Returning from Vacation

I’m back from vacation.

A homeless woman asked me to fill her perscription for percocet.  My secretary, warning me not to be such a softie, said “We’ve got a big bottle of ibuprofen.”   My associate says, “Priest.  Drug dealer.”

A parishioner tells me, “I don’t want him to burn in hell later.  I want him to burn in hell now.”

Another parishioner thanks me for helping her body heal from cancer.  I don’t take credit.

Four of us gather to discuss the bulletin for an hour.   We discuss for an hour topics like:

1) why put music in the leaflet?

2) why use 12 point font rather than 11 point font?

3) Garamond vs Helvetica

4) Why we should use incense during the mass?  Even if we don’t swing it around.  (This was, of course, a digression.

5) Does everyone know the lord’s prayer?  Should we take it out of the leaflet to save space?

6) Why do we have a leaflet anyway?

7) Is it a homily or a sermon?

8) Do we know when the bishop’s coming?

Reflections on General Convention

I’ve generally stayed out of the General Convention fray. After reading the long missives, the assertions, the arguments, the proposals and the plans I’ve come to a realization.

I’m addicted to the internet.
I need a media diet.

Sometimes I’m moved by the occasional blog; inspired by a just cause; convinced by a conservative. But most of the time I think, “I just spent an hour, or two, doing what?”

I could have written a small pamphlet explaining the liturgy to newcomers, or given Paul V a call. He just had a pacemaker put in. I should have taken out the trash and done some weeding. I could have reconnected with friends.

Instead, engaging a screen.

I can’t resist, however, making a few observations.

  • Although I’m a fan of the Archbishop, he is becoming more obscure.
  • When conservatives leave a church, there will be a greater number of liberals making policy.
  • Conservatives will remain surprised that there are more liberals in the church, confirming that conservatives are bad at math, except when calculating how many people are leaving the Episcopal Church.
  • Liberals aren’t very good at reading scripture.
  • GC wanted to remind people that we don’t submit to the queen of England anymore.
  • We submit to our own queens.
  • Although LGBT have positions of authority in every part of the Episcopal Church, they continue to think they don’t have power in the church. Don’t they know all the bishops still wear pink and lace?
  • GC addressed other issues besides sexuality. I’m not sure what, but they did.
  • And finally, the ABC has suggested a two track system for the church. I’m disappointed that it is only two.

Obama’s Leadership on Health Care and DADT

Obama seems to have disappointed liberals with his suggestions that progressives should stop hammering senators about health care, and his (lack of) speed at reforming “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” I think they are examples of astute political leadership.

First of all, even though Obama may make these suggestions, it does not mean Progressives should listen to dear leader and stop saying stuff. If anything, Obama is implying organize better. By simply not impeding progress, he is actually enabling forward movement – but the work will revolve around groups organizing popular support.

What ideological progressives forget is that good politics is not a matter of diktat. Political calculus requires constantly negotiating between different competing interests. For this reason, Obama’s comments to progressives should be seen as shoring up as many favors and political capital as he possibly can among conservative Democrats. And it seems to be working. He has an impressive number of victories. Obama is carrying out his agenda with steady, if slow, progress, laying down a solid foundation for future political victories. He understands that politics is not done by shouting ideological platitudes at people. It’s done by building relationships. By showing loyalty to conservative democrats, he builds good will with them – capital he can spend later. It is a smart maneuver on his part.

It does not mean we should obey him.

If Obama presses too hard on DADT at this time, he may force conflict in a fashion that will undermine his tenuous relationship with the military establishment. If he were to push DADT now, he risks both losing that battle and making it impossible in the future to manage other important political issues, such as curtailing defense spending. He has stated his position about DADT clearly already: it will end. But he will do it when he has his ducks lined in a row so that other important policies don’t get sacrificed.

This does not mean we should stop complaining. Not at all. I believe that Obama expects and desires that we organize. In fact, by being temperamentally conservative, he helps progressives avoid political complacency – which is exactly what happened under Clinton. They should not be frustrated that the organizer in chief is as conservative as he seems.

His implicit message: continue organizing. It is enough that we have a president that will listen.

Deliver Us From Evil

Greta Christina has a review of the movie.

Often I get visitors from the Roman Catholic Church. Many of them have been in congregations where priests have, in some way, abused their authority. A local pastor had a gambling addiction; the bishop had an affair; a priest in Croton had molested young boys. They say to me, “I love God and the church. I just can’t be in that family any more.”

Andrew Greeley once argued that the fundamental problem is pride and secrecy. The priests don’t listen to the people; the bishops don’t listen to their priests, and the holy see doesn’t even listen to its bishops. People can report to priests; priests can report to the church, but as long as the imperial church places itself above the rule of the state, without being held accountable, it will continue to harm people and open itself to further disaster.

In the early 1940′s a priest in my current church exposed himself to a young boy. He argued it was “sex education.” There was a local controversy. The wardens and half the vestry wanted to excuse the priest, but the bishop stepped in and in a letter argued, “what if it were your boy?” The bishop let the state handle it, and upon their verdict defrocked the priest. The bishop wrote a letter to the priest: “Our prayers are with you. But you have done irreparable harm to the family and to the church.” The case went to court. The bishop followed through.

Thus, my experience has been of bishops doing the right thing, even when parishioners themselves were convinced otherwise. The church is a wide organization.

I know the movie’s story. I get it a lot. I hear from people fleeing the church. Even my uncle, a Roman Catholic, joked with me after telling him about a break-up I’d had: “you aren’t the kind who likes little boys, are you?” He laughed, thinking he’d told an innovative, hilarious joke.

“Heh. Funny.” I replied.

I did not think it was funny.

Ms. Christina is an Atheist. She isn’t content to be a secularist or a humanist, a skeptic or a materialist. Atheism is the true way of understanding the world. Religion is for idiots. It’s really about the supernatural. Justifiably, she carefully unpacks the inconsistencies of particular propositions uttered by the religious.

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, but she does it with passion.

Here isher review.

And I have a couple complaints.

First, she believes she’s learned the entire nature of the church from a movie.

Yes, a movie. Not much reading on the early fathers, or Aquinas, a church historian or even the New York Times.

Here is what the church is about for Greta: When you teach people — especially children — that the only way to God and Heaven is through the rites of the Church, administered by Church authorities? When you teach people — especially children — that Church authorities have a special connection to God and goodness that ordinary people don’t have? When you teach people — especially children — that defying the Church and its earthly representatives will condemn you to permanent, infinite burning and torture?

The Children!
I thought this was the standard fundamentalist cry!

I understand: if you want to example the insanity of American Foreign policy, analyze Cuba; if you want to learn about graft, just examine how stadiums get built. We learn from lenses. And this is Christina’s lens. Is it the right one?

While she turns to the harm that religious institutions do, I wonder how empirically different it is than the eight years of mismanagement and real harm done to the entire world by the previous political administration. Were they religious? Not really. The religious right were their electoral pawns. Most of the neo-conservatives weren’t Christian, or religious. But she seems, however, to think the church behaves differently than other institutions that are shaped without checks and balances.

It’s a fairly pedestrian view: our culture doesn’t support sex and children. Blame the Catholic church! It just seems a little more tawdry than when it’s done in a public school or the boy scouts.

Why doesn’t she ask what the church really says about itself, and what its intentions are? I learned it was motivated by a love of the world and all people, not merely political power, working for their interests. It may be that the two are intertwined, and that it is difficult to tell one from the other. It is a view that can, and should be challenged. But all the evidence should be laid out, not just the ones of the detractors.

Arguing she understands the true maliciousness of religion through this movie is a lot like saying we know a lot about Germany by watching movies by Leni Riefenstahl. Or, saying that Stalin is a good example of Atheism in power. Is it absolutely true? Probably not. Did Germans participate? Are there atheists who would like to round up the dull and send them to Siberia? I’m sure a few. As she condemns the entire church, rightfully, for the coverup, there is an insinuation that somehow sexual abuse is worse because the church is the church. It reminds me a bit of how Michelle Malkin critiques Obama.

It’s not as if atheists are the only people critiquing the church. So is the church. Plenty of Roman Catholic priests are already critiquing the institution. Ms. Christina overreaches in implying these terrible events represents the entirety of religious work, or that finally damns the religious “experience.” There is no doubt that the secrecy and lack of accountability destroyed the lives of many. Where as she might say it is all too religious. I would argue, it is all to human. Alas.