Month: February 2013

Repent! The Third Sunday of Lent

Lectionary #30 Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12 Luke 13:1-9   Repent!  It is a word that is out of fashion.  It is a command that conjures images of a crazy person wearing a sandwich board sign that reads “The End is Near!”  It is a word that many of us do not take seriously or apply to ourselves with any frequency.  I had a rather unfortunate conversation recently with a man who told me rather proudly that he is “a recovering Catholic.”   He told me that he couldn’t be part of the church because it was an institution that just makes people feel badly about themselves.  The Church tells us we’re inadequate, not good enough, bound for hell, etc.  It makes us feel guilty and calls us sinners.  It’s so horrible he’s been recovering from the experience for the last forty years.  Mostly, I wanted to say “Get over it!” but instead I merely said mildly that hadn’t been my experience of the church.  I should have asked this man if he had noticed that the church and world had changed in the last few decades.  We live in an age of self-congratulation that prizes self-esteem.  We live in an age where many people have difficulty recognizing any fault in themselves and don’t seem to know how to construct an apology in a way that admits actual...

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Sexual Abuse, Humility and the Papacy

As the Papal Conclave grows closer, the media coverage of clergy sexual abuse (in part spurred by recent events) has grown louder.  This is as it should be.  The anger and pain caused by the actions (and omissions) of those in whom the faithful place implicit trust cannot and should not be anywhere other than the front of the minds of the Cardinals as they discern their decision. Whatever their shortcomings may be in proposing solutions (Frank Bruni’s recent rant against celibacy was particularly misinformed, as James Martin demonstrates here), the media have done the Church a great service by reminding us of the horrific scope of this problem–and its toll on our most vulnerable community members. This is a problem for the whole Church, of course, but it is a particular problem for the Pope.  In his final public address today, Benedict XVI shared his personal feelings about the huge burden that was placed upon him. Tellingly, he said that there were times he felt like “the Lord was asleep.”  The Church is about to welcome a new person into the position of taking on this huge burden, and he must be the kind of leader who can go beyond the (admittedly good) things Benedict did in addressing sexual abuse. This person should not follow the example of Cardinal Mahony, the disgraced former Archbishop of Los Angeles, who...

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Darkness in the Mirror: The Challenge of Zero Dark Thirty

One of my first blog posts was about the death of Osama Bin Laden.  In Relief or Rejoice? Reflections on the Death of Osama Bin Laden, in which I concluded As Christians, it is appropriate to feel a strong sense of relief but not rejoice in the events of last night. Aside from rampant invocation of Bin Laden’s death as “trump card,” for democratic security credentials during the election season, Bin Laden’s death has largely been out of the public discourse…until   Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow’s movie was certainly the most controversial of the Best Picture nominees.  On all sides, many have lined up to criticize Bigelow’s cinematic account of the CIA hunt for Bin Laden. Most of the critiques follow along these lines – either she is guilty of making a pro-torture movie that gives the impression that torture directly led to the discovery of Bin Laden’s courier and location. Or, it is critiqued for soft-peddling the extent and violence of United States CIA torture (euphemistically known as enhanced interrogation).  In the immediate aftermath of the movie, John McCain and others threatened a Senate investigation to flush out her sources. Ms. Bigelow identifies herself as a lifelong pacifist, and yet her last two movies examine war and violence. The complexity that won Hurt Locker best picture appears to be part of what is most controversial about Zero Dark Thirty....

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On Torture, Transfiguration, and Liturgy as Ethics

Last week, I participated in a couple of online discussions on why people attend church.  Most church goers suggested that it was about “being renewed” and “getting filled up again” for the week.  These aren’t wrong answers about worship or church, but I find myself wondering if going to church “to be filled” is a strong enough answer, especially in an age like our own. Most of my students (and at one point in my life, I counted myself this way too) consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” and would say that a prayer like the “Our Father” or a “Hail Mary” or the Eucharistic Prayer is just a rote prayer that doesn’t mean anything.  Most of the time at Mass, people don’t look like they’re getting anything out of it, and in fact a lot of them look downright bored or angry.  My students know, themselves, that they only reason they’re at Mass a lot of times is because they felt coerced into it.  On their view – religion is mostly trappings – and my students and others feel trapped by those trappings – unable to see or experience God, and not liking what they perceive as the rules and regulations that coming with the trappings. Moral theology, on their view, is simply a reiteration of the rules and regulations.  By contrast, they know they can go for...

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Inequality…by the numbers.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending an event at Columbia’s Heyman Center for the Humanities on Global Inequality with an all star cast:  Joseph Stiglitz (nobel laureate and Columbia Professor), James K. Gailbraith (Professor at the LBJ School of Government, University of Texas) and Branko Milanovic (Lead Economist, Research Department, World Bank). While most of the economic discipline is only recently beginning to look at inequality as a problem, these 3 have been trying to get our attention for sometime….and now FINALLY – Discussing inequality is all the rage.  (Even the IMF, not known for being “liberal” “progressive” or “heterodox,” is now concerned with current levels of inequality.  For those not part of the income inequality or wealth inequality debates….the recent IMF report is a big deal). All 3 presentations were stellar (and funny!) and I recommend people interested in inequality pick up one or more of their books. All 3 have released acclaimed tomes on inequality in the last 3 years. For now, I ‘d just like to share some of the data – because it helps put some things in perspective. From Milanovic’s presentation (his paper and graphs can be found here) Globalization has had led to uneven gains. Relative gains – the 2 big “winners” are the “Global median” (emerging middle class mostly located in India and China) and the Global 1% (the top 11-12% of the US income...

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