Friday, March 31, 2017

Mike Pence and women

In the news: Mike Pence’s Marriage and the Beliefs That Keep Women from Power ...

Seventy days into the Trump Presidency, many of us find ourselves discussing the propriety of a married man eating a meal in the company of a woman who is not his wife. Vice-President Mike Pence—a hard-line evangelical who has repeatedly called himself “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order”—refuses to dine extramaritally ....

As soon as the piece was published, ostentatious and divided reactions immediately flooded Twitter. Matt Walsh, a conservative Christian blogger, asked, “Seriously what’s the appropriate reason for a married person to go out for a meal alone with a member of the other sex (outside of family)?” Erick Erickson, also a conservative Christian blogger, replied, with apparent seriousness, “planning your spouse’s surprise party or funeral and that is it.” The jokes came quickly: “honey it’s not what you think- we were planning your surprise funeral,” one person wrote. Others were earnestly horrified. How could you rule out meals with a person of the opposite gender over the course of an entire career? That Pence was able to do so speaks to an incredible level of inequity in the workplace; no successful woman could ever abide by the same rule. How could you sex-segregate a thrice-daily activity and still engage in civic life? (One married man told Walsh that he used to plan church-choir practices with his married female colleague over dinners out at the local Chinese buffet.) And how, without occasionally going out for a sandwich, could a married man ever make or keep female friends? .....

More: How Pence's Dudely Dinners Hurt Women

I guess Pence either doesn't trust himself alone with a woman, or he thinks that women cannot be trusted if they are alone with him. This is a a common conservative view that sees all interaction between men and women as reducible to one question: "Do I want to boink that?". And in this particular case, it very well describes the antithesis of feminism .... women aren't people, they are what people (you know, men) use for sex, so every encounter of men with women revolves around women's 'usefulness'. Creepy.

The other side of this is also well illustrated by Pence - men who see women this way don't like women and they don't trust women. Pence has done more than his share politically to make life hard for women ...

- Pence in 1997: Working mothers stunt emotional growth of children

- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a law this year that mandated funerals for fetuses

- Equal Pay Opponent Pence’s Indiana Has 10th Largest Gender Pay Gap Nationally

- Mike Pence Opposed Paid Leave Proposals While In Congress

- And of course ... Pence's war on Planned Parenthood

I saw a study once that showed that it was political/social conservatives who are the most obsessed with sex. I think the present leaders of our country .... the misogynistic Republican Congress, the repressed VP, and the pussy-grabbing President ... are good examples of that finding.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Finding God in Prison

I don't want to hog more than my share of space here; so I'll be brief.  I just want to recommend that you read this very moving piece by Michael Hallett on the Commonweal site:
It is appropriate to the season, dealing as it does with finding redemption in the midst of suffering.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What They Don't Want You to Know About Prescription Drug Pricing

Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs); everybody loves to hate 'em.  They are intrusive, complicated, and an unwelcome layer of bureaucracy. However most people credit them with being a necessary evil, a tool in the kit to try to hold medical costs down.  And originally that was their purpose.  However, this article discusses how they morphed into part of the problem, instead of part of the solution:

 "If you have drug coverage as part of your health plan, you are likely to carry a card with the name of a PBM on it. These middlemen manage prescription drug benefits for health plans, contracting with drug manufacturers and pharmacies in a multi-sided market. Over the past 30 years, PBMs have evolved from paper-pushers to significant controllers of the drug pricing system, a black box understood by almost no one. Lack of transparency, unjustifiable fees, and massive market consolidations have made PBMs among the most profitable corporations you’ve never heard about."

"Americans pay the highest health-care prices in the world, including the highest for drugs, medical devices, and other health-care services and products. Our fragmented system produces many opportunities for excessive charges. But one lesser-known reason for those high prices is the stranglehold that a few giant intermediaries have secured over distribution. The antitrust laws are supposed to provide protection against just this kind of concentrated economic power. But in one area after another in today’s economy, federal antitrust authorities and the courts have failed to intervene. In this case, PBMs are sucking money out of the health-care system—and our wallets—with hardly any public awareness of what they are doing."

"Even some Republicans criticize PBMs for pursuing profit at the public’s expense.... their desire for larger patient networks created incentives for their own consolidation, promoting their market dominance as a means to attract customers. Today’s “big three” PBMs—Express Scripts, CVS Caremark, and OptumRx, a division of large insurer UnitedHealth Group—control between 75 percent and 80 percent of the market, which translates into 180 million prescription drug customers. All three companies are listed in the top 22 of the Fortune 500, and as of 2013, a JPMorgan analyst estimated total PBM revenues at more than $250 billion."

"Why haven’t PBMs fulfilled their promise as a cost inhibitor? The biggest reason experts cite is an information advantage in the complex pharmaceutical supply chain....Says David Balto, an antitrust litigator and former top official with the Federal Trade Commission: “But these companies make a fabulous amount of money, even though they’re not buying the drug, not producing the drug, not putting themselves at risk.”'

This article is worth reading for a better understanding of one of the reasons why is so hard to get a handle on health care costs. There are vested interests which aim to keep it dark, deep, and complicated.

The High Price of Presidency

 I doubt that many people have any idea of what electing the Trump Corporation to the highest office in the land is costing us. I am fairly certain we will never know down to the last dollar.
 This week, the mayor of West Palm Beach and one of our Congresswomen went to the island where the media are penned up while President Trump is in town. They went to plead, conspicuously, for money. They were asking for millions of dollars --$5.8 million, plus $4.7 million, plus $4.3 million -- partly on the guess that Mr. Trump’s biweekly visits will continue year-around but also for security equipment the Secret Service told the city of West Palm Beach it needs to buy.
 That money would be on top of the money the county sheriff has to lay out in overtime -- $280,000 for the first five weekend trips of his presidency. The sheriff’s office started bleeding money while Mr. Trump was only a candidate. The sheriff expected to be reimbursed. He now knows better. The Secret Service politely listens to complaints. And politely dismisses them.
   The Government Accountability Office put the price tag for one President Obama visit here at $3 million. Presumably Mr. Trump is into the feds for a similar amount per visit. That’s in federal, not local, money. Hawaii hosted two Obama presidential visits and  is still waiting for $2 million from the same non-existent presidential visit pot our sheriff hoped to tap.
 Although Obama, like presidents before him, did a lot of travelling, he didn't go to the Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach every other weekend. And take foreign heads of state. This week’s added attraction will be Chinese President Xi Jinping.
  And Mar-a-Lago is key to where big added costs may be.
  You, see, unlike the Bush compound in Maine or Ronald Reagan’s California ranch, Mar-a-Lago is not just a home to Mr. Trump. It is also the private Mar-a-Lago Club where, (if you are invited and pay the $200,000  initiation fee) you can spend $14,000 a year in dues to have a room when you want to get away, drink Trump wine and play The Trump International Golf Course. The golf course. We will get to that.
  Mr. Trump might not be able to afford the mansion hinself if his paying guests weren’t paying for it. Which raises the unanswered question: Who pays the Club bills for Mr. Trump’s entourage when he comes? Whoever pays, the money goes to the Trump Corporation, Which is Mr. Trump.
  He has taken to calling the private club “The Winter White House.” I’m betting that eventually will mean a $400,000 initiation fee, instead of $200,000, for the Club. Shouldn’t a White House be pricier than just a private club?
 You may wonder where the town of Palm Beach is in all of these expenses. The rich folks winter there; West Palm Beach, the city, was built for the help. The town authorized a helipad so Mr. Trump can get to and from the airport without causing traffic jams. The authorization was reluctant because now everyone is going to want a helipad. But, in fact, the Mar-a-Lago Club is only a few feet into the town. Most of its traffic and security problems belong to the city where the help resides.
 And this: Mr. Trump does not go to Mar-a-Lago and stay there.  He spends part of the weekend making phone calls and taking meetings at Trump International Golf Course. His comings and goings all require motorcades of big, black SUVs with motorcycle escort for the 4.6 mile trip. (Does he has to make phone calls from the course because he can’t find a phone in any of Mar-a-Lago’s 126 rooms?)
 The SUVs are flown in before he arrives, sometimes on a C-5 Galaxy that has a cargo bay 80 yards long, sometimes on a slightly smaller jet. The cars are picked up and flown to the next place he is going after he leaves. There is other communications and security equipment aboard, as well, but I didn’t want anyone to think the President of the United States gets his motorcades from Hertz.
 Now it is possible that Mr. Trump will go to other of his properties for a Spring White House, a Summer
White House and an Autumn White House. No sense upgrading only one of his properties while his leading the free world. And it would be good – for his West Palm Beach neighbors --  if he spreads the expenses of his visits around a bit.  We have a president for our neighbor, and he's going to cost us even more than he will cost everybody else.

The Yearning: A Suggested Spiritual Practice

Saint Gabriel, Lake County, Ohio

Music and Spirituality: A Music Spiritual Practice

Singing in the Choir this Liturgical Year

Advent: The Yearning

I tried watching them; it’s a completely different experience.

Get the experience of people in the pews by listening without using the text below.
I have provided you with a large visual image of the interior of the church.
When I click on it my computer it gives me a black background.  Does yours?
My experience in the pews was less intense than now as a choir member. But there are good reasons for beginning with this lesser experience. I will explain in a later post.

Begin to experience the song as a choir member by using the text of the music  
As a choir member I have the text in front of me all the time, and have to focus on it a lot.
That along with repetition of hearing the music greatly increases appreciation for the song.

Begin to sing the song mentally.
My mental voice is a lot better than my physical voice! You may find that is true for you too 
I love the deep male voices of the Russian Orthodox liturgy.
My mental voice sings them very well. (I am a tenor).

Begin to sing aloud when no one is around.
I don't have a dog or cats so I haven't had to face the ethical problems of dealing with them.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Music & Spirituality: Personal and Community

Music and Spirituality:

Personal and Community Experiences

Singing in The Choir this Liturgical Year:

Music is an essential part of my personal spirituality, i.e. my lived experience of Christian life.
The ambient sound of my house is formed by our local classical music station. 
Several times a day the sounds of Gregorian Chant, Eastern Chant, Anglican Chant
and/or contemporary music fill the house like the hours of a Benedictine monastery.  
Internet resources have increasing connected my “house church”
with the larger world either with live services or archived music being experience by others.
On Sunday evenings the choices include Choral Evensong from Saint Thomas in New York
or Vespers earlier recorded from a Benedictine Monastery in Europe.
These monks retain the same Latin Divine Office
that I sang with the monks of Saint John’s Abbey Collegeville in my youth.
My copy of the Antiphonale Monasticum lets me continue that practice. 
Solitary life can be close to “heaven on earth.” 
There are many “solitary” and “Benedictine” options potentially available.
My solitary option includes an ecumenical range of local, national, international happenings.

Music is an essential part of the spirituality, “lived Christian experience,” of a local parish.
Like many other parishes what the people sing in this parish is mostly
from the Breaking Bread missalette provide by Oregon Catholic Press.
The choir provides the contemporary Christian music featured in this series of posts,
most often as preludes and reflection pieces.
They do record the music and make it available to the parish as CDs.
Unfortunately it is not posted to the parish website.
Our music and other Contemporary Christian music is available on YouTube. 
I tried watching them; it’s a completely different experience.

This Series of Posts on Music and Spirituality

Monday, March 27, 2017

To What Extent Are Race and Ethnicity Social Constructs?

Rachel Dolezal (now Nkechi Amare Diallo) is back in the news.
To refresh your memory, she is the young woman who identified as Black, and ended up resigning as president of the Spokane branch of the NAACP after being outed by her parents as Caucasian.  She has now authored a book, "In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World", to be released March 28.  In the book, she tells her side of the story.  Certainly she has been the center of her share of controversy.  The pre-release reviews on Amazon aren't promising, most of them awarding only one or two stars.  Some questions have been raised about how reliable a narrator she is.  However, one can sympathize with her struggles to provide for her children and make a living. She says that now no one will hire her and she is not far from being homeless. Her family's decision to out her in a very public way seems unnecessarily cruel.
To me, she raised a legitimate question when she stated:
"I wish Americans understood that race is a social construct, even if we don't want it to be," Dolezal argued. "The system of racial classification is fiction, and we need to thoughtfully evaluate whether perpetuating it rigidly or allowing fluidity across the spectrum best supports human rights and social justice."
Certainly she is not the first or only person to ever identify with a race or ethnicity they were not born into.  The earliest instance of this that I know of is Ruth in the Old Testament, who told her mother-in-law Naomi, "Your people shall be my people." The protagonist of the movie, Dances With Wolves, ended up by identifying as Native American.  I am acquainted with a young woman in our town who was born to Caucasian parents of European ancestry. There were problems in her family of origin.  She married a man who was a Mexican immigrant. The marriage ended in divorce, but she retained her Spanish surname. She speaks fluent Spanish and is dark haired and dark eyed. Her children have Spanish names, are bilingual, and she socializes mainly in the immigrant community. If they didn't know her prior to her first marriage, most people wouldn't guess that she grew up Anglo.
The problem seems to be when people attempt to deceive, or to turn the identity that they adopted to their personal gain or advantage, which is an objection that is voiced to Ms. Diallo's identifying herself as Black.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

How to save marriages: Replace romance with pessimism

We talked/argued at length about marital romance on an old C'weal thread. Here's Alain de Botton from the NYT who agrees with me:

... it doesn't matter if we find we have married the wrong person.  
We mustn't abandon him or her, only the Romantic founding idea upon which the Western idea of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can satisfy all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.  
... It might sound odd, but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our Romantic culture places on marriage. The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lord's Day Music; Digital Communities

Full disclosure; I have taken two courses at Notre Dame from Father Robert Taft. S.J a world class liturgist from the Byzantine tradition; so this presentation is very influenced by him 
The Lord's Day is the primal liturgical feast; Easter is an outstanding Lord's day rather than the Sunday being a little Easter.

The East maintains the Byzantine and Jewish conception of the liturgical day. The Lord's Day begins with sunset on Saturday (and ends with Sunset on Sunday). The West has remnants of this ideal in the Easter Vigil (and other vigils) and First Vespers on large feasts, and since Vatican II celebration of Mass on Saturday evening. Otherwise the West has operated mostly on midnight to midnight modern day often emphasizing as in the Anglican tradition Morning Prayer, Eucharist, Evensong rather than the Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy pattern of the East.

Below is a list of links to worship services and websites that focus on the celebration of the Lord's Day with music. All of the worship services have live links that is the celebrations go out over the internet at the time of service; however these services are also archived on the same website usually available the next day.

"He who sings prays twice"

I don't think it's known for sure who said that (apparently not Augustine after all) but certainly singing is good for you physically and psychologically, whether it is spiritually or not ... TIME magazine: Singing Changes Your Brain

The thing I miss most about not going to church anymore is the singing. I love to sing and have always sung to my pets :) and lately I've been learning and singing Moody Blues (and Justin Hayward) songs. When I was in high school I saw them in concert and also again when I was married, but I never really knew a lot about them. Recently, though, I've been reading up on the history of the band and posting the songs I especially like on my blog. What's fun is learning the words, searching for the best video version, and then singing along with it or singing to the cats. They are getting heartily tired of Forever Autumn :) Below are a few of their songs that I like the best. Do you guys sing too?

- Forever Autumn ...

- Never Comes the Day ...

- Lovely to See You ...

- Tuesday Afternoon ...

Is Trump meshugah?

Absolutely delightful article in Commonweal about diagnosing Trump using the Diagnostic Manual of Meshugas.

Best line is the last words of wisdom in the article which I violated by posting this.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dorothy Day / "Fresh Air"

Kate Hennesey was on "Fresh Air" today talking about her book about her grandmother, Dorothy Day. The book is Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty.

I have been out of town busy with familial affairs and haven't had time to give a listen, but saved this for Raber, who has a special devotion to St. Dorothy. Here's an icon he made of her.

--Jean Hughes Raber

Mary of Egypt: Desert Solitary

Photo of My Personal Icon*
Early in my graduate education as a social psychologist, I read the newly published THE DESERT A CITY  by Delwas J. Chitty.  It became a classical study in the field of desert Christian monasticism and the beginning of my life-long interest in this topic(1).

I  quickly realized I was a solitary, but in a social rather than a physical desert.  Two years as a Jesuit novice after high school told me I was a contemplative in action, but destined not to live in the Society of Jesus.  Undergraduate years at Saint John's University, Collegeville Minnesota convinced me I was Benedictine; the Divine Office is the center of my life. These three strands of DNA like a triple helix form the backbone of my spiritual life.

The proportion of Americans who live alone has grown steadily since the 1920s, increasing from roughly 5 percent then to 27 percent in 2013. This  Growing Number of People Living Solo Can Pose Challenges.  Pew says they are mainly young or elderly. Pope Francis  has been especially concerned both groups may suffer in a throw away economy.  While isolation can pose challenges Pew points out that many people prefer to live alone.

Mary of Egypt: Icon of the solitary life.

Since the LIFE OF OUR HOLY MOTHER MARY OF EGYPT exists in multiple versions, it may have been formed through a slow process of polishing as it was retold in oral and written forms. Maybe that is why It overflows with the spirituality of the desert solitaries.

The Greek word for desert is not limited to dry places; other wild areas without cultivation and social structures are included.  These environments  bring both freedom and danger, encounters with angels and devils.  Israel  was tested and transformed by revelation as it passed through the desert. 

Most of the solitaries in the physical desert were men.  There were far fewer solitary women. Women withdrew into the solitude of the inner rooms of houses in urban environments; they were often categorized as virgins and widows.  The Life of Anthony describes the desert as a city because so many men had gone there. However women solitaries in the cities were far more numerous. 

Most of the written literature on desert solitaries exists in two forms. These spiritual leaders gave brief wisdom sayings as hospitality to visiting solitaries who then circulated them when visting other solitaries. In time these became written collections. They were often alphabetized by the name of solitary, e.g. Anthony. The sSecond form consists of lives written by admirers. These were often fantastic. However evidence from the sayings is that solitaries were simple and down to earth at least in their advice. 

The Life of Mother Mary of Egypt is a good brief introduction to desert solitary spirituality. Her treatment by the Church as an Icon of Repentance should not obscure that.  Her potential significance as a model for solitary life and solitary leadership reaches far beyond Lent.  I will give some interpretive approaches to reading the Life as well as suggestions for personal and group spiritual practices.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


I don't want to be a posting hog ... maybe this post will being some of the others out to post in opposition, given that I doubt my opinion on this is the norm here.

I've been watching the confirmation hearing for Neil Gorsuch. I've seen much in the press about how the Democrats should fall in line and vote for him. I say they should not, that instead they should fight tooth and nail to keep him from being named a Supreme Court Justice. Why? Well, for so many reasons ....

- Because the Senate refused to consider President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland.

- Because the Trump administration is under investigation for colluding with the Russians to disropt our elections.

- Because Gorsuch seems to be for torture .... Where Does Gorsuch Stand on Torture? It’s Hard to Say ... and ... Neil Gorsuch was instrumental in defending George W. Bush’s torture program

- Because of Gorsuch's opinions in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases ... What we really know about US Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch based on his controversial Hobby Lobby decision ... and ... Gorsuch's Selective View of 'Religious Freedom' ... and ... What Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s SCOTUS Pick, Means for American Women

- Because he is no friend to LGBT rights ... Neil Gorsuch’s Disturbing Record on LGBTQ Rights

- Because of his view of Planned Parenthood ... Neil Gorsuch’s crusade against Planned Parenthood ... and ... Neil Gorsuch’s Nomination Is Bad News For Planned Parenthood

- Because he's against physician assisted suicide ... High court pick Gorsuch is harsh critic of assisted suicide

- And then there's the question of what he might do about Roe v. Wade .... Gorsuch: Roe v. Wade Is the 'Law of the Land'

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

P.S. to "Benedict Option"

Just in case you thought that all right-ish leaning Catholics were in favor of a Benedict Option of withdrawing and dropping out of secular society, check this out:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Is "The Benedict Option" Authentically Benedictine?

I have been reading Paul Baumann's article, "Detachment Plan", in the current issue of Commonweal, in which he reviews Rod Dreher's book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation:
Rod Dreher more or less advocates in his book that authentic Christians withdraw from the wickedness of the world and form their own culture.

In Paul Baumann's words: "In response to the collapse of Roman civilization in the sixth century, St. Benedict established monasticism, preserving the faith from the barbarian hordes. Dreher thinks proponents of liberalism, moral relativism, heedless consumerism, and of course “political correctness” are the new Visigoths, and pose a similar threat to the faith today. He goes further. It is time for “orthodox” lay Christians—and he won’t tolerate much shilly-shallying about what “orthodox” means—to form intentional communities that are separated in significant ways from the moral contagion of the larger culture. These communities will be family-centered (naturally) and presumably in some cases economically self-sustaining (good luck with that). They will most likely be anchored to a church or perhaps gathered around a monastery. (Dreher is smitten by monks, whose sage prophecies of doom he seems to take at face value.) Traditional Christian practices of worship and communal cooperation, based on St. Benedict’s Rule, will structure everyday life. Children will be homeschooled or sent to Christian academies, and thus protected from our toxic popular culture and the state’s malign meddling regarding sexual morality. This is necessary, Dreher writes, because American society has abandoned, and the federal government is now openly hostile to, biblical Christianity and especially traditional sexual morality. Drastic action is required."

Coincidentally, I spent this past Saturday at a Benedictine monastery.  Our parish's RCIA team, of which I am a member, had their day of recollection there.  I don't pretend to be any sort of an expert on Benedictine spirituality, but I have spent quite a bit of time at Benedictine houses of one sort and another. I have been to many events at this monastery over the years. And when my husband was in deacon formation, the classes were held at a Benedictine convent (actually the motherhouse of that congregation). The thing which has impressed me the most about the Benedictines is their charism of hospitality. Their moto is "Let every guest be received as Christ". I never had the sense of them turning their back on the world, it was more of a loving welcome to all who came.  The priests, brothers, and nuns whom I know are actively involved in the mission of the Church outside their walls.  Which is why I don't agree with Dreher's take on a so-called "Benedictine option".

I find this statement disturbing:  "The hour is late, and the open persecution of Christians not far off. Dreher looks to the “hands-on localism” pioneered “by Eastern bloc dissidents who defied Communism” as a model for today’s Christian resistance."  Is this attitude paranoid, or am I just being naïve; and Dreher knows something I don't? This fear of persecution seems to be an undercurrent common in Christian circles now.  Nevertheless I agree with the last sentence in Paul Baumann's article, "...I think a church that often (not always!) looks and talks and sounds like the world has its place. After all, when Christ was born into the world, it was not into a gated community."  

Links and Other HTML in Comments

Links pasted into comments are not "live." That is, if you click on the following link, it will not take you to Google

The link will, however, work if you copy and past it into the address window of your browser.

To insert a working link in a comment, you must use the HTML anchor tags <a> and </a>. For example, if you want to include a live link as follows,  "Go here to the Google home page," you must use the anchor tags and write, "Go <a href="">here</a> to the Google home page."

An opening a tag contains <a href="[any web address]">, and the address must be in quotes. The words following the opening tag will be highlighted in some way to indicate they can be clicked on as a link, and the closing tag </a> determines the end of the highlighting for the link.

The other HTML tags permitted in comments are as follows

<em> emphasis
<b> bold
<i> italics

They must all have end tags. I will illustrate the use of all five tags in a comment to this post. (Posts are written with a WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") editor instead of embedded HTML codes.

Go <a href="">here</a> to the Google home page.
<em>This is an example of emphasized text.</em>
<b>This is an example of bold text.</b>
<i>This is an example of italic text.</i>

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The woman at the well

The reading for today: John4:5-42 = Jesus meets the woman at the well.

Here's a clip from one of my favorite Jesus movies, The Gospel of John, which starred Henry Ian Cusick (of Lost fame) as Jesus ...

When the Vatican sent out its pre-synod survey, the Bishops in Japan used this story of Jesus and the woman at the well to make a point ...

Japan's bishops have publicly responded to a Vatican survey of global Catholics' views on family issues, stating bluntly that church teachings are not known in their country and the Vatican's Europe-centric view hampers efforts at evangelization in places where Catholics represent a small minority of the population ....

In response to a question on couples who live together before marriage, the Japanese say, "The pastoral practice of the Church must begin from the premise that cohabitation and civil marriage outside the church have become the norm."

"In developing a pastoral orientation, it is perhaps important to recall that the only time in the gospels that Jesus clearly encounters someone in a situation of cohabitation outside of marriage (the Samaritan woman at the well) he does not focus on it," they state. "Instead, he respectfully deals with the woman and turns her into a missionary." ..

One of the thing I like best about Jesus is the way he interacts with women ... I feel he must be pretty disappointed in the way the church treats them.

Casting a ballot from elsewhere

On March 18, 30,000 Kurdish demonstrators who live in Germany urged a "No" vote on Turkey's coming referendum to increase the powers of the Turkish presidency and reduce the power of parliament. These Kurds, a despised minority in Turkey, are Turkish citizens. No wonder they would vote No. No wonder they live in Germany!

Turkish president, Recip Tayip Erdogan, who is pressing a "Yes" vote objects strenuously to Germany allowing the "No" protest. He also protests the cancellation by the German and Dutch governments of visits by Turkish ministers to rally Turks to vote in favor of the referendum. Erdogan  didn't help his case by calling the Germans and the Dutch Nazis and fascists. But what about equal treatment for both "No" and "Yes" votes in Germany and the Netherlands?

Does the U.S. face a parallel situation? American citizens abroad can vote in U.S. elections even as citizens of another country. Erdogan may demonstrate the absurdity of a man who must win at any cost. But what of the potential in the U.S. for an election in which the votes of citizens abroad insure the election of a president? Donald Trump, for example. (Didn't happen. Could it?)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Meditation in Lent: The Gospel of Nicodemus

A medieval depiction of the harrowing of hell. In many early
artworks, Jesus rescues the souls from the jaws of a demon.
In the apocryphal book of Nicodemus, the source of many
medieval re-tellings of the harrowing, the gates are iron
and brass.
I'm preparing a short presentation on an assignment I sometimes give students on the medieval York mystery play, "The Harrowing of Hell." Students are asked to come up with a modern setting for the play, to cast it with contemporary actors (money is no object in your imagination!), and do a table read.

In the course of revisiting the source material for the play, the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, I uncovered some fertile ground for Lenten reflection, and I'll offer them today and on coming Fridays.

When Pope Benedict talked about what the Church has to offer, he often referred to its beauty--its architecture and visual arts, its vestments, its music. But the Gospel of Nicodemus reminds us of the beauty of the Church's imagination, which reflects the yearning of souls toward a more perfect understanding of Christ's love and mercy.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I guess most Catholics are not very into historical Jesus stuff? I don't understand why that's so.

Last year at this time CNN had a special series, Finding Jesus. I paid attention for a number of reasons, including that some interesting people were involved ... Mark Goodacre, David Gibson, Candida Moss, Ben Witherington, James Martin SJ, and Michael Peppard. I wrote a few posts about it back then and I mostly liked it, although I found the stuff about the Shroud of Turin pretty disappointing in that it seemed to give some hope in the authenticity of the shroud despite all evidence to the contrary (even David Gibson, who I think of as conservative, described the shroud as a 13th century forgery).

But anyway, the series is back ... Finding Jesus ... and it looks like it's dealing with some interesting stuff again. Duke NT professor Mark Goodacre has an article on the show. Here's a bit of it ...

The Historical Jesus: Separating Fact from Fiction

[...] Goodacre, a professor of New Testament and Christian origins in Duke’s religious studies department, helped plan the series and served as the production’s lead fact-checker. He also appears in each episode along with other scholars of early Christianity. “The big worry about any documentary in our area is, ‘Will it be sensationalist? Will it represent my field badly?’” Goodacre said. “The nice thing about this series is that it is robust academically, as well as being good TV.”

The series blends reenactment with scholarly commentary. Each episode homes in on a key character or location that figured in Jesus’ life, examining what contemporary scientific evidence, history and archaeology reveal about the world of the historical Jesus. For instance, an episode about Pontius Pilate considers physical evidence about the man who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion. In this case, the archaeological record contains rich sources, including coins minted by Pilate, Goodacre said ...

Here's a trailer for the series ...


Two questions:

1. Should this site allow anonymous or masked names? I vote "no."

2. Why not use the "insert break jump" on long posts? It is up in the menu right after the "moji" thingy. I favor. It keeps posts from pushing everything below it out of sight, if not site--virtually speaking.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Buffalo Idea, the Mass Mob Movement

Cleveland Mass Mob [click, and here] finished their third year with their twenty-fifth mobbing on the 13ᵗʰ of November 2016 at St. Emeric, which was the last of the eleven parish churches ordered to be re-opened by Roman decrees. It has become, practically, de jure for any religious affiliated thing to have a foundation statement. Of course, after announcing our existence, we had to explain who?, what?, and such. So: We wish to attract people to come for a Mass, a celebration of Liturgy and Eucharist, in a parish community of an historical, and beautiful church.

In Buffalo [click, and here], four friends wanted to help St. Adalbert Basilica. St. Adalbert's was the first basilica in the United States. Buffalo's ordinary had closed the parish and church. Parishioners appealed to Rome, they made note of its status. The diocese denied it was a basilica. The documents showed it was. The diocese reluctantly obeyed Rome, and opened the church for worship (i think one day a year). So the first mass mob was on All Souls Day 2013. Buffalo Mass Mob II made a national Associated Press story [click].

Buffalo was the first to form, and nearly two dozen locals announced thereafter. The Parable of the Sower is an apt metaphor. The seeds were distributed about, and some plants grew well, and others not. Buffalo continues. Some locals did little more than make an announcement. Detroit's [click, and here] has done marvelously. Since their second mobbing, the local daily had a story before and after each and often with several photographs. Local television and radio have had stories, and interviews. Detroit has larger churches than Cleveland, some seat fifteen hundred, and at least one seats two thousand. Most mobbings produced no empty seats.

Something happened in Buffalo. The environment of conditions, and the spark in a few people's minds gave us this 'Buffalo idea'. The spirit we wanted to promote is appreciation that leads to rejuvenation. The United States has relentlessly promoted a disposable culture of immediate reward. So many of our societal problems are children of this philosophy. Community has been attacked for convenience, and for the desires of the aggressively ambitious and selfish. We need to celebrate and cherish something more important and valuable. Mass Mob is a form of popular evangelism. Other than religious aspects, there are community, historical, architectural, anthropological, and sociological aspects to this phenomena.

"For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

These are the red letter words from the mouth of Jesus as recorded by the evangelist Matthew. This is the charter for the parish, a group of people in physical communion with the actual presence of Jesus with them. This is why a parish is so important. An hundred years ago, and more, people crossed the ocean and came to a new country. Their pennies, and dimes (for that was their wages) built edifices to house their community in dignity and respect befitting what they believed honored God. Often, these newcomers, 'greenhorns', were not welcomed by the greater community. These churches were bulwarks aiding them to keep the faith. Now, the progeny of some of these people are the establishment, they are integrated in the general community; but they hold a similar disregard for those who started those parishes, and built those churches. There are bishops, and other Catholics who prefer large homogenised, bland, interchangeable, indistinct units of the suburban sprawl which have large Sunday collections. These old parishes are our legacy, they are our culture, they are part and parcel of our faith.

Our goal was to, at least on occasion, flood the naves with the faithful. We wanted a greater audience to hear the invite. The genius of this Buffalo idea was to invite the public by social media. The chief, and most frequent social media organ than promotes the movement is facebook. The secular press and media, where it has given notice, has been unanimously positive, and the press has increased the invitation beyond the circle of social media available to the local organisers. Here in Cleveland, one reporter at the local daily told the city [click], and the paper [in the physical copy, or at least on line] made notice. And so did an AM radio news station. One television station came to our first mobbing, and it was linked to by an Italian publication.

Of the several locals, the first distinguishing factor was between organic and clerical. Cleveland as Buffalo was organic, and started and remained in the hands of the laity. In Detroit, there were four people who individually wanted to follow Buffalo's lead, and coalesced together with institutional support. The public enthusiasm of their local bishopry has been complete (the archbishop recorded a commercial [click], and has presided over three masses i think; and auxiliary, and retired bishops have said masses), and it is has to be believed it has added to the success there. The bishop of Ft. Wayne and South Bend asked for two mobs, the Knights of Columbus organised South Bend. In Kansas City Mo., and Memphis Tenn., it was organised by young adult ministries. A new seminarian organised in Bridgeport. The opinions of people employed professionally as Catholics, and the 'official' church's reception has been on a continuum of acceptance. Some places have skeptical critics, or have been loathe to say anything publicly. There has been expressed a worry of 'poaching' parishioners.  An old teevee cartoon had various characters say something uncomfortable about "...those meddlesome kids". I know of words that have circulated to me, that, the chancery on East Ninth does not like Cleveland Mass Mob. Some priests were timid when approached about having their parish mobbed.

The press early on was interested in this novel (and perhaps gimmicky nature of this evangelisation, and several liked to example "twitter", which use was scant and sparse) approach; and pooh-pooing critics (outside of the press, and with very small reach) looked dismissively on the movement. We made the Sunday New York Times [click]. The reporter, Michael Paulson, used the term 'Rust Belt Catholicism'. Yes, that captures the situation. Here we are in the battered industrial engine that helped create America; and here we still have great beauty, and the churches and parishes our immigrant forebears created are still here giving witness. The reporters i have talked to, and those who have talked to others elsewhere were universally positive. Many of these reporters are either active, or disenchanted, Catholics; and they like the concept, and the goals. Many people do see the Church as a community of believers that can gain members.

The call to mob is an anonymous opportunity to explore or revisit a parish, a church. A member of the mob can be incognito, and comfortable about it. The people who regularly attend that mass, are pleased to see that others want to see their church, their parish, their community. I was told after Cleveland Mass Mob III, that the mobbing confirmed the parish in its decision to appeal to Rome.

Some people object to the terminology. I remember, a Scottish folk musician say that 'mob' was the English word for a Scottish committee. Our beloved Pope Francis said, in Rio de Janeiro at World Youth Day, to make trouble in the diocese. Keep Massing and Mob On!


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Is This Idea Too Crazy to Work?

Christopher Ruddy, a conservative ally of Trump, and CEO of Newsmax, has advanced this rather radical idea of Medicaid for all:
He offers the following seven-point game plan:
  1. "Ditch the Freedom Caucus and the handful of Senate Republicans who want a complete repeal of Obamacare. They don't agree with universal coverage and will never be placated.
  2. Find a few parts of Ryancare II [i.e., the AHCA; Ryancare I refers to Paul Ryan’s longstanding desire to privatize Medicare] that can win passage in the House and Senate with either GOP support or bipartisan support. Declare victory.
  3. Rekindle the bipartisanship in Congress that President Obama destroyed. Impanel a bipartisan committee to report back by year's end with a feasible plan to fix Obamacare.
  4. Reject the phony private health insurance market as the panacea. Look to an upgraded Medicaid system to become the country's blanket insurer for the uninsured.
  5. Tie Medicaid funding to states with the requirement that each pass legislation to allow for a truly nationwide health care market.
  6. Get Democrats to agree to modest tort reform to help lower medical costs.
  7. While bolstering Medicare and improving Medicaid, get Republicans and Democrats to back the long-term fix of health savings accounts. This allows individuals to fund their own health care and even profit from it."
My favorite parts of this plan are the first point "Ditch the Freedom Caucus", and the third one, try to rekindle bipartisanship. I don't  agree that Obama destroyed it; he had a lot of help.  But restoring it is key for trying to initiate a meaningful health plan.

Of course, as the author says, "...embracing this idea would be a huge break with the ideological orthodoxy of the Republican Party. But Trump really did campaign on a promise of universal coverage. And as he told CBS’s Scott Pelley back during the primary, “the government's gonna pay for it.”'
This "ideological break with orthodoxy" is such a rupture that it probably wouldn't be considered seriously.  But one could hope.

The Chicken-Little Syndrome

Commonweal is up with my column examining the Chicken-Little Syndrome.

Everyone--or at least everyone I know--is suffering from it and the expectation of the worst-case scenario. It begins with Trump painting everything in the most dramatic words and dire images so that he can make "America Great Again."  And everyone else joins the New York Times has begun to hint that Janet Yellen, head of the Federal Reserve, will get what-for from Trump if the Fed actually raises interest rates. But she's a plucky girl I doubt she'll be intimidated.

The example in my column takes off from an op-ed piece by veteran war correspondent Tom Ricks raising the possibility that the immigration detention system will become another Abu Ghraib.  Sounds far-fetched. But....go read both columns and weigh in with your thoughts.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Editing the Human Genome

This piece by Gilbert Mailaender which appeared on the Commonweal site, is worth reading; especially for those of us who are interested in science and medicine:

It has to do with the "....development of what is called CRISPR/Cas9, a new method for “editing” the human genome.  Attempts at gene therapy, although not terribly successful, have been around for some time. What CRISPR/Cas9 appears to offer, however, is an efficient and precise method for altering (both by addition and deletion) an organism’s genetic material. We stand on the brink of an age in which our capacity to modify the human genome may increase enormously. And not surprisingly scientists are eager to proceed with gene-editing research."

"On the one hand, editing germ cells to eliminate serious disease has the potential to prevent suffering not only for a single individual but also for that person’s descendants. It eliminates the need for continued interventions at the somatic level for each new generation. On the other hand, that potential good is exactly the problem: germline editing may eliminate disease not only for a single individual but also for that person’s descendants. That is to say, whereas somatic-cell genetic therapy is simply an extension of what medicine has always sought to do, we might wonder whether germ-cell editing should even be characterized as medicine.  The “patient” is no longer a particular suffering human being; instead, the object of such proposed interventions is what Paul Ramsey once called “that celebrated nonpatient, the human species.” The possibility of unforeseen and unintended consequences is considerable, and it is not silly to wonder whether human beings—ourselves included—should ever seek to exercise this kind of control over those who will come after us. Recognizing such concerns, the report says: “Heritable germline editing trials must be approached with caution, but caution does not mean that they must be prohibited.” Which is to say, it sets before us a yellow light."

It seems likely that it's not a question of "if" human beings will use this technology to alter their genome, but when and how.  Will we proceed with due caution and respect for life?  The author's final paragraph is relevant: 

"No doubt it is generally wise to let a yellow light make us cautious. But there may also be moments when we should remember that there always remains another possibility and that moral seriousness might sometimes be measured by our willingness to be as wise as kindergarteners and to know when to “stop, stop, stop.”'

Pope Francis and his unchanging church

In the recent news: Pope Says Maybe to Married Priests ...

The most confusing detail about Pope Francis opening the door to married priests, as he did in a widely publicized interview with a German newspaper Die Zeit last week, is that it really doesn’t mean that priests can get married.

Instead, when asked what to do about the global shortage of priests, the pope said he would consider the study of whether older men who are already married and heavily involved in liturgical duties in certain diocese, could actually be ordained as priests so they could deliver the sacraments. These married men priests, he said, might be considered in rural areas of the world where there simply aren’t enough priests for every parish and where Catholics are underserved.

It should be noted that there is a big, big difference between priests courting, dating, marrying and honeymooning with new brides and older married men being ordained as priests ....

Seeing this reminded me of the furor last year over the idea of women deacons. In both cases, the pope didn't bring the idea up but simply responded to questions asked about those issues ... can't women be deacons, can't married men be priests? And in both cases he pretty much shrugged off the questions, and then advised study of the issues when pushed.

Nothing has come of the idea of women being deacons in the contemporary church .... I think it's obvious that the pope doesn't want this any more than he wants women to be priests (Pope Francis says women will never be Roman Catholic priests). And just today I saw an article in the UK Catholic Herald about Cardinal Nichols assuring the (conservative) faithful that married priests won't happen either ... I don’t see things changing on married priests, says Cardinal Nichols

I think this is a sign that the institutional church is dying. Yes, it grows in numbers, for now, but those numbers hail mostly from developing countries where the conservative agenda of sexism and homophobia presently fits, and in time that will change. The institutional church refuses to change on social issues, issues that divide it from its own parishioners (contraception, women priests, abortion, marriage equality, married priests, cohabitation, divorce, etc.), and it doesn't have to - after all, it's the last example of western despotism, and we in the pews are powerless. People will continue to believe in God and practice spirituality - some will even keep going to church - but eventually this disconnect is going to catch up to the hierarchy, because things that can't change are dead.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Blog Policy/Goverance Thoughts

Mentor Headlands Beach, Lake County Ohio (1)

This blog is a voluntary organization. All the posts and comments depend upon the work of the contributors and commenters.

When we had a Cleveland VOTF, people wanted to take votes and make policy declarations. I pointed out that if we have 90 members who wanted A but none were willing to put any work into it, and 10 members who wanted B and were willing to put a lot of time into it, then we would get more done if those ten people just did their thing even if they had to do it under another name.

Catholics and Americans need places where we can talk and network without all the supervision that we find in parishes and other organizations. We can learn a lot from interesting people and differing backgrounds, and we can find people who share our interests, and agenda.  That seems to be where this blog is headed.  Maybe things will be generated that will take place elsewhere rather than here.


The Lake County mental health board where I worked for thirteen years conducted almost all its business in public with governance and planning processes that were highly visible and accessible to all parties. These enabled us to pass a new mental health levy with over 60 percent of the vote when statewide renewal levies usually squeaked by with just over fifty percent of the vote. We even managed the unheard of, -moving programs and staff from agency to agency without much stress.

If we contributors and commenters often talk about what we doing and where we may be going in visible posts rather than comments, and in public rather than private e-mails, then extensive participation of contributors and commenters will more likely happen.


Fortunately we have e-mail as a private way to talk to one another, and we should use that to help the posting and commenting processes. People are more likely to change their behavior when they receive suggestions from friends rather than hostile critics. If we get “difficult” posters or commenters we can  talk in private about how to manage them in public.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Flipping Through the New Yorker UPDATE

Opened the New Yorker (March 13). Must read Anthony Lane on Jane Austen's last, unfinished novel, Sanditon (unclear that was her title). Read it. Conclusion (mine) No, I do not have to read the unfinished novel.

Flip through the cartoons:  on a Starbuck's-like paper coffee container these check-offs, checked off:  Anguish; Dread; Angst; Extra Foam.

Then I flip to "The Mail," commenting on a review about the psychology of human reasoning. A Letter: Kolbert discusses studies which "demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational." [Yes!]   This work identifies that people have a tendency "to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them." [Yes!]  Psychologists call this "confirmation bias." Many people refuse to enter the possibility that the scientists who create and oversee these studies may suffer from confirmation biases of their own, believing that the duplication process in the scientific method will uncovers any incorrect theses.  But the fallibility of this assumption comes to light when Kolbert write that the authors...."probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves."  Of course, "science"  doesn't tell us anything. Scientists do. [YES!]  And, presumably, they are no less human than the rest of us.  [Presumably!]
(signed) Bernard P. Dauenhauer   [Thank you for your letter!]

UPDATE: Bernard sent the original of his letter to the New Yorker. As an editor, I can see why they cut what they did. But teachers of rhetoric, philosophers, theologians, fourth grade teachers, and epistomologists, what say you?  And thank you Bernard.
My Letter to the New Yorker:    In her “That’s What You Think:  Why Reason and Evidence Won’t Change Our Minds” (2/27)  Elizabeth Kolbert discusses the plethora of studies that “demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often irrational.”  Prominent among the forms of faulty thinking these studies identify is “the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their belief and reject information that contradicts them.” Psychologists call this tendency “confirmation bias.”
    One regularly overlooked feature of many of these studies is their failure to entertain the possibility that the scientists who make them may suffer from some sort of “confirmation bias” of their own.  A clue to this possibility appears in Kolbert’s remark that the scientists Jack and Sara Gorman “probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell each other.”
    Of course, “science” doesn’t tell us anything.  Scientists do.  And presumably they are neither more nor less human than the rest of us.  For brevity’s sake, let me offer one “bias” that seems to affect any number of social scientists.  For them, according to what I would call the “quantification bias,” unless some putative feature of human existence (e.g. the capacity to exercise free choice) can be empirically detected and measured, it cannot actually exist.  Kolbert tells us that the scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperba propose to explain why so many of us suffer from what they call ”myside bias” by claiming that it must have some adaptive function, and that function they maintain, is related to our “hypersociability”.  Notice that “MUST HAVE” and the “hypersociabililty.”  Do Mercier and Sperba themselves suffer from this “necessity” and this condition?  Or just the rest of us?

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Civil War and the civility wars

George Saunders is always worth listening to, and Anthony Domestico offers an interview with the author here, in which they talk about politics, discourse, and Saunders' latest novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, released in February.

I was struck by a quote from Saunders in the New Yorker that Domestico offers in the interview:
"I thank [Trump] for this: I've never before imagined America as fragile, as an experiment that could, within my very lifetime, fail. But I imagine it that way now." 

The fragility of the American Experiment seems to have been on Saunders' mind a lot as he wrote his novel. Toward the end of the book, the fragility of the union, the American experiment, haunts a grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln as he visits his son Willie's tomb:
Across the sea fat kings watched and were gleeful, that something begun so well had now gone off the rails (as down South similar kings watched), and if it went off the rails, so went the whole kit, forever, and if someone ever thought to start it up again, well it would be said (and said truly): The rabble cannot manage itself. 
Well, the rabble could. The rabble would.
He would lead the rabble in managing.
The thing would be won.
And, of course, we know the thing was won. Then. But Saunders, intentionally or not, forces the reader to wonder whether it was won for all time and whether the "rabble," which is all of us in our deeply flawed and imperfect state, can keep it won. And whether it's even worth keeping at all. 

Lincoln in the Bardo is a timely novel to ponder in this deeply divided time.
--Jean Hughes Raber

Thursday, March 9, 2017

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Religion in Contemporary Art

"At one time," writes Daniel Grant, in Commonweal, "art infused with religious subjects and imagery was the main work of fine artists in the Western world, in large measure because their patrons were officials of the Catholic Church. Nowadays, religion in art is a curiosity, perhaps permissible as a 'postmodernist strategy' . . . . ”

If you are like me, when you think of religion and contemporary art, the names that come to mind are of artists who caused outrage and controversy, such as Andres Serrano and Chris Ofili. While I think they were both badly misinterpreted, in my admittedly very limited experience, Daniel Grant is largely correct about the absence or invisibility of overtly religious work in contemporary art. I do find myself wondering, though, what it would look like.