Critiques & Controversies: August 2003 Archives

Time to Confront Yet Another Personal Flaw

Coming from a very fundamentalist background, and being quite insecure in some aspects of my Catholic Formation, I tend to shy away from writers whose work suggests some heterodox accretions. I feely acknowledge this weakness, and I am working on trying to reduce its prominence as a guiding principle. What I read as heterodox is not necessarily so; nor is my judgment always on target on these issues.

As a result, for some time I have been wary of Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI. I haven't known quite what to make of him. He originally came recommended by a source I have come to admire and trust--Mr. Nixon of Sursum Corda. I had read previously, and even subsequent to the recommendation, some columns that I found slightly off-putting. For example, it seems that there were several columns in which he referred to God as She. Now, this would seem a trivial enough problem; however, this kind of reference seems to fly in the face of FATHER, Son, and Holy Spirit. Is this language simply a trope--a linguistic trick to shock one out of complacency, or does it reveal a deep and underlying flaw in theology. Much more importantly than that--have others observed similar characteristics in Fr. Rolheiser's writings? Or did I just get a mistaken impression from a couple of columns--perhaps too quickly read?

I ask because another very trusted, very trustworthy sort has brought him to my attention once again. I don't wish to cast doubt upon Fr. Rolheiser's work, but I also don't really wish to spend a lot of time in the sea of new age syncretism with someone who doesn't think language matters. (Despite the wretched appearance of some of these hastily cast-off entries, language really does matter to me.)

I would appreciate any and all contributions to better understanding how to approach (or not to approach) this writer. Thanks.

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Show Music in Church The


Show Music in Church

The point of this is not to complain about music, but to speculate about what it might ultimately do. Yesterday I returned to the parish I had long attended because I needed to get to an earlier mass than I can normally attend at the local Shrine. My local parish hands out the bulletins at the beginning of Mass, assuring that for most people Mass preparation time is spent reading up on the events of the coming week. This has always been the case--mildly disturbing, but as it tended to keep people quiet, not anything worth making a fuss about in itself.

Later when I glanced through the bulletin, I discovered seminars in centering prayer (about which I am uncertain--I try to weigh all of the authorities on either side. I think that it is something that too easily slips into gimmickry and method--though M. Basil Pennington, a major proponent of Centering Prayer, insists that it is not). Much more bothersome, and becoming nearly epidemic, I read that the Women's Group of the parish was going to spend a morning "walking the labyrinth" at some nearby locality. This I find more profoundly disturbing. Again, it is perhaps without cause. But these kinds of things remind me profoundly of days when I was more associated with Pagan and Wiccan types who performed similar rituals. I know as well that walking and praying can be a very effective combination, so I suppose much of this is a matter of the emphasis of the individual.

But more disturbing and disheartening than all of this was the service itself. While still ostensibly solidly orthodox and faithful, the music consisted of a series of show-tune like melodies that seemed more for the exaltation of the cantor than for the spiritual setting of Mass. Much of the music was simply unsingable--consisting of strings of staggered triplets that spanned far too many octaves for a normal congregation to embrace. More, I noted a common strain in that they seemed to exalt the individual rather than God.

In moments like these, the heartsickness of some who lament the paucity of Latin settings for the Mass is driven home hard. In my mnd, fairly or unfairly, I have associated the music program from this once-magnificent parish with elements such as labyrinth walking and centering prayer. The whole brew seems a little off to me. Discordant elements tend to breed discordant elements.

I know that it need not be this way because the Parish wasn't this way before, nor is the Shrine I attend at all like this. But it seems to me that once this element has crept into a celebration, it tends to poison the entire system. I don't know that labyrinth-walking can be said to be poison, but it at least gives off fumes that strike one as dangerous.

All of this is a way of supporting those who fight hard to maintain their parishes' integrity in the Mass. It is to lend some support to those who would give us masses with Chant rather than the modern song books. It is to say that while complaint is still not the better way, constructive action undertaken to reform is absolutely necessary--and that action might take the form of a letter to the Pastor of the Church.

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People Who Know Jesus Intimately


People Who Know Jesus Intimately

I never fail to be delighted by people who know Jesus more intimately than would seem possible. Take for example this blurb:

The Book of Enoch was a favorite of Jesus and where he discovered the title "Son of Man" to use in his public work.

What a rare and magnificent privilege to have access to Jesus' library, or if not His library, His personal scriptorium, or at least His intimate thoughts. I did not realize so much about Jesus was so readily known or discernable by so many. I do so love learning about these unnoticed byways on the path of salvation.

Of course it's wildly improbable that Jesus might have picked that phrase us from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel where it occurs about 50 times, or even Daniel where it actually refers to Him. I know my speculation is way out of bounds. These people undoubtedly have certain knowledge that it was the book of Enoch that was the source.

[This is one way I rate the reliability of a site offering religious works.]

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The Culture of Complaint


The Culture of Complaint

I was recently listening to someone rant on NPR about the horrors of Disney World and the ultimate cultural destruction it signifies and I grew progressively more annoyed. I live near the place, many people here hate it for a great variety of reasons. There are a great many reasons to despise the Disney congolmerate, not the least of which is the manner in which they treat some of their lesser-paid employees. However, to rail on about the horrors of Disneyworld strikes me as a setting up a straw man for the world's problems.

I lilke Disney World for a couple of reasons. First, as a Florida resident, it attracts enough people here so that I'm not killed by state income tax. When I moved here from Ohio at the same pay, I got an immediate 7% raise because there was no state income tax.

Second, I enjoy it because children do enjoy it, and they enjoy not because it is Disney but because it is fundamentally enjoyable. You walk around a world that is utterly unreal and encounter utterly unreal folks, and you have a pleasant day. (That is except for a minority of sturm und drang New York or Brazilian tourists who drag their little ones through an exhausting day and spend their time red-faced screaming at some over-tired child who only wants to go back to the hotel room and rest and be cool... but then, that's a different rant)

There is much to dislike about Disneyfication of society. However, to dislike Disneyworld itself seems a waste of time. If you so disike it--don't go. Don't take your family, advise your friends to stay away. But don't waste your time and everyone else's ranting and raving about its horrors--myriad though they may be.

I see this as symptomatic of our society. If I don't like this or that thing, I must assure that no one else enjoys the same by pointing out all of its many faults and problems.

Why not just forego the displeasure of the place? Why try to denigrate and destroy what many are obviously enjoying? What harm is there in enjoying it?

Like the great many quizzes that circulate about St. Blogs--some take them, some don't. But what sense would there be inveighing against them and trying to persuade everyone that pressing a few buttons one way or the other is somehow tearing down society.

Again--I don't care for the novels of Michael Crichton--I could write a dissertation on their errors, their problems, and their many flaws--but why? Rather than do so, I neither read them, nor in large groups tend to comment on them. In a one-on-one conversation I might give an opinion, but I have long got over the need to make a point of dispising vocally everything that is popular. Popularity is not a crime.

So, I've gone on at length to say simply what everyone's mother probably told them at one time, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." And this is a good credo for commenting on most things. There are some exceptions--people should be warned about things that are potentially spiritually damaging. They should be warned about things that once seen cannot be unseen. But for the most part, if something is popular and you don't like it, the better part of valor is to share that dislike with close friends who want to hear about it. To shout it from the rooftops seems bad form.

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A Disagreement with C.S. Lewis


A Disagreement with C.S. Lewis and with Yancey

A shorter quote just sparked a notion--

from Soul Survivor--C. Everett Koop Philip Yancey

C.S. Lewis shocked many people in his day when he came out in favor of making divorce legal, on the grounds that we Christians have no right to impose our morality on society at large. Although he would preach against it, and oppose it on moral grounds, he recognized the distinction between morality and legality.

Of course we will have to exercise the skill of ethical surgeons in deciding which moral prinicples apply to society at large. If we fail to exercise that skill, once again we will risk confusing the two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and that of this world

And yet, it is somehow fine for a Christian to live in a society that consistently seeks to impose its morality upon the Christian framework?

I think there is a grave, typically Christian error here--an error I believe stems from a misunderstanding of Jesus's statement to "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. . ." Many seem to read that as saying there are two kingdoms--one of God, one of this world (as articulated above). Such a reading strikes me as utter nonsense. The kingdom of this world is ordained by the will of God one cannot live in it without also living in the Kingdom of God because He is all pervasive. What Jesus says to me in the phrase is not that Christians should buckle under to the Caesars of the world, but that once they are present, all due order should be observed, and Christians should be good citizens of that kingdom. However, when and where possible this world should as much as possible reflect the glory of God. So, do Christian's have "a right to impose their morality on others?" I would argue that every law is an imposition of morality and Christians have as much right as anyone else to impose their morality in a legal, civil, compassionate and humane way.

That said, the Christian morality should not be the morality of individual Christians, but the morality that comes from living in a Christlike way. That is, because we determine homosexuality to be immoral (for example) does not mean that we can pass laws that would not allow a gay man a home to live in or food. Morality must reflect first and foremost God's love and law, not our own wishes tarted up as God's Will.

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Those Who Sin Differently Than We Do

More Yancey--from whom I appear to be learning a lot. This book has been a most worthwhile and eye-opening read. Admittedly Yancey has his own viewpoint, and perhaps his own agenda. Nevertheless, I feel I have much to learn from him.

Today--C. Everett Koop (actually not, but you'll see).

from Soul Survivor--C. Everett Koop Philip Yancey

"I've noticed that Christians tend to get very angry toward others who sin differently than they do," one man said to me, a man who directs an organization ministering to people with AIDS. I've noticed exactly the same pattern. After I wrote in a book about my friendship with Mel White, formerly a ghost writer for famous Christians and now a prominent gay activist, I received a number of letters condemning me for continuing the friendship. "How can you possibly remain friends with such a sinner!" the letter writers demanded. I've thought long and hard about that question, and come up with several answers which I beleive to be biblical. The most succinct answer, though, is another question, "How can Mel White possibly remain friends with a sinner like me?" The only hope for any of us, regardless of our particular sins, lies in a ruthless trust in a God who inexplicably loves sinner, including those who sin differently than we do.

Too often I have discovered myself in the situation described above. I have also noticed it in others. I have friends who have been in a number of different relationships in and out of marriage who rail against homosexuality as a sin. I have good Catholic Friends who scream and rant and rave against abortion doctors and yet have had surgery to assure that they will have no more children.

We do tend to like least those whose sins differ from our own. If we're murderers, we can't stand thieves. The only real solution is to focus on the fact that we are all sinners. Is a homosexual any worse a sinner than myself? I would argue that the sins differ in kind, not in number. And yet consistently we seem to make out that homosexuality is a greater sin than say heterosexual promscuity, or allowing our poor to go without food or medical care.

Another example--abortion is a heinous, horrible sin and crime against God and humanity. So too is abandoning a young mother and her child to the care of some governmental system that may or may not provide her with a sufficient means of support in life. So also is depriving anyone of the basic necessities of life--food, water, shelter, and medical care--and yet we constantly face initiatives that would stigmatize illegal aliens and migrant workers in such a way. We can exploit their labor, but we want nothing to do with their problems.

Perhaps the best solution for this is the solid awareness that we are all sinners. We all, each one of us, every single day of our lives, give God and Heaven some cause for sadness. Yes, there are degrees of sinners and of sin, but do we stand as the Pharisee or as the Publican? Do we say that our sins are not so grave as those of our neighbors and thus inveigh against them with a strength that sometimes suggests madness?

Sin is sin, heterosexual, homosexual, abortionist, self-mutilator. We are all sinners before God, and when we really grasp that, we will have little time to spend accusing others, because we will be accusing ourselves and asking God for His mercy and help that we might stop the insanity of our own self-destruction. Grace alone may step in, pick us up, cleanse us, and set us back on our way. Better that we watch our own stumbling steps, than that we spend all of our time looking up from the muck to rant about how others stumble.

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Thanks to the PoMo Crowd


Thanks to the PoMo Crowd We Have:

This delightful example of interpretive gibberish extracted from an excellent Wall Street Journal Opinion piece.

To be sure, the new gospel's disciples do not generally jettison Scripture outright. Instead, they radically reinterpret it, using techniques imported from America's postmodern universities. Walter Brueggemann, a theologian quoted in a pro-same-sex-union Episcopal publication, put it like this: Scripture is "the chief authority when imaginatively construed in a certain interpretive trajectory." Approached this way, inconvenient passages can be dismissed as inconsistent with "Jesus' self-giving love."
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On Dealing with Sinners


On Dealing with Sinners

In a response to a post below, Erik suggests a question which is in urgent need of an answer. To wit, how do we deal with the sin of homosexual behaviors?

To rephrase the question more broadly, "How do we deal with sinners?" And the answer, as you might guess, is obvious--just as we have been doing up until now. We are all sinners and we are all children of God. Our commandment is to love our neighbor. Love does not express itself in endless harangues against how a person lives. Homosexual behavior, while a mortal sin, is no more mortal than say, theft, adultery, gossipmongering, scandal. That is, while we are well aware of the nature of the sin of a person professing homosexual behavior, others sin as well and we do not know it.

Do we ignore the sin? No, but we do not allow the sin to stand in way of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. We do not let it stand in the way of true equality and justice before the law and before God. We do not countenance the death of sinners, as God does not wish it. In short, we do not let the sin stand in the way of love and justice.

The only way the truth can be received is through a heart filled with love. When we fall short of perfect love of the person as person, our ability to share the good news of salvation is impaired. If we are constantly harping on the sin, we will alienate the individual. Our lives must reflect the love we know, and through that image of the living God, encourage the sinner to seek Him. If we are asked, we must be prepared to state boldly and gently what we know to be the truth, and we must be prepared to live it and defend it.

So, as Erik points out, many of us know caring, talented, loving, generous people whose known sin is homosexual behavior. We are inclined to regard their sin as "not so bad." I see this in part as a work of Grace. We cannot let our feelings about the person disguise the fact that the behavior involved is seriously disordered and gravely sinful. But these feelings allow us to show some facets of God's all-encompassing love. And our calling is to reify that love to the degree possible.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from August 2003.

Critiques & Controversies: July 2003 is the previous archive.

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