my belief?

Catholics have left an awful lot on the table.  There is just too much there to be dealt with by the majority of people.  At the same time, however, it is our table--and no one from the outside ought to step in and decide for us what it is we should profess.

Makes sense to me.  How about you?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Take what you like..."

Time to expound a little on the rationale of this blog.

It is obviously a little disingenuous of me, titling the blog "The Potluck Catholic, and then addressing only one side of the meaning: everyone bringing a different pot to the table, to share.  The other side, of course, is that we share by eating--that is, we share by taking something from the table, for sustenance.

The first thing I would like to say--this to head off the charge that indeed what I proscribe is the cafeteria catholic paradigm--is that what is on the table at a potluck dinner is much different than what is behind the sneeze guard at a cafeteria.  A little bias in that image?  You bet! Even in the commercial world the cafeteria is a dying institution.  The variety of the buffet has seen to that.

But we are talking here of something entirely different: the potluck dinner.  This is a gathering of friends (or at the very least, people sharing a common interest), not a commercial transaction.  For someone to label another person a "cafeteria catholic" reveals only what the name caller surmises the nature of the relationship between the two to be: one offering his or her wares to another for a price! 

What I want to say, second, is that the potluck paradigm conveys the image of a community of believers who bring what they have made in their own kitchen out of their own experiences, and sharing it with them.  But we do not force each other to eat what we bring.  Nor do we feel the compulsion to eat everything that is set before us.

In this I am guided by a saying that I have taken to heart recently: "Take what you like and leave the rest."  This saying means two different things in the cafeteria versus the potluck paradigm.  When I refuse an entree at a cafeteria, I am voting against that selection.  Enough votes against by me and others means the item is removed from the menu.  But the real result is that some people who want the item are now deprived of it. (This has happened to me with my favorite meal: liver and onions.)

In the potluck model--now seen as the model for all the church through all its history--people's selection of one item, or refusal of it, means something only to the one choosing.

Here's my final point:  I want there to be different kinds of catholics, much more variety in belief and practice, many more choices before me.  I need that.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What Day is it?

Back last night from a long weekend in Monterey, where my wife attended a conference and I explored the area. I'll have to say this: California does not lack in beautiful locales; nor does it lack in making those places expensive to enjoy!  But as my wife would say, apropos of her field of geology: you don't get the majestic scenery unless you have the (geologic) faults.

Which leads me to say this: Pope Francis has already faded from the attention span of the traditionalists.  What do I base this on?  Not much, really.  I did check in on the website also known as "The American Catholic," wanting to observe their take over the last two weeks.  Their lone post on the papacy:  Benedict's eclipse amidst the agenda of Francis.  Why can't we appreciate who he was and what he stood for? Especially the robes he wore, it seems?

In other words: Is there a tectonic shift occurring in the Vatican? Can change happen at all without some destruction of the present structure?  Those are the questions demanding most of the attention.

But the real question is this: Is there any way to assess and/or predict the movement happening deep down?  I don't think so.  I think we are in a position similar to that faced by geologists: we just don't know.  We can study all we want about the different forces at work in the church, where one mighty force is pushing against another (I see the movement of the nuns' push for social justice being countered by the Vatican's intransigence and fall-back mantra of male superiority as the major example); but in the end we do not know how it will happen or when it will.

And for that we have not just the Holy Spirit, we have that very intransigence of the Vatican. Major changes (earthquakes) do not happen when two forces accommodate each other.

So, here's my take: First, just like many say the failure of Christianity is due to the fact that it has never been tried; so the failure of Vatican II--it too has never been tried.

And, second, when the next major set of changes happens in the church it's going to be the big one; it will make Vatican II feel like a 2.2 on the Richter scale, barely noticeable in the grand scheme of things.

Friday, April 19, 2013

More Books I've Read

I will have to say this about Bakersfield: It has a good library!

These are just two of the more than dozens of non-fiction books I read here in my exile in Bakersfield,

First: "The Moral Lives of Animals," by Dale Peterson.  This is a serious book about the roots of morality in the animal kingdom--and thus a book about the roots of human morality there. There are instincts and feelings so deeply embedded in our consciousness that we often conclude that they have sprung up by our own efforts, or at the very least we conclude wrongly that the resulting morality is what separates us from our soul-less brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Peterson argues, this is what joins us to them.

Now, lest anyone think that the book is a peon to the wonderful meaningfulness of evolutionary thought, that perhaps the animals are the ones who get it right, that if we learned from them we would all be better off, let me assure you this is not Peterson's argument.  The book may very well have been titled "The Immoral Lives of Animals," for all the examples he gives of the brutal struggles and actions of animals against their own kind.  The conclusion: morality, no matter how deep its roots, for us is always a matter of choice.  And I don't mean by that a choice about following a moral code however devised or revealed; I mean a choice in the concrete about whether to do the right thing or not.

Second: The above leads right into the second book I read: "A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster," by Rebecca Solnit.

Solnit's book is an extended argument against the tendency of media and common wisdom to focus on the breakdown of social mores in disaster--the most recent example being the one or two incidents of armed people in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.  This she contrasts with the many recorded efforts of people who rushed into disaster to help and give aid--all the way from the great San Francisco earthquake to the attack on 9-11.

But what I found even more interesting is her treatment of the academic study of the subject.  She says of Charles E. Fritz, a pioneer in the field, "[his] first radical premise is that everyday life is already a disaster of sorts, one from which actual disaster liberates us." And then she quotes him, "Disaster provides a form of societal shock which disrupts habitual, institutionalized patterns of behavior and renders people amenable to social and personal change."

Here, then, we see the central message of the two books: morality is clearly a matter of making the choice to do or not to do the right thing--at the very moment the choice has to be made!  We are aided in this not only by the teachings of Jesus and his followers; we are also helped by the roots that bind us to all of life on earth, and by the examples of those who act unselfishly in the midst of attacks against that life.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Books I've Read

In addition to writing one book, and reading probably hundreds of police procedural/thriller/life in America novels during my stay in Bakersfield, I did manage to read something really worth all the effort.  Actually, three worth that effort.

I'll comment on just one this blog; and get to the others in subsequent posts. This one tops my list; not just of books I've read these last two years, but, I feel,books I've read up to this point in my life: "Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age," by Robert N. Bellah.

Let me say first of all that this is the book Bellah was destined to write, that only Bellah could have written--and that I am glad he wrote.  No one more than me wanted this book to be written.  And, I say this humbly, had he not gotten around to writing it, I would have been forever sad that I did not possess the learning nor the skill to explore in such depth and wisdom the topic he did.

Do I have a personal stake in this book?  I do.  Let me explain.  Over the course of the last ten years or so I have drifted away from not only organized religion (i.e., church), but also the god of organized religion--a personal god, or god as a person, or however one wants to say that. The language, and the history of that language, means less and less to me; although I still pay attention to it and use it as I understand it to be and have been used: as a way of talking about something that is not able to be talked about, yet still needs to be talked about because that is the way we as humans deal with our thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

I have read other books on the topic of religion and evolution; and I have been a student of the theory of the 'axial age' since I first learned about it from Roland Murphy in an Old Testament course in the seminary.  But I must admit to not paying attention to either my teacher or my subsequent reading; because it was not until I picked up this book and read the table of contents that I saw what I needed to see--namely, that alongside the axial ages in ancient Israel (the prophets), China (Confucianism and Taoism), and ancient India (Hinduism and Buddhism), Bellah explores the axial age of ancient Greece (culminating in Socrates and Plato).

I had found my home.

That's what I felt after reading the book. I do not disparage the insights and meaning of the simultaneous axial ages; but I know now that for me my world turns on the myths and meanings and memes first hammered out by the pre-Socratics, then Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, then taken up by Albertus Magnus and Aquinas and Anselm, and in our times by Metz and Rahner and Bultman and Moltman and Gilkey.

And, to my real point, this is the language I am trying to keep alive in the face of the fundamentalist rant. Read the book, Bellah,s 'Religion in Human Evolution.'  For this is the language he has spoken all his life.  Perhaps you will find a home, too.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Writing a Memoir

I mentioned a couple of times that I sat down and wrote a memoir during the time I spent (two years) in Bakersfield. Here is some of what I learned.

First: I learned something while I wrote.  Of course I, and any writer for that matter, learns something while they write.  It's not as though everything is there in perfect prose, sitting and just waiting to be released from the brain.  The writer searches the brain, finds pieces and tidbits, and then tries to put them out there in a form that can be read and understood by the reader--never forgetting that the writer him/herself is the first reader, and the most demanding reader.  The reward for which is learning something that the writer did not know before he/she put the words down on paper.  It always amazes me when it happens.

Second: The mind is not a dangerous thing, as some have alleged; it is memory that is dangerous.  I mean that not in a moral sense.as though memory is trying to deceive us or lead us astray.  Often it is trying to protect us--as when it represses incidents that happened to us or that we perpetrated.  But mostly memory is dangerous because there are just too damn many things in there!  And most of them are useless and incapable of enlightening us as to what we were doing or what was happening to us at some point in the past.

Third: I learned that what I could not forget is what I needed to pay attention to the most.  It was not the buried, repressed memories; it was rather what was staring me right in the face!  Spoiler alert: what I could not forget, until I faced it head on in the memoir, was that I was a priest.  But if you read the memoir (coming out sometime this fall as an e-book) expecting a long detailed and very messy description of the soul-searching, guilt-ridden, ex-priest who could never get past that period in his life, you will be disappointed. For at some point during the writing I made the decision to resign from the ex-priesthood, in much the same manner as I had resigned from the priesthood.

Fourth: I learned that there is a difference between who I am to myself and who I am to others.  This is what helped me get past being an ex-priest.  For to myself I was, am, and always will be a reader, writer, reflecter. I was never a priest to myself. I was a priest to others at one period; but I could very well have been a TV repairman for all the difference it made to me.  What I am to others now, a parent, is what I was called to be to others.  I can never resign from that!

If any of this makes sense to you, then, as they say, read the book.

Monday, April 8, 2013

What I did in Bakersfield...

So, it's time to account for my time here in Bakersfield, and answer the question I know is burning in the brains of all my followers: Why did I stop posting on my blog?

First, you need to know something about Bakersfield, famous in country music for Buck Owens and Merle Haggard: it is famous for Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.  That's about it. There really aren't many more distinctions one could ascribe to it.  But let me name a few.

It has a river flowing through it, the Kern, that is turned on and off at various times: holiday seasons, maybe some few months in summer for swimming in its sandy bottom, and for special occasions, such as the weekend hosting of the "Tour de California" bicycle race.

Along the rim of the escarpment that dominates the northeast quadrant of the city runs the walking path called 'Panorama Trail.' The distant views it offers of the central California Sierra Nevada Mountain Range are spectacular (on the five or six pollution-free days Bakersfield endures); the view it offers every day, in the foreground, is of a huge oilfield, over 100 years old and still producing the crude. That field, with its storage tanks, and a small refinery, runs through the heart of Bakersfield.

The main attraction of Bakersfield, attested to by newcomers and natives alike, is that Bakersfield is no more that 2 to 3 hours from any place you want to be except Bakersfield: Los Angeles, San Francisco, the central coast, or the mountains, including of course Sequoia and Yosemite.

I arrived here in Spring of 2011, ready for a one-year stay.  That was the understanding I had of my wife's signing on for the tour.  My books were all packed up, some in our garage,but must in storage in Dallas.  The move occupied my time and energy for a couple of months; then it was off to Sweden for the wedding of our daughter, followed by a couple of wedding receptions in the States for the many family and friends who could not make the trip.  And it was November!  I had not posted once!  I couldn't make myself unpack the books. I was disoriented.

I did find a stash of paper and a pen, however, and did what I had always done in such circumstances: I sat down and began writing--this time a memoir.  I had thought about it for a few years.  I mean in general terms, nothing specific. Aided by the lessons I learned from being a member of a fellowship, whose names shall remain anonymous, I took stock of all that I had experienced, and began to describe that for what and for whom I was grateful. About 195 hand-written pages, and 14 months later I had made the journey. (Sometime this fall, after settling in a new location--yet to be decided--I will up-load it as an e-book for those who are interested.)

Oh, I forgot to mention one more thing about Bakersfield: it was there I wrote the book I would like to be remembered for.  I will always have fond memories of the town.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


What just happened?

I must confess I am not the most traditional, practicing Roman Catholic these days; but with a little nudge from the culture, I do get myself to church on those sacred feasts that dot our calendar.  Or, at the very least, I think about how so much has changed over the past fifty years.  Yes, I do reminisce in that time span now.

But, Easter?  There is a greater disconnect between that holy day and our secular, commercial-oriented culture than exists between any other and that same culture.  Christmas has, in fact, been wholly taken over by commercialism; it is now Christmas as the secular feast that is celebrated at the winter solstice.  Easter, on the other hand, does not even register a blip on the screen.

Part of this is due, of course, to the referents of the feasts themselves.  Who could seriously refuse to celebrate a birthday?  Even the birthday of someone who is worshiped as God's son, born of a virgin who remains a virgin as mother?  Not I; I would never get between a mother and child.

But, again, Easter? The resurrection of a god who was crucified?  Much easier to celebrate the feast looking for candy and eggs hidden by an Easter bunny, eat the traditional meal of the paschal pig, and then sit down to watch whatever phase March Madness seems to be in that year.  No nudges whatsoever from the culture to point us in the right direction.

So here's my conclusion: Easter has to be much more central to what it means to be a Christian than any other feast/festival; for it has slipped of the secular/commercial calendar almost completely.  We Christians are left completely to our own devices concerning this feast.  There is no nudge from outside, pushing us to at least go to church this day.

It's a struggle.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lenin, Chavez, and Apocalypse

Did I mention I lived in Venezuela for a year?  My wife worked for Mobil Oil at the time, and went with them when they hurried back to Venezuela at the invitation of the government.  Apparently they needed help in developing their oil fields.  Everything had deteriorated since the oil industry had been nationalized.

In a year we were gone.  Why?  Because Hugo Chavez had been elected president, and nationalization was back.  We had been prepared for the coming change in meetings at the "American" school, listening to principal and staff inform us of the radical changes coming in the country--undoubtedly with talking points supplied by the CIA and other governmental officials.

I have been of two minds about Chavez ever since.  I don't see him as the savior/liberator that he thought himself to be; but neither do I see him as the cynical yet simple-minded mouthpiece of a tyrannical socialist agenda, which only wants to level the results not the playing field.

So, I make it a point to read most articles about him that I come across.  Which brings me to the topic of this entry.

I was reading the other day an article that tried to situate Chavez in the theory and practice of Leninism.  (Did I mention that I lived in Norway for four years, back in the early '80's; when the Soviets were the super-power in that area, and the ferment in leftist intellectual circles centered on Marxism and Euro-Communism?  I didn't think so.)  It was rather dense going; and when the author went off on a riff about Leninism and "the end of history," I just about  put it down for good.  Was Lenin himself a Leninist?  What did "the end of history mean?"

At the risk of displaying my own deep ignorance on the topic, the point I took from the article was that Chavez, during his early years in the military, and then through the years of his imprisonment for an early, botched military coup, read and studied thoroughly the Marxist/Leninist body of work--and then himself, when he attained power though his election to the presidency, was faced with the same difficulties Lenin faced when the Bolsheviks attained power: How does one govern?  Specifically, how, after all the theory trumpeted the ascendancy of the dictatorship of the proletariat as "the end of history," did the leader govern in the midst of a history that was still unfolding?  Hadn't the final stage just been achieved?  What more was left to do?

And then I was stunned by a thought that just came to me from who knows where:  Wasn't this dilemma similar to the dilemma that apocalyptic thought itself faces?  Think of the apocalyptic event as the end of history, the coming of the radically new, the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, the fulfillment of the deepest longing of the human heart and soul: an end to all the suffering and travail of the human spirit, when we could all live in harmony with all; when it all made sense, when it all fit together, when the lion lay down with the sheep, and brother and sister loved brother and sister--and so on and so forth, until we wept with joy and happiness that at last we were free at last to be ourselves at last.

This is the subtle temptation of apocalypse--and of Leninism!  It is not that the dream is wrong; it is that the dream is made out to be a template for the perfect society. The dream is looked to be the model, the plan, what is to be translated into reality.  But as we know, translations never do justice to the original.  Or else it is seen as the idea, which has only to be realized.  And here, too, it fails; it is like thinking we can write poetry with ideas (as in: "I have this great idea for a poem."), when the truth is that poetry is written with words.

The same can be said of stories about apocalypse or the end (of history): only so much description of the perfect society or the new world can be endured, before the conflicts begin and the narrative unfolds.  For this is where we all truly live--here in the midst of history, before the end.  As the younger generation says: Deal with it!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reading the Catholic Tea (Party) Leaves

To read those leaves necessitates, of course, reading The Catholic American (aka The American Catholic).  This is not a pleasant task. But someone's gotta do it.

So.  It looks like the Catholic Americans have already moved on, as regards Pope Francis.

We're going to put him into our mold, writes Darwin Catholic; there is, after all, no one-size-fits-all mold for popes.  We'll just pick and choose what we like about him; that will keep us happy.  He's not the dense intellectual type that Pope John Paul II was; nor is he the churchy liturgical type of Pope Benedict XVI.  He's more the people's pope.  Translation: we don't have to listen to what he says about theology, doctrine or practice.

In the meantime....all the rest of the bloggers have moved on to the topics that really matter: after a Rudyard Kipling interlude, there's a screed on Nancy Pelosi daring to take communion at the Pope's installation; Britain's embrace of IVF and the ramifications of donor eggs and/or donor sperm; and the trial of an abortion provider (read: baby killer).

Bear with me, here.  I'm coming off two years of not really getting any of this out at all.  I'm hoping Easter results in my rebirth too.

The question never asked, but always there in the background: When's the next election?  Pope or President?

Monday, March 18, 2013


"Behold!  I make all things new."  (Rev.  21:5)

Here it is, as simple as I can make it: Renewal is not restoration.

If we must go back, it is back to the roots we must go; not back to the dying tree.

I'm talking, of course, of the longing for an age of renewal in the church; an age that eerily conforms to the age of renewal in our political culture.  What we see, mostly, is a Catholic Tea Party, longing for a church restored to its Tridentine glory, a city on a hill, shining brightly in the doom and gloom world, a church known for its exceptionalism, and so forth.

But what we end up with, for example, is the "renewal" of the liturgical wording, as in: "And with your spirit."  Because that is a literal translation of "Et cum spiritu tuo?"  Which, in turn, means what? And then there are now pages upon pages on various websites elucidating us as to what it really means.

I repeat: renewal is not restoration.

Me?  I'll stick with the word of the Lord in the Book of Revelation: "Behold!  I make all things new."  As in a "new" heaven and a "new" earth.  That's the kind of renewal I long for.  For that is a renewal which has no pre-conceived notions of what will come to be.  The most we can say about it is what it will not be, as in, for example, "no more sickness and death, no more tears and sadness."

What would you say about your vision of the "new" church, in the style of those negative visions presented in the Book of Revelation?  What, in the present church, should pass away?  I don't mean, here, merely a list of what we don't like about the present church.  I mean those beliefs and practices that are truly demeaning and debilitating, that cause suffering and pain, instead of being a remedy.

I guess I would put hypocrisy at the top of my list. At one point in Matthew's gospel Jesus says about the teachers of the law that people should follow their teaching, "but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they preach." (Matt 23:3) The point here is not simply that the faithful must follow the law and teaching, but rather that a real change occurs when the teachers of that law follow the law and the teaching themselves.

So let me say it again: I am waiting for the priests, the bishops, and the Vatican to confess their sins of covering up the practice of pedophilia in the church.  All the new practices put in place to make sure it never happens again does not remove the sin involved.  Even vowing not to do the deed again does not remove the sin.  One must confess, and then do the penance.

I am waiting and watching.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Habemus Papam

Depends...on who you mean by "we!"

I think often of the election of John XXIII, the last of the "caretaker" popes.  I was in the seminary at the time, just into the college years, finishing up the B.A. in philosophy. Somewhere in the coming years ahead we would be studying theology--although honestly I couldn't imagine what could be more fascinating and exciting than a good philosophical argument.

Little did I know that it would be off to Catholic University in Washington, D,C., for theological studies; and that the pope who took over from Pius XII in 1958 would call for a council--and that that council would shake up the church in ways that endure down to the present. The council also made those years studying theology more exciting than the philosophy that had so enthralled me. (So much so that after I resigned the priesthood, I went back to school and got a PhD in Religious Studies at Marquette University,)

But I digress.  I think of John XXIII because I long for this caretaker pope to call another council--this time to undo the retrograde actions of the following popes and curia and traditionalist think tanks which have undone so much of what Pope John brought to the church: in his words, opening the window and letting in a breath of fresh air.

But I self-delude. I know from my theological studies that the ground work for Vatican II was long and arduous.  Many were the theologians who suffered ostracism and silencing from the Holy Office; but even more were those theologians and believers who went ahead with trying to develop and implement new ways of practicing and then talking about their faith.  We are not anywhere near that level of laying the groundwork.  Should Pope Francis call for a council, it would fall mostly on deaf ears.  The only people who would hear the call would be those who see themselves now as victims of Vatican II, and who seek to restore the church to its Tridentine glory.

Whose pope do we have?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

White Smoke and Mirrors

I check on-line every once in a while, to see if we have a new pope.  But mostly I go about my daily rituals

Even more rarely I talk with someone about electing a new pope, and what that holds for the future of the church.  But that is pretty much a ritual, too.  What can one say?  What the hell do we down here among the rabble know about the inner workings of the Vatican, and even deeper into that morass, about the inner workings of the curia?

But I do know the rabble.  And that buoys me up in these dark days.

This is what I hear, for example, talking with an acquaintance, who is a nominal Catholic.  His point of entry into the world of the church outside his Sunday attendance is the pedophile problem, if one concentrates on the structural aspect of church; or it's the teaching on contraception, if one moves on to the doctrinal/moral aspect.  That's it!  That's the face of the church to the world here among the rabble.

Should I try to dissuade him?  Enlighten him about Benedict XVI's wonderful encyclicals on Love in the Gospels and the life of the faithful (at least that's what I heard; I have not read straight through and studied an encyclical since Mater et Magistra--written by the last of the real popes, John XXIII)?

I'll stick with the rabble, thank you. And I will listen, rather than try to persuade.  I learn a lot more that way.  And what I do learn is a lot more true to the Gospels than what comes down from above.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Do I really want to go back and finish a series that I started over two years ago?  Do I have any other choice?  Not really; it's just the "Monk" in me--tying up all those loose ends.  So here goes.

I was trying to name and comment critically on the various custodians of the end that seduce us by offering the final word on what life and history are all about. And I began with the one that is dearest to my heart, the literal reading of the sacred books, especially the Book of Revelation. For that book and its commentators are the template for any grand explanation of what life and history are all about.

The others?  They are but supporting characters in the unfolding drama; each taking the stage at some point to present its soliloquy, but yielding "in the end" to the word of God. The survivalists are having their day these days, what with the evil Obama ready to take our guns,our schools, our children, our whole way of life, in order to establish the world of socialist, godless, communistic fascism. Or not.  And then there's the gospel of prosperity, dressed up in the garb of free enterprise, and hawking the books of Ayn Rand. The fact that the selling of the gospel of prosperity is what fills of the pockets of those who preach its message is an irony too sweet to bother its purveyors.  The same can be said for the defenders of the Jewish state--you know, that ideal state of the chosen people that must be both kept in existence and destroyed at the same time so that God's word be fulfilled.  Talk about living behind an ironic curtain!  And that leaves us with American exceptionalism, which exceptionalism consists mainly of the incredible talent exhibited in choosing those traits that bolster one's view, and ignoring all the rest.  That really does set us apart.

What do I offer in place of these false custodians?  What I already talked about in a previous post--a living faith, one that is not concerned about the end, so much as it is concerned about the present, the here and now.  What are we taking care of now?  What are we doing now to take care of now, instead of doing something now to take care of the end, some future day?

Me?  I'm going to read a little more of Stephen King, and then go meet my wife for lunch.  Sounds like a plan.

Friday, March 1, 2013

As I was saying.......

A detour.

Bakersfield, while not the most desirable of locations in California, does tend to force one to focus--on survival, in this case.  A blog was not going to do it; too much responding to the moment.  I would spend my time writing material like what follows, taking out all my issues by writing about someone else's issues.  Or something like that.

So, I submerged myself in writing a 160 page memoir covering all the major points in a long and varied life on the farm, in the seminary (including 4 years in Washington in the '60,s), priesthood on campus at the University of Wisconsin (also in the '60's), marriage since then, along with a graduate degree in Religious Studies from Marquette, and following my partner around the globe as she pursued her life in petroleum geology.  All to arrive in Bakersfield!  Look for it as an e-book, sometime in the near future.

I emerged just in time to hear George Weigel pontificate (oh, yes, I love using that word) on whether or not the new pope would do something about the celibacy law, what with the priest sex abuse problem . So, here's his two major points: first, the "law" is 2000 years old; and second: allowing priests to marry is not going to eliminate child sex abuse (offenders come from every segment of society, even the married); besides, the church has already done something about the problem; it has dismissed the priest perpetrators, and it has set in place safeguards preventing problems in the future.  Next question.

I reply: as to the first point, the practice of celibacy is long and hallowed in church history; but it is law only from the 15th or 16th century.  And it is law from political, institutional reasons, not from theological reasons.

As to the second point: Paul writes somewhere in one of his Letters, "It is better to marry than to burn."  Of course he is not writing about the severe sexual dysfunction of child sex abuse; he is writing about normal sexual function.  All the more reason, I would argue, to listen to Paul, not George.

But it's the second part of the second part that makes the case that Weigel suffers from "epistemic closure" (google it); this is nothing more than repeating the talking points of the church hierarchy.  There is nothing wrong with what the church has already done; it's what it has not done that is the problem.  It has not done the one thing that sets it apart from any other institution, that makes it to be the church; it has not confessed!  I don't mean apologize, I mean confess.  I mean saying, "We have sinned.  Have mercy on us."

And then doing some public penance--like spending two years in Bakersfield!

Talk to you later.