Friday, 30 October 2009

The Depression special

I mean Depression with a capital D, though I know 'recession' is the favoured term. When one is paying for tomatoes what could have bought a steak three years ago, there's something wrong somewhere. (I suddenly had a vivid memory of when my dad would bring home a bushel of 'beautiful peaches - just cut off them rotten spots...' - and we'd 'cut off them rotten spots' and have pits...)

One dear friend of mine holds a degree in economics - but later, and thankfully because it ended up meaning a much higher quality of life if a lower income, ended up a comedy writer. This is a day for loose associations (I'm trying to fight off hyperventilating because I just found out that, though the economists insist the cost of living has gone down, an unexpected, recurring, added expense means my net income will be lower in January than it is now... and I already am exceedingly occupied with various versions of cutting off 'them' rotten spots.) When it comes to 'economics,' one indeed must laugh - or one will cry constantly and ultimately be carted off to Bedlam's modern day equivalent.

I read today that the 'cost of living' has not increased this year, or that it was less (by something such as one tenth of a percentage.) I wonder where the economist who cooked up that gem buys his tomatoes... and I say that as one who had very little success trying to grow her own, where Sam could have raised a bumper crop on three feet square of concrete. Still, however one may manipulate statistics, does that mean things are better when prices (and this for simple items) are still through the roof? Yet those hoping for things to improve a bit won't be receiving any 'cost of living' increases... more expenses (whatever the economists want to say), no relief even on the tiny scale of having a tiny bit more in the envelope.

According to 'economics,' the 'economy is good' when just about everyone is broke. Banks are king - foreclosures don't matter in the sense of meaning people are in the street, because debts are wonderful since everyone has to borrow money. The 'economy is bad' when people are surviving. Personally, though no one will admit this (because, deep down, we all fear being indigent, and need to believe we are superior and it cannot happen to us), I think every one of us is afraid. Don't let the wealthy (or solidly middle class) fool you if you are lower class! Sometimes (such as today, when I was ashamed to pray because I know former rich kid Francis didn't mind sleeping in the street with lice using him as a lodging house), after I sing a few choruses of "Richard Cory" and bemoan how being working class meant that even a scholarship girl with degrees she could go through like a deck of cards was greeted with "You don't type?! What could you do - be a waitress?", I comfort myself with the knowledge that many of the upper class have a net worth lower than... well, Francesco's. Their lives are complicated. If they need a car or home, they 'cannot afford one' - because they have to have the home or car in keeping with their status. Many are in debt beyond what my income was, in total, in the course of my entire life. If they do need emergency money, they have to take out loans, at high interest, to borrow their own money, because everything is in retirement accounts (even if they are not yet 30.)

It's no use trying to discuss this - a sympathetic ear is unavailable, because most of us are broke, all of us are hurting, and God forbid anyone should admit this. Headlines can announce that some major, prestigious company let 40,000 people go this season, yet everyone not only is in shock to meet anyone who is unemployed but thinks (or pretends) that all sorts of jobs are available - and that one who is 'hard up' could make double what he makes elsewhere. Poorer relatives cannot expect help from the middle class ones (as they could in my parents' time), not only because the poor one cannot risk the gossip and scorn, but because those less impoverished cannot admit how tight things actually are for them... and they still have huge payments on that Mercedes Benz and the second mortgage to pay...

I wish I could pour out the fear - don't most of us? But I'd not only be whacked for not being rich (everyone who was never married is assumed to be wealthy, by the way), but beaten with that old rod of "why did you work at this or that, when you could have made such a fortune with (the company that sacked 40,000 people this year)?" (Worse - my family have long forgotten my diploma collection, and assume that I learnt to type, since I wasn't a waitress...)

It strikes me, at times, that one of the first questions I'll have for Jesus when I meet him is how a worldly wise, Galilean peasant could have made such an odd statement as that about the "lilies of the field." (Of course, some of you who are overly pedantic - even more so than I - might come out with "You aren't going to meet anyone in heaven..." With apologies to Fulton J. Sheen, my response will then be, "Then you ask Him!") Jesus, after all, was in an occupied territory. The gospels give even those unfamiliar with the period a flavour of exiled, despised lepers - widows' mites - the Son of Man with no place to rest his head. I'm torn in two directions, as are most hybrids (peasants with theology degrees.) My mother took problems of any kind to the Infant of Prague, Mary, or her paisan Gerardo. How I wish I had that kind of trust! Still, those of my generation were in two categories. The rich kids' parents (though in no danger of begging for a place on the housing list any time soon) had somewhat less than what their parents had. The children of the poor had parents who were all too conscious of how much more the kids had than they'd known (even if it was an indoor toilet and a tub), and never let us forget how 'spoilt' we were. Last but by no means least, the nuns from Cork 'laid guilt trips' on us working class kids about who was starving in China (partly because they thrived on guilt - also to fill the mission boxes), though, as I would learn in adulthood, many of them came from backgrounds that were far from poor.

People (whether extended families or friends) tended to be closer in my youth than they are now - more conscious of others - more considerate of others' needs - more likely to help in a crisis in any way they could (even though everyone was broke - though at least that could be admitted.) I know that, for example, my family has survived far worse than I've endured - but I can't help but remember that they had each other. I come from a family where (until recently, when some rudimentary version of the yuppie virus became epidemic) people generally were major "givers." They would have done anything for one another, and often 'did for others' in ways that I could not match. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is doubly afraid because she is far more alone than her parents, aunts, and uncles were. (The rare Italian family member who never marries not only isn't 'alone' in the way that I am, but indeed had siblings looking out for her.... better luck today trying the Infant of Prague...)

How can I beg Jesus to answer that 'lilies of the field' prayer, when I know that a huge percentage of the world's population are living in conditions similar to... well, I suppose peasant, first century Palestine? Yet I can mutter to Jesus, "You had that right" when, in the same gospel, He reminds us that anxiety achieves nothing, and that sufficient to the day is the trouble thereof.

Maybe a glass of that cheap wine will ease my stomach cramps a bit... and I, already expert at turning sueded rayon into something akin to silk, will find a nice disguise and fancy name to call the egg dish I make tonight... which I hope differs a bit from that of last night...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Crossing the Tiber (or Thames) en masse?

I understand that one large bit of Vatican news at the moment is the establishment of 'personal ordinariates' for groups within the Anglican Communion who wish to become part of the Roman Catholic Church. The Apostolic Constitution on this subject remains under preparation, but here is an English edition of the Vatican's comments to date.

I know this is a cliché (and remember I know none of the people involved - I may know some 'super spike' Anglicans, but no one who is looking to break with the Church of England), but I certainly hope (and this based on experience with some RC 'traditionalists' as well) that those moving towards Rome are seeking to go towards what they value, not away from what they see as deficient.

I often wonder what dilemmas there were for John Henry Newman - evangelical turned very Catholic, defender of the Catholic elements of the C of E to an unprecedented degree - then going from being the most ardent defender of Anglican Catholicism to effectively denying that (for example) the Real Presence in the Eucharist and the priesthood were upon which he'd insisted were 'all off' concepts since Anglican sacraments are invalid! Newman would be a great RC theologian later, but, in his early RC years, his work was nothing to match the quality of when he was C of E - he was a pawn for Wiseman and Manning, and made drastic mistakes. Had Newman not struggled with genuine conviction, he may have ended up with total disillusionment - heaven knows he didn't find a laudable crew of saints in the RC hierarchy in many cases. I'm wondering if very Catholic Anglicans today genuinely believe that they've never attended a 'real' Eucharist - or that their priests are just laymen in fancy dress. As well, if groups have set themselves apart from their bishops, in order to ally with others and be in opposition to their sister church, I'm wondering if they are prepared to deal with the strict Roman Catholic ecclesiology. These are only questions - as I have said, I know many Anglo Catholics, and a number of former Anglicans who were received into the RC Church (and vice versa), but have no personal knowledge of any Anglican groups who are looking to move Rome-ward en masse.

I also see a danger, in any spiritual life, if we are too fixed on any particular issue (the more when it is not doctrine - I could well see departing from a Unitarian church if one sees the Trinity as an essential Christian belief, though I doubt one doing so would feel the need to bring the entire congregation along). If we see ourselves as superior because we agree or disagree with 'this or that,' and then are ready to walk out in outrage, this can be dangerous to our self knowledge, so critical in spirituality, but also lead to enormous disillusionment. The letter specifically mentions problems with teachings on sexual morality - not doctrine at all, nor sacramental theology, nor apostolic succession. I'm sure it varies enormously amongst those seeking to cross the Tiber (in the Rome-ward direction), but I sincerely hope that those wishing to do so are not just seeing themselves as fleeing Blue Meanies who believe in women's ordination, think a gay man can be a bishop (...they'll meet a few), or don't think the world will come to an end if there are gay unions.

Once they fly the Anglican coop, they cannot receive communion at a local Anglican Eucharist. If there is no 'hybrid' church of their own rite, they'll be considered to belong to (and obligated to attend) the local RC parish (this determined by post code - even if it is an intellectual and aesthetic wasteland.) They'll have to effectively deny the validity of their own ordination (if clergy), the sacraments of which they've partaken all of their lives... and yet affirm the utter authority of Rome and local bishops. I'm wondering how they will adjust to this, when they have not seemed to have a concept of ecclesiastical obedience to bishops in the recent past.

Things have changed a lot since Newman's day... then, Anglicans who went over to Rome were not considered positively by Anglo-Catholics, because it meant leaving the C of E in the hands of ultra-Protestants.

I believe Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury to be among the greatest theologians alive. Benedict's sheer brilliance leaves me hang-jawed on many an occasion. Still, I wonder if someone with his sophistication (I remember him both as a 'dangerous German liberal' once upon a time, and as rising to the job when he was the current version of what used to be called Grand Inquisitor) would perhaps give certain groups credit for more intelligence than they have. Heaven knows the massive RC church (something like a sixth of the world's population) has enough disputes within Herself without inheriting others... Only time will tell if this is prophetic or yet another mess.

I'll undoubtedly comment on the Apostolic Constitution once it is published. I don't really know what a personal ordinariate is - but I'm sure I'll find out soon enough.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Stilton, blessings, teenagers, and Ezekiel... a mixed pottage...

Yes, I'm even more disassociated this week than usual. :) Weather beginning to turn cold is never my best time. My 'regulars' know my jokes (however true!) about goblins from the past, but, since I had some (very pleasant) visitors a week or so ago who happen to practise Faerie Wicca, I'm wondering what they brought in with them. (You undoubtedly are wondering why a Mediterranean is concerned about the wee folk... so am I, since I normally confine my superstitions to such things as the mal occhio . But the influences from Cork never die..) My front doorbell never did work, and the strictly 'no frills' doorbell in the rear normally makes only a 'ping.' Since the friends of the elves visited, the doorbell still 'pings' if anyone actually presses it, but at any time, without warning and when there is no human there, said doorbell is going off with a resounding chorus of the Westminster chimes. (These goblins undoubtedly are not only Irish but Catholic - giving off in disapproval of my kinship with Canterbury.)

As it happens, I (gladly) heard from two people whom I knew when I was a teenager during the past few weeks. This naturally stimulated my "no, those are not the best years of anyone's life... in fact, they are times when one tends to be close to certifiable..." memories. Ah, yes, those 'carefree' days! (Irony tag on - but subtract the generalisation and admit it's the truth.) The young are non conformists as far as parents' ways go, but loathe any deviation from the local trends - and you heard this from someone who came to maturity in a time when not wearing knee socks (which I thought then, and think now, are horrible - and would make the best of legs look bad) was sufficient reason for the raised eyebrows, giggling, 'advice' and criticism characteristic of the age. One's 'best friends' are laughing at one's jokes on Tuesday, indulging in the raised eyebrows fest with others on Thursday. We are angry with someone - usually out of the blue - for any reason or no reason (often because, for example, she's going out with the guy we hope will notice us... and who, being the 'boy one likes' becomes tagged with the 'boyfriend' label even if he's never asked one out, but who we think is 'ours' because we think of him 24/7 and talk about him about 33% of that time.) I mention this only because I've had decades to notice that some adults never grow out of this stage...

Of course, at that age I would never have admitted the lengths to which I would go to get slices of smoked salmon and Stilton, as I did on Sunday morning. I attended a church at which the liturgy is utterly superb, but, with its being a day to recruit pledges for the coming year, the guilt trip mode was highly irritating. I somehow remembered not only my own childhood but a delicious line from Maeve Binchy's "Echoes." Children in a village (who are lucky to have a decent change of clothing) are 'guilted' into donating Christmas toys for the poor, and one perceptive and happily tactless child says, "But we are the poor!" Still, since the fund raising campaign involved a 'coffee hour' with all sorts of cakes (which I don't eat), fresh fruit, first quality cheeses, and smoked salmon, I endured it all just so I could eat better than I have in months.

(Why didn't I title this entry "Blog of a Nobody Revisited"? I just felt I should list something having been 'away' for a month.)

I've been attending a series of presentations on Ezekiel - focussed mainly on a commentary which is so glum that it bores me. I have never studied that book in great depth (nor am I so inclined), but I think Ezekiel goes from sounding as if he were high on drugs to being an illustrator of the worst of human nature (and attributing traits mankind has at our worst to God.) I had a few thoughts at the presentations during these past few weeks - but, though obviously theological discussions are nothing new to me, I don't want to fall into the trap (which I can sense in a few who attend) of just loving the sound of my own voice. That's never my intention, but it's always a potential problem because, deep down, I'd rather be lecturing than observing.

In my own Old Testament studies (which did not include any focus on Ezekiel), I found it quite enriching to study the Jewish commentaries. I also was amazed at how much of Exodus (just as one example) is really about worship and covenant. Studying Genesis in depth was fascinating, the more because the Jewish scholars have no concept of 'the fall' such as developed in Christianity. It always is an effort, I believe, for a Christian to avoid the flavour of 2,000 years of Christian interpretation, which can slant views. Jews focus on God as transcendent - and, at least in some of the scholarship I've seen, see us (created in His image) as icons in a way - the way in which the transcendent God can be immanent.

The treatment a week earlier was dismal. It focused on God's commanding evil, such as sacrifice of the first-born, in order to instil horror at the actions later and lead Israelites to repentance. Much in Ezekiel, even if there is some excellent poetry, seems more about Zeus or Odin than Yahweh - the 'old gods' are projections of our own violence and jealousy, blown out of proportion into humans at their worst with boundless power. I couldn't help but wonder (and I've no idea if this is so) whether prophets of Ezekiel's time were writing more of mankind (the more considering that, if we make God immanent, at our worst that's a gloomy picture...) than of the nature of God, which is beyond our comprehension. Christianity is unique in that, even without consciously thinking of 'mankind is in God's image and therefore the icon,' we had the ultimate demonstration of this in Christ! There certainly is nothing of wickedness, vengeance, or violence in the message of Jesus of Nazareth. As well, in the New Testament, unlike many books of the Old, there is no indication that God is 'making Romans the conquerors,' where, earlier, there were many senses in which the Persians, Babylonians, or Egyptians were (however unknowingly) God's instruments.

I was wondering, again in relation to Ezekiel, if the talk of destruction (and mention of Babylon) had another meaning than was discussed in class. I know that, when paganism was the norm, many gods were territorial - those living around the Israelites would have had that viewpoint. If Babylon conquered, it indeed could seem that they had the more powerful gods. I think it is possible (though I do not know) that Ezekiel's speaking of destruction and Babylon can have another dimension - Yahweh isn't territorial, but is lord of creation - so, even if it seems a Babylonian god had the upper hand, Yahweh remains at work - somehow, He uses even the conquerors for His purposes.

But I'm not interested enough to go to the library's Jewish division and study this...

Last of all, I wanted to share a lovely blessing I heard yesterday:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

And the Blessing of God, the Eternal Majesty, the Incarnate Word, and the Abiding Spirit, be upon you and all you love and pray for, this day and for evermore.

And now to bed...