Monday, 26 April 2010

To what 'heresy' emotions can bring one...

I've been privileged to know a number of creative, very artistic people in my day - and know I'm not alone in that the same sensitivity, passion, and imagination which is our gift has its troublesome side. I know I'm stating this crudely, but the same intensity and vision which are behind the aesthetic or intellectual depth give one a huge awareness of the darkness. As a simple example, though everyone is conscious of the evil in this world, and equally knows that for every heinous sort there are undoubtedly thousands who are decent or even laudable, I've found I am not the only artist who cannot watch a news broadcast without feeling ill.

I was re-reading the frank, troubled post I composed yesterday. There is no chance that I'll delete or edit its contents, since it was utterly honest. Yet it was later on that I saw how the matters I mentioned could be counter-balanced by the very content of the liturgical texts from the same Sunday! (I'm not suggesting this cancels any of the 'darkness' - heaven knows that John, my favourite gospel, for all its stress on the Logos, love, and glory, makes both light and dark vivid realities.)

I believe that most of us who are devout have times when our emotions, which bring forth powerful feelings that can be a huge contrast to what we actually believe, temporarily make us confused heretics. :) Centuries before Jesus walked this earth, Israel stood alone amongst her neighbours in seeing creation as good, rather than a regrettable accident brought forth by the hands of a demi-urge. The manner of expression in the Hebrew scriptures is difficult for us to comprehend (and Lord knows I've learnt the scope of commentaries it is best to consult - almost as many as Christians need, since we are the odd hybrid of Israelite theology and Greek philosophy), but there hardly was some vengeful, wicked god of the OT who (we hope...) mellowed once His son was crucified by His decree. (Please - if you do not understand irony, read no further!) That does not erase that, in one form or another, most Christians of the west have millennia of images of (in a nutshell) a devil who might not be equal to God (at least by the time of the parousia), but who is far more powerful on earth.

I gave a thought, last evening, to the liturgical texts and anthems I'd read or hear. Surely, Good Shepherd Sunday does not leave one with an image of a vengeful God - and, in case one wasn't paying attention during that reading, the beautiful post-resurrection experience of Peter ("do you love me?") is a second chance at an image of utter love, healing, and redemption. I'd heard the Te Deum and Jubilate Deo at Matins - hardly canticles to place one in a state of upset. The choir presented a magnificent arrangement of "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us - therefore let us keep the feast; Not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." The offertory anthem was John Ireland's "Greater love hath no man," which combines several texts. I believe quoting the opening line, "many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it...", then jumping ahead to our being called out of darkness into His marvellous light," can capture the general thrust. The communion anthem was from the Song of Solomon - "set me as a seal upon thine heart.. many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."

To top it off, I heard a lovely sermon, referring both to Peter's encounter with the Risen Lord and to the beloved disciple, which treated of the constant themes of love (divine, and expressed in our love for each other) in the Johannine writings. (Even if memories of one intriguing commentary, which set forth the fascinating point that this exhortation well might have been directed to Johannine Christians who were not in an especially loving relationship to those who favoured Paul did not deter me. The last sounds on this earth undoubtedly shall be arguments between believers.) Then, just in case I hadn't got the idea by then, the reading from Hebrews at Vespers was a wonderful treatment of Jesus' sacrifice and how he is perfecting those who are being sanctified.

(My lectio divina recently has been from James Alison and Margaret Barker's work - a few examples are below. Anyone who can't be inspired to awe and praise by these probably is due to be pronounced dead.)

I'm not in a mood to explore post-Reformation history today (that's a first, isn't it?), but surely I do understand some of the roots of the idea (which I learnt in childhood) that faith is a battleground - with Satan (or Cromwell) always seeming to take the upper hand. So may I raise a toast to my fellow 'emotional heretics,' who pale with fear at 'false gods', even on days when worship and scripture should have us so saturated with love that such would never enter our minds. (It doesn't really enter our minds now, does it?)

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Takes imagination to find the laissez faire in Genesis...

Those seeking some economic or political exploration here will sadly be disappointed. I was in business management for too many years not to know that what exists 'on paper' has small relation to reality - for example, when 'the economy is good,' it tends to mean '95% of the population are so broke that they are forced into usurious loans.' When grocery prices have doubled, statistics will insist they rose by 6%. I well remember a puzzling, if clever (and misleading), presentation to the effect that someone who drives could save a small fortune (the figures clearly were manipulated) by taking the train (this assuming that anyone who had a train nearby would drive in the first place, but I'm too logical deep down.) The basis for this argument was that someone whose car is worth more than some houses was commuting 160 miles a day - the 'savings' was in depreciation of the vehicle's value (and there was no allowance for the cost of taking the train, or how one would get there.)

In an odd fashion, a thought that made me smirk earlier this week came back to haunt me today. My regulars (are there any, I wonder?) will recall that, a few years ago, I did an extensive study of the 19th century theological trends. I'm no fan of the Enlightenment, but I do see irony in that, when deism was enormously popular (and the Creator apparently had little interest in engaging with the cosmos once it was set in motion), there still were ideas that, for example, Protestant England was blessed - not having endured famine or the murder of the monarch as did France, or the crises in Belgium and so forth. There was much emphasis on such divine favour, despite that the general pattern of belief was in a God who washed his hands after creating the universe. As well, there was a general belief that miracles in the New Testament could be used to prove Christ's divinity (even if later miracles were 'superstition.') I sense a loose connection - that one needs some flavour of the miraculous to believe God intervenes now and then, where I think my old friend Thomas would have cautioned against such a view, with it leaving implicit that God isn't around much in the first place.

(Those who doubt that the bizarre 'divine favour reflected in military or economic superiority, real or supposed' idea is still alive should recall the weirder idea, popular in at least a few Internet circles around 9 years ago, that God had removed a 'veil of protection' from North America - where I had it on good authority that both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans remained intact.)

Now, where is this taking me? I am all but worn out from keeping my mouth shut (which I occasionally am capable of doing, when I know that doing otherwise would come to nothing) from an encounter this morning that a really expert writer could have used for a satirical sketch. I was at a church coffee hour, seeking, in vain, for congenial company. (This is not to say that such does not exist - only that people I know and with whom I would enjoy conversing seemed to be in short supply today.) Earlier today, I'd attended a presentation that had to do with Yahweh and the 'sacrifice of the first-born,' and it seems that being a friend of God's was about the worst fate one could have - when one was not murdered, the best one could hope for was exile and humiliation. I'll take sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, please, and it did occur to me that the sordid characters we were studying (Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel, Joseph and Jacob's other wonderful sons who inherited many dispositions towards filial and fraternal piety from their father) had no love in them whatever. I hardly thought that God was responsible for their humiliation and exile - if one is an outcast for fratricide, I can't say I'm all that sympathetic. I can certainly see that, if one was the object of divine favour (even if one was a trickster to get this), others, out of envy, rage, and covetousness, might act out in violence - and anyone who is cheeky enough to report dreams which indicate his family members are going to fall down in homage before him would be something of a trial. But, even before my third coffee, I was seeing far more that God's purposes (covenant, Israel as his chosen) cannot be thwarted by human wickedness - not that He was the source of the evil in itself.

When I was seeking my own release from 'exile' at this coffee hour, another who attended the class referenced my admission that I had been puzzled, and, in an exposition of mental gymnastics that should qualify him for Sophistry Olympics, related the OT accounts we'd been exploring to capitalism.

I've seen 19th century speeches and writings that should have prepared me for some of this - Jacob Marley always was a good man of business... Yet I doubt I've ever heard of capitalism's being related to Genesis. I'm uncertain of what the market economy could have been in the time of Cain and Abel (in fact, I'm still wondering from where both Mrs Cain and the hordes who would seek to kill Cain materialised.) This impromptu speech (my saying I didn't see the connection only led to a repeated, "Why not?," which is invariably a sophist's refuge, and never acceptable other than in philosophical arguments based on the principle of credulity) related Joseph (of the many coloured coat) to the talented capitalist who God chose because he was the only one who could accomplish the goal of wealth. (Ah, references to famines and favour once again...) This genius even told me that 'there is no poverty with capitalism,' which I found surprising since I've worked with the homeless for seven years and spent far longer watching them huddle together with makeshift 'huts' of cardboard. If I had a transcript of the entire exposition, I still doubt I could make sense of any of this. (Nor could anyone, I suspect - even if they don't wear a Franciscan tau cross.)

...Let me see if I can piece together at least a few bits... Oh, now I can see... It wasn't that the divine election of Israel (Jacob) showed that grace cannot be thwarted even if the human instrument has a lion's share of failings. God blessed capitalism, and even minted the concept millennia in advance. Grace is not a free gift, but one bought with manipulation. See one's (equally dreadful) brother in danger of dying of hunger, and make sure he signs over the birthright and blessing before sharing a few lentils... profitable, that.

Why am I suddenly remembering a Charles Schulz cartoon I saw many years ago? Pianist Schroeder told Charlie Brown "I have perfect pitch!," to which Charlie replied, "you mean a perfect pitch - and what does it matter, since baseball season is over?" I feel like quoting Schroeder's line - that sometimes I feel like putting in for a transfer to another comic strip. The loose association with comic strips just brought yet another to mind. This one showed a dinosaur addressing a convention of his own kind, announcing bad news: "The climate is changing, the mammals are taking over, and we all have a brain the size of a walnut."

If my illogical silliness seems inappropriate, I'll admit that I'm using it to shield myself from an element of darkness that is more illogical still, and assuredly would not have been the author's intent. (This apart from that violence, which usually arises from a thirst for power, terrifies me in any event.) I cannot help but shudder, on another level, at the thought of God's wanting sacrifice (death, exile, humiliation) for his Chosen (which I am associating here with Israel.) The constant struggles which the Hebrews endured in the OT times are tragic but not unusual - what makes me cringe is what they endured in the Christian era (and heaven knows that, in the 'enlightened' modern era, renaissance onward, much of it was the worst - particularly in the very 'advanced' 20th century.)

I must obtain a copy of the book on which these presentations are based. I enjoyed another work by the same author, which leads me to think there is an element (perhaps too lengthy or complicated to be referenced in full) other than the 'bare bones' I referenced above. I can only say that, based on the presentation if not the text, I don't think I would have liked that 'god' very much - I may have seen if Zeus, Isis, or Vishnu might present a better deal.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The collection was supreme even in Malachi's day

For all that I've grown to enjoy Old Testament studies (...late have I loved thee...), a few of the books are so puzzling and dreadful that even I don't have the inclination to their study. (It's bad enough that, just a few years back, I had to complete a paper on Amos, which left me utterly spent.) What follows is a far cry from exegesis - I'm merely giggling at how our own experiences can colour perspective. I'm very glad that I've risen from the grave of management and resumed my true identity as musician and scholarly sort, but, now and then, my many years in business management trigger such associations.

Just this morning, I was sleepily listening to a presentation related to the images of the first-born (whether sacrificed, redeemed, sent into exile, or humiliated) in the Hebrew scriptures. It struck me, as it often has, that Genesis would make nearly any family one knows seem far from dysfunctional by comparison. Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob, Laban (he and Jacob deserved each other), Abraham and his 'sister' in Egypt, are a sorry lot. It is a constant portrayal of hatred, swindling, attempted or intended (and, in a few cases, accomplished) fratricide, deceit and the like. I haven't yet read the commentary on which this presentation was based, but must get to that soon, since the pattern here was rather dismal.

Allowing for that I was half-asleep, I don't recall precisely why the book of Malachi was referenced. Much as Esau was a potential murderer, Jacob was a deceitful trickster for whom I have no fondness either. Malachi begins with the Lord's saying "Jacob I love, but Esau I hate..." (Yes, pedantic sorts - I know Jacob and Israel are one and the same - humour me, since I'm just ravelling a silly thread.) Towards the end of this brief book, one learns that God was irate at being defrauded - but blessings still could result if one heeded the summons to "Bring in the tithes!"

I loathe the image of God in Malachi, and anywhere else where God needs to be placated. Yet I had a "Eureka" sound in my mind which perhaps only church professionals of long-standing can fully appreciate. Jacob was a deceitful trickster, where Esau was rather common... No wonder God loves deceitful tricksters, since they bring in far more tithes.

Moving into my own life-time... Indeed, I do believe one must contribute, as one is able, to one's church. I see this as having spiritual value, returning what we can in thanksgiving. What I cannot stand is when the faith is treated as if it were a consumer product, and I've seen such approaches on various occasions.

I well remember one fund-raiser whom I knew (not a deceitful trickster, I must add - there wasn't a large supply of those at the time, so members of that set were reserved for insurance) whom I privately called "The Pardoner." His reasoning (by no means unique to him!) seemed to be as follows. People do not value their faith and church because it is available to all and not costly. They only will find it valuable if it costs them considerable money. (Whether those without riches, such as Jesus of Nazareth or Francis of Assisi, were to be consigned to a dungeon or handed a loaded pistol in order that they might take the only way out was left to the imagination. It would assuredly be bad form to have anyone present who'd tell any rich young man*, however smug, to give everything to the poor.) The Pardoner never did explain how to address the 'problem' of churches being available to all. He was Catholic, so I doubt that any theories of election and God's invariably choosing only the rich were in his theology, but it certainly was implicit that indiscriminate admissions of the poor would decrease the value of the premium product - I suppose as happens when travel miles used to give one access to seating in business class every 100 years.) Ergo, if one can convince people that they must pay a fortune for the privilege of attending church, this premium product will become appealing.

Feel faint or drop dead if you must - but expect a high price tag if you want me to share any of my lentils with you... Though the passages from Malachi made me shudder, I couldn't help but think, "Things haven't changed much, have they?"

*Note: Gluttons for punishment may see All these I have observed from my youth for further commentary on the rich young man - or look below for more on the first-born.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

For all of you 'ancient' guys

It would be most appropriate, particularly in the Easter season, were this post heading to indicate an upcoming commentary on the patristic era (or perhaps the Old Testament), but I've decided to focus on a sort of 'valentine' for the guys of my generation who seem to see themselves as being perhaps 105. Of course, opening any Internet search engine today makes it understandable. Those of my parents' generation (except for members of my family, who were living into their 90s even in the 19th century) may have tended to die younger, but at least were not inundated with advertisements about every illness under the sun (nor were they bloody bores who thought those around them were interested in their cholesterol counts and target heart rates.)

Just recently, on a very rainy day, I was commiserating with a delightful fellow I know, Eddie, admitting that, though I'm a double Capricorn and live backwards, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the hearing loss, need for stronger contact lenses, arthritis pain and the like which is part and parcel of ageing a bit. (Note to the busybody element: I often say that those who irritate me will get 40 years in purgatory. Anyone who e-mails me about doctors, nutritionists, vitamins, acupuncture and the like will be in purgatory till the end of the world!) Unlike Eddie, I did see a positive side - I'm just reaching what could be an age of wisdom. Eddie's manner of speaking, which I love, cannot be captured on paper, but he commented, "What do you want wisdom for? I'll take before the aches and pains!"

Women may have the 'name' (though I came from a mother who could dance the hully-gully at 84 - and, if you saw me now, dancing in the street at the festivals and wearing mini skirts, tie dye, and fishnet stockings, you'd know "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now"), but I know it's hard for guys to age. I cannot resist sharing two little tales which amuse me (as always, completely true.)

One Franciscan friar who was a friend had a very odd habit of making lists. (He was only five feet tall - one of his lists, for example, was of all the saints who were short.) He also was a bit paranoid, as alcoholics often are. I well remember his 60th birthday. He grumbled to me then told me his latest list. "I'm 60! Do you know what that means? Do you know what happens to a man at 60? You wake up one morning - you can't pee. What if anyone at the chapel knew I couldn't pee?! They'd be accusing me of misbehaving sexually! So, I'm making a list of all the saints and popes who had prostate trouble!" (To Friar X, this was logical. I'm still trying to figure out how anyone other than himself could have known if he couldn't pee...)

When I was an archdiocesan manager, one of the areas under my direction was the automotive fleet. For a number of years, the auxiliary bishops all were provided with cars. One of them (a charming man, I might add) just happened to be due for a new car when he was approaching a milestone birthday. Everything was 'what's more sporty?' When I was speaking to the auto dealer (and questions with bishops can be endless), I had to keep asking about this-or-that which was 'more sporty.' The dealer, though he'd never met this bishop, said to me, "What happened? Has he hit 60?"

So, this Franciscan jester wishes all of the guys whatever is more sporty - and adds the intercession that they remain capable of peeing for eternity. And I'll add one more comment about perspective. (Remember - I have to laugh as well. Most women my age are afraid of losing their looks - I never had them - nor do I need to fear having a spouse dump me for change in a few twenties. My fear of ageing is "I'm alone...") I was wearing a sleeveless dress on Sunday, rather 1960s retro. When I went to a park in between the Eucharist and Evensong, a teenage girl, who saw me from the back at first, called out a compliment about the cool dress and picture hat - then, when she saw my face, said, "Oh, you're old!" (With a sensitivity common to adolescents, this was a mere statement of fact, and I doubt she even knew that not all women would have cracked up laughing, which is what I did. Eat your heart out, kid, the violet and turquoise blended eye make-up has turned my green eyes into emeralds...) On Monday, I went to the gym - there's a wide scope of ages in the classes aimed at those past their first youth, and a few ladies there were near 90, another celebrating her 93rd birthday that very day. At one point, we were doing exercises that involved stretch - kicks sideways and forwards. On the way out, two gossiping Jewish women (I mention their religion only because it's an Orthodox Jewish gym, with a number of members of all ages who are Hasidic and wear long skirts even on cardio machines, so my knee length shorts are daring to some) saw me and muttered to each other, "She could kick high! But she's got all her legs out!" The other said, "Eh, she's a young girl!"

Friday, 9 April 2010

A word about Global Zero

Global Zero - for those of you interested in signing a petition related to nuclear disarmament

I was glad to learn that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have signed an agreement to reduce their nuclear arsenals. I am hoping that next week's meeting, involving many world leaders, will have a favourable outcome.

I seldom write of political matters, though I have strong convictions - all, naturally, based on my religious beliefs. It may seem odd that I therefore don't address such issues more often. Yet I am cautious, because idealists such as myself sometimes find it difficult to present such commentary in a manner which would be readily understood, especially by those with other viewpoints (who also are strong in religious commitment or humanist principles.)

I am fundamentally pacifist, in case that was not obvious. I know little of military strategy, and am not qualified to address those details. But this much is certain in my mind - there is no theory of just war that can include atomic bombs as a moral option. The devastation is utterly out of proportion to the justification of a military target. This was true in 1945, when the effects of the blast were known - and all the more later, since today we know the horrors of the radiation.

Moving into my usual loose association mode - aside from Shakespeare and the Bible, I believe that no author (in the English language) is more widely quoted than Dickens, nor are his lines more recognisable. (In fact, perhaps he wins for that last - because, half the time, those quoting Shakespeare or scripture don't know the source.) Just about everyone would immediately recognise, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Indeed, that is a brilliant line, because it applies to every place in every era.

I am delighted with many technological advances, many of which one could never have dreamt even within my own lifetime. I love being able to conduct research and contact friends all over the globe from the computer - and one will hear no complaints that I can have music at hand wherever I am. :) Many fatal diseases, in particular those which caused many to die before their fifth birthdays (years or even days...), can be prevented or cured. This is beginning to sound trite already, so I'll refrain from further examples, but the technology today is quite enriching and marvellous.

Sadly, the other side of this is that, in the last world war and since, there was the technology to eliminate thousands of lives in an hour. I am very glad to see that Russia and the United States, who achieved enormous military power at the end of that last war, and who were sworn enemies throughout the 'cold war' years, are taking an initiative together.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Many prelates need to make many apologies

Between the pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, various bishops of Ireland, and a Vatican official who compared ++Rowan Williams' comments last week to Nazi anti-Semitism, it occurs to me that even the most dedicated, brilliant minds in the Church (of which ++Rowan and Papa Benedict indeed may be counted) can be victims of zeal exceeding prudence, or of seeming prudence exceeding responsibility. The tragedy here is enough to nearly hear echoes of "Quo vadis, Lord?" (and what followed.)

Is it any accident that the Risen Saviour greeted the Twelve with peace and words about forgiveness? His risen body still bore the wounds of the cross - He would suffer with his Church, much as he would remain with us, till the end.

Sad though the situations are, it is no sense ignoring them. These few links, and the other pages linked from them, can give those unaware some idea of the matters.
My (rarely dominant) pragmatic side is sighing that this should be some Easter season - for "A says we did this - but B did even worse..." I'm sighing once again since the media reports mention that Pope Benedict did not mention the sex abuse scandals in his Easter address. What would one expect - "Christ is Risen - let's talk about sex crimes"? I'm seeing more and more that Christ had wisdom in not answering Pontius Pilate or the High Priest - entirely because it wouldn't have done any good.

Though this does not have to do with sexual abuse, coincidentally I recently was doing research about the industrial schools, Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, and other institutions the Catholic Church maintained in Ireland. (One of the reformatories was staffed by the congregation of Sisters who were my own teachers in childhood, though I know nothing of its operation. Several were staffed by the Good Shepherd nuns, whom I had long admired.) I believe that Dante may have reserved a section of hell for the practises of which I read. Yet it was clear that there were those who were more creating a purgatory - atonement for sin, to avoid punishment in the next life, and to prevent further offences on earth.

Without agreeing at all with many approaches, I could see (just from points of view to which I'd had exposure overall, not in relation to such institutions) how very complex they are. Punitive attitudes could be viewed as penitential - encouragement to remain in an institution for life could be intended to shield the 'fallen' from jeopardising salvation by being in occasions of further sin. Removing children from mothers who did not live in accord with Christian sexual morality was intended to protect the children's souls. A life of penance for the 'Magdalene' was atonement that would shield her from future sin and satisfy some supposed divine need for justice. Fear of being sent to institutions where the life was dreadful would be hoped to deter 'falling' - and kindness and support to, for example, unwed mothers was judged to encourage immorality. (I have noticed, and this with deep sadness, that the 'fallen' who were not criminals often ended up institutionalised because they received no love or support from their own families!) I hardly would justify the methods, but I can see very clearly how difficult it is to 'step into the shoes' of those who, probably with noble intentions (and a desire to present alternatives to the workhouse or prison), employed approaches that today would be seen as abusive and degrading. Children who had been sexually abused by outside acquaintances or family members (and who had to testify in court - not in a fashion such as would be the case today) would often have been warned not to say the dirty things that were done to them - as if the child were sinning in speaking of having been a victim of criminal violence.

Indeed, it is perfectly true that many people were subjected to abuse of some kind, whether sexual or otherwise. Yet the truth tends to be mixed with lies in perceptions. Those who dedicated themselves to staffing institutions, and this in a time when social services as we know them were unknown, had mindsets and methods which would make one cringe today, yet most of them were seeking to serve, to observe the gospels, and to care for the spiritual welfare of those in their charge. If I seem to be defending abuse, or even an image of a God who wants us to hate ourselves enough to become lovable, that is very far from true! My pain is in that the minority who were infected by hatred or power, and caused horrible damage, will be the ones who are remembered - and that those who were sincere will be tarred with that brush unjustly.

"Covering things up" would have devastating consequences. Those guilty of heinous crimes indeed inflicted permanent, devastating damage - and there are enough documented cases of when those in authority were guilty of effectively letting this run rampant by neglect of their own responsibility. Still, in times (not so far off, as I'll treat below) when there was not much known about certain crimes, the idea of keeping things secret to prevent scandal did have a basis, however the outcome can shock us now. Scandal often does turn people against the Church (if not the faith.) Things also escalate, and by no means only in relation to sex crimes. If someone, for example, were a missionary and later was found to have been guilty of stealing on a large scale, the tendency would be for headlines about this not to lead to "Suchandsuch was a thief" but "see, and that group pretended they cared for the poor, when they all were only looking for wealth and power."

++Rowan is a brilliant theologian, but (though I dislike Jansen just as much as Calvin...) undoubtedly opened wounds that go back for centuries in saying the RC Church in Ireland, faced with trying to survive despite the mistakes of the hierarchy, had lost its credibility. In relation to the US priest (who was terminally ill), Pope Benedict, then facing a dilemma, I'm sure, of how much Rome should interfere in a diocese, and perhaps seeing nothing to be favourable in defrocking a priest who was near death (and making huge headlines in the process), has to seem one step short of an accomplice. I dare-say that, had Cardinal Ratzinger defrocked the priest in Milwaukee, there would have been headlines of another sort - the big, bad, paternalistic Grand Inquisitor, with his European ways, having dared to meddle in the affairs of the "American Catholic Church." (For the record - there is nothing in canon law at all which prevents reporting criminals who are clergy to the police. In cases of dioceses, religious communities and the like, Rome rarely becomes involved on any local level - it is left to superiors and bishops.)

Satan's lies are so clever. (I'm speaking figuratively, yet mourning for the Church in total - those mentioned in the articles, other than the criminals of course, are often among the best of clergy.) They are lies mixed with truth to attack - and those who truly are devout can find they've had their noblest, most charitable instincts 'used' in the process. Perhaps my own great innocence and naivete are showing here, but I can easily imagine (before the details of paedophilia were known as they are now) that the re-assignment of one who seemed to be cured of his tendency was viewed as charitable and discreet.

I hope no one will mind my quoting from a post of my own, which I composed when a forum on which I participated then was discussing the Geoghan case, and ensuing scandal, which occurred in Boston. This follows here:

I was sure Satan was laughing aloud at the aftermath of the paedophile scandals in Boston some years ago. (No - I am not a paedophile, nor was I ever a victim of one - and I don't know a soul in Boston and have never even been there.) In reading of the incidents, I certainly was chilled by such sheer wickedness as that of Geoghan - a predator who targeted the young children of single mothers primarily. I was also very pained to see that, despite his having repeated incidents reported, there was no move to remove him from being in the company of children. But there is another, more subtle, work of the Liar from the Beginning, which has a wider scale and, overall, a destructive effect on far more people. First, if a priest who is completely innocent were to be accused of paedophilia, he would be assumed to be guilty even if there were not a trace of evidence. (The moment the accusation hit the media, I'm sure many people would remember, perhaps, that he once said hello to their kids in front of church...) If he were to be completely cleared in an investigation, it would be assumed that he was guilty and the church was 'covering up.' As well, priests in general are cut off from the work with others (not only children, though I knew many a kid to have great benefit from association with the clergy) which once had a large role in bringing the gospel message to others in a tangible fashion. There is a popular assumption that every priest is either a paedophile or shielded one.

Anyone who is expecting me to defend the likes of Geoghan, or to minimise the grave actions of those who actually did shield him or others like him, must be drinking perfume. Yet I can see elements which could have made bishops or superiors who were in good faith make honest mistakes which today can look like conspiracies.

When I read of the case in Boston and some others, it struck me that, even in the fields of psychiatry and criminal justice, in depth knowledge of paedophilia is very recent. Some paedophiles, priests or otherwise, who were returned to jobs in which they would deal with children had been pronounced 'cured.' True paedophiles (and sex criminals of all kinds) are often deceitful, charming, and capable of manipulating anyone - often including prison psychiatrists, parole boards and the like. Those who were in the priesthood (though they'd have only been a tiny percentage) would have had the violent criminal's ability to be a chameleon - sensing what mattered to others, and meeting the description. In a climate which so emphasised obedience and conformity, I've no doubt that they seemed models of both.

Sex criminals, contrary to notions which I still am amazed to hear, are not, for example, overwhelmed by a young girl's beauty or giving in to pressure coming from celibacy. (They normally are far from celibate. They've had sexual experience on every part of the spectrum, and often with more than one person at a time!) It is far from a weakness springing from attraction - it is an attack - a perverse need for power that those with no conscience will express in a fashion which involves degradation, terror, manipulation and so forth.

There are many examples one can give of how, in psychiatry, notions about molesters which were prominent only a few decades ago were mistaken. (And I'm not even referring to the presumption that those who really are celibates just have to be sick!) For example, parents whose daughters had been molested were not supposed to express horror - it was assumed that the girl must not feel 'guilty,' or she would be inhibited in her later sex life. The sad truth is that those subjected to such horrid abuse will have a host of problems, the least likely to be 'inhibition.' Those who were victims of such abuse may have an enormous drive towards violent, degrading sexual acts - the 'deviant' who would make others shudder not so long ago too often was horribly damaged as a childhood victim. They may never be capable of loving sexual relationships later, and those who are devout will have neither marriage nor enriching, loving celibacy as an option. They will face no choice except total continence with perverse drives always haunting them - and not only because of the abuse but the other sort of 'cover up' (where the horrors could not be admitted lest they feel 'guilt') - also flawed but well intentioned, and based on a way of thinking that was in accord with the 'wisdom' of science at the time. It isn't only those who are religious who can be mistaken...

I've grown weary of the chestnut that Roman priests would not be paedophiles (...the number who are apparently is grossly overestimated) if they only could marry. Marriage is no cure for the situation - it only gives paedophiles kids of their own to torment, and wives to degrade with the weapon of that insufficient variety of acts is what makes the wives to blame for the crimes.

If bishops were clearly aware of crimes of this type, particularly multiple incidents, it is horrifying if they continued to keep the perpetrator in service. Yet I wonder if that often was the case. A singular, minor incident (were that all that was known) could be misinterpreted. Sadly, the still prevalent idea that this is a lapse in chastity rather than a violent crime could distort perspective (and this bearing in mind, as I mentioned earlier, that those in criminal justice and psychiatry did not understand the situation in any fullness until very recently.)

Most lapses in chastity are the result of human weakness. One could have had an affair with a woman (or man) and still be a good priest. It certainly is possible (and common) for people in any state of life to repent of fornication or adultery. The sin would need to be dealt with, of course, and I'm not denying the spiritual damage which would require much healing, or the other consequences which could arise. But such sins as fornication do not indicate perverse needs for power, violence and the like - nor does an incident of such an occurrence mean a continuing tendency. It is abuse of a normal inclination, not indication of the nature of a psychopath. Certainly, a priest who fell into fornication could have painful remorse as part of such repentance. The sex criminal will fake it brilliantly, but, where the idealistic and innocent could see his going on pleasantly as showing a great faith in divine mercy, the sad truth is that he has no conscience (or true remorse) at all.

Anyone, in any state of life, could have compassion on one who, for example, committed fornication and repented. Unfortunately, the violence of the paedophile could be mistaken for a lapse in chastity - perhaps because one supposed that little boys were more available or something along those lines.

Lies could keep violent criminals in business. They also can make perfectly good and innocent people suspect. (I believe Francis of Assisi was quite correct in placing destroying someone's reputation on a par with murder.) No wonder Satan always was called Father of Lies.

The sad part is that humanity does not at all need any preternatural beings to propagate lies - or to justify motives to themselves. Many of us can do that very well on our own. True tragedies are enough to make our skin crawl, but we can blow these up into "everyone is this way," and it is then that the Father of Lies, appealing to our best nature and true convictions, has us in the palm of his hand.

Monday, 5 April 2010

From the sublime to the ridiculous (or, Christ is Risen - Yeh)

Christ is Risen!

It fascinates me that many of us mortals are highly complex. (The trouble is that, when I meet those who are basically simple, including 98% of Franciscans of course, I tend to take this for a wry joke, but that's another topic for another post.) I'm laughing at myself even more than usual this week. I'm an irreverent (if pious) peasant with very high-brow tastes in liturgy and music - renaissance lady who loves the salty talk of the pub - at once totally Romantic and flavoured with the pragmatism which dominates in nearly everyone in my family - I could go on, but I think you get the picture. For anyone new to this blog (...only the chronically over-religious are repeat visitors...), I'll comment that I tend to forget, since it is so much a part of me, that I'm really into the liturgy, scriptures, and theological writings, to the point where many of my gestures are based on these. I've caught on that this isn't totally universal. I know better by now than to 'greet one another with a holy kiss' unless I'm amongst Italian Franciscans (there are breeds of Christian who'll take this as an attempt to make them), and I don't try to reconcile with anyone before Communion (because they are likely to hang out on the Internet and think this is manipulative.) Yet I still forget that not everyone is going to greet other Christians, from now till Trinity Sunday, with "Christ is Risen!"

I get so wrapped in liturgy that those who know my irreverent side may mistake this for being theatrical. I wept a good deal last week - during the Palm Sunday procession, when I saw the lilies on the cross at the Vigil, when I heard 'on the night he was betrayed' on Wednesday (though I've heard those words in the Eucharistic prayer no less than 300 times a year since I was aged 12.) The services last week were utterly out of this world! I thought someone might have to find a butterfly net to get me off the ceiling, in case I levitated. (What if I floated out of turn and harmed one of the new stained glass windows, for which there was a capital campaign?)

Jumping ahead, because I'm in a silly mood today... One of my guilty pleasures is found in the Agnes Browne novels, penned by the hilarious Brendan O'Carroll. I tucked them into my bag to read on the train for my endless travelling to church last week. They are far from being great literature, but the conversations in them are some of the funniest in print, especially if (as I am indeed) one is acquainted with people who actually talk as do Brendan's characters. I genuinely do know people who, for example, would say "by the time I caught up to you, you were gone," and it's probably a bad sign that I understand exactly what they mean.

Brendan's priceless Agnes Browne uses the expression I know so well, "yeh." This is not to be mistaken for a German Ja or New York Yeah, since it means nothing (or whatever one wants it to mean.) One example of its use will be noted in telephone conversations between close family or friends. If one is phoning anyone in those categories, no "good morning" or "hello" is required when the other party answers, since decorum is unnecessary (and possibly stuffy) with intimates. It is not necessary to identify oneself, since one's voice will be assumed to be recognised at once. Ergo, when the other answers, one may merely say "yeh."

On Easter morning, a friend phoned me, and, when the caller ID made me aware it was a Christian on the other end, I naturally (...for me) answered with "Christ is Risen!" She responded, "Yeh." (That's not quite as bad as another friend who said, "Lor', Elizabeth, did I wake you up?")

I have no addiction whatever to children. (Not that I can't take individual children.... sometimes. But not en masse!) I always sit in the chantry (a little section that is a separate chapel, though it doesn't have any wall separating it from the main seating) for the Easter vigil, so I won't be cramped and can sing out. (I really do shout "The Lord is risen indeed," and I just soar on the splendid "Christus vincit!" arrangement, which has notes above the staff.) We (...thank God...) had only one baptism this year. I could handle that the baby howled throughout most of his baptism - little babies I do love. But I hadn't been banking on that relatives of said child would crowd the chantry with a host of toddlers. (My guess is that, with the vigil being so long, the little ones were hidden somewhere and just appeared for the baptism and afterwards.)

I remembered how I once heard a Church of England priest (a strong-boned, somewhat androgynous, tall woman, who nonetheless had a bell-like soprano voice like an angel) chant the Eucharistic prayer impeccably in a church where I mystery worshipped. (It never fails... let me mystery worship any place totally unfamiliar, and it will be the one Sunday of the year when there is a special service aimed at little children.) She had the kids join her around the altar during the prayer, and (being a mother, and therefore knowing all too well how tiny ones are), said, right before time, "now, I'm going to sing this prayer, and I don't want anyone doing this (and she illustrated hands clamped over the ears and giggling.)"

Naturally, at the Vigil, the kids covered their ears and giggled when I sang out "Jesus Christ is risen today," but, when I hit the high notes on the "Christus Vincit!", they not only did the ear thing but utterly cracked up. (Well, all right... I'll admit that I grinned and winked at their young mothers... who, unlike the priest I mentioned, probably were new to the game - the toddlers were probably their first children. Kids always do that, as I well know. But I almost laughed myself, remembering how an old friend of mine, also one not to suffer little children to come unto him, used to mutter, "lollipop sucking, sticky little bastards..." I didn't go so far as to make such a comment - but I'm stupid enough not to catch on that the infants hardly would have caught my own weird humour when I muttered pleasantly, and in Latin, "all you holy virgins, pray for us.")

For Easter, I utterly dressed to kill - heels (despite that my foot, on which my iron fell two weeks ago, still isn't fully healed), picture hat with a flower - so none of the Baptists, or even Jehovah's Witnesses, in my neighbourhood felt they had to pass me tracts. There are many churches in my neighbourhood. The Anglican thoroughbreds look like horses. The Catholics and Methodists look as if they are on their way to the gym or a picnic. The 'non denominational' evangelical group wear tee shirts printed with slogans that misquote the scriptures, and are just so 'happy' I wonder what they've been snorting. But the Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses look as if they are about to have tea with the queen. (One of them cornered me not long ago, for some reason thinking I was a Muslim. I also had two at the bus stop preach at me that Satan is in control of the world. I rarely show off, but those two got an ear full, all very restrained of course, but quoting everyone from John in Greek to the patristic writers. After all, they came to me!)

I really did want to write some striking meditation on resurrection, deification, and the like today. But between "yeh," Brendan O'Carroll, the lollipop suckers, and so forth, I decided to let my silly light shine before men. I sometimes catch on that my perspective is a bit weird. (My more pragmatic relatives thought that "Easter duty" meant "putting collection," and my ultra-pragmatic father, insulted when my mother wanted him to make sacramental confession the night he was dying, filled the hospital hallway with his shouted, "Did I kill somebody? Did I steal?" How I OD'd on the mystical I do not expect to discover in this life.)

Some time ago, I made the comment on a theology forum that, however orthodox one might be (and my orthodoxy could not be questioned), one does come to realise that about the best one could hope for is that Christians will agree on the first four words of the Nicene Creed. It did not occur to me that, whenever I mention a text that is part of the Eucharist, I automatically but unknowingly think of the Latin version. (Yes, pedantic sorts, I know the Nicene Creed was originally in Greek! But I've discovered that, when one is studying ICEL English texts, one must always go back to the Latin 'originals' for the comfort of knowing that these translations are even worse than my Greek...) Another on the forum immediately posted, "I believe in One?". Would you believe it took me a minute to catch on?

I raise a glass to my readers... and to the endless weird Christians who have remembered, through two millennia, that there's more to this season than chocolate, eggs, and rabbits. I'll raise a second glass, after all this Lenten fasting, to those who didn't remember - every family needs its diversity of thought.. :-)