Monday, March 23, 2009

Walking Our Own Roads to Emmaus, or Walking Together

The Church as Pilgrim People of God, yet also the Body of Christ

Autumn, by Andy Newman

What is it you are debating as you walk? They halted, their faces full of gloom.
-- Luke 24:17

I don't like to think of myself as a pessimist by nature, but there aren't a lot of outward signs for hopefulness right now. For the Church, for the country, and for the planet, I think things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better.

Luke's Gospel has the story of two disciples on their way to Emmaus after the crucifixion, full of confusion, and carrying the heavy disappointment of dashed hopes. A stranger falls in step with them along the way, listens to their story (recounted with some irritation in the telling), and patiently opens their eyes to the meaning of the scriptures. It wasn't until the stranger stayed with them and broke bread with them in the eucharist that they recognized who had been walking with them all along. They had discerned the Body of Christ.

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
-- Luke 24: 30-35

As we make our way through our own lives, there is plenty of opportunity for us to feel abandoned, disappointed, and disillusioned. We can walk our own roads to Emmaus as solitary pilgrims, not discerning the Body and not seeing Christ walking beside us the whole time. I guess the same thing can apply to those times in our journeys when we are full of joy and contentment as well. We can walk alone, or we can recognize that we don't need to walk alone; that we can walk as one Body, not only with Christ, but with each other.

The late scripture scholar Fr. Raymond Brown S.S. wrote a terrific little book in 1984 called The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. Moving through the books of the New Testament, he created little portraits of each of the earliest Christian communities, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each.

St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians is very much a letter about the Church. A few posts ago, I wrote about how Lumen Gentium, reaching back into Old Testament imagery, had defined the Church as the "People of God." This was very important at the time, because up until then, the dominant motif and understanding of the Church had been solely that of the "Mystical Body of Christ." In Ephesians, the Church is described as "the spotless bride of Christ," which makes a reforming spirit difficult. It makes it seem as if no reform is possible or necessary. Brown, while thoroughly approving of the "People of God" designation, felt that at some point the notion of the "Body of Christ" would need to be recaptured and re-emphasized again too. He wrote this about the weaknesses and strengths of the ecclesiology of Ephesians:

A weakness in this ecclesiology concerns the possibility of reform. It is difficult to think of reforming a spotless bride. If the members of a body are being knit together in growth that comes from God and are being upbuilt in love, is there place for defective and cancerous growths, for sickness, and for corrective operations? Does the inherent triumphalism of Colossians/Ephesians allow for failure?

This basic difficulty about the thrust of Colossians/Ephesians may be brought home to Roman Catholics by reflections on Vatican II, a self-reform council where the Roman Church accomplished from within, by its own decision, some of what the Reformers had attempted from without, by protest.

In the years before the council the dominant biblical image of the church for Catholics had become the body of Christ. The encyclical on the Mystical Body by Pope Pius XII (1943) had the effect of challenging a purely canonical un­derstanding of the church in terms of jurisdiction. The Pope's pre­sentation was largely informed by the basic imagery of Colossians/Ephesians, even if the encyclical already, by its title with the word "mystical," went beyond the Bible.

If a poll on biblical church imagery had been taken among bishops entering the council, the "body of Christ" would surely have won first place in familiarity. But that is not the biblical imagery that emerged from the council. Dominating post-conciliar Roman Catholic ecclesiology is a biblical image that would rarely have been mentioned in preconciliar ser­mons, namely, the people of God.


An important but partial answer is found in the different thrusts of the body of Christ and the people of God. The awesome holiness of the body of Christ which is the spotless bride did not lend itself to self-reform. Indeed, Catholic resistance to the reforms of Vatican II was often based on the thesis that such changes implied previous church error or fault. And so, perhaps without adverting to the dynamism of the shift, the council facilitated reform by turning to the image of the people of God-a people that is unique because it is of God and yet may still consist of sinners; a pilgrim people on its way to the promised land, wandering at times and needing to be brought back from detours. This image was needed alongside the body of Christ in order to give expression to the tension in ecclesiology between holiness and the constant need for reform..

Lest I end this section on a negative note, I wish to reaffirm the tremendous power of the Colossians/Ephesians ecclesiology with its elements of holiness and love. No church can survive without giving it due emphasis. Inevitably, after their strong condemnation of the Roman Church, the Reformers applied the body of Christ imagery to the reformed churches that emerged from their protest. The six­teenth century churches were seen by their adherents as the true heirs to the title of the spotless bride that Christ had cleansed and sanctified. Within Roman Catholicism, if we have another decade of the dominance of the people of God imagery, the body of Christ mo­tif will need to re-emerge. After all, Israel was (and, for many, still is) the people of God. What is distinctive about the Christian church is the relationship to Christ and the special holiness that has flowed from that relationship.

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of God. May God enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope God's call holds for you, what rich glories God has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that God has exercised for us believers. This you can tell from the strength of God's power at work in Christ when God used it to raise him from the dead and to make him sit at God's right hand, in heaven, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.

And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
-- Ephesians 1:17-23

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bonus Armies

The Lesson From Two Depressions: Some People Matter More Than Others... Or at Least Their Bonuses Do...

A.I.G. plans to let their $78 million sponsorship of Manchester United, which includes jersey-naming rights, expire in 2010.

First, let me stipulate that I actually received a bonus from my employer this year. That's really saying something, because not many people did.

I concede that it may have been obnoxious for me to have gotten a bonus when some other people on my team were being laid off, but that's the way corporations work these days. They operate on Darwinian principles that let the devil take the hindmost. Those already being rewarded the most get rewarded with more, and those appreciated the least get shown the door. If I stick with them, though, it's only a matter of time before they eventually whack me too. There are fewer and fewer people left on the rungs of the ladder below me to get devoured.

In any case, my employer still made money last year, and they didn't take any TARP money from the federal government. I'm sure I don't have to remind everyone what's been going on this week with insurance giant A.I.G.
AIG has received $170 billion in taxpayer bailouts and in the fourth quarter of 2008 posted a loss of $61.7 billion, the greatest ever for any corporation. Despite this, AIG announced that they were paying out $165 million in executive bonuses out of taxpayer funds. Total bonuses for the financial unit could reach $450 million and bonuses for the entire company could reach $1.2 billion. This quickly led to what many label a "populist outrage."
Populist outrage... That may be putting it very mildy.

This is truly an amazing thing. After the first A.I.G. bailout, we all heard the stories about the executive junket to a California spa, which was even mentioned in the presidential debates. There have been at least two other additional A.I.G. bailouts, one of them coming after they lost nearly $62 billion in the 4th quarter of 2008, the worst quarterly loss ever reported by a corporation in the history of the world. Nevetheless, more reports trickle out about paid executive hunting trips to England and a trip to a resort in Phoenix. English bloodsports, eh? They ought to consider substituting some of those executives for the foxes.

I'm kidding, of course...

They say that Congress can't do anything about these bonuses because they are written into legal contracts. My understanding is that six of the recipients will be getting over $1 million, and that most of the 370 or so recipients are in the financial unit that actually tanked the company.

What I want to know is, where can I get in on a deal like that? I bet I could run a company into the ground just as well as one of these guys. Heck, I bet I could do it much faster and with more finality. Man, these executives with their parachutes and "pay-for-performance" deals that translate into "heads I win, tails you lose" are really something, aren't they? They sure take good care of each other. What kind of a contract allows you to pull a guaranteed bonus even when you post up the worst losses in corporate history? Would these bonuses have been paid out "contractually" if A.I.G. had actually gone out of business? As a taxpayer and an "owner" of A.I.G., I object to all this.

We've often heard this current economic crisis being compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Most commentators think it won't get that bad. I'm not so sure of that. Both collapses had more to do with the collapse of credit markets than with the collapse of the stock market. The credit markets are still a mess, despite all the money that has been poured into them... Furthermore, in the 1930s we still had the infrastructure for the world's strongest industrial economy, despite everything else. We still used to make things in this county back then. We also had a population that wasn't very affluent to begin with, and had a greater sense of solidarity. Most people were already used to dealing with hardship, and they knew how to stick together and help each other out.

Speaking of the bonuses and of the 1930s reminds me of...

The Bonus Army, 1932

After World War I, the federal government promised returning veterans that a grateful nation would pay $1,000 bonuses to their families, either in 1945, or upon the death of the veteran in question.

By 1932, the Depression had reached its greatest depths, and desperate WWI vets started asking the government to pay out those bonuses now rather than later. Congressman Wright Patman of Texas introduced a bill to Congress to that effect. In the meantime, vets started pouring into Washington DC in order to let their voices be heard. They set up a sort of squatters' village encampment near the Capitol.

The bill passed the House but was defeated in the Senate. The "Bonus Army" refused to pack up and leave. A nervous Herbert Hoover began to fear a potential revolution. He wanted the Bonus Army dispersed... In one of this country's most shameful episodes, the Army chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur, donned his decorated uniform and showed up on horseback, leading his troops to push the veterans out by bayonet-point and to burn the shacks and tents in the encampment.

The late David Halberstam took up the story in his book The Coldest Winter:

At a meeting with top civilian and military advisors, including MacArthur, the Bonus Army leaders asked for permission, if the Army were to enter their little encampment, to march out in proper formation and with some measure of dignity. "Yes, my friend, of course!" MacArthur answered...

The orders to end the protest came down from Hoover himself. Dwight D. Eisenhower (MacArthur's aide), not wanting the Army too closely associated with what was sure to be, even if carried out skillfully, an odious political act, tried to keep MacArthur somewhat in the background...

Eisenhower was appalled when he realized that MacArthur intended to show up on location to lead the forces of suppression personally. Both he and MacArthur had arrived at their offices that morning in civvies. MacArthur promptly sent Eisenhower home to get his uniform and dispatched his own orderly to his quarters to get his - the one with all the decorations. Eisenhower argued valiantly that this would be a mistake, that a terrible stench would arise from it ("I told that dumb son of a bitch he had no business going down there. I told him it was no place for a chief of staff," he later said). The chief of staff, who often spoke of himself in the third person, replied, "MacArthur has decided to go into active command in the field." Then he added, "Incipient revolution is in the air." Eisenhower suggested that if both of them had to visit the scene, they should at least do so out of uniform. MacArthur vetoed the suggestion.

So off they went in full uniform to meet the Bonus army. Their orders from the secretary of the Army were quite specific. Hoover wanted the marchers tamed, but he wanted no riot. The suppression of the protest should be as restrained as possible. The Army troops were not to cross the river or go near the largest encampment of veterans, on the other side of the river. Eisenhower later recounted how he had told MacArthur that there was a messenger there with specific orders from the president. "I don't want to hear them and I don't want to see them. Get him away," MacArthur answered. He had decided that if he did not receive them, there would be no need to act on them, and thus no limits set to his movements. The river would be crossed, the encampment destroyed...

It was a devastating political moment for Hoover...

For millions of ordinary Americans, who in hard times sympathized with the marchers, it was a defining moment; MacArthur became forever in their minds the kind of military man who abused the rights of ordinary people, a man who was never to be trusted politically and was too militaristic...

He had made himself, however, the favorite general of a formidable, increasingly frustrated constituency that resented almost every initiative taken during the New Deal.

This was three months before the 1932 elections. Hoover was finished.

What do these bonus stories have to do with each other? In the midst of both these crises we can see that some people just seem to matter more than others. The government in 1932 wasn't able to deliver a bonus to alleviate the suffering of veterans, and it appears that the government in 2009 may not be able to stop the bonuses of the wealthy and powerful while others suffer as a result of their decisions.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day 2009

Keep the Cease-Fire... Preserve the Peace

Mark Knopfler's Irish Boy. Theme music from the movie Cal


O 's tus a Chriosd a cheannaich an t-anam--
Ri linn dioladh na beatha,
Ri linn bruchdadh na falluis,
Ri linn iobar na creadha,
Ri linn dortadh na fala,
Ri linn cothrom na meidhe,
Ri linn sgathadh na h-anal,
Ri linn tabhar na breithe,
Biodh a shith air do theannal fein;
Iosa Criosda Mhic Moire mine,
Biodh a shith air do theannal fein,
O Ios! air do theannal fein.

Is bitheadh Micheal geal caomh,
Ard righ nan aingeal naomh,
An cinnseal an anama ghaoil,
Ga dhion dh'an Triu barra-chaon,
O! dh'an Triu barra-chaon.


Since Thou Christ it was who didst buy the soul--
At the time of yielding the life,
At the time of pouring the sweat,
At the time of offering the clay,
At the time of shedding the blood,
At the time of balancing the beam,
At the time of severing the breath,
At the time of delivering the judgment,
Be its peace upon Thine own ingathering;
Jesus Christ Son of gentle Mary,
Be its peace upon Thine own ingathering,
O Jesus! upon Thine own ingathering.

And may Michael white kindly,
High king of the holy angels,
Take possession of the beloved soul,
And shield it home to the Three of surpassing love,
Oh! to the Three of surpassing love.

...and not to be sacriligious, but speaking of shedding blood, pouring sweat, severing breath, taking possession and ingathering (in a good way)...

As of today, it appears as if the Irish Rugby Team (made up of players from both the North and South), leading the standings with a
4-0 record, are poised to win the Six Nations Championship this year, and their first Grand Slam in 61 years.

All they have to do is get past defending Six Nations champion (and current Grand Slam title-holders) Wales this Saturday.

Ireland eked out a 14-13 victory over England at Croke Park on February 28th.
Ronan O'Gara had an off-day from his usually stellar kicking, but England off-set that with a breakdown in team discipline.

Here's BBC Sport highlights with commentary.

Irish Coach Declan Kidney speaks of the upcoming showdown with Wales in
Say it: the Grand Slam is on the table, downplaying expectations:
“There’s handier ones than having to go to Cardiff and beat Wales,” he said with deliberate understatement. “I’ll be accused of mind games, but they are Grand Slam champions, they’re playing at home, they’re playing for the championship, they’re playing for the Triple Crown and they rested most of their players this week. Anything else?”

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Come on Catholics, Get Your Act Together!

Stop all this internecine fighting and just put on the seamless garment

There is a divorce between Private Morality and Social Justice... The pious aren’t liberal and the liberal aren’t pious... People seldom have the same passion for: private morality and social justice, action and contemplation, poverty and family values...
-- Fr. Ron Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
-- William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

A Stag at Sharkey's, by George Bellows (1909)

Why not? Why not try on the seamless garment? A consistent life ethic is what the Catholic Catechism teaches... What the hell is so hard about it? Why does it seem equally hard for both the left and the right to embrace?

As I've said here before, it seems to me like a lot of Americans let their faith be informed and shaped by their personal secular politics rather than having their politics shaped and informed by their faith... There are things about the latter that can be dangerous, to be sure, but the former is never a good thing. Years ago, when I was helping out with high school youth ministry in our parish, we did a segment on "How do you make decisions, as an American or as a Catholic?" They are not mutually exclusive by any means, but the team was pretty chagrined by what they heard from the students. Relativism and the embracing of situational ethics was alive and well. The only thing to be harshly judged was judgmentalism itself. The catch-phrase "I can't say that what's right for me is necessarily what's right for someone else" was heard early and often. It came from home. Their parents were pretty much the same. That's the laity...

Vatican I was held in 1870. It defined papal infallibility, but the council was abruptly ended when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. The Council Fathers never got around to writing a constitutional document on the Church itself. It's probably just as well... Formally defining the Church was left up to Vatican II, and that definition was presented in Lumen Gentium.

The order of the chapters is important. For years, most people inside and outside of the Church tended to think of it as a pyramid structure, with the pope, cardinals, and bishops at the top, followed by priests, sisters, and other religious, and with the laity at the bottom. Lumen Gentium flipped the pyramid over. The Church is defined as a mystery and as the "People of God" first. The chapters on the ecclesiastical offices comes after. This was not accidental. We all are called to holiness and have equal status in the Church through our baptism.

Unfortunately, we've seen that the chasm between the hierarchy and the laity is growing wider and wider instead, and out of fear, the hierarchy has tried to "flip" the pyramid back over again. The hierarchy has a legitimate teaching function, that is certainly true, which is why they need to be careful not to squander their moral authority foolishly. They need to have good pastoral judgment, and speak up for the dignity of life without laying heavy burdens on our shoulders that they're not willing to carry themselves.

There has been a lot written and said lately about the hierarchy's most recent blundering miscues, such as the lifting of the excommunications on the SSPX bishops, and the controversies around Gerhard Wagner in Austria and Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho in Brazil. It's important not to squander moral authority, because there is much accumulated wisdom in Church teaching that desperately needs to be heard today. The prophetic teaching of the Church needs to be heard today especially on issues like social justice for the poor, and on the dangerously resurgent spectre of eugenics.

Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna has been very bold and prominent in speaking out on these curial and hierarchical mistakes. Recently he published a letter called "Word of Comfort and Encouragement" to the priests and church employees in his diocese, stating:

I can imagine that many of you don't feel too good at the moment. Neither do I... Once again we are confronted with occurrences that cause grief and indignation. They make us shake our heads and seem incomprehensible. And once again the Church has been made to look stupid and so have we. And again we ask, ‘Is this really necessary? Have we deserved this? Are we to be spared nothing?'

At a time when the Church should really be dealing with the crucial worries that face people today such as the financial crisis and unemployment, it is confronted with debates about a small group of people who refuse to recognise the Second Vatican Council, or at least crucial parts of it, who think the Pope and the Church are on the wrong path and who consider themselves as the true Catholic Church. And on top of that we are now faced with the uproar concerning the new auxiliary in Linz. This is all a bit much and can give rise to a feeling of hopelessness...

Now, as to this whole SSPX thing in particular... Hardly anyone I speak to has ever heard of these people, yet the Catholic blogosphere would lead you to believe that the SSPX and the Tridentine Mass are the only things that matter out there. I tried taking a stab at offering an explanation as to why the Pope reached out to this group, but this strange solicitous attitude towards them still seems odd nonetheless.

Here's something for liberals to consider in that vein... It's a sacramental church. Popes and cardinals and bishops say Mass. They dispense sacraments. They notice who shows up looking for them. To them, that's the pulse of where the Church lives... The laity in Germany and France and Austria and other European countries who are so upset about this SSPX decision need to consider this:

If they had been showing up to Mass every week, this ridiculous overture to the SSPX would have never taken place.

The SSPX would have been forgotten long, long ago, except that for all of their other faults, they show up at Mass every week, if not daily. I've read that there are as many SSPX seminarians in France as there are diocesan seminarians. You almost can't blame the curia for wondering who the "committed Catholics" are under such circumstances.

It won't do for liberals (or progressives, if we prefer) to dismiss the "institutional church" and to sit things out when they feel disaffected. They need to stay engaged, and they need to step up and justify the faith that the Vatican II fathers put in them. They went out on a limb for the laity, claiming that the laity could be as holy as any saintly clerical superstar. The laity shouldn't let them down.

Is Fr Ron Rolheiser right? Is it true that the pious aren't liberal and the liberal aren't pious? Why should it be that way? Why is there so much cafeteria selection taking place on both sides? Why is Catholic blogdom so polarized? A lot of people in parishes used to feel the same way I do. Where have they all gone? Why do I feel like the Last of the Mohicans all the time?

He and the Huron were perilously close to the edge... Plate from Last of the Mohicans, by N.C. Wyeth (1919)

As someone who often feels like a lonely voice calling out in the wilderness, I was gratified to see this recent column by John Allen, Social ministers long for unified Catholic voice. Some excerpts:

I spent part of this week at what is arguably the most courageous annual event in Washington, D.C. -- or the most quixotic, depending upon your point of view. It’s the “Social Ministry Gathering” sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which brings together more than 500 Catholic leaders for a week of issue seminars and knocking on doors on Capitol Hill.

Here’s what makes the shindig unique: It pulls off the oil-and-water exercise of gathering pro-life and social justice activists under one roof, and pushes them to work together. Perhaps no other venue in this ultra-partisan town allows one to get an update about fighting the Freedom of Choice Act in one room, then stroll next door to hear about the dangers of global warming or why natural resources in developing nations aren’t used to help the poor. Even more remarkable, these are largely the same people, who share the same broad vision of defending human life and dignity across the board.

Auxiliary Bishop
Martin Holley of Washington, D.C, an African-American prelate born in Florida, struck this tone at a Pro-Life Activities breakfast on Tuesday. He called upon “pro-life and peace and justice people” to build “a more integrated network,” comparing the pro-life cause and anti-slavery efforts in the 19th century by arguing that both promote “equal treatment under the law.” Holley also said that the church’s social message must “begin at the womb, but not end there.”

Holley told a powerful story from 1972, when he was a lanky teenager in the deep South, about being confronted by three pick-up trucks full of angry white men. One of them, he said, held a shotgun to his head while screaming racial hatred, and for a while it wasn’t clear he would escape without a beating … or worse. (Eventually the mob ran out of steam, and Holley and his little brother slipped away). Holley said that memory flooded back when he watched Barack Obama on election night. He ended up on his floor, he said, sobbing uncontrollably about what the result meant in light of the African-American experience in this country.

Yet in almost the same breath, Holley described his disappointment with Obama on the “life issues.” Though he didn’t quite spell it out, one could almost sense the division in Holley’s own heart -- his anguish at being unable to fully embrace this administration, which in many ways seems so full of promise, because of what he sees as its moral blindness on unborn life. Holley’s remarks seemed to capture much sentiment here: strong optimism about some aspects of the Obama presidency, alarm about others, and, in any event, longing for a more unified Catholic voice that could somehow bring both of these instincts together.

While that longing is hugely commendable, one should not be naïve about the cultural tide against which efforts such as the Social Ministry Gathering are swimming.
In that regard, here’s a reading recommendation: Journalist Bill Bishop’s recent book The Big Sort offers hard empirical data to illustrate what he sees as a thirty-year trend in American life towards “homophilia” -- which in this case has nothing to do with sex, but rather love of one’s own kind. Bishop shows that over the last three decades, Americans have retreated into ideologically-defined ghettoes -- both physical and virtual -- in which we have systematically walled ourselves off from people with whom we disagree.

A few factoids from the book:

In 1976, less than one-quarter of the American population lived in “landslide counties,” meaning counties in which the spread in the presidential vote was more than 20 percent one way or the other. By 2004, it was more than fifty percent, meaning that Americans are increasingly clustering near people who think like them.

In 1975, moderates made up forty percent of the House of Representatives; by 2005, that number had fallen to eight percent...

As Bishop observes, when people spend most of their time in like-minded company, a “law of group polarization” takes over... In 2006, Abramowitz found that 86 percent of Democrats now call themselves “liberal,” and 80 percent of Republicans say they’re “conservative,” suggesting that the moderate middle has all but vanished.

All this concerns the world of secular politics, but in many ways American Catholics have reproduced this trajectory within the church. Mutz’s research offers confirmation of the point; in surveys in the late 1990s, she found that the overwhelming majority of regular church-goers, including Catholics, say the people they meet at church are “like them” politically. Applied to Catholics, this means that pro-lifers and those whose concerns skew towards anti-poverty efforts or immigration reform rarely rub shoulders. More often, they’re socialized to see one another as members of different tribes, with alien customs and worldviews.

Purely in terms of Realpolitik, this laceration within the church means that Catholics speak with a divided voice. Theologically, the problem cuts even deeper. The church is supposed to be the sacrament of the unity of the human family, which is difficult to pull off when we’re clustered into competing factions.

When I trotted all this out during my talk at the Social Ministry Gathering, one young Catholic from the West Coast challenged me, arguing with great conviction that Americans are more unified now and that the 2008 elections marked a sea change in that regard. He also insisted that the same thing is true within the church. I’d very much like to believe that’s right, but my reading of both Bishop’s data and the recent experience of American Catholicism suggests that we’re dealing with long-term historical trends unlikely to be reversed in the flash of an eye.

In any event, I told the crowd in Washington, when it comes to building unity in a divided church, the trick is to hope that things have changed -- but to work as if they haven’t. Anyone looking for inspiration in that regard would do well to keep the Social Ministry Gathering in mind.

Friday, March 06, 2009

This Blog's Top 25...

... by entry page

I'm coming up pretty soon now on my third anniversary of blogging. I started in April of 2006. It wasn't until June of 2007 or so that I was vain enough to put a Sitemeter icon on it.

I'm not sure how long Sitemeter is looking back in time for the list shown below. Maybe it's back all the way until mid-2007, but I was interested in seeing, out of almost 400 posts now, which were the most frequently viewed posts by entry page. Here are the top 25.

1. The Celtic Orthodox Church?

2. Soon to be SAINTS Jeanne Jugan and Damien de Veuster

3. Père Jacques Bunel: "Au revoir, les enfants"

4. Seeking the Kingdom of God on Earth. Is it the First Temptation?

5. What's With the State of the Catholic Blogosphere?

6. The Jesuit and the Skull

7. Palm Sunday

8. November is Klaus Kinski Month...

9. Padraig O'Malley, Peacemaker

10. American Exceptionalism: Sarah Vowell's Wordy Shipmates

11. My Paul Problem: Part III. Towards a Solution... Paula Fredriksen on the Dangers of Anachronism

12. In a More Nurturing Time and Place...

13. Fr. Howard Gray SJ, on Choosing out of Compassion

14. William F. Buckley vs. Noam Chomsky on Intervention

15. Mary As Co-Redemptrix?

16. From the Good Samaritans to the Bad Samaritans

17. Another Old Canard Resurfaces

18. Greatest American Rock and Roll Musicians

19. Same Old, Same Old... As the 'Lost Generation' Passes On

20. What's in a Name? Benedict the Peacemaker

21. Bill Cork Bails Out, Frank Beckwith Jumps Back In

22. Behind the Eight Ball

23. Lecture Notes: Why Are We Catholics?

24. Whatever happened to Leonardo Boff?

25. Essays on Blood Sacrifice, the Mercy Seat, and Atonement

Some of these surprise me, some don't. Some I know are artificially inflated, either because of controversies around the topic that kept certain people coming back, or for highly sought after images that bumped up the hit count directly from Google Image Search.

At any rate, I'm fairly proud of some of the posts that made the list. Not all, but some. It could have been worse... At some point, if I feel self-important enough, maybe I'll put together the list of the top 25 I would have liked people to have read. :)

What I found interesting though, and I've noticed it for quite some time, is the one in the top spot, which is far and away the most visited page. Other than the blog name itself, the most frequent search item string leading to this blog is:

"Celtic Orthodox Church"

There seems to be a lot of interest in that out there. Food for thought...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Is the New Watch Running Any Better?

What will happen in Darfur now?

Remember all of those "Save Darfur" and "Not On Our Watch" anti-genocide posters you used to see everywhere? Is it my imagination, or are there fewer of them around than there used to be? Has Darfur become another casualty of our short attention spans, diplomatic inertia, and compassion fatigue? A lot of criticism was leveled at the Bush administration for not doing enough in Darfur, and for not exerting enough pressure on the shamefully obstructionist Chinese. Now we have a new Democratic administration with majorities in both houses. Is there a glimmer of hope for Darfur under the Obama administration?

Maybe so. In the Hague yesterday, the ICC (International Criminal Court) issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of committing war crimes and for crimes against humanity in Darfur. al-Bashir's response was to kick several aid agencies and NGOs out of the Sudan and to say of the indictment:

"Eat it."

Naturally, China's Xinhua news agency dismisses this action by the Hague as western colonialism, but to their everlasting disgrace the leaders of the African Union seem to agree with that and are calling on the UN to suspend the indictments. How the UN could ever carry out the arrest is anyone's guess, but at least they took the symbolic step. It's the first time a sitting head of state has ever been indicted as a war criminal.

Civilians in Darfur fleeing a village under attack

As much as we may blame al-Bashir, Sudan, radical Islam, the militias, China, and western indifference, there is a another aspect in which we all carry some blame for what is happening in Darfur. Climate change is putting increased stress on those who were already living on the margins, and resource wars are breaking out as a result.

Lately I've been reading Alex Perry's book Falling off the Edge: Travels Through the Dark Heart of Globalization. Perry gives a detailed account of how economic globalization is wreaking havoc upon the most vulnerable people in the poorest corners of the world. In Darfur, the conflict has much to do with the lack of water resources in Sub-Saharan Africa, and he predicts that we will see many more such conflicts in the future. Time magazine saved me from doing some scanning by posting excerpts about Darfur from Perry's book last November in a piece called Weather Wars:

In 2007, I flew to Chad and drove east to the 21st century's first war over water. Darfur, a barren, mountainous land just below the Sahara in western Sudan, is one of the world's worst man-made disasters. Four years of fighting has killed 200,000 people and made refugees of 2.5 million more. The immediate cause is well known: the Arab supremacist janjaweed and their backers in the Sudanese government are waging a campaign to exterminate African and Arab settler farmers in Darfur by slaughter, rape and pillage, burning thousands of villages to the ground.

But it was easy to forget that before man added his own catastrophe, life in Darfur was already a gathering natural disaster. To live on the arid soil of the Sahel is an eternal struggle for water, food and shelter. In the past, nomad Arab herders and settled farmers (Arabs and Africans) worked together: the farmers allowed the herders' livestock on their land in exchange for milk and meat. But as good land became scarcer, the two sides began to fight over it. "You might laugh if I say that the main reason of this issue is a camel," said Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at his failed attempt at Darfur peace talks in October 2007. "But Africa has thousands of such issues. They are about water, about grass."

Competition is intensifying. The Sahara is advancing steadily south, smothering soil with sand. Added to that — or perhaps explaining it — is global warming...

It's not hard to start a fight in a place like that. As the Sudanese government did, you just find a divide — racial, political, cultural, religious — and promise one side as much land as they can steal. But the immediate spark shouldn't be allowed to detract from the war's underlying cause. Says Michael Klare, director of the Peace and World Security Program at Hampshire College in Massachusetts: "In Darfur, global warming exacerbates divisions along ethnic lines and produces ethnic wars that are, at root, resource conflicts."

The notion of weather as war maker has influential backers. On April 16, 2007, 11 former U.S. admirals and generals published a report for the Center for Naval Analyses Corporation that described climate change as a "threat multiplier" in volatile parts of the world. The next day, then British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett hosted a debate on climate change and conflict at the U.N. Security Council in New York City. "What makes wars start?" asked Beckett. "Fights over water. Changing patterns of rainfall. Fights over food production, land use. There are few greater potential threats to our economies, too, but also to peace and security itself."

As long as globalization increases economic activity, climate change will continue. That is why Darfur matters. There is the simple humanitarian imperative — helping refugees — which alone might seem cause enough for action. There is also a moral imperative. If climate change is a root cause of these wars, and the West has caused climate change, then these distant wars become our indirect responsibility. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose economy depends on hydropower from a reservoir that is now depleted by drought, is explicit in this regard, describing climate change as "an act of aggression by the rich against the poor."

But even those who reject these arguments, and insist foreign policy be dictated by self-interest, find themselves swayed by a third argument. If weather starts wars, and wars incite terrorists and violent opponents to the West, then it is in the West's self-interest to try to manage the weather...

So can Darfur be saved? We already know what needs to be done. The immediate priority is to end the fighting by brokering a truce and sending in peacekeepers. In the longer term, Darfur needs sensible land-use policies and careful water management, while the rest of the world has to cut emissions. But at the Security Council, Beckett faced opposition from China, the U.S. and the two main groups representing developing countries. They complained that the forum was an inappropriate place to discuss climate change. That is, they disputed that climate change leads to war.

Janjaweed militia on horseback

Perhaps a visit to northeastern Chad would change their minds. As I drove out to the area in spring 2007, the first sign we were entering a dead zone was the carcass of a camel. Camels can go three weeks without water in the Sahara, so the heap of fur, hair and bleached bones was an ominous sight. We entered a mud-walled, straw-roofed village. Instead of giving the usual smiles and waves, the children ducked away. A few minutes later, we crested a rise in the road and were confronted by nine janjaweed horsemen, rifles over their shoulders, white turbans around their heads. We'd gone before they could react, but we were 100 miles from the Sudanese border inside Chad and their presence on a road in broad daylight showed how invulnerable they felt. Two hours later we were in Iriba, northeastern Chad's logistics base for six refugee camps for families from Darfur. Aid workers in Iriba told me that, as horrific as the suffering was, it was surely going to get worse. "The water is going. The firewood is gone. The land has lost its ability to regenerate," said Palouma Ponlibae, an agriculture and natural-resources officer for the relief agency care. "The refugees are going to have to move. There's going to be nothing here to sustain life."

The camps had concentrated populations beyond what the meager land could support. At one camp, staff were increasingly finding themselves mediating conflicts between refugees and local farmers, who complained the influx from Darfur had ruined their land. At another camp, Haroon Ibra Diar described how, when his people fled to Chad, the janjaweed were already employing their own macabre energy-saving measures. "They beheaded people and used their heads for firewood," he said. I asked him what the future held. "We are farmers," he replied. "But how can we farm here? There's not even enough water to drink. It's a land of death."

While we were talking, a filthy young man in rags approached and started distractedly unpicking the threads of a knitted woollen cap. Diar introduced "Adam," whose entire family had been cut down in front of him in 2004. Something snapped. Adam was convinced another janjaweed onslaught was imminent, and told me he was getting terrible headaches from the janjaweed horsemen galloping around in his head. He asked if I could give him a lift to his home village. "It's the time of mangoes and guavas," he said. Watching him wander off, Diar told me Adam was obsessed by memories of when he was a boy, when the rains were good, the fruit was plentiful and the fighting just an occasional hazard. Sometimes, when the headaches were bad, he disappeared for days. Blinded by visions of plenty, he would run out into the desert and toward the war. Heading home.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Lenten Reflection... Which Francis?

"Lighten up, Francis..."

When it's so obvious that we are called to be like this one...

Francis of Assisi (from The Flowers of St. Francis - 1950)

...why is it so much easier to behave like this one?

Francis Sawyer (from Stripes- 1981)

Well, the example of "Pyscho" Francis Sawyer may be somewhat of an exaggeration on this particular point, and the scene from Stripes was pretty funny in its own way, but it is also a societal indictment. "I, me, mine..." The chickens hatched out of of all this bitter and belligerent selfishness are coming home to roost.

Why are we the way we are? Makes me wonder if the Calvinists and other hyper-Augustinian types have a point in standing so self-convicted by Romans 7 as their byword.