Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm Sunday

Ivory Plaque of the Entry into Jerusalem, Constantinople (c. 950)

Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.

He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior's bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you, for the blood of your covenant with me, I will bring forth your prisoners from the dungeon.

--Zechariah 9: 9-11

When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 'The master has need of them.' Then he will send them at once."

This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:

"Say to daughter Zion, 'Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'"

The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them.

The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road.

The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest."

And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, "Who is this?"

And the crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."

--Matthew 21: 1-11

Then I took my staff "Favor" and snapped it asunder, breaking off the covenant which I had made with all peoples; that day it was broken off. The sheep merchants who were watching me understood that this was the word of the LORD.

I said to them, "If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, let it go." And they counted out my wages, thirty pieces of silver.

But the LORD said to me, "Throw it in the treasury, the handsome price at which they valued me." So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the treasury in the house of the LORD.

--Zechariah 11: 10-13

Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? Look to it yourself."

Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.

The chief priests gathered up the money, but said, "It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury, for it is the price of blood."

After consultation, they used it to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners.

That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood.

Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites, and they paid it out for the potter's field just as the Lord had commanded me."

--Matthew 27: 3-10

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition; and they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a first-born.

--Zechariah 12:10

But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs,
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may (come to) believe.

For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: "Not a bone of it will be broken." And again another passage says: "They will look upon him whom they have pierced."

--John 19: 33-37

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, 1848

Friday, March 30, 2007

Random, not so serious, yet deadly serious thoughts…

Rock n' Roll Soldiers

This week Crystal put up a blog post about Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. It reminded me of this random Youtube video I saw once and liked, even though I don’t really know why... It shows two GIs in Iraq playing the guitar riffs from Mississippi Queen on their Les Pauls. Not too bad…

On a somewhat related, but more serious theme, see this movie trailer from the documentary Gunner Palace (I recommend it highly), in which “Wilf” plays the Star Spangled Banner on his guitar (a la Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock) against the backdrop of helicopter gunships and a muezzin calling out the evening prayer. Sort of a microcosm of the whole cultural clash going on in Iraq in a nutshell.

It’s important to remember that a lot of these young guys are just normal people with normal lives and normal interests caught up in all of this. Not so different from the rest of us if you really think about it, even though they and their families are going through hell bearing this alone while this administration asks for no sacrifice from the rest of us.

Please see Newsweek this week. The entire issue is devoted to letters home from troops who have lost their lives in Iraq. The War In the Words of the Dead. Very moving and powerful.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pange Lingua

The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas
-- Francesco Traini (c. 1349)

Jeudi Saint:Pange Lingua -- Choeur Gregorien de Paris

My Rhapsody Playlist

Pange lingua gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinis que pretiosi,
Quem in mundi pretium
Fructus ventris generosi,
Rex effudit gentium.

Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
of His Flesh the mystery sing;
Of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
Destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.

Nobis datus, nobis natus
Ex intacta Virgine
Et in mundo conversatus,
Sparso verbi semine,
Sui moras incolatus
Miro clausit ordine.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously, His life of woe.

In supremae nocte coenae
Recumbens cum fratribus,
Observata lege plene
Cibis in legalibus,
Cibum turbae duodenae
Se dat suis manibus

On the night of that Last Supper
seated with His chosen band,
He, the Paschal Victim eating,
first fulfills the Law's command:
Then as Food to all His brethren,
gives Himself with His own hand.

Verbum caro, panem verum
Verbo carnem efficit:
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus deficit,
Ad firmandum cor sincerum
Sola fides sufficit.

Word made Flesh, the bread of nature,
by His word to Flesh He turns;
Wine into His Blood He changes:
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble senses fail.

Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.

To the everlasting Father,
and the Son Who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might, and endless majesty.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where Would We Have Stood In The Crowd?

Placing Ourselves in the Passion Narratives

Christ Before Caiaphas, by Giovanni Battista Caracciolo (c. 1615)

I think there’s at least one thing that Christians of all kinds can agree upon. Whatever the faith tradition, whether one is a traditionalist, a conservative, centrist, moderate, liberal or post-modern, we all seem to agree that if Jesus came back to us today in the same way he came to us 2,000 years ago, it is a near certainty that he would be crucified all over again. The only catch is, we usually see someone else doing it. ”Surely not I, Lord…”

In the Passion narratives read during Holy Week, it is no accident that we are the ones who read the part of the angry crowd. We are the ones who read the part full of anger, not God.

In our model of atonement, if the meaning we are supposed to take out of The Cross is the reconciliation between God and Man, we might want to consider if it was us that needed to be reconciled to God, rather than God to us.

In his short book, A Crucified Christ in Holy Week: Essays on the Four Gospel Passion Narratives, Fr. Raymond Brown wrote:


Personification of different character types in the passion drama serves a religious goal. We readers or hearers are meant to participate by asking ourselves how we would have stood in relation to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. With which character in the narrative would I identify myself? The distribution of palm in church may too quickly assure me that I would have been among the crowd that hailed Jesus appreciatively. Is it not more likely that I might have been among the disciples who fled from danger, abandoning him? Or at moments in my life have I not played the role of Peter, denying Jesus, or even of Judas, betraying him? Have I not found myself like the Johannine Pilate, trying to avoid a decision between good and evil? Or like the Matthean Pilate, have I made a bad decision and then washed my hands so that the record could show that I was blameless?

Or, most likely of all, might I not have stood among the religious leaders who condemned Jesus? If this possibility seems remote, it is because many have understood too simply the motives of Jesus' opponents. True, Mark's account of the trial of Jesus conducted by the chief priests and the Jewish Sanhedrin portrays dishonest judges with minds already made up, even to the point of seeking false witness against Jesus. But we must recognize that apologetic motives colored the Gospels. Remember our official Catholic teaching (Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1964) that, in the course of apostolic preaching and of Gospel writing, the memory of what happened in Jesus' lifetime was affected by the life­situations of local Christian communities.

One coloring factor was the need to give a balanced portrayal of Jesus in a world governed by Roman law. Tacitus, the Roman historian, remembers Jesus with dis­dain as a criminal put to death by Pontius Pilate, the pro­curator of Judea. Christians could offset such a negative attitude by using Pilate as a spokesman for the innocence of Jesus. If one moves consecutively through the Gospel accounts of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, Pilate is portrayed ever more insistently as a fair judge who recognized the guiltlessness of Jesus in regard to political issues. Roman hearers of the Gospels had Pilate's assurance that Jesus was not a criminal.

Another coloring factor was the bitter relationship be­tween early church and synagogue. The attitudes at­tributed to "all" the Jewish religious authorities (Matt 27:1) may have been those of only some. In the group of Jewish leaders who dealt with Jesus it would be astound­ing if there were not some venal "ecclesiastical" politicians who were getting rid of a possible danger to their own position. (The Annas highpriestly family of which Caiaphas was a member gets low marks in Jewish memory.) It would be equally amazing if the majority did not consist of sincerely religious men who thought they were serving God in ridding Israel of a troublemaker like Jesus (see John 16:2). In their view Jesus may have been a false prophet misleading people by his permissive attitudes toward the Sabbath and sinners. The Jewish mockery of Jesus after the Sanhedrin trial makes his status as a prophet the issue (Mark 14:65), and according to the law of Deuteronomy 13:1-5 the false prophet had to be put to death lest he seduce Israel from the true God.

I suggested above that in assigning ourselves a role in the passion story some of us might have been among the opponents of Jesus. That is because Gospel readers are often sincerely religious people who have a deep attach­ment to their tradition. Jesus was a challenge to religious traditionalists since he pointed to a human element in their holy traditions-an element too often identified with God's will (see Matt 15:6). If Jesus was treated harshly by the literal-minded religious people of his time who were Jews, it is quite likely that he would be treated harshly by similar religious people of our time, including Christians. Not Jewish background but religious mentality is the basic component in the reaction to Jesus.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Five + Five Movie Meme

Crystal put out a general purpose tag last week for a 5 + 5 movie meme, in which you are asked to list your five favorite movies, plus five that could be categorized as "guilty pleasures" . Cutting each list down to five is very, very difficult... For the first list, I wound up having to make a distinction between movies that spoke to me in a profound way, and others that I would simply consider some of the greatest movies ever made, in no particular order, such as The Godfather (The Epic), Shane, Apocalypse Now, Casablanca, San Francisco, On the Waterfront, High Noon, Inherit the Wind, Citizen Kane, Rebel Without a Cause, The Wizard of Oz, Little Caesar, The Mission, The Philadelphia Story, Public Enemy, Body Heat, Sunset Boulevard, The Seven Samurai, The Deer Hunter, The Unforgiven, The Grapes of Wrath, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Gone With The Wind, The Caine Mutiny, Mr. Roberts, Its' a Mad, Mad, Mad World, The African Queen, The Petrified Forest, Rear Window, West Side Story, Schindler's List.

I'll warn you, not many of them are happy ones. I'm drawn to pathos and tragedies for some reason. Director, if you're going to make a movie, really make one... Actually, as I look over this list, I'm struck by how many of them deal with the risks and losses and tragedies associated with obsessive loves. It must say something about me...

Favorite Films

Cal Adapted from Bernard MacLaverty's novel, Cal is a story about the bleakness and desperation of living within the sectarian tensions of Northern Ireland. The film opens with young Cal (John Lynch), serving as the getaway driver for an IRA hit-man who kills an off-duty R.U.C. policeman at his father's farmhouse. As for Cal and his father, they live in constantly-harassed isolation within a staunchly Unionist neighborhood. Cal's father tries to get him a job where he himself works at a Belfast abattoir, but the sensitive Cal has a weak stomach and can't endure the smell. All he wants is for the IRA to leave him out of their schemes, to have a job that will put enough money in his pocket to buy cigarettes, and to be left alone to practice playing blues guitar. Racked with guilt about his role in the murder, Cal finds out that the policeman's widow, Marcella (Helen Mirren), works at the local library. Marcella is a Catholic who still lives with her Protestant in-laws at the farmhouse. Almost completely debilitated by guilt, Cal becomes obsessed with Marcella, and drawn like a moth to a flame, he manages to land a job doing menial labor at the farm where she lives (the scene of the murder). Not knowing of Cal's involvement in her husband's killing (a man she did not love), Marcella and Cal are increasingly drawn together in their loneliness and pain, and become lovers. Just when things look like they might start looking up for Cal, his father suffers a nervous breakdown, and the IRA comes back into the picture. They will not let him out. While in a car with his pyschotic school-chum Crilly (the gunman at the begining of the film), they try to run an army roadblock, and Crilly is captured while Cal gets away. Cal knows, of course, that Crilly will give him up, and has just enough time to say goodbye to Marcella before the R.U.C. comes to pick him up and haul him off to Long Kesh under Marcella's eyes. A hauntingly beautiful soundtrack of Irish music was composed for the film by Mark Knoplfer.

Raging Bull This is Robert DeNiro at the top of his craft. It's one of director Martin Scorcese's masterpieces, about the life of one of the greatest middleweight boxers of the 1940s and 1950s, Jake LaMotta. For anyone interested in method acting, this is probably the finest example of it ever shown, where DeNiro got into tip-top fighting form for the boxing scenes (good enough to be a ranked fighter, according to Jake LaMotta himself), and then gained over 50 pounds to play the bloated, dissolute LaMotta after the end of his career. Filmed in black-and-white, it's a great timepiece about the Little Italy section of New York in the 1940s. Although there are many meticulously filmed boxing scenes, it's not really a movie about sports. It's a film about how an insecure man, a man with a good heart who is nonetheless barely able to express himself other than through his rage, allows jealousy over his own wife to complete consume and destroy him, even to the point of turning on his own brother. A 19-year old Cathy Moriarty plays Vicki LaMotta, the object of his obsession and suspicion. She gives a great performance, and it is surprising that her career never took off from this role the way that it should have. This movie was also the vehicle that launched Joe Pesci's career (as Jake's brother Joey), with his trademark combination of humor mixed with a barely controlled fury right under the surface. The first of a Scorcese trilogy teaming up DeNiro and Pesci, which also included Goodfellas and Casino.

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb This one, directed by Stanley Kubrick, has to rank as one of the funniest movies ever made, even though it is a dark comedy. Released at the begining of 1964, it captures the madness inherent in the "mine is bigger than yours" aspect of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. General Jack D. Ripper, commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, has sent on his own initiative a wing of B-52 bombers to launch a nuclear stike on the Soviet Union because he considers himself to be the victim if a Communist-inspired plot to flouridate our water; a plot that is "undermining our precious bodily fluids". Once the Pentagon and the White House find out what's going on, the powers that be all gather around "the Big Board" and debate whether they should avert the crisis or accelerate it. Comic genius Peter Sellers plays three roles in the movie, President Merkin Muffley, RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove. As funny as Sellers is, whether as President Muffley trying to calm down Soviet Premier Dmitri Kissoff, or as Mandrake trying to calm down General Ripper, or as the wheelchair-bound Strangelove struggling to keep his Nazi-saluting arm under control, the movie is actually stolen by George C. Scott, who plays the hawkish Air Force General Buck Turgidson, uttering military-industrial complex inanities and often freezing mid-sentence in horrifed tableaus. Terrific supporting perfomances by Keenan Wynn as commando Bat Guano, and Slim Pickens as B52 Captain T. J. Kong, riding the bomb down to Siberia waving his stetson hat and hollering like a rodeo rider.

Angels With Dirty Faces This movie was made in 1938. and even though it's corny and schmaltzy by today's standards, it reminds me of why I love the morality plays of the 1930s so much. "We'll glamorize the hoodlums a little bit, but Crime Doesn't Pay!" It features young and energetic perfomances by Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, just before Bogart broke out and became a big star in his own right. The film opens in Hell's Kitchen New York, with young look-alike actors filling is as the teen-aged Rocky Sullivan (Jimmy Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien). While attempting to steal some pens out of a railroad boxcar, they are chased by the police. They try to hop a fence. Jerry gets away, but Rocky is caught and is sent away to reform school. From there, Rocky wallows in a life of crime, getting hooked up with the mob and the speakeasies, sometimes doing hard time in prison while his crooked lawyer Jim Frazier (Humphrey Bogart) is holding positions and money for him. The film truly gets started when Rocky gets out of prison and heads back to the old Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. He catches up with Fr. Jerry Connolly who has straightened out his life and gone on to become the neighborhood priest. On his way across town, Rocky notices that his wallet has been lifted by a gang of teenagers. They remind him of himself. He tracks them down easily to a hideout that was once his own, frightens them a bit, but decides to take them under his wing and really show them the ropes in a life of crime. The teenagers are wonderfully played by the "Dead End Kids" (Billy Hallop, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, etc...) who later will become well-known as the "Bowery Boys". At the same time this is going on, Fr. Jerry has been struggling to reform these boys, and he tries to reform Rocky too, urging him to be a positive influence on the boys rather than a negative one. He 's joined in this by Laury Ferguson ( Ann Sheridan), who becomes a minor love interest. Rocky, however, can't stay out of trouble. The conniving Frazier tries to stiff Rocky out of the money that he owes him, and Rocky shoots him down (nobody dies as well as Bogie in the movies). Following an epic gunfight with the police in a warehouse, Fr. Jerry and Laury talk him into surrendering. He gets sent to prison again, but this time he's sentenced to the electric chair, and Rocky couldn't care less. Just before his execution, Fr. Jerry visits the calm and collected Rocky. He urges him to die as a coward, in order to discredit himself in the eyes of the boys who idolize him. Rocky becomes indignant and refuses, not wanting to give up the one thing he has left. Fr. Jerry pleads and urges him all along the last mile walk. Rocky is having none of it. At the very last second, he breaks down and begs for mercy before he is electrocuted. It hits the front page of the newspapers, and the boys are all disillusioned that Rocky broke down and "died like a rat." Fr. Connolly invites them all to the Church, "where they can pray for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could."

El Norte Outside of this one, I can't think of another movie that actually brought such tears into my eyes, except for West Side Story when I was very young. In this Mexican-produced film, Enrique (David Villalpando) and his sister Rosa (Zide Silvia Gutierrez) are Indians fleeing from poverty and the repressive military violence that the Rios Montt regime has brought down upon them in their tiny mountain village in Guatemala. When their parents are killed in a military raid, Enrique and Rosa know that they must leave the country, and they begin the long, ardous, harrowing trek from Guatemala, up through Mexico, and across the border in to "El Norte" - the United States. After the numerous ordeals they suffer through, they finally get into the U.S., and start taking English lessons while they take jobs under the table, Enrique working in a restaurant, and Rosa working as a maid in Beverly Hills. Though suffering ups and downs with jealous co-workers and immigation authorities, Enrique has a lot on the ball. Finally a big break arrives for him. An American woman has arrived from the Midwest, having heard a bit about him. She is looking for someone of management material to work as an English/Spanish translator in a Midwest meat-packing plant. He and Rosa can go together if he takes this job, with a possibility towards eventually gaining their legal status. The hitch is, Enrique must leave by plane right away, or the opportunity vanishes... and right at this time, Rosa has been brought to the hospital, suffering from a serious infection she suffered from being bitten by rats when they had crawled into the U.S through a sewerpipe. Enrique is torn. Should he get on the plane, or should he be with Rosa while she desperately needs him? Of course he doesn't go. Rosa passes away with Enrique by her side, while he is tearfully telling her how hopeful he is about their bright future, and how all will turn out well for them.

Like Cowboyangel, I'm not exactly sure what "Guilty Pleasures" is supposed to mean... Does it mean movies that are sexually frank and provocative, violent, or just frivolous? I'm guessing it means something you might be embarrased by if your mother knew you were watching it... Maybe something you need to go to Confession over?

Guilty Pleasures

Betty Blue (37°2 Le Matin) My favorite French film. When Zorg ( Jean Hugues Anglade) and Betty (Beatrice Dalle) meet and begin their passionate relationship, Zorg is an aspiring writer who is currently earning his keep painting beach cottages while he lives in one of them. When the emotional and impetuous Betty learns that he (and by association, she) have to paint all of the beach cottages that season, she throws a fit and paints the boss's car and burns their beach cottage down. From there it is off to the races... With Betty, things are always going to be wild and unpredictable, and in their adventures, Zorg and Betty meet many interesting characters along the way. Betty believes in Zorg as a writer, but when his manuscript is turned down, she goes into a rage and deep depression. The loss of a baby deepens it. The movie is largely about Zorg's desperate love for Betty and his fight to keep Betty from slipping further and further into her descent into madness. The ending is heartbreaking. I've never seen an actress quite like Beatrice Dalle before or since, in her quirky, dark, loopy, oddly beautiful statuesque beauty and volatility. A warning; this movie is very explicit. Immediately.

A couple of other French favorites of mine worth listing here both feature Gérard Depardieu, one being The Woman Next Door with the great Fanny Ardant, and the other being The Return of Martin Guerre.

Something Wild Another mid-1980s adventure. To me, this film was unique in that it started out as a madcap comical farce and unexpectedly and increasingly turned into a dark thriller... Charlie (Jeff Daniels) is an uptight Wall Street Vice-President who stiffs a waitress on a meal check and gets noticed doing it by the unemployed, gothy, punky-looking Lulu (Melanie Griffith). She confronts him, they have an intense conversation, and she offers to give him a ride back to work. Instead she "kidnaps" him in a wild ride through the city, takes him out of town despite his mild objections that he "needs to get back to his meetings at work and to his wife and family". She takes him all the way to her rural home to meet her parents, introduces him as her husband, and has him escort her to her High School reunion. Here is where the trouble begins... Lulu's ex-husband, and ex-con name Ray (Ray Liotta) has just been released from prison, and he wants Lulu back. We start to learn here that everything is not quite what it seemed. We soon learn that Lulu's real name is Audrey. We learn that Charlie has no wife and family. The wild Audrey/Lulu longs for domesticity, and Charlie has up to now been somewhat of a liar and a rebel. The menacing and dangerous Ray tries to scare Charlie off, but Charlie decides that Audrey is worth fighting over, and away we go... Charlie wins out in the end, but the film ends on a discordant note in that you don't quite know what the two of them are supposed to do next.

Last of the Mohicans This really isn't a great film, but I wanted to throw in a nod to one of my favorite actors, Daniel Day-Lewis, even though his best film is one that I almost put in my top five, The Age of Innocence. I threw this one in because he really did a great job in the leading role as Hawkeye, and it is a fun action film with cool hand-to-hand combat sequences that really make you want to see the bad guys get it. They took a really tedious and boring book by James Fenimore Cooper and made it into something interesting, even though it dragged a bit in the middle with some weird editing. Besides, Madeline Stowe looked great in it as Cora. I know he's Daniel Day-Lewis and all, but it must be really nice to have Madeline Stowe plant a kiss on you like she did on him. Native American actor Wes Studl was especially good as the revenge-and-seed-obsessed Huron chief Magua. Fantastic musical soundtrack by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones, and the track I Will Find You by Clannad.

Eréndira This is another Mexican made movie. I would have called it a surrealistic fantasy, but I guess the right term for it is "magical realism." The script was written in that style by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, based upon a short story vignette from his book 100 Years of Solitude. Eréndira (Claudia Ohana) is a young woman who accidentally starts a fire that burns down the decrepit old mansion of her spooky old "abuela" - her grandmother (Irene Pappas). In order to pay off the damages, Abuela takes Eréndira out on the road with a photographer, selling her into prostitution, and becomes wealthy off of Eréndira's unexpectedly popular talents. Many people try to rescue Eréndira, from Franciscan friars to itinerant travellers, but Abuela always hangs onto her prize. Finally, a callow young man name Ulysses (Oliver Whele) who is in love with Eréndira works out a plan with her to poison Abuela and gain Eréndira's freedom. Irene Pappas is great in this witchy role, singing chanson songs and cackling maniacally as she messily eats her huge birthday cake filled with rat poison. I have a hard time explaining what this thing is about, 'cause I really don't know, so check the words from the director from the review on the title link.
"This is a story about the liberation of a human being. What is left open at the end of the film is what she will do with it. There are subsidiary themes--the refusal of love, because love can be repressive if it is not exercised responsibly. The grandmother is simply selfish in her love.
Their relationship also reflects the terms of underdevelopment. The girl only has her sex and the grandmother uses that asset cynically. She, the grandmother, believes that the ends justify the means, that the conquest of power is enough. Ulysses is a 'prince charming,' but he's really empty. His love is about three oranges and a pistol. The photographer is someone who is limited to seeing what
is happening in front of him. And he ends up getting eliminated. It's not safe
on the margins. He doesn't want to get his hands dirty, but an artist has to get
his hands dirty, more than anyone else."

Annie Hall I need to list Woody Allen here, because he's one of my favorite directors, even though it turned out that his life disturbingly imitates his art, or vice-versa... This movie is my favorite of his, along with Hannah and Her Sisters. Alvy (Woody Allen) constantly has disatrous relationships, and his one with Annie (Diane Keaton) is not entirely different in that respect, in that a woman he meets who is initially vulnerable and lacking in confidence eventually outgrows him. Good contrasts, as always, between Alvy's New York Jewish roots and Annie's Midwest WASP roots. This film is also noteworthy as the world's comic introduction to Christopher Walken, playing Annie's deeply disturbed brother.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Legacy Being Buried: Jon Sobrino and Oscar Romero

I'm sorry. I'm still indignant about this whole Jon Sobrino thing... For the purposes of full disclosure, let me mention here that some of my wife's first cousins are to be found among the highest levels of membership of Opus Dei in the United States. That is why, with some reluctance and ill-ease, I have to agree with the opinion of many observers that Opus Dei has succeeded in gaining control over the hierarchical workings of the Catholic Church. They really do seem to have control over all of the main levels of power within the institutional structure. Hey, give them their due. In the forty-year struggle over the direction of the Church since Vatican II, they have eaten the progressives' lunch. They kept their eye on the ball. Apparently, they cared more, and they worked harder.

In this Boston Pilot article this morning, I noticed the following about the Sobrino case:

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said that while the Vatican has not imposed sanctions on Father Sobrino "this does not mean other authorities, for example a bishop, cannot decide that in light of this notification Father Sobrino cannot teach or give conferences" in a specific diocese or institution.Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of San Salvador, where Father Sobrino resides, told reporters March 11 that Father Sobrino would not be able to teach theology unless he revised his positions in light of the Vatican critique.

See this is the way it works now... Instead of the CDF or the Holy Father having to play the role of the heavy, the principle of subsidiarity is brought into play. The responsibility of being the hard guy is passed on to the local bishop in question, and the most conservative bishops are getting what they are asking for. We saw it in the Call To Action matter with Bishop Bruskewitz, and now we see it with Opus Dei bishop Saenz Lacalle.

Who is this Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle? He's an interesting man. Read more about him...

The hand of Opus Dei in El Salvador

Archbishop calls for pardon for women's killers - Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of El Salvador

San Salvador archbishop ousts Jesuit pastor of barrios parish.

Slain Jesuits get no nod as pope bows to Saenz - Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle

Salvador's new brigadier causes outrage - Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle promoted by Salvadoran armed forces

What an ultimate difference between him and Oscar Romero, but perhaps not initially.. In his fine book Romero, James Brockman SJ tells of how Oscar Romero, upon first being appointed as Archbishop of San Salvador, had the same concerns about Jon Sobrino and his Christology as the current CDF does.

Some excerpts regarding the pastoral letter issued the first year he was archbishop, and then the second one..

August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, is for Salvadorans the national patronal day in honor of the Savior. For the 1976 celebration Romero preached the homily at the pontifical mass in the cathedral of San Salvador. It was a carefully prepared address, and he later published the text in El Apostol.

Romero recalled the founding and naming of San Salvador by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1528, making the Savior the patron of the city and the future nation. He spoke of the doctrine of the human and divine natures of Christ, defined by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and proceeded to make a swinging attack on "so-called new Christologies." Jon Sobrino, director of the Center for Theological Reflection at the Central American University, had just published a book on Christology and took Romero's words as an attack on his work-as they undoubtedly were, (Though as archbishop he later called on Sobrino's theological skills, he never mentioned the sermon to Sobrino.)

Romero spoke of Christ as liberator, but most of his words were a warning about merely temporal liberation. Absent was any suggestion that Christian liberation might involve conflict. Rather, he called for harmony: "How beautiful would be this August 6 if on leaving this ancestral home after sharing a sincere return to our origins, we bore in our souls the resolve to understand one another better, each in the place where the hand of Providence has put us; if the members of the government and the shepherds of the church, if capital and labor, if those of the city and those of the countryside, the initiatives of the government and those of private enterprise--all of us were to really let the Divine Savior of the World, patron of our nation, inspire and mediate all our conflicts and be the artisan of all the national transformations that we urgently need for the integral liberation that only he can build."

Romero's piety and his devotion to the church and its authentic teaching shine through the sermon. He attacks the new theology because it seems to him to threaten the church's teaching and belief in the divinity of Christ. He is worried that liberation will be understood in a merely material way. He calls for love, still trusting in the good will of all.

In mid-1976 Romero organized for his clergy a three-day study of the government's new land-reform program. Although the project was very small, much of it fell in his diocese and would involve campesinos for whom he had a pastor's responsibility. He took the priests' analysis of the project, which criticized it rather severely, to his friend President Molina. But the project never got going. Within three months, the same docile congress that had unanimously approved it killed it unanimously under pressure of the landowners.

During his two years in Santiago de Maria, Romero's attitudes and positions were still evolving. According to the Passionist priest who was his pastoral vicar the second year, in his sermons and clergy meetings he often quoted Vatican II, but never Medellin. He had attended institutes on theological and pastoral topics as an auxiliary bishop in 1971 in Medellin and in 1972 in Antigua Guatemala, filling notebooks with what the leading thinkers of the day were teaching. But his own mentality was evolving only slowly. It would take the catalyst of his first weeks as archbishop to bring about a dramatic change.

By the time the next August rolled around, Romero's views were very different. After a year of being attacked in the press as a tool of Marxists, of seeing Jesuits, Maryknolls, and layworkers attacked and murdered, of seeing ordinary campesinos and his pastoral associates harrassed, intimidated, and persecuted, Romero had an epiphany of sorts, and instead of attacking Sobrino, he asked him to prepare a draft for his next pastoral letter...

Archbishop Romero wrote his second pastoral letter to be published on August 6, feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, which is observed in El Salvador as the feast of the Divine Savior of the World, the titular patron of the archdiocese and the nation. Like his first pastoral, it was about the church, but it focused on the church as Vatican II and Medellin had begun to renew it-the church that the newspapers and FARO attacked and whose priests and catechists were persecuted. The church as it was being renewed was also the church that puzzled and disturbed many sincere Catholics used to the earlier ways. It displeased and saddened many, because it demanded that they change and be converted, "and all conversion is difficult and painful, because the change that is demanded refers not only to ways of thinking but also to ways of living."

Romero wanted to explain to people why the church of the archdiocese was acting differently from what they were accustomed to. He asked Jon Sobrino to write a first draft, and Romero then rewrote it, retaining Sobrino's basic argument and general outline. The letter brings together what Romero had been preaching in his homilies: "What I am going to say here is not at all new. But I believe it is desirable to repeat it because it has not been sufficiently assimilated and because in our country many voices, on the radio and in the newspapers, presume to judge what the church is, distorting its true nature and mission."

The fundamental change in the church in the preceding years, Romero said, was the new way in which the church looked at the world, "both to challenge it in regard to what is sinful in it and to be challenged by it in regard to what may be sinful in itself." The gospel was the foundation of this change in the church's view of the world, a change that had "helped the church to recover its deepest Christian essence, rooted in the New Testament." The church had become more deeply conscious that it is present in the world, that what happens in the world touches it and concerns it, that events are "signs of the times for it. And it had become more deeply conscious that it is in the world to serve the world, to be a sign and sacrament of salvation, "to make present the liberating love of God shown forth in Christ."

The church had recovered the insight, which fills the pages of the Bible, that God is acting in human history. Salvation history and profane history are not distinct, but the same. Medellin says: "In the search. for salvation we must avoid the dualism that separates temporal tasks from sanctification."'

The church's relation to the world as universal sacrament of salvation "defines its firm position against the sin of the world and strengthens its stern call to conversion," Romero said. "By being in the world and for the world, one with the world's history, the church uncovers the world's dark side, its depths of evil, what makes humans fail, degrades them, dehumanizes them."

Looking at sin, the church calls for conversion, beginning with its own. And viewing the overwhelming poverty and suffering of most of humanity, in particular in Latin America, it must call for conversion of both hearts and structures. "In the encounter with the world of the poor it has found the most pressing need of conversion. The love of Christ that urges us (2 Cor. 5:14) becomes a clear demand before the brother or sister in need (1 John 3:17)."

Many attacks on the church of the archdiocese, the renewed church that the pastoral letter describes, came from a professed zeal for Catholic tradition, which was supposedly being forgotten or rejected by innovators. Romero took up the question of change in the church. "Whoever does not understand or accept this new perspective will be unable to understand the church. To keep oneself anchored, out of ignorance or selfish interest, in a traditionalism without evolution is to lose even the notion of the true Christian tradition. The tradition that Christ confided to his church is not a museum of souvenirs to preserve. It comes, indeed, from the past and is to be loved and preserved faithfully, but always with a look to the future. It is a tradition that makes the church fresh, up-to-date, and effective in each epoch of history. It is a tradition that nourishes the church's hope and its faith so that it can keep on proclaiming and inviting all toward the `new heaven and new earth' that God has promised (Rev. 21:1; Is. 65:17)."

Change in the church is not infidelity to the gospel. Rather, it comes from the very depths of the faith and, indeed, makes it more faithful and better identified with Jesus Christ.

"This is the theme of my letter: the church is the body of Christ in history. By this I mean that Christ has wanted the church to live in every period of history. The church's founding is not to be understood in a legal, juridical manner, as though Christ had got a few men together to entrust them with a teaching and given them a charter, while remaining himself separate from the organization. Rather, the origin of the church is something much deeper. Christ founded his church in order to keep on being present himself in the history of human beings, precisely through that group of Christians who form his church. The church is thus the flesh in which Christ incarnates throughout the ages his own life and the mission of his person."
Thus the church must change if it is to be faithful to its mission as the historical body of Christ. If it ceases to be that body, it is no longer his church. "Therefore, in the different circumstances of history, the criterion that guides the church is not the satisfaction of human beings or its fear of them, no matter how powerful or feared they may be, but its duty to lend to Christ through history its voice so that Jesus can speak, its feet so that he can walk the world of today, its hands to work in the building of the kingdom in today's world, and all its members to `fill up what is lacking in his suffering' (Col. 1:24)."

As the body of Christ in history, the church must do what Jesus did in his life-proclaim the reign, or kingdom, of God. The kingdom that Jesus preached was one in which people would live together as brothers and sisters and as children of God. He called all classes, but showed his preference for the known sinners, the prostitutes, the tax gatherers, the lepers, the Samaritans, and all the outcasts of his time. The church must prefer the outcasts of the present-the campesinos, the slum dwellers, the exploited laborers, the prisoners, those abused by the powerful.

Like Jesus, too, the church must point out sin. He denounced the commercialization of the temple, the observance of law without its spirit of justice and mercy, the rich who did not share, the self-righteous who despised sinners and Samaritans, the leaders who placed unbearable burdens on the people. Sin obstructs God's reign, keeps people from living in justice and love. The church must denounce the selfishness that lurks in every heart, the sin that dehumanizes, that unmakes families, that turns money, possession, gain, and power into the purpose of life. It must also denounce those social, economic, cultural, and political structures that oppress and impoverish people. "But, like that of Christ, the church's denunciation is inspired not in hatred or resentment. Rather, it seeks conversion of heart and the salvation of all."

This description of the church fitted also the archdiocese. "On the titular feast of this year it offers itself, marked with the painful and glorious signs of martyrdom and persecution, precisely because of its faithfulness in being the body of Christ in our history."

But just when the archdiocese was making its greatest effort to be faithful to the gospel, it was accused of betraying the gospel. Romero reduced the many accusations to three: that the church preached hatred and subversion, that it had become Marxist, and that it had gone beyond the bounds of its mission in order to meddle in politics.

That the church preached hatred and violence, he denied. The record showed that it had preached love and forgiveness in the face of persecution "The church has not called brother to rise against brother, but it has re-called two fundamental facts. The first is what Medellin says about `institutionalized violence' (Medellin Peace, no. 16). When a situation of permanent and structured injustice is set up, then the situation itself is violent. In the second place, the church knows that whatever it says in this situation, even when it is really guided by love, will sound violent. But it cannot refuse to say it. It cannot deny what Jesus said: `The kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force' (Matt. 11:12). It is the violence of struggling against one's own selfishness, against the sluggishness of a nature more inclined to dominate than to serve. It is the violence with which the violence of the situation is denounced."

As for being Marxist: "What we can call Marxism is a complex phenomenon that must be studied from an economic, scientific, political, philosophical, and religious viewpoint. Marxism must also be studied within its own history." The church says that Marxism as an atheistic philosophy is incompatible with Christian faith. "The real problem is that, to the traditional condemnation of atheistic Marxism, the church now adds in equal measure the condemnation of the capitalist system, which it denounces also as one of the practical materialisms."

The church lives amid specific ideologies and social practices. It ponders the good and the evil, the attraction and temptation that are hidden in both the socialist currents and in the capitalist ideology. "But when it examines and judges the different ideologies, it is moved first of all by the ethical concern of its faith, rather than the desire to give technical judgments on the practical measures that the different ideologies propose."

As for meddling in politics: what the church says and does can certainly have political effects, but the church does not use the mechanisms of political parties or similar organizations to do its task. In El Salvador, Romero reminded the people, the law recognized the church, but in recent months its priests and catechists had been attacked and their rights trampled, and their rights were part of the church's responsibility. The persecution touched Christ himself, because it afflicted his followers: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4).

Romero continued: "The church is persecuted because it wants to be truly the church of Christ. As long as the church preaches an eternal salvation without involving itself in the real problems of our world, the church is respected and praised and is even given privileges. But if it is faithful to its mission of pointing out the sin that puts many in misery, and if it proclaims the hope of a more just and human world, then it is persecuted and slandered and called subversive and communist."

The church's service of the gospel and the resulting persecution had given the archdiocese, said Romero, a unity unknown before.

This unity and solidarity is for me a very clear sign that we have chosen the right road. But the events of the last months remind us that the union of Christians is obtained not by lips confessing a single faith but by putting that faith into practice; it is achieved around a common effort, a single mission. It is obtained in faithfulness to the word and the demands of Jesus Christ, and it is built upon common suffering. There can be no unity in the church while the reality of the world we live in is ignored; and thus, although the show of unity has been impressive, it has not been total. Some that call themselves Christians have not contributed to the unity of the archdiocese, either out of ignorance or to defend their own interests. Rather, anchored in a false traditionalism, they have misinterpreted the action and teaching of today's church, have turned a deaf ear to the voice of Vatican II and Medellin, and have been scandalized at the church's new face.... What divides is not the actions of the church, but the sin of the world and of our society. What has happened in our archdiocese, and what always has happened when the church is faithful to its mission, is that when the church enters the world of sin with an intention to save and liberate, then the world's sin enters the church and divides it. It separates the authentic Christians of good will from those of mere name and appearance.

At the moment, he said, the archdiocese needed unity more than ever in order to be credible and effective. It had lost many priests and catechists, but the pastoral work had grown with the awareness of many Catholics who had not previously lived their faith so deeply. It was expanding its work through the radio, Orientacion, schools, and parishes. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life were growing, but God was also calling lay people to take on responsibilities in the church. "There has never been in our archdiocese so much hope as now, in one of the most difficult moments of its history. Persecution has not produced discouragement, retreat, or faltering, but Christian hope."

He concluded with the hope that the government would understand the church's practice of integral evangelization. He was ready to converse with the government "as long as the dialog is based on common language and not on the discrediting and defaming of the church's language, and as long as a sequence of events succeeds in restoring to the church the trust that has been lost." Such events would include accounting for disappeared persons, the end of tortures and arbitrary arrests, freedom from fear for those who had fled their homes, due process for deported priests. The dialog thus begun would move toward cooperation of church and state for the creation of a just social order.

Murdered Jesuits and housekeepers.

Murdered Maryknoll nuns and layworkers

Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered while celebrating Mass.

Draw your own conclusions

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day

The Burren, County Clare

My long post on Ireland won't be ready, so this will do in a pinch. A Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone. Be good...

Remembering soft rain and strains of tin whistle,
Silver sounds, silvery strains, plaintiff playing tin

I find myself seeking Him in the old mystical places,
In the wild flowers that bloom on Inishmor,* bloom by the stonewalls of Aran,
Honeysuckle, gentian, thistle, and haws.
I see Him moving as the wild grasses do by the sea, in the breeze, on Inishmor.
Purple-headed grasses swaying, tinged with violet, tinged with regret.
I see Him as the silver birch, the young oak among the tamed conifers.
I see Him as the black raven hiding in the green marble mountains of Connemara.
I see Him as the red deer, the silver wolf, on the side of Slieve na mban.*
Cloaked in mountain cloth,
Embroidered with golden and purple threads of gorse and heather;
Lovingly woven by the women of the Gael.
Inishmor is full of walled gardens where wild herbs grow: Wild thyme, bittercress, and celandine.
My land is a walled garden perfumed by peat fires, bejeweled by their embers,
Filled with autumnal fruits: sloes, blackberries, rosehips, and elderberries.
As with the Druids of old, vanquished by the fruit of the Rowan Tree
These memories quicken me home.

--Paula Murphy

*"Inishmor" = Big Island, one of the three Aran Islands.
*"Slieve na mban" = mountain of the woman.

"According to the multitude of your mercies, cleanse my iniquity." (Psalm 51)

O star-like sun, O guiding light, O home of the planets,
O fiery-maned and marvelous one, O fertile, undulating, fiery sea,
O fiery glow, O fiery flame of judgment,

O holy storyteller, holy scholar, O full of holy grace, of holy strength,
O overflowing, loving silent one, O generous and thunderous giver of gifts,
O rock-like warrior of a hundred hosts,
O fair-crowned one, O victorious, skilled in battle,


--St. Ciaran, Sixth Century

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jon Sobrino Refuses to Accept or Sign the CDF's Notification

Nor should he accept or sign it. Good for him.

The Curial campaign against the Society of Jesus continues... This week it was reported that the CDF has issued a notification that two books written by Fr. Jon Sobrino SJ, Jesus the Liberator (1991), and Christ the Liberator (1999), contain statements that are "either erroneous or dangerous" and "may cause harm to the faithful."

I concede that I haven't read either of the two books in question, but I'm somewhat familiar with Sobrino's work and his thought from having read a book he'd written about Archbishop Oscar Romero some years ago. Fr. Sobrino was a theological advisor to Oscar Romero, and just barely missed being killed along with the six Jesuits who were murdered by a right-wing death squad in El Salvador in 1989.

The CDF notification objects that:

• Sobrino’s method makes the “church of the poor” the central context for theology, thus minimizing or ignoring the apostolic tradition of the church, especially as expressed in the declarations of early church councils;
• It’s not sufficiently clear in his work that the divinity of Christ is taught by the New Testament itself, as opposed to being a product of later dogmatic development;
• In places, Sobrino tends toward the ancient Christological heresy of “assumptionism,” treating the historical Jesus as a separate figure who was “assumed” by the divine Son of God;
• Sobrino makes too strong a distinction between Christ and the Kingdom of God, thereby devaluing the “unique and singular” significance of Christ;
• Jesus’ self-consciousness as messiah and as the Son of God are not sufficiently clear;
• The death of Christ on the Cross is reduced to a moral example, rather than understood as having universal significance for salvation.

It sounds to me like the CDF has Fr. Sobrino confused with the late Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar. Liberation Theology is not liberal theology. It powerfully and profoundly challenges comfortable people like me in a radical way, but I'd hardly call it liberal.

Besides, when did the CDF start feeling comfortable throwing their weight around regarding things written by theologians that aren't "sufficiently clear" enough for them?

Fr. Sobrino has indicated his refusal to accept the finding of the notification... a December letter to Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, Superior General of the Jesuits, Sobrino said he could not accept the Vatican’s judgment for two reasons: first, because it misrepresents his theology; and second, because to do so would be to acquiesce in what he described as a 30-year-long campaign of defamation against liberation theology, which, Sobrino wrote, “is of little help to the poor of Jesus and to the church of the poor.”

Sobrino says it would not be honest for him to accept the Vatican’s findings, and that to do so would be to question the judgment of these other theologians.

Second, Sobrino complains to Kolvenbach about harassment from church authorities which he describes as reaching back to 1975, the year in which he first had contact with the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, and 1976, when he first heard from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He describes the Roman Curia’s methods as “not always honest or very evangelical.”

“I think that to endorse these procedures would not in any way help the church of Jesus to present the face of God to our world, nor to inspire discipleship of Jesus, nor [to advance] the ‘crucial fight of our time,’ which is for faith and justice,” Sobrino writes.
The few remaining liberation theologians have strong adversaries among the Latin American cardinals today, in men such as Cardinal Trujillo and Cardinal Castrillon de Hoyos. In my opinion, the entire Latin American episcopate put together, whining about the Latin Mass while the whole continent is turning to Pentecostalism due to their inattention, isn't worth one of the former visionary bishops of yesteryear, such as Oscar Romero, Dom Helder Camara, Paulo Arns, and Aloísio Lorscheider.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How Elastic Are The Scriptures?

Reluctantly posting some thoughts on the Bible and Homosexuality. I guess I had to get around to it eventually…

Saint Jerome Reading a Letter, by Georges de La Tour (c. 1616 to 1627)

Last week I was reading an an online debate between Catholic columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan (well known for being both gay & conservative) and Sam Harris, the somewhat militant atheist and author of the best-sellers Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith.

Harris threw down an especially challenging and provocative indictment when he wrote:

Many religious moderates imagine, as you do, that there is some clear line of separation between extremist and moderate religion. But there isn't. Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism: because, while He may be many things, the God of the Bible and the Qur'an is not a moderate. Read scripture more closely and you do not find reasons for religious moderation; you find reasons to live like a proper religious maniac-to fear the fires of hell, to despise nonbelievers, to persecute homosexuals, etc. Of course, one can cherry-pick scripture and find reasons to love one's neighbor and turn the other cheek, but the truth is, the pickings are pretty slim, and the more fully one grants credence to these books, the more fully one will be committed to the view that infidels, heretics, and apostates are destined to be ground up in God's loving machinery of justice.

How does one "integrate doubt" into one's faith? By acknowledging just how dubious many of the claims of scripture are, and thereafter reading it selectively, bowdlerizing it if need be, and allowing its assertions about reality to be continually trumped by fresh insights-scientific ("You mean the world isn't 6000 years old? Yikes"), mathematical ("pi doesn't actually equal 3? All right, so what?"), and moral ("You mean, I shouldn't beat my slaves? I can't even keep slaves? Hmm"). Religious moderation is the result of not taking scripture all that seriously. So why not take these books less seriously still? Why not admit that they are just books, written by fallible human beings like ourselves?

Sullivan responded with:

Blogger, please. In many ways, the source of much of today's religious moderation is taking scripture more seriously than the fundamentalists. Take the Catholic scholar Garry Wills. Read his marvelous recent monographs on Jesus and Paul and you will see a rational believer poring through the mounds of new historical scholarship to get closer and closer to who Jesus really was, and what Paul was truly trying to express. For me, the deconstruction of a crude notion of Biblical inerrantism is not a path to a weaker faith but to a stronger one, unafraid of history, of truth, of the past, or the inevitable confusion that the very human followers of a divine intervention created after his death and resurrection. I find in this unsatisfying scriptural mess very human proof of a remarkable event - the most remarkable event, in my view - in the history of humankind.

I think it is especially interesting that Sullivan brings up Garry Wills here. In his book What Jesus Meant, Wills describes how Jesus identified himself explicitly with outcasts such as lepers and tax collectors and others who would have been considered to be in violation of the Hebrew Purity and Holiness Codes in force at the time. Wills offers the opinion that homosexuals surely would have been seen as being in violation of those Holiness Codes, and that Jesus just as surely would have reached out to them specially. Wills wrote:

In the case of homosexuality, the passive partner mixes with his male body the female role. In the Holiness Code, women are unclean anyway, because of their menstrual function. But this fictional "woman" who cannot menstruate is even more unclean. Those who have been anxious to keep this taboo alive in our time are selective in what parts of the Holiness Code they continue to observe from the Book of Leviticus. That is the point of a letter I was shown that came from the Internet (source unidentified-I would be grateful to anyone who can inform me on this). The letter is ad­dressed to a Protestant evangelical who believes in literal reading of the Bible:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regard­ing God's law. I have learned a great deal from you, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviti­cus 18.22 clearly states it to be an abomination-end of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, re­garding some other elements of God's laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25.44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21.7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15.19-24). The problem is: how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor to the Lord (Lev 1.9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35.2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev 11.10) it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of abomination?

7. Leviticus 21.20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to ad mit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20 or is there some wiggle room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19.27. How should they die?

9. I know from Leviticus 11.6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19.19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town to­gether to stone them (Lev 24.10-16)? Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev 20.14)?

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for re­minding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

This is very clever and makes the perfectly valid point that as Christians we are not bound by the Levitical codes, and that as Gentiles, the Law was never meant for us to begin with, but in a way, he is begging the question. I don’t know what the hypothetical Protestant minister would have said in reply, but my guess would be that he might have responded with “OK, forget what the the Old Testament says about homosexuality. Let’s look at what the New Testament says about it…”

I’ve seen various writers who are in basic agreement with Wills on this matter offer various counter-explanations for what appear on the face of them to be anti-homosexual passages in the Bible. I’ve read for example, that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as described in Genesis was not homosexuality, but the inhospitality of the people of Sodom in threatening to rape Lot's guests. By and large, I find these interpretations to be strained, unconvincing, and a matter of wishful thinking – A matter of looking for something in the texts that really isn’t there, regardless of how well-intentioned and inclusive the motives might be. Skipping to the New Testamant, here are a couple of the passages that are considered most relevant:

Romans 1:23-28

While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.

I Corinithians 6:9-10

Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

The best that I’ve seen liberal exegetes come up with in these instances is to suggest that St. Paul was calling homosexuality “unnatural”, but not necessarily “sinful”, or alternately, that what Paul is condemning is in fact what is unnatural… therefore, what is really being condemned are not acts carried out by people of homosexual orientation, but acts carried out by people going against what is natural for them (i:e, homosexual behavior being carried out by heterosexuals).

Again, I’m doubtful about such interpretations. The whole issue of a distinction between orientation vs. behavior would probably have been lost on Paul. I think we always have to be aware of the dangers of anachronism when we look at the Bible. It is one thing to say that Scripture always needs to be looked at anew for fresh insights by each generation, and that the Bible is full of inexhaustible truths waiting to be found, but it is another thing altogether to actually retroject our views as if they had actually been the views of the authors themselves. I think it is fairly well documented that both Palestinian Jews and Hellenistic Jews of the 1st Century abhorred the homosexuality, fornication, cultic prostitution, abortion, and infanticide that was commonly seen in the pagan world at the time. For their part, the Gentiles considered the Jewish practice of circumcision to be absolute barbarism, and resented being excluded from table fellowship with Jews due to dietary laws. We know about the contemptuous attitudes towards homosexuality from looking at rough contemporaries of Paul’s like Philo of Alexandria. As a Jew of Hellenistic influences himself, I see no reason to believe that Paul would have felt any differently. Most of the polemic in Paul’s letters was based upon the controversies of the day surrounding Gentile sexual practices, circumcision, kosher and non-kosher foods, and table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles (or the lack thereof).

My progressive friends here are by-and-large comfortable with the idea of gay marriage and the validity of sexual relationships between committed same-sex couples. I have other friends here who are not anti-gay, but adhere to the teachings of the Church on these matters. I don’t feel comfortable writing about homosexuality. I’ve done very little of it here. I’m sort of a live-and-let-live kind of person, and looking back over my own life, I can hardly hold myself up as having been the model of sexual purity and sinlessness. I realize as well, that marriage presents me with an option that the Church does not reserve for homosexuals, and this must be a nearly unbearably painful way for a gay person of faith to live.

Furthermore, as I’ve stated previously, I don’t claim to understand homosexuality fully, or what causes it. Do I think it’s “normal”? Well, who among us can claim to be really “normal” anyway? If you really press me for an answer on it, I’d probably have to say no… I don’t think so. It does seem like a case of crossed wiring to me. I don’t think there is going to be a gay gene found, like there are genes for eye color or hair color. From what I can see, there seem to be quite a few scholarly articles that indicate that the introduction or absence of certain hormones at key points of neonatal development may have an effect on sexual orientation. All babies start out with female sex characteristics (at least in appearance) before differentiation. It is the infusion of male hormones at key points of pregnancy that makes us male. It also has an effect on our brains. A lot of external factors can affect hormonal balances in our bodies. Is this the area to look? Take religion out of it for a moment. If someone wanted to look at it from a strictly scientific, Darwinian point-of-view, homosexuality doesn’t seem to make much sense, especially if you take the extreme Darwinian position that the body is just basically a vehicle to propagate the survival of your selfish genes.

I’m not gay-bashing here. How do I say all this without appearing hateful…? As a father of six, I know that I wouldn’t turn my back on any of my children if they turned out to be gay. I know I wouldn’t be able to explain the cause of it either. I’ve seen it happen in families where it was the very last thing they would have expected. I’ve seen those families have to modify their views on certain things as a result. I know it has nothing to do with the tripe about distant fathers and domineering mothers and singing show-tunes when you’re a kid.

While I don’t condone gay-bashing and the demonization of homosexuals, I don’t think it is especially necessary to ennoble them beyond reason either. According to some advocates, you’d think they’d make for better marriages and better parents than heterosexuals. People are people, all subject to the same weaknesses. In the case of gay marriage and adoption, I see no reason why gay people would be any more or less loving and caring as spouses and parents, but on the other hand, I see no reason why they would be any more or less abusive and neglectful either.

Just a couple of other thoughts… I hope they don’t come out the wrong way… We all come to our positions and views partly as a result of our own experiences. I do think that some women tend to take a more benign view of male homosexuality than a lot of men do. I started working city jobs in Boston when I was about 16 years old. I was of slim build and looked somwhat young for my age. I was startled and taken aback at how often I was approached by gay men. As I grew older, the less frequently it happened. I’m not an expert on homosexuality, but as a male, I do qualify as an expert on male sexuality. Having been married for nearly 15 years, and having had a few long term relationships prior to that, I think that I can at least say say that I’ve learned that female sexuality is very different from male sexuality. Homosexual males are still males, and their sexuality is still male sexuality. I do think that a plausible argument can be made that society does have a vested interest in putting some checks and restrictions around unbridled male sexuality.

I know many heterosexual men who can count the number of sexual partners they’ve had in their lives on their hands. I know some who’ve had tens of sexual partners. I don’t think I know any who’ve been in the hundreds or thousands (now we are getting into the territory of the legendary exploits of professional athletes and rock stars). Now, I know plenty of men who would have liked to have had hundreds or even thousands of women, who wished they could have had that many partners, but up until now, women haven’t been into playing that game (although with the new mores around “hooking up”, who the heck knows…). If we are honest with ourselves, I think we do need to acknowledge that tens of sexual partners might in fact be quite common for gay men, and that within a certain sizeable subset, hundreds (or even thousands) is not unheard of. In other words, this isn’t so much a criticism of gay men per se, as it is a recognition that gay men have the opportunity and the temptation to act with each other the way that straight men wish they could act with women. Therefore, this isn’t necessarily an attack on homosexual men but an acknowledgement of what unrestricted male sexuality can look like. I can well imagine that if there were rest stops along Route 95 where women were willing to have free, quick, unrestricted, unattached sex with men who were complete strangers, there would be a line of cars going up 95 as far as the northernost tip of Maine down to the southernmost tip of Florida. In this regard, perhaps we should congratulate gay men on their relative restraint….

I realize that those who support gay marriage aren’t advocating or excusing behaviors of the most extreme kind. I also realize there are plenty of monogomous or relatively monogomous people out there of all kinds, but as far as the extremes go, does that understanding give us the option to look at Paul’s words anew? Is it the profligate behavior that Paul is really talking about? As I said previously, orientation as opposed to behavior is probably something Paul wouldn’t have understood, even as divinely inspired the texts happen to be. Is it the heterosexual acting out in a homosexual manner that he was talking about, such as men in prison using other men as an outlet or as a means of asserting domination over them, all the way to female college students who sleep with their female friends because it has become trendy and fashionable (a practice that I hear is becoming more commonplace)? Or, if we want to become more accepting and inclusive of same-sex partnerships within Christianity, are we willing to say that Paul may have been just wrong about certain things?

Is there a precedent for the latter? Let’s look a slavery as an example… It is commonly and universally taught by all Christian denominations today that slavery – the buying, selling, and ownership of another human being – is intrinsically evil in and of itself. This was not always the case, since it is not explicitly found in the Bible. In the American South, prior to the Civil War, various pastors were able to make a coherent defense of the institution of slavery using biblical citations. Paul, in his beautiful letter to Philemon, urges him to treat his slave well, but not to free him. De facto acceptance of slavery can be found all over the scriptures. Thankfully, our way of interpreting scripture on that particular point has either changed or bowed to tradition.

How flexible is the Bible, and how elastic should it be today? How far can Christians go and claim fidelity to authoritative scripture and retain any sense of credibility? If we “stretch” it, are we acting like Sam Harris describes, or are we acting like Andrew Sullivan describes?