Montag, 29. November 2010


Wow. Bush really is trying to inflict as much damage as he possibly can before he loses power. Lucky us.

The Bush administration has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as "demeaning to women."

... "A Woman's Concern is persuaded that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness," the group's Web site says.

They have every right to hold that opinion and work to advance it through their own organization, but why is someone who views sexuality that way being put in charge of my sexual health without any input from me?

"God Hates Americans!"

Ha ha ha.

In unrelated news, here's an International Herald Tribune article about the importance of Catholic-Anglican cooperation in the face of Christianity's decline in the West -- and major problems inside both denominations. It's written by a Jesuit priest (no big surprise there) and raises some good points.

Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams have their work cut out for them as they face a common enemy - secularism and the disappearance of the Christian faith in the West. By the year 2020, we're told that 80 percent of all Christians will be people of color who live in the southern hempisphere. The average Christian in the world today is poor, often living as a minority in a non-Christian country.

Yes, our theological differences remain, but what we can do together we must do together.


A conditional "Yahoo!"

Will Pope Benedict choose the lesser of two "evils"?

The Roman Catholic church has taken the first step towards what could be a historic shift away from its total ban on the use of condoms.

Pope Benedict XVI's "health minister" is understood to be urging him to accept that in restricted circumstances - specifically the prevention of Aids - barrier contraception is the lesser of two evils.

The recommendations, which have not been made public, still have to be reviewed by the traditionally conservative Vatican department responsible for safeguarding theological orthodoxy, and then by the Pope himself, before any decision is made.

The rethink, commissioned by Pope Benedict following his election last year, could save millions of lives around the world.

Holding my breath over here...

St. Bono

Read his speech to the National Prayer Breakfast. Some excerpts:

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

...A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it…. I have a family, please look after them…. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

I nominate Bono for sainthood, leather pants and all. We need a saint with leather pants.

Godspeed, Betty

Betty Friedan died today.

Friedan's assertion in her 1963 best seller that having a husband and babies was not everything and that women should aspire to separate identities as individuals, was highly unusual, if not revolutionary, just after the baby and suburban booms of the Eisenhower era.

The feminine mystique, she said, was a phony bill of goods society sold to women that left them unfulfilled, suffering from "the problem that has no name" and seeking a solution in tranquilizers and psychoanalysis.

"A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, 'Who am I, and what do I want out of life?' She mustn't feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children," Friedan said.

... As the first president of NOW in 1966, she staked out positions that seemed extreme at the time on such issues as abortion, sex-neutral help-wanted ads, equal pay, promotion opportunities and maternity leave.

But at the same time, Friedan insisted that the women's movement had to remain in the American mainstream, that men had to be accepted as allies and that the family should not be rejected.

I'm trying to think of a fitting tribute. It would be fun to burn a dish towel in her honor, but I have a feeling she would prefer that I and other women pursue our goals and dreams, whatever they might be -- and whether or not a husband, children and a house in the suburbs are part of them.

Rest in peace, Betty.

Unwrapping our gifts

I cantored at my Catholic church today. (Yes, I'm still two-timing.) It's been eight months since I stopped taking voice lessons, I've been out of choir for a year and a half, and I hardly ever sing anymore except when I'm cantoring (every three weeks or so). Not surprisingly, my range has lessened; I can't hit a high G with confidence or ease, even after I've warmed up for half an hour. The lower notes, too, are less confident. I don't hit them quite as precisely as I did a year ago. Nobody notices (it's a very small difference), but I notice, and it annoys and saddens me at the same time.

Worst of all, though -- because I never had this problem before -- is that I lose my place in the music, sometimes twice in one Mass. It's embarrassing because it's noticeable, and it's shameful because I know I should be better than that. Humility is a good thing, but humiliation makes me want to give up. (Hey, it doesn't take much these days.)

And then there's that nagging feeling deep down inside that I'm burying this wonderful, beautiful, joyful gift God gave me. He gave it to me in order that I might use it to glorify Him and edify His people. It's on me to pursue ways to make it flourish and reach my potential as a vocalist. Voice lessons may be out of the question for the moment (I can't fit them into my day -- why don't they make days 25 hours long? That would work), but nothing prevents me from practicing what I learned. I could do better. I could offer God more than I am. But I'm not.

How many other gifts am I casting aside? Which ones am I "too tired" or "too busy" to use in His service? I have to cut myself a little slack because of medical issues and work, but the responsibility ultimately lies with me -- with my choices. I need to make different ones. That's what love is: acting, not just saying or thinking. Maybe part of my current spiritual malaise can be attributed to that. Choosing to honor God with what I can give Him will strengthen my relationship with Him.

... I hope.

(Sorry for the silence lately. Work has been pretty hellish. Posts may be sporadic for a while.)

Quick updateupdate

In case you missed it, here is a place to which I will not be moving. And I'm sure they're just as happy about that as I am.

In other news, apparently parents can't be bothered to supervise their kids' television viewing:

The cable-television industry's plans to offer packages of family-oriented programs don't give viewers enough control over channels they consider indecent, Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said yesterday.

He told reporters afterward he has pressed cable companies to offer a la carte programming or make their family-oriented packages "more robust."

He said that if cable companies don't offer channels a la carte, they should adopt a decency code that matches the standards of over-the-air broadcasters including CBS Corp. and News Corp.'s Fox network.

First: Oh, please. Fox's decency code? Have they ever seen "Arrested Development"? (Well, OK, maybe that's why it got canceled. But I've never seen any other show manage to cross the line so often without technically crossing it. Fabulous. I really hope Showtime does pick it up.) Second, WTF? It sounds like Martin wants the cable industry to offer what Ned Flanders got: 600 channels with 599 of them blocked out (all but the Christian channel).

You know, kids, there's an alternative: TURN OFF THE DAMN TV.

Just popping in to say:

It's about damn time. But I bet my parish won't go for it. My former parish, I should say. I now go to a church where the girls are even allowed to preach! Golly!

Seriously, I didn't realize how good it is to have female priests until I started going to a church that has one. I don't miss the patriarchy at all. Good luck to those of you who are still stuck with it.

This is what they call a complex

Dear conservative American Christians:

You claim to be the majority in this country, and by many measures, you are. You use this fact to argue that everyone else should live according to your rules by law. You cannot then turn around and whine that you're being persecuted and everybody HATES you and people are AFRAID of Jesus and abortion was made legal solely to PISS YOU OFF and gay people want rights because they want to SODOMIZE YOUR CHILDREN and MAKE YOU WEAR LEATHER PANTS AND EYESHADOW. "Persecuted" and "majority" do not go together unless you insert "by the" between them. Gays have a much more valid claim to the persecution label than you do -- and, by the way, you're the persecutors there. You vastly outnumber the gay people. To sum up, "People disagree with me!" does not mean "I'm being persecuted!"

By far my favorite quote in the story: "You guys [conservative Christians] have become the Jews of the 21st century." (Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute) I know a fair number of 21st-century Jews who would beg to differ, particularly those who have had close encounters of the "Jews For Jesus" kind.

And I know none of this makes a damn bit of difference to conservative Christians who believe they are being persecuted and see criticisms like this as further proof that they ARE being persecuted because NO ONE BELIEVES they are being persecuted. I just thought I'd get it out of my system anyway.

Talking sense

I haven't said this very often lately, but hooray for the Vatican.

A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.

... Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project STOQ, or Science, Theology and Ontological Quest, reaffirmed John Paul's 1996 statement that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis."

"A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false," he said. "(Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof."

He was asked about comments made in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who dismissed in a New York Times article the 1996 statement by John Paul as "rather vague and unimportant" and seemed to back intelligent design.

Basti concurred that John Paul's 1996 letter "is not a very clear expression from a definition point of view," but he said evolution was assuming ever more authority as scientific proof develops.

Poupard, for his part, stressed that what was important was that "the universe wasn't made by itself, but has a creator." But he added, "It's important for the faithful to know how science views things to understand better."

This is what I don't get about some of the creationism proponents: Don't you want your kids to understand the scientific theories that underpin much of what we know about biology, physics, geology, cosmology and so many other sciences? I know that argument can be turned around: "Why are you afraid of letting kids learn about intelligent design?" -- but the thing is, I'm not afraid of that. I am afraid of what happens when religion starts getting taught as science, just as I am afraid of what happens when religion starts getting too cozy with politics. Science class is not the place for the teaching of religious beliefs. You can carry yours in with you, but they don't belong in the textbook. Maybe it's Galileo guilt, but Catholicism has been pretty good about that for the past few decades...


My state will still have a Democratic governor for the next four years, much to some Republicans' dismay. I sort of sympathize with their feelings right now -- the race was tight, and it's never fun to lose; we Democrats certainly felt that way last year -- but this paragraph in the AP analysis just cracked me up because it makes the Kilgore supporters sound like such drama queens:

As Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine's victory over former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore became apparent Tuesday night, GOP conservatives were shocked into silence. Men and women wept and children huddled in prayer circles, eyes closed and heads bowed, as Kilgore's victory party became a wake.

(I would laugh if it were about people from any party, just to be clear. The sentence just makes it sound like a nuclear war broke out. I'm pretty much laughing at the AP reporter. I hope.) The weeping is bad enough, because let's face it, nobody died.

I think the more reasonable reaction is numbness or disappointment, though, not abject despair. And for some reason the bit about children huddling in prayer circles strikes me as absurd. I can see that happening in the wake of, say, a school shooting, or after Rosa Parks' death. But Virginia's governor is constitutionally limited to one term (which is bizarre, but I digress), the Republican candidate won the lieutenant governor spot (what will happen to him after he is convicted of fraud, I wonder?), and the GOP retained its majority in the legislature. All in all, not much to cry about. The Republicans can take comfort in their two U.S. Senate seats.

On another bright note, this paragon of virtue lost. Thank God:

Craddock told the class he had a friend who'd studied in Africa and told him the reason there's an AIDS epidemic there is because "Africans will have sex with anything that has a pulse."

... Regarding his comments about African sex, Craddock said, "Sex runs wild in Africa. One of my best friends went to Africa and got her doctorate from Johns Hopkins [University] studying the AIDS culture in Zimbabwe. And she said one of the main reasons [there's so much AIDS there] is that sex is just rampant in Zimbabwe."
However, he added, "I was not talking about anybody here or black people [in general]. I was talking about a specific circumstance. If you have sex with anything with a pulse, AIDS is going to spread."

First of all, you can't say things like that, even in the context of "my friend told me" or "let's pretend," if you are in the public eye and then be shocked at the backlash. (Paging Bill Bennett.) Second, he repeated the statement and defended it! Gee, I'd love for him to be my kid's youth pastor. Yes, AIDS is a problem in Africa, and some of the sexual practices that are common in certain countries there are exacerbating the problem, but you can't put it the way he did. You just can't.

At any rate, Amy Sullivan has an interesting take on Kaine's win and what it might mean for Christian Democratic candidates in the future:

Tim Kaine's victory in Virginia ... shows how a religious Democrat can neutralize the recent Republican advantage on cultural issues and character.

Kaine talked about his faith consistently, starting from the very beginning of his campaign. He didn't throw it out as an honor badge for which he should get instant credit, but explained how his work as a Catholic missionary in Central America formed his commitment to public service. And although Kaine relied on his Catholicism to explain his personal opposition to both abortion and the death penalty, his insistence that as governor he should not impose his religious beliefs on others by blocking either one was an argument voters--if not pundits--understood and supported.

I'll be honest: Kaine didn't excite me much. (Neither did Kerry, except in his capacity as Not!Bush.) But I'm not sure it's good for politicians to be too exciting. I'm losing my taste for extremism and, well, flash. Kaine knows how to govern, doesn't do stupid things, is politically moderate, and seems to be a good guy. I hope he lives up to that assessment. In the meantime, congratulations, Tim.

I'm still alive, I swear

It's been a pretty busy week at work. I don't know where the day goes.

Last weekend I went to a Christian writers workshop at a Methodist church in Vienna, Va. The keynote speaker was the managing editor of The Upper Room magazine, which I had not heard of -- it turns out to be very similar to Living Faith, a Catholic daily devotional I often use. I went to the workshop feeling pretty nervous because I didn't know what to expect -- little old ladies who wanted to write for Guideposts? Evangelical fundamentalist stay-at-home moms? Card-carrying Republicans?

Turns out the people who came to the conference were ... Christians. Christians of all stripes. Fun, intelligent Christians who wanted to use the gifts God had given them in ways that would lift up His people. In one breakout session, someone mentioned Annie Lamott, whose books about writing and faith are among my favorites, and a bunch of people started animatedly discussing why they liked her too. They talked about "shitty first drafts" and how hard it is to make time to write and their doubts about whether they had anything worth writing about. They were, in other words, a lot like me. My fears were unfounded. We were from different churches, backgrounds and stages of life, but the things we had in common were all that mattered.

The workshop didn't do much for me in technical terms, but it gave me something far more valuable than, say, a lesson in how to write a book proposal and pitch it to a publisher: It got me thinking about talent and why God gives it to us. I'm not sure how much of a coincidence it was that the Gospel reading the next day at church was the parable of the talents. I don't think God "gives" us gifts (musical abilities, eloquence, writing skills) so much as He asks us to take custody of them, the way the master in the parable entrusts his money to the servants. God gives us these treasures with the expectation that we will use them to further His kingdom here on Earth. How are we doing?

I don't like the answer to that question right now, but facing the answer is the first step in changing it.

By the way, when I went to look up the Guideposts site just now so that I could link to it, I happened across a really fantastic column. There go my preconceived notions again. Dammit! At this rate I'll never be able to make fun of anything ever again! Oh, well. There are always celebrities to mock.

Faith in action

This isn't the sort of story we see very often. It's the story of a woman who reached through her pain, with God's help, to forgive.

Nancy Eileen Harris sat on the witness stand Tuesday facing the man who had beaten, bound and cut the throats of her minister husband and daughter. She did not tremble with rage. She did not curse Russell Sedelmaier.

She smiled at him and, in a voice that sounded almost motherly, she said: "Russell, Russell, because I value the gift of life, and I know God forgives and loves all of us -- especially you -- I support a sentence of natural life."

... Nancy Harris, a small woman dressed neatly in a black suit, said she is satisfied with the life term.

"I really believe capital punishment continues the cycle of violence," she said.

Nancy Harris said she remains in shock, unable to work, and struggling to understand God's role in her pain.

"I still have some genuine questions between myself and my maker," she said. "And yet, I'm just sensing the answer lies in the future and that things will be well. My faith is being ultimately strengthened, but it's not a simple process."

This is the kind of Christian for whom we should give thanks.

Light in the loafers?

The day the story broke about the Vatican's new restrictions on gays in the priesthood was the same day I found out about the pope's fabulous shoes. Coincidence?

I'm sorry, but there's no question about it: Those shoes are fabulous. I don't think the pope is gay, but seeing as how the Vatican document in question bans from seminaries those who participate in "gay culture" and apparently does not define what constitutes "gay culture," it does make one wonder if a man who favors fabulous red Prada loafers (and, apparently, Gucci sunglasses) would be allowed into seminary under the new rules. There are some who would say no...

(And are metrosexuals still allowed?)

Talk about strange bedfellows

It's a match made in regulatory heaven!
Trying to preserve their electronic pulpits, the nation's religious broadcasters find themselves in the unusual position of fighting an effort by anti-indecency groups to thwart channels offering racy programming.

The issue involves a debate over whether cable companies should continue offering subscribers mainstream and niche channels in bundles, or let them buy what they want on an a la carte basis.

What started largely as a consumer issue has now morphed into a larger controversy involving whether cable operators should be required to continue exposing subscribers to niche channels, including religious ones, that people might not order on their own.

The debate has created unusual bedfellows: religious broadcasters that want to keep getting their messages out, and free-speech advocates who are fearful that the unbundling of cable channels is being used by anti-indecency advocates as a tool against provocative shows. It also pits televangelists against their usual allies in trying to clean up language and sex on TV and radio.

Christian broadcasters, including such big names as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, worry that changing the current system will cut into viewership. If that puts them on the opposite side of where they usually stand in the indecency debate, Crouch said, "so be it."
Well, if the price of maintaining their viewership (and contribution levels) is siding with such evil channels as LOGO and here! (the new gay networks -- you just know they're talking about those here), so be it, right? Christianity is about sacrifice!

Seriously, I think this quote sums up their dilemma:
"We don't just want to preach to the choir; we want to reach the unchurched," said Paul Crouch Jr. of Trinity Broadcast Network in Santa Ana. "The bottom line is that we want to be everywhere on cable."
Sometimes sharing the Gospel means being in the world and letting people make their own choices. Not all Christians like that idea. The world is scary, after all, and it's much easier to hide out, to block all the "bad influences" it throws at us, than to deal with those influences and make the tough decisionss.

Besides, can't any idiot with digital cable set parental controls anyway? (I know I accidentally blocked "Queer Eye" or something yesterday when I hit the wrong button. If I can do it, anyone can.)

Dissension in the ranks

This is what I was afraid of -- and, I suppose, sort of hoping for, because it means there's leeway. If it's left up to the individual bishops, I don't suppose the status quo will change much; it can't have been easy for a gay man to be out and ordained in a conservative diocese anyway, right?
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said yesterday that under a new Vatican directive on homosexuality, men with a lasting attraction to members of the same sex can still be ordained as priests, as long as they are not "consumed by" their sexual orientation.

Bishop William S. Skylstad's flexible interpretation of the document, which was officially issued in Rome yesterday, was sharply at odds with the position of some other U.S. bishops. They said the Vatican intended to bar all men who have had more than a fleeting, adolescent brush with homosexuality.

"I think one of the telling sentences in the document is the phrase that the candidate's entire life of sacred ministry must be 'animated by a gift of his whole person to the church and by an authentic pastoral charity,' " Skylstad, the bishop of Spokane, Wash., said in an interview. "If that becomes paramount in his ministry, even though he might have a homosexual orientation, then he can minister and he can minister celibately and chastely."

Skylstad's comments are the opening salvo in what promises to be a wide-ranging battle within the U.S. church over the document's implementation. Bishop John M. D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., said yesterday that Skylstad's interpretation is "simply wrong" -- a rare public clash among bishops, who usually go to great lengths to preserve an image of collegiality, even when they disagree.

"I would say yes, absolutely, it does bar anyone whose sexual orientation is towards one's own sex and it's permanent," D'Arcy said of the document. "I don't think there's any doubt about it. ... I don't think we can fuss around with this."
I suppose we'll see what develops. In the meantime, I wonder how many gifted, qualified seminarians who are truly called to the priesthood the Church will lose. I'm guessing the number is not insignificant.

I love the Germans

Well, I suppose it's one way to make the Bible more relevant to young, er, readers. And pervy old men, who, let's face it, need the Bible too!

Seriously, it's probably got less blatant pandering than this "Bible" available at your local Christian store. "Hot beauty tip: Girls don't need to wear trashy makeup. The natural, virtuous glow that you'll get from loving Jesus is all you'll ever need to be truly beautiful!" (I'm paraphrasing. But not by much. I really wish I were kidding.)

Save our holiday!

Don't let them take the namesake out of the celebration! (Thanks to JJ for the find.)

On a more serious note, Slacktivist has a great post (the comments are interesting, too) about Jerry Falwell and the imaginary war on Christmas. The Salon article to which he links is well worth a read, too.


On several occasions over the past week or so, I have been accused of being nitpicky or too focused on the small stuff. Sometimes that happens in the context of work, where it is (to a point) my job to be nitpicky. (Hello, copy editor here.) But last night it came up in a conversation with a close friend who was not at all surprised that I didn't think the "Chronicles of Narnia" movie was all that great. "I figured you'd let the little stuff distract you from the big picture" was the gist of it.

Thing is, I think we're all like that to some extent. And on the flip side, we all sometimes get so caught up in the big picture that we miss the little stuff, which is actually important. (Again: Copy editor here. It may look little, but when the lawsuit hits, hey! Turns out it mattered!)

Ahem. Anyway. The point is, God sees the big picture far better than we could ever hope to, but He also pays attention to the details, even those that seem insignificant to us. His eye is on the sparrow; He numbers the hairs on our heads. Then again, He doesn't get so caught up in counting sparrows that He loses sight of everything else. But we're rarely so perceptive. Some of us tend to ignore the big picture in favor of the small, and others do the opposite. Some do both. That's just the way we are.

The thing about the movie, for me, was that it dragged in places, added some scenes to amp up the "action" (they made the film drag more, actually), and just didn't come together the way truly great movies do. I enjoyed it, and I'll probably see it again sometime, but I doubt I'll buy the DVD. It didn't sweep me off my feet. The book, however, does. All of the "Chronicles of Narnia" books hold a special place in my heart and imagination, and they probably always will. They're flawed, too, but I can look past those flaws where I could not do so in the movie. I don't think that means I'm getting bogged down in the details -- it just means that I find the big picture in a different place than my friend did. And I think that's the way things are meant to be.

Think about it. A newspaper needs "big picture" people who have the grandiose ideas and push for bigger, better things, but it also needs its detail people, the ones who ask, "How can we make this happen? What will it cost? How much time will we need? ... How is this person's name spelled?" A church needs visionary leaders who inspire and push, but it also needs people to answer the phones, clean the toilets, buy the coffee, light the candles, and balance the books. And God has given the Church (meaning all of us) great leaders, deep thinkers and passionate activists -- but He has also given it people who serve in "detail-oriented" ways. That's their call. The Church can't survive without both types. None of us were created to stand alone.

So I'll keep minding the details, and I'll trust that God will temper my tendency to lose sight of the big picture by sending people into my life who do see it -- and can point it out to me.

(But I won't clean their toilets.)